Successful Kids Entertainers Are Malleable
I was a lousy street performer. Balloon busking in Harvard Square was hard. I’d try and build an audience, and it would devolve into a sea of people asking me for a balloon. When I managed to build a circle and pass my hat, I was still asked for “just one balloon for the kid.” I made good money making balloons for tips and entertaining tourists, but I wasn’t able to build a big show.
Instead of failing for the rest of the season, I tried something both obvious and unusual …
This is what I did that was unusual. I asked for help. Experienced street performers helped me turn failure into success, and the following year I was surrounded by happy crowds and my hat was filled with strangers who enjoyed watching me work.
Over the past 20-years I have enjoyed all of the ups and downs of this business. I have been seen by millions on television, and been an anonymous act in a basement (in the same week). I have entertained celebrities in mansions, and been heckled by kids and drunks (in the same week). Most importantly, I have come to know wonderful people all over the world who I cherish every day.
They are the people I ask for help on being a successful performer, and it is their teachings that I am proud to pass on. By asking and observing successful and unsuccessful performers I learned how to build a business and entertain an audience. I found that the best in our business all share the same traits. Let’s explore them together, and discover them within ourselves.
“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.” – Galileo Galilei
One of my first big corporate gigs was a “Bring Your Kids to Work Day” at a tech company in Boston. Someone in the office had seen me twist balloons, and booked me to come in for an hour and a half around lunchtime. “Easy, peasy” I thought, as I arrived early and set up my balloon twisting case and waited for the kids to queue up. I was absolutely not ready when the office manager yelled to the kids, “come on and watch the balloon show — hurry up and get a good seat in front!” Then Mr. Manager sat down with his kids. I started to panic. I looked for an exit. I pinched myself to wake up. I was way beyond stage fright and into out-of-body-experience as the floor and front row filled up. I think I did a show, or at least I faked it.
These days, balloon shows are the gigs I love the most. But as a rookie balloon twister without any “show” experience or prepared routines, it felt like I was pushed into the pilot seat of a flying airplane.
Fast forward a few years . . . . I am booked to do some walk-a-round at company holiday party in Rhode Island. The event planner hired me, a close-up magician, and a Leonardo DiCaprio impersonator. By my second table I realized that none of the guests were English speakers. All of my witty repartee was useless. Instead of audience participation, I had blank stares. Rather than panic (like at the tech company show), I switched gears and worked silently. I used body language to communicate, and managed to connect with the audience in a meaningful way without speaking English. Even though the gig was not what I prepared for, I was malleable and adapted to my performing situation. Thus, I was able to succeed when others weren’t; the close-up magician was struggling to have cards chosen, and everyone thought Leonardo was a fancy waiter.
Secret #1: Successful Entertainers are malleable. They are like event chameleons.
Most of the time we work in familiar circumstances. If you work a lot in living rooms, you tend to get booked for parties in living rooms. If you are seen table-hopping, you get hired for walk-a-round. Experience at schools and libraries results in more work at schools and libraries. While this helps us build expertise in a niche, it also tends to make us a little complacent because our shows follow a familiar pattern. When a gig does not go according to plan, how will you react?
Successful performers find ways of making it seem as though nothing is wrong, while unsuccessful performers will let everyone know it is someone else’s fault.
Successful performers know they are not hired to “do their best.” They are hired to do their job. As Yoda teaches, “There is no try. There is only do.” You must find a way to have a successful performance regardless of the circumstances. The next time you’re at a convention, listen for “war stories” and compare the people complaining about what went wrong to the people boasting about how they overcame. I’ll bet you the next round at the bar that the complainers are not the successful ones . . . . .
Start thinking now about what can go wrong and how you can prepare for it. You must prepare for it in three ways:
1) Mentally prepare for the unknown. Be ready to keep a positive attitude and exude confidence even if you are scrambling inside.
2) Materially prepare for the unknown. Do you have a routine you can use for a small group? For a large group? For young kids, for older kids? Even if you are booked for a stand-up show, you may have to do something small and intimate for a VIP.
3) Have backups and extras ready. Do you have a bag of cables and adapters to plug your sound system into anything? Do you have a clean pair of clothes in your trunk in case yours are ruined? Do you have an emergency routine ready just-in-case?
Are you ready to be malleable and adapt to the surprises a show may bring? Are you ready to change on demand and be an event chameleon, blending in and being an appropriate entertainer? If the answer is yes, then you have learned one of the secrets of success.