Incursions versus excursions – which adds more value to our children’s education?

April 23rd, 2014

Incursions versus excursions – which adds more value to our children’s education?

There seems to be an ever increasing push in Australian schools to abandon the reliable incursion in favour of an excursion. The incursion has been a teacher’s faithful friend for so many years. Educational, relevant and cheap. So why is it being increasingly abandoned at a time of financial uncertainty when we are trying to curb costs?

Do you remember as a student, when “Stan the celery stick” came to school and told you to “Be green, not mean!”? When a local artist wearing a tie-dye flowing gown came to your school hall, set up her easel and butcher paper then drew a caricature of your principal, giving him a slightly bigger nose than required? Or when Andrew Gaze, told everyone that he was repeating his umpteenth year of a Tafe Sports Degree because he didn’t like studying, but that he really loved basketball – much to the dismay of the teachers. Shows, presentations, displays and activities from the big wide world captivated us in our own school hall. Is this to become a thing of the past? Are our children destined to miss out on the value of an incursion, so that they can go out instead?

As educators we seem to be under pressure from some parents to give their children not only an education, but also life experiences. Strangely, there is also a perception that life experiences can only happen outside the school gates.

One parent remarked to me recently that this experience came at an expense at her child’s school of $180 per student for a one night jaunt through Melbourne’s city streets. “The winter sleep-out for the homeless?” I asked, thinking perhaps that it included a large donation from each student. “No, no. Just Imax!” came the reply. McDonalds, Fed Square, a glancing visit to the museum, and of course the cornerstone of every modern child’s education; Melbourne’s Imax Theatre.

As entertaining as a $180 excursion was, what life experiences were gained that parents could not have given to their children at a lower price? Was this school adding any value to their children’s education – or were they simply taking more of an entertainers approach?

The school in question’s large budget allocation to the “three b’s” (buses, burgers and balderdash) would indicate that they must also be spending a lot on incursions with visiting artists, performers, community workers and scientists – right? Wrong! The entire incursion budget was cut two years previously – completely. At the parents request. All in favour of a more rounded education for their children. Perhaps rounded in terms of their stomachs, after the fast food dinner and breakfast.

There is a place for excursions, certainly. How else can our children experience our architecture but to go and see it, or nature but to walk through it? Incursions that are designed for 50 to 250 students can never match the big budget and flashy surroundings of programs in large theatres that seat over 1000 or venues that have a ticket box that churn through hundreds of people every hour. But it all has to come with a balance. A theatrical production at the Arts Centre is marvellous to watch and valuable if the audience learn worthwhile lessons, or if it inspires students to create themselves. Far too often it leaves them dazzled, but for the greater part confused as to how they could do they recreate something similar themselves. When this happens it ends up alienating students from a part of our culture, not attracting them to it. After all, how many students have regular access to a multi-million dollar theatre venue with expensive lighting effects? They’ve got a multi-purpose room with a blinking fluoro that has been doing that since 1997.

So how do the two “cursions” stack up against each other financially? What are the costs for each? It varies. Incursions are most commonly charged on a “per student” basis of between $4 – $12 per student, depending on the program or presentation. These prices are occasionally matched by their off campus excursion counterparts, but then travel costs must be added. If a bus is hired, then you’re going to a whole new ballpark. Then add lunch money and most importantly, time. The one hour activity just cost the student four hours of class time, possibly sports practice at lunch time.

Compare this to our old friend the incursion and we find it’s starting to look a whole lot better again.

When you consider that the incursion usually runs for as long as the off campus activity, nearly always includes personalised question time, and only takes up one session of the three session day. There are still two thirds of the day to enjoy the follow up material provided for the teachers and students, sucking the intellectual marrow out of the bones that the presenter or artists have delivered right to the students’ front door.

So is one better than the other? No. There is no clear winner. An incursion brings the world to our students. An excursion takes them to the world. Both have their place when they add value to our student’s education. Perhaps the popularity of incursions will increase as parents and staff strive to save some pennies. Moving forward, it is through a balance of incursion and excursions that schools will provide a well rounded experience to their students. Abandoning either area completely just short changes them.

Tony Appleby (B. Ed) studied at Melbourne High School and Rusden Campus of Deakin University, and has been operating Tony Bones Entertainment since 1998. After leaving university he taught in a range of environments including special education, private performing arts schools and many primary & secondary schools.

Why is the party industry on it’s knees?

