A clown told me that it is impossible to use face painting as part of an entertaining act on stage. That led me to ask myself, "is it possible to perform an entertaining act incorporating facepainting?"
I know that it can be done. In 2003 I had the pleasure of appearing in three performances of a variety with Lori Eger, a singer, and Geri "Lolli" Copper, a clown and face painter. While Lori sang "Be A Clown," Geri quickly painted a clown face on somebody from the audience. Then Geri slipped a clown jacket on them, and added a wig, and hat. The combination of Lori's singing and Geri's face painting drew applause at all three performances of the show. Of course if you are a singer you could sing a song yourself while you are painting.
I am a firm believer in using music as an entertainment tool. I believe that except for moments of emphasis there should not be silence in a performance. In general one of five things should be happening, the entertainer should be speaking, or the audience should be speaking to the entertainer, or music should be playing, or the audience should be laughing, or the audience should be applauding.
Playing appropriate music while you are doing the face painting will add another element of entertainment. It will be up to you to decide what type of music would be appropriate. It could be something fast paced to emphasize how quickly you are painting. It could be something with a title related to the design that you are painting. I have seen balloon artists perform entertaining acts on stage by interacting with the music while they create their sculptures. Kerry Kistler draws beautiful chalk drawings on stage to musical accompaniment. I know the same can be done with face painting.
I think the first requirement would be developing the ability to do it rapidly. That would leave you time to do other things along with the face painting that might be an entertaining combination. I know that I have seen classes listed at conventions with titles such as "two minute full faces."
Not only does being able to do it rapidly allow time to incorporate other things, audiences seem to appreciate anything that can be done quickly. I do a magic routine with roses. When I started performing it in front of audiences I was surprised that the bit that consistently receives the most applause is when I twist a napkin into a rose. The only reason that I can figure out for that is that I do it very rapidly. In my trick cartoon act the drawing that tends to get the most applause is the horse. Again, I think it is because of how rapidly I can do it. It takes me about fifteen seconds to turn the printed word HORSE into a picture of a horse. Being able to do something quickly creates the appearance of skill. The fact that Lolli was able to finish a full face design before Lori finished the song was a major component in the success of their act.
Besides learning to do it fast, you would need to learn to do it while shifting your position so you do not block the sightlines for one section of the audience the entire time that you are painting.
Because I am not a face painter I have not tested the following ideas in front of an audience. They are suggestions that I hope would start a train of thought that might lead a face painter to discover an idea that works for them. I have been involved in magic as a hobby or profession for almost 50 years so I often think of using that skill in combination with others. (I started with magic as a hobby as a child.)
Combining face painting with a magic trick would add an element of mystery to the art. The easiest way to do that would be to have an audience volunteer select a card from an Animal Rummy deck without allowing anyone to see what animal is depicted on that card. Then the face painter would rapidly paint an animal on their face. It could be a tattoo on one check or a full face design. When the design is complete, the volunteer would then show their card to the audience revealing that the animal painted matched the animal on the card. The painter would then give the volunteer a mirror so they could see that the animals matched. That effect would be accomplished by forcing the card. (You will find several methods of forcing a card in Creativity For Entertainers Volume Three: Creative Routines.) In addition to the mystery of how your painted revelation matched the card, this would give the impression that you could have painted any animal in the deck quickly. In reality since you determine in advance which card is selected you would have to develop the ability to paint rapidly with only that design.
There are directions in Creativity for Entertainers Volume Three for making your own deck of cards so you could make a deck of designs that you paint to use instead of an Animal Rummy deck.
There are other ways to force choices. One possibility is to perform the Four Ace Trick with an alphabet deck to force a four letter word.
You could also put envelopes, containing photos of face paint designs, into a change bag to force the choice of your desired design. After an audience volunteer picks an envelope out of the bag they hold onto it without opening it. Then after you have painted their faces, they would open the envelopes revealing that the design they secretly selected matches the design that you painted.
A magician and face painter could perform as a duo. While the face painter is working on a model, the magician brings six people on stage who select envelopes from a change bag. Five have a free choice and you force an envelope on one person. Then you have somebody in the audience pick a number between one and six. You count to the chosen number using the method commonly used with a magic trick called Hot Rod so you end up on the person holding the forced envelope. The other five open their envelopes showing each contains a picture of a different design. This process should give the face painter enough time to complete their face. The final selected envelope is opened and it has a picture matching the design painted on the model's face.
Another method of forcing would be a customized version of David Garrard's Sketch-O-Magic. In his effect you display a spiral bound sketch book of that has pages cut into thirds. Each page has a portrait. You demonstrate that you can get many different combinations by flipping through the third of the pages that has the jaw and stopping at different times, flipping through the third of the page with the nose and eyes and stopping at different times, and flipping through the third of the page with the forehead and hair and stopping at different times. Then you flip through the pages asking audience volunteers to tell you when to stop. You finish by displaying a portrait that matches the one the volunteers stopped you on. You could use that method to force a choice that matches a face that you have painted. To make your own customized version purchase a copy of his magic effect from a magic dealer. That will give you a pattern to use in creating your own. Purchase of a magic effect also gives you the rights to use the method. You could then make a customized version for your own use. However, ethically you could not make any for other performers without obtaining permission from the originator.
