Salute the Children's Entertainers.
By the time this article appears, I hope to have attended the annual Convention of the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Eastbourne in late September. Magic is what introduced me to performing in my teens. Fred Foreman, South Coast dance band leader, paid me ten lovely shillings a night to do a cabaret act with a friend. We sang a couple of songs, such as Pickin’ a Chicken, I did my magic, then we closed on Bless This House. We were pretty ghastly, I am sure, but it was all experience. Round about that time, Encore’s own John Wade generously encouraged me when he allowed me to chat to him backstage at a summer show.
But it was starting to do magic for children that really got me hooked. I was still at school, but spent most weekends entertaining at birthday parties and Sunday school parties. Little did I realise then that what I learned about audiences of children and how they react en masse was to eventually become vitally important in shaping my children’s theatre career. At the IBM Convention, alongside a galaxy of star performers of stage and close-up magic, will be a number of events for children’s magicians, including Children’s Showtime, a public show at the Devonshire Park theatre, organised by and featuring Terry Herbert, one of our finest children’s entertainers. Not a household name, but a brilliant performer to whom children respond with sheer delight. And he is one of many such artistes specialising in this often undervalued and underestimated branch of show business. People like Peter Pinner, David Tompkins, Jimmy Carlo, John Styles and several Smartie Arties! And many more all over the country. Google ‘children’s entertainers’ and the Internet immediately gives details of hundreds of them.
Children’s entertainers should be celebrated not only for the enjoyment they bring, but also for introducing children to the world of entertainment. For many children, their first taster is not a visit to the theatre to see a play or panto; it is a performance at a birthday party, in a holiday camp or theme park, in a shopping mall or on a cruise ship, or at a special treat at school. They see entertainers do magic, puppetry, balloon modelling, Punch and Judy, or clowning, or displaying circus skills like juggling or unicycling. Some children’s entertainers organise the whole party with games and a disco. These dedicated performers bring fun and wonder into children’s lives. They seldom become famous, they often work in conditions less than ideal and they are undoubtedly inspirational in leading children towards participation in the arts generally. Children’s TV performers who regularly go on the road, like Dave Benson Phillips, deserve our thanks too.
It’s good that Equity have recognised the unique nature of children’s entertainers, by giving them their own section. These days it is necessary to comply with insurance cover requirements and CRB check regulations, and Equity can help.
It’s also good to know that the International Brotherhood of Magicians recognises the importance of children’s entertainers. This year they are flying in America’s Mike Bent to lecture and perform. And I can’t wait to see Terry Herbert strutting his super stuff on the stage of the Devonshire Park theatre.
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