Puerto Rican-Style Birthdays
"Elementary" My Dear Watson
Honesty Is The Best Policy
When Things Go Wrong
Let's Get Organized
The "White Lie"
PUERTO RICAN-STYLE BIRTHDAYS
Hola! In November, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 5th annual Three Amigos Clown Convention, held in Lajas, Puerto Rico (a small coastal town in the southwestern corner of the island). The convention was completely Spanish speaking participants. Since I donít speak Spanish, this was definitely a challenge for me. I attended the convention with Angel Ocasio, who was the headliner, instructor and my interpreter for the week. These six days had such a tremendous impact on me that I wanted to share this unique experience with all of you. In addition, I interviewed several wonderful clowns about how birthday parties are performed in Puerto Rico. Ever since I performed my birthday party as a general session at the 1994 COAI Convention in Portland, the Puerto Rican clowns have tried to explain to me how different their parties are. Well, I finally got the opportunity to actually see, hear and participate in their world of birthday parties Ė Puerto Rican-style.
But first, let me reminisce for a moment about how beautiful a location Puerto Rico is for a convention. Yes, I was there in 1996 for the COAI International Convention which was held in Isla Verde, close to San Juan. However, Lajas was a 3-1/2 hour drive from the airport, so we got to see how beautiful the countryside was. The temperature remained approximately 85į throughout the day, which was a wonderful break from clouds and rain in Portland. The rooms had tables and chairs on the balconies so you could sit outside and enjoy a cool drink while watching the sailboats. Within easy walking distance, there was a multitude of small, roadside cafes that offered delicious, native food. Believe me, this was difficult to leave.
The convention officially started on Wednesday, with classes offered for the different competitions that were coming up (i.e. one class on single balloon sculptures, another on multiple balloons and a third of balloon arrangements). Other classes were also offered, but it was a great way to help prepare first time competitors and offer general instruction at the same time. That evening, a welcoming hospitality was put on by the Latin American clowns.
Thursday, the entire day was classes. The morning and afternoon classes were repeated. The evening classes were general sessions. The class on parades saw participants actually get into makeup and try out new ideas. At 11:00 pm, the evening performance highlighted Angel Ocasio in his one-man comedy show. Afterwards, there was a wonderful party that everyone got involved in. It was similar to a company picnic, with lots of organized, competitive games / races. The music was playing, the energy high and we all had a great time. There were awards and refreshments at the end.
On Friday evening, the skit competition was held in town at a local theatre, which seated 500 people from the community and convention. This is taking performance competition to a reality setting. They werenít just performing in front of their peers. This was the real world of audiences, complete with hecklers. What an experience and education! Yet, the Puerto Rican clowns pulled it off without batting an eye. Clowns are highly respected in Puerto Rico and it was easy to see why. If there was one thing that stood out throughout the entire convention, it was the passion with which they clown. They take great care and pride in their props, costumes and performance skills.
Saturday morning was makeup competition. Participants were required to apply their makeup all together in one large room that was supervised by the convention committee. There were no exceptions allowed. Once in the room, they were not allowed to leave until their makeup application was complete. Their philosophy was that everyone is a professional and should be able to remember to bring what supplies they need. If they did forget something, there was a dealerís table of supplies available.
Once everyone was in costume, my camera was put to work. Their costumes are pure perfection. The participants seemed eager to share with me how their costumes were made, who sewed for them or if they made their own. I was fascinated with the way they decorated their shoes to match their elaborate outfits. Quite a few clowns showed me their portfolios of events they clown at. Their incredibly beautiful costumes, that I have only seen at competition time, are worn and used in their daily routines / events.
That afternoon, we were all bused into town for parade competition, which consisted of an actual, 1-1/2 mile parade. It rained off and on, but it didnít seem to dampen anyoneís spirit. Those beautiful costumes and coordinated, matching shoes marched along the wet pavement, oblivious to anything except the delight of the general public who lined the streets. I had an absolutely wonderful time, interacting with everyone, without the faintest idea of what anyone was saying (as it was all in Spanish). But the smile of a child transcends all language barriers.
In addition to talking with different clowns, I interviewed Marisol "Zurrapita" Solivan and Maria "Bambita" Gonzalez to learn more about Puerto Rican birthday parties. In general, birthday parties are large, extravagant affairs. They are usually for one year-old birthdays with an average of 40-45 children of various ages attending (this can escalate to 100 guests for upper income families). The age of the guests range from birth to 15 years old and it is the clownís responsibility to entertain all of these children, plus the adults, for an average of 2 hours. If face painting is done, add another 2 hours. Each birthday clown brings their own music / sound system and either another clown or assistant(s) to help. The parties are held in a yard, on a porch or blocked-off street; if the house is large enough, the party is held inside. As this was being explained to me, I thought of all the parties I perform at where 6 - 8 little girls are sitting in their family room in a semi-circle in front of me. What a picture this paints of how our parties are different!
"Zurrapita" (which means Little Daughter) performs at birthday parties with her husband "Librin". Their entrance is meet and greet to welcome the children as well as the adults. Games with different music selections with the teenagers participating as partners for the younger children, little bits of comedy and magic interspersed throughout and songs make up their show. Balloon animals come next. Then comes the pinata, which every birthday party in Puerto Rico has as part of the celebration. The clown oversees this as the end of the party, unless theyíre contracted to do face painting. After the clown entertainment leaves, a meal is usually served. Their cakes are tiered like a wedding cake. Parties are scheduled for about 8 hours (from 2:00 Ė 10:00 pm). Party planning is essential to find out if the parent has hired a D.J. (which precludes having to bring their own sound system). They also entertain at "Sweet 15" birthdays. "Librin" is a Harlequin character and always arrives as a surprise for the birthday girl. He greets & welcomes everyone with the 15 year-old at his side. Then, he helps her change from flat shoes to high-heeled ones and dances with her in her new shoes. The Harlequin presents her with a flower. There is comedy and magic combined with a candle being lit, followed by the 15 young girlfriends lighting individual candles as part of a ceremony to represent her new age. Marisol runs the music. They are usually there from 1 to 2 hours.
"Bambita" (which means Small Balloon) says that 90% of her clowning is performing at birthday parties. She offers different "options" or packages for parents to choose from. Option one is her normal party (she provides everything she needs); option two offers adding face painting or prizes; option three includes face painting and prizes. Bambita stresses that her parties really involve all ages; she is constantly interacting with the audience. Her basic party starts with ice breakers for the first 10 minutes. Then she brings up the birthday child with appropriate music (Miss America Pageant for the girls and Super Hero music for the boys). She incorporates themes into her parties with a variety of puppets and "character phone conversations". Her hour-long show consists of magic, talent shows (i.e. the kids become the animals in "Old MacDonald"), games with the older kids and adults included plus balloon comedy bits. Balloon animals are not always made for each individual, depending on the number of children present; sometimes, balloon animals are incorporated into a game with a few being handed out as prizes. I loved her idea on running the pinata game: after the pinata has been broken open, the kids sit in a circle and Bambita tosses the prizes outside of the circle, so the children expand outwards to pick up the items, as opposed to running inwards and bumping heads. Her daughter, as a non-clown, helps with the music.
