The Slow Months
The Living Room Stage
Know When To Say "No"
For The Love Of Children
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The Slow Months
We've made it through the summer company picnics and recent holiday parties. Now come the 'slow months' where most entertainers have an opportunity to have a little R & R (rest and relaxation). Traditionally, January through April are the months that tend to have less corporate events than other times of the year. This is not the prime time for store promotions, corporate parties, sidewalk sale promotions, etc. However, there is never an end to birthday parties. As we all know, birthday parties are a year-round business. No matter what the time of year, there are always children having birthdays.
However, these next few months are still the best time to get caught up on things. Let's look at how constructive we can be. For one thing, it is a great time to clean up your office. Get those booking sheets filed away in 3-ring binders. Organizing all your event sheets will help eliminate the shuffling of papers or always looking for something later on. Take time to update your database of clients' names, addresses and phone numbers. Put together some new promotion material and mail them to prospective clients. Get in touch with event coordinators to find out what their near future needs will be.
Take a look at your business cards, brochures, fliers and advertising. You may not realize how long it's been since you updated the information on these important promotional materials. Keep these current, add your fax number, e-mail address or website URL.
This is a good time to spruce up your costume or make new ones. Take a look at what you wore last summer. Have your outfits seen better days? Are the colors less than vibrant? How does your wig look? Frizzy or limp? If that's not the look you want, now is a good time to give it some TLC or buy a new one. And don't forget to look at your hat, bow or whatever you wear on top of your wig. Does your hat need a fresh look with a new ribbon or flowers or simply a cleaning? Has your bow seen better days? Don't forget to change the look of your hat to go with any new colors of a new costume. If you wear a skull cap, remember to wash it regularly to keep it clean and bright.
How about your shoes? Polishing should be done regularly. Let's take a look at the heels and soles. A trip to the shoe repairman can give your shoes new life. And don't forget your socks. Whether you wear leotards, striped knee-his, anklets or a combination, check to make sure there are no holes, loose ribbons, lace or bad snags. At Halloween, I picked up some really fun multi-striped leotards from the costume shop. It has given a fresh, new look to some of my costumes.
Clown gloves really take a beating. If you wear white, you know how difficult it is to keep them clean. I wear red gloves, which don't show the dirt as quickly. However, I put on a fresh new pair of gloves for each new event. And I keep a spare pair in my car at all times. If you cut the fingers off your gloves, now is a good time to make sure that there are no split seams or holes. Repair what you can. Discard those you can't repair. Our hands (and gloves) are noticed by everyone as they watch us make a balloon, perform a magic trick, paint a face or simply shake someone's hand. Speaking of hands being noticed, I recommend using hand cream to keep your hands from drying out, especially during the winter months. It's amazing how rough our hands get when they chapped. Fingers and cuticles dry out easily, especially when making balloons. As often as we wash our hands, the natural lubrication of our skin is compromised. Using a good, quality hand cream can really help. I apply it generously right before putting a fresh, clean pair of gloves on. Make sure ahead of time that the hand cream you use will not adversely affect the balloons.
Several years ago, I stopped to have my nails done on my way to a school event. It was one of those times when I couldn't fit it into my schedule any other way. So, I sat there in the salon in full costume and makeup getting my nails done. As people walked in and saw me, we made a lot of fun jokes about hair just being colored and I offered to share my secret color formula with them. Surprisingly, no one wanted their hair quite as red as mine! Anyway, I left the salon and went straight to an event. As I inflated the first balloon, it popped. I tried another one and another one. Each time, it popped. It occurred to me that the finish on my nails was affecting the balloons. I quickly used some hand cleaning gel and the problem was solved. I have not made that mistake since.
Another item to check out is your balloon apron. This is an item that gets used regularly and gets touched by inquisitive, sticky little fingers. The colors also might be fading. I recently had new balloon aprons made for each of the holidays, so they are a part of my costume now, too. It is fun to wear the different aprons. It is also nice to know they're all clean, fresh and vibrant colors.
