Updated: May 26, 2020
2020 was due to be a very exciting year for me.
I’d spent the past month working every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in some of London’s top cocktail and cabaret bars, performing adult close-up magic, as well as spending almost every Sunday morning at the world’s most famous toy shop performing at children’s birthday parties for VIPs, add to that a sell-out family show in my local theatre in the February half term, and an all new interactive, animatronic puppet and other exciting projects too, there was talk of me doing a tour of a chain of popular UK holiday parks. Bookings were coming in left, right and centre, from children’s parties to close-up at weddings, and even festival bookings. I was being asked to host on the main stage of a Roald Dahl festival, I had just performed at the Milton Keynes Business awards to over 600 people. Life was good… and then everything stopped, every booking vanished, overnight.
Suddenly I found myself in a limbo situation, not knowing when I would ever be able to go back to work as we know it. The first thing I did was I denied that it would last. The whole situation was ludicrous. I thought, as I am sure that many more did, that we would have about three weeks off, and then things would return to normal. It wasn’t until week 2 that it hit me quite how serious this was. At this point I had no idea if the government would be supporting the self-employed, and was worried about what to do for the best to support my family as far as income would happen. One of my other entertainer friends had floated the ideas of virtual parties, and it certainly seemed to be the way things were going, PE lessons were now virtual for my children, with Joe Wicks doing workouts on Youtube, and content seemed to be flying around everywhere left, right and centre.
I started creating content too. Making funny little videos that I thought children might enjoy with comedy sketches, ventriloquism, magic and even arts and crafts. I hadn’t really overly thought about the virtual party idea, but some of my customers were already thinking it would be a good idea for their children’s parties and asked if it was something I was willing to do. I’ll be honest I was very worried about it. I feel that my children’s parties are at the top of their game, and I didn’t want to put something substandard out to my customers. I really pushed myself to try and create the best children’s party possible for the medium of zoom. It’s obviously not the same as real life children’s shows, but every customer who has had one has told me how much they’ve enjoyed it, and they have quickly evolved into something I enjoy too. I also set up virtual bingo games for adults. I already do the odd bingo night here and there, and a regular customer asked me if I’d be willing to do a zoom version. It was a really good laugh, both for myself and for my customers and everyone enjoyed it.
I had no idea how much I should charge for a virtual party at first. In one respect I had no petrol to pay for, and other than the cost of the initial set up, and monthly zoom payments (which are not very much) it costs me basically nothing to do them. That said I do need to provide for my family. But I thought it was also important to cater to as many children as possible. Lockdown has been hard on my own children. They miss their friends and birthdays are such a special thing to our children, I realise there are other parents in the same position as myself, unable and unsure about how much money they can make during lockdown and also when they will be able to go back to work. Whilst others were still in employment, and some furloughed. I decided that the best thing to do was to charge parents what they can afford, and just hope that people are honest with me. It’s been really nice to be able to provide the parties for children and a fun challenge to write a unique show that can work over the Zoom app, I will continue to provide these parties for as long as lockdown continues.
But what about when it stops?
Well Lockdown isn’t just going to disappear at a finger click in the same way that it came, not even my magic is good enough for that. I think it’s going to be a slow process, and so I realise that I have to adapt to this.
I think the first thing I’ll be able to do is small parties in gardens and homes, and I have worked out a close up magic set which involves no contact, and a short magic show which is well suited for this too, but eventually a sort of normal party will be back, even if it must include social distancing.
This is where the process of writing a brand new show has become very exciting. I knew that I had to write something with less interaction with the children coming up to perform with me, but still have enough for them to do so that they don’t feel bored. What has ended up happening is I have worked out an exciting new format for a whole party. The Magic Frostie Show as you know it may has to be shelved entirely to make way for a new show which includes social distancing as a benefit, rather than an inconvenience; WELCOME TO CARTOON-VILLE!
I’ve worked out a room plan with various ‘bubbles’ across the room, there is more than enough room for children to leave their tables and go to the toilet with an adult accompanying them, although I would say it is important that these are not ‘drop and go’ parties for parents, and parents will be expected to look after their own children, and be responsible for them. Obviously the larger the room the more people you can invite, and so it is important that we know the measurements of the hall beforehand. I will arrive early to the party to set the room, and will be fairly strict about where tables are going, as tables being in the wrong places could invalidate my insurance, and safety is of the upmost importance.
The show itself is actually bigger, better, funnier and more magical than ever before, and includes a whole mixture of variety performance, from the ventriloquism and comedy you already may know me for, to incredible cinematic experiences and special effects, animatronics and illusions. Tables are set out for the audience to sit at like dinner theatre, and the show has been written to entertain everyone from the children and grown-ups alike. It’s a 60 minute extravaganza with a finale everyone will remember forever.
On top of the 60 minute show, I’m adding the extra option of a 30 minute Teddy bear factory at £15.00 per child where they can create their very own teddy bear at their table alongside their parents, it’s a much better party favour to take home than a party bag, and also is a perfect extra activity to have at the party where children and their parents can work together to make their bears, instead of a disco where it would be in my eyes impossible to socially distance the children.
Now obviously parties are really well known for a presentation of a cake, and a child blowing out the candles. Lets be honest, going forward no one is going to want a cake that your child has blown all over, no matter how lovely the cake may taste. But this is the most important part of the party to a child, so with this in mind I’ve designed a ‘fake cake’ with a candle so that everyone can still sing to your child, and they can still make a wish and blow out a candle, but without the problem of germs being blown on to something that children are going to eat.
Despite my initial worries about the future of my business after lockdown, I now feel excited and optimistic about what comes next, and I cant wait to get back in front of audiences with my new show, and say WELCOME TO CARTOON-VILLE!