On Sunday, I had the unique opportunity of attending a birthday party class, taught by Julio "Trombon" Capacetti (past Vice President of the Latin Countries). The class was a segment out of his actual birthday party. Everything, of course, was in Spanish. But I want to assure you that I laughed as hard as anyone else did. Why? Because, the comedy was strong, his use of music to enhance what he was doing was hysterical and the magic was visual. It was not essential for me to understand Spanish in order to enjoy this incredible show. His son is in charge of his props and Roberto is in charge of the music. The music played a huge part in the entertainment aspect of the show. As each person came up, different music was played. Each time Trombon asked someone a question, the answer might be accompanied by different music or completely drowned out by synthesized sounds. He got everyone involved, adults and children alike. His birthday party show was the equivalent of what we consider a stage show. And this is what the Puerto Rican clowns are doing on a regular basis, several times a day. I was amazed and impressed by the magnitude of what is involved in this type of mass entertaining. Trombon really relies on his show to be spectacular; which is exactly what it was. As I said before, I didnít understand a word of what was said, but I laughed all the way through the show. Trombon said that his parties consist of 15 Ė 70 kids and they are almost always held inside the parentsí home.
Throughout this week, I was touched by how welcomed everyone made me feel. Those who knew English were eager to talk with me and always helpful in translating. I realized that this was just a taste of what the Puerto Rican clowns must go through every time they attend a COAI convention where English is the main language. It has given me a new understanding and I will be more helpful in the future to assist them with the language barriers (Iíll bring Angel along with me).
All in all, I had a wonderful time and it was very difficult to say goodbye to all of my Puerto Rican clown friends. I hope that, with this article, I have been able to shed some light on how different their parties are from the ones we are used to (and also how similar in the entertainment aspect of performing). I like to take this opportunity to say "Gracias" to everyone in Puerto Rico.
"ELEMENTARY" MY DEAR WATSON
have received many letters and e-mails asking me to write an article about birthday parties for elementary school aged children (6, 7 and 8 year olds). Many of you have found that this can be the best age, but it can also present their own challenges. Letís take a look at why this happens.
By the time children are in elementary school, they socialize with their friends on a regular basis. This is a happy, fun age. Getting together with their friends beyond the classroom is a regular occurrence and they love to invite each other to their homes. Having their friends help celebrate each otherís birthdays is one of their favorite ways to socialize.
Parents tend to drop their child off at the party and come back later to pick them up. There are two sides to this coin. When a parent stays at the party, a shy child may feel more comfortable. However, if a shy child clings to their parent, it can also hinder their getting directly involved right from the beginning. It is easier to encourage this type of child to participate if they donít have someone to hide behind.
This actually happened as I arrived at a party recently. A
mother, who had just dropped her daughter off, approached me to warn me that her
"Lauren" was very afraid of clowns. She described her to me, even what outfit she was wearing, so I would be sure not to frighten her. When I rang the doorbell, I was greeted by the birthday girl and several of her friends, including Lauren, the little girl who was supposedly afraid of me. She flashed a big smile and, along with the other girls, welcomed me in. After walking into the party room, I was just getting started when I noticed the "anxious mother" had come back in and had pulled her daughter to the back of the room, trying to "reassure" her that everything would be all right. I was concerned that she had decided to stay to "protect" her daughter. At this age, peer pressure works in mysterious ways. This little girl saw everyone welcoming me with open arms and she acted accordingly. The motherís presence was working against that. It might have taken a little longer to get Lauren to participate if the mother had stayed. Luckily, she left and the party ran without a hitch. In fact, when I started painting faces, all of the children were ushered into another room for refreshments so only one child at a time was in the room with me getting their face painted. I wondered if Lauren would hesitate to come to me by herself, but she came through the doorway with a big smile, sat right down and chose the face she wanted painted on. There was never any problem at all.
This was a good example of how parents, when trying to protect and comfort their child, can actually instill uncertainty and even fear in certain situations. At public events, I have seen parents hold their child back and say things like "donít be afraid, the clown wonít hurt you." This has an unfortunate way of backfiring, causing the child to actually become fearful. Shy 6 - 8 year olds are usually able to handle most entertainment at birthday parties, as long as the performer is not too aggressive. As I mentioned earlier, they will usually go along with what the other children their age are comfortable with.
Now, letís explore some other behavior attributes of this age group. Sometimes it seems that this age can be the very best audience, because they are attentive and love to be entertained. They enjoy stories, magic that "tricks" them and just about everything normally associated with clowns. This is usually not the first time theyíve experienced live entertainment, so they are aware of what is in store for them and await with great anticipation for whatever you are going to do. They know what is involved in being a good audience and love to play. All of this makes for a great age for us to entertain.
Elementary school age children are curious and inquisitive. Since these children have already been in school for several years, they are being taught to ask questions and try to figure things out. Consequently, 6 to 8 year-olds can be very verbal throughout your show. If they are asking a lot of questions, you might take a look at your show to see if it is difficult for them to understand what you are doing. Arrange to have several parties video taped so you can evaluate your show as the children see it. However, they might be asking questions simply because of their age. It is okay to acknowledge their comments and questions to a point. Try to not let this disrupt the flow of your show. When one or two children are persistent with their questions or comments, take a moment and let them know that you can answer their questions after the show. This is a quick and easy way to acknowledge them, giving them a little attention and quiet them down. This allows you to move forward with your show; and, besides, it is unusual for a child to remember to ask those same questions at the end of the party.
Another reason for their questions and comments is that they want recognition for knowing the answers. Again, this stems from what they learn in school. Right in the middle of your next magic trick, it is not unusual for them to exclaim, "I know how you did that!" This is not being a heckler. This is their satisfaction in figuring something out. You can get past this by giving them the kudos they momentarily need, ask them not to spoil the surprises for the other guests and then let them know you will be available to listen to their ideas at the end of the party. Once again, it is rare for the child to remember to come up to you at the end of your time at the party to take you up on this offer. By the time you are ready to leave, they are busy opening presents or enjoying refreshments. However, if they do remember, be prepared to give them a few moments to acknowledge their comments and questions.