February 16th, 2012

The children’s party industry had its boom from the early naughties through to the GFC but now as consumer spending continues to drop we need to address the question: “Do we want quality live performance at children’s parties to continue into the future?”

There are two dilemmas facing the industry at present:

a. a huge lack of quality performers willing to do this type of work, especially after a bad experience working with a booking agent where they’ve been thrown in the deep end;

b. a large amount of freelancers and booking agents hugely undercutting on price and providing low quality improvised shows that deter the general public from ever booking anyone ever again.

I started performing in the party industry in 2000. At the time the industry was just finding its feet and as a freelance performer I was given a character name, taught a couple of magic tricks & how to twist a balloon then asked to “wing it” from there. Despite being a qualified teacher I didn’t have children of my own and being in my early twenties my friends were not throwing children’s birthday parties either. What to do? The agency I worked for told me to go and watch one of their other performers do a wizard party. It was a real eye-opener.

The performer arrived in a pretty bland wizard costume to perform what I thought was a very bland show. He’d been told by the agent to buy his own present for the child, confirm with the client & provide all costume & props as he saw fit. I think he forgot the present, his costume showed his inability to sew and the props were limited to a guitar. He was trying his best but he was not a trained performer, he was very lack lustre and he had barely any content!! He performed the two magic tricks I had also been taught then pulled out a guitar (I was unaware that Wizards were big acoustic guitarists, but I stood corrected) and played from memory something that reminded me of Koombayah as the kids were asked to walk in circles around him. By the third soothing folk song the kids had all wandered off wondering what any of this had to do with being a wizard? He then started to play some random games which were a little more successful but again had nothing to do with being a wizard. It was confusing for everyone, the performer included. The second half hour was spent making three designs of balloon animals which were a big hit and saved the show. What amazed me at the end was that the parents seemed genuinely happy that he’d come. Why? The industry was so new that they’d never seen any better and figured that was what you get.

Looking back, my first party as a freelancer was a disaster. The example I’d been given told me to sing songs as kids circle around you so that’s what I did. I did it once. The actor and the teacher in me couldn’t take someone’s money for doing that. As it turned out I remember there was a strong wind and I lost the money as I got back into my car, clearly the universe telling me I had not earned it. I can see why so many performers have tried the industry once then sworn never to return. I was set up to fail. The event was truly terrifying and after my costs made me a grand total of $40. I made more money working the register at my local servo.

Rather than giving up all together I decided to try something different. I sat down and drafted out a rough script for a show that included the two magic tricks I’d been taught. Then I added some games that related to the script and tried to come up with some structure that would keep the kids engaged. Within a couple of months I had three shows that were working a hundred times better than the improvised circle show and within a year I had my booking agent sending all of their performers to my shows to copy it. I was already running Tony Bones Entertainment as a Theatre In Education company and figured adding on a branch for kids parties was the logical next step.

Since then we’ve developed 26 original party shows with Tim Smith & Luke Hunter, the two teachers who are our musical directors and whom I compose the music with. The shows are scripted with original music, integrated games, a birthday present, magic, a main activity that relates to the character, then colouring, balloon sculpting or face painting & lollypops to finish. We provide everything for the performer so that they can just concentrate on the performing side of things. The shows are fully rehearsed and highly structured and the performers are given lots of training to ensure they can succeed and enjoy the work. But 11 years on, what is the rest of the industry doing?

The answer is…. much of the same. Back in 2000 the average price for an unscripted party show was around $150-$175. 11 years later an average Melbourne house costs over $200,000 more than in 2000 but some companies are still charging the same amount for an unscripted party show? Most of the companies performing around Melbourne continue to be run by booking agents or performers who provide no show for their performers. The poor performers are still told to “make it up” and the result is a lot of child minding being packaged up as children’s entertainment. Most serious actors refuse to do it more than once so the standard has dropped to the lowest common denominator of performer. The agents continue to undercut on price, some so low that the entire payment wouldn’t even come close to paying the performer the Federal Award minimum amount, and you can bet the booking agent is still taking a fair whack out of the payment. A year ago one agent asked us to perform Santa for the grand total of $11 an hour!!! Suit included!! you can only imagine what they would have made. Of course as a booking agent it doesn’t cost very much to load up a basic website, put a print advertisement in a children’s newspaper then forward on bookings to performers for them to organise, especially when you’re never developing shows and rehearsing them. But what do you as the customer get for the money that you spend on these booking agents?