Let's also take a look at your props. How long has it been since you really looked at your bloomin' bouquet? Are there any feathers left on the handle? How about your rope tricks? Is the rope clean? Are the ends frayed? Do some of your props need a fresh coat of paint? Are the surfaces clean? Glass surfaces void of fingerprints? Do your silks need to be cleaned and/or pressed? Do the edges need to be hemmed? How does your magic coloring book pages look? Are the edges curling?
Magic items are expensive to buy. Consequently, it is important to take care of them so you won't have to replace them often. However, when your prop has seen 'better days', then it is probably time to buy a new one. This is an investment in your business. The audience notices when your props look dirty, broken or are in need of repair. If the focus is on how bad your prop looks, the audience might miss what you're actually doing. And it doesn't look very professional to have stains or holes in your magic silks or other items.
If you use puppets, don't forget to check their costumes, wigs, shoes, etc. If their button eye is loose or their arm is dangling, take the time to repair it. The illusion you are creating of your puppet coming to life might be jeopardized if the child is focused on something that is falling off.
Music can play an important part in performances. We all have our favorite tapes and CD's of music. When you have taken the time to put together a wonderful collection of songs for your show, it is a good idea to keep the original fresh and new, using copies for your show. That way, you can always go back to the original and make another copy when you need it. Now is a good time to do some research and put together new music for your shows.
Don't forget that these next few months are an excellent time to improve your clowning with education. There are a multitude of books, magazines, videos, clown conventions, etc. that can offer new ideas to enhance what you are already doing. Brainstorm with other entertainers. Write a new skit. Improve an old one. Learn a new skill. Practice, practice, practice. Perform for your alley. Perform for the neighbor children. Learn the classic skits. Improvise and come up with different endings to the classics. Go through your notes from the last convention or festival you attended. It's amazing how much information is in those notes that you might have forgotten.
If each of us takes the time to go through and clean up, spruce up, improve and learn new things, we will be ready when the rush of summer events arrives. Our costumes will be fresh and new, our props will be clean and repaired, our performances will be renewed and improved. This is a great way to spend the new few months.
And, as always, have fun with your clowning!
THE LIVING ROOM STAGE
I walked into the living room to find 17 five and six-year olds waiting for the party to start. All the furniture was on the perimeter of the room. On top of the carpet was a 4X6 colorful area rug. The mother said that this was my stage area. The children sat on the carpet, leaving that 4X6 area to me! Sophie was turning 5. She and her friends were very involved in the party, laughing, participating and were all mannerly and delightful. The parents stood quietly behind the children, laughing and enjoying the show. There were no loud disruptions, no hecklers, no one trying to peek into my trunk and no one standing behind me. After the show, I made balloon animals. Then we went outside where the mother had a carnival set up (carnival games with prizes, popcorn machine, cotton candy machine, etc.) They had a table set up for me to paint faces. It was a perfect party.
I left Sophie's party and arrived at Miranda's party. She also had 17 friends. However, Miranda was turning 3 and most of her friends from pre-school were the same age. The living room was small and crowded with furniture, children and adults. I was crammed into a small space with adults surrounding me. The little ones kept inching forward, wanting to sit as close to me as possible. The birthday girl stood on my trunk, clapped her hands and told me "this is SO exciting" and the adults chuckled. Every time I opened my trunk, the children strained to see what was in there. The adults had a clear view from their vantage points. When I started making balloons, it was difficult to understand what some of the little ones were asking for. Their little voices were so soft and the adults were chatting in the background. The face painting was in that same room, with one little girl leaning on my lap the entire time. She was watching each and every thing that I did, waiting for it to be her turn. The number I had painted on her hand (so no one has to stand in line) was #15, so she was waiting and watching for most everyone else's face.
Two birthday parties, two little girls, the same number of friends. So, how come the two parties were so different? Welcome to the world of birthday parties…where no two parties are ever the same. If there's one thing you can count on, it's that you never know exactly what is waiting for you when you walk in that door. What will your Living Room Stage be like in the next house?
The age of the children, the number of children, the size of the room, the mixture of boys and girls, whether adults are present or not, inside or outside, time of the day, time of the year, etc. Each and every one of these can have an impact on what that birthday party will be like.
