Peppermint Goes To Malaysia

                                        F.A.Q. (The Sequel)

                                        Student Clown

                                        Advertise!

                                        A 50th Birthday Party

                                        Want A Tip?

 

Peppermint Goes To Malaysia

Imagine getting an e-mail from someone you’ve never heard of asking "What would you do if we brought you to Malaysia to perform?"

After verifying that it was a legitimate inquiry and making a number of inquiries of my own as to the event and types of performances they were looking for, I accepted the "gig" and Angel Ocasio and I flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Well, it wasn’t all that simple, of course, and there were weeks of e-mails, faxes, fed-exes, passports & work permits, shots and a contract. Then onto the plane for 26-1/2 hours of travel before arriving at our destination.

The performances were for the kick-off of their Christmas / holiday season. The stage was in a 5-story shopping mall complex adjoining a 5-star resort hotel. In addition, there was a water park plus an amusement park. We were each scheduled to perform two 30-minute shows per day for three days. Sounded simple enough. Oh, how naïve I was!

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur (home of the Twin Towers, the tallest building in the world) shortly after noon on a Thursday. By the time we’d cleared customs, picked up our luggage and arrived at the beautiful hotel, it was 2:30 pm. We were informed there was a meeting with the shopping complex’s management at 4:30 (in just 2 hours)! I’d been up for close to 40 hours by then and would love to have taken a nap. Oh well, the nap would have to wait. Just time for a quick shower, unpack a little and off to meet with everyone I’d only met via e-mail up until then.

We knew before arriving that they needed our help in choreographing their big opening ceremony / launch of their holiday celebration (their Fun Jestival). They were anticipating 45 clowns to be a part of this, most of whom had never been in makeup before. Clowning is fairly new to Malaysia, so most of the ones slated to be in the opening ceremony were First of Mays. They had asked us to put the 45 min. show together, incorporating 45 clowns, jesters and Malaysian V.I.P.’s after which Angel and I would perform together for our first show. The rehearsal was scheduled for 7:30 pm, just 2 hours after finishing up our meeting. Oh well, the nap would still have to wait.

It was close to 10 pm before the rehearsal was finished. Back to the room to finish unpacking and get to bed. We had to be up at 5:00 am for a live radio interview they had scheduled for us. This turned out to be a blast. Shazmin and Richard are the two DJ’s of this popular morning radio show. Because they didn’t know how the interview would go, they taped it to start with in case they needed to edit anything. However, everything went great and they ran both interviews in full.

Back to the shopping center for a quick cup of coffee, then it was time to get into makeup. This particular performance was going to be special for me, not only because it was the first time I’d performed in Malaysia, but also the first time I’d ever eaten fire while I was "Peppermint". I normally do my fire-eating when I perform as myself. So this was a ‘double-debut’ for me.

The newspapers had already come out with the promo ads that we were going to be there. The press and television cameras were there for the launch ceremony. They had also invited groups of children from homes for special needs to be part of the audience. The show went off without a hitch and everyone headed to McDonald’s where they had a special lunch for all the children. The boys were so funny! They all wanted Peppermint to teach them how to eat fire.

After all the press was gone, Angel and I were invited to join the management for dinner. It was very interesting to eat food when you have no idea what most of it is. They were all very good about answering all of my questions as to what was dinner and what was dessert.

Now it was time for my first solo performance. I already knew that everyone there speaks 3 languages including English, so there wouldn’t be much of a language barrier. However, there are cultural differences and we had been informed that Malaysian children were much more passive of an audience than those in the United States, that they would be less likely to interact and more likely to be reticent. I found this to be quite true when I asked for my first volunteer and didn’t get any reaction. I finally went into the audience and asked one girl if she would hold onto my magic wand for me. She agreed. Then as I went back up onto the stage, I asked her if she’d bring me the wand. She agreed and brought it to me. Phew! My first ‘volunteer’! Now all of the children could see that it was fun to be onstage and I didn’t have trouble getting them to come up after that.

After that, I figured out how to get the children to volunteer more easily right from the start. As I began, I would explain that there would be times throughout the show where I might need someone to come up on stage to help me. If they wanted to be my helper, all they had to do was raise their hand up in the air. I would then ask them to all try putting their hands up in the air. It worked like a charm. The minute I would start looking for a volunteer, their little hands would shoot up into the air and it seemed that everyone was anxious to come up on stage.

They provided an emcee who did a great job of introducing us before each of our shows. And it was incredibly thrilling to hear the announcement that we were "from the United States of America"! As I walked out onto the stage, it was amazing to see people crowded against the railings of the other 4 stories of the shopping mall as well as the crowd that gathered in front of the stage for each show. I took great pride in the fact that I felt I was representing the United States to the people of Malaysia.

Even though we had been ready for the children to be a passive audience, all it took was getting used to their tempo, figuring out how to perform to them, to get them to actively participate. After all, this was a different culture and it was important to keep that in mind. We found it was imperative to make eye contact with everyone. This included people on all 5 levels of this huge shopping complex. It was important to look up to each level and look all around to bring them into the show. It was necessary to use the entire stage area (which, by the way, was a huge stage). We also found that we needed to slow things down, not to rush anything, to allow the audience the opportunity to digest everything we did. Once we had that figured out, the families interacted with us just as much in Malaysia as they do here at home.

Actually, Angel had them eating out of his hand from the minute he stepped onto the stage. His style of physical comedy and talent is universally understood, appreciated and applauded. I saw him fill up that huge stage with his presence. He worked the crowd from every angle of the stage. Considering there were several thousand people surrounding us at any one time, this was amazing. I’m the one who had to fine-tune what I was doing to fit their style of humor. But once I got it figured out, it was a lot of fun.

