Let's face it. When your child turns ten or eleven or twelve years old, coming up with the perfect party is no longer a piece of cake. For the birthday kid (who probably doesn't consider himself a kid anymore), it's imperative that his guests have a great time and his parents appear cool, or not at all. The answer? A no-holds-barred Video Party. While the kids have a blast ad-libbing and lip-synching their way through a variety of short skits in front of a video camera, you, as the cameraperson, can keep an unobtrusive eye on all the goings-on.
It won't take long to turn out Video Party invitations that resemble theater tickets. For a template, simply trim a rectangular piece of thin cardboard to a size that slips easily into an envelope. Trace the template onto sheets of yellow or orange construction paper and cut out the invitations. Use a single-hole paper punch or a pair of pinking shears to scallop the edges so the invitations will resemble tickets that have been torn on a perforation. On the face of each, draw a border one quarter of an inch from the edges. In the center, print the words Admit One. On the flip side, print the relevant invitation information. Where you can, incorporate Hollywood jargon for the usual invitation language; "curtain call," for example, can replace "date and time."
VIDEO FAVORS AND PRIZES
Anything that suggests stardom, comedy, or disguise is on target when it comes to Video Party favors and prizes. As the kids arrive, hand out small notepads and pens--the actors will get a kick out of swapping autographs following their performances. Cheap sunglasses, big rubber noses, fake mustaches and bushy eyebrows, and temporary tattoos come in handy during the skits. Candy is always well received, especially classic movie theater varieties, such as Raisinets, Milk Duds, and Good 'n Fruity. Other crowd-pleasing souvenirs include teen movie magazines and Polaroid shots taken of each guest during debuts in front of the camera.
To transform your humble home into a state-of-the-art film studio, start with a prominent display of movie posters. Odds are your child has a few stashed in his or her room, or your local video store may be willing to part with a few outdated ones. To complement the display, invite the birthday child to make a celebrity collage--a few days before the party, load him or her up with teen movie magazines, poster board, scissors, and glue. To simulate the flashiness of Hollywood, string white Christmas lights around the room and hang stars (fashioned out of bright foil) from the ceiling. Bright lights and director-style chairs lend even greater authenticity to the set. (With colorful tape you can spell out the birthday child's name across the back.) If you can't get your hands on a real bullhorn, try fashioning a crude one from poster board.
VIDEO COSTUMES AND PROPS
Kids in this age group, natural hams, will slip right into the spotlight. All you need to provide is a list of potential scenarios for them to playact, assorted associated props, and a video camcorder. If you don't own the latter or can't borrow one, consider leasing one from a video-equipment rental store, usually about $30 a day plus a hefty deposit.
For props, start stockpiling offbeat clothing, old Halloween costumes, wigs, makeup, and other wardrobe accessories a week or two before the party. (If you are concerned you won't have a nice variety, you can include in the invitation a call for the guests to bring their own well-marked props, or you can pay a visit to a secondhand clothing store or costume rental shop.) You can also add to the collection a number of ordinary household items, such as mixing bowls and pans to use in a cooking skit or a few of your child's cassette tapes to play during a musical performance.
While you catch the party performances through the lens of the camcorder, ask one of the guests--or a sibling of the birthday child--to take Polaroid shots to send home as mementos. Once the final act has been recorded and you've called it a wrap, it's time for the cast to celebrate. This is a great time to bring out the birthday cake, appropriately shaped like a clapper board. Finally, have the kids assemble for the premiere showing of the Video Birthday Party. (You may want to invite the guests' parents to the debut, as well.) Grab the popcorn, slip the tape into the VCR, and let the show begin. The critics are sure to consider it the season's sleeper.
VIDEO GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
STAR PERFORMANCES Offer a little guidance when the kids are choosing skits and deciding on their respective roles but, to the greatest extent possible, let them run the show. They can break into pairs, teams, or even try something solo. Once everyone has chosen a part and scavenged the prop pile for accessories, allow the kids thirty minutes or so to come up with a loose script and to rehearse their performances. Explain to them that they want to get their performance down to five or ten minutes so that the final tape will not be hours long. Encourage them to factor in some time for improvisation during the filming. (Generally, the more groups, the less time you should allow. Handing out stopwatches during rehearsals helps party guests deal in real time.)