Children this age also like to impress each other, especially the boys. They can become very vocal, especially when the party is mostly girls with only 2 or 3 boys. Those few boys can create more noise and disruption than all of the girls put together. (It can happen with girls, too; but more often with boys this age. Sorry, I know this sounds sexist, but its true.) However, if you stop and take a look at what is happening, you will realize that the boys are trying to impress the girls and/or each other. It is usually not a personal vendetta against the clown. You can either ignore them, focusing your attention on the other party guests or give them some acknowledgement for their comments and move on to the next part of your show (The New Calliope, March / April 1997).
At a recent party, there were only 2 boys out of 15 eight year-old party guests. It soon became apparent that everything I said was being misinterpreted as an inappropriate innuendo by the 2 boys, who overreacted with peals of loud laughter throughout the entire show. I found myself choosing every word carefully, so as to not add "fuel to the fire", but to no avail. No matter what I said, they would repeat a word or two and proceed to roll on the floor, giggling out of control. Not wanting to tell them to stop laughing (duh!) or to stop reading things into what I was saying (they wouldnít have listened anyway), I pretended that they were simply enjoying my show that much. It became even funnier as the show progressed and the laughter was contagious. By the time I was finished with making the balloons animals and ready to start painting faces, the boys came up to me and told me how much they had enjoyed the show. They both had settled down to a normal reactive level.
When planning your show for this age group, remember that they like just about everything. Your entrance can be a little more commanding than for the 3 to 5 year-olds. You donít have to worry about frightening them as you walk through the door. Of course, I donít mean being aggressively "in their face", but you can catch their attention as you arrive. It might be something as simple as saying loudly "Party time! Everybody, come on over. Weíre ready to start the party!" or "Wow! Are these presents all for me?!" That gets their attention real fast. If your entrance is a song, make sure it is one they are familiar with. Some entrances are silent with the comedy being your physical movements. This definitely works better with the older group than the younger ones (pre-school age), because it can capture their attention and they are intrigued by whatever you do next.
The main portion of your show (or middle) can encompass a variety of fun activities. As we discussed earlier, this age group loves just about everything: magic, puppetry, ventriloquism, songs, playacting, songs, musical instruments, balloon animals and games. Remember to keep the activities moving right along. As with any age group, try not to have any areas that go too long, or lag. You will lose their attention if you stay too long with any one activity, so try to offer variety in your show.
It is also important to vary what you do from party to party when you are entertaining the same group of children in more than one birthday celebration. This age likes repetition but loves surprises. Recently, I entertained at Shannonís party on Saturday and her best friend, McCallís party on Sunday. The guests were exactly the same. As much fun as we had on Saturday, it would have been less than exciting if I had just offered a rerun on Sunday. So, the games were new, the magic tricks were all a surprise and the puppet show was different. Always remember to keep them entertained and you will keep their attention! As I left the party that Sunday, I overheard the parents commenting on how nice it was to see a different show from one day to the next.
It is very important to keep on top of what is popular with this age group. They are still enthralled with Disney movies and toys, etc. However, they have also become very interested in books, music groups and are more aware of the world around them. At a recent party for a boy turning 8, the mother had informed me that her son was really interested in Animorphs. Not only does he watch the show on television, but he has read the series of books. The mother also informed me that they had hired a professional magician the previous two years to entertain for his birthday. I knew it would be an adjustment for this group of friends to have a clown as the entertainer for this year. My focus was to get all of them actively involved in the show as much as possible by personalizing every detail. So, prior to his party, I checked the TV Guide, then taped and watched the show. Consequently, the magic tricks that I chose for his party were all related to the most recent episode of his favorite show. All of the guests were familiar with the characters and the story that I created specifically for his party. They became involved in what was happening next, adding details to the storyline as the show progressed. It turned into a very interactive magic show that they could all participate in.
As with any age, give some attention to what the kids are interested in and your show will be well received. Have fun! I hope to see you in Portland at the NW Comedifest, April 23 Ė 25, 1999!
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how to figure out how much to charge when you are first starting out. This is in reference to all types of clowning, but primarily for birthday party entertaining.
First of all, it would be impossible to say that "one price" is the "right price" due to a variety of reasons:
Each geographic location has different economic issues which factor significantly into how much an entertainer can charge. From the letters I receive from across the United States, I have learned that the birthday party entertainers in larger cities can generally charge a higher price than the ones from smaller, rural communities. Logistics play an important role in dictating what the "going rate" is. Several years ago, one of the clowns from Portland moved to a small, rural town. He was surprised to discover that he could only charge half of what he was charging here because that is what the other clowns there were charging and that was all the market would bear.
The number of birthday party entertainers in any one area can also play a major part of how much each individual can charge. If the majority of clowns are charging a certain price, that becomes the "going rate" for that area. Sometimes entertainers get caught up in a "fare war", trying to undercut / underprice each other. This can be a mistake and a no-win situation. It is doing a disservice to oneself plus all of the other clowns. The paying client thinks that the "bargain price" is the normal price and will expect the same in the future. It can start a downward spiral effect that can be very hurtful.
How much entertainment is involved in individual parties in any given area can also factor into the price. If the average party only lasts 30 minutes in one area, that is almost sure to be priced different than in another area where the party consistently lasts 60 Ė 90 minutes (or longer).
There are other reasons that can factor into different prices in different areas, but the ones Iíve listed are a few of the major ones. For all of these reasons, it is impossible to list the "one right price" for birthday parties that would be right for everyone.
Since that is the case, how do you go about figuring out how much to charge for a birthday party in your own area? Iím glad you asked. Letís take a look at different ways to accomplish this.
You have to start with being "honest" with yourself. Are you a brand new baby clown who is just learning how to entertain? Have you been clowning for awhile but just recently started doing birthday parties? Maybe you have always volunteered your services but have now decided you would like to get paid for what you do. Again, there is no "one right price" for all of the different scenarios we are going to be looking at.
If you are a brand new "First of May" and have started getting a few calls about doing birthday parties, I recommend being "honest" with the parent who wants to hire you. Let them know that you are just learning and would be happy to come play with the kids. Since your show is not polished yet, you would like to offer it to them at a low or reduced or, possibly, free price so that you can use their party as a training experience. When I started doing birthday parties, I didnít have any marketable skills at that point. So, I blew up round balloons and put them on sticks. These were handed out to the kids once I arrived. I interacted with the children, handed out stickers, a coloring caricature of "Peppermint" (with my phone number on it) and only stayed about 15 or 20 minutes. I did not charge for these parties. I was grateful for the opportunity to "try out" birthday parties to see if it was what I wanted to do. The parents knew I was just starting, so there was no pressure or expectations on their part. I felt comfortable with what little I was able to do and could leave when I was finished.