It was truly amazing after each show. The children (as well as the parents) all wanted to come up and shake our hands and take pictures. Because this was a resort area, everyone there had a camera. Not only did they take pictures around the stage before and after each show, but also as we walked through the mall to and from the hotel (which was right next door and adjoined to the mall). In addition, other local professional clowns (who read about us in the newspaper) came backstage after our shows to meet us. They brought photo albums of their clown characters to share with us.

Each night, we were taken out to local eateries that consisted of many different cooking kiosks. The foods were different, the spices were different, the drinks were different. The mix and match of flavors was unique and interesting. (One drink that I thought was an iced mocha turned out to be soybean milk with seaweed. I wimped out and ordered a Coke instead.) They took us downtown Kuala Lumpur to see the twin towers and other points of interest. If you’ve seen the movie "Entrapment" with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones, you’ve seen the towers. The friendliness and camaraderie of our new Malaysian friends was incredible!

We were there during their monsoon season, so it was raining and in the 90’s. Because this was their holiday season and I knew the performing would be in an air-conditioned mall, I took my winter-weight Christmas outfit. Oh what a mistake that was! It’s true that the hotel and shopping mall were both air conditioned and were connected. However, it was necessary to walk outside briefly to get to the joining walkway. The heat took my breath away as I stepped outside of the hotel. I never knew it could be so hot and humid at the same time. My camera lens would even fog up from the humidity whenever I tried to take a picture outside! The next time, I will have a summer-weight Christmas outfit made specifically for their weather.

Our three days of performing seemed to fly by and soon it was time to come home. We were only gone for 8 days, 5 of which were spent in Malaysia. We left many new friends behind but I know I still carry them in my heart.

 

F.A.Q. (The Sequel)

First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you who wrote or called me in response to last month’s article on Angel’s and my trip to Malaysia. I had no idea so many of you had visited or actually lived there. And the stories and reports that you’ve all sent to me were filled with wonderful experiences, just like what we had. What a great testament to how universal our clowning really is!

Several issues ago, I started a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that we all, as clowns, encounter at some time or another. I’d like to address more of these questions and situations and offer some ideas on how to respond with humor and control.

How many times are you asked "What are you giving out?", "Do you have candy for us?" or they might even demand "Give me something!" Every time I see clowns in a parade throwing wrapped candy out into the crowd, I cringe. This bothers me for several reasons. First, children will jump up and run to pick up the candy. They aren’t really paying any attention to what else is going on around them. Consequently, they might run into the parade route and possibly get hurt. They might run into each other in their mad scramble to pick up as many pieces as possible. Only a few children will actually get any of the candy, causing the others frustration or even tears because they feel they lost out. This can cause problems for their parents and other spectators surrounding them. Another reason is that there are children who aren’t allowed to have candy, either for health and dental reasons or allergies, etc. And finally, this only perpetuates the expectation that all clowns will have candy to give away at other events. When my boys were younger (they’re now 18 & 21), I solved this problem by bringing along a bag of bulk candy in my backpack. When I saw the offending clowns coming down the parade route tossing a few measly pieces of candy into the crowds, I’d reach into my backpack, pull out a handful of my candy and toss it on the blanket in front of me where the boys were sitting. I’d say "Wow! Look at this!" My boys never ran out into the street, never ran into another child darting out after the clowns and I always knew it was good, clean candy. Obviously after a few years of this, they figured out what I was doing. Then, as soon as they saw the clowns coming down the street, they’d turn to me and ask where ‘our’ candy was!

So, what do we say when a child asks if we’re handing out candy or if we’re giving something away? This, of course, depends on what you’re hired to do. If you are providing strolling entertainment, you might ask them to help you with some pocket magic. If you’re going to be making balloons later on, you can let them know that is coming up. Sometimes I have stickers with me. However, I really try to stay away from giving them something at that moment. I’d rather try to entertain them instead. I feel it is important that children realize that a clown is an entertainer first and foremost. If they insist on my giving them something, I’ll stop and flash them my biggest smile and tell them "Just for you, my best, my one and only, top of the line, grade A…SMILE" And then I tell them that now they can give a smile to someone else too. It’s definitely better than giving out candy.

Another common question concerns your name. The little ones accept right away what your clown name is. However, as they get older, they begin to question if that’s your ‘real’ name. By the time they’re a pre-teen, they just come right out and ask "What’s your real name?" So how do we answer these questions? I always like to use the K.I.S.S. theory (Keep It Simple Silly). If a child asks "Is that your real name?" I answer "yes". Often, that’s all the answer they’ll require. However, if they persist, I’ll ask what their name is. When they tell me, I’ll turn the question around and ask them "Is that your real name?" They usually start to giggle and say "Yes, of course it is". To which I reply, "Well, so is mine."

When they get to the point where they actually ask what your real name is, they’re old enough that you’re not going to convince them, no matter what you say. So, have fun with this. No, I’m not suggesting that you tell them your real name. I’ll usually stop and think about this question for a moment, pondering the complexity of what they’ve just asked. Then, I’ll quietly sing "Happy Birthday" to myself, until I get to the line "Happy Birthday dear Peppermint" and I’ll stop singing, give them an elated look and confirm that Peppermint is, in fact, my ‘real’ name. By the time we get this far in our little conversation, they’re laughing and no longer seem concerned about any other name possibility. Another thing I like to do is take on everyone else’s name. I’ll find out someone’s name is Suzie and I‘ll look incredulous and say "Why, that’s MY name, too". The kids will say "No, it’s Peppermint". I’ll tell them "Suzie is my middle name". They’ll laugh and say "No, it’s not". Then the next child might be Jordan. I’ll stop, look incredulous and say "Why that’s MY name, too". Again, the children will correct me. By the time I do this for the third time, the kids are insisting that my name is Peppermint. Once again, they’ve answered their own question.

