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Topic: The opposite of performing for children
Message: Posted by: Mike Brezler (Oct 31, 2009 07:34AM)
I recently performed two magic shows at two different nursing homes. They were the toughest crowds I have ever performed for. It was like performing for a bunch of zombies. I don't mean any disrespect, but there was hardly any interaction. When I tried to do the celebrity guessing game and I asked a man to name a famous person living or dead. He said, "I don't know any." No one volunteered and it felt like work instead of fun. I usually get great reactions at all my other shows.
I have performed several times for mentally disabled adults and they are great because most of them act like children. I love performing for kids, adults, and senior citizens on a regular basis, but I don't know if I want to do any more shows for the nursing home age group. Any suggestions?
Message: Posted by: Dennis Michael (Oct 31, 2009 07:41AM)
It is a tough crowd. Once, I produced a bouquet of flowers and let the seniors hold them. It took about an hour to get them back. I had to make doggie balloons and swap them.

Many times they have difficulty remembering, so the same show the next day is new to them.

They are adults so many times the things that work for kids do not work with this group. Stick to colorful productions, and a rabbit production so they can pet it. Limit it to about 30 minutes.

The staff appreciates the what you do. Like any show learn your audience before performing for them.
Message: Posted by: Tony James (Oct 31, 2009 07:55AM)
On a serious note, many people believe that entertainment for children will entertain elderly people too. Even those who run these places sometimes hold these beliefs. It's not strictly true.

People end up in these places mainly because they can't cope for themselves. Their facilities deteriorate. With some it's physical so they may not be able to assist physically but their mind can be alert. With others it is mind and memory. Trouble is, in those places people very often degenerate to a common dominator.

The rule about entertaining three year olds applies here. Keep it simple, clear and easy to follow. Speak clearly and enunciate your words. Not everyone is deaf but clarity is essential.

On the other hand, much of the bright colourful story type subject matter suitable for three year olds will not be attractive to elderly people. You are better off with the classics with which many of them will be familiar - rings, Miser's dream, torn and restored.

On a lighter note my Aunt Jane refused to visit someone in one of these places. 'Go and bring her here for afternoon tea. She will be glad to get out of that dreadful place for a few hours.'

What was dreadful about it? 'It's full of old people!'

At the time, Aunt Jane was 96.
Message: Posted by: Ken Northridge (Oct 31, 2009 08:13AM)
Nursing homes are [b]not[/b] a favorite venue of mine, probably because the lack of reaction (applause, laughter, etc.) plays havoc with my precious ego. :)

I have not done enough of them to give any advice except to say I believe it is a whole different ball game.

Concerning the business side of nursing homes, they donít pay all that well, but the good news is that most shows are on weekdays. This may be a market that someone could do well in if they put some effort into it. In fact, I just spoke with someone in my market who is doing just that and apparently books quite few shows.
Message: Posted by: Gerry Walkowski (Oct 31, 2009 08:53AM)

Much like you, this isn't an area I care to work. Not that I get that many requests for these venues but when I do, I tell them I'm just not avaiable.

My competitors can work all of these shows they want.
Message: Posted by: Skip Way (Oct 31, 2009 08:54AM)
This is my experience with nursing homes...As Dennis mentioned, stick to flash and awe effects. Flashy silk productions, doves or dove-like productions, fire affects, color changes, blendos...nearly anything that can be done to a musical beat. These lovely people are more likely to appreciate and respect displays of genuine skill & talent over a swift verbal repartee. Anything that requires thought or participation can shut you down instantly...and you'll find it very difficult to get that bus rolling again.

If you must use an audience assistant during your actual show (I rarely do) choose very, very carefully. The preshow "Warm Up" is especially important with these groups. Play with the group ahead of time and find the members who are lively and alert. Play to their strengths. As with 9 and 10 year olds, you're never going to win over the entire group. Play to those who want to play along...and allow the others to either enjoy the ride or find satisfaction in having discovered something new to complain about.

Retirement communities and senior recreation centers are horses of an entirely different color. These outfits host independent living residents who are hungry for interactive entertainment. These groups welcome fun, thoughtful and flashy shows. The residents are quick to voice their appreciation (and disdain...if your show sucks, steer clear). I absolutely love presenting vaudeville style shows at these locations.

