SPS Magic

By Samuel Patrick Smith

The following excerpts are from the Confidential Day Care Booking Manual.

Variations on a Theme

There are a number of variations on day care centers including preschools, kindergartens, Montessori schools, “Mother’s Day Out” programs (usually sponsored by a church), and after-school programs at public schools. Some of these establishments do not like to be called “day care centers,” because they believe they offer more than just babysitting. The bottom line, however, is that all of these businesses care for children, which makes them candidates for entertainment. That’s where you come in, offering a show specifically geared toward the age of their children. Many of these centers plan frequent field trips, but your offer to come to their location with a special program saves them from having to load kids into the school van and cart them to the movie theater or skating rink. 

What Type of Show?

I’ve always performed as a magician, but you should select the type of show you perform based on (1) your own interests and talents and (2) the intensity of the competition in a particular field. If there are several busy magicians working in an area you’re planning to approach, you may be better off becoming a storyteller, or pulling out that old guitar and learning some children’s sing-alongs. Be flexible, be creative.

Your show should be fun and funny. It should get the children involved. Beyond that, you have a great deal of latitude. What about educational value? It won’t hurt, but I don’t feel that an educational show is as essential in day cares as it is, say, in schools. Your audiences for morning performances will be very young and will be unlikely to follow any intense educational message. Still, it won’t hurt to incorporate such messages as long as they are on the children’s level.

Your main asset as a day care performer will be your personality, regardless of the type of show you perform. If the staff likes you and the children like you, you’re in. You can be zany in your show, but be friendly and professional in dealing with the director and teachers.

Now, let’s consider a variety of programs you can offer to day care centers.
(1) Magic show (no fire, knives, or danger tricks!)
(2) Clown show
(3) Storytelling (pick a theme—giants, bugs, etc.)
(4) Science show (fun science demonstrations would appeal to the after-school group at day cares)
(5) Ventriloquism (careful about stuffing your realistic dummy in a suitcase)
(6) Santa Claus (prepare for every conceivable interaction with kids, including having them throw up on you from sheer excitement)
(7) Mrs. Claus
(8) Costumed character
(9) Balloon show (but be aware some directors may not permit balloons in the center)
(10) Musical program

Advantages of Day Care Shows

If you have prepared a show, either one from the list above, or another appropriate program, this manual will teach you a strategy for selling that show to day care centers. As a day care performer, you will be surrounded by children, and whether this is a plus or minus depends on whether or not you like kids. If you don’t, stop right now—do not Pass Go—do not collect $200! Even if you do like children, keep in mind that every business has pros and cons. So before proceeding, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of performing for this market. First, the advantages…

(1) Lots of prospects. Some cities may have from 200 to 400 child care centers. Child care facilities are everywhere!

(2) Quick recycle time. Every few years you have a completely new audience because the children have grown up and moved on to school. Of course, some of those kids may come back to the day care as part of an after-school program, but their memories of your show from age 4 are unlikely to be very detailed. So everything you do will seem new!

(3) Easy to book on short notice. A day care show can be scheduled as soon as next week. It’s better to plan a few months in advance, but at least you don’t have the year-long lead time sometimes required for school shows.

(4) Open year-round. Especially during the summer, day care centers pack in one activity after another. They’re looking for activities to schedule!

(5) The show can be compact and lightweight for an easy in and out. You will be performing in a classroom, so your show can be small and easy to transport. Make one trip from the car to the center, do the show, then make one trip from the center to the car.

(6) Low start-up cost. This is one business you can start with very little money. You don’t even need printed brochures to book your first shows. All you need is a show, and a small one at that!

Disadvantages of Day Care Shows

Now let’s consider some day care drawbacks. If you pursue this line of work, you will have to mentally adjust yourself to the following realities.

(1) High cancellation rate. On many occasions I’ve arrived to do the show only to find that they had no idea I was coming. The turn-over of day care directors is extremely high, so you may call in January to book a show for March, and by the time you arrive the old director is gone and the new director claims to have no knowledge of your show! Among chain day cares, directors may not leave the company, but they may get moved to a different center in the same area. Also, day care directors are doing a zillion things by themselves or with limited staff. Your storytelling program may not be on the top of their priority list! We’ll discuss contracts in a later section, but even with a contract you’d still be inconvenienced by a last-minute cancellation and collecting any kind of a cancellation fee could be more trouble than it’s worth.

(2) Low fees. Since day care centers are usually in business to make a profit, they look for ways to save money. Although they do like to have special activities for the kids, most of them won’t pay more than $100 to $150, and sometimes less. Occasionally you hear of a performer who gets $200 for a day care show, but this is an exception, and if that were his absolute minimum, I suspect he wouldn’t be doing many shows. Certainly, that price wouldn’t hold up in many parts of the country.