Another frequent question is "are you a boy clown or a girl clown?" This amuses me because my look is so feminine. I’m frilly with lace and ribbons and curls; yet, I still get asked this question. There are several ways I answer this. One is to point out my long curly hair with the bow and ribbons, my dress, my lacy anklets and then stand there thinking about it. I’ll finally shrug my shoulders and ask "What do you think?" They’ll always say "a girl", which is answering their own question. If it’s an older child, asking me "are you a boy or girl?" I’ll answer "yes". They stop for just a moment and then start laughing, telling me I’m a girl.

"Where do you live" is another F.A.Q. I answer "in a house". Then I ask where they live. When they answer "in a house", I act amazed and say "wow, me too!" As you can tell, I love to turn the questions around, back to them. I like to get the children talking about themselves and what they like to do, what are their pets and what are their names, etc. Children love to talk about themselves and what they’ve been doing. Just give them that opening, that opportunity and then stand back and enjoy what they have to say.

As we all know, a clown’s nose is a definite object of interest. Children (as well as adults) want to now if it honks. They want to touch it. They might try to pull it off. But, most of all, they want to know why it’s red. The honking and nose touching were previously discussed (The New Calliope, Nov/Dec. 2000), so let’s move on to why our noses are red. There are many different stories that you can come up with as to why your nose looks like it does. Whey they ask "why is your nose red?" I like to say "Oh, is it still red?" They say "yes" and I tell them I walked into an elevator and forgot how small the room was and walked right, smack, into the wall. Of course, this is told with a lot of physical comedy movements. When I’m through, I say "so that’s why it’s red". We’ve all had a good laugh, and they’ve been assured that it doesn’t hurt and we continue on with whatever their next question is going to be.

One thing I try to remember is not to take these questions too seriously. Often times, a question is a child’s way of stating a conversation with us. After all, we might be the first clown they’ve ever seen up close. They don’t necessarily really want the exact answers or even valid answers. They just want to get close and connect with us, maybe get some attention from us. Your answers can be fun, creative and endearing. This is not the time to recite the rules for competition as to why your makeup looks the way it does. And it’s not usually a challenge as to our authenticity when the question comes from a little one.

Notice I didn’t include teenagers in this statement. Teens challenge everything about everyone! If you don’t take it as a personal affront, it will be easier to be patient with these temporary aliens. As I’ve said before, when they question or challenge me with their sarcastic questions and statements (i.e. "You’re not a real clow-w-w-wn!"), I usually answer with an equally sarcastic "Du-u-u-uh!" However, if they say something like "I hate clowns", I’ll usually respond with a gentle "I’m sorry to hear that" and wait. There have been times when this opened up the door for the teen to tell me why he or she feels that way and, after a short conversation, it ended up on a very positive note. The usual reaction, though, is the conversation ends and we each go our separate way. For the most part, I truly enjoy teenagers. I love to watch and listen to them. They are entertainment themselves. They’re just going through their awkward ‘alien’ stage and we need to be understanding of that.

Questions from children don’t bother me. I believe that they stem from a natural curiosity about us. After all, we’re life-size cartoon characters who don’t look like any one else in their normal, everyday life. Embrace their curious nature and enjoy your conversations with them. As always, remember to have fun with your clowning!

 

STUDENT CLOWN

So, you’re going to a clown convention, festival or clown school. Whether it’s your first time or not, this article is about how to get the most out of being a participant. I have received letters asking me this question and had planned on writing an article about it. Having just returned from the Ft. Worth convention, I felt it was a good time to address some sensitive issues as well as help first-timers along.

If you’ve ever wondered about what it’s like to go to a weekend or weeklong clown convention, let me tell you that there’s nothing else like it. You’ll live, eat and breathe clowning 24 hours a day for however long you’re there. You will be among people who understand your love of laughter, your love of people and your love of clowning. This, in itself, is an incredible experience.

First of all, shake off all the nervousness and be prepared to have a great time! My first convention was also my first time flying by myself, my first time with other clowns and my first time away from my husband and children. I arrived at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada all by myself, not knowing anyone else there. I checked into my dorm room and headed to the cafeteria for dinner. Walking into a large room full of people eating, not knowing a single person was disconcerting, to say the least. Just as I was reaching for a tray, someone said "Hi, mind if I join you?" It was an angel from Ohio named Jeanie. She was all alone too and we became fast friends. We had so much in common that we switched roommates so we could be together. We’d stay up late into the night sharing our ideas and stories. We attended as many classes as we possibly could. We were interested in different things, so we took notes and then shared them with each other. It doubled our perspective on what we learned.

We signed up for anything and everything. I had never been that interested in puppetry, but took several classes, just to see what it was all about. I even performed for "Pot Pourri" which was similar to Open Mic at The Comedifest. Every mealtime, Jeanie and I would join a new table of people and made lots of new friends. It was intoxicating and was truly the most rewarding week I’ve ever spent. Things that I learned that week are things I use to this day in my clowning.

So what made it work so well? I think it is important to be open to everything and everyone. I took classes that were new and intriguing. I listened, took notes and organized them whenever I got back to my room. Having a roommate is a big plus. If there are 2 classes you both want to take at conflicting times, you can each go to a different one and then share the notes. This can be done with other participants too. In the classes, I always tried to sit next to someone new and introduce myself. It is wonderful to meet so many new people.

