Before I tell you all about Birthday entertainment and special needs circus workshop, just a quick reminder that bookings for next year are coming thick and fast. So much so that in a couple of days time my first ever newsletter should be out. It will include a list of events that you can see me at and the latest details on how to get discount entry to many of those events. “How do I sign up for it”? I hear you cry. Simply scroll down to the very bottom of this page and look in the left hand corner, where all shall be revealed.
My latest attempts to get booked for local birthday parties has so far met with mixed results. The wonders of internet technology means that it’s now a lot easier to advertise one’s wears. Not just locally but around the world. “Which”, I thought as we started the 3 hour drive, “may well be the reason I’m performing in Stafford today as opposed to Cambridgeshire”. However I later learned that they’d seen me perform at a festival, and were so impressed that they sort me out in the hope that I’d perform at their children’s medieval birthday party. Well, who am I to say no.
I’d been booked not only to entertain at the birthday party, but also to run a circus workshop, which is always popular after one of my shows. The party was in the village hall in a lovely country village (not that you get many city villages) and we arrived in good time.
The hall itself was laid out like a medieval banquet, complete with a head table for the birthday boy and girl. (Note to would be parents. If you’re going to have more than one child, have them around the same time of year, that way you save money on parties). I do so love it when the parents have taken the time to think about theming the hall as well as the cake etc. It really does add to the suspension of disbelief, which is what my jobs all about.
Meet and greet;
I met the proud parents and birthday kids, checked what we’re doing when, then got changed and set up my stand, ready for action. Then I got Woodbine (my burping polecat puppet of doom) ready to meet the children. As per normal he totally refused to behave, burping in kids faces, running up my arm etc. The kids loved him and he really helped them to get in the fun party mood before they’d even taken off their coats. Many of the kids were dressed as knights and princesses, which again only helped to add to the mood of the day. This was going to be one fun party and a true pleasure to perform at.
After everyone had arrived I messed about a bit, using some walkabout magic to entertain the children as they greeted each other with hellos and wildly swung wooden swords that somehow failed to cause any major injuries (always a good thing). Then it was show time.
The new magic cake (of doom) routine;
I must admit to being somewhat nervous as I gathered the children and got them to sit on the floor in front of me. Not because I was performing at a birthday party, but because I was going to use a new trick. One that I’d never performed live before. I’d practiced it and even put it on youtube as a wedding present for a friend, but until you try something live, you never know how the audience will react. I’m pleased to say that the look on their faces left me with the feeling that it’s money well spent.
Rather than be nervous all through the show, I decided to take the bull by the horns and open with the new trick. It’s a lovely classic bit of birthday magic, the effect of which is this;
I take what is clearly an empty baking tray and pour in some sugar, flour and an egg or two (including the shells). I then add a little flame from a lighter resulting in a sudden and unexpected bright flash. I put the lid on whilst it cooks for a couple of seconds, then remove the lid to reveal a large birthday cake The youtube clip is a very adhoc, spur of the moment thing which can be viewed here.
The performance at the birthday party was a lot more polished than the youtube one and the sudden flash caught everyone by surprise, including me. I’d decided to make the flash just a little bit bigger than the one in the video, so doubled the amount of “flashy thingy”! There was never any danger. The flash is bright, not hot. However it did make me take a large step backwards. Which was a pointless thing to do as I was holding the baking tray, so it just stepped back with me. However in hindsight, I think the fact that I looked so genuinely surprised at the flash added to the effect and shall now stay as standard.
Adults joined in;
The new trick over I could now relax and enjoy the rest of the show, as did the children and a fun, chaotic time was had by everyone, including the adults. Then we had a break for food, medieval banquet style (well, as medieval as sandwiches, crisps and jelly can be). As the children ate, so I retired to the kitchen area with other adults and, refusing the really nice offer of a beer (I don’t want kids smelling it on my breath), settled for a good old fashioned cup of tea before running the workshop.
Food over it was workshop time. I gave them a quick demo of not only how to use all the equipment, but also how to use it safely, then it was their turn to have ago whilst I wandered around helping and advising not only the children, but also the adults who were prepared to give it a go. It’s great when the adults join in. Oh so often mummy and daddy will sit there and refuse to try anything incase the other adults see them fail! Just what type of example do they think they are they setting for the next generation of possible olympic medalist?
Eventually the party came to a close and kids, knights and princesses all headed home. Again I was offered a beer and, as I’d now finished work and Jester Dragonfly had yet to collect me, so I happily accepted, not just the opportunity to have a beer with a proud daddy, but also the other beer he gave me for the long journey home. I know I’ve done a good job when the booker pays me a bonus, and what better was to pay a jester a bonus than in beers.
Why I can’t say no;
Our next gig was a somewhat different one as it was a workshop for a special needs group that meets in a town near our wonderful village of Manea. When they first asked my price and I quoted them my normal price I think the lady must of had a heart attack (we’re not expensive, indeed we’re cheaper than your local plumber and other skilled tradesmen, but still she seemed surprised). She told me more about the group, it’s size etc and I offered her what I believe was generous discount. However they are a small, self funding group and still couldn’t afford our price, so I asked what they could afford, and now it was my turn to call the crash team. However, I didn’t even hesitate in agreeing her price, and here’s why.
