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I'm interested in running times of performances. So often I get the comment on the phone from a perspective client how long is the show an hour? We all know that most children could never sit stillthrough an hour long puppet show no matter how good it is. Kids just don't have that kind of attentin span these days. I have been trying to keep things to 40-45 minutes but I really feel the need these days to keep it a little shorter for preschools [ 25 minutes would be plenty] and for birthday parties when I do the rare performance 30 minutes tos 25 would be better. I find most people these days want performers to be baby sitters rather than providers of fine entertainment. Thoughts anyone?

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Replies to This Discussion

David,
This is truly one never ending battle with regards to variety acts. I prefer 30 minutes but am often forced by the client to commit to 45 minutes. (They ALL want an hour and like you say, it's because what they really want is a baby sitter) I don't know what the answer is either. I lose many bookings because I refuse the length of program they insist upon. It's doubly frustrating when they do hire you and rave afterwards that you are the best entertainment their group has ever had and then the following year they book some inferior act again only because they offered 60 minutes. My favorites are the clients who want a 2 - 3 hour show and when I explain that my act is a set 30 minutes they ask why I can't just repeat the act 4 to 6 times then back to back with no break!
Hey David, I have an advantage over you and Wayne maybe?? because I also do vent, that can add time to my show, with marionettes, most acts are short and sweet, even in my marionette vent show, I carry 4 marionettes but the total time is maybe 15 minutes? now in my career, I refuse to be a babysitter, so now in my contract it says the time for a show, nothing worse than a client say you still owe me 10 minutes when the audience and myself are exhausted. The client is clueless,
ok, here is my nightmare story. did a show at a daycare 5 years ago, the audience was made up of 10 = 2 to 3 year olds plus a few staff. I did a 30 minute show, everybody loved it, I went to the front office to get paid and the owner said to me in a LOUD VOICE so everybody can hear. "we are paying you $100 for only 30 minutes??"
( yes, I know that is a very low figure but remember Texas ain't no puppet town, I'm glad I even got that)
I was embarrassed when she yelled this at me, then I said to her, "yes, but did you hear all the laughter and smiles, the children are still talking about the show". she then says to me " no, no, we are not paying this again ( they booked me for another show the next month) she canceled and as I was packing up my car all I could think about is no respect, no respect at all. that was the turning point for me, no more will I work for nothing, So now my contract says the time for each show so no more surprises and I retain my respect.

but between you, me and the internet wire...we are just glorified babysitters, until we do Broadway, we are just filling time so the staff can take a break. ( this is my opinion only and does not reflect the puppet community)
I always put the time in the contract but even with my longest show which is 45 minutes I state in the contract that the running time of the show is "aproximetly 40-45 minutes" and that means the whole program from stepping out front to talk to the childen to saying goodbye at the end. If I do meet and greet that is extra to the 45 minutes . So if any one complains about the time and that has happened only once I can point to the contract and tell them they signed it so I assume they read it. But everyone asks right up front: How long is the show?
Hey David, you know what I am finding out now in my 20th year of performing, the answer to a successful show every time is..........there is no answer. Some days I just shake my head, librarians don't even read their contracts and they want a reading show!! I am just amazed that I am not an alcoholic with all the problems that an entertainer encounters. What is so unique I think with me, you, Wayne and others is that we have a company of ONE, dont' know if this is true with you but I do everything, talk to the client direct, settle on the cost, send out the paperwork, call for directions, drive, clean up the room and set up, do a show, wait till everybody almost leaves so I can knock down my stage, repack my car and drive home, oh, yes and track down the person with the check, that is another 15 minutes of wasted time. So a typical 45 minute show takes about 4 hours, if I don't stop at the liquor store on the way home :)

