P.R.O.F.E.S.S.I.O.N.A.L. (Part 1)

    P.R.O.F.E.S.S.I.O.N.A.L. (Part 2)






P.R.O.F.E.S.S.I.O.N.A.L. (Part 1)

You’ve probably heard people say “I’m a PROFESSIONAL clown”.  So, what exactly does that mean?  Is it based on how many years they’ve been performing as a clown?  Does it refer to how busy or how often they clown?  Perhaps it relates to how much they’re able to charge?  Or possibly how many clown conventions or festivals they attend?  Let’s take a look at these ideas.  

Sometimes a person will say “I’ve been clowning for 5 years”.  It’s possible that they only do one event a year.  The more accurate description would be that they’ve clowned 5 times.  And then there are lots of people who perform numerous times throughout the years they’ve been clowning.  So, the term ‘professional’ doesn’t exactly refer to how long a time that a person has been clowning, as we can see how much that varies from clown to clown.  

But does it refer to how busy or how often they clown?  There are people who perform infrequently.  However, when they are out there, they put everything they have, everything they can possibly give to an audience, into their show.  The smallest detail is never overlooked.  And then there are some individuals who slap something together and do the same old tired performance over and over and over again.  Once again, the frequency or infrequency of performances doesn’t seem to relate to whether a person is a professional or not.  

Perhaps it relates to how much they are able to charge?  Since different regions across the nation and around the world have different economic structures, what an individual charges can vary tremendously from town to town, state to state, region to region, etc.  In addition, a newer clown usually charges less than the going rate in an area as they start to build up their business.  Some of these entertainers might be better at what they do than the ones who have been around for a long time who do only what they have to in order to ‘get by’.  Consequently, what a person is able to charge doesn’t automatically make him or her a professional.  

How about the clowns who attend every clown convention, every clown festival, every workshop that is offered?  Based on the amount of educational avenues they’ve explored, does this make them a professional?  Some people can attend a class, listen to a lecture, read a book or watch an educational video and get enormous amounts of information they can use on the first try.  Then they work on these new skills and new ideas and put them into practice.  Other people can attend the same classes, listen to the same lectures, etc.  They might take copious notes from the class and then take them home, drop them in a drawer and never do anything to implement this new knowledge into their clowning.  So, the information one garners from attending conventions, festivals, classes, etc. can vary immensely from one individual to the next. 

Obviously there are so many variables to entertainers (as to how often they clown, how many years they’ve been performing, how much they charge and how often they attend educational venues) to affix any one of the above to classify an individual as a professional.  So, what does make one a professional entertainer?  I took the word PROFESSIONAL and used it as an acronym.  We will look at the first 6 letters this issue.  

“P”:  Phone etiquette is a key element in how you make a good impression on a client.  This relates to how you party plan for a birthday party or other event.  It is a good idea to get a business line as soon as possible.  Either that or look into getting a second line that piggy-backs onto your home line but has a slightly different ring.  This way you always know when it’s a business call coming in.  There is a world of difference in answering your phone as “ABC Clown Company” or “ABC the Clown” as opposed to “Hello”.  It also eliminates the phone being answered by your kids, a babysitter or a spouse who doesn’t know what your schedule for next month looks like, etc.  

The majority of people nowadays have either an answering machine or voice mail.  This is important for a variety of reasons.  First, if you are not home, you won’t miss out on those important calls.  Second, if you are in the middle of fixing dinner, changing a diaper, refereeing a squabble between your kids, angry with your spouse, etc., this is not a good time to answer the phone.  Use the answering machine to screen those important calls and call them back when you can present a business-like image.  If you use an answering machine to pick up messages for you, record a professional message as opposed to having your young children recite a message or sing a song that may not be intelligible to callers.  Remember that some of the callers are business clients looking to hire a professional entertainer.  The first thing they hear (whether it’s you personally answering or a recorded message) should be business-appropriate.  

“R”:  Reputation.  I can’t say enough about how important your reputation is.  If you are always on time, always prepared for your event, always courteous on the phone, always deliver what you promised, etc. then your reputation can speak volumes of praise for you as an entertainer.  If you cancel out on gigs, fail to show up, arrive late, don’t do what you were hired to do, fail to live up to what you promoted yourself as…this will adversely affect your reputation.  There is an old saying:  “Anyone can get hired a first time.”  The key is to get rehired.  That will only happen if you are careful about your reputation being spotless.  Your reputation precedes you.  If you have done a wonderful job, then your client will pass the word along.  In the same respect, if you have created a black hole surrounding your clowning, that same client will spread the bad word along.  Your reputation is one of the most important things to care about in clowning.  