Child minding. Child minding is not children’s entertainment, it is babysitting. Playing games. It is regrettable but childcare is one of the lowest paid industries in the country, so it is no wonder that children’s party companies are able to send this work to your home at such a low price. Because it ain’t entertainment, it’s childcare.

So what do we do to improve the future of this industry?

1. Ask for specific details of what you’re going to get at the show. Ask the company to provide it in writing. then check it off at the party. If it doesn’t happen then you should get a big discount. If it is just game playing then it should cost the same as a babysitter. If it is a varied show format then it should be between $250 to $400 plus travel.

2. If your performer exceeds your expectations, then let them know. Performers like a round of applause, that’s how audiences show them that they appreciate what they’ve done. And if you really liked them then tell your friends. Keep the good providers in business, and encourage good performers to keep performing or they’ll be lost forever.

3. Pay a decent amount of money for a decent product. Paying under $250-$300 would not cover the costs of any decent performer who is performing a quality show (advertising, costume development and maintenance, public liability insurance, website development and maintenance, providing phone and email quotes, travel expenses, vehicle, presents, props, music, stereo, balloons, face paint… the list goes on). The companies charging under this will nearly always give you exactly what you pay for – not much.

4. Understand the difference between a freelance performer and a company. A company will cost more because they have safeguards individuals usually don’t. The most common reason for last minute bookings with our company is because a client has had a performer from another company cancel on them, usually a solo freelance performer has pulled out at the last minute due to illness, hangover or an offer for more money elsewhere, though it always seems to be called “illness”. Companies will have other performers who can fill in so clients are not left in the lurch. Companies also pool the ideas of many people to create the shows and run the business. Freelance performers or booking agents leave everyone to their own devices.

Convincing people to spend more money to maintain an industry is a tough sell. You just need to look at all the people that were grounded from Tiger Airlines to see what happens when we look to use the cheapest option every time. At least the airlines have an industry that will ground their aircrafts if they don’t meet the minimum standards. If only the children’s entertainment industry had similar safeguards. Oh well, i guess it’s up to us.

Tony Appleby B.Ed is the director of Tony Bones Entertainment – “Children’s Theatre by Qualified Teachers”

School Halls Program – A user’s opinion

October 25th, 2010

So our biggest national tour of our year is over – Book Week 2010. The shows themselves were a huge success, I think some of our best work ever, but our experience with the spaces we performed in was perhaps less than perfect.

You may have heard a lot in the news about the “School Halls Program” and the bungles that have ensued. But here is our firsthand account of the program from a company who have just seen over 100 of the projects in action.

Let me start by stipulating that some of halls are good, some of them were needed and some of them are finished (golf clap now), but let’s talk about the others.

Completion dates missed: A huge amount of the halls are behind schedule. Many schools are booking events like our theatre shows then having to relocate to smaller less appropriate areas (like double classrooms) because their buildings just aren’t ready as promised. The problems with performing in classrooms is purely that you have to evict the students for half a day so that their space can be cleared, the event set up, performed, packed up then their class reinstated. This is a big hassle for staff & students who are frequently being displaced.

Like the teachers and students, for our performers this meant we were constantly trying to unload equipment through construction sites. These were the hardest bump-ins to spaces that we’ve ever encountered. Many schools have all of their vehicle entrances & exits blocked off by the construction companies. This means where we usually may have been able to drive our van right up to a hall to unload staging, sound equipment and sets, we now have to walk it in from the road or a carpark at the other end of the school. This often resulted in up to 150 meters of walking with each load of equipment, sometimes up to 6 loads of equipment for each performer. Thankfully many of the schools were kind enough to send students to help in these occasions but yet again it just shouldn’t be happening. Were the projects finished on schedule it wouldn’t need to.

Design: The inconvenience aside, let’s have a look at the buildings themselves. Many people seem to think that the halls are all built off a template whereby most of the schools would have similar or identical halls. This seems like a brilliant idea to me in that materials would be cheaper being bought in bulk, design costs would be reduced, and with the money saved they could do something else that the school needs. But in my discussions with several tradies who have been working on these programs there is money being wasted everywhere. Some halls are doing tens of thousands of dollars of “extras” that do little or nothing to improve the actual space. It seems that many of the companies have been given a budget and they are going to spend it by hook or by crook, whether it’s in the interest of the school or not.