only kidding, I don't drink
It has taken me over 50 years of performing to learn to cope with clients who want an hour long show for toddlers or for a birthday party. Try an argue with a mother who has a 2 year old and wants to do a birthday show. Explain they are too young and I guarantee they will explain how their child is exceptional, etc. So my birthday shows are usually half an hour unless the audience is over five years old. And no one takes into consideration your time spent travelling to and from the show and the setup and tear down time.
Quick story: A few years ago a woman wanted us to do a show for her childs fun fair school event. When my wife would not negotiate the fee she had her husband call back. He was obviously in some sort of job in which negotiations took place. We were charging $300 for s show and since it was going to be an audience of toddlers we would not do more than a half an hour.
He said: So you charge $300 for a half an hour. So you make $600 an hour." My wife said the show would normally last 45 minutes but the children were too young. "Then why couldn't we reduce the fee?" "Because we still have to carry and setup the entire show and a large sound system and since the show is prepacked in the stage box we have to carry the whole thing even for shorter show. It's a flat fee. Not an hourly rate". "You get $300 for half an hour? That means you make $600 an hour. "Well, No. We have to travel some distance to get there, set it all up, etc." "My brother is a neurosurgeon. He doesn't even make $600 an hour!" " That's why we gave up neurosurgery and became puppeteers", my wife exclaimed. (And he hung up the phone)
All of my shows are about 45 minutes. Usually 15minutes longer than most of the audiences attention span. But for what I charge I feel like I have to do 45 minutes. Usually school assembly programs required a 45 minute show. Now my audiences ar mostly toddlers. But the attitude remains. For the last couple of years I have been doing guest appearances at the Puppet Co. Puppet Theater in Glen Echo, Maryland. The Puppet Co. does fabulous shows but some of their shows are very sophisticated. And what kind of crowd do they draw? Two, three and four year olds. Forget the content, folks. It's a puppet show. So I have been doing shows for something called the Tiny Tots series. Most of the shows completely sell out. And why? They only charge five bucks a ticket and the shows is only a half an hour. I hang around for 15 minutes after a show with a marionette so toddlers can shake hands with a puppet up close and more importantly parents can take pictures with their cell phones. I don't pretend for a moment this is great puppetry. Its more like a mommy and me moment. Everyone leaves happy and it makes money. What could be better?
So you're not going to change attitudes. My suggestion is to grin and bare it as much as you can. The temperamental artist doen't last for the long run.
You can offer to do a 30 minute birthday and 15 minutes of posing with puppets for picture taking and a they have a wonderful rememberance to take home.
your thoughts............................
bob brown
My shows run between 30 and 45 minutes. For the past coiuple years I open with hand and rod puppets that talk to the kids and tell a short story or teach a song - Carmen Meriendeer who teaches "Feeeliz Navidad" at Christmas etc. Then I do marionette variety. I can judge the interest of the children in the first section and adjust tha time. The marionettes usually run about 20 min.
After the show I have a hand and rod puppet who will react with the children. 99 percent of sponsors are happy with this format especially the interaction with the children during the show and after.

bob brown said:
It has taken me over 50 years of performing to learn to cope with clients who want an hour long show for toddlers or for a birthday party. Try an argue with a mother who has a 2 year old and wants to do a birthday show. Explain they are too young and I guarantee they will explain how their child is exceptional, etc. So my birthday shows are usually half an hour unless the audience is over five years old. And no one takes into consideration your time spent travelling to and from the show and the setup and tear down time.
Quick story: A few years ago a woman wanted us to do a show for her childs fun fair school event. When my wife would not negotiate the fee she had her husband call back. He was obviously in some sort of job in which negotiations took place. We were charging $300 for s show and since it was going to be an audience of toddlers we would not do more than a half an hour.
He said: So you charge $300 for a half an hour. So you make $600 an hour." My wife said the show would normally last 45 minutes but the children were too young. "Then why couldn't we reduce the fee?" "Because we still have to carry and setup the entire show and a large sound system and since the show is prepacked in the stage box we have to carry the whole thing even for shorter show. It's a flat fee. Not an hourly rate". "You get $300 for half an hour? That means you make $600 an hour. "Well, No. We have to travel some distance to get there, set it all up, etc." "My brother is a neurosurgeon. He doesn't even make $600 an hour!" " That's why we gave up neurosurgery and became puppeteers", my wife exclaimed. (And he hung up the phone)
All of my shows are about 45 minutes. Usually 15minutes longer than most of the audiences attention span. But for what I charge I feel like I have to do 45 minutes. Usually school assembly programs required a 45 minute show. Now my audiences ar mostly toddlers. But the attitude remains. For the last couple of years I have been doing guest appearances at the Puppet Co. Puppet Theater in Glen Echo, Maryland. The Puppet Co. does fabulous shows but some of their shows are very sophisticated. And what kind of crowd do they draw? Two, three and four year olds. Forget the content, folks. It's a puppet show. So I have been doing shows for something called the Tiny Tots series. Most of the shows completely sell out. And why? They only charge five bucks a ticket and the shows is only a half an hour. I hang around for 15 minutes after a show with a marionette so toddlers can shake hands with a puppet up close and more importantly parents can take pictures with their cell phones. I don't pretend for a moment this is great puppetry. Its more like a mommy and me moment. Everyone leaves happy and it makes money. What could be better?
So you're not going to change attitudes. My suggestion is to grin and bare it as much as you can. The temperamental artist doen't last for the long run.
You can offer to do a 30 minute birthday and 15 minutes of posing with puppets for picture taking and a they have a wonderful rememberance to take home.
your thoughts............................
bob brown
Dave,
I have found that 25 to 30 minutes is more than enough time for a performance for ages 6 and younger or the daycare performance. Leave them wanting more not bored.
Ollie.