As I left Sophie's party, I thought of how ideal that situation was. The area rug was my living room stage. The children sat nicely at the edge, not encroaching on my stage area unless I invited them. How different from Miranda's party where the little ones kept inching closer and closer. So, is there anything we can do to make each party alike? Well, personally speaking, I wouldn't want each party to be a carbon copy of each other. I like the spontaneity of what can happen when you walk into each home, not knowing for sure what is waiting for you. However, there are ways to take control, to make sure that each and every party has the opportunity to be fun and successful.
Party planning with the parent ahead of time is essential. If you have the necessary information about the upcoming party, you'll be better prepared for the varied situations you will encounter at each different party. The age of the birthday child, the number of guests, the age range of the guests, etc. are all important. Let's look at how this can affect the party.
To ask how old the birthday child is going to be seems like a given. However, finding out the age range of the party guests is as important. With Sophie's and Miranda's parties, the guests were primarily the same age as they were. This makes it fairly easy because your target audience is all the same age. When you have the guests' ages very different from the birthday child, this can have an impact on what you do to entertain. For instance, if the birthday child is 3 and all the guests are in the 5 to 8 age range, you will have to keep that in mind as far as what you do. Your show will need to be visual and colorful enough for the 3-year old, yet sophisticated enough for the 8-year old in order to hold their attention.
The number of party guests is another important piece of information you will need ahead of time. Often, parents invite more children than will actually attend. It is very common for the parent to say that they've invited 15 but they don't expect all will be there. I ask that the parent call me a day or two before the party to touch bases and let me know what their final 'headcount' is. By then, they will have received most of the RSVP's and will have a much better idea on how many to expect. If the number is small (5 to 7), I will often add extra tricks, etc. to my show because I know I won't need as much time to do the balloons. If the number is over 20, I will often make half the balloons ahead of time and take them with me. This helps keep me on track with the amount of time I'm actually at the party and enables me to get to my next party on time. This is all accomplished without feeling rushed at the party.
Now, let's take a look at how to establish your stage area. After all, whether you're in a living room, family room, garage or backyard, this becomes your performance area. At Sophie's party, the 4X6 area rug worked perfect. However, since every party scenario is different, it is impractical to think you're always going to have that luxury. But you can set up your "Living Room Stage". I like to let the parent know ahead of time that I will be working directly from my trunk and that I like to have a couple of feet in front of the trunk so I can move around it without stepping on little fingers and toes. Sometimes, a coffee table can be easily moved. This can be pre-arranged during the party planning. If you would like something moved once you arrive, please ask the parent. Never assume or take the liberty of moving the furniture. After all, this is their home and you must respect it and the furnishings.
Sometimes the children are already sitting in a semi-circle waiting for me when I arrive. Other times, they're still arriving, taking off their jackets and saying their "hello's". If they're in a semi-circle, you can step into the 'stage area' and start in right away. Otherwise, it takes just a couple of minutes to gather everyone around, letting them know the show is ready to start. I usually ask the children to grab a seat on the floor as I gesture my hands into a semi-circle in front of me. Some entertainers take a rope and section off the area, asking the children to sit on the other side of the rope. The nice thing about doing it this way, is that a rope can adjust to any shape of room and work around furniture. It gives them a boundary.
As the show progresses, the children tend to inch forward. When they start to get too close and I'm afraid that I'll step on fingers or toes, I'll stop and ask everyone to take '3 scoots back on their bottoms' and then I count while they do this. Sometimes I have to repeat this a number of times throughout the show, but it definitely works.
My preference is to perform without anyone behind me or too close on the sidelines. As far as the children are concerned, I make sure of this. However, in small, cramped areas, sometimes the adults are to my side and sometimes right behind me. This cannot be avoided in some situations and it is important to make the best of it. Try not to forget that they're there. As I reach into my trunk to get something out, I might comment on how Grandpa is watching to make sure I do things right. This usually brings a chuckle from Grandpa who is behind me and it also lets him know that I'm not forgetting he's there.