At this point it is important to note the purpose of a school hall. My belief (which seems to be shared by most of the staff I spoke to) is that a hall is generally used for assemblies & performances. In some cases it also is used as a sporting area. However there are two key areas that most of the designers failed to think of – acoustics and access.

Acoustics: Of the new spaces we did perform in (those that were finished) only one or two had halfway decent acoustics. Most of them had high ceilings & hard floors with sound bouncing around in all directions. The more we turned up our sound system, the worse it got. I only saw a couple of spaces that had any sort of sound boards in the walls or ceilings. This means that schools struggle to use the halls for the very purpose that they were built. The schools are now going to be forced to purchase rugs to roll out on the floors to soak up some of the echo and I wouldn’t be surprised if many have to start covering the walls in anything they can lay their hands on so that their assemblies & performances are not just an echoing mess where no one can hear what is being said.

Access: On the whole this is a disaster. I can’t believe how many of these “state of the art” buildings have just single doors! SINGLE DOORS!!! The halls from the 1950’s had double doors, but not half of these new buildings. Getting our equipment through a single door is possible but gee it’s hard, and many of them were surrounded by glass so one misguided movement with a trolley would mean disaster. Can you imagine trying to file in 400 kids for assembly through single doors. You’ve got it, it takes twice as long. What a disaster. I was amazed that many of the new halls also don’t have ramps. Perhaps they don’t have any students in wheelchairs…. yet. Our trolleys were lugged up many a stair this season, and as the halls are all new it looks like that will be our lot into the future. Simple rule of thumb. When building a hall, the designers need to imagine that the school needs to wheel an upright piano into it once a week. It will give them a whole new perspective on where to build the driveway for close vehicle access, creating double doors and ramps. This is not just for companies like us, but for the DJ at primary school discos, the art committee who want to bring their paintings in for a display, basically any major activity run in a school hall.

Many schools don’t want the hall: Lots of the schools I visited already had halls. When I looked at their current hall it was usually (but not always) in good repair and generally served the purposes they needed it for. Many teachers indicated that they felt the same and that the new hall was a waste of money that could be used for several other projects in their school that needed funding- Arts programs (so they could book more shows & put on their own performances), more computers, new playground equipment, more sporting equipment, library upgrades and new books, and one I frequently heard was more staff. What better stimulus could there be than employing more staff to teach, more teacher aids and assistants to help, more maintenance staff to improve the rooms, yards & gardens, more admin staff to run the school.

These are few of the most ludicrous things: These are the most ridiculous instances that just had us scratching our heads in disbelief.

1. The worst was one school who debated for 15 minutes when we got there over which space we would use – the gym or their brand new Arts building. We were sent to the gym. The Phys Ed teacher who had his students in the gym told us to go away and use the new building that had been built for performances and I must say I agreed with him whole heartedly. Regardless the Principal tried again to move the Phys Ed students out of the gym so that we could perform in there. Again he refused and the maintenance staff member guided us down to the new Arts centre. Wow!!! What a space. They actually had a ramp (hooray) and a huge foyer, then a humongous hall behind that with seating for at least 400. We only had the Preps coming in that day so we asked to use the ample sized foyer. The acoustics were better than the hall itself and the space suited our needs. Once we were set up the Principal caught wind of where we were and called the maintenance man to tell us to pack up & move to the gym, regardless of the sport teacher who refused to move. Luckily our maintenance guy was a good old fella and he told the Principal it was too late and that we’d just have to press on. We did the show, the kids loved it, the access was fantastic, the acoustics superb, even power points on both sides of the room (a rarity). So why didn’t the principal want us there? After the show I asked our friend, Mr Maintenance and he told us. The new facility had been opened in April and this was the first time the school had used it since that opening. It was now early September. The reason? A deal had been done with the government. The construction of the larger than usual facility had only been funded by the government on the proviso that local community groups could share it with the school. As such, whoever used the facility had to pay for heating then cleaning the space after each event. Surely that couldn’t cost that much, could it? After the government had spent over a million dollars of taxpayer money to build the facility, the Principal wasn’t willing to pay for it to be cleaned or heated. I was amazed. The maintenance guy pulled out his vacuum, ran over the space as we left & it was clean in five minutes. I asked him how much that cost the school. He said he was fulltime so it cost them nothing but his time. The heater was never turned on. As a taxpayer I felt ripped off. I wonder how the parents feel?