As for fees...have you considered sponsorships? I've been thinking about approaching local casinos to seek sponsorship for my retirement community shows. I'm not quite sure where I stand on that idea morally, however. A local hometown bank sponsors my annual shows for one prominent community and I've been talking to a well-known grocery chain to sponsor others. I would imagine that WalMart (shuddddder!!) Pharmacies would love to reach these groups. Be creative!
Message: Posted by: Michael Messing (Oct 31, 2009 09:19AM)
I have done many, many shows in assisted living centers but assisted living centers are different than nursing homes. You need to be sure of which you are performing for. Nursing homes have residents that are typically far less responsive because they are in need of far greater care than those in assisted living centers. The residents of assisted living centers are often quite independent and are usually more cognizant and responsive. (Also, please note that some assisted living centers have two different units. One for those that need assistance in their day to day life and another unit that is "specialized care," which mean an Alzheimer's unit.) Here are some quick differences:

I've worked several assisted living centers where some of the residents still drive their own cars and come and go without supervision. They're more like retirement centers. I always have a great time performing at assisted living centers where they are responsive.

At the handful of nursing homes I performed for, the response is much like you described. They are not responsive and it is difficult to get reactions.

Here's how I handle the two groups. At assisted living centers, I treat the residents respectfully (that's critical because they'll turn on you if they feel you are insulting them.) I know of a ventriloquist that lost the support of residents right at the beginning of a show at an assisted living center because he called it a nursing home. The residents know the difference and he was never able to get them on his side after that. I do magic that I use for both my adult shows and childrens shows. The residents are willing to have a little fun. (More so, the women than the men.) I'll give a volunteer a magic wand to use and I'll do the same 20th Century Silks routine I do for children, modifying the patter so it's more mature. They also love balloon animals and so I always do balloons for everyone after the show. (It has to be an assisted living center with 40 or less residents that will attend for me to give everyone a balloon otherwise they have to pay extra for a larger group.)

I use a segment of silent magic done to music to open the show and that goes over well. A very important thing is that I don't ask volunteers to come to me to assist. I go to them. Their mobility is often limited and they won't want to come forward but, if you find those that are responsive, they will gladly assist you from where they are sitting. (If I do something that requires someone to come to me, I always ask the staff who to use. If no one is recommended, I'll use a staff member.) Also, if their are any children visiting their grandparents who are in the audience, I will ask them to assist. The seniors love to see children assisting!

For nursing homes, it can become a rehearsal with an audience. You won't get nearly the same response and many will seem to not know you exist. I try to load those shows with more magic done silently to music. I limit the number of volunteers I use and I try to play to any of the residents that seem to be more responsive. It is very important to discuss with the staff who will be able to assist you and what the residents are like. The staff will tell you who to avoid. Some seniors can be very volatile, especially Alzheimer's patients. I don't really relish performing for nursing homes but the residents need stimulation, too. I just do the best I can. (The staffs are usually quite complimentary.)

Many of my assisted living center shows are sponsored by a women's service/social club in my area. (They do an outreach program.)

Message: Posted by: MoonRazor (Oct 31, 2009 09:57AM)
I try and make sure there are staff there and play to them..... but it is brutal.
Message: Posted by: boppies2 (Oct 31, 2009 10:25AM)
Nursing home shows are a big challenge. Fortunately they are performed weekdays, not prime time.

My performance is about 30 min in length and set to music. I have found that they relate well to Music, my Bunny, Scarfs, Silks and Colorful Ribbons.

I may not get a lot of hardly laughter or thunderous applause, but for the few shows I do, it is very rewarding. Just look for a few smiles in the audience.