THE IDEA BOARD Although the kids should feel free to come up with their own skit ideas, you and your birthday child can get the creative juices flowing by posting a list of suggested performances, by category. Enlist his or her brainstorming help in the days before the party so you can come up with specific ideas within each category that appeal to the guests. Then, write the list in large print on a sheet of poster board and hang it from a wall--or better yet, ask your child to design and decorate it.
FAVORITE TELEVISION SITCOMS Like it or not, television, especially sitcoms, is a natural draw. An episode of , for example, might involve Hayden, the most macho of football coaches, being asked to help instruct the gymnastics team. Appropriate props for a takeoff on the show include a team shirt and football for Hayden and a piece of rope placed on the floor to serve as a balance beam for the gymnasts. Steve Urkel from might finally persuade Laura to be his date for the school dance. Eyeglasses and suspenders are, of course, in order for Urkel. Tim from could demonstrate the incredible adhesive strength of a brand-new carpentry glue for a skit that calls for assorted tools and wood scraps (cardboard can be used to simulate wood).
TALK SHOWS The talk show is ripe for camp humor, especially if the audience members are encouraged to pipe in. One child, for example, can be Phil Donahue interviewing a panel of guests (people who have been married more than a dozen times, or kids who have never missed a day of detention?). For a little less gossip but just as much silliness, David Letterman might interview a world champion sumo wrestler, or Jay Leno might invite Beethoven's handler to demonstrate training techniques used during the film about this love-struck Saint Bernard. (A stuffed animal can stand in nicely for Beethoven or, better yet, a third child can play the accomplished canine.) Can you imagine Barbara Walters trying to get a straight answer out of Jim Carrey, the wacky pet-detective star of ACE VENTURA and THE MASK?
MUSIC VIDEOS No child (and few adults) can resist an opportunity to impersonate favorite musical talents. Your child's tapes (the ones you've grown accustomed to hearing play day and night) will come in handy here. Those who are ready to embark on the road to stardom may opt to perform a live rendition of a top hit complete with personalized lyrics. The less musically inclined can still have a great time lip-synching their favorite tune. (If you own a kids' karaoke machine or can borrow one, all the better.) Although you may recognize performances by the Supremes, Mick Jagger, or Whitney Houston, you're likely to chart some unfamiliar territory--perhaps catching an appearance of the Swedish pop group Ace Of Base or rappers D.j. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.
COMMERCIALS By the time children are preteens, they are starting to get savvy about how a sales pitch works. Here's an opportunity for your guests to unleash their creativity by coming up with advertising gimmicks and catchy slogans that are sure to boost cat chow sales across the country. Anything from cereal to toothpaste to diet formulas to household appliances is a potential product for this sixty-second takeoff. Remind the kids that commercials can include taste tests, product demonstrations, and silly jingles.
COOKING SHOWS Three tablespoons or half a handful--being productexact is certainly not the order here. Besides, your child and his friends probably are already pros at whipping up after- school snacks and simple meals. If you're game for a messy ion, supply the ingredients for a favorite concoction, such as crisped-rice-and- marshmallow treats, no-bake cookies, or guacamole and nachos, and let the children guide their audience step by step through the recipe. Afterward, members of the audience can be invited to taste-test the chef's specialties (if they dare).
As long as you set up a host of favorites, this age group will forage themselves a light meal with little encouragement from you. Set up a spread of snacks and refreshments on a card table in a corner of the room. The children can help themselves throughout the party, and you remain free to operate the camcorder and monitor the activities. Don't forget the movie popcorn--at showtime, serve it up in colorful paper bags and top with melted butter (or grated Parmesan cheese). What follows is a suggested menu for a spread of trouble-free foods.