Years ago, I arrived at a party where all the children were outside in the front yard. The party was supposed to be inside in the living room. That room was so small and there were so many people, we were almost one on top of each other and there literally was no stage area for me at all. I took one look at this situation and told everyone we were going to play "Peppermint Says" which is my variation of "Simon Says". The final command was "Peppermint Says everyone stand up and go back out to the front yard" and I followed them out and started the show out there.
Keep in mind that younger children have a tendency to want to come close and be next to you, sometimes right with you as you are performing the show. This is usually the case with 2-year old parties. I plan my show around this, knowing ahead of time what will probably happen. Those are the parties where I sit on my trunk to bring myself closer to their level. I use my puppet more. The magic tricks are soft, colorful and visual. Their little fingers are welcome to explore and play right along with me.
The important thing is to be flexible. Knowing what to expect ahead of time helps you be prepared. And being prepared for the unknown of birthday parties can help you enjoy what you're doing and, consequently, the children will enjoy you!
And, as always, have fun with your clowning!
For a large part of the year, birthday parties might be the majority of jobs you do as a clown. And that's wonderful. However, there are times of the year where other events are plentiful and most of us like to entertain in a wide range and variety of venues. Those times of the year generally coincide with holidays and the summer.
The holidays fall into the category of 3-day weekends (i.e. Memorial Day and Labor Day), patriotic (i.e. Fourth of July, Veterans Day) and, of course, the major ones (i.e. Halloween, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, Easter). Because we have just finished up with most of the major holidays, I'd like to focus on what is coming up in the next few months.
The 3-day weekends and patriotic holidays usually have parades, festivals and community events highlighting them. There are food fairs, trade shows, health clinics, etc. that attracts the public.
During the spring and summer, the outdoor events are prolific. There are carnivals, festivals, fairs, walk-a-thons, sporting events, barbecues, store promotions, sidewalk sales, grand openings, reunions, family picnics, church camps, wedding receptions and company picnics. Everywhere you go, everywhere you look there are events taking place. And the majority of these events attract families; and families have children who need to be entertained.
If you have an arts and entertainment section in your local newspaper, you will notice how many events will advertise that they offer balloons and face painting for the children. Or the ad will promise some type of entertainment to keep the children occupied while the parents shop, eat, relax and enjoy the festivities.
There are high school graduation all night parties that have become big business. They generally have sports, swimming, bingo, a DJ playing music, large inflatable structures, etc. to keep the graduates entertained in a safe, alcohol and drug-free environment. Caricature artists, fortune tellers, temporary tattoos are other options offered at these all night events. But they also love balloon animals, balloon hats, face, arm & hand painting at these parties. Most schools have fundraisers throughout the school year to increase their budget to help pay for entertainment at these all night parties. Some schools go through agencies who specialize in putting these events together and other schools organize the party with the parents doing most of the work. Getting your promo material to the different high schools in your area in the early Fall gives you a better chance of getting booked for the Spring grad parties.
Festivals, carnivals and fairs are run independent from each other. Some of them book their entertainment through festival and events organizations. And some of the neighborhood festivals and carnivals hire through local channels (the phone book yellow pages, family newspaper periodicals, word of mouth, etc.) If you are booked into an event that runs for several days, you'll probably offer a price to reflect the fact that it is a multiple-day booking. Be prepared to lower your hourly fee; look at the fee as a package price instead of an hourly one. If an event wants to book you for a specific amount of time on 2 or 3 days, you would take what you would charge for one day and reduce it. For instance, let's say you would normally charge $300 for the afternoon on one day. The event, however, wants to book you for 3 days. Rather than charge them $900 for the weekend, you might want to reduce it by charging them $250 for each day, or a total of $750. This is a very common practice and enables event coordinators to afford having entertainment there throughout the entire event.
