Last month, Mark Beckwith and I touched on the pros of doing school assembly shows. Now we’re back with a post that’s all about where you can find a great audience.
We’ve all had bad audiences, the ones that sit there with no response, talk among themselves, read the paper, or get up to leave. I remember my stand-up comic days counting the people in the crowd before the show. The headliner had a rule in his contract: under 20 people and the show doesn’t go on. That meant I had to open for 21 people in the house. At midnight. Uggghh.
But I have found salvation—the ultimate audience, the one I can feel great about performing for, the one that allows me to do my show the way I want to.
Now why do I say that? What makes a school show assembly audience an ideal audience?
I learned that size has something to do with it. When performing for small crowds, even the best laughs seem small. But with 300 school kids in a room, the smallest giggle sounds like a belly laugh. And if you can hear that all the rest can hear it, it reassures the audience that it likes you.
This also helps. School kids are in a constant state of correction. Teachers don’t have time for foolishness; they are trained to correct quickly and effectively. Sorry mom, but teachers have more experience with behavior in one year than you have in a lifetime of five kids. (My mom really never had to worry—all five of us were angels.) At a school assembly, the kids know that if they get out of line, they will be pulled out of class.
At birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, festivals, and fairs, the kids have so many other things they could be doing—bouncers, face painting, eating, anything. But at school, if they weren’t in the assembly, they would be doing math. THANK YOU, MR. ASSEMBLY GUY!
And here’s another problem with distractions: you have to come out of the gate at 100% excitement. And you can’t let up. You can’t get quiet. You can’t have a moment of silence. But at school assemblies, the kids allow you to be subtle, to go to extreme highs and lows. Dynamics becomes a new tool.
This is teacher talk for sitting on the floor with legs crossed. (Salute to the teacher that came up with that rhyme. She deserves a raise.)
When kids are in sitting on chairs or benches, their legs are wiggling, they can stand up easily, they can turn around. And if you are in a theater-style seating, with seats that fold up and a couple squeak—forget about it. That’s your soundtrack for the show. Bring a can of WD40 and test each chair before the show. Always have kids on the floor in any venue if you can.
The teachers appreciate the break and really appreciate how you, as a professional performer, can make even the driest subject fun and exciting. Trust me, the teachers wish they were you. Actually, you’re simply doing a 45-minute lesson plan, but since you do it over and over, you can spend money on props, sound effects, music, and costumes and take time to rehearse—and all these help you make an unforgettable lesson.
Best thing is you can really, truly, change lives. You can make a difference. Didn’t we get into show biz for something more than just applause?
This reminds me of the time when I performed our Bye Bye Bully show in Soledad, California. In the end of the program, I told the story of Michael who was bullied in his school because he liked My Little Pony. Eventually he was bullied so much, and this was how I phrased his situation to the kids:
“Imagine every day having kids at school laugh at you and make fun of you just because of the way you think. Michael didn’t want to go to school anymore. Eventually he didn’t want to live anymore. He did something very stupid, and he hurt himself.
He’s getting better, but all this happened in the first place because he forgot he was a good and important person, and because the kids that laughed forgot to treat others like they want to be treated.”
Then I had the kids stand up and repeat some positive affirmations. Usually some kids wouldn’t even stand and repeat what I said. They were “too cool.” It is a good show but sometimes you can’t get through to all the kids.
But then after that particular show, I saw the principal with a girl who was crying. I walked up to them and the principal told me, “This is Anna. She was thinking about doing to herself what Michael did to himself.”
I held her and told her that things will get better. The principal took her off to talk. Later I checked in on her and was informed that she was now speaking with a professional counselor. She was getting help. She came forward because of my show.
I called back two weeks later for another update and was told, “Obediah, Anna has turned around 180 degrees. She was always quiet; we just thought she was a quiet girl. But now she talks and laughs. She just had all these worries and problems. Today she even hugged me out of the blue. She never would have done that three weeks ago. Thank you.”
I always say when I begin my performance that the show starts the conversation on the bully problem. I can’t solve the problem, but the first step is talking.
My eyes are watering up as I write this and think about Anna. For me, her story just goes to show that entertaining school kids and imparting useful knowledge to them in a way that sticks do make a difference. It gives meaning to what I do.
Have you experienced something similar? Please share them in the comments below.
Next month, Mark and I will be back to discuss which performing style suits which kids entertainment event or venue. Until then.