In addition to after-school programs, I also perform at birthday parties. This Saturday, I had two very different groups of kids and two very different experiences. The outline of my day goes like this: I take a bin full of materials to your home or other location of your choice. I arrive half an hour early, I set up, I wait for everyone to be ready (ideally at the scheduled time) and then I do my show. I finish my show, I pack up, I take your payment----and hopefully a tip----and either go home or to the next party. I have had birthday parties that leave me feeling ridiculously good about myself, and I've had parties that make me question all my life choices. I've been tipped as much as $70 and as little as... nothing. (Please tip me. That $200-$500 you spent on this party? About $30 of that goes to me. You have no idea how hard this job is.)
The first party was at a rustic rented hall, about twenty kids. Mostly eight-year-old boys who decided it would be awesome to chase one another on the hardwood floors in big circles around the table. There were three little girls who huddled off to one side looking scared. The birthday boy was inquisitive and excited, and he couldn't have been happier to have a science party. He kept asking me questions while I was setting up, peppered with little science factoids that he'd learned in school and on the internet. Kid's really into science. Like, seriously. The family doesn't come off as all that wealthy, but since I didn't see their home I have no idea. Parents were incredibly pleasant and accommodating. Lots of kids, and I was scared for my sanity when I saw them running around. However, once it came time to start the show, they all sat down and listened and were really, really involved. They loved it. It went smoothly, I had a great time, and it was probably the easiest time I ever had controlling twenty kids at once. There were several parents there, and they all watched the show too (keep this in mind, it will be important later). For my efforts, I got two slices of pizza, lots of thanks from all the kids, and the dad remembered a $25 tip even though they'd already paid the invoice amount in advance.
The next party was in the basement of a massive brick house. More money than I could ever imagine. I remember being a kid and having friends with houses like this. I wasn't poor when I was a kid, but I definitely didn't have a house like this. It was all shiny and new and insane. Full bar in the basement, fridge and kitchenette, bathroom, living area... I didn't see the REST of the house, but I had a feeling it was all new and shiny and un-lived-in like anywhere else. When I arrived, I had to carry all of my equipment down the street, up the driveway, around the back, and into the storm cellar. My back was killing me (I injured it with birthday parties last year). I had a cotton candy machine to carry as well. All of the parents had drinks in hand and they were all looking at me like "WTF are you here for?" The only one who was remotely welcoming was the father of the birthday child. (As a rule, dads are the best, and always helpful.) Despite the fact that I arrived forty minutes early instead of thirty, the mother still acted like I was late. My setup area was crowded with children playing foosball, driving around toy trucks, and playing with way, way, way, WAY too many toys. All of the parents were chattering and it was ridiculously loud. The birthday girl was shy and it was obvious she really didn't care whether I was a scientist, magician, clown, or whatever. This wasn't about putting on a science show. This was about getting some entertainment to set her party apart from other parties. There was a bounce house in the backyard, too, did I mention that? Halfway through the party parents started chattering to the point where I had to shout to be heard. I had kids asking if it was over yet because they were bored. Keep in mind this was the SAME SHOW as earlier, and I didn't change anything. Different kids, who didn't care. Kids who have too much and are overstimulated. When I was done----all they cared about was me making them cotton candy anyway----the girl opened about a million and a half presents. I made a $15 tip. I don't mean to sound ungrateful, because any tip is a good tip, but I tend to make the smallest tips at the places with the most money. I'm also treated the rudest. Mom was not friendly to me. I got the feeling that she thought I was ... help. I don't know. Maybe she was stressed with all those fucking people in her house.
Maybe I'm just going through an economic crisis at the moment. Maybe I'm adjusting to frugal living. Maybe I just hate spoiled kids, but while I was cleaning up, I heard parents talking about another little girl getting a Coach wristlet for her birthday. SEVEN YEARS OLD, getting a designer wristlet. This little birthday girl opened up a Pandora bracelet while I was there. Designer jeans. I was horrified. No wonder these kids didn't care about my dinky entertainment. I can't compete.