After several of these "freebies", I started to charge $25 for 30-45 minutes. By that time, I had a show prepared complete with games, prizes, magic and balloon animals. I put so much time and energy into those first months of parties learning what worked, what I liked and what the kids liked that the minimal rate I charged didnít even begin to cover my expenses. However, I viewed all of these as more training and opportunities to gain experience.
Once the calls started to increase, I asked that same question "How do I know what I should be charging?" Remember, there were no clown alleys in my area, no clown training workshops, no COAI groups. There were just a few independent entertainers like myself. Not knowing what else to do, I called the few clowns who were in the phone book and asked them what they offered at a party and how much they charged. This gave me a basis to look at what my party offered as compared to the others. Once I had all of this information in front of me, I had to be "honest" with myself. Did my party offer as much as the others? Did it offer more? Did it offer something different?
Now that there are clown alleys and resources available, there are other ways of doing this today. If you belong to an alley, check with your fellow joeys, open up for discussion at a meeting. If you have access to the internet, you can join in a clown chat room from your area and ask questions. Some entertainers tend to be vague with their answers when it comes to what they charge. But you will most likely get a "range" of prices. For example, you might hear that birthday party clowns charge between $75 and $125 per party. Ask more questions. Is that for a 30-minutes party, a one-hour party or more? What is offered by the entertainer for that price?
In Portland, we have a family resource newspaper that offers a Birthday Guide pull-out section each year. All aspects of birthday entertainment are covered, including different types of entertainment (inflatables, pony rides, petting zoos, reptiles, etc), locations for birthday parties, party suppliers and the entertainers (magicians, puppeteers, storytellers and clowns). Each entertainer listing describes what they offer and their price. It is a valuable resource tool, both for the party organizer (parent) and for all of the entertainers.
Having this type of information available precludes having to call each entertainer like I did years ago. Once again, this is a time you have to be totally "honest" with yourself. Do you believe that your show is professional and strong enough to be able to compare it with the higher priced ones in your area? If you are just starting out, you might not even be able to compare it with the lower priced ones.
There are so many wonderful workshops and festivals available now, that many new clowns look very professional upon completing the training course. Their makeup is wonderful, they have just purchased a professional costume and clown shoes and their arms are loaded with wonderful props after leaving the dealersí tables offering magic, balloons, puppets, etc. They look professional, they have all the right propsÖbut should they be charging top professional rates?
I am reminded of my husbandís first day on his new job 22 years ago. He had decided to become an electrician. On his first day, he was required to show up ready to work. He was wearing the same kind of work jeans and shirt, the Carhartt coat, his new tool belt was filled with an elaborate assortment of shiny, new tools and he even had on a hard hat. Did he look like an electrician? Yes, he did. But was he an electrician? No, he wasnít. He was an apprentice. The apprenticeship program lasted 4 long years. He worked 40 hours per week, plus he attended school two nights each week. His starting pay was only 40% of what the journeymen electricians were making. His pay gradually increased as his skills and knowledge increased over the years of his apprenticeship program. At the end of four years of working and going to school, he graduated and was finally classified as a journeyman electrician.
Too often, the brand new clowns who have the appearance of a professional mistakenly think that their fee should match that of the ones who have been entertaining for years. Or, the mistake is often made that the lower price that is being charged for birthday parties is where their price should start. Once again, you have to be "honest" with yourself and your audience. Is your show worth the price you are charging? Are you prepared to offer them entertainment that is comparable to your fee?
Several years ago, a brand new clown asked me what was the fastest way to learn how to do birthday parties. I was happy to fill her in on all the wonderful workshops, festivals and conventions that were available. She responded by telling me that she would go to these training sessions after she started making the "big bucks" doing birthday parties. I felt she was putting the cart before the horse. Too often, entertainers think that birthday parties are an easy way to make money. Those of us who perform at birthday parties can attest, that is a fallacy.
In another incident a few years ago, a new clown was excitedly telling everyone that she had just booked a stage performance and was charging $300.00 for her show. When asked if she was prepared to offer a $300 stage show, her somewhat unsure response was "Iíll do the best that I can". The problem here is that the client hiring her was contracting for a professional stage show. At the time this happened, $300 was the going rate for the top entertainers in the area. Because she was a brand new clown and unsure of her ability to fulfill the requirements of that contract, it would have been better if she had been "honest" with the event coordinator, explaining her level of ability. The show might have been plugged in as a filler, or possibly on a smaller stage setting. The benefits of being "honest" are three-fold. First, there are no surprises to the paying client; second, the pressure of expectation is lessened; and third, the client is more likely to re-book in the future if youíve fulfilled your commitment to his/her satisfaction.
If you have your price set too high in relationship to your skill level and expertise, you might not be working as much as you will if your price corresponds to your abilities. There is an old saying "Anyone can get hired a first time". This is especially true with birthday parties. If your price is set too high for what you offer, the parents are less likely to hire you back or refer you on to their friends. Word of mouth advertising is one of your most powerful advertising tools.
If your price is set too low, it actually can work against you too. When a parent is calling around ("shopping") for a birthday entertainer, they will soon get a feel for what the "going rate" is. If they call you and find out that your fee is significantly lower than the others, they might assume it is because you offer less or that your show is lower quality than the others. If your rate is lower because you are just starting out, then it is important to be open and "honest" with the prospective client, explaining to them why you are offering your show at such a low, "introductory" price.
I would love to hear from different alleys about what types of "apprenticeship programs" are offered to new joeys in your area. If enough information can be compiled from groups across the United States, it might be possible to present the similarities as well as differences depending on the geographic location and other factors involved. I invite anyone interested to e-mail me (or write me a snail mail letter) describing your methods of pricing and how it affects the newer clowns. I will share the results in a future article.
I would like to leave you with this thought: Donít be so concerned about the money in the beginning. It will be there later. Instead, focus on training, learning from experience, doing research and attending classes and workshops, join an alley, volunteer and get involved. And remember, we are so very, very lucky to have such a fun job! How many people can honestly say that they love what they do for a living?!
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
For every party that "goes wrong", there are dozens and dozens of parties that are wonderful. So why is it that that one party stays in our minds, crowding out the memories of all of the good ones? It is usually because we are still trying to figure out what went wrong. Sometimes there are reasons that can easily be explained. Other times it takes us some sleuthing to figure out what happened. On rare occasions, we might never know.
A number of readers have written to share their problem parties with me. Some of them have an obvious reason that resulted in the party going awry. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have shared your stories with me. Some have been humorous and I have enjoyed laughing with you over what happened. Others have been the ones we just shake our heads over and wonder about "Murphyís Law" taking over (Murphyís Law: If something can possibly go wrong, it will).
