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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.
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.
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.
still too old to know everything