Building Your Balloon Show
Let’s Get More Comfortable
by Smarty Pants
This past July while on vacation with the Lovely Miss Dena, I took a few hours to browse through my Smarty Pants photo archive. With the digital photo, it’s now possible to hang onto every single photo you’ve ever taken without hoarding shoeboxes full of fading prints and unidentified negatives. All of my photos now live forever right on my laptop.
My oldest photo dates from 2002, taken at one of my very first performances of the Big Balloon Show. Over the last decade, I’ve learned a lot about performing. More than a few of those lessons were learned the hard way. I’ve learned not to get distracted when a random toddler wanders onto your stage, until they start chewing on your electrical wires (true story). I’ve learned that it’s mathematically impossible for a six-foot man to successfully wear a six-foot tall balloon hat with seven-foot ceilings. And I’ve learned that performing your balloon show on the top deck of a moving boat on a windy Texas day is a good way to have all your balloons end up in Oklahoma.
In honor of my tin anniversary (look it up) I’m proud to share my ten commandments of doing a successful show:
- Be Punctual for your Showtime
- I start my show on time, every time. There are a dozen excuses why a performer needs to start late. Don’t make excuses. Leave yourself more than enough time to set up, so you’re ready early.
- Set Boundaries for your Show
- When setting up your show, set your stage boundaries. Put down a line demarcating where your stage ends and the audience seating area begins. Two words – masking tape!
- Set the Atmosphere
- Ever walk into a party and there’s dead silence? It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Having music playing as soon as the first audience member arrives sets the atmosphere for the upcoming fun of your show.
- Make Your Name Known Throughout the Show
- If you perform for kids, you’ll inevitably have lots of kids tell you they just saw another balloon artist, or magician, or clown, or flame eating juggling tightrope walker (well, maybe not that last one) – but how many of them can tell you their name when asked? Make sure to make your own name known throughout your show, so your audience members remember it after the show is done.
- Be Heard, and Be Heard Clearly!
- I’ve heard entertainers tell me, “I don’t use microphones – I’m plenty loud on my own!” Baloney. Unless you’re a trained operatic singer with a voice like a freight train, buy a decent sound system and a microphone to match so people can hear you without splitting your diaphragm in two.
- Ignore mistakes – keep the show going!
- Even the most veteran performer can foul up their most practiced routines. I’ve had the needle go through my thumb instead of the balloon (fortunately it was a Halloween show so all that blood fit right in the show) . Instead of drawing attention to your mistakes, forget it and keep moving. I promise most audiences will remember the good stuff and forget all about the mistakes, unless you make more than 14 mistakes in a show. Then you should probably practice more.
- Ask for Applause – don’t wait for it!
- Most kids don’t applaude when they are sitting at home watching television. Keep in mind that your show may also be the first live performance your audience has ever seen. They may not be familiar in these theatrical customs. If you want applause, ask for it! Now commanding kids, “Clap for me now” may be regarded as a little presumptuous, even by five year olds. A better and more comfortable way to ask for applause is, “Let’s have a round of applause for this amazing balloon magic,” or whatever wonderful thing you’ve just done. And of course, you can get more applause by prompting your audience to applause for themselves for being so wonderful to attend your show. Remember, all applause counts towards your total score, even if it is self-applause.
- Give your show a clear ending
- We all know when a movie ends – the music plays, the credits start rolling, and the lights go up. Imagine your show is a movie and give it a clear ending. This should be your strongest, most exciting routine of the show. If you’re not 100% confident in your ability to “sell” your show ending, give yourself some slack by announcing, “For my last act” or “To close my show today” or “This is it! After this, go home!”
- You’d be surprised how many shows just abruptly. End, that is. It’s not the best way to wrap things up.
- Don’t overstay your welcome
- What’s the best way to get a magician to do an hour performance? Ask for ten minutes. Ba dum bum! An old joke, but unfortunately true in many cases. The average television show lasts thirty minutes for kids. The average YouTube video, forty seconds. Don’t expect kids (or their parents) to sit patiently through an hour-long performance, no matter how good you are. A few minutes too short, leaving them wanting more, is always better than a few minutes too much….
- Have Fun!
- Remember, you’re supposed to be entertaining people – have fun with it! If you’re not having a good time, neither is your audience. Relax, don’t stress the details and remember that if you’re not having a good time, neither is your audience!
Hope these ten “commandments” help you improve your own show! See you next month!
Smarty Pants is widely regarded as Chicago’s top balloon twister and family entertainer. Follow him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SmartyPantsFan
PS: Want to learn a lot more about how to improve your show – direct from Smarty Pants himself? I’ll be presenting my “Secrets of Show Business” lecture at an exclusive engagement at Airigami Studios on August 22nd, 2012, hosted by Larry Moss. For just $25, this lecture will reveal my insider tips on how to become the dominant family entertainer in your market. Space is limited – sign up today!