At mealtimes, never sit by yourself. Don’t be afraid to walk up to a table where there’s an empty chair and ask if you can join them. The answer will always be ‘yes’. Clowns are friendly and love to talk. Once seated, introduce yourself and then listen. If I can stress anything, it’s to LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. I’ve learned more about clowning from listening…in classes, at lunch tables, at impromptu get-togethers, in performances, etc. You can’t learn something if you’re the one doing the talking.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing your own experiences. But figure out when’s the best time to talk. Are you being asked to share? Then by all means, share. Are you in an informal gathering where everyone’s sharing? Then, by all means, share. And don’t be afraid to share…afraid that your stories might not be as ‘good’ as someone else’s. You’ll be amazed at the wide variety of skill levels and experience levels that will be all around you. Even if you’re with a group that you feel is much more experienced…if they ask you to share, then go ahead. Then, be prepared to learn from their comments on what you just told them. It’s like an impromptu coaching session.

Sitting around at tables at mealtime, there are impromptu balloon sessions, magic sessions, juggling, etc. You never know what’s going to happen next. Absorb it all, inhale it, and learn from it. You’ll laugh so much, your mouth will hurt. You’ll learn so much, you’ll forget half of it after each class. Write copious notes in classes. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Even if you think you’d never be interested in something, if you get an opportunity to try it, go for it. You never know when that new door of opportunity will open for you.

Don’t be afraid to approach the instructors. There’s nothing wrong with inviting an instructor to join you for coffee or lunch, etc. Another thing to try is competition. Even if you’re new, go ahead and compete. Don’t worry about winning an award. Compete for the sake of learning. You’ll learn so much from the coaches’ notes that will help you improve and grow.

During performances, don’t distract yourself by taking notes. Sit back and enjoy the performance! Notice the nuances of stage presence, audience interaction, physical comedy and skills. Enjoy the show. Later, you can debrief and evaluate what you saw and learn from it.

So, now here are some do’s and don’ts for everyone in classes and performances at clown conventions and festivals.

You can take your cell phone or pager with you when you travel, but please, please, please leave it in your room. There is nothing more distracting then a phone ringing or pager beeping in the middle of a lecture or show. At one class I attended at the convention in Ft. Worth, no less than 5 cell phones rang during one 50-minute class. That’s once every 10 minutes. It is thoroughly distracting and ruins the continuity of the lecture. If you have an emergency that makes it necessary to have your phone or pager with you, please put it on vibrate. The same restrictions for cell phones and pagers apply to performances and competitions. It is disruptive to everyone in the audience, not to mention the performer(s), when a phone is ringing. Please be a courteous audience member and be supportive of the performer(s) on stage.

While in a class / lecture, please let the instructor teach. Too often, questions are asked that would have been answered a few minutes later during the lecture. There are always designated times when the instructor asks if there are any questions. If you have a question, jot it down so you don’t forget it. If it doesn’t come up in the class, by all means ask it when the instructor asks for questions. There are always going to be questions that come up. What is important is to not distract from the continuity of the class. And please remember to keep your questions to the subject of the class. If you have concerns in another area, connect with the instructor after class.

I know how much fun it is to share your favorite stories about clowning. However, during a lecture is not the appropriate time. It interrupts the learning process and creates a disjointed teaching structure. Save those wonderful stories for later around the lunch table or sitting in groups in the hotel lobby or impromptu gatherings in the dorm rooms.

Recently at a staff panel discussion, a series of questions led to comments and then totally unrelated stories by the audience members. The entire focus of the panel discussion was disrupted and it was difficult to get people back on track. What I am suggesting is that you think twice about what you might be asking or what comment you might want to make. Ask yourself if it pertains to what is being discussed. If not, wait until a more appropriate time, so as not to disrupt the continuity of the class.

If you want to tape a lecture or performance (either audio or video), always check ahead of time to see if it is appropriate and/or allowed. Try to be inconspicuous if you are videotaping, so as not to disrupt others’ view. Remember to be sensitive to the wishes of the instructor or performer. It is, after all, something they’ve worked hard in preparing and you need to respect their decision.

If I can offer another piece of advice, it would be to slow down and take the time to learn. We live in a world that is used to instant results. We have instant beverages, microwavable food, immediate access to the Internet…and now we seem to want ‘instant professional clown’. We live in a society that promotes fast, faster and fastest. It’s no wonder that we want immediately what it takes years to develop.

One of my favorite TV sitcoms was "Home Improvement" with Tim "The Toolman" Taylor. One episode was about his wife Jill’s class reunion. Tim took along his ‘suit in a bag’, which was a business suit all in a bag. He was so smug about being able to pack so easily. When it came time for him to wear it, it was all wrinkled and he looked horrible. It was hysterical.

I keep waiting for someone to come up with "Clown in a bag", a way to become an instant clown. It would include a costume, wig, makeup, a few simple tricks and balloons, business cards and you’d be ready to go. "Clown in a bag". But it doesn’t work like that. We all know we need to put time and energy and commitment into learning our craft and honing our skills. If I may quote Harry Allen from Daytona Magic "The trick isn’t good. It’s how you do it that makes it good." I think this applies to more than magic. The "how we do it" whether it pertains to magic, balloons, physical comedy, face painting, puppetry, etc. is what takes practice, time and commitment. The learning process never ends. We’re all still learning, no matter where we’re at in our performing careers.

So, go to the conventions, festivals, Comedifest, schools of clowning and learn, learn, learn. As always, remember to have fun with your clowning!

 

ADVERTISE!

So, you love to clown and you want to perform at birthday parties. But the phone isn’t ringing as often as you’d like. How do you get your name out? Glad you asked. You need to advertise. Too often, advertising is taught in two parts. First you need to get business cards, then you need to place an ad in the yellow pages of the phone book. Let me assure you that this is a tremendous jump from point A to point B. And there are lots of advertising venues in between. Let’s explore some of them.

First, let me point out that each and every time you go out in the public as a clown, you are advertising. People who see you and like what they see will remember you later when they need to hire a clown. But you must take the initiative to make sure they know who you are. This is where business cards are a must.