(3) Exposure to every known virus in kiddiedom. This may not be a problem for you, but realize you will be face-to-face with sick children virtually every time you do a show. In the wintertime, children spend more time indoors, giving viruses and cold germs ample opportunity to jump from child to child. But if you’re healthy and take reasonable precautions, this won’t be a big problem for you. For more information, see the later section, “Cooties.”

The Day Care Audience

Depending on the time of your performance, you may be entertaining preschool children, ages three and four, and sometimes five if they offer a kindergarten program. Or you may be performing for school-age children, participating in an after-school program or summer camp. Or it could be a combination of children from infant to 10 or 11 years old! Quite a variety, but you can plan an adaptable program which will appeal to all ages. When you’re working with strictly the younger children, you can do a more basic s how with a gentle attitude. When the older kids are attending, you may want to aim toward them and let the little ones ride along. Otherwise, the older children may feel babied.


If you present a 30- to 40-minute performance, you can book shows at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. The two o’clock slot is the most difficult to fill since children are just getting up from their naps. Also, the times may vary a little. If a day care director says all of their children don’t arrive until 9 a.m., you can offer to start your show at 9:15. 

I personally avoid booking shows at 9:30 a.m. because that makes it difficult to schedule two shows in the morning. Your second morning show can’t start too much later than 10:30 because lunch usually begins for some classes at 11:00 a.m. For the afternoon shows, 3:30 is often a good time because the school-age children have arrived, and more kids get to see the show. (We’ll see why this is good for the center in a later chapter.) Of course, school schedules vary widely, and I’ve started afternoon shows as late as 4:00 or 4:15. But that’s usually the limit because parents start picking up children around 5 p.m. The 2:00 p.m. opening can be pushed to 2:15 if the director says they’re just getting up from naps. In fact, you’ll often have to wait till 2:15 anyway to start the show by the time they rouse the little Rip Van Winkles.

You can see that I’ve set up the day’s schedule to accommodate four performances at four different locations. Yes, it is possible to squeeze in some more shows if you offer performances at odd ball times and do a shorter program and want to give yourself an ulcer! But why would you want to? The money is not worth burning yourself out. Four a day is a reasonable, attainable schedule, but it’s still a lot of work.

Also, you will occasionally be asked to perform a show at night for a parents’ meeting. Sometimes I’ve charged a higher price for evening performances. By the time I’ve done three or four shows in a day, I’m ready to get home. And if there’s a 9:00 a.m. show the next morning, I like to have a little time to recharge.

The $100,000 Possibility

How much is it possible to earn from day care shows? It depends on your personal situation and goals. If you simply want to pick up some extra spending money, you may want to set a goal of performing one day a week, doing three to four shows that day at $100 each. On the other hand, if this is going to be your livelihood, your goals will be more ambitious, aiming for 15 to 20 shows a week. Theoretically, you could do four shows a day, five days a week, for 50 weeks a year. At $100 each, your gross would be $100,000. But to be realistic, I think you would be approaching burnout. It may look easy, but doing four a day, day after day, week afer week, month after month while handling the booking and promoting is more than a full-time job!

You may want to charge more or less than $100. Many people charge $75, but I think that’s as low as you could afford to go. You may hear someone recommend $45 a show with the aim of booking a very high volume. Don’t do it! Twenty years ago, $45 was OK—that’s where I started—but adjusting for 5% inflation, the going rate now should be at least $100.

Other types of shows pay more, but the day care price is predicated upon several important factors, including volume. Another factor is that the sheer number of day care centers makes it possible to book a solid schedule of shows in a tightly defined geographic area (which is more difficult to do with school shows, for example). This saves time, gas, and wear and tear on your car. Another reason you can offer the show at a very reasonable price is that you can use smaller and simpler show equipment than you would need for a larger stage presentation, and usually you don’t need a sound system.

Repeat Bookings

Depending on the number of shows you’ve set as your goal, you may need to travel away from home. But whatever number of shows you’ve selected as your goal, you can divide it by three to find out how many separate clients you’ll need. That’s right! One of the beauties of doing day care shows is the ability to establish clients who will rebook you several times a year. How do you do this? By establishing a definite reason for you to come back at a definite time. Themed shows are the perfect answer, especially when connected to a time of year. I’ve themed shows around the following seasonal hooks: Valentine’s Day (“The Heart-Full-of-Magic Show”), Easter, Summer (“The Magic of Summertime”), Halloween (“The Monster-Us Magic Show”), and Christmas (“Jingle Bell Magic”). Then when January rolled around, my Jingle Bell Magic show turned into “The Winter Wonder Show.”


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