Message: Posted by: TonyB2009 (Oct 31, 2009 10:40AM)
Perhaps it is only rural Ireland, but elderly people often respond well to cards - they have been playing with them for years. The last time I did a group like this I quickly found that I was getting far stronger responses from the card stuff, so I stuck to cards for the performance.
It was tough going, but they enjoyed it.
Message: Posted by: Mike Brezler (Oct 31, 2009 11:51AM)
Thanks for all your suggestions. Every resident was either in a wheel chair or used a walker. The show started 45 minutes late due to getting everyone in the room and feeding them before the show. I was not told this beforehand. I also did it for half of what I usually charge because they said they didn't have the money. I did go around to the folks and I only got two people to help with the tricks. I guess my problem is I usually perform for kids and they are always willing to help. The bulk of what I do uses a helper from the audience. I too suffer from the ego factor. I do magic mostly for the pleasure it brings to others and myself when I see the expressions on their faces. At both nursing homes the staff told me they loved the show but the only audience reactions I got was for my lassso rope trick and the snake basket. After all your suggestions I think I will steer clear of this group due to my style of magic.

Thanks again,
Message: Posted by: billappleton (Oct 31, 2009 12:39PM)
I have a suggestion -- try mental magic. the last show like that I did was a LONG time ago but they loved the mental & mind reading tricks. has anyone else noticed this?
Message: Posted by: RJE (Nov 1, 2009 09:39AM)
We do a lot of shows for seniors. As MM pointed out, there are different catagories of seniors and senior homes.

For senior bus groups or other "non-housed" seniors, we do a variation of our adult show. We use volunteers and bits as we would in any other show.

For retirement and nursing homes, we have a one hour show that uses no volunteers. The show consists of routines that consist of productions (doves, rabbits, silks, flowers etc...), story magic (jumbo 3 card monte, silk to egg, Dean's Box etc....)and other types of routines done to music (mutilated parasol, torn and restored newspaper, cut and restored rope etc...). It is not an adaptation of our children's shows. The material is all more suitable for a family show, but again without any volunteer bits.

This "non-volunteer" show engages but does not tax the audience and is very well received. We developed it specifically because of the challenges that others have expressed here on the thread.
Message: Posted by: drosenbe0813 (Nov 2, 2009 05:56AM)
I perform relatively often at senior centers. It is a challenge. The main thing is to not take anything personal. As a previous poster said, you'll get some who are cognizant and others who aren't. Play to those who are with it. Don't be afraid to use one of the aids in a trick. The residents will enjoy watching the interaction. The main thing is to go with the flow. The residents (the ones who are with it) are usually very appreciative of just something different.
Message: Posted by: Red Shadow (Nov 4, 2009 08:44AM)
I'm in a position where I can't afford to turn away the work, but I dread the show each day leading up to it. They aren't fun and really make you question yourself as an entertainer. You need a normal children's show to go on after it just to get your head back on straight.

But, I like that sponsorship idea. Can the same strategy be worked for the school market? How are you getting sponsorship? Do you send them a letter (can I read it)? How do you know who to contact and how do they go about paying and checking up on you etc?

Message: Posted by: harris (Nov 4, 2009 08:58AM)
I on the other hand, love these shows.

Anyone in the KC area, I would love to give you a finders fee for them.

Music including sing alongs are a big part of the Doctor of Laughology Programs for the "older kids". My ukulele and harmonica are a big part of the show.

My wife's and my favorites from last summer were visits to Truman/Lakewood Alzeheimers Unit. They were so in the moment.

I do use some magic, and of course lots of puppet/vent based routines.

It's not about me. (check the EGO/Edging God out at the door.)

I used to collect comic books, now I collect memories....and smiles...