Magic and face painting combinations are not limited to forcing a choice that matches what you paint. In the Costume Bag, a commercially available effect, some scarves are put in a small bag. When you shake the bag it transforms into a jacket that can be worn by an audience volunteer. Several different versions are available, including a clown jacket with a hat in the pocket. You could paint an appropriate face and then use a Costume Bag to magically produce a costume for them to put on.
Laflin Magic manufactures a Headless Cartoon set of silk scarves. They are like the old carnival and amusement park attraction where you look through a hole in a board to have your picture taken making you look like a fireman, etc. Their set comes with four characters, strongman, ballerina (circus showgirl), clown, and monkey. You could paint appropriate faces on four volunteers and then use something like a drawer box to produce the scarves that are their costume. You might get them mixed up at first, for example, give the picture of the ballerina's body to the person with the strongman face to hold.
A similar idea uses a roll up magic wand. When the wand is unrolled it reveals a banner depicting a rabbit in a hat with a hole where the rabbit's face would be. You turn an audience volunteer into a rabbit by holding the wand above their head and letting it unroll in front of them. You could paint their face like a rabbit and then use the wand.
Other types of magic props can be incorporated. For a different artist routine I once created a break away paint brush. I cut the handle off a paint brush and attached a break away wand in its place. Then I used model paints to color the wand. (Instructions for transforming a break away wand into a pencil are included in Creativity For Entertainers Volume One. You would use a similar process to make a break away brush.) It would also be easy to convert a spring wand, another commercially available prop, into a paint brush that had a handle that wiggled all over. A Fantasio Vanishing Wand could easily be turned into a vanishing paint brush by attaching some bristles to the cap at the end and then painting the cap silver. Instead of using real bristles you could carve the tip of the brush from foam rubber.
Magic effects, like a drawer box or dove pan, could be used to magically produce your face paint supplies at the beginning of your performance.
A different idea involves painting faces before the act begins. My original idea was to paint the faces of five models, take a photo of each one, and then print out the photos. You would line the people up on stage while you hold the stack of photos. Then perform a variation of Larry Becker's Will The Cards Match. (Creativity for Entertainers Volume Three) Use the phrase Will The Faces Match. For each letter a person would either move from the front to the back of the line or a photo would move from the top to the bottom of the pile. (What you are doing is substituting the people for one set of cards in the original routine.) When you finish spelling a word, hand the top photo to the person at the front of the line and have them step aside. When you are finished with the spelling, you have each person reveal the photo they are holding which matches the design on their face.
I decided to test Will The Faces Match, but since I am not a face painter I used five masks and five cards with the same design. Audience response was so good that I have made it part of my repertoire. I have done two versions. In one I used commercially available flat animal masks that I glued to Popsicle sticks so the audience person holds them instead of actually putting them on. I drew pictures of the masks onto cards. In the other version I drew portraits of Frosty the Snowman, an Elf, a Reindeer, Mrs. Claus, and Santa. I printed them full size on card stock which I cut out for the masks and glued onto Popsicle sticks. I printed out smaller versions on card stock to use for the cards.
Greg Shuerman, one of my subscribers, saw me perform Will The Faces Match and came up with a variation using balloon sculpture hats. I haven't seen him perform his version yet, but am looking forward to the opportunity.
What magic effects do you know? How could you combine them with face painting?
A storytelling device popular with clowns is to recruit volunteers to act out a story as you narrate it. I use that in my Story Time With Santa show and some of my Gospel Clown Ministry routines. You could easily combine that with face painting by making up your volunteers to fit their roles. I am planning to do that with a Christmas routine where I will make masks for characters in the nativity story. I will have audience volunteers use them in a version of Will The Faces Match and then direct the volunteers in acting out the story of the first Christmas.
Another possibility would be to tell a story while you are painting the face of a volunteer. I visualize it with the volunteer seated with their back to the audience so what you are painting remains a secret until you are finished. Also, that way you are facing the audience so they can hear you easier and see your expressions. (In this case speed is not a necessary element. You can be painting for as long as you tell the story.) As an example, you might tell a story about a tiger. Then when you complete the story you would have your volunteer stand up and turn around so the audience can see a tiger design on their face. You would then introduce them as the star of the story you have been telling.
The potential combinations are limitless. I have seen ventriloquists do routines where they turn an audience volunteer into their figure. For example, Mark Wade turns a volunteer into a baby by putting a bonnet and bib on them. The ventriloquist puts their hand on the volunteer's shoulder or the back of their neck. They instruct the volunteer to open their mouth when the ventriloquist squeezes gently. Then the ventriloquist provides the voice for the volunteer. A face painter who knows ventriloquism could paint something like a rabbit face on their volunteer and then use them as a rabbit puppet.
What other skills do you have? How can you combine those with face painting to create an entertaining act to be performed on stage?
These ideas were inspired by somebody making a assumption about face painting that I questioned. I came up with about a dozen ideas, and one of them was one that I have used which is about average for the creative process. Although these ideas use face painting other things can be substituted.
In what other ways can you use the above ideas? What additional ideas can you generate using them as a starting point?
I would be interested in hearing how you use these ideas? I may reprint some of your suggestions in future issues of this newsletter.