An open letter to children’s entertainers:
Dear Silly Sally, Dizzy Izzy, Bonkers Barry et al,
I have spent the last 4 years gritting my teeth through endless afternoons filled with balloon animals, clunky magic tricks and of course the inevitable fart noises. I have weathered storms of hysterical children scuffling over the jammy dodgers, held my course against waves of hyperactive toddlers and soothed many a fevered brow. I have been the weird mum, sitting in the middle of all the kids because my child refused to participate if I didn’t, and I have been the shit mum, sitting at the back of the room blocking out the rest of the world by reading Facebook on my phone. I have been to enough children’s parties now that I think I’m ready to offer a bit of advice to you, the professionals…
First things first – turn the bloody music down. We are not at a rave, none of us think we are. Banging tunes and a foam gun do not Ibiza make. Your audience are not necking pills and having it large, they are children; they get high on a handful of Haribo. I’m sure you must notice that at every party there are at least four kids snuggled on their parents’ laps with woebegone expressions on their faces. I guarantee that if you turned the volume down just a smidge, just enough that it doesn’t register on the richter scale, those sad children might actually find it bearable enough to join in. Three times I have seen kids come to the door of a party full of beans and ready for fun, only for the door to open and the wall of sound has literally driven them backwards. Two of the kids never even made it through the door. Please remember who your audience is – they are not teenagers brain-addled by recreational pharmaceuticals – they are toddlers whose hearing is infinitely more sensitive than your or mine.
I have noticed that most of you own microphones. If you are using one on a weekly basis I would assume that you understand what it is for. However, as the blood seeping from my ears proves, I am wrong about this; so here is a brief explanation. Microphones are clever devices for amplifying whatever sounds they pick up. When you speak into the microphone it moves a diaphragm which is then converted into electrical energy. This energy is then sent to a speaker, which allows you to alter the sound, making it louder. What this means, and this is very important, is that when you are using a microphone YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SHOUT. Please, please stop amplifying your voice into a machine whose very purpose is voice amplification. If you think that shouting adds energy to your performance then go for it, but don’t use the microphone. You are in a village hall, not the O2 arena. Make a choice, shouting or microphone. Not both.
Now, regarding your mid-show patter – again, please bear in mind the age of your audience. If the kids are over 6, it’s fine – go nuts with the fart jokes and the misdirects and the endless repetitions of the same joke with minimal variations. All kids are idiots; they lap this shit up with a spoon. However if the children you are entertaining are reception class age or under, please be aware they have the attention span of the gnats who feast on fleas. If you do not get straight to the point you will lose them. If you drop a fart joke in the middle of your set you may as well write the rest of it off and resign yourself to blowing raspberries for the next half hour – the under fives do not recover from that level of hilarity easily.
If you are going to have competitions – please have some consistency in how you award prizes. I have nothing against an Ayn Rand-ian competitive party where only the strong can survive but please try to make sure that the kid who was genuinely the best wins – if you pick one at random the other kids will know. They can smell injustice. I can also, just about, tolerate parties where the birthday kid wins all the prizes – I mean, it clearly makes no fucking sense as said birthday child has a table groaning with presents just to the side of the room but considering the huge wodge of cash these loving parents have given to you, I can understand that it may be thought reasonable for the birthday child to recoup some of that filthy lucre.
If you must use the random scattershot approach to prize giving,(and I do understand – trying to identify the best dancer from a pack of malcoordinated monkeys whilst simultaneously battling your post-Friday night hangover can be tricky), maybe have a think about who you are awarding prizes to. In the nine parties with an entertainer we have been to in the last year the same kid has hauled away the lion’s share of the spoils at every single one. If your instinct is to give it to the tall blonde girl, maybe think again, maybe give it to the small brown kid right behind her or maybe the shy one who has been dancing near you for the whole party in the hopes you might just notice him. Personally i’d go with everyone gets a prize or no one, everything else is a life lesson and, quite frankly, no one should have to learn anything whilst at a party.
This last point is my biggest bug bear. Why in the name of quivering fuck do you insist on ‘boys’ prizes and girls’ prizes’. Sweet christ, at one party I went to recently the entertainer gendered the bloody plates. I can see no clear reason for doing this ever. The only reason that any toy should be attributed to masculine or feminine categories is if you operate said toy with your genitals. If you are bringing that kind of toy to a children’s party I do not think you will be getting many repeat bookings. Boys like glitter, girls like guns. This should not be a surprise to anyone. Stop telling my kids what they should and shouldn’t like.
Despite all this I know you are heroes to my half pints. My kids bloody love a party with an entertainer (once I have deployed the ear defenders). They will quite happily shriek with joy when they see Mr Boffo’s magical colour changing picture for the zillionth time. Apparently it is a surprise each and every time – I applaud your commitment to the bit. You wrestle your hangovers and stride manfully (or womanfully) to the head of a hoarde of screeching infants and I sit at the back and snark. You make my kids happy and I should thank you for that. My only true and sincere request is please don’t make me do it myself.