2. Number two was the school who had just opened their huge brand new building which was very late so they were just thrilled to have access – not that anyone else did. Single doors of glass, 20 steps down from the carpark and no ramp. Then inside it was a barn: high ceilings, hard floor and a world of echo ensued. Their stage was the lowlight. It was built into the wall cavity, was too small for any more than 15 students to stand on (so useless for any student theatre, singing groups, etc, as the school had a large enrollment) and because it was set into the wall it was impossible to light. I asked where the lighting rig was and was told, “That will be the next project when we can afford it”. The reality was they were never going to be able to light the stage effectively as there had been no allowance for a lighting rig. It would have to lower down from the ceiling at least 15 meters which would blow out the price, or would have to be bolted onto the front of the stage hanging out. It just wasn’t going to work & clearly hadn’t been thought through. The only solution will be angled downlights within the stage cavity (just a meter above your head), hardly a theatrical success story. In ensuring that they had a big space for sport they had completely fouled up the ability for anyone to be seen on stage. Needless to say, we didn’t use it. Our lights would have had to sit in front of the students for us to be seen. This was by far the worst designed room we saw and I feel for the staff & students who will discover its limitations as they settle in.

3. The final disaster was the school that had a huge hall with big stage but the worst acoustics we came across. The high ceilings & hard floor seemed to combine to create the worst echo you could imagine. We had to perform our script about twice as slow as we usually would, just so it could be understood. The funny part was when the school gave us the feedback after the show that they had loved everything about our show except that the echo made it very difficult to understand our song lyrics (which couldn’t be slowed down). I think they thought this was our fault but as they had their own first school production happening in there the next week, I’m sure they now realize that anything with any faster tempo is going to be lost in that space. The only solution will be to cover the glass walls in sound deadening coverings to try to soak up some of the echo.

On the whole I think the “Schools Hall Program” is a joke and a costly one at that. Tax payer money is hemorrhaging down the drain, construction completion dates are late and the halls themselves don’t work in several key areas. This isn’t the case at every school, but our experience was that it is the case at a great many of them. If only the government had taken some time to plan the projects more carefully they may have found that many schools didn’t even want the halls and that the money could have been spent on more worthwhile projects that were actually needed and that could still stimulate the economy. If a hall was needed then perhaps consulting with community groups & especially performance groups like us could have helped to get acoustics and access right.

We’re all stuck with these halls now but I’ll watch with interest over the new few years to see how they are altered to meet student, staff & visitor’s needs.

Children’s theatre faces its biggest threat…

December 15th, 2009

I went to an industry event the other day for Australian producers of theatre. Many interesting discussions were had over the evening with a range of different companies but the reaction to us was the same from everyone – “Why in the world would you bother doing children’s theatre without government funding? And why would you do it at all for private clients or schools?”

At the start of the evening I was surprised by this attitude. How could these companies be so cold as to turn their back on the artistic growth of children at schools & private functions? But as the evening wore on my fellow producers made a fairly convincing argument. Most of them in similar fields to me had long ago left the private market of children’s parties, school shows & non-government funded performing. They had all shifted to festivals or theatre tours that were heavily subsidised by the government or alternatively they were churning out non-scripted performers to corporate Australia. It sounded like a pretty empty existence to me – relying on government handouts or performing monotonous nothingness to corporate clients who don’t want to be at their work function anyway. But as my fellow producers clearly argued, what is the alternative?

After ten years of touring children’s parties in Victoria & Theatre In Education nationally we’re now at a point where we wonder if it will ever get any easier. Not easy, just possible to survive financially without working 100 hours every week. As I watch the GFC gobble up the flow of bookings from private clients not even round the clock work will be able to keep our private client functions operating as they should. Our advertising & operating costs have continued to soar as our bookings have plummeted, and now staff layoffs abound. So it would seem we now reach the point of sell out or sell up.

Some of the long standing companies who were performing in schools when I was a kid are even running away from school touring because they see the writing on the walls & realise the money will start to disappear from there too. Its mostly parents who pay for their kids to see school shows & some schools are saying that the parents seem unwilling to pay now with things so financially uncertain. These other companies also all unashamedly admitted that in the past they had been able to pay an agreed amount to a performer but that the continually rising award conditions made it impossible to run at a profit, especially if you were going to perform interstate. Equity may have bargained their performers out of a job altogether, certainly any jobs that are not government funded. So the days of having a great idea & wanting to tour it through schools is over, unless you’re comfortable ripping off an existing overseas product or happy to wait 2 years through the funding process. Of course the funding process has no guarantees either so you could plow budget & heaps of time into preparing for the pitch only to find you’re not what they’re after, they want something “more commercial”.

