Getting a Head: Touring the World as a Giant Dancing Bear
If you aren’t crazy before you travel across the continent in a van, performing in packed theaters wearing a mascot costume of a famous cartoon character, you sure as hell will be afterwards. Daniel Falk invites you to join his descent into madness, and to meet the friends he made on his way down.
Buy the Merch.
BY DANIEL FALK
I recently performed in a British style Pantomime over the holidays. At our closing night party the producer and I got into a discussion during which he bemoaned how little money he’d made in the end, despite the fact that tickets to the show nearly sold out and their merchandise (tiaras and fairy wands) was cleaned out half-way through the run. Digging a little deeper, I asked about pricing for their merchandise and discovered the key to his poor revenue.
When I toured as Bear with The Children’s Theatre Company they raked money in hand over fist—particularly from the merch. I recall a particularly lucrative three show stint in Calgary following which our road manager threw the seventy thousand dollars worth of merch proceeds onto his hotel room bed to roll around in.
The Children’s Theatre Company sets up their merch table in such a way that once you enter the lobby, no matter where your seats are in the auditorium you must pass by it. Once the child scans the table and sees the light-up wands, something snaps inside their brains. They must have it. And if it means crying so hard they actually shit themselves, so help them God, they will fill their pants.
Many more stubborn parents rush past the merch table and ignore their darling angel’s pleas for a light-up wand. They hurry to their seats, hoping that by the time they get into the darkened auditorium their child will have forgotten about he wants.
Wrong. So wrong.
The brilliant thing about selling light-up wands is that in a darkened auditorium they are self-marketing. The child will be surrounded by hundreds of other kids waving around the cheap, plastic pieces of garbage. The child will escalate the conflict as far as it needs to go to get their own wand.
The question that the Children’s Theatre Company asks themselves is not what is a fair price to charge for this light up wand, but, and this is important, how much is a parent willing to pay to make their kid shut up? For many exhausted and stressed out parents, ten or fifteen dollars is nothing if it brings them a bit of peace. A child will always win a war of attrition.
Movie theatres understand that pricing is dependent on what people are willing to pay—that’s why you have to refinance your house to get a popcorn and soda. Once you’re in the lobby and you smell that sickly sweet aroma (that is somehow appealing despite the fact that it actually smells like urine mixed with butter and sugar) you can’t help yourself. You would be willing to open a vein and pour out a litre of blood if that’s what they asked. You would beat another man to death with your bare fists and wear his skin as a cape. You would leave your firstborn child to be ground up for hotdog meat. Yet all they ask is $11.50 for a large popcorn and soda combo that probably cost them a total of thirty cents for the actual materials and even less for the minimum wage they pay the sweaty teenager who sold it to you? What a deal!
The producer of the pantomime did not understand this principle. He bought his wands and tiaras from a dollar store for a buck-fifty each. He didn’t want to seem greedy, so he sold them for five bucks a piece. Now you might say to yourself that 333% price margin is still pretty good. But by buying directly from a supplier and charging what the market would bear, The Children’s Theatre Company can yield a much tastier margin of 1333%.
I once took a friend and her five-year-old daughter to a show my wife was touring and was able to see for myself the whole thing play out. There was one particularly adorable moment when one of the characters on stage asked the kids in the audience to shout out a wish they had. My friend’s daughter pointed to the kid next to her and screamed, “I WISH FOR ONE OF THOSE WANDS!”
A very clever mother a few seats down was obviously no rookie when it came to coming to see children’s theatre. The second they got to their seats she pulled a dollar store light up wand of her own out of her purse for each of her children.
Your vision is pretty bad inside one of those mascot heads. The small hole you see through is covered with black mesh so no one can see the self-hating person inside. There have been times that the amount of light-up wands sold probably saved my life. The time I fell off the stage (See “Into the Head”, the first article in this series) was before our merch truck had arrived. And there were a few near misses after we sold out. When everything is black it can get hard to distinguish where the wings end and the edge of the stage begins. When you have hundreds—sometimes thousands—of children waving glowing wands, it becomes very clear which direction you do not want to go.
All of this to say that, though it’s expensive, for the sake of the poor, nearly blind bastards in the bear suits, buy your kid a wand.
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