Message: Posted by: Dr. Delusion (Nov 4, 2009 10:07AM)
On average I will perform at maybe 2 Nursing homes a year. I agree with everyone that they are most likly the toughest shows to do. They do mostly all just sit there and give you no response after each trick. At first I felt like I was bombing big time, but every once in a while you do have one of the seniors come up after a show and tell you how much they enjoyed the show.
Since I started doing the shows I have changed a lot of the effects. I learned that audience particiapation most likly won't happen. No one wants to help, so I stick with large flashy stuff with things like bright colored silks and such, and keep the story lines short and easy to follow.
Skip Way is right on with the money end of it. I'm not sure how it else where, but here in Eugene, I'm lucky to get 25 to 40 bucks per half hour show.
Message: Posted by: derrick (Nov 4, 2009 10:50AM)
I too have become used to nursing homes and such having a huge need for entertainment but not having a large amount of money to spend on it. But this isn't always the case. The last nursing home show I performed for really took the cake. I was given the same story about tight funds and how it would be very appreciated if I could entertain one evening at an assisted living facility. We agreed on an amount that was approximately one third of my regular fee for a birthday party. On the afternoon of the event I arrived at a plush high rise condo with immaculate landscaping. High end foreign and domestic autos sprinkled the parking outside. Inside the front door was a beautiful bouquet of fresh cut flowers and where I was to perform, which was just around the check in station, was a sizeable room with plush furniture and a VERY large flat screen television. Yes this was assisted living center, but for the activities director to claim they had no money for entertainment, as is the case with most nursing homes and assisted living facilities, was just I lie. I performed the show as agreed and all went well, got my pitttance of a check, but before leaving I told the activities director that she should be ashamed of misrepresenting their need because, unlike other facilies of this type, they obviously were not hurting for funds. I also told her I would be sending them an invoice for the full amount of my show. I did send the invoice, but never got a check. Maybe my actions will keep them trying from trying this on another sucker, but I doubt it.
Message: Posted by: RJE (Nov 4, 2009 11:10AM)
To add to the perspective of what is affordable, we have found that different homes will have different budgets. Some have sponsors or benefactors allowing a generous budget, while others operate on a stricter and less bountiful budget.

When pricing shows for them, we always start at a regular rate. Often, this is met and paid. When it is not affordable to the home, we will negotiate the price, but still will not undersell ourselves. Our minimum fee for one of these shows is many times the $25 to $40 mentioned.
Message: Posted by: harris (Nov 4, 2009 11:16AM)
Many assisted living centers have humor budgets.

Can you say marketing?
Message: Posted by: MrGreggy (Nov 4, 2009 03:24PM)
Years ago... many years ago... when I was just starting out in magic I got booked to perform at a nursing home. I was in my mid-late teens. As you can well imagine, it was a disaster.

It was also the last time I used a prop recently bought at the local IBM auction... a cheaply made (perhaps Abbots) guillotine illusion. Thinking back, I cringe when placing myself in the mindset of the residents watching my show.

The VERY few times I've performed for senior citizens since then have not gone so well either. I did have some good responses with strolling card tricks, as mentioned in a previous posting.

I applaud & respect entertainers who work with the seniors. Keep up the good work!
Message: Posted by: harris (Nov 5, 2009 10:45AM)
At 55 I am fast approaching one.

We are blessed to have my wife's folks living with us. (age 86 and 89)
I joke that it cost my friends 25 cents to ride the carnival ride. (chair lift)

I also get some material...for instance...

Charlie used to do a lot of fishing..

he still does but ...

at Ryans or Long John Silvers....

I also get suggestions for sing alongs such as
Sentimental Journey or Good Night Ladies....

Reality sure helps this nearly normal guys writing....

laughologist and nearly normal "righter"
Message: Posted by: TRUMPETMAN (Nov 6, 2009 08:38PM)
Ventriloquist Rick Berman recently released a book called "It Ain't Broadway" which relates his many years of experiences while working in assisted living facilites, nursing homes, and Alzheimer units. Since I do a lot of these shows, I decided to read the book, and found much to identify with in its pages! If you plan on doing more than a few of these, you might want to peruse this tome.


Posted: Nov 6, 2009 11:05pm
Ooops. The author of the book is Rick "Berger", not Berman. Sorry !

Message: Posted by: SpellbinderEntertainment (Nov 17, 2009 04:49PM)
Though many of the residents living in care facilities are less than responsiveÖ
it does NOT mean that they donít appreciate the company and entertainment!!!

These folks are often alone,
and when they do have guests they are often treated as children,
which they are not.

Here the magic is secondaryÖ
the fact that someone cares to visit and interact is very important.
The fact that they are in a social setting is important,
itís a real treat and a lift to their humanity.

Iíve learned some of these folk love to talk and reminisce,
and tell me endlessly about how they met Keller or Thurston, or Houdini,
and let me be impressed with their youth,
rather than them being impressed with my magic.

At a time I was doing a good number of these shows, I
purchased very cuddly and very inexpensive stuffed rabbits or teddy bears
and left one with each guest as a memento,
they loved and cherished these small gifts I left in each lap.

