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Topic: Much bigger than a birthday party!
Message: Posted by: Ed_Millis (Mar 28, 2015 08:06PM)
I just had a school person book me for an end of the year show. As we seal the deal, I find it's not just one classroom - it's the whole school!! K-5, about 650 kids. They're going to split it into two shows, younger and older grades -- so it's only 300-ish at one time. Still much bigger than anything else I've ever done.

I do have routines that will play to an auditorium, so I'm not hard-pressed for stuff to do. (And I just got Kimmo's TRIX with the Big Race - excited about that one!) What I'm wondering about is the crowd dynamics at that size, as opposed to the living room or classroom crowds I'm used to. I've thought that maybe I should ask the teachers for a list of names of kids to call up, and have them sitting near the ends of the rows to make getting onto the stage easier and faster to reduce lag time. Could also be a reward??

Any tips y'all can pass along to make my largest crowds ever go more smoothly will be most welcome!

Message: Posted by: Paul Rathbun (Mar 28, 2015 08:19PM)

It sounds to me like a sound system would be useful for that size crowd. Do you have one?
Message: Posted by: Dick Oslund (Mar 28, 2015 09:11PM)
Ed>>> When you invite spectators to be participants on stage, you need to cast them in the proper role.

E.G.: Do you plan to have them hold a prop/ (i.e., Are you going to use them in place of a table???)

Will they be an active participant? (i.e., Will they select a card/ tie knot? wave a wand?)

Will they be a "witness" for the rest of the audience? (i.e., Will they mainly examine something, and attest to the fact?)


Knowing what I will need of them, I am much better qualified to select the person, who, from my experience, will be most likely the proper person. A teacher or principal, cannot possibly do a "blind" selection. They cannot possibly cast any one in the role, that they are to play. YOU as producer/ performer must do that.

From the moment that I walk on stage, in an elementary school, I am watching for the type(s) of boys and girls (in a high school or college audience, the young ladies, or young men, that I feel will be most suitable for a particular routine. A few times in the past 50+ years, I have made the wrong decision. As an experienced performer, I can "cover" the situation, and successfully present the routine. The more experience that the performer has, the better selection!

Stage waits, while the selectee(s) are coming to the platform, are DEADLY. You need to have cover lines, and/or bits of business, to keep the show moving.

In producing the program, you must plan those lines or bits of business. Some performers have the ability to adlib, but "planned" adlibs are better.
Message: Posted by: Bill Hegbli (Mar 28, 2015 09:15PM)
My advice, do the same shows you always do, just speak more clearly. They will have a sound system if you ask for it and a microphone stand. Go a little slower and don't rush, as they are farther away, so all can see and digest what they see and hear. More people does not mean doing anything differently then you normally do at smaller shows.

Make sure they put up the stage as well, if you are performing in a Gym.
Message: Posted by: Ed_Millis (Mar 28, 2015 10:22PM)
It's in the Caféteria, on a raised stage. (I think Jim Snack calls it a "Cafétorium".) And I do have a large enough sound system to cover that, plus a wireless hand-held.

Speak slower and give them time to digest -- good words, Bill. Thank you.

Dick, I hear what you're saying about picking the right kids. One thing I'm concerned with is they usually sit the youngest up front, and they can be so anxious to " get picked" that if you point anywhere in their general direction - like four rows behind them - they run up too. And now you've got some extra stuff going on. (And this is how I'm going to get some of that experience you've collected so much of!!)

Message: Posted by: arthur stead (Mar 28, 2015 10:31PM)
Ed, the way to prevent more than one child from coming towards the stage is to specifically describe the kid you want to pick. "That girl in the red dress with the pony tail" ... or "that boy with the New York Yankees T-shirt" ... etc.

As regards the "dead" time while waiting for volunteers to reach the stage: a quirky, upbeat piece of music helps a lot.
Message: Posted by: Sam Sandler (Mar 29, 2015 08:05AM)

as you know I have performed thousands of school shows across america and have learned a lot over the years. STILL LEARNING
but I would like to offer a few pieces of advice

1-break down of kids should be k-3 and then 4&5
this allows you to play a few more silly type tricks for the younger kids and then switch in a couple of tricks that the older kids will like.
you of course should have some that play well to both ages or be prepared to adjust the presentation of that trick to work for both ages.

