Every year you get dozens of letters, post cards, e-mails and calls from a variety of entertainers and all of them (okay, most of them) sound great. So how are you supposed to know who is the right choice for you and your library? Well, I'm going to help you out with some advice and tips. My goal isn't to bash any other performers, my goal is to make sure that YOU get a quality performer who will do a great job for your library. I've been a professional magician for nearly 25 years and a full-time performer for 14. I've seen a lot of performers and here are 10 tips to make sure you get a professional one.
Take References With a Grain of Salt.
This just makes sense. Do you remember the last time you gave references? Did you just pick people at random? Of course not. You listed people you knew would say nice things about you. Entertainers do that, too. On the other hand, if an entertainer can give you 10 or more references, there's a good chance they might be doing something right.
2. Don't Believe Everything You Read.
Younger, less experienced performers are more likely to, shall we say, "use some creative license" when describing their talents and accomplishments. A magician can say they've performed before four presidents if they've ever done a trick at Mt. Rushmore. Sadly, I've seen too many performers who claim they were the opening act for a band, when in fact they just performed a few card tricks for people in the crowd before the show. I've also seen performers who proudly state that they've won prestigious-sounding award, but leave out the fact that the award had nothing to do with their performance. Not only are these misleading claims unfair to you, but they also insult the performers who have taken the time and effort to attain legitimate achievements. If you have any doubts, ask for details.
3. What to Look For in Video.
Video is a great way to assess a performer. But there are some things to watch for. First of all, don't judge a performer by the quality of the video. Many times it's shot by someone in the audience with a cell phone or small camera. Watch to see how they interact with children and their general personality. If they're a magician, watch for the kinds of tricks they do. Do they do dangerous or scary tricks? Do they use fire in their act or props such as guns or knives? Do they get "just a little naughty" to entertain the adults? These should all be red flags. On the other hand, if they engage the audience, tell clean jokes that appeal to children and adults and don't make the children the butt of any jokes or gags, you may have a winner.
4. Do They Have Insurance?
No one can predict an accident. It could be a juggling ball that gets loose and hits a child in the head or a pet bunny that nips someone's finger or somebody tripping on an extension cord. A good performer will have a liability policy and won't hesitate to show it to you. We live in a sue-happy society and it's only wise to be protected.
5. Does Their Show Follow the Summer Reading Program Theme?
Numerous librarians have told me that it is a big plus for them if a performer can work with the Summer Reading Program theme. It's harder for some performers to do than for others. For instance, musicians may be limited by the number of songs that conform to the theme. A creative magician, however, will be able to blend his show into the theme with little trouble.
6. Be Wary of Sweeping Claims.
I know, I know...this sounds hyprocrital coming from someone with the website www.bestlibrarymagician.com, but when I saw that the name was available, I just couldn't resist. You will see performers who claim to be "the best", "the funniest", "the busiest", "the most-trusted", etc. Let's face it...it's all a matter of opinion. As far as I know, there is no Gallup Poll or formula to definitely determine who the "best", "funniest" or "most-trusted" is. As far as "the busiest", well, I doubt that those who claim that have looked at anyone else's schedules. Enough said.
7. Word of Mouth.
Of course well all know that Word Of Mouth is the best kind of advertising, but it can also be a little misleading. Everyone has bad days. If you hear a bad report on a performer, try to get some details before you write them off. Find out specifically what the person giving the report didn't like about the performance. Then see if it could be written off to the performer just having "one of those days." Also, ask questions on topics other than their performance. Were they prompt? Were they courteous? Did they chat with the audience after the show or did they pack up quickly and get out of there? Were they easy to work with?
8. Does the Performer Belong to Any Professional Organizations?
Just about every type of entertainment I know has at least one professional organization. Magicians, jugglers, clowns, etc. all have national organizations they can belong to. Although, I can't scientifically prove it, I've found that those who do belong to these organizations tend to be more committed and serious about their performances.
9. Is The Person a Full-Time Performer?
And approximately how many shows do they perform per year? Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful part-time performers who will do a great job for you. A full-time performer has some advantages, though. First, if they're actually making a living at it, they must be doing something right. Secondly, if they're performing hundreds of shows per year, you know that this person is a seasoned performer and should be able to handle any performing situation. And finally, a performer who has another job may not be able to meet your schedule demands.
10. Ask About the Details of the Show.
How long does the show run? How much room do they need? How much set-up and tear-down time do they need? Do they provide their own sound system (if needed)? Do they do any dangerous stunts, or anything that can be regarded as dangerous during their show? Do they use volunteers? How do they feel about their act being photographed or video recorded? I'm sure you can think of other questions you might have. These questions should give you a better sense as to whether a performer is the right choice for you and your library.
Again, none of the suggestions I've given are carved in stone. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I hope these tips will help you in choosing terrific entertainment for your library Summer Reading Program.