973-252-9140 NJ
440-961-0337 OH

Don’t turn your entertainers into robotic vending machines…personal interactions make for better memories.

My dad lives in a retirement community called Independence Village. It is a very social place with structured games, entertainment, themed mealtimes and field trips to keep residents out of their apartments and active. In December, I participated as a vendor at a Holiday Craft Bazaar, and got a chance to sell hand-painted ornaments to the residents, staff and public. I had a lot of opportunities to share how I got started with painting, since everyone there is interested in “stories.” While there, I learned Santa was coming for a special brunch the following week and families were invited. I volunteered to face paint for the children, which would make the event so much more festive, and allow me to share my real love of face painting.

To make a long story short, I did the event, it was great fun, but mobbed with more kids than they had ever had in the past. Perhaps the word had gotten out that there was an additional entertainer, not just the Big Man? Perhaps my Dad, who is my biggest promoter, had told everyone earlier that week that I would be on site. (Highly unlikely, since he has Alzheimer’s and very rarely remembers the details of his own schedule, let alone mine.)

Whatever the reason for the huge turnout, I had less than 90 minutes to paint 25-30 children, which is about double the number I can do in that time. I worked as fast as I could and constantly kept an eye out for the length of the line, which seemed to be getting longer and longer as the event was wrapping up. Once the dining staff came to collect the buffet, I was really panicked.

Santa Claus had left in his sleigh for the North Pole, and I was all there was between an enjoyable morning and impending disaster of crying, disappointed grandchildren. I hate to simplify designs for the sake of speed, especially when I am trying to impress…as I was in this new location. Parents and grandparents could be heard whispering as to whether it was worth the wait. I felt I was sweating bullets from speed and nerves and the fact that they kept the building at about 85 degrees for the frail elderly. “I’ve never seen artistry like this,” “This is some type of painting–you really know what you are doing!” “Wow, you are a real artist!” were some of the comments I overheard. I was surprised that they were enjoying the show, and patiently waiting for their grandson or granddaughters’ turn.

As I said goodbye to the last family and breathed a long sigh of relief, I was kicking myself for volunteering for such a stressful assignment. I don’t like to work like that…like a “face painting vending machine”, with little time to interact with my guests, because the “line” is providing so much pressure. I was sad that although people were genuinely amazed at my work, I did not feel I had made the event as special as I could have, because there were just too many kids.

Today I received an email from a grandparent, thanking me for my work and it included photos of her grandchildren. The kids were smiling, and I was in the photos, smiling also, like I normally do, calm as a cucumber. That is when I realized that I am my own worst critic, and somehow although I was freakin’ out on the inside, my outside demeanor at a gig is completely different–calm, collected, fun. The audience can’t tell I am stressed. When I looked at those photos, you would have thought it was just me, and only those two children. The bad memories I had from the rushing, and the stress and the fact that the management had underestimated the number of kids, all vanished, while I realized that I love my job not so much because of how it makes me feel, but because of how it makes them feel.

Consider what you need before you call your entertainer. You might only need a “vending machine,” someone who can spit out super fast balloons or cheek designs, perhaps even airbrush tattoos, the fastest entertainment on the planet. But if you want great memories, great photos, and a chance for the guests to REMEMBER the interaction, let your entertainers take their time. It is totally worth it in the end.