2-request a 4' isle up the center of the audience sitting on the floor. this allows you to easily walk out into the audience and pick the kid you want
and absolutely agree with Arthur you really need to have "cover music" while walking out there. anything from like the looneytunes theme song to some thing from radio Disney. trust me it makes all the difference in the world.

3-have the kids start sitting about 10' from the stage so that they are not looking straight up at you. yet they are close enough to keep the vibe.
it also depends on how high the stage is. higher the stage you might have to move em back some the lower the stage you could move them closer.
closer is usually better and will build more excitement. you also should try to play the front part of the stage as well.

4-be yourself and do the magic you know and have done over and over (as long as it will play for larger audiences) doing a 1" sponge ball routine wont go over well while tricks with silks are more visual or change bag routine or the likes

5-make sure you communicate all your needs with the school PRIOR to the show date. your needs really should be listed in your contract. you do have a contract right. needs such as - table, chairs, waste can, lights on or off, extension cord and access to outlets etc etc

6- y ou mentioned a hand held wireless mic. if you don't already have one get yourself a Gimcrack mic holder. this will give you more freedom to be yourself as you are when playing smaller shows


that's all the time I have right now but feel free to ask me any questions.

take any advice Dick offers you as well he has been doing what I am doing but he has done it for many many many many many more years then me:)
Message: Posted by: Dick Oslund (Mar 29, 2015 09:38AM)
Arthur has given you the answer to "extra volunteers"!

I never carried music, as it was too much set up time, and bureau booked shows are often on a very tight schedule. With the newer sound systems, it's more practical to have music for background, etc. Roy Mayer carried a 78 rpm record player (custom built) in the '40s. --But, he had a wife along to help!

I had many lines, and bits of business, to fill those gaps, and keep the show moving.

I also carried a battery operated, 17lb, attache case size PA, but only brought it in when absolutely necessary. Also, I had a lavalier, when they had a hand held mike. (The worst case scenario was when they brought out a podium, with attached mike. (Totally unusable!)

Other criteria were VISIBLE PROPS, AND VISUAL EFFECTS. I wore a black shirt, so the 1 3/4" white golf balls were visible in high schools of 2,000. (ditto, white rope) I did use many silk tricks for the same reason that Sam mentioned. (I hate "change bags"!)

I like to be as close as possible to the front row. (The distance between the performer and the front row is a big factor in your effectiveness! But, there are times when, for the audience's comfort, you need to have the front row further from the "footlights". Sam's "numbers" are about right!

Don't stall, but, as Bill says, adjust the tempo of the program according to the size of your group. I've done a "few" shows in school corridors (15 feet wide, and 40 yards to the back row.
Message: Posted by: bowers (Mar 29, 2015 10:51AM)
I have did several of these shows also.
But the schools wanted the whole k-5 at one time.
So that is what I did.All were in the gym but there
was also a stage too.I took my sound system but didn't
need it for my voice carried well in the gym.
Have fun and do the effects that you know best as
long as they play well for big crowds.
Message: Posted by: harris (Mar 29, 2015 11:52AM)
I haven't done many of these lately.

What I remember

Use faculty as well as kids.
Use what's there

During my basketball juggling
I did a one to one mini game against a top basketball player.
Message: Posted by: Dick Oslund (Mar 29, 2015 01:18PM)
Sorry Harris! I beg to disagree regarding using faculty. Kids are kids, Faculty have grown up problems that are not always evident of visible.

I've noticed many times, faculty who are not smiling, laughing, or in any way showing enjoyment. Cases of a family death, marital difficulties, physical problems, ETC. are all possible reasons.

I played a return engagement in an elementary in eastern New Mexico about 20 years ago. The principal invited me for coffee after the program. (He had brought me a wonderful audience of youngsters.) He asked if I knew a magician (now deceased) from New Mexico. I had heard his name, but knew nothing about him. The principal said that he had booked him, but would NEVER have him back. Further, he had passed the word at a county principals' meeting, and none of them would book him in future.

It seems this magician had picked out a young teacher, and ridiculed him in front of the students. The particular young teacher was new to the school, and was having some personal problems. The magician did not help the situation, and had made the principal's job much more difficult.

