A Playwright’s Guide to Children’s Entertainment
It’s time to play a game, a game that will drastically improve your in-show marketability. “But wait just a gosh darn minute, Christopher, I thought this column was supposed to be about play writing and how its principles can influence children’s entertainment!” You’re right. And it is … come and find out what the T stands for …
AND when you think about it, a playwright’s (or screenwriter’s, or sitcom writer’s, or any kind of dramatic writer’s) first goal is to create a unique, classic character that will be remembered for years to come.
YOU are essentially a playwright creating YOU as a character, so it’s your goal to make yourself as memorable and interesting as possible. You don’t want to get hired because you’re “some magician” or “some ventriloquist” or “some clown.” You want to be hired because you are YOU.
We’re going to create a more unique, classic, memorable, and interesting YOU with a little game I like to call…
WHAT’S ON YOUR T-SHIRT?!! That’s it. The T stands for ‘T-Shirt’
Here’s how the game works. Imagine you’re performing a magic show for a packed theatre. The show ends, and the audience wanders out into the lobby where a wall of t-shirts are on display. Every t-shirt has a memorable saying or picture that references you and your show. Each shirt represents another opportunity for your audience to own a memory of you. The more t-shirts you have available for sale, the more points you receive!
Don’t go placing orders for a bunch of t-shirts. It’s only a game to get you thinking about how you market yourself and in turn strengthen your performing character.
Are you ready to play?
First, a few rules:
1. Imagine you’re a no-name magician. For me, that’s easy! In other words, you’re no David Copperfield. Sure, audiences in droves will crowd around to buy a shirt with his name or face on it, but he’s a bit more famous than I am. The goal here is to persuade audiences to buy our t-shirts despite having no fame or preconceived knowledge, only by what they experience within the show.
2. That being said, the What’s On Your T-Shirt game isn’t about presenting an amazing show that will entice your audience to want to buy a t-shirt bearing your average Joe Shmoe name. Yes, your show should be amazingly entertaining. That’s a given. The basis of the game is to have a sellable t-shirt not based on the quality of the show. We’re playing with the assumption that our shows are all equally entertaining (although improving your in-show marketability will automatically set you apart from other children’s entertainers).
3. No generic t-shirts allowed. ‘Magician’ and ‘Abracadabra’ do not count as acceptable t-shirts; only sayings and pictures that exclusively denote you and your show. If another magician can print the same t-shirt, the phrase just points to SOME MAGICIAN and not YOU.
4. Disregard number 3 if your t-shirt slogan is often printed by others because others copied it from you. In that case, you’re the one others want to be. Award yourself two points for receiving the best form of flattery, imitation!
The rules are in place, so let’s play the game. Add a point for each of the following categories if you truly believe your show provides a t-shirt worthy representation of that particular category. Each point equals a higher marketability which in turn equals an all-around higher quality show.
So now without further ado…
Happy T-shirt Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!
1. THE NAME GAME – Search Google for your performing name. Are you one-of-a-kind? When I performed as Christopher The Magician years ago, I was chagrinned to discover quite a few magicians in the world who shared my name. It’s a slight change, but I’m the only Christopher T. Magician (and it doesn’t hurt that my middle name is ‘Taco,’ but I’m getting ahead of myself). The bottom line … more audience members are likely to buy a Johnny Jellybean t-shirt than one that bears John Smith as a moniker.
2. THE SUBTITLE: A CONTINUATION OF THE TITLE! – I rarely introduce myself as Christopher T. Magician without following up with “The ‘T’ stands for ‘Taco!’” Even if your performing name isn’t t-shirt worthy (in some cases like educational entertainers, you may prefer a more proper and professional name), adding a subtitle when you introduce yourself (and I mean practically EVERY TIME you introduce yourself) will add a t-shirt to the wall. A few examples of possible subtitles:
a. “I’m _____, the most famous magician in this room.”
b. “I’m _____. Of all the jugglers you’ll ever see, I’m one of them.”
c. “I’m _____, and who the heck are you?”
d. “I’m _____, and this is my elbow.”