As said above, donít expect a lot of reaction,
and leave your ego at home.
Avoid long or complicated magic or involved stories or plots, go for fast, fun, magic.
Avoid magic that takes memory (like taking a card)
or audience/spectator involvement.

OK, to businessÖ
in order to qualify for Federal Funding (and all these places do) they MUST show that they have an entertainment budget, and PROVE that those dollars were spent each month on their residents.

This means that if they cry poor, or beg for a bargain, they know you have a soft heart,
or they can pull in three times the entertainers on the same budget,
or someone is walking out the back door with the remainder of your paycheck.
They canít pay a huge amount, but they DO have a fairly generous budget,
and itís your job to show them it should go to you and not the sing-along-lady,
this can be done by demonstrating that you care about these seniorsÖ
and know how to reach them and satisfy their needs.

It sometimes takes a tough skin to do these shows,
as youíll see some sadness, people in desperate states,
and not get the laughs and awe you expect,
but it can be a rewarding gig, and one not a lot of entertainers will compete for.
And you can build a reputation as a caring and sensitive entertainer in these venues
and then make some decent bucks.

Itís not for everybody, but thank god some people will make the effort,
we might be the next generationís audience in the ďold folks homeĒ!

My two-cents,
Message: Posted by: harris (Nov 18, 2009 10:37AM)
Don't be surprised if one (or more) of the residents flirt with you. (or your puppets)
Message: Posted by: Dynamike (Nov 18, 2009 11:55AM)
In nursing homes I use lines that will help inspire the seniors. Some residents might not understand but it is ok because the staff can see I am trying to use methods that will touch their minds with feeling positive.
Message: Posted by: harris (Nov 18, 2009 12:19PM)
Along with shows, I have also sat in on focus groups at these venues.
Stimulating minds through memories, sing alongs and eliciting laughter is a great thing. We also talked about current events. Comparing stories about children and yes grandchildren is fun. (I don't yet have any great grand children.)

too young to be a grandfather
Message: Posted by: RJE (Nov 18, 2009 12:24PM)
On 2009-11-18 11:37, Harris wrote:
Don't be surprised if one (or more) of the residents flirt with you. (or your puppets)

You might want to check out this news article for fun...

Message: Posted by: Bill Hilly (Nov 18, 2009 08:01PM)
On 2009-11-18 13:19, Harris wrote:

(I don't yet have any great grand children.)


Come on Harris, don't you think they're great?
Message: Posted by: Bill Hilly (Nov 21, 2009 05:28PM)
Re-reading this thread, I thank you all for your contributions. There is a wealth of information and ideas here.

I love doing shows for seniors. I've been doing it since I was about 12 years old. I'm 51 now. Of course back then it was mostly free stuff with the church group, but now it's close to 15% of my gigs.

As to budgets, I've had some places tell me they have no money at all and some book me for (a few) hundreds of dollars. My show is more like Harris' than most of yours - mostly music with a few comedy magic routines and LOTS of comedy, a'la Red Skelton. I can do some vent, but haven't worked out many good routines for the puppets I have.

The differnet types of groups and shows I've done are: Christmas, Spring, Nursing, Assisted Living, Retirement Villages, and Senior Day at County Fair.

The warm heart I feel after the show is exactly why I feel lucky to be an entertainer. The audience gives me (at least) as much as I give them.

Thanks guys, for this thread.

(For the railroad, not the gas pills.)
Message: Posted by: harris (Mar 26, 2015 12:17PM)
This Thread is worth resurrecting. (Hey it is Easter time)

For the past year I have been working with a Drama and Music Therapist and doing more and more Assisted Living Centers.

This includes age appropriate Vent and Comedy Routines.
It also has given me the opportunity to play some old fashion Rock & Roll, Folk and some original tunes.

Sometimes grand and great grand kids are invited, but mostly just great people who happen to be closer to my age than the ones in say Library audiences.
Many times a resident shares their own entertainment background. From touring with Bob Hope to being a drummer in a rock and roll band, I have met some wonderful people. It is great to have to jobs I love. The day one working with teens, and my other "hat" as Dr. Laugh.