It used to be that a print shop was the only place to get business cards made. Now, in this wonderful computer age, you can make them up yourself. The nice thing about computer business cards is that you are able to change them whenever you want. No need anymore to scratch out an old phone number and hand-write a new number on your card, which looks tacky and unprofessional. Simply make new ones and print them out. As you grow with your clown character, changing your look, adding new skills, etc., you are able to easily and quickly change this information on your cards. However, once you get to a point where you are comfortable with what you offer, how you look and have a permanent phone number, I recommend getting your business cards done by a professional. Raised lettering looks better than flat printing. Color photos are an eye-catcher. These are best done by the professional printers.

Let’s get back to being out in public. Where can you go to advertise yourself? Start thinking about where young families with children like to go. Parks, shopping malls, libraries, children’s clothing stores, children’s museum, swimming pools, etc. are places they like to go. They also go to the pediatrician’s office, the dentist, to get their hair cut, pre-school, kindergarten, school carnivals, etc. Once you start thinking along these lines, you’ll be able to pinpoint where to focus your advertising efforts.

You don’t need to physically go to each and every one of these places in costume & makeup. You can leave advertising materials (i.e. business cards, fliers, pictures, etc.) that are easily accessible to the parents and children. It is a good idea to get permission to leave these things ahead of time. Call first, explain who you are and what you do and ask if it’s okay to bring in business cards, fliers, etc. They may ask for references first, so be prepared to give them names and phone numbers. Or they may just say it’s okay to come in and leave whatever you want. But they will definitely appreciate you calling ahead of time.

Fliers are best if they have a picture of you on them. Don’t get too wordy on a flier. It’s best to use only one or two different font types to keep it looking clean and tidy. Your clown name and phone number are essential. You can leave a stack of fliers or you can make one sign with a business card holder attached. They can read the flier and then help themselves to one of your cards. Grocery stores, libraries, coffee establishments, etc. have bulletin boards. This is a great place to leave your fliers because lots of young families frequent them. Don’t forget the children’s museum and also the specialty shops at the mall, the ones that specialize in nature, arts & crafts for children, learning skills, etc.

In addition to leaving your advertising materials, it’s also a good idea to make appearances at children-oriented places. When my boys were little, I would call the school on a rainy day and offer to come in during recess to play with / entertain the children. I knew they would be stuck inside and the teachers never got much of a break on those days. I always received a unanimous acceptance whenever I offered to do this. I would go in character and try out a new show, make balloons, paint some faces, or whatever I felt like doing. There was no pressure because it was what I chose to do. The kids always had a great time, the teachers loved it and every one went home with one of my business cards in their hand.

Pre-schools and Kindergartens are always looking for entertainment for various functions, particularly at the end of each school year. Their budget is low or non-existent. I’m not saying you have to go to each and every one of them, but it is a great way to get your name out to a lot of young families who might otherwise not know anything about you.

A coloring page is a great way to advertise with this age group. If you are artistic, you can draw your own clown character as a coloring page. Otherwise, enlist the services of someone who knows what they’re doing. You want this to look as nice and professional as possible. Don’t forget to have your clown name and phone number on this. Each child who takes one of these home will color this and the parents will put it on their refrigerator, along with all their other school projects. Your colored likeness, name and phone number will be there for the next time they want to hire a clown!

Don’t forget to have a nametag on you whenever you are in costume. Children (as well as their parents) love to call you by your clown name. I hear parents who are waiting in line with their children (for face painting or a balloon) tell their children "oh, that’s Peppermint" and I know its from seeing my nametag. Recently, I was at an event and didn’t realize I’d forgot to replace my nametag, having just washed my costume. Finally, someone asked me what my name was. I was surprised until I realized my nametag was missing. Remember to always wear it.

Which brings us to another form of advertising. Have a sign made up to put on your trunk, your table, your cart or whatever you have with you when you are performing. If the sign is visible, then people will know who you are and remember it. Also, lots of pictures are taken whenever you perform, both snapshots and videos. Your name will always be right there if your sign is visible in the pictures. Don’t forget a phone number on the sign, too.

Shopping malls are notorious for wanting entertainment for real cheap. I would never suggest that you purposely take a job like that to undercut another entertainer’s fee. However, if an event comes along and they honestly can’t pay much, you might want to consider taking some of these jobs and think of them as a way to advertise yourself. Negotiate with the event coordinator. Tell them you’ll agree to provide the entertainment (i.e. balloons, face painting, strolling, etc.) at their reduced price; in exchange, you would like to be able to hand out your business cards (or fliers, coloring pages, etc.) while you are there. In addition, you might like to see what children-oriented stores are there. Make a point of stationing yourself near each and every one of these specialty stores while you are there. Take along a camera or, better yet, have a friend come along with a camera and take pictures of you in and near these shops. Then, go back at a later time with the pictures and fliers and ask if you can leave them there. Most of the shop owners or managers will readily agree to let you leave them there because it shows how much fun everyone was having at their store on the day you were there.

Schools have auctions and carnivals and are always looking for clown entertainment. The auctions usually will ask for a birthday party certificate to put in their silent auction. Or they’ll combine it with other birthday oriented materials (i.e. party paper products, a certificate from a bakery for a birthday cake, etc.) and offer this as a package. I agree to 2 or 3 of these each year. I make up the certificate (on the computer) clearly outlining what is offered for the party. For example, it will say that the certificate is good for one birthday party for up to 10 children, within a certain area of town, a basic outline of what is offered at the party and also a limit on how long the certificate is good for (usually one year from the date of the auction). You can indicate that options are available or that more children are acceptable, but that there might be a charge for this. Each one of these parties are advertising in themselves, because all of those children attending the party will want you for their next party!

