I got into working at children’s birthday parties because of balloon modelling. I bought a balloon modelling DVD but couldn’t keep them from untwisting and popping. That week a friend introduced me to the man who changed my life, the very funny magic man, Michael Wo.
Michael would carry a suitcase full of magic tricks and balloons wherever he went and I ended up doing the same for 3 years. He taught me to make balloon animals and we had great fun making them in the pubs for people and it earnt us free drinks, got us a few gigs and I got a wife from it (another story).
Balloon modelling is awesome. It has the wow factor. It has the aw factor. You can produce a teddy bear, a hat, an alien out of a few pieces of rubber in your hand. That for me is magical! Just check out the incredible things that David Crofts makes.
In around 2010, I wanted to become a clown much to the objections of my clown-fearing mother. I bought a unicycle, boxes full of joke props, giant shoes and loads more nonsense including balloon modelling balloons and a pump. This is when I met Michael Wo. I made a few balloon animals and put a few pics up online. My Facebook friends loved them! Their enthusiasm and likes pushed me to make more and more and ended up getting gigs by billing myself as, “The Happy Balloon Man!” It was brilliant because, with half a dozen gigs in the diary, I could finally quit the painful job I had at the time of being a contortionist. See this blog to read about that
I worked at all sorts of events making balloons and it was great fun at times. At others, it was frankly horrid with queues of angry parents furiously demanding the most complicated balloons I could make, “Right mate, I need 3 aliens for these monsters and 4 teddy bears for my other kids that are in the car!“
I ended up making balloons at a few children’s birthday parties. I was usually a side act, while a magician/entertainer was doing a show and games for the children, which is where I first thought of doing that myself. The kids were having a brilliant time. They were totally engaged and were laughing their socks off. I had never seen such an entertainer when I was a child. The shows and games I realised were much more fun than the balloon modelling that I was doing.
When I started doing children’s parties as an entertainer, I put a magic show together and then thought “I’ll make everyone balloons in the second half.” 30 happy laughing children in the first half became less and less so as they waited and started to get frustrated. Even with lots of jokes along the way, after 5 minutes, children get bored watching an entertainer making balloons and start to get frustrated that they haven’t got their balloon, then they may complain about the colour, the one they got, then comes the popping and crying.
Children hate the sound of balloons popping. Some are actually terrified of the sound. I often have requests from parents for ” no balloons!” Because they have had that wow pop cry* experience and it is something very sad for them that lingers.
What I have done for the last two years is stopped making everyone a balloon and tada, my parties are better than ever and my reviews are stronger. With plenty of music, magic shows, dancing, fun games, and a bubble machine, none of these issues arise and everybody is happy. What I still do is make a nice balloon for the birthday child in the calm of the food break. The other children understand that it is a present for the special child.
Balloon modelling I conclude is rubbish for birthday parties. If you are an entertainer reading this, consider dropping it from your party packages. Put fun games in that time instead or do more amazing magic routines.
For bigger events, DO book balloon modellers. But don’t just pick people who make amazing balloon models because I have seen “entertainers” grumpily making balloon in silence. But then I have worked with the fantastic Graham Lee, the awesome David Crofts and the dashing and glorious beast of a balloon superstar Russell Wells. If you are organising a large corporate event, fun day, festival do book a group of balloon modellers. Book 2 or 3 as demand will be high and they will quickly get swamped.
* “Wow, pop, cry” is a phrase that brilliant South Wales based children’s entertainer Simon Sparkles came up with.
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Ritchie Rosson is a children’s entertainer & magician based in Sutton, London UK.