Weddings are constant throughout the year, but there seems to be an increased number in June and continuing on through the summer months. A lot of weddings welcome families with children to both the ceremony and the reception. The reception is where the entertainment is essential to keep the little ones occupied. Being able to offer a variety of skills is the best type of entertainment. Some wedding receptions have a small number of children. Consequently, the bride and groom feel they get more for their money in hiring entertainment if they know the children will each get their face or hand painted, they'll get a balloon sculpture and get to watch a comedy magic show. Having the children occupied rather than running around at the reception is a big enticement for the clown to be hired.
Company picnics are big business during this time. Some are small with only a handful of children while others can be quite large with thousands of children. Most of these picnics are interested in keeping the children occupied so the adults can relax and have a good time. Offering your entertainment services to these corporate picnics is a way to increase your summer bookings.
Stores and malls have store promotions and sidewalk sales when the weather is nice. Grand openings, anniversary celebrations, holiday sales are all geared towards enticing the customers to their location. What better way than to offer entertainment for the families? That's where your clown services come in.
Trade shows are another family-oriented type of event. Boat shows, RV shows, classic cars, garden and landscaping and home remodeling are just a few. Health fairs and other medical-related shows are also common draws for families.
New housing developments offer grand openings of their new neighborhoods with model homes for people to tour. Again, most of these are families. It helps the realtors if there is entertainment for the children while they're answering questions the parents might have. This is usually done in one main tented area so you're close to where the parents are and they can keep an eye on their children at the same time.
Block parties are everywhere during the nice weather. This is where the neighbors get permission from the city to block off their street and all the neighbors come together for a chance to meet, have a potluck barbecue and enjoy watching the children have fun. Some of these block parties are low-key gatherings. However, there are quite a few that draw all the families from a neighborhood association or development. These tend to be quite elaborate affairs and, once again, entertainment for the children is important in keeping everyone relaxed and happy.
Now that we've established that there are plenty of bookings available during these next few months, let's take a look at how you can make this work and still entertain at birthday parties. After all, what happens if you've booked a one-hour party into the middle of the afternoon and then an all-day event comes your way? It is important to follow through with your commitment to perform at the birthday party. However, it is difficult seeing that all day event slip away. There are ways to make all of this work together.
First of all, if you are advertising in the phone book and family periodicals in your area, you are probably already getting calls for bookings other than the birthday parties. What you might try is keeping one day of the weekend for birthdays and one for corporate events. Another idea is to book your birthday parties in the morning or late afternoons. That frees up the main part of the day for a company picnic or store promotion. If you get to the point where you are booked solid on the weekends with corporate events, you might perform for birthday parties on the weekdays only during these busy months.
Whatever you decide, the way to get all of these bookings started is to get your name out. Advertise in the phone book, in family periodicals, design a website, send out promotional fliers or brochures to current and prospective clients. But the best thing you can do to get the word out is to always be the best you can be at each and every event. This will create the word of mouth advertising that is worth its weight in gold.
And, as always, have fun with your clowning!
KNOW WHEN TO SAY 'NO'
As performers, we receive calls for a wide variety of entertainment venues. Accepting these jobs, most of the time, is fairly normal and routine. However, there are situations when there might be a question as to whether we should accept a particular job or not. Let's look at some situations that might arise and when we need to 'know when to say no'.
A mother called the other day to book a clown for her son Sean who was turning two. As with all two year-old birthdays, I always ask the parent how their child is around clowns. If they've never been around a clown before, I ask how they reacted to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or other costumed characters they might have seen. If the parent tells me that their little one absolutely loves clowns, that's great. If, however, the parent tells me that their child wouldn't have anything to do with Santa or any other costumed character, I usually gently recommend that they wait another year.
This particular mother told me that they'd hired a clown for her Sean's first birthday and he had reacted fine. The clown they'd hired wore almost no makeup (a little color on the cheeks and long eyelashes). She’d made the decision not to hire that same clown because she was concerned that the older children would be bored watching the exact same show 2 years in a row. So, she wanted to hire someone else. The problem was that her son doesn't like clowns now. She tried to show him pictures on websites and all he'd say was "no, Mommy, no". She also had taken him to the circus and he screamed when he saw the clowns. I explained to her that her son was fine last year as most one year-olds usually will be. They are just taking in all the excitement of the party atmosphere surrounding them. When they turn two, they are more aware of how different a clown looks from "normal" people and some may become shy or scared. I recommended that she wait another year to hire a clown to entertain.