3. ABRACADA-BLAH! – If your magic word is ‘Abracadabra,’ you’re losing a perfectly easy t-shirt sell. ‘Happy Birthday’ is a lost t-shirt opportunity as well. My magic words are ‘Yay Taco!’ You only get those magic words with Christopher T. Magician. The same should be true with you and your magic words. And it’s the easiest t-shirt to add to your wall RIGHT NOW. Just make up your own unique magic words. If you can’t think of any, consider rhyming words (Stinky Pinky or Potty Karate), alliteration (Ga Ga, Goo Goo or Stinky Socks), like sounds (Elbow Kablooey or Jingle Jangle), or take-offs of existing classic magic words (Abraca-dookie or Bibbidi-Shmibbidi). If all else fails, just name a food … Cottage Cheese, Chocolate Chip Pancakes, or Leftover Lasagna all make perfectly memorable magic words.
4. CATCHPHRASE – When the magic happens in your show, is ‘Wow’ your reaction? When you close the lid of a box on your fingers, do you shout, “Ouch,” in pain? When you’re excited, scared, or facing extraordinary circumstances, is your reaction extra … ordinary? Well you can quickly add another t-shirt to your wall right now. All you have to do is pick an uncommon reactionary phrase, and when the time comes to make an exclamation during the show, say it with pride. I chose ‘Holy Mole Sauce’ to continue my Mexican food (Yay Taco!) theme. Change the tone of your voice when saying the phrase to relate to any emotion you might need to feel. Depending on how I say it, ‘Holy Mole Sauce’ can convey surprise, fear, amazement, pain, and any other emotion I come across during my show.
5. SIDEKICKS – Let’s say hypothetically that you’re putting together a recycling show, a bullying show, and a pirate themed show. You might find a talking trashcan puppet to discuss recycling. A turtle puppet is a natural victim of bullying. And of course a parrot puppet is the perfect purchase for presenting a pleasing pirate performance. I don’t use puppets in my children’s shows, but if I ever do, I will take the Jeff Dunham approach. That is, pick a puppet and stick with it in every show you do. The same is true for rabbits. Be it live animal or puppet, your sidekick should be as big of a celebrity as you are to your young audiences. Remember, to hire your sidekick, they have to hire you too!
On a downer of a side note, pets eventually pass away. That being said, your young audiences shouldn’t know that. Part of our job as magicians is to uphold the all-around fantasy of our mysterious lives. Your rabbit is a magic rabbit, and in the eyes and imaginations of children, he should live on forever. Find an identical rabbit and introduce him with the same stage name. A member of your family, he may be known as Bernie at home, but on stage, let him be Skittles (or whatever his stage name may be). That way your rabbit friend will always remain a part of your magical backstory.
6. RUNNING GAG – Throughout my birthday party magic show, I reach into boxes, bags, and other props and continually find rubber chickens much to my dismay! I furiously shout, “Chicken!” as I toss the flexible foul aside. Repeatedly drop items on your foot, sit on a whoopee cushion, or lose your glasses so you can’t see. If you do something enough, it can become a signature of your act, resulting in another t-shirt on your wall.
7. SIGNATURE ACT – Speaking of signatures, find that one trick that you perform like nobody else. The one routine that always gets the best reaction. The routine that is YOU. It may be a magical effect. Or a particular puppet character. Or juggling move. Once you find that routine, start performing it in every show you do. Become that entertainer who performs that act. It’s another t-shirt sell and another reason for your audiences to want you and not some other performer.
8. SUPERMAN’S CLOSET – I always enjoyed the image of Superman going to his closet to pick out an outfit for the day, and the hangers all hold identical blue and red tights with that iconic ‘S’ on the front. I like to imagine my kid show audiences creating the same scenario about me and my closet in their minds since I never enter a show venue without my signature royal blue suit, pink shirt, and lime green tie. The t-shirt sell would be much less appealing to potential buyers if I wore a blue suit in some shows, a red suit in others, and a yellow suit in the rest. Even if you don’t want to be stuck in the same costume forever, consider the consistency of a particular costume piece. Maybe no matter what you wear, you’re never seen without your propeller beanie cap. Or maybe some ridiculous glasses. Or an oversized mustache. Or something as simple as a “Hello, my name is…” name tag. Whatever the quirk is, never be seen without it. You’re one of a kind. Try to look the part!
There you have it. How many t-shirts are on your wall?
Remember, we’re playing on the honor system here. I’m not frankly too concerned with your score. I’m busy enough worrying about my own. The only person who should care about yours is you.
And your audience.
Oh, and a low score doesn’t mean you lose. It means you have an opportunity to tweak your show as a means of building your t-shirt inventory. Creating a strong, interesting main character is the first step to transforming your show from a string-of-tricks to a true piece of children’s entertainment theatre.
In Part 2 of ‘The T Stands For’ Christopher T Magician gives us a masterclass in adding tension to our kids entertainment routines.