I will begin with my own "party of doom". Patrick was celebrating his 5th birthday. It was a hot, July day in 1992. I remember it as if it were yesterday! The party was in the backyard. All of the children sat close to me while their parents were directly behind them. Patrick started off by taking the magic wand and jabbing me in the stomach as hard as he could. When he repeated this, I realized we had a problem. Because his parents did nothing to correct him, I knew we might have a bigger problem. I said, "Oh no, Patrick, it seems as if youíve lost your manners. You will have to sit down until you find them again."
At that point, I asked his 6 year-old brother Johnny to come up and be my helper. Guess what? Johnny did the same thing. Once again, the parents said and did nothing. I told Johnny how sorry I was that heíd lost his manners too. I then gave Patrick another try. This time he hit me with the wand and then ran across the yard away from me. I decided he could keep the wand, because I certainly wasnít going to get into a tug of war with him over a 99-cent plastic wand. At this point, I explained to Patrick that anyone who loses his manners is the last one to get a balloon (which would be after my show).
I enlisted the help of one of the party guests to be my magicianís assistant for the remainder of the magic show. When we performed the last magic trick (making the birthday cupcake), Patrick was supposed to share the treats with his friends. Instead, he threw the treats back at me. Once again, I told Patrick how sorry I was that heíd lost his manners and again reminded him that he would be the last one to get a balloon.
I held firmly to that threatÖer that is, promise. As I started making the balloon animals, at first he was insistent that he wanted one. I reminded him how sorry I was, but he had made the choice to be last. I made him wait. Not one parent interrupted or interceded. I realized I was on my own. By the time I made his balloon animal and got into my car, I took a pen and wrote "BD PARTY FROM H___ !!!" across the top of his birthday booking sheet. I intended to never book another party with his family.
One week later, a mother called whose son had been a guest at Patrickís party. She wanted to book me for her sonís birthday. At first I was hesitant, concerned that Patrick would be there. But I figured it wasnít her sonís fault and he shouldnít be deprived of entertainment at his birthday. I booked the party and held my breath. When I arrived, Patrick wasnít anywhere around. I let out my breath and relaxed. Unfortunately, the little darling was just late, and his brother came along too. Patrick started in again, creating havoc where he could. I stopped and said "Oh, Patrick, it looks as if you still havenít found your manners." At this, the other parents started to chuckle. Obviously, they knew that this was normal behavior for Patrick and they were amused that I pointed out his unacceptable actions in front of his parents (who once again, did nothing). I reminded Patrick that he would be the last for a balloon again if he didnít behave. Well, you guessed it, Patrick got the last balloon at that party too.
A few months passed. I received a call from a mother who wanted to have a Halloween party. She didnít identify herself until we had already discussed what would happen and I let her know the date and time she wanted was available. At that point, she gave me her last name and my heart sank. It was Patrickís mom! I honestly believe that she deliberately didnít give her name, but I canít prove it. Anyway, I had no way out. I had already told her I could do it. So, we booked the party. When I arrived, I was intrigued and relieved to find Patrick had finally found his manners. I actually had a nice time at this party. I would like to think that he knew by then that when "Peppermint" set guidelines, she stuck by them and followed through. I honestly feel that all children need guidelines and boundaries. When there arenít any, they will push and test as far as they can go until they find the limits that are set for them.
I often wonder if I would do things different now, seven years later. Because of the way things turned out, I would probably do the same. However, that party has stayed with me long after all of the wonderful ones fade into the sunset. I would like to think the reason is because it is the only really bad one Iíve had. Oh sure, there are others that arenít the best, but this one definitely takes the cake (no pun intended). There doesnít seem to be anyway that you can be prepared for a party like this. All of the party planning with the parents ahead of time does not give you a hint that this might happen. It is parties like this that keep you wondering about "Murphyís Law" applying.
Some parties are problems because they werenít party planned properly. For instance, if you donít know how many children to expect and you havenít allowed enough time for the party. I accepted a party from another entertainer who had accidentally double-booked one afternoon. He filled me in one all of the pertinent information, including the fact that they were expecting 20 children. I was booked to do my basic show with magic, games, puppet show and balloon animals (one hour) plus paint faces (another 45 minutes). When I arrived, the party was at an apartment complex being held outside in the common yard area. Every single child from the complex decided to come to the party. There were at least 45 children. And the mother expected everyone would be taken care of. This is the time when you have to approach the parent and explain that some changes might have to be made, especially if you have another event to go to. I chose to complete everything, but abbreviated what I offered. For instance, I only offered a couple of choices of balloons, ones that only take a few seconds to make (i.e. pirate sword, bunny, puppy, etc.). For the face painting, instead of doing elaborate designs, I offered a few simple ones that go very quickly.
When I leave a party that has been a problem in any way, I always try to figure out what I could have done differently, how I could have handled things better, what I should do in the future if it ever comes up again. Maybe that is why these parties stay in our minds longer, because we give them more thought afterwards.
Some of the problem parties that readers have written about are due (by their own admission) to the inexperience of the entertainer (one of their first parties). It is fairly easy to see what could be done differently in the future to alleviate what has happened. For instance, if the party is outside in the hot sun and everyone is melting, the kids might start squirming or get distracted because they are uncomfortable. It is perfectly okay to move everyone to a shady area. If the children have to squint into the sun as they are looking up at you, they will start looking at other things and possibly become distracted. It is okay to move to the opposite side, turning the kids around so theyíre no longer looking directly into the sunshine. If the party is being held in a public park, asking the parent to provide name tags alleviates having to include all of the children from the swing set which can really throw off the timing of your party.
A number of these problems are easily taken care of the next time a similar situation comes along once the entertainer has had the experience and knows how to handle it differently in the future. Being able to relax and "go with the flow" is also important. Sometimes the party is scheduled to be in the living room but the kids would rather be in the family room, bedroom or even outside. If the children are reluctant to stay in the room where you are, feel free to follow them to find out what is so special in another room. Is there something that is enticing them (i.e. new toys, play structure, etc)? If so, it is okay to ask the parents to close off that room during the party. If it is just cooler or more comfortable in the other room and it is feasible for you to do so, move your show to where they are. If there is no obvious reason why they wonít stay in the room where you are, you might want to take a look at your show to see if it needs a tune up.
If there is a television set or stereo turned on which is distracting, it is perfectly okay to ask that it be turned off. Parents who start socializing can become loud and drown out what you are trying to say. Have the kids turn around and nicely say "shhh" to the offending adults.
At his pre-school last week, little Michael was turning 4. His class of 18 was joined by the other classes, totaling 40 three and four-year olds. The teachers seemed to be in complete, positive control of all of them throughout my show. Except for one little guy who just kept wandering around, close to me most of the time. I acknowledged him several times, but carefully kept an eye on him to make sure of where he was so I didnít step on him or run into him whenever I turned. I was curious as to why he was the only one allowed to wander, but figured that he possibly had a special personality or activity level that was the cause. However, when he laid on the floor in front of my trunk and started humming as loudly as he could (which drowned out what I was trying to say), I finally stopped, looked around the room and asked "And which teacher belongs to this little boy?" Everyone pointed to the teacher and I fully expected her to make a move, but she didnít. So, I said "and Iím sure youíre coming up here to take care of little Nathan, arenít you?" At this point, she made her move and took him back to sit with her.