Fingers crossed this will change in the future but I fear (along with the experts) that it will be a very long road to financial recovery, no matter how our politicians in both parties try to con us that things are looking so much better. With a financial crash / slump comes a loss of confidence & it takes people a long time to regain confidence in spending with their heart instead of strictly with their head.

Our recent tour of Victoria, NSW & ACT of our Book Week show “Nobody Owns the Moon” saw ticket sales at a miserably low rate. This was particularly disappointing as many people who did see it commented that it was one of our best ever shows. In speaking with performers & arts administrators it seems that we are not alone with ticket sales for children’s theatre events at all time lows. If you can’t sell your show to a venue at a flat rate or get the government to pick up the tab then you’re taking a huge risk on the gate, a risk we won’t be taking again for a long time.

So now we sell out – and off to the pile of grants submissions we go. I can’t quite come to terms with selling out artistically so we’ll stick with original ideas… for now. Are we comfortable with the reality that the self funded independant theatre is dying a rotten death? Perhaps that stimulus package could have been used for something a little more intelligent than Plasma’s from China. How about some incentives for small business, local business, big business, any business in Australia. Admittedly every primary school got a new hall (whether they wanted it or not), but now they’re not hiring anyone to perform in it. Good one, Kevin (or maybe we should blame Wayne).

We can only hope that these realities change. A society where the only theatre that can be performed is government sanctioned will leave our children with a one-dimensional idea of what theatre is: something that inherently requires a handout. I always wished it was something so much more noble than that.

So let’s stick it to them. Let’s go out & book a theatre show for our children’s school & pay enough money to reasonably compensate the artists involved. Let’s not haggle on the price of a Fairy party. Let’s all rise together with cash in our hands & spend it on our children’s future… oh, who am I kidding? I’m off to fill out a grant submission.

How to run the perfect children’s party at home

November 19th, 2009

“How to run the perfect children’s party at home”
By Tony Appleby B.Ed
Tony is the director of Tony Bones Entertainment – “Children’s Theatre by Qualified Teachers”. He has 2 young children, 10 years teaching experience in both primary and secondary schools as well as over 1000 party character performances under his belt.

How does a parent run the perfect party for their child? Three words – Keep it simple.

I know that sounds like it is simplifying the matter, but it really is accurate. And there’s a few good reasons why:

Young children can only focus on one thing at a time. Just look at what their teachers or child care workers do with them in class when they want to run a group activity. It is usually just one thing at a time. “Let’s all come and sit on the mat and read this story” or “let’s all go outside and have some fun on the play equipment”. It is usually a “let’s all” kind of activity so stick to what you already know works for the experts. When you were a child it was more commonly pass the parcel and a footy thrown out on the lawn or “pin the tail on the donkey”. Whilst things have come a long way since then in children’s party entertainment, keeping it simple will still serve you and your child well for your next party.

But how do you do that when there is so much out there to choose from? A performer? A jumping castle? Pony rides? A petting zoo? They all sound good so why not do them all together for the greatest party ever? There’s a few good reasons why keeping it simple will work for you and your kids.

Cost. The price of one good activity is money well spent. The cost of four good activities is a lot of money down the drain. None of the activities will get the attention they deserve if there are too many things happening. This also means that none of them will be good value for money. A party planner may tell you different, but just remember that the more things you book, the more money they make. Choosing a couple of really great activities will get a better result than ten activities, no matter how brilliant they are.

Memories. When too many things are going on simultaneously you will probably find that the kids don’t remember any of the activities with any clarity later on. This is because they’ve been over stimulated with too many things happening in a short time frame. If you want your child to talk about this for months or years to come then keep it simple and you’ll have just one or two great things for them to fondly remember.

Behaviour. When young children are over stimulated they tend to behave erratically. Often the birthday child will cry for no reason because it is all just too much for them. Running away and hiding is another common reaction to over stimulation for kids. This is where the birthday child hides in their room refusing to come out, desperately clinging to their favourite toy in a vain attempt for everything to return to normal. Usually passive children can also become quite violent if they feel that the bright lights and claustrophobic balloons are closing in on them. A simpler approach can help avoid all of these problems.