These types of advertising take up some of your time, but not a lot of money out of your pocket. When you are starting to build your clown business for birthday parties, you might have limited funds to use. That’s why these are good ways to spread the word without depleting your finances.

Once you are ready to invest some money in advertising, there are various directions you can go. One is family periodicals (i.e. newspapers, magazines, etc.) that cover local events and entertainment options. These are generally distributed to all the places where families with young children patronize. Once you decide to place an ad, be sure to check out the different prices, depending on how many months you advertise for. A one time ad may be much more expensive than six months or, better yet, a year which is the most cost effective.

Yellow page advertising in the local phone books is an excellent way to advertise. Look through the different ads to see what catches your eye. When you design your ad, make it clear and concise as to who you are, what you offer, what types of events or occasions do you specialize in plus your phone number. Start out small. Don’t lock yourself into an ad that is too expensive for you to handle for 12 months. Be sure your ad describes what you do without embellishing it beyond what you can handle. Years ago, a clown placed a large, very expensive ad in the phone book listing all the skills offered. It surprised me when that individual told me what was going into their ad, which included balloons, because they did not know how to do balloons. I started to offer congratulations on a new skill I figured they’d learned. That’s when the comment was made "No, I don’t know how to do balloons yet. I figure I’ve got until November (when the phone books came out) to learn how." Six months later, that ad and phone number were disconnected. Don’t let that happen to you. Be honest with your advertising.

You can also start a Birthday Club. This was discussed in detail in The New Calliope, January/February 2000 issue. I started with one name the first month and built up to several thousand names in the next five years. It is a wonderful and fairly inexpensive way to build up your birthday party business. It just takes a commitment of time and effort. Whether you initiate an actual birthday club or not, it is important to keep a list of your birthday parties. Try to keep your list updated regularly so you have access to a record of your parties at a glance.

Of course, you can go the extra mile and get a personalized license plate, decorative advertising painted on your car or car windows, etc. Keep in mind that this is a mobile advertisement and can be very effective. Even when you’re not in makeup, people will notice the car. So, it is imperative that you drive courteously at all times.

Advertising can be a wonderful tool in getting your name out to the general public. But remember that word of mouth advertising is the best of all. Every time you are out in the public in makeup you are promoting yourself. When someone likes what they see (both how you look and what you do), they are more likely to call you the next time they need entertainment and also will refer you on to their friends. Your reputation can be your calling card of the future!

As always, remember to have fun with your clowning!

 

A 50th BIRTHDAY PARTY

I’ve written about adult birthday parties in the past (The New Calliope, Sept/Oct. 1998); Since I recently performed at a 50th birthday, I thought I’d share an actual party with you. For two hours, I got to play with the ‘big kids’ and it was great. So, what did I do?

First of all, when the husband (Fred) called me, I described the different options available for his wife’s party. He wanted it to be similar to a children’s party. This is the time to distinguish between ‘childish’ and ‘child-like’ to make sure that you’re entertaining on a fun adult level that won’t be insulting to their intelligence.

To distinguish between the two, let’s think about how you would act around a group of pre-schoolers, a group of elementary-age children, pre-teens, young adults, etc. You would not act the exact same with each of these ages. There are, at the very least, subtle changes in your character and the way you interact with different age groups. This keeps us from being too subtle with our magic around the little ones, as well as keeps us from talking ‘down’ to the pre-teens, etc.

While I was on the phone with Fred, I explained that everything I did as Peppermint is G-rated. We then talked about the options of what could be done for his wife’s party. The first thing I offered was my "This Is Your Life" comedy magic show. This show is based on information about her life. I asked Fred to take a few days to think about it and then get back to me with her hobbies, her habits, any idiosyncrasies, funny anecdotes, favorite colors, foods, passions about sports, the arts, etc. I reminded him not to give me anything that might be embarrassing to her. This show is for fun and enjoyment, not to humiliate or embarrass anyone. Typically, this show will last approximately 30 min.

The next thing we talked about is another favorite at adult parties…balloon hats. The length of time for this depends on how many people they were expecting to be there. His estimate of 25-30 guests would account for about 1-1/2 hours needed. As each hat takes about 3 minutes to create, I wanted to allow enough time for everyone to get a hat.

The best way to make balloon hats work in an adult situation, I have found, is to start with the guest of honor (in this case, the birthday girl). Once her hat is finished, she gets to choose the next person to get a hat. Once chosen, nobody ever turns down a hat. They know that, once they get their hat, they get to choose the next person. And so it goes until everyone is wearing a hat. My favorite thing, in a group this size, is to try to make each hat different, each hat with a different personality. I listen to people’s conversations around me as I’m making the hats. If I hear that someone loves to work in her garden, then her hat has flowers on it. A fisherman gets a hat with a fishing pole and fish flying high in the air. The guy who is a known couch potato gets a slug hat, complete with antennae. The college student majoring in aeronautics got an airplane flying from his hat. A newly married or engaged person gets hearts on their hat.

As I was making hats for this group, as each person sat down, I asked them how they knew Linda (the birthday girl) or what they do for a living. As they explained, it usually started to bring out their personality and our conversation would take off from there as I created their hat. There are usually one or more spectators joining in on these conversations which helps add to the fun of figuring out each new personality to help me create the perfect hat for them. If I stood there for a moment, thinking, other guests would start offering information to help in this process. It really becomes an interactive part of the party, as opposed to the one-on-one that balloon making sometimes becomes.

As each hat was completed and the guest stood up wearing their new extension of their personality, they received a round of applause from the rest of the party guests, admiring the new chapeau. This usually makes the next person eager to sit down to get his or her own hat. Some people don’t want to wait to be chosen. Instead they’ll come wait in line, asking to be next. I love to see this happen!