It must of been ooooooh, maybe 27 years ago. I was still learning my trade and every month I’d head up to oddballs, a juggling shop in london. Here I would meet other jugglers and try and buy new equipment. One day the owner of the shop, a wonderful lady called suzy oddball, told me that someone was looking for a workshop teacher to work with his special needs group. At the time I’d never even spoken to someone with special needs, and the thought of teaching them scared me so much that I said no! Fast forward two days and I’m at my girlfriend’s house (yes, I had one once) and she gave me a choice. I could ring the man and tell him I’ll do it, or she’ll dump me, because she was fed up with my bad mood. She was right. I was in a bad mood. I was angry with myself for being scared. So I rang him up and took the job.
Like I said, I was scared when I turned up, but soon relaxed and realized that people are people, regardless of any disabilities. I noticed one youth, Peter was his name, and he was into repetitive motion. E.G. he would sit down then stand up, then sit down then stand up, over and over again. I got him using a diablo, which involves a repetitive arm movement. he was happy playing with it and I thought no more about it. Then someone called his name and, as he looked up to see who’d called him, so he accidentally threw the diabolo up into the air. By pure chance the diabolo landed back on the string again, and that was it. For the rest of the day he was happy throwing and catching the diabolo. A good day was had by all and I walked away feeling that I’d done a good job and thought no more about it.
It was about 6 months later that I was working at a banquet in Dover castle as a jester. There was a storyteller there called Tony Cooper and we got talking about juggling. He told me all about a special needs group he runs and how he got a juggler to run a workshop for them. I listened politely and somewhat amused by the fact that, in the candle light and my make up, he didn’t realize that it was me he was talking about. Then he told me about Peter. How his main problem was lack of confidence. How if he wanted to pick up a cup of tea he wouldn’t know if he was capable, so he’d just stand there, reaching out for the cup, them retracting his arm, time and time again. Then he told me how, because of that juggler, not only does he have the confidence to pick one up. He now has the confidence to go and make one!
And that’s why we took the job. That’s why we will always take those jobs, regardless of the price. I don’t think I’ll ever see another piece of magic like that again. Let alone be privileged enough to be part of it. But that ain’t going to stop us from trying.
We arrived at the venue early (to be early is to be on time,
to be on time is to be late, and to be late is
unacceptable). Once there we chatted with adults and youths, some of which we already knew, unloaded the car and set up ready for action. We were ready about 15 minutes early and you could taste the anticipation in the air, so rather than just stand around we decided to extend the workshop by…….well…… about 15 minutes.
Normally we start our joint workshop with a 30 minute fun filled intro that is not only funny, but also shows everyone how to use the equipment safely. We didn’t know what the attention span of our clients would be, so were ready to cut out some of the comedy should minds start to wander. We needn’t of worried, both youths and adults alike enjoyed the show. Then, once chairs had been pushed to the sides, it was their turn to have fun whilst we helped and advised where needed.
I’m so lucky to have a work partner like Jester Dragonfly. Someone who see’s the person as opposed to the disability and can concentrate on how best to help them achieve their objective. Also, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due, and credit was due to the adults there. So often I’ve worked with special needs people only to have their carer say “there’s no point in him trying that, he’ll never do it”. At the risk of sounding controversial, those people don’t deserve their jobs, and their clients really don’t deserve that type of carer. It doesn’t matter if little billy can throw and catch a ball. What matters is the fact that he, like any child, is given the chance to try, and you’d be surprised at just how often I’ve proved those carers wrong. In the past we’ve even had a somewhat larger lady on a tightrope, complete with her wheelchair! O.K. so it took 4 of us to hold the chair, but the fact that she is chair bound, doesn’t mean she hasn’t got the right to try. Like I said, these adults were the types who, like us, had a “can do” attitude and only took breaks from helping the youths try stuff when they were trying it themselves. It was a great workshop with lots of laughter and more than one look of surprise when a youth or adult got a plate spinning, or a diablo going.
Near the end of the workshop we let the youths stand up and show off to the others what they had learnt. A plate spinner here, a diabolist there, and more than one stilt walker who, in attempts to give us all heart attacks, decided that rather than stilt walking, they would have a go at stilt dancing. Then the night ended with me showing them some of the things that it is possible to do with the equipment. All you need to learn it all is determination, a can do attitude and a few years of no social life.
As we were driving home Jester Dragonfly must had been reading my mind, for she told me how much she enjoyed the night and suggested to me that maybe, as they have no government funding, we could go back sometime and do something for free. I’m happy to report that today I emailed them with my suggestion.
Christmas is fast approaching, and I’ve been booked to perform at Melford Christmas fair on Sunday 27th of November. This will be the first time I’ve performed at this event. So if you’re around then come and say “hi”.
Then the Sunday after that I’m performing at snettisham Christmas market. I performed at it last year and had a great time.
And on December the 1st it’s my favorite Christmas gig. For that’s the day that I go to my daughters school, wear a red suit, shove a pillow up my shirt, and be Santa for the day. I don’t get paid for it, but it’s great to use a little bit of magic and prove to the children that Santa really is……. well…….. magic, and keeping that belief alive in the kids is worth so much more than money.
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