I have found 35 minutes is the max.  After the show, if it is a school or library, I turn the stage around and explain how the marionettes are built and answer questions about the puppetry career.  Lots of fun with that and a "cross section" of a marionette so the audience can see how the marionettes are constructed.  Also I have another head that is opened in the back so they can see the animation in the head.  This now has made the show educational and an understanding of the life of a puppeteer.  This rounds out the show to an hour.

Easy --- not complicated and you can talk about your life and the future of puppetry.  The adults will eat this up and the kids just want to see the marionettes up close.  I allow the kids to come up to the "backstage" to see the marionette up close but please do not touch the marionettes.  Ask the kids to think of this as a moment at a museum and place their hands behind their backs.  This is quite fun and the adults get a big kick out of the kids with their hands behind them.  I love performing my marionette show... but now I appreciate showing the art of the puppet and relating that to the same audience.

Very interesting point Scott and a great way to stretch the show, make it educational to please the adults, and teach the kids good backstage manners at the same time.  I will try the hands behind the back thing. Sounds like a really good idea. One of my favorite places to perform is Navy Pier here is Chicago , as they only need maximum1/2 hour sets and in the summer they reduce it to a maximum of 25 minutes to allow for set changes to our live pirate stunt show.

Might as well get my two cents' worth in.  For child care centers during the school year--birthdays for the under fives too--I do a 30 to 35 minute show.  I've found that extra five minutes helps sell!  The trick is to add value without giving anything up: coloring sheets are usually a good bet, as are posters.  Provide the center with a master copy of each--with your advertising on it, of course--that they can duplicate and distribute.  A very talented artist (Mr. Braunschweiger, I presume?) is kind enough to create these for me. 

Should parents object to a 35 minute birthday show, warn them about magicians, ALL of whom claim they can keep the kids entertained for a full hour (even though they can't) because they'll make balloon animals.  Be sure to mention the very real danger of balloons for young children.  Speaking of extra value, have you ever thought of creating a birthday party guide?  I send one to EVERY person who inquires--it's great PR and even if they don't book you, they'll have your info at hand for the future.  The guide in Frances Marshall's "The Birthday Party Business" is one place to start.

I have done programs from 5 minutes to an hour. The former was at a national sales meeting.

For child care centers to have two programs. One for the young younger about 20-24 minutes and about 35 minutes for the older.  Library programs are "tricky" since we get the young ones (1-3) and older 5-9 ish.

 

My programs are a combination of puppetry, magic, juggling and silly toys. (I am guessing some of you have similar variety.)  As for the high fee for an hour show. That reminds me of the story of the man that fixed the machine with a tap of his hammer. The fee $1000.  One dollar for the tap...and 999 dollars for knowing where to tap.

 

Connecting with an audience is just as important as manipulation, costuming, ventriloquist technigue, sleights.......as the King in the King and I said...ETC.   ETC.  ETC.

 

harris

still too old to know everything

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