"Don't forget to have a little fun today!" - Whidbey Bank Billboard (Whidbey Island, WA)
I was doing strolling entertainment at the recent Taste of Edmonds festival during the hottest day of the year in this region. When I started out several people commented that they bet I would get hot in my costume and make up. Then a lady at a booth gave me a beach umbrella with her company's logo on it. She told me that it would give me shade to keep me cool. I accepted it because I knew I could use it as a prop. When I worked at Raging Waters I frequently balanced a borrowed beach umbrella on my finger or chin. I noticed that this umbrella had a nicely rounded ferrule so I found a quiet area out of sight to experiment with it. I quickly discovered that I could transfer a spinning plate to the top of the umbrella and then balance the umbrella on my chin. I never did perform that bit for an audience. As soon as I started strolling I noticed a couple walking in front of me, and held the umbrella so it provided them with shade. We walked quite a ways before they realized where the shade was coming from. That got a big laugh from them. So I begin providing shade for others. Onlookers, especially people who had rented booths, got a big kick out of seeing how long it took people to notice that I was giving them shade. I tried to carefully choose the people I shaded, and only once was somebody startled when they discovered they had been followed by a clown. It led to some great interactions. One African American woman told me that I was interfering with her sun tan. Another woman said, "I was wondering who that was because my husband has never done anything that nice for me." I gave him the umbrella and he followed her for a few moments providing shade. More than once I noticed somebody suffering from the heat and they were grateful that I gave them shade as I escorted them to someplace where they could get a drink of water and cool down. I really had fun playing with the umbrella and seeing how many ways I could find to interact with festival guests. However my fun wasn't just self indulgence. I let the reactions of my audience direct me in the types of things that I did. Also, your emotions are contagious. Because I was having fun the guests had fun and were able to join me in my world of play.
Some writers suggest leaving your props behind and just playing at an event to break free from your comfort zone. I don't advocate that. My props are my tools and I want to have the proper tool to meet specific needs. The day I was at the Bite of Seattle there was a delay in opening the gate because a water line had broken. There was a locked gate and chain link fence between me and people lined up to come in. So, I pulled out my plate spinning props and juggling clubs to entertain the large group while they waited. I could not have done that if I had left my props at home.
Later in that same day a mother told me her two daughters loved juggling. So, I pulled out my juggling balls and did some routines just for them. Afterwards she said, "Thank you! You have just made their day!" That was the only time that day that I needed juggling balls, but I am glad I had that tool when needed. (I did use my other tools. I performed close up magic many times during the day. I also twisted many napkin roses and drew a lot of trick cartoons.)
Sometimes the tool that you need is not included among the props that you have so you need to find something else. During my recent trip to Singapore I was part of a group that visited a hospital. I took my close up magic kit with me because that contained the tools that I needed in that setting. From there I went to a community picnic at the Marina Barrage. The picnic included a large kite festival. I found that people in the kite area did not want to watch close up magic because they were intent on flying their own kite or busy watching the other kites. There was a kite shop at the Marina Barrage. I purchased a three-inch tall butterfly kite intended to be flown indoors using monofilament line as a string. I also purchased a large kite reel with thick cord intended to be used with large kites outdoors when winds are strong. I attached the tiny kite to the heavy cord. I knew that would prevent the kite from flying very high. I had fun marching around the picnic grounds trying to fly my little kite and my new topical routine got strong audience response.
You can have fun with volunteers on stage. One of the school shows that I performed in Singapore was in a gym that had stairs paralleling the front of the stage. As I was escorting a young boy onto the stage I realized that he was on my side closest to the stairs. So I directed him up the stairs while I continued walking on the gym floor. I hadn't planned it, but it got a big laugh when the audience realized he was on stage and I wasn't. I let go of his hand and quickly mounted the stairs. Later in the show I was escorting another young volunteer towards the same stairs. I decided to try it again and got another big laugh. After he walked up the stairs, I let go of his hand and turned around to face the stairs. He turned around also so I took his other hand and we both walked forward. He descended the stairs so we were both on floor level. Keeping hold of his hand I walked in a half circle so we were both facing the stairs but had reversed sides. Now when we advanced I walked up the stairs while directing him forward on the floor level. Now I was on the stage and he was standing below me. The audience laughed even louder as he dropped my hand and raced up the stairs. I didn't know that I was going to do any of that, and it probably wouldn't have happened if I had tried to force it. It happened because I was concentrating on the moment instead of thinking about the future or the past. I played with the circumstances at the moment they occurred. The result was much laughter from the audience and a unique experience for me that I will always treasure.
Somebody once asked me how I keep from burning out during performances. Part of the answer is that I keep looking for ways to have fun during my performance.
Do you have fun when you perform? How can you use available objects as props to improvise topical routines? How can you use them to create an interaction with your audience? How can you have fun with audience volunteers? What can you try that is new and different? How can you be playful during a performance?