Another option I offer for adult parties is face painting. I love painting adults’ faces, arm tattoos and ankle tattoos. Again, the amount of time required for this depends on the number of guests. Since it takes 2 to 2-1/2 minutes to paint each person, we would be looking at another hour or more to add the face painting. Obviously, a lot of designs don’t take that long. But when you’re circulating at a party, walking over to a new group of people, that is extra time that needs to be considered in the overall amount of time to paint everyone’s faces.

One final option that I offer to do is run any games they might want to play. It’s fun to offer the games we remember from childhood (in keeping with his ‘child-like’ party scenario) like passing the orange under the chin from person to person down the line. Another is passing the Lifesaver from one toothpick to the next, again down the line. A hoola hoop contest, a limbo competition, etc. are also fun games to play. Remember to figure in how much time needs to be allotted for the number of games that are planned. The party host usually provides the supplies for the games. If I am asked to recommend prizes, if any are to be given, I usually suggest boxes of Cracker Jacks or something similar.

For this particular party, Fred wanted the magic show and balloon hats. So I booked it for 2 hours. About 3 days later, I received an e-mail with all of the information about Linda’s life. This is a fun part…to go through all of this, getting to know this person and figuring out what magic tricks can be used with what tidbits of information about her. Obviously, I can’t possibly use everything that is sent to me. I have to go through to pick and choose.

Linda’s favorite color is purple. In fact, she is a big sports fan of Kansas State, so her colors ended up being purple and white. Her balloon hat was made up of these colors. This also inspired people later when they were getting their balloon hats to choose colors from their alma mater.

She loves to quilt, buying so much fabric that Fred thinks she could open up her own fabric store. I chose to combine 2 magic tricks for this. I used 4 small square silks (4" square), each being a different color, inside a change bag. The object was to show everyone how talented Linda was at quilting. The first result of this magic was to pull out one silk (8" square) that had all 4 colors on it, being the exact same size as if we’d actually put the original four small silks together. When we put that silk back into the bag, we pulled out a 16" square silk of the same colors. We tried one more time and Linda pulled out a 34" square silk, once again matching the colors perfectly.

There were several cute stories about how protective she was as a child towards her younger brothers…once threatening a neighborhood bully with a plastic bat. Knowing how tiny and petite Linda is, the story in itself had everyone laughing. I performed a cut and restored rope trick for this story, enhancing it a little by humorously suggesting that she would be ready to tie anyone up who threatened her family and friends now.

Linda’s favorite place to shop is Walmart. I used the Spelling Bee, where the letters are all mixed up. I remove the letters on little cards, shuffle them, and place them face down. Then I let the guests tell me what slot to put each card into, without looking to see what the letter was. When I turned it around, they had ‘magically’ spelled WALMART.

The next magic trick was the Dream Bag. This went along with her love of shopping at Walmart. I used 8 flower boxes (from two separate Dream Bag sets) in one bag. I explained to everyone that Linda had been shopping for gifts for her family. Now we would get to peak in the bag to see what treasures she’d bought for everyone. Each time, I would show the empty bag to Linda. I’d name one of her family members (i.e. "Let’s see what she bought for Fred") and pull out a new flower box for each one. As I pulled each one out, the audience gasped, until the last one, which brought a huge round of applause. It’s very visual to see all of those flower boxes coming out of an empty bag!

Linda is a nurse who loves to take care of people when they’re not feeling well, bringing them food and herbal tea. Another bit of information about her was when she was a child, she hoarded her Easter candy, making it last all though the year. I used the magic trick with 4 different colored canisters. You have 3 people choose a number between 1 and 4. Whatever number left over is for the birthday girl. Then, you pull out a card from an envelope, which has the four canister colors, and a number associated with each color. That way you know who gets which canister. When each of the 3 people opened their canister up, they each had something associated with Linda being a nurse (i.e. herbal tea bag, cough drops, etc). The fourth canister, which was Linda’s, was full of jellybeans (like her Easter candy hoarding days).

Of course, the final magic trick was having her make her own birthday cake, using a dove pan. We cracked an egg, she stirred in the flour and through their magic (when I lifted the pan lid off), there was a Hostess cupcake. However, I went one step further with this. One of the things Fred had written me was that she was a health food person. But her one weakness is chocolate covered peanut butter. So, instead of just the cupcake, the pan was also filled with miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups. When I suggested the possibility of her sharing the peanut butter cups, she quickly scooped them close to herself and shook her head ‘no’. Her adult sons started laughing and said "you don’t know mom very well, do you?!" It was a great way to end the show, with everyone laughing and clapping.

Once through with the show, I asked Linda who got the first balloon hat (after hers of course) and that started the ball rolling on the next 90 min. When I left, every single person there was wearing his or her hat. It was a great sight!

It’s amazing how much fun we get to have with what we do. I’d love to hear what other people do for adult birthday parties. And, as always, have fun with your clowning!

 

WANT A TIP?

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word Tip as: "A gift or a sum of money tendered for a service performed or anticipated; a gratuity; something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually in return for or in anticipation of a service."

Whether our clowning is done as a volunteered service or for payment, there is always something special about receiving a tip. It’s a way for the client to show us how much they enjoyed what we did or appreciated how professional we were or simply to say ‘thank you’ for touching their heart.

There are many professions that we regularly tip. Waiters and waitresses, hairdressers, manicurists, doormen, valet parking, airport baggage handlers, hotel bellhops…the list goes on and on. One of the reasons for tipping generously is to say thank you for the level of service received. Another reason is to make sure your baggage gets onto the correct flight (the one going to the same destination as you are!). And still another reason is that some of these people are dependent on tips to bring their wages to a decent level.

But should a tip be ‘expected’ whenever we clown? If a tip is offered, should we accept it? If asked how much they should tip us, what should we answer? When is it acceptable to set out a tip jar?