Principals are not theater managers. Wise principals consider the assembly hall as THEIR classroom. They want the students to enjoy the program and have fun, HERE COMES THE "BUT">>>>> But, they also want the kids to learn some social graces, how to behave in a group, how to show appreciation for the program presenter, WITHOUT screaming, yelling, stomping their feet, ETC. ETC. ETC.

I've been asked by principals, when we met,if I "...get the kids screaming, and yelling, like that guy from _____________?" I always assure him or her that I don't.

Those youngsters are returning to a CLASS ROOM after I leave. Teachers DO DISCUSS programs at staff meetings! If you want to return to that school, don't upset the faculty!

Young magicians, just starting out, don't always know about these situations. They are intent on performing their program. They can easily and unknowingly cause problems that will not lead to good reports to other principals, their prospective customers. (The principal "signs the check"!!!)
Message: Posted by: arthur stead (Mar 29, 2015 01:43PM)
Dick, you're hit upon some very important points:

1. Crowd Control. If the performer can establish and maintain good crowd control and retain the kids' focus, that's half the battle won in terms of getting repeat booking. Principals and teachers WILL remember the way you maintained control. If you lose the children's attention and pandemonium ensues (especially during a school show), you won't ever be invited back. AND the word will spread.

2. Treat your volunteers with respect. Never make fun of, or belittle your helpers. If someone in the audience starts demeaning or teasing the volunteer you picked, nip it in the bud very quickly.

Another very important aspect for school shows is: Educational substance. Develop routines which teach the kids something of value that they will remember and take to heart.
Message: Posted by: harris (Mar 29, 2015 04:57PM)
Dick and others with much more knowledge in this specialized area.

I respect your opinion.

I was only sharing my limited experience in this area which includes
smaller get ready for assemblies(special needs)
as well as large assemblies at elementary, secondary and prisons(Maximum Security)
Faculty are not the only ones with hidden needs.
My recent experience has only been middle and high school work.

I never use material to demean kids or adults)

Still too old to know it all
Message: Posted by: jay leslie (Mar 29, 2015 06:42PM)
The faculty is gratefully busy grading papers, checking their email and generally zoning out. Different schools have different cultures and sometimes the teachers just view you as an interference and you're taking away from their mandatory teaching time too, especially if you're not teaching a lesson on a subject.

The purpose for your show may be so they can have a meeting in the middle of the day - then you're on your own with all those kids and the Caféteria lady.

The only time I use the teachers is when they make eye contact with me several times and I feel like they are engaged.AND I don't automatically use the teacher that the kids name. They have a habbit of calling the name of a teacher that often turns out to be a bad assistant. For the very same reason (popularity) that their name is called, they sometime want to take center stage.
- - - - -
Side story
Did a Just Say No Show where a 20ish male teacher couldn't take it anymore and left the building. He kept pacing back and forth while I was talking. He just couldn't listen to the Say No Message. Maybe I gave him something to think about.
End story
Message: Posted by: Ed_Millis (Mar 29, 2015 07:38PM)
>> Gimcrack: yes, I have that.

>> Music: no, I don't. Only for the balloon swallow, which I would not do in schools in my area.

>> Educational: I asked specifically and was told that wasn't needed or expected - this was a fun reward for a good school year.

>> Crowd control: I've seen the openers where the kids are encouraged to "engage", but then " instructed" to stop on a cue -- like a orchestra with the conductor. I've also heard of the kids telling each other to be quiet or they'll get in trouble. I do respect that they will be going back to class (not right away - I'm right before lunch), and sugar/adrenaline is hard on a teacher. Can you gauge a balance based on faculty reactions to the kids and you??

>> Using staff: was thinking about Kimmo's Big Race, and recommended is three "big people" against the child; the crowd is ecouraged to root against the big'uns and cheer for the kid. In this case, though, I don't think that will work! You'd wind up turning some kids against their teachers, or have others who can't let go of the game. ("Mom! Mr. Smith tried to beat Mandy today!") This is a fun routine - but maybe not for here?

