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By Alan R. Kahn, Bay Area Parent
There is a wide variety of party entertainers who can come to your home: animals, balloon artists, clowns, costumed characters (from fairy tales, cartoons, movies, etc.), face-painters, game leaders, jugglers, magicians, make-up artists, pony rides, puppet shows, singers, spin art, T-shirt painting, ventriloquists and more.
Many entertainers offer several of these services.
Where To Find Them
The best place to find a good act is through word of mouth; ask friends about their experiences with performers. Look in Bay Area Parent's party section; check the yellow pages (see specific listings, such as Clowns, Magicians, etc.); ask a children's librarian (they frequently hire acts); and check at party stores.
Before hiring an entertainer, check with the birthday child to be sure this is something he or she will enjoy. Some children, especially very young children, may be terrified rather than delighted when surprised by a clown or a costumed entertainer.
When getting bids for a party, specify exactly what you want, so the performer can't talk you into an act that sounds good, buy may not be suited for your child.
Book well in advance. One month is a good rule of thumb. However, if the party in near a holiday, book two months ahead.
Before booking, consider the time of the show and the possible weather. One magician booked a magic show a month in advance. It was designed to be held outside since the parents wanted spin-art as one of the activities. But they forgot that Daylight Savings Time would end before the party, so what would have been late afternoon, ended up being a cold, dark night. The show had to be moved indoors, where table cloths were spread on the floor to protect the expensive new rug.
Questions To Ask
Will you sign a contract specifying the date, time and place of the performance; how long the performance will be; exactly what it will entail; and the method and time of payment? (If possible, arrange to make the final payment after the show.)
What is your cancellation policy? When is the latest I can cancel and is there a cancellation charge? If you are ill and cannot come to the party, will you provide a similar back-up entertainer.
How do you handle "problem" situations, such as scared or overly boisterous children?
For what age children is your act best suited? (Generally, the more uniform the age of the audience, the more focused and better the show will be.)
Are there any limits on location? (Some entertainers will not go to parks, for example, and others limit themselves to a certain geographic area. If the party is to be in a place other than your home, such as a restaurant or park, check to make sure there are no rules against having a hired entertainer there.)
Do you prefer to perform indoors or outside?
Are animals part of your act? (If the act does include animals, you should keep family pets out of the party area until the performer leaves. If your child has certain allergies, it may not be wise to hire an act with animals.)
How many adults per child should be present when you are performing? (Generally, the entertainer should not be expected to baby-sit or have complete charge of the children.)
When will you arrive? (Some performers, whose acts require minimal set-up, can arrive minutes before the show is to go on, while others need more time to get ready.)
May we take pictures during your act and/or videotape the show?
Do you know how to get to the party location? (Give complete directions including apartment number, or draw a map, even if the entertainer says he knows the way.)
At The Party
If the show requires extensive set-up, plan for pre- and post-show activities to take place somewhere else.
Make sure the location is the right size for the group. One clown recalls, "I did a show for a 2-year-old birthday party that had so many family and friends we could not all fit in the house, and since it was raining, we could not go in the backyard. So, I did the entire show on the patio under an alcove with half the audience in the house watching from the kitchen and the other half outside with me, hoping the wind wouldn't change direction."
Plan the entertainment to begin at least 30 minutes after the start of the party so late arrivals won't miss out on seeing the show.
Be ready to start the show at the time specified. Most entertainers have several shows a day and must stay on schedule.
Don't serve food during the performance, especially if the performer uses live animals or props the children may touch.
Depending on your payment agreement, have the entertainer's check ready when he or she leaves.
Alan Kahn is President of 1st. Impressions Entertainment Group, Fremont, CA. Since 1978, this troupe of magicians and clowns have been entertaining at parties throughout the Bay Area.