Let’s take these one at a time. Some events ask the entertainers to work for tips. This is usually done when the event is on a tight budget and there isn’t enough money to properly pay the entertainers. Sometimes they offer a small amount, other times the tips are the only form of payment. When this is agreed upon ahead of time with the event coordinator, then it is perfectly okay to set out a tip jar. There are a variety of cute buttons you can wear, small signs to put on your tip jar, etc. to let people know that tips are being accepted. It definitely helps to put a little money in ahead of time (paper is better than coins) to act as a reminder. (T. Myers offers a nice selection of tip buttons.)

Sometimes restaurants will hire entertainment to go from table to table during their peak family dining hours. If this is an ongoing booking (weekly, monthly, etc.), their budget is usually lower than the ‘going rate’. The restaurant manager usually has no problem with you wearing a button or sticker to let people know you are accepting tips. Again, it is imperative to okay this with the one who hires you. When in this type of dining atmosphere, remember to be careful not to disrupt anyone’s meal. And be mindful of the restaurant staff to allow for the general flow of the waiters and waitresses to continue around you.

If you go to an event expecting tips, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. You might begin focusing on whether you got a tip or not instead of focusing on your job. Remember to always thank someone who has just tipped you.

However, when you are being paid by the event for the time you are working, then your services should be offered free to the public you are entertaining. Once your fee has been established and agreed upon, then typically it is unacceptable to put out any kind of a tip jar. In the event that someone offers you money (for a balloon, face painting, etc.), it is important to let them know that there is no fee for what you just did...that you have been hired by the event to be there. If, at that point they let you know it’s a tip, then it is okay to graciously accept. I perform at the Portland Trailblazers’ and Portland FIRE home games for their 2-hour pre-game festivities. When people offer me money, I let them know that the Trailblazers have me there as a way to say ‘thank you’ to all their loyal fans. At that point, they’ll usually ask if I accept tips. I always say that it’s not necessary, but yes I do. And then I thank them!

I think it is important to never expect a tip. It is a sure-fire way to be disappointed if the tip isn’t offered. A tip is exactly what Webster’s Dictionary defines it as…"something given voluntarily or beyond obligation." It should be a surprise, a delight, the frosting on the cake, so to speak.

Now, let’s talk about tips at birthday parties. The parent calls, finds out what you do and what you charge and everything is set up. Sometimes the parent will ask, "do I tip you?" or "how does this work as far as tipping is concerned?" or "how much do I tip you?" Tough questions. (Again, please understand that even if you receive a tip at one birthday party, it does not mean you’ll get one at the next.) I’m sure there are a variety of ways that we all answer those questions. But let’s take a look at what’s happening here. The parent is unsure as to the protocol for tipping or not tipping or how much to tip a private entertainer. They are looking to us for the correct answer. I have found there are several ways to handle this.

First of all, I have set my prices for birthday parties at a level that I feel is appropriate for the entertainment I offer. We’ve already discussed pricing your parties to include travel expense (if necessary), extra fees for larger groups of children, etc. (The New Calliope, May/June 1999), so the price you quote the parent should be an amount you are happy with. If it is, then chances are you aren’t expecting a tip to justify whatever entertainment you are offering.

When a parent includes a tip in with my payment, of course it is a like receiving a present. I love tips! But I don’t expect or anticipate them. When a parent asks me if they should tip me or how much they should tip me, I say that tipping isn’t necessary; that it is entirely up to the parent. There really is no set amount, nor anticipated amount. In fact, my favorite thing to tell parents is "The best tip you can give me is to have me back and give my name to your friends." And I mean that. That is the sincerest way of letting me know they enjoyed what I did…to book me again and again and again….and to recommend me to their friends.

Birthday parties generally are not thought of as big tipping situations. I usually receive my fee as I am leaving with their heartfelt thanks. If they’ve put the money in ahead of time (which is what I suggest they do) so that it is ready and waiting for me, then the envelope is usually sealed up prior to my arriving. Sometimes they’ll open it up and add extra cash as a tip. Sometimes they’ve already written the check to include a tip. Other times, they’ll just hand me something extra as I’m leaving. But the majority of the time (at least as far as my birthday parties are concerned), I receive my fee with no tip. But that’s okay, because these are the families who have me back over and over again. That is their way of telling me I’ve done a good job.

When an entertainer expects tips, it can start to cause problems. Several years ago, I had a parent call to book me for a party. She had already secured another entertainer. However, when she received the booking confirmation in the mail requesting the deposit, it also said that tips could be added at the time the final payment was made (on the date of the party). This parent understood this to mean that a tip was expected. She was unhappy, because she didn’t like to feel that she had to give a tip. Consequently, she called and canceled the other entertainer and was now on the phone trying to find someone else. Because this other performer is a friend of mine, I called and talked to him about what had happened. He explained that the sentence about tipping was in his booking confirmation because so many people asked him about it that he felt it was easier to simply write it in a place they were sure to read it. This might have been an isolated reaction by that particular mom, but it is something to think about in how we respond to questions about tipping.

Sometimes a parent will add $5, $10, $20 or more to your fee. Sometimes they add it onto the check they’re writing. Other times they’ll slip the extra cash into the envelope for you. A tip might be calculated for 15% or 20% or it might just be a ‘little extra’ added on. There are families who can barely manage financially to pay your fee. Then there are families who could have paid you 2 or 3 times your fee and never blinked. Whatever their financial situation is, what we are there for is to provide the best entertainment we can for their child’s birthday party. The tip should never be expected, anticipated, counted on or demanded. It is a show of appreciation ‘beyond obligation’.

As always, have fun with your clowning!

 

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PO Box 13187 * Portland, OR   97213