In situations like this, it is not your responsibility to police the children. That is what the teachers are there for. You are a professional who has been hired to entertain. It is within your rights to ask for assistance from the teacher, the parent, the caregiver or whoever is in charge. Keep in mind that younger ones do tend to wander. But when assistance is required, by all means, ask for it.
That same week, I performed at a party for a group of 8 and 9-year-old boys. It was at the neighborhood recreation center at the swimming pool. It was a beautiful, hot spring day and the mother called the morning of the party to inform me that she was moving the location to the swimming pool instead of their home. The beautiful weather was a surprise and she wanted to take advantage of it. She asked if I could come an hour later so the boys could swim first. Believe me, that would definitely have been the right way to plan things. Unfortunately, I had another party to go to afterwards and my time wouldnít allow for an hour delay. So, I had to perform next to the swimming pool in the hot sun for 16 boys who were dying to get into the pool. Was it difficult to keep their attention? Yes, at times it was. Because I knew this would be a potential problem, I chose one of my magic tricks to be about money. If you can offer them a special surprise, or dangle the "proverbial carrot", it keeps their attention. With the money trick, I was able to say that everyone had a chance to win money. No one wanted to leave before we got to that trick. The question came up more than once "when do we get to swim?" I answered "as soon as you get your balloon". So, they knew that, when I started making balloon animals, they could leave to swim as soon as they got theirs. In fact, some of them decided they would take their balloon into the pool. It became a fun thing for them to play with, so each and every one of them wanted a balloon. I had worried that they might opt to go swimming rather than wait for a balloon, but that wasnít the case. Hindsight is always a great teacher. Wouldnít it have been fun to let the boys get into the pool while I made balloon rockets, shooting them into the pool for them to catch? How about blowing up the 260ís and let the boys make a raft out of them? Let your imagination take over.
A difficult party? Yes. What could have been done differently? Well, if I had known ahead of time, I would have asked the mother to have the party start a little earlier so they could swim for at least a few minutes prior to my arrival. Or, if my time had allowed it, it would have been better for me to come later. Because it was a last minute change, it was a time for the entertainer to "go with the flow", relax and enjoy the kids, be flexible and donít be too critical of yourself afterwards.
The bottom line is, we can take these parties and learn from them, learn how to do things differently in the future. That is what will make our parties continue to be better all the time.
LETíS GET ORGANIZED
Summertime company picnics are finished, the holiday events are coming up and, through it all, one thing remains constantÖbirthday parties. They are steady, year Ďround clowning and we should never take them for granted. As I pack all of my company picnic paraphernalia away until next year, I realize how grateful I am to settle back (albeit temporarily) into my birthday party routine.
This is a good time to renew your commitment to quality birthday parties. It is the time to organize all of your notes and booking sheets. When things are hectic, I have a tendency to drop everything into my "file" basket to be dealt with later. Now is a good time to go through it all and see that everything is finished before filing it away. "Finished" is making sure that all of my notes are intact. One thing I like to keep track of is what I did at each party. That way, when I do that same party the following year, it is easy to plan different activities to keep everything fresh and new for the same group of kids.
My birthday booking sheets are filed in chronological order in a 3-ring binder. I have one red birthday party binder for each year (I started this system in 1990, so I have ten years worth of records). The parties I have done in 1999 will be added to my master list (Microsoft Excel). This master list enables me to look up anyoneís name and see what dates I have performed for his or her party. When I get a call that is a referral, I can easily look up the party they saw me at. When a repeat party calls, I can open up to the last time I was at their home, easily accessing their address, phone number, siblings, etc. I have the same system for my company picnics (blue binders), church events (pink binders) and other events (gray binders). I classify other events as store promotions, wedding receptions, holiday events, school and library shows, etc.
During the fall and winter months, when things slow down a little from the frantic summer and holiday season, it is good time to repair, replenish and replace your props and supplies. It is amazing how much wear and tear our props start to show after repeated use. Are your silks getting frayed edges? Does that blooming bouquet have any feathers left on the stem? How about your face paints? Look at your brushes and replace those that cannot be salvaged. I paint quickly and my face paint supplies get messy. It is necessary to clean it out and replenish the glitters and paint colors on a regular basis.
Speaking of face painting, this is a great time to try new designs. Add more of a variety to your designs that you offer. I like to keep up with the current popular trends. The Pokemon designs are numerous, but the kids love them. If you offer full-face designs, try the Darth Maul from the new Star Wars movie. It is so visual and the pre-teen boys love it! Queen Amidala is another one that is very visual (and itís easy, too!)
Keeping up with the popular trends is also important with balloon sculpting. My "space laser gun" became a "Star Wars blaster". Try Darth Maulís double light-saber, remembering it is red. Get to know the colors for the different characters. Qui-Gon Jinnís light saber is green while Obi-Wan Kenobiís light saber is blue. Try an outlandish balloon hat as a hair / headdress design for Queen Amidala. I guarantee these will be huge hits with the kids!
Throughout the summer, I try new and different designs, but I also make a list of things I would like to work on when things slow down a little. This is the time to pull out that list and get everything accomplished. Learning a new skill requires time and commitment. Why not try juggling, stilts, unicycling, etc.? Have you always dreamed of being a ventriloquist? Go for it. Look into taking classes. Better yet, plan on attending the regional clown festival in your area. Donít forget that the international convention is in San Francisco in April. Of course, there is the Northwest Comedifest in Portland (May 19-21, 2000). You can sample different skills to see if you like them and then take the time to hone that skill over the next few months.
What about new skits / scenarios for your shows? Each summer, I offer a different comedy magic show to my corporate events, taking into consideration the ones I perform at year after year. I usually like to use something topical as a basis for my new show. However, there are wonderful classic skits that you can incorporate into your show. It is always fun to get the creative juices going to come up with new endings, new fun twists to the classics. Or simply make up something from scratch. Watch what is going on around you (people and activities). It is amazing how often a new idea will present itself just by people-watching. Go to the park, school, shopping mall, restaurant, etc. and just observe.