Why did I feel it necessary to say "no"? First of all, I don’t want to subject a child to a situation that might cause them fear or concern. I’m sure each of us have been in the situation at some point where a parent is approaching us with their child and you can see the fear in the child’s eyes. Some of these parents have a tendency to downplay or ignore their child’s reluctance to get too close. They’ll walk right up to us and expect their little ones to accept us without reservations. This is difficult for some children to do. They need to have ‘their space’ respected and observe us from a safe distance initially. When we see that look in a child’s eyes, the best thing to do is have the parents stop a short distance away to let the child warm up to us. Or take a step backward to give them the space they need to feel secure while getting used to how we look. I remember one time a father actually spanked his little boy when he held back and didn’t want to get too close to me! I quickly assured the dad that it was perfectly okay for his son to need some space and time to get used to me. It broke my heart!
Another reason for saying "no" to perform at Sean’s party was not wanting to subject myself to having to try to perform in an extremely difficult type of situation. Early in my clowning career, I booked a party for a two year-old and didn’t think to ask if he liked clowns or not. When I arrived, he took one look at me and ran out of the room screaming. Several of the other two year-old guests followed his lead and ran away with him. I spent a lot of time just trying to assure the birthday boy that I was a nice clown and coax him back into the living room where the other party guests were waiting. I finally left him in the kitchen and started the party. Eventually, he and his followers re-joined the party and were fine. But this was one of those situations that you don’t want repeated; so you try to learn from the experience. What did I learn? I learned to question the parents of two year-olds at the time they want to book the party!
But knowing when to say no isn’t restricted to two year-olds. Let’s take a look at another birthday scenario:
"I'd like to book a clown for my son's birthday" the Mom said on the phone. "He's turning 15 and all his friends will be here. I want this to be a surprise!" I asked if she knew whether her son would want a clown for his birthday, or if it was that he just really loved clowns. She had no idea; she thought it would be a funny thing to do. I asked if she knew whether her son's friends really liked clowns. She didn't know.
My concern, as I explained to this mom, was that having a clown surprise for a 15 year-old teenage boy might be embarrassing in front of his friends. Peer pressure at that age can be brutal. I explained to her that I perform for all ages and I would be delighted to do this party, on one condition. She would need to ask her son if it was okay. I knew this meant it would no longer be a surprise for her son, but felt it was imperative to get his permission for a clown to perform at this get-together with his friends. I asked her to call me if he said 'yes'. She never called back.
So, how do you respond to this? Is it okay to question a job like this? Is it okay to turn down certain events? I'd like to look at other performance scenarios when you should think twice before saying 'yes' to jobs like this; when you know to say 'no'.
The person calling wants to book a clown to paint faces, make balloon animals, perform a show and run games for their event. They’re anticipating 200 children and they want the clown there for 2 hours. My standard, light-hearted reply "I perform magic, not miracles" always brings a chuckle and gives me the opening to explain what can be done with the number of children by how many entertainers in how much time. Sometimes the event coordinator really doesn’t know what’s possible and what’s not possible. Other times, it’s their budget constraints that play a part it what they can afford to hire. But we should never agree to a job when we know we can’t do what they’re asking us to do.
In my early years of performing, another clown booked me to work a picnic with him. I was supposed to paint faces while he made balloons; then we were both going to run games and each perform a show. We were contracted to be there for 3 hours. When I arrived, there were 150+ children there. I knew immediately that what he’d promised to do could not be done. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so I stayed extra time to get all the face painting done. I did help with the games, but he agreed to do the show while I continued painting. There are several problems that can result from staying extra to get everyone painted. One is that you’re working extra time without getting paid. Another is that the client might expect to get that extra time for free in the future; or not even be aware that it was a problem, causing them to book that way from now on. I discussed this with the performer who booked me. Apparently, he was comfortable with booking his events like this.
