I turned 59 yesterday.
Thank you, I know I don’t look it. (Stop laughing at the back.)
And I spent the afternoon celebrating with Grace, born exactly 54 years after than me.
Grace’s mum booked me to perform my socially distanced show for her in their garden. But another mother, Mother Nature, had other plans – including a massive thunderstorm – so we hastily convened underneath the family’s carport and had a great time with a small group of Grace’s friends – despite the weather, and despite the pandemic.
But the weather did remind me that even if we haven’t already reached the end of this year’s summer, it’s not far off. And that will be the end of birthday parties in the garden – at least for this year. So I’ve been doing some research.
Thankfully, since 15 August the government has allowed venues to open for live entertainment. There are, of course, restrictions – on the venues, the people hiring the venues, the guests and the performers – but with a bit of forethought and a can-do attitude, we can again hold birthday parties in village halls and community centres for groups of up to 30 socially distanced people.
And that really is the key. Social distancing. Schools go back next week, many parents are returning to their places of work, and these organisations have carried out risk assessments and put in place procedures to keep people safe. Hall trustees have done the same, and will have calculated whether they can safely open. Some will be able to, but with reduced capacity; others, the smaller, older venues, with narrow corridors and smaller rooms, may not be able to.
This week I emailed all the venues I’ve performed at over the past three years – at least those I could find an email address for – asking them whether they are taking bookings for parties yet.
Of those that have replied so far, nearly 60% have said they are already open and they are taking bookings for private events; others are reviewing the situation. Of course, there are rules to be followed – for example, the hirer must have names and contact details of all attendees so that, should someone fall ill, track and trace can swing into action. But for a child’s birthday party, that’s pretty normal.
Each venue will have different rules depending on the size and shape of the building and the amenities inside, but the majority seem to be taking cautious steps to return to some sort of normality.
I have said right for the start of the lockdown that my first concern has been and will always be for the happiness and safety of my audiences. Even before the pandemic, I had carried out a risk assessment for my shows – for example, I never use flash or fire effects; there’s no need and it’s an unnecessary risk with children in the room.
In June, when it looked like we might be allowed to go back to performing, I returned to, reviewed and revised my risk assessment to take account of the additional risks and the additional safety precautions that would be needed to perform in a Covid-safe way.
I devised a new show, one that not only keeps everyone socially distanced but reinforces the reasons for social distancing through the magic. Throughout the show I use sanitiser – on my hands, on my props and on any prizes that the children can take home after the show. The children remain seated throughout the show, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t involved. Far from it – they make the magic happen, as always. The only difference is they can’t come up on stage and hold the props.
Why am I telling you all this?
A lot of people are confused about the government restrictions – even entertainers are arguing about what’s allowed and what isn’t. The fact is you need to read everything to see the whole picture. This is what the hall trustees have done, and I’ve done it too. I know what I can do and what I can’t. And I know what you can do and what you can’t. And, frankly, if you ask me to do something that I know isn’t safe or that breeches the guidelines in place to keep all of us safe, I won’t be involved. As someone who entertains different groups of people each week, I simply can’t take the risk.
But the bottom line is that you can now, once again, hold a private party in a hall that has carried out an assessment and can safely open, and you can have a fun-packed magic show to entertain the kids. And hopefully, if we all follow the guidelines, over the coming weeks they’ll become less and less restrictive.
What I’ve learned during lockdown
Performers have been laid off for a long time. Sadly, many of them still are. I’ve learned a lot during lockdown, but the biggest lesson is that I never want to stop performing.
Retirement is not for me. I may be 60 at my next birthday (when I hope everything will be back to pretty much normal!) but fortunately my show isn’t one that has me and the kids tearing around the hall doing comedy dances or cartwheels – one of the reasons I can adapt my show to the current situation where many others can’t.
So, no, I have no plans to stop performing. Frankly, I’m having too much fun.
And so are the kids.
Stay safe, and I hope to see you at one of my shows at a Covid-safe venue soon.