"Do you do children's parties?"
I guess it’s the question that I am asked most often at the end of a show. Of course it’s also the one question many entertainers dread. I’m not sure why they don’t like being asked. Is it that they think they’re above such things? Maybe they think they are worth more. As if entertaining a group of thirty over-excited over-chocolated seven year olds was somehow below their credibility and reputation.
Personally I always answer ‘Of course’. However there’s always the essential problem of logistics and cost and so in the end I only perform at a few in the year. Recently though I have performed at two and they were so different I thought I’d write about them in this blog.
The first was for a five year old boy and the second a six year old girl. Boy’s parties are always harder. The two or three token girls at the boy’s party feel slightly uncomfortable and huddle in the corner whispering whilst the boys craze around the hall, the mums retreat in fear to the kitchen to heap crisps, Maltezers and cocktail sausages onto paper plates, whilst the token dads hide in the corner and pretend they aren’t really there. This is a woman's job. All the adults look desperately relieved when ‘the entertainer’ arrives and greet the saviour of the day who they hope will bring some sanity and meaning to the chaos.
And that is the job. In my two recent parties, I felt one failed and one succeeded. Well not failed entirely but I only managed to keep the thirty or so five year old boys focused for about half of the allotted one hour’s ‘traffic on the stage’. They began to lose attention, wander around and make more noise than was comfortable. Whereas the girl’s thirty-five guests (mostly girls of course) stayed the course with almost rapt attention and probably would have gone on longer. The first left me tired, slightly battered and frustrated, the second was energizing and uplifting.
What was different about the two events? It would be easy to blame the problem on the gender. Boys are definitely harder to deal with. But in the end it is the one year’s age difference that is the key. Five year olds have only recently been used to sitting up straight, not calling out and not punching their neighbour when they don’t have their way. The school experience is one that the six year olds have fully taken on board and it is this ‘trick of the trade’ that I use extensively in the children’s party show. Six year olds will respond to the teacher’s voice, the teacher’s look and the teacher’s expectations of good behavior.
So my show for children’s parties is based on that simple technique. I become a teacher who also does magic. I expect good behavior and wait quietly until I have it. I expect them to sit up straight and not call out (and that’s just the adults!). And I always learn the names of the naughty ones, so I can praise them by name when they are good but also look serious and disappointed when they don’t.
So yes of course I do children’s parties. But I must remember to insist that the children have had at least a year in school before I do.
All the best from a road near you,