Ask CMN!:How Do You Handle A Chaotic Audience? By Val Smalkin

Today’s advice on how to handle a chaotic audience comes to us from the award-winning children’s music artist, author, puppeteer and producer Val Smalkin!

Question: What do you do as a children’s artist when you are performing at an event where the parents are paying no attention to their children who are running wild?

Answer: We’ve all been there! Here are 5 tips from expert CMN members!

1)Set The Atmosphere:

If you have any say about the setup of the room, then take control! Patricia Shih emphasizes having parents and children sit together, as does Paul Nye. Parents/caretakers seated with their children are more aware of their children’s actions. When parents and children sit together, they will have a better chance of preventing their little darling from, oh, say, turning the button on your sound system on and off.

2) Ask For What You Need:

If this is your first time performing at the venue, ask the event planner beforehand if the parents are the kind who will play and sing-along, or are they ones who stay in the back and talk.  Just asking the question encourages appropriate audience behavior! Before the show, suggest a room configuration where parents and children sit on chairs facing the performance area. This will help to give a defined focal point for the performance area.

3) Communicate Expectations:

If your performance material is  intentionally meant to create organized chaos, then, ignore the above suggestions. However, do let the event planner know that your work is directed towards engaging the entire family. After all, you are a professional children’s performer and not a babysitting service.

4) Change the Culture:

If this is an event that has gone on for years and the attendees are used to a free-for-all, then you must change the culture. This can be difficult. One approach to changing the culture is to add a very intentionally different segment to the party. For example, introduce a new portion where parents and children come together to sing and dance as an inter-generational community! I find that a dance (simple line dance like the Chimes of Dunkirk  which is very easy to learn, really brings the parents and kids together and makes them ready to have more interaction with each other. Afterwards, follow up quickly with a sing-along song. Chances are that once you get them acting like an audience, they will continue!

5) If All Else Fails: Smile Through It!

Sometimes, there’s not much you can do. If you find yourself performing for a chaotic audience, here are some tips on how to push through it:

  1. Smile!
  2. Act as though this is just the greatest set-up ever.
  3. Perform action songs or silly songs.
  4. Skip quiet songs.
  5. Ignore the food table, bagpiper, or jungle gym right next to you.
  6. Connect with the children right in front of you who are engaged.
  7. Ask for help from parents if a child looks like he or she might be doing something that could damage your equipment or potentially otherwise get hurt.


How do you handle chaotic audiences? Share your ideas in the comments below!


Val Smalkin is a veteran children’s music artist who was one of the writers, performers, co-producers and head puppeteer of the Emmy award-winning television program It’s Kindertime on Baltimore’s ABC affiliate WMAR-TV 2. In 2016, her follow-up cd, Sing! Sing! Sing!…and Dance! garnered a Parents’ Choice Approved award. Her current CD, Love Bug! received a Parents’ Choice Recommended award; and made the first cut in the 59th Annual Grammy Award competition.Val’s CD, A Gentle Halloween, received a Parents’ Choice Fun Stuff award in 2015. Her book Springtime Dance took gold in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in 2014. Val received the Maryland State Arts Council grant for solo non-classical performance in 2015 and for solo theatre performance in 2016. She  continues to perform and compose music designed for the 2 to 10  age groups. As a ventriloquist, Val performs for family and educational events in Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York City, California, and Brussels, Belgium. As a jazz singer, Val works with The Silverbacks Jazz quartet in Baltimore, MD. To hear more of her music, click here!


  1. Great answers! So many good ideas.

    Sometimes I have actually taken the chance to say, “Oh my! I need to take a breath, do you? Let’s all take in a deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth. (Do that)
    Now, kids and adults, let’s all fill the room with singing!”
    And then I lead the group in a song I’m sure everyone knows. That usually will get things calm and back on track.

    1. That’s a really awesome suggestion Pam! Thanks so much!

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