“O”:  On Time.  Being on time is essential.  The best way to do this is to be prepared.  Know where you are going.  Check out the directions carefully.  Listen to traffic reports as you are getting into makeup.  Having a cellular phone in the car is important for those unfortunate traffic jams that can occur.  Corporate events are usually concrete as far as the time you should be there.  They’ll want their entertainment from a certain starting point in time for a set number of hours.  Birthday parties, however, can vary from one to the next.  Generally speaking, I like to arrive at a party about 10-15 minutes after their party starts.  That gives all of the children a chance to arrive, take off their jacket, set their gift down and say their ‘hellos’ to the birthday child and other guests.  I like to arrive 5-10 minutes early, parking slightly down the block.  This allows me to see when the majority of kids are there.  If they all seem to be there by 10 minutes after, then I know I can go in.  If there are still cars pulling up, I’ll wait a few more minutes before going in.  This, however, is not always the best scenario.  I just had a mother book me to arrive at 4:30 for a party starting at 3:00 .  The reason is that her friends are notoriously late to arrive.  I would rather know this ahead of time to avoid my being there to entertain with only a small handful of the anticipated guests there.  So, being on time can differ with private parties.  This is where proper party planning helps to determine the best arrival time.  But whatever the situation, it is important to be there on time.   

“F”:  Fees.  Whether you are just starting out or whether you have been clowning for years, it is important to figure out your prices ahead of time (The New Calliope May/June 1999).  Have your list of fees right by your business phone.  That way, when a parent calls, you don’t have to verbally fumble to come up with the fee.  Your fee might be different for a variety of reasons.  Do you want to charge a little more for a party that is expecting 25 to 30 children as opposed to the party with only 6 or 7 party guests?  Depending on where you live, do you charge the same for someone close to your neighborhood as opposed to having to drive for an hour one way?  If you offer options to your basic party, are there additional fees necessary?  Do you charge differently for a corporate event versus a private birthday party?  This is all information that should be figured out ahead of time and posted near your phone where you have easy access to it.   

“E”:  Energy and Enthusiasm.  Do you get to an event and just go through the motions?  I hope not!  Your energy and enthusiasm should be apparent even when on the phone while party planning.  My clients tell me they can ‘hear’ my smile over the phone.  I regularly have new, prospective clients tell me that they’ve called a number of clowns from the phone book and that quite a few of them sounded 1) unenthused, 2) dull, 3) uninterested, 4) no energy, 5) unfriendly and sometimes all of the above!  Before answering that phone, put a smile on your face and in your voice.  After all, this is what we love to do.  Let that enthusiasm shine through.  When you get to the party or event, whether it’s the first or last in a long day of performing, your energy and enthusiasm should be unwavering.   It’s rather dismaying to see another clown at an event standing there doing balloons without any life to them.  I want to tap them on the shoulder and ask them “why are they here?”  A few years ago, I had a conversation with someone in my area that offers different types of entertainment for parties, one of which is for her to dress up like a clown.  She said she just couldn’t figure out how clowns managed to always be in a good mood.  She admitted that when she got into makeup, if she was in a grumpy mood from dealing with her own unruly kids, she remained in a grumpy mood even when she got to the party.  Maybe she needs to re-think her chosen career!  

“S”:  Supplies / Equipment / Props.  Having the right supplies, equipment and props for our clowning is important.  And keeping them in good condition helps us in using them correctly as well as gives us a more professional look.  When you’re starting out, your supplies are likely to be minimal.  As you grow in your clowning, adding to what you do, its most likely that you’ll also add to your supplies and equipment.  I’m not suggesting that you load up on expensive equipment when you are first starting.  Most of us add things, a few here and there, as we progress over the years with what we do and what we offer.  It is important to have the props you need when you get to an event (and that you maintain them in good condition).  I remember at one party I started to perform the Beads of Prussia magic trick.  As I went to pull out the clear plastic tube that the beads are dropped into, I realized that it wasn’t in my trunk.  Not good!  There is no way to complete that trick without the tube.  I quickly pulled out another trick as if I’d just found a wonderful new treasure and focused on wanting them to see this exciting new find.  I hope the kids were distracted enough to forget about the other unfinished trick.  I doubt that I succeeded in pulling the wool over the adults’ eyes.  It was one of those ‘lessons’ we learn that hopefully makes us more careful in the future to double check to see if we have everything we need before walking out the door.

Your props and equipment should always be clean and look good.  If your blooming bouquet has lost most of its feathers, then it’s time to replace it.  If your production box is scratched, then take the time to repaint it.  If your balloon apron is dirty, wash it.  Try to keep your face paint kit clean and organized.  Showing up at an event to make balloons with your balloon bags in an old, wrinkled paper sack is not the image you want to project.  Are your magic silks clean and pressed?  Is your costume clean and in good repair?  Are your shoes polished and clean?  How does your wig look?  Is your puppet looking his / her best?  (The New Calliope Jan/Feb 2002). Look through your props and take an honest look at them.  Sometimes we get so busy that we fail to notice when things start to deteriorate.  Remember that the children (and adults) at the next party will be seeing you and your props for the first time.  Think about it from their point of view.

We have now explored the letters from first half of the word P.R.O.F.E.S.S.I.O.N.A.L.  We will take a look at the second half in the next issue.  But now is a good time to go through these ideas and implement any that might add to or enhance what you are already doing to make your clowning business as professional as possible.  And, as always, have fun with your clowning!

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