Last week, performing my new winter music and puppet show for toddlers, I included a bit I’ve done hundreds, perhaps a thousand times over the years.
It involves traveling down to the “farm” and meeting some animal puppets – a cow, a pig, and a chicken. This time, we were helping the three little kittens who lost their mittens, and went to the farm to ask the animals if they had seen the mittens.
I use a remote control sound system to create the sounds of the animals before they appear, and last week, even after doing this bit for ages, I discovered a new way to make it even funnier and more interactive.
We heard the sound of the cow mooing, and I looked confused, then spontaneously turned to the audience, pointed toward the back of the group and said, “Did you make that sound?”
Though you’d think this might have occurred to me to do earlier, that was the first time I’d ever responded that way.
The children were surprised, and there was mostly a muted response, heads shaking “no”. We heard another moo. I pointed toward the front of the audience.
“Did you make that sound?!”
Now the children were catching on to the gag. Giggling, there was a stronger response… “No!”
I then discovered the cow puppet and we had a chat with her. She said no, she hadn’t seen the mittens, but maybe the chicken knows where they are. So we looked for the chicken and heard a clucking sound.
“Did you make that sound?”, I inquired of the children.
This continued with each animal sound. The laughter and giggles got louder each time, and eventually the bolder children were playing along saying, “Yeah! That was me!!”, laughing and waving their hands.
After all these years performing that bit, you’d think I would have discovered all the possible jokes and humor to be derived. But… poof! Found one more.
In one of my college theater classes (improvisation), we did an exercise where you’d face a partner, observe them, then turn around. Each partner would change five things about their appearance. Then you’d turn back around and try to identify the five changes.
When that’s done, you turn back around and make five more changes. Then five more, and so on. The first couple rounds, it’s easy to make five changes. You untie your shoe. You tuck in half your shirt. You flip up your collar, etc.
But then it gets harder. You think you’ve made all the possible changes you could make, but the exercise keeps going and you have to change five more things. And five more. And five more.
The first time you do it, you think it’s an exercise in observation and memory, the point being to catch all five changes your partner made.
But the real point of the exercise is not about observing the changes in the other person, but to illustrate that there is always another option. There’s always one more thing you can change.
That lesson has stuck with me in my career as a children’s entertainer – there’s always one more thing you can discover in a scene, a moment, a bit. Stay open, be present, and always keep pushing to find something new!