So you’re going to hire an entertainer for your Centre. What are you looking for?
Having worked in Preschools, Kindies, Childcare Centres, Schools and Vacation Care Services as a magician with an educational message perhaps I might offer some suggestions about what I see from my very limited perspective.
The first thing I see for many Centre Directors, Educational Leaders and teachers is engagement. You are spending significant funds to allow an incursion. In return, you want the children engaged for the whole time. Depending on the type of entertainer/educator you are hiring that can happen in different ways. The right music, the entertainer being at the right cognitive level, the right physical activity and, of course, the right message presented the right way. The key element for engagement is the children have to enjoy the experience. It has to be fun or interesting, or, preferably, both, to them. You should look for an entertainer where there is evidence of engagement. Word of mouth, your network and social media accounts can be good starting points for a little research before you commit.
Generally incursions have passed beyond, ‘Come and do a show.’ Curriculum’s are crowded. Education now addresses many elements that were once the province of other domains of learning. It follows there often isn’t time, or justification, for ‘come and do a show’. More and more I find that teachers are happy to provide a different learning experience, but it has to be able to be linked to a framework or an intended teaching strategy. I find teachers are now looking for that linkage, and I facilitate it with Educators notes. You should look for an entertainer that provides an educational outcome in a form you can use and ask questions about the educational component.
The right fit
I can remember being approached for a Show where the Director didn’t want any magic, err, right, that didn’t quite work for me, I am a magician. If you are dealing with a mature entertainer he or she will tell you what works for him or her, and what in his or her experience, will have the best chance of succeeding. Sometimes it may sound quite different when you discuss the intended show, but by the same token worth a try. Similarly, if something doesn’t quite work well, a mature entertainer will chat with you about that after the fact. Don’t be put off, because often the entertainer wants to learn and improve to make his or her shows better for you, as much as you want a better outcome. Don’t be afraid to try an entertainer and specify what you’re looking for andremember, for all of us, feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Pick the right show
A magic show is a buzz for children, they love magic for different reasons at different age groups. But, if the children are under three and a half years of age it’s unlikely they will have the cognitive ability to recognise trickery. I can recall an Early Learning Centre with a Kindergarten program where the staff wheeled out all the children in the centre, including some who were standing in cots watching. Again, my fault, I didn’t talk with the staff. Entertainers will tell you the right age group for their shows, talk with them. In my case where a centre has those younger age children I often add 15 minutes of puppetry at no cost just for the younger children so they too get a show and my actual educational shows are restricted to the ages that will understand the magic and the message. Make sure you pick the right show for the age groups at your Centre.
Is it easy to deal with the entertainer? Reliability, responsiveness to communication, access to information through question or web site are all criteria that are relevant for you. On show day is the entertainer on time, efficient and able to manage the children well? These are the types of things good entertainers aim to do well. The question for you might be, will this be, or has this been an easy experience for me?
Value for money
Budgets are tight. Getting the right incursion, show, at the right money is always a challenge, particularly when you are a long way from a Capital city. I was humbled this year when a Centre Director said to me that the only incursion she had had in her Centre for the last three years was me! Not because I’m good (and I like to think I am), but because few entertainers travel. The overheads for travelling entertainers/educators are always a strain and drive many from the road. So what are you paying for? Firstly everything you see in the show, props, costumes, sound systems and the skill of the entertainer, together with the educational content. Just like you, there are the business overheads as well. It might be a good idea to spend a moment and actually think about what are your value for money key indicators (ouch KPI’s, sorry) so you actually know what value for money means to you. Remember, cheap isn’t always good, and there is no guarantee expensive won’t be bad.
So what can I do to make it a great show?
Firstly, talk to the entertainer about his or her show and work with them. In most of my preschool shows I start the show sitting on the floor with the children. I remember one Kindy that sat all the children in chairs around the wall and the staff wouldn’t let them leave their chairs. It was my fault as I hadn’t spoken to the Director about my show. Needless to say rapport was really hard for that show!! Make sure you’ve talked about staging and interaction with the entertainer so you understand his or her needs and you are happy with what’s proposed.
It sounds odd, the children are having a show so they should be fine, well not always!! Similarly many institutions will not leave a visitor alone with the children and many entertainers don’t want that either. The entertainer will do their best to control the children, but there are a range of circumstances where your help is vital. I can recall a show where a routine revolved around an item secretly loaded in a hat so that the children in the audience didn’t know it was there. I had just ‘loaded’ the item using an elegant bit of misdirection the hat and a special needs child ran past plucking the load out of the hat, holding it aloft running out of the door with me in hot pursuit. In fairness the teacher wasn’t far behind him. The lesson, please remember to help as you and your staff best know your children. Ensure some supervision remains.
About the money
It is hard to justify the expense of a full entertainer’s fee for an enrolment of 8 or 10 children. And when you do the math you may end up spending $30+ a head for an incursion. Understandably, that often doesn’t work. Similarly, a Centre in a low socio-economic district may struggle with parent contributions. Be honest about that. Some entertainers have other ways of providing a show that allow them value, adjust the price and give the children the experience. In remote areas I’ve done shows in exchange for somewhere to park my caravan whilst in town and some publicity photos or testimonials. If money is an issue and the entertainer is prepared to be flexible, be open minded.
If your circumstances change talk to the entertainer, and do it early. Every entertainer has had a door step cancellation. There can be a myriad of reasons, enrolments drop, Directors change, Head Office approval is withdrawn. Good entertainers will email or contact you a week or so before the show. If there is a problem be honest, up front and make the decision early, then take action, don‘t wait. Remember in the city that entertainer has committed travel time and performance time to you so that 45 minute show may have taken 3 hours to facilitate. In the country it’s much, much more. They have given you a slot they can’t resell so the financial loss is not just the show fee, but the potential loss of other activity during that time. Just as you would be unlikely to forgive a non-arrival for a show, entertainers find it hard to forgive doorstep cancellations. Share your issues early.
Tell good stories!!
Travelling entertainers have to book shows to make travel worthwhile. This probably explains why few entertainer’s travel remotely. I know of five others who travel at this time in the various regions I visit. All do different types of shows. Travelling entertainers follow the money, they have too. If no one books around your district next year, they’re probably not coming past your place. If you find a good entertainer, tell your network, give them a leg up and they will probably be available to come past again next year.
In the recognition I may be stating the obvious, I hope these few thoughts help to support a bit of thinking for you and go some way to create great incursions for your Service in the future.
Bingo Jack (John Burgess) is a travelling children’s entertainer, educator and magician who has travelled Australia over the last 4 years presenting educational shows to schools and preschools. He also presents a range of vacation care shows that have been successful across the country.
He is currently on his annual tour of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Over the next few weeks he will move through Townsville, across to Mount Isa and down to Cobar before returning to Adelaide. Bookings for October Vacation Care Shows in Adelaide and for January in Sydney and Central New South Wales and term 4 educational shows in South Australia are now open.
You can check out Bingo Jack’s Educational Shows here.
You can check out Bingo Jack’s Vacation Care Shows here.
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