I personally feel that this is doing a disservice to the company and to the entertainer(s) as well. You shouldn’t promise the moon when you know you can’t possibly deliver it. You have several options. One is to educate the event coordinator, letting them know what can be done with the number of children anticipated at their event. Most of the time, they’ll get the approval to extend the time you’ll be there or increase the number of entertainers they’re willing to hire to get the job done. Other times, adjustments will have to be made in what you can do.
Just the other day, one of my corporate clients called. In the past, they’ve hired two clowns plus 3 face painters for 5 hours. The two clowns started with meet & greet, then made balloons and finished up with a 30-min. comedy magic show. The face painters worked full time to accommodate the large number of children. This year, unfortunately, their budget had been cut considerably. They wanted to cut the clowns down to 3 hours and the face painters down to 2 hours. However, they wanted the same things done as in the past! It is our responsibility, as the professional entertainer, to explain why it is impossible for this to happen in situations like this. We ended up with some compromising on both ends. The clowns would start with meet & greet, then perform a 45-min. show, then provide strolling entertainment. We eliminated the balloons all together. We added a 4th face painter and scheduled this to be done for the last 2 hours of their picnic, assuming that some people will have left by then, leaving fewer children to face paint. In addition, I told them they would need to provide someone from their company to be responsible to enforce cutting the line off. That way, no one would blame the face painters or give them a bad time. Not the best or ideal solution, but one that we could both work with.
I would rather work with the event coordinator ahead of time when we’re planning things to make sure that their event is the best it can be. If you agree to anything they ask, knowing it won’t work, you’ll be setting yourself up for frustrations and the children up for disappointments. Take control and know your business well enough to know when to say no.
And, as always, have fun with your clowning!
FOR THE LOVE OF CHILDREN
"It's obvious you love children" is something I hear from parents all the time. As a matter of fact, yes, I do love children. The parents can tell and so can their kids. If you put me in a room with adults and children, even when I'm out of makeup, I'll gravitate towards the little ones.
Out in public, I love to watch kids as they walk down the street, play hide 'n seek in the store, as they explore, investigate and play. Children are full of wonder as they encounter new experiences, full of creativity as they play. They invented 'thinking outside of the box' as they stretch the limits and boundaries adults place on them.
Think about this whenever your clowning capabilities get stale. Does your character need a boost, need new dimensions, need to learn how to play / perform? Take time to stop and watch the children. We can all learn so much from them.
I was at a picnic recently, watching a wonderful clown perform. A little girl in the front row was eating her strawberry shortcake. All of a sudden, she got up from her seat, turned around and stared down at the ground beneath her chair. She was so intent on whatever she was looking at that she was oblivious to what else was going on around her. I couldn't tell (from where I was standing in the back) what drew her attention, but she was focused. Every now and then, she would lean towards her seat and take another bite of her dessert, but then would stand back and watch the ground again. I was fascinated and so was everyone else who could see her. It was entertaining us just watching and wondering what she was doing. I got to thinking about it, how she had drawn our attention by doing something different, something out of the ordinary, something that kept her so focused. What she did was clean, focused and interesting to watch because it kept us wondering what she would do next.
Isn't that what we want to do as clowns? We want our actions clean & clear, we should be focused on what we're doing (even though we're still paying attention to what else is going on around us) and whatever we're doing we want it to be interesting for the audience to watch. By the way, the clown performing saw all of this happening and stopped his performance, walked over to see what she was looking at and pretended to pick some gum from underneath the bench seat, said "oooh, bubblegum" and 'popped' it into his mouth. Everyone in the audience said "Yu-u-u-uck!" and started laughing. Of course, he started laughing too, letting the children know that he hadn't really put any gum into his mouth. (Obviously, you don’t want to encourage someone to actually do that.) But it was wonderful to see him responding to what she was doing and play with this, incorporating into his act, rather than to ignore it and try to continue his performance. He responded to what was happening in the audience, thus personalizing what he was doing and drawing the entire audience into this impromptu scene.