One of the funniest things Iíve ever seen was at a fair. I was sitting in the shade, enjoying a cold drink with friends watching people pass by. An elderly gentleman came strolling past. There was a plastic glass lying on the ground, which he hadnít noticed. Oblivious to what was in his path, he stepped on the glass, cracking it in half which made a loud noise. Surprised, he literally levitated into the air, with both feet moving fast but not getting him anywhere. It reminded us of a cartoon where the character is trying to run, but remains in one place until their feet hit the ground. The gentlemen tried to retain his dignity by acting as if nothing had happened. It was one of those moments where you wish you had a video camera, because it would surely have been worthy of being shown on television. But wait, thatís not all. He apparently was making a loop of the area on his walk because, before long, he passed in front of us again. He must have been thinking of something else because, believe it or not, he stepped on the glass a second time. Once again, he levitated in the air, with his feet doing their little dance shuffle before touching the ground again. Trying to regain his dignity was a little harder this time. Imagine our anticipation when he came around the third time. It was clearly too good to be true that he was aiming for the same cup! We were poised and ready to watch the dance shuffle one more time. The anticipation was clearly there. As he got closer to the cup, we leaned forward to watch every nuance of his next few steps. And thenÖ..wait a minute. Iím not going to finish this. Thereís a skit in this. Letís see what you can come up with. There are skits in a lot of what we see and do every day. You just have to open up your eyes and your mind to take it all in.
Not only do I want my show to be new, but I also like to offer new games and activities for them to select from. Have you added parachute games yet? I love the fact that parachute play is non-competitive. There are different sizes available to accommodate the small event as well as the larger ones.
Many of you have requested information on games. The following information, provided by Mike "Buster" Bednarek, is about books offering ideas on non-competitive play:
Books: The first two listed below are out-of-print, but you might have some luck at a used bookstore or through an out-of-print book search service like amazon.com.
The New Games Book The New Games Foundation, edited by Andrew Fleugelman. Doubleday, New York, 1976.
More New Games! Andrew Fluegelman. Doubleday, New York, 1981.
Playfair: Everybodyís Guide to Non-Competitive Play. Matt Weinstein and Joel Goodman. Impact Publishing, San Luis Obispo (CA), 1980.
Websites: The first one listed is quite extensive, offering workshops, videos, business seminars, books (including a few copies of More New Games!), equipment and additional resources.
New Games: http://www.mcn.org/a/newgames/
Deep Fun: http://www.deepfun.com/
Now, letís look at your costume. Do you need a new one or should you just spruce up what you have. Remember that your clown character should have a wardrobe, just like you do. Have several costumes to choose from. A particular style and/or color may be your trademark, but use different fabric patterns for a slightly different look. How does your wig look? Is it getting pretty frazzled? Wash it, trim it, style it or replace it. How about your shoes? There are shoe repair shops that can help with new soles, heels, polishing, etc.
Another focus should be your promotional materials (i.e. business cards, fliers, etc.). With the ease of computer programs, you can design and print up your own business cards. So there is no excuse for crossing off an old phone number or address. Keep everything updated, use color, have fun with them. Have you made up promotional fliers or promo packs? Remember to ask event coordinators and birthday parents for testimonials. These are important additions to your promo information. What do you offer? What types of events do you perform at? What have people said about you (testimonials)?
If you surf the net, you can interact with other entertainers online. Create your own webpage, post notes on the clown bulletin board, interact with other clowns in the chat rooms. Make new friends and keep in touch with clowns youíve met at the various conventions via the net.
This is also a good time for education. Read books, subscribe to Bruce Johnsonís The Clown In Times series, watch videos and practice, practice, practice! There is a multitude of resource materials out there. Check with the library, your local clown alley, dealersí rooms at the festivals and conventions, etc.
If you havenít already, volunteer your time and talents. Not a week goes by without at least one call for volunteer clowning. There are fundraisers, charitable organizations, and worthwhile causes. A nice way to build up your birthday party business is to offer a gift certificate to a school auction for one of your birthday parties. Print up a nice certificate stating that it is good for one birthday party, with details of what it entails. Put a one-year expiration date on it and ask for 2 weeks advance notice. The auction will usually put together a birthday package, including your certificate, party paper products, a cake, maybe even a pizza. This is a great way to do a party and get your name out to other families, especially if you donít advertise in the phone book. Private schools are well known for needing this type of donation of services. A little bit of research on your part into these types of opportunities can open up a lot of doors.
Retirement centers, nursing homes, hospital visits, etc. are another way to offer your services. If you want to do this type of volunteering, by all means do so. It will be appreciated by the residents and patients and you will get so much in return. Of course, you need to check with the administration / volunteer services ahead of time to find out what their requirements and restrictions are and for them to get to know you. S.I.D.S. Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy, Special Olympics, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and Foster Families are just a few of the worthwhile organizations that regularly hold events that would benefit from your volunteering as a clown.
This time of year is also special because I get to celebrate "Peppermintís" birthday, which is October 31st. It is a time for me to reflect on the way clowning has changed and enhanced my life over the past 19 years. The people Iíve met, the friends Iíve made and the events I have been a part of. This issue also marks my 3-year anniversary of writing this column for The New Calliope. I appreciate the support that Cal Olson (editor) has given me and his patience and understanding when he has to remind me of the deadline for my articles. I value the friendships that I have made with all of you who write me on a regular basis. I am so proud of my sons: Jeremy (19-1/2) who performs as "Sammy" when heís home from college and Timothy (17) who is one of my talented face painters. One more thing to be grateful for is that clowning brought me together with my best friend and business partner Angel Ocasio.
Happy birthday to meÖ..
THE "WHITE LIE"
How many times have we heard the expression "Do as I say, not as I do"? Well, I should have listened to my own advice.
The message on my voice mail was from the mother of a little boy, Sean, whose birthday I entertained at last year. She was planning his party for this year and wanted to book me again. The Saturday she was talking about I was not available. In fact, I was not available for that entire weekend. Instead of telling her that I was booked at other events, I honestly explained that we had friends coming in from out of town. I told her I was sorry that the date wouldnít work; but, if she wanted, we could look at alternate dates; or, if she was locked into that date, I would be more than happy to refer her to another entertainer.
It was a mistake to tell her that I wasnít available due to personal reasons. I should have taken my own advice and simply said I was booked (The New Calliope, Jan. / Feb. 1997) or out of town. These are, in my opinion, acceptable "white lies" in our business. Of those two options, I figured that if I told her I was booked on that date, she would have tried to talk me into squeezing her party in somewhere during that day. Or she would have tried to book me for the early morning or evening. I didnít want to have to go through the process of turning down every option she might come up with to stay with that day. So, I broke my own "rules" and told her I had blocked out the entire weekend because we had friends coming in from out of town. Mistakenly, I assumed she would understand.
She called back to beg me to make an appearance at her sonís party, even if it would only be for 30 minutes. Her message was lengthy, citing all of the reasons I should do this, including laying a heavy guilt trip on me about how upset and disappointed her son would be if I didnít make it to his party. She was sure that this was more important than any personal plans I might have.
