Part 5 of the 10 Essential Techniques That Professional Kids Entertainers Do Not Share
In my last article, we covered how to create a character brief. Now, let’s go into how you can communicate well with your audience to make sure they are engaged all throughout your show.
Your overall brand impacts your audience way before you arrive at the venue. In fact, even before the event, you already communicate to the booker a positive or negative result just by your advertising and customer service. Aside from this, there are also external conditions that impact you, your audience and your show.
To have a successful show, it is imperative that the audience know exactly what you are trying to communicate. A successful show will have communicated the plot and subplots, as well as the overall character of the performer.
By keeping the lines of communication short and sweet, all the above can be successfully conveyed. So how do you do it?
Keeping a Good Pace
Many routines are way too long and laborious and do not leave opportunities for much participation. One thing to remember is the bigger the show venue, the more visual and the more direct the plots should be. This also applies in situations where the audience can be easily distracted by other elements. Alcohol and performing near bars are examples.
When there are various distractions, you as the performer need to command attention and keep control. You have to constantly remind the audience by backtracking over the plot. You also have to make sure that the show moves at a pace that holds interest. For moments when there are particularly difficult distractions, I quicken the pace and make the plots simpler. Communication is vitally important.
Another thing to remember is to portray the plot visually enough for each audience to be able to understand it—especially if their knowledge of your language is limited. I suggest learning key phrases in the language of the majority of the audience and inserting them in the routines. (When in Rome, do as the Romans do!) The deliberate mispronunciation of words in the audience’s language, especially by a foreigner, has huge comedy potential and, if portrayed in a respectful light, will further enhance your rapport with the audience.
I have found that you can create rapport by asking the audience where they are from and by creating national pride-type feelings from their answers. In multi-cultural audiences, you must ascertain the language spoken by the majority and then mix other languages into the show.
It would also help you to learn key signs in the sign language for the deaf. A simple signing of hello and goodbye, as well as “I love you,” will spark huge smiles from those audiences.
Just a quick side note on that: When hearing-impaired audiences ‘applaud,’ they generally lift their arms and wave them. It is a little disconcerting when you are expecting clapping, especially when you experience it for the first time, but know that they are applauding you when they do wave at you like that.
Another unusual experience is of traditional ‘Bushmen’ applauding—they do this by clicking their fingers. The sound made by over a thousand Bushman trackers sitting on their haunches and clicking their fingers was almost unearthly—like that of thousands of beetles—and it was a memorable experience in my career.
Using Sound Equipment
The use of professional sound equipment can enhance a show and alleviate difficulties due to distracting noises. Keep in mind though that the volume should enhance, not aggravate. A bad sound system will actually distract, not help.
Ideally, the added addition of sound to your show will take it up to the next level. (Excuse the pun.) Children’s performers should use music in their shows—even at house parties. There are many professional sound systems on the market. I personally recommend Ultimate Control by Happy Amp.
There are also Apple products that you can consider. The Ultimate Control or similar devices will let you play music via an mp3 player and a remote control. This will allow you to operate your music at the push of a button and not rely on sound technicians (which is often disastrous). This will also give you creative freedom in choosing which sound effects to add to your show. For instance, you can make the birthday boy sound like he is walking through mud as he is coming up on stage, or you can make him sound like Mickey Mouse.
Communicating Your Requirements
The actual venue will determine the level of communication you’ll have with your audience. Sometimes you’re informed where you are going to perform, but other times you’re not. I have found you can prevent many problems by telling your bookers your requirements beforehand.
Many organisers are simply unaware of performers’ requirements. I have found that by approaching the client diplomatically and explaining a better option, you will most likely be able to move to a better area.
Being Aware of Other Variables
If you have been entertaining for quite a while now, you have probably experienced how activities prior to your performance affect your show. If there was a high-energy mini-disco or dance show, or if the adults already had too much—or too little—beer, or if the kids had wolfed down great quantities of sweets—all this will have an impact on your show. And let’s not forget the Bouncing Castle. I have found that it is always a distraction, so I ask for it to be deflated (after first removing the children, of course!) before I start my performance.
There are also influences that can subtly affect your show, like the low-key lounge music piped through the hotel prior to the show, the attitude of the staff and management, and even your advertising displayed at the venue.
I used to perform at different hotels in Spain every night, and I was often told by the audience afterwards that they were glad they came because they had imagined—from the poster displayed—that the show would be something completely different. The company had designed my publicity for me. It was a factor that I couldn’t control, but nevertheless something I had to deal with.
And then there’s the nature of the event. Some occasions might be religious or very formal, requiring the audience to conform to certain social etiquettes. Others can be so laid back that everyone feels downright at home.
The weather is also a major factor in some instances, particularly for outdoor shows. (In case of rain or other weather disturbances, it’s best to have an alternative venue available.) I will always place the audience in the shade, with me in the sun, rather than the other way around.
Strong winds also affect your props. I once had to get someone to hold my prop table to prevent it from blowing over. However at that show, I used the wind to my advantage by letting it catch a silk and blow it a few metres away, while I pretend to place it in a bag. Sad to say, that particular function ended badly when, as a result of a spark, the fireworks on the back of a pickup exploded, seriously injuring the operator. That just goes to show how important it is to consider weather and prepare for emergencies as best as possible.
As a performer, you have to know how to change the pace, plot, and visual content of your show as need be. You should be adaptable with your show, especially large shows such as Christmas parties and outdoor company functions. Children’s parties are probably the least likely to need changing, but every now and then, there might be venue problems with indoor shows in cramped areas, such as lounges or restaurants.
Nevertheless, you must be consistent with your brand and performance every time. With experience, you will get better at it. Be prepared before your show. Know roughly what to expect by asking for as much information as possible before the function. If possible, go and check the venue in advance, and then on the day, adjust to unexpected changes or problems.
It’s also wise never to anticipate doing the exact same show at every function. Even if the venue and most external conditions are the same, you still have a different set of audience each time. Perfection is unobtainable in the performing art, but striving for a high percentage will result in success, with better performances every time.