Watch children. They're everywhere and they do the most amazing things. What about the child who plays peek-a-boo in the restaurant from the seat in the next booth? The little face will come slowly peeking up or around to see if anyone is watching, to see who's there. That wide-eyed innocence taking in the world. Now, can you picture yourself performing, peeking from behind the lid of a trunk that you've just opened, peeking over or around to look at the audience? With that wide-eyed innocence of intrigue, curiosity, fascination with whatever we're looking at (usually the audience). Or looking at the audience with the anticipation of how they're going to react when we bring out the next surprise from our trunk? It draws the audience into our fun little world, if only for that brief moment of anticipation.
Think of the child who sits and giggles at everything you're doing in your show. They are so tickled by what you're doing. They are focused on you and only you. You have their complete attention. You start performing to just that one child, just to see their pure pleasure in responding to what you're doing. That can be incorporated into your act. Stop and listen to that one person. Respond to their response. The focus that you are showing to that one person will draw the entire audience into this mini-scene. The fun and pleasure between the two of you will be enjoyed by everyone else. Why? Because they get to be a part of the fun and silliness between the two of you. It is apparent that this is pure impromptu, ad-libbing in your show, which makes what you are doing so much more on a personal level. You have drawn in the audience, as they become involved in an on-the-spot performance between the two of you. Sometimes this will be a child and other times an adult. It doesn't matter what their age. Go ahead and respond to their joy in what you are doing. Focus on the audience.
Have you noticed the child's reaction to seeing you for the first time when they just stop in mid-stride, stand and try to take you all in? They are mesmerized for the moment in you…your look, your colors, your playfulness, the fact that you look so different and stand out from everyone else around you. That is a great way for us to learn how to play in the moment as we do walk-arounds. Stop and look around you. Take in whatever is happening. Maybe someone is trying to put a blanket down on the ground and it keeps getting folded over, or starts to blow away. Watch their antics as they try to correct the mistakes. How about the person sitting down on their lawnchair, only to find out it's not on level ground? Or the one who is getting something out of the picnic basket right as their child runs over to hug them and knocks them off-balance? Play with this. Be like the child who stops mid-stride to take you all in. Stop and take in the scenes that are unfolding right before your very eyes. You can easily incorporate these types of antics into your performances, whether on stage or as walk-around fun.
Another fun expression that children do so wonderfully (and innocently) is immense pride in something they've just accomplished. If you've seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, think about the scene where he finally got the fire started. He built a huge bonfire and, pounding his chest, he declared to the world…."See what I have done! I have made fire!" He had worked so hard and finally accomplished his goal. It was lifesaving to him.
A child reacts similarly when they have accomplished something. How many times have you heard your child ask you to look and see what they've done? They are so proud of what they've learned, drawn, colored, created, accomplished. At a picnic recently, one little boy had a temporary tattoo of a ring of flames put around his belly button. He was so proud of it. He lifted the bottom of his shirt and tucked it into it's own neckline so his stomach was bare. He wanted everyone to see that tattoo. He'd puff out his tummy and then suck it in, just to see the different ways it looked. He showed it to anyone and everyone. It was pure delight in one little thing. But oh, how wonderful that little thing was for him.
So, what do you have or what do you do as a clown that you can take that type of delight in? Think about it. Something that you've just done that you want to share with everyone around you. Maybe you are on stage, maybe you're at a birthday party or maybe you are walking around at a festival. You want to share this with everyone. You don't have to be pushy about it. You are just so pleased and proud that you are sure that everyone will want to share in the moment. Think of that little boy with his new tattoo around his belly button. There was no self-consciousness about it at all. He wanted to share that joy with the world.
Character development is not a deep mystery. It is not a difficult college course with a final examination at the end. Character development is exactly what it says: developing your character. It is an ongoing, never-ending process. Find your inspiration in watching people around you. I find that my greatest inspirations come from children. Yes, I do love the children. They are young and sweet and innocent, learning about the world all around them. They experience every honest emotion possible and display those emotions to the people around them. They are the ones who will say "I love you" simply as a thank you for the fun they had with you that day.
Shouldn't we all aspire to be like children?
And, as always, have fun with your clowning!
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