The future. Leave yourself somewhere to go next year. They only turn 4 once, but they turn 5 next year. Giving kids too many things at a party leaves them disinterested in what you offer next time. I once observed a party where every child was provided with an individual piñata to smash, each with its own half kilo of lollies inside. By the time the third piñata was burst open the 40 strong crowd had lost interest and wandered off. They loved the first, were bored by the third. One piñata would have done just fine. I’ve also had many requests for High School Musical parties for children as young as three years old. Despite the fact that the movies are pitched at an older age group, that type of party can still be offered when the kids are much older. A fairy, on the other hand, has a shelf life of just a few years. My advice is to always book the youngest activity possible while you can so you still have something up your sleeve for next year, and the next.

All right, so you’re ready to keep it simple. But which option do you chose?

Keeping it simple doesn’t necessarily mean you only do one thing but it does mean that you only do one thing at a time. It also means that all of the activities have to vary from one another. What those things are can be entirely up to you but try not to go overboard on anything.

Some helium balloons are great, at least enough for each child to take one home. Hundreds filling a room can just stress kids out, not to mention some claustrophobic parents who may not like to feel like they are trapped in a world of balloons. The rest of the decorations are optional but just remember that the kids probably won’t notice if there are $2000 of decorations or 2 streamers tied to the front door, as long as there’s cake!!!

One performance is great. More than one is over kill. The kids will just get bored. Stick to one performance per party.

Try to do something that is a bit different to what they are used to. It is a party after all. Create some lasting memories by organizing more than just some party games that they’ve all played a hundred times before. Run a simple craft activity where they all get to make their own pirate hats or fairy wands, then incorporate those things in to the next activity, be that a performance or casting fairy spells on the animals in the petting zoo.

Jumping castles are great if the weather is fine but they can sometimes only hold the attention of kids for a short time frame. Having something else to go with the castle is usually preferred.

Here are some big no-no’s:

Don’t run games or story-telling yourself before your party performer arrives. If you have spent money on a performer then the best thing you can do is ensure that you don’t wear out the attention span of the kids before they get there. If you’d like to run games then run them after your performer or presenter has finished their show. That way if the kids show signs of getting bored or tired then you can cut them short and do something else. Your performer doesn’t always have the freedom of being able to say “let’s ditch what I planned and all just go and eat some cake”. You have that freedom. Support your performer by not stealing their thunder before they get there.

Don’t serve food at the same time as an activity is running. Set aside a time before or after an activity when food will be served, not during. It comes back to that idea of kids not being able to really focus on more that one thing at a time. Give your chosen activity every chance of succeeding by ensuring that it has everyone’s attention for it’s full duration.

Here are some must do’s:

Do organise the kids to arrive at least fifteen minutes before your main activity. This gives the kids enough time to settle in, feel comfortable and appreciate what occurs, as well as giving extra time for late comers to arrive and not miss out on the party.

Do organise a separate area for the parents. This can be very difficult if you don’t have a big house or are having the party at a restaurant but it really can be the key to a good party, especially if you have booked a performance or presentation of some kind. It can be as simple as kids outside and parents inside, or parents in the kitchen, kids in the lounge. At a restaurant it can be parents down one end, kids down the other. When a performer is trying to do a show for young children there is nothing worse than parents talking over the top of them or distracting their audience with mid-show offers of sausage rolls. When the kids are left to focus on the show then the performer or presenter has a far better chance at really getting the best out of the audience not least of all because the audience can actually hear what they are saying. If parents want to watch quietly then they can come to that room or area to watch from the back but giving them another area to go to if they want to talk is very important if you want to get value from your entertainment. Make it clear to the parents when they arrive that if they’d like to stay then all of the kids will be doing this over here and all the parents can either watch quietly or come out to the other room for a cuppa and a chat with the other parents. Of course, always ensure that at least one parent is with the kids at all times and that they are never left unsupervised with or without a performer present. Performers want the parents to support them by keeping their noise down but they don’t want the awkward situation of being left alone with kids they don’t know.

Do organise someone to help with food, photos & video for the event. This could be a professional but certainly does not have to be. Just someone who can help get the food out of the oven or take a few in focus happy snaps at the party. As the parent of the birthday child you will be busy ensuring everyone is being looked after but it is a big ask for you to do everything else as well. Ask a friend or helpful family member before the day if they’d be happy to help out and you’ll get a chance to enjoy the day too.

