Last month I wrote to all the venues I’d performed at over the past three years.
It was approaching the end of August. Two weeks earlier, the government had announced that live entertainment could return to village halls and community centres. People were going back to work. Children would be returning to school in the next week. Things were beginning to look up.
Performers were feeling confident that we were over the worst of it and that there were people out there looking to book parties for their children. Enquiries were beginning to come in again after five months of near silence. All we needed were Covid-secure venues at which to perform.
So I wrote to all my venues asking whether they were taking bookings for private parties yet. The venues that replied saying they weren’t yet open for bookings generally were the older, smaller halls, most of them run by volunteers. And understandably so – much more difficult to make those venues safe. Those venues that are taking bookings are, by and large, bigger, more modern and managed by town or city councils. Of course, there are exceptions, but that is what I found in general.
Then, this week, the government made another announcement.
Covid cases are increasing, primarily, we were told, because younger people are misinterpreting or ignoring the social distancing rules and gathering together in private residences. If it was allowed to continue, we would face the second wave and a second national lockdown. Something needed to be done.
The Rule of Six!
The government wanted a simple message, one that no one could misinterpret, one backed by the law. From Monday 14 September, in England, it would be illegal for groups larger than six to gather together.
But there would be exceptions.
Ah, not quite so simple, then!
Schools would be exempt. And work places. Places of worship. Life-event gatherings, such as small weddings and funerals. Youth clubs would be exempt. And gyms. And pubs.
The longer the government ministers went on, the less simple The Rule of Six became. (Of course, that didn’t stop them telling us that it really was very simple!)
But one type of gathering that wasn’t listed in the exemptions was children’s parties. So, with the Rule of Six being so ‘simple’, that means we cannot hold a children’s party after Monday, right?
You Can Hold Great Children’s Parties Under the Rule of Six
It’s not me saying that, it’s the government. Sorry to get boring, but here’s the government’s document, updated on the day the Rule of Six was announced, outlining what can take place in village halls and community centres:
COVID-19: Guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities
“Indoor performances to socially distanced audiences can take place, if in line with the performing arts guidance.”
That’s another government document. Sorry. Here it is:
Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)
Section 3.3 of the performing arts guidance (Managing audiences) says:
“Businesses and venues following COVID-19 Secure guidelines can host larger [than six] groups.”
So you see, the Rule of Six is far from simple. And there’s another complication. I’m sure politicians and their advisers imagine a children’s party to be barely controlled chaos – hoards of children running rings around the parents, dozens packed onto a bouncy castle and having wrestling matches on the floor. If you’ve been to enough children’s parties, you’ll have been to some like this. And no, parties like this would not be safe – even before the pandemic!
But if you’ve been to a Magic Peter party, you’ll know that’s not the way my parties run. They are much more like a theatrical or variety performance, with the children (and parents) sitting, enjoying, and taking part in the show. And as such, social distancing can be set and can be managed and it can be maintained. You can hold a safe children’s party, even today.
How to Hold a Safe Children’s Party during the Covid Pandemic
I’m not suggesting you read all the guidance documents and all the rules behind the Rule of Six, but if you do you’ll see that so long as the venue and the performance are Covid-secure, a children’s party can go ahead. Here’s how.
The first thing to do is to find a venue. Yes, you can hold a party in your back garden, but with autumn upon us, the days of comfortably sitting outside are all but over.
Can you safely hold the party in your home? Well, if you own a stately home, I’m sure you can, but not all of us are that lucky, and I think the answer is no, you can’t hold it in your home, because the Rule of Six will apply. You’ll need to find a Covid-secure venue instead.
As I said, I’ve contacted many of the venues in my area and I have a list of party venues that are Covid-secure and open for party bookings, so if you book me for your celebration I can advise you of the venues in your area where you can hold the party.
When you go to book your venue, you’ll be presented with a set of rules or procedures that you’ll need to follow which make it a Covid-safe venue. They’ll include having a list of attendees, hand-washing and/or sanitising, social distancing, and cleaning. All are there to protect you and your guests – and the entertainer, if you’ve booked one.
Keeping a list of attendees is pretty straight forward for a birthday party. You’ll have a guest list and you’ll have their contact details – that’s how you were able to invite them. Take the list to the party and make a note of the names of those who attend- ‘Jack and mum; Michelle and dad; the Jones twins and mum and dad’, for example. You’ll need a note of everyone, even those who either drop off or pick up their children but don’t stay for the party. (I would suggest you encourage as many parents as possible to stay to supervise their children – far less hassle for you.) In the unlikely circumstances someone tests positive for Covid after the party – and it may have absolutely nothing to do with your event – you can pass your list to the Track and Trace people to contact all those who were at the party.
(You need to keep your list of attendees for 21 days – don’t throw it away with the discarded birthday wrapping paper.)
Keeping your Distance
Have sanitiser inside the entrance so that everyone sanitises their hands when they enter – you don’t want them bringing any germs into the party from outside – and, if you’re providing food, make sure everyone sanitises their hands before they eat. A good entertainer will do that for you anyway.
Arrange floormats or tables and chairs in a ‘cabaret’ arrangement (see below), with the tables at least two metres apart for people to sit at in groups of no more than six. (This is where the Rule of Six does apply!) Have enough tables for the number of households you’ve invited. If you’re serving food, I would recommend tables and chairs – then the food (which you should serve in individual snack boxes) can be delivered to the children to eat at the tables.
The entertainer – whoever it is, but hopefully it will be Magic Peter – will have arrived before your guests and will have set up a stage area at least two metres from the nearest table. He will maintain that distance throughout his show and he won’t be able to invite children up to help, but they will all join in from their seats, saying the special magic words and making the magic happen, just as always.
And, when the show is over, everyone will leave in a socially distanced manner and you can go home to open the presents.
One word of warning: don’t bake a large birthday cake. Have individual cupcakes, including a special one with a candle for the birthday child to blow out.
A Covid-Secure Children’s Entertainer
As a professional performer, I’ve performed the risk assessment necessary to make Magic Peter a Covid-secure business. I’ve always said that hiring a professional entertainer gives you more than just a great party, it also gives you peace of mind. That’s more important today than it’s ever been.
I hope I’ve shown that the Rule of Six does apply to children’s parties, but so long as you socially distance your families into groups of six, there is no reason why you can’t celebrate you child’s birthday with a great party and a fantastic magic show secure in the knowledge that your chosen venue is a safe environment for your friends and family.
There’s no doubt that putting on a successful children’s party is more difficult now than ever before, so hiring a professional to take away some of the stress may be just what you’re looking for. I hope I see you at one of my Covid-secure birthday parties very soon.
Until then, stay safe.
Hi James. This is really good and so informative. I attended Trix in the Stix regularly with fellow entertainers who like me must be looking for sone definitive information about performing. Would you mind if I quoted your comments to customers to give them some clarity when considering booking parties?
Kind regards Brian Baffles, Professor Rainbows Entertainers (and fellow magician)
Of course, no problem. It is so difficult – both for entertainers and parents – to know what we can and what we can’t do. It means not reading one document in isolation or listening to soundbite headlines in the media. It means trawling through all the documentation and fitting it together like a puzzle. When you do, you see the whole picture and it becomes clear. Sadly, too much in the media is there to make headlines or to get mouse clicks. The whole story is behind the headlines, but few get that far, fewer still check or read the rules. They see a shocking headline and repeat it ad nauseum.
Good luck with your business, and I hope we can get back to the Trix entertainers’ convention when all this is over and have a beer.
All the best