For Party Entertainers,Simplicity Is the Magic Word

by David Gambacorta

Ask an entertainer how he would organize a birthday party and you will get sometimes-overlooked fundamentals that could make Junior’s party a smoother experience for both parent and child.

Keep it short and busy. “You really have to know what you’re getting into when you plan to have a party,” says Vance Fox of Mad Science of Western New Jersey. “I personally recommend keeping the parties short and keeping the kids busy. The last thing you want to do is schedule a long day for them without anything to do,” Fox says, noting that most entertainers will only take up 50 minutes to an hour of a party.

Make it fit the child. Several entertainers stress the importance of planning age-appropriate activities and events that cater to Junior’s personality.

“You want to look for entertainers who will interact with your kids and engage them. You don’t want to bore them or confuse them,” says Lenny Belasco, who is better known to Delaware Valley parents as Dr. Yo-Yo.

“Some birthday kids are shy and some love the attention,” says David C. Perry, whose “Mr. David” shows involve interactive games that use art, music and puppets. “I usually tell parents to only schedule entertainers their kids will feel comfortable around.”

Space meals. The entertainers suggest that parents schedule the kids’ meal times in a smart manner by spacing out the snacks and cake by a few hours, or by avoiding certain foods altogether. Says Sam Sandler, a Delaware Valley, magician, “It never fails — a kid wolfs down a chocolate ice cream cake, and the next thing you know, he’s doing cartwheels on the ceiling.” Larry Oxenberg, Philadelphia’s Hat Man, says, ““It’s an old cliché about sugar driving kids crazy,” but he suspects it’s true.

Not so, says nutritionist Althea Zanecosky, a frequent contributor to MetroKids. She says sugar itself does not send kids into hyperdrive. “Sugar, in fact, helps make the compound seratonin, which is a natural sedative,” Zanecosky explains. “A lot of foods that are high in sugar also contain a high amount of food colorings, which can cause some kids to have a hyperactive reaction.” She says that a party’s exciting atmosphere is more likely to cause cartwheels than sugary treats.

Relax. Entertainers encourage parents who are concerned about every detail of a party to relax. Kids, they say, need their own space to have a good time. “Parents should let the kids enjoy the show and not worry about them laughing during the performance. We want them to enjoy it,” says Elizabeth Evans, Renaissance Artist Puppet Company’s artistic director.

Hold it indoors. Many party pros also emphasize the importance of keeping parties indoors — a good way to avoid the disappointment of a rain-out or other natural hazards such as bees, humidity or balloon-snatching winds.

“Yep, they’re all party killers,” Sandler says.

Things That Don’t Work
Our grizzled party veterans have a lengthy list of things they hope to never see or experience again at a party. They most often mention making the party overly complicated.

Don’t go overboard. “I don’t like it when parents go overboard,” says magician Sandler, recalling a seventh birthday party for one girl that also included a tent, a clown and small rides. “They’re just kids. You don’t have to plan the experience of a lifetime.”

Avoid hazards. Musical chairs and silly string are both hazards, according to Donna Murphy. The chair game always guarantees that there will be one loser — a fate that can often lead to tears.

Silly string is a flammable danger around birthday candles, a fact that most parents are unaware of, Murphy says. “I’ve seen that stuff go right up when kids start spraying it around a cake, and a lot of parents are so shocked they don’t know what to do,” she says.

Don’t force it. Nick the Balloonetic says forcing kids into a party is probably the biggest no-no. “Some parents get so hyped up about planning the party, ordering the food and decorating the house that they forget to make sure their kids want the party in the first place,” says Nick.

Keep ages close. Balesco also admonishes parents not to have a party with too wide an age group. “It’s important to have them all around the same age, or else it’s hard to plan a party that’s enjoyable for everyone,” says Dr. Yo-Yo.

Think about giveaways. If there aren’t enough items for everyone, giveaways are also a bad idea, according to Jack Hardesty of Balloon Magic. “Do you know what happens when you give a balloon sword to just one or two kids? They all start to fight with each other. It’s bedlam,” he says.

Warm and Fuzzy
Although they have all had their share of unforgettable encounters, the entertainers say that fond experiences fuel their desire to continue performing. For some, it is a simple hug and thank-you from the birthday boy or girl. For others, it is the memory of a child latching onto their leg as they try to leave the party.

“I was particularly touched when I found that kids were sticking around after the parties just to talk or learn a few tricks,” Balesco says. “The new thing now is that a lot of kids ask me to autograph their yo-yos. I feel like a celebrity!”

For Murphy, the smiles on the faces of children with special needs is all she needs to enjoy her job. “That usually does it for me. Just to know that you reached them and that you made them happy. That means everything,” Murphy says.

“Sometimes, it’s just having a kid run up to you saying ‘Thanks for the best birthday ever,’” Weird Science’s Fox says. “We do post-party surveys, and it’s always nice hearing from parents who say their kids are still talking about our shows weeks after they had the party.”

Some entertainers just want to hear that the kids enjoyed their performance. “That’s enough for me,” Nick the Balloonetic says. “I just want to know that I reached them and that they weren’t disappointed.”

In spite of all of the possible pitfalls, all a good party takes, says Fox, is a little patience and a little perspective.“Take it slow, think everything through and remember that you don’t have to fit everything into one party — there’s always next year,” he says.

David Gambacorta, a former MetroKids edtiorial assistant, is now a staff writer for the Philadelphia Daily News..