Do confirm any entertainers have “Working With Children’s Check” numbers. If you hire an entertainer then ensure they have a “Working With Children’s Check” number that you can check on the government website before the day. This system has replaced the old “police checks” that were very difficult to confirm or keep up to date. The new system is a live database that anyone can access online as well providing the applicant with an official photo id. Stipulate that you will require the performer to show their card before they enter your house. Make this a pre-requisite of you hiring the performer to ensure you get an appropriate person working with your kids.

Do ensure any entertainers have public liability insurance providing at least $10 million cover. Insist that anyone working in your house provides evidence before the day of their public liability insurance. This insurance covers them in the event of them accidentally injuring a guest or damaging your property. Most party performers are relatively young and often couldn’t afford to pay for any damage or hospital bills they may be responsible for in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong. For this reason ensuring they are covered by insurance is a must. Ask to view their certificate before the day, not on the day when it is too late to book someone else who is covered.

Do make dressing up optional. Some parents love playing dress ups with their kids, but some won’t bring their kids at all if they feel they can’t match the costumes of other children. Giving an optional dress up theme is a great way of alleviating the pressure on parents and kids. This is particularly the case for families who perhaps can not afford a present for your child and a new costume for their child to wear. You never really know what’s going on with the other parents’ finances so optional spending is a great idea. Keep the pressure off by saying, “It is a Cowboy party. Dress up or just come along in your favourite clothes for the fun”.

Do look at the website of anyone you’re looking at hiring. Ensure the company’s website has some testimonials that sound good to you and that it spells out exactly what they will be doing at your party. General statements like “the kids will have lots of fun” without any more details is generally code for “I have no idea what will happen on the day but I hope the performer makes up something good”. Look for specifics that sound good to you and will suit your child’s tastes. A varied program that has lots of short activities is generally a better approach than too much of the one thing. Magic tricks are great for a short time but kids often get bored after a while, especially young kids. Games are great but yet again they can get boring after a little while, especially when little kids don’t understand the rules or older kids find the game too easy. Spread your risk by ensuring your presenter or performer has a few different activities up their sleeve, not just game playing or face painting.

Do have some games to play if you need them. Have a couple of games up your sleeve that are a no brainer to run in case you need a filler. Setting up pass the parcel or learning the rules of “Duck, duck, goose” will really save you if something goes wrong and suddenly you have 20 kids looking at you asking, “What do we do now?” I saw one party where the oven had gone out and none of the party food was ready until 15 minutes after it was due. A couple of quick filler games can really do the trick in these unforeseen situations. If you don’t end up needing them then just put them to the side.

Do try to help the people who are trying to help you. Whether you have a performer, a petting zoo or a jumping castle try to help the people who are there working for your event. They want your event to succeed so asking what they need to make it happen and providing a supportive atmosphere will go a long way to ensuring they do a good job. If you notice a child is proving particularly tricky for the person to control then ask that child’s parent to lend a hand. Controlling a large group of kids you’ve never met is a tough job for any performer, especially if they are relatively new to the industry. No performer is perfect but they do usually try their best so support them where you can.

So do a few balloons, a clown and a cake work as well as 40 parents and twenty three options for the kids? More often than not, the answer is yes. Keep it simple and reap the rewards. You’ll be saving more than just your money. You might just save your sanity as well.

Tony Appleby B.Ed – Director
Tony Bones Entertainment “Children’s Theatre & Children’s Parties by Qualified Teachers”
We come to you – All suburbs
Ph: 1300 308 311 Fax: (03) 9568 6233
web: www.tonybones.com.au

“Bully Bull Ring” anti-bullying musical registers in QLD

November 18th, 2009

Clint Sanders & I headed up to sunny Brisbane over the weekend to perform “Bully Bull Ring” at Carole Park Primary School in QLD. The performance was part of our process to be officially registered as a preferred supplier with the QLD Department of Education. Hopefully our audtion was a successful one. The students from Grade 4 to 6 certainly enjoyed themselves despite the heat. Fingers crossed this will see us performing many more shows in QLD into the future.

“Tony Bones” Appleby

The beginnings of Blogging at Tony Bones Entertainment

October 9th, 2009

Well here it is. The very first Tony Bones Entertainment BLOG. Things are crazy busy with schools booking for Christmas & private clients & companies rebooking our Santa for end of year functions. Get in quick before we’re all booked out.

Tony Bones Ents Santa & his friends cant wait to share this Christmas with you