How to Hire a Great Entertainer

From puppeteers to magicians, here's how to guarantee an unforgettable show.

How to Hire a Great Entertainer

Wave a wand, chant the magic words, and -- poof! -- a magician, a clown, or a puppeteer with endless kiddie appeal appears at your party, ready to delight both children and adults.

Hiring a great entertainer isn't quite this easy, admits David Kaye, a well-respected clown-style magician who lives in New York City. We asked Kaye, better known as Silly Billy, how parents can avoid the pitfalls that can spoil the fun. Here are his tips.

First, ask yourself what type of entertainer suits your child best. If you plan to hire a clown, remember that clown makeup is meant to be seen from a distance at the circus. Up close, it may be scary to younger children. Kaye advises against hiring a heavily made-up clown for revelers under 4. To increase a child's comfort level with an entertainer, get a photo to post on the refrigerator beforehand.

If your 2- to 3-year-old has a be-loved favorite character, remember before you hire a real-life version that a six-foot-tall Clifford, Barney, or Elmo can seem overpowering. And find out what -- besides a photo opportunity -- the character will bring to your party table. He may need an assistant to lead the children in activities.

The best bet for the 3-and-under crowd, Kaye believes, is a performer who plays guitar and musical games or one who uses puppets. Look for someone who can handle short attention spans and who will be flexible about interruptions from kids.

If you're looking for a magician, Kaye says, 3- to 7-year-olds respond best to one who is silly -- a performer who, for instance, might blow his nose in a handkerchief before making it disappear. Straight magic appeals less, Kaye says: "Many things in their lives seem magical because they don't understand the mechanics of how things work." Children 8 and older tend to prefer an adult-style magician. Make sure that whoever you hire has experience with your child's age group.

Look for ads for children's entertainers in the parenting pages of your newspaper, or check supermarket and toy-store bulletin boards. You can also ask other parents for recommendations. Get at least two recent references from clients with kids your child's age, and find out when the entertainer last performed for these children.

The cost of an entertainer varies on the basis of your location and his level of experience. A top children's entertainer can command $300 or more in some areas. In others, you can find quality entertainers for $75 to $100. Tipping is optional.

    Set the Stage

    For a memorable performance, keep these in mind:

    • Location. Indoors is best. Outdoor noises and distractions can ruin a show. Add heat, glare, and a lawn to play on, and your party plans may be headed for trouble.
    • Noise. Parental chatter is the single-most difficult problem a children's entertainer encounters, Kaye says. He suggests providing a separate room for parents and infants.
    • Other distractions. Turn off background music, and tuck toys out of sight. Send dogs and cats into temporary exile. Make sure there's enough light in the room and that it's not too stuffy. Feed the revelers 30 minutes before the show or directly afterward.

      Finally, smooth the path. Ask in advance whether there's anything your entertainer will need. A magician may require an empty table or some time alone in the room to prepare. Most important, Kaye says, if your performer shows up late, control your ire -- at least until the performance is finished. (And have some party games up your sleeve.) Being able to focus is essential to giving a first-rate show.

        Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the May 2001 issue of Parents magazine.