Building a Show Pt 3

Theming a Show – Part 3 (The Day of the Showcase)

“To entertain for the purpose of temporarily taking someone from their cares and worries in the world is noble…but to recognize an entertainer’s ability to REACH an audience and UTILIZE that gift for an educational purpose…holds FAR greater value”                                 Jimmy Leo

Jimmy LeoThe Day of the Showcase arrived and to be honest, I was more than a bit nervous.  I had never performed in this kind of showcase before.  On top of that, these were brand new programs I was offering, so I wasn’t truly sure how well received they would be – only that I felt they would be what the librarians were seeking.  Perhaps the most nerve racking part of this entire process was that I had to present the essence of the performance – convey EXACTLY what this show offers them and WHY they should want to book it…and I needed to do it all within a 7 minute time frame.  The performance alone took 45 minutes.  Adding marketing time to it would be at least another 15 minutes.  I have never had the displeasure of taking something that requires an hours time and taking it down to 7 minutes successfully.  This was a first for me…and a potential disaster.  I took a deep breath and drove to the library where it was taking place.  My nerves of steel…..were nerves of jello the whole way.  The butterflies in my stomach continued their strange folly like a belly ballet and I felt an uneasy queasiness – still i pressed on.  I believed in myself and I’m the best salesman I know if I’m selling a truly quality product or service – in this case, the product was me…and my confidence was there, despite the butterflies.

I arrived and started right away with checking in.  I received my time slot and got to work immediately on my balloon props.  The masks, costumes and anything else made out of balloons for the performance.  I created EVERYTHING and the kitchen sink.  It didn’t matter if I utilized it or not, I still wanted to convey the ah factor that went with seeing all of these balloon props on the stage.

Four people ahead of me….

I kept working on the balloon sculptures.  twisting until my fingers and wrists ached and then twisting some more.  My mind was a flurry of mental activity.  Will I be able to convey my message?  Will I get it across in such a short period of time?  Will any balloons pop along the way?  What will i do if they DO pop?  Will they lack interest?  What if I’m following someone really great?  Should I pay attention to what the other performing artists are performing?  Would I learn anything from them?  Did I leave the coffee pot on?  How many frog eggs DOES a frog lay at once?  If my wife is so concerned about her weight, why does she keep asking me if she looks fat in those pants?

Three people ahead of me….

I’m nervous, I need to calm down.  How does a person calm down at a moment like this?  Would deep breathing work?  I started deep breathing and did it too fast.  It seemed like i was hyperventilating, so i returned to the safety of the balloon sculptures.  I continued twisting and it distracted my mind.  “More balloon props, more balloon props”  I twisted feverishly

Two people ahead of me…….

I started gathering all of my props.  On the side of the stage balloons were everywhere, but the curtain blocked it from the view of the librarians witnessing what was happening on stage.  “WOW!  He’s good!”  Someone shouted about the person onstage at the moment.  NUTS!  I did NOT need to hear that.  Now I found myself looking over at the performer onstage.  Doubt swept over me for a brief moment like a raging hurricane tearing through a third world nation, but I collapsed my fears as best i could.  I would lose to a professional artist, but i would NOT allow myself to give in to fear.  I gulped hard and closed my eyes.  I started a slight bounce back and forth from one foot to the other.   I shook my head around from side to side, trying to loosen up.  I was starting to get a grip on my nerves.  I was starting to feel good again.

One person ahead of me “Cloud 9 balloons…you’re up next!”


My stomach held that feeling that comes only from the steep drop on a roller coaster.  I sucked it up, like any avid coaster rider does on the first curve.  “Breathe deep, props ready..this is ALL YOU Leo”  “You GOT THIS!”  I gathered all of the props, making my mental checklist along the way.  I followed it up with careful planning of what prop would be placed where on the stage.  It was important that the props that screamed LITERACY the LOUDEST be in the best view of all librarians watching.  My mind suddenly settled.  A calm washed over me as I realized in a mere 7 minutes it would be done.

“Cloud 9 Balloons”

I hit the stage with ferocity throwing my props with precision and in under 10 seconds I was underway – Quickly i was grabbing volunteers from the audience of librarians to assist in my whirlwind of a presentation.  i didn’t intend for it to seem like a whirlwind, but because I had never worked within this time frame before, I moved as fast as i possibly could.  I hadn’t really planned on using adults as volunteers for this, but it was filled only with adults…I was without choice.  Strangely enugh, the speed of the presentation helped to separate me from the other entertainers…as did my use of librarians in the show…they enjoyed the attention, and those librarian friends remaining IN the audience were happy to play along from the crowd as long as they remained entertained watching their friends onstage.

On went all of the props. the masks and the costumes.  Grown people turned into butterflies and puppy dogs and elephants and cats and mice.  Gone was their straight laced appearance…and gone too, i feared was their dignity.  But they truly seemed to be enjoying the roles they were given and there was more than one ham in the bunch.  Without realizing it, I had given an opportunity to very dignified professional people to “let their hair down” – and they seemed grateful.

The stories moved fast and as quickly as they were in balloon costume they were also out.  Three stories unfolded before their eyes in six minutes.  PERFECT!  It not only fit within the time frame, there was a little time left over.

“Does anyone have any questions?”  I asked to the crowd.

“How much is the show?”  I heard from the librarian with the hair pulled back in a bun….as if THAT really narrowed it down.

“Well, this is the show designed for smaller venues – It sells at a price of $150.00. We offer other types of programs as well.”  I said and I looked down at the balloons on the stage floor, bent to pick them up and when I returned to a standing position…….3 more hands in the air.  This…was..NOT..what i expected.

“What other kinds of programs do you offer?”  He shouted up to me from the back row.

“We also offer a balloon twisting workshop that promotes self esteem, Sir, and it’s the same price as the smaller storytelling program, to the penny!”  WE also feature a stage show with a grand finale that features the inflation of a 6 foot round balloon onstage and I close the show by gong inside of it.  That sells for $350.00, though, Sir.  However, a package booking of all three performance types within a given year offers a block savings in 3 figures!”   I looked down, grabbed more props.  better hurry, the next guy is going to want to get on stage and I was running over and feeling bad about it.  However, as I looked up…….

More hands in the air.  They didn’t mind staying a little longer for the next guy.  I had their interest.  The storytelling had their interest.  The pricing structure DEFINITELY caught their interest.  But as I found out later on, it was the theming of the show towards literacy that enabled them to justify spending the budgeted money.  There were some good performance artists up there, but in the end, the person writing the check is the one that needs to be answered to.  When the question of “Why THIS one instead of someone ELSE?” came at the children’s librarians, they were able to look back and state how the show caters to reading on every possible level.  That in the end, theming the show towards reading, as well as their personal theme for the reading club, made them WANT to part with the money.  They weren’t really losing money, they were INVESTING in the children’s increased desire to read!

I mulled it all over and over in my head – how I struck across these invaluable lessons purely by accident or through common sense – how much they were benefiting me.  How much of a success the show was, but most important of all, how the concept of theming was what got me this far, and seemed to be demonstrating such tremendous success on the horizon.

To find out more about Balloon Shows, Educational Presentations, or trade show success, e mail or visit

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All inquiries, questions and comments are always welcome.  As always, it’s a pleasure to share my knowledge with others – Thank you for the opportunity!

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Jimmy Leo – Cloud 9 Balloons

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