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There is a wide variety of party entertainers who perform at birthday parties: balloon artists, clowns, costumed characters, 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.
Before hiring an entertainer, check with the birthday child to be sure this is something that will be enjoyed. 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, but may not be suited for your child.
Book well in advance; one month is a good rule of thumb. However, if the party is near a holiday or during the summer, book two months ahead. Remember, many entertainers also perform at company picnics and art festivals.
Questions To Ask
Will you sign a contract specifying the date, time and place of the performance; how long will the performance 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 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. Also, some county parks prohibit bringing in balloons as they can be a hazard to the wildlife.
Do you prefer to perform indoors or outside?
Are animals a part of your act? If so, 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 babysit 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 two-year-old’s 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 for 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 the Amazing, aka Alan Kahn, is President of 1st Impressions Entertainment Group, Fremont, CA. Since 1978, this troupe of magicians and clowns has been entertaining at parties throughout the Bay Area. For more information visit: www.heyalan.com.