Message: Posted by: Sam Sandler (Mar 29, 2015 09:47PM)
Ed as I said Listen to Dick he is on target for most everything he has said.

now that being said yes he has not done this in quite a few years but the principles hold true.

last year I performed 400 shows in 45 states and 370+ were schools.

i at times have used teachers but found early on that using kids is much more fun! even for routines that I had designed for adults and in any other show I would use an adult. I used a kid in stead when at schools and you know what it was awesome!

even at special ed schools where I have 200 kids with down syndrome and or autisim. I still only use kids!

now I have at times and have plans to use the principal in a routine BUT and this is a HUGE BUT. I always ask PRIOR to the show if they want to be part of it and what exactly they would be doing. it of course is nothing embarrassing and is super simple. they are busy and don't have a lot of time to spend rehearsing a magic trick.

faculty will usually sit in chairs along the edges of the gym/cafeteria with the kids on the floor in rows.
i have a few one liners that are directed at the teachers during my show but it is during a routine focused on the kids. I will also take a look at the teachers of and on but really my focus is on the kids. I gauge the success of the show by the kids reactions...not the teachers.

my show is also educational and I am surprised that this school is not requiring you doing some form of education although some times I have been brought in as a reward for reading a number of books or something similar and those shows usually are directed to be just fun. but 99% of my shows are educational

i think it is pretty awesome that you can come here to the Café and get some wonderful advice from so many experienced performers. pretty cool to be able to have this forum these days.

have fun and please let us know how it goes.


side story - while performing at a special ed school one of my routines I usually use an adult and in the past at special ed schools I had also used an adult but overt the last 2 years I started working it with a kid. at this one school I picked a boy and brought him on stage and did the routine and he was just awesome. the best part is that he was new to this school. he like many of the other kids has down syndrome (or as I like to call it upsyndrome cause they are awesome kids!)

any way as he went back to his seat so many other kids jumped up to give him high fives as he walked pasted them.
i was told afterwards that he just started that school the week before and that using him made him like a rock star as all the other kids were wanting to talk to him and tell him how awesome he was on stage. he made so many new friends that day. that my friends is the Real magic of what we do! I have many stories like this but this one just goes to show use the kids and make them rock stars!!
Message: Posted by: TheAmbitiousCard (Mar 30, 2015 03:43PM)

You have just been hired to be : parent, teacher, principal, theater manager, set dresser, director, sound guy, police department, safety monitor, entertainer, crowd pleaser and life of the party. Congratulations!

Regardless of how loud your sound system is, how comfortable you are with your tricks, and how cute you think kids are, when you do a show for hundreds, it requires that you be larger than life. You have to play big and have a lot of energy. That doesn't mean running around the stage like an idiot, but you need to have a large commanding presence.

Being able to do that requires it's own set of skills and a lot of practice.

If you cannot play to the back of the room, avoid dead air and keep them engaged and interested, you are in for a long day.
Message: Posted by: Dick Oslund (Mar 31, 2015 05:03AM)
[quote]On Mar 30, 2015, Frank Starsini wrote:

You have just been hired to be : parent, teacher, principal, theater manager, set dresser, director, sound guy, police department, safety monitor, entertainer, crowd pleaser and life of the party. Congratulations!

Regardless of how loud your sound system is, how comfortable you are with your tricks, and how cute you think kids are, when you do a show for hundreds, it requires that you be larger than life. You have to play big and have a lot of energy. That doesn't mean running around the stage like an idiot, but you need to have a large commanding presence.

Being able to do that requires it's own set of skills and a lot of practice.

If you cannot play to the back of the room, avoid dead air and keep them engaged and interested, you are in for a long day. [/quote]

Message: Posted by: harris (Mar 31, 2015 07:30AM)
I love to share at large events. Biggest was at a stadium. (It was only about 3 minutes, but a great memory)

Thanks to you workers for sharing the real world stuff and your experience.

I'm glad we all don't agree (and think)on every thing. If we did our shows would be the same.
Message: Posted by: Howie Diddot (Mar 31, 2015 11:01AM)
[quote]On Mar 28, 2015, Ed_Millis wrote:
It's in the Caféteria, on a raised stage. (I think Jim Snack calls it a "Cafétorium".) And I do have a large enough sound system to cover that, plus a wireless hand-held.

Ed [/quote]


A small point, but important; I use a wireless microphone that wraps around my face from behind my ear AND a second wireless hand held microphone to hear the volunteer, it is a problem to keep moving the microphone between your face and the child's face to hear everything that's being said in an impromptu conversation with the child.

Using a lapel microphone is problematic, as you turn your head from side to side you will sound distant; the president of the United States uses lapel microphones as it is not presidential to have a microphone on his face; and you will see that the President will wear two lapel microphones, one on each lapel to solve the problem.