When I received this message, I had to sit back and take a good look at this situation. It brought up several issues:
Sometimes a "little white lie" is okay. If I had told her I was going to be out of town, it would have eliminated her trying to convince me to "make an appearance" at her sonís party. If I had told her I was booked solid for the day and/or weekend, she might have tried to find a time where I could squeeze her party in. However, she would have been much more accepting of my not being available.
Once I gave a personal reason as an excuse, it left me wide open. It is unfortunate but true that people view entertainers as always being available. Available to answer the phone day or night, available to perform on any day, any evening, any weekend. I have received phone calls on Christmas morning at 9:30 am from a grandmother wanting to book me for an event the following week for all of her grandchildren. Of course, I didnít answer the call, since it was coming in on my business phone. But, it surprised me because it was a call about a Christmas party, so this grandmother had to be thinking of what day it was and what time she was calling. I have also received calls on every other imaginable holiday including Thanksgiving, Motherís Day, Fatherís Day, etc. These are special days, in my home, when I choose not to answer the business phone.
Calls come in late at night, sometimes at 2:00 or 3:00 am. The reason behind this, I believe, is simply that people call when they are thinking of their event. They might assume that a business phone is in an office, usually considered to be away from the home. Consequently, they feel free to call at all hours of the day or night, assuming it wonít bother you. Or it may be that they just arenít using common sense as to what time they are calling. This is another reason why itís a good idea to have a separate phone for your clowning business, so you will be able to let the voice mail take over when you donít want to be answering business-related calls.
A lot of calls come in late afternoon or early evening and the message is usually a request to get back to them that same day. The assumption is that we work or are available at all hours of the day or night to answer their questions and book their party. It continues to surprise me when the voice mail registers at 8:30 pm and the message from the parent is asking that I still return the call that same evening. On the occasions when I comply and try to reach them at night, they are usually in the middle of getting their little ones to bed and it is a difficult time to talk. Consequently, I prefer to wait and return their call the following morning. If they are working at a job during the day, then you can leave a message to let them know you are returning their call and ask what is the most convenient time to get back to them. You can also request any additional number(s) where you can reach them during the day.
As far as working on holidays, each entertainer has their own preferences. Calls come in for every conceivable day, event and time. Every year, I receive requests to perform for birthday parties for Christmas Eve and New Yearís Eve, almost always in the early evening. Ironically, these are the same ones who want a lower, discounted price for their party. Not only are they looking for someone who doesnít celebrate those days, but they are also looking for competitive pricing. This has always made me scratch my head and wonder if they really thought through their plans before making the phone calls to various entertainers. Of course, it is entirely up to you, the individual performer, whether you consider doing parties on these days or not. It is also up to you to decide whether to honor someoneís request for a lower, discounted price. My personal feelings are that, if someone is requesting an entertainer on a special holiday, the fee should be your normal fee or possibly a slightly higher rate. Again, that is your own personal decision.
If you do not wish to perform on holidays, it is beneficial to find out which quality entertainers DO perform. Then you can refer those events on to professionals. There are several wonderful clowns in my area who are not married and do not have children. Consequently, they view Motherís and Fatherís Days as Ďjust another Sundayí and are more than happy to perform. They also will work on Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday and many other special times. Parents and event coordinators are very grateful if you can direct them to another performer for their special day events. This is usually better than just telling the caller that youíre not available, hanging up and leaving them floundering as to who else to call. It will leave them appreciative of the help youíve given them if you can refer them on to someone who you know will do a good job for their event.
Now, getting back to Seanís party. Another issue this brought up is:
Parents do not have any concept as to the time involved in getting ready to do a birthday party. Seanís mother was asking me to "just come over for about 30 minutes" right in the middle of the day when she already had been told we had friends coming in from out of town. I had this vision of what she must picture my home life asÖthat I run around my house always looking like "Peppermint" and can simply hop into my car to make a 30 minute appearance. It makes one chuckle, but also realize that this is not as unusual as one might think.
The general public has no concept as to what we go through to do a birthday party: planning the party, packing our case, getting into makeup and driving to their home. After the party is through, we drive back home, get out of makeup and unpack / put things away. Depending on how much time it takes to get into makeup and how far we have to travel both ways, a one-hour party can encompass 3 to 5 hours. That is one of the reasons that I prefer to perform at more than one party on any given day; because, once Iím in makeup, Iíd rather do multiple events. The preparation time is the same whether you are doing one party or more than one party.
After Seanís mother asked me to do a quick, 30-minute appearance, I realized that she never stopped to consider the limitations it would put on an entire day for this. In her mind, it was simply a matter of my excusing myself from my friends, hopping in the car, making the short appearance and being able to continue where I left off upon my return home. It didnít occur to her that it would eliminate my making any plans to be away from my home, to take our friends sight-seeing, to make early dinner plans, to get tickets to a movie or theatre or whatever. All she could think of was securing entertainment for her childís party. That was her focusÖthat was the most important thing to her.
That is one thing that all of us should always keep in mind. The parent calling for her childís birthday party is concerned with just one thing: getting entertainment for her childís special day. If we keep this in mind, it can help with our perspective and reactions to the phone calls as they come in. The parent doesnít want to hear about our personal plans. They donít want to hear of possible problems with scheduling. They donít want to hear any of the normal, everyday-living conflicts that we might encounter. They are interested in one thing: are you or are you not available to entertain at their childís party.
Because of my citing a personal reason to Seanís mother, I had to call her back and explain that we had plans with our friends for that day and those plans would not allow for me to make even a 30-minute appearance. I then gave her names and phone numbers or other quality entertainers that she could call. I could have alleviated all of those back-and-forth phone calls if I had just followed my own advice.
That is why I have said it before and I will say it again: that it is better not to tell a parent that you cannot do their childís party because of personal reasons (doctor / dentist appointments, parent / teacher conferences, your childís soccer team pizza party, lunch with a friend or having friends staying with you from out of town, etc.). It keeps it professional if you simply tell the parent that you are already booked for that time. It sounds so much better for the parent to tell their friends that they were unable to get a certain clown for their childís party because he / she was already booked rather than that you were unavailable because you wanted to hit the sidewalk sales at the mall.
Keeping it professional at all times is best. The parents and event coordinators will be respectful of your schedule and, also, any assistance you can give them in finding a suitable replacement for their party or event. Word of mouth advertising is worth its weight in gold and parents do talk to each other. If we can eliminate the "spaghetti" when we talk to parents, it sounds much more professional. The spaghetti is all the unnecessary, extraneous information and excuses. Follow the "KISS" philosophy: Keep It Simple Silly.
And remember to always have fun with your clowning!
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PO Box 13187 * Portland, OR 97213