Decorating Props for Children

Discuss the art of Children's Entertainment with your fellow performers.

Postby Spellbinder » 01/20/08 12:59 PM

There is a popular notion that magic props made for children have to look like cartoons, with lots of primary colors, flash and flare and glitz.

From operating a Wizard-style show for many years in the past, I challenged that notion and discovered that kids were equally intrigued by props that looked as if they were hundreds of years old, carved wooden boxes, intricately carved wands, hand painted signs, and so on.

Of course, it is a matter of style. Bing-Bang the clown would not do well producing his lunch and sausages from an antique lunch box decorated with ancient runes, as I didn't do well as an ancient wizard performing the Hippity Hop Cartoon Rabbits.

But the only style that can be bought from most magic stores is the kid show clown style. It's sort of like going to K-Mart or Sears and being locked into Martha Stewart designed furniture decorated with Martha Stewart colors. Martha doesn't believe in primary colors, either, except for children's furniture.

I guess that's why I am attracted to "Do-It-Yourself" magic, so I can feel free to make a set of Hippity Hop owls, or a "Run Ferret Run" using a live ferret.

But I worry about other children's entertainers feeling boxed in by whomever the Martha Stewart of Magic Props is. I suppose if you buy Chance Wolf's Whacky designed props, that sort of determines your costume and style of style of performance ... or does it? Are there any pirate magicians who use authentic-looking pirate props, or are you, too, limited by what you can buy in a magic shop?
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Postby Jim Riser » 01/20/08 04:35 PM

Spellbinder;
You asked about authentic-looking pirate props...well here is my version of the Talking Skull that I used during the mid 1960's when working my way through college. It was quite popular at kid shows! No cartoons here :eek:

http://jamesriser.com/Magic/TalkingSkull3686.jpg

Back when I used him, he had more teeth (they have fallen out over the years). Now days he sits on a shelf above one of my metal lathes guarding the shop. Yes, it's a real skull. I picked it up at a junk shop in Flagstaff around 1963 and dressed him for the act. The top of his skull was never located at the shop - so I figured a pirate outfit would be fitting to cover up the missing part.

BTW - I believe Bill Neff did a pirate themed skit in his show.
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Postby Spellbinder » 01/20/08 04:41 PM

Ahoy, matey! Now that's more like it! Did you line up kids and make them walk the plank? The pirate theme is a great one for a kids show.
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Postby Master Payne » 01/22/08 10:50 AM

It has been my experience that the vast majority of Children's and Family entertainers tend to dress in brightly coloured jackets or vest the primary coloured and cartoony constructed props that Wolf's magic manufactures fit right in. They also look a great deal better than the age old Stratosphere, Hippity Hop Rabbit type props with their erratic colour scheme and tired old stencils that magicians were forced to rely on before Chance came onto the magic scene.
Yes, if you are doing a pirate or wizard themed acts then these props simply won't work for you. Which is why people who choose to go the extra mile by offering total immersion themed programs have to have custom props built.

Like these

My Mediaeval Diebox

http://members.aol.com/payne/diebox.jpg

My Baby Basilisk Basket

http://members.aol.com/payne/basket.jpg

My Victorian Spirit Cabinet

http://members.aol.com/payne/spiritbox.jpg

My Wizard Schhol Dragon Simulator

http://members.aol.com/payne/dragon.jpg

My Box of Many Locks Production Cabinet

http://members.aol.com/payne/4waybox.jpg
The only way to become a good magician is to overcome why you became a magician -- Max Maven
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Postby Mark Pettey » 01/29/08 11:24 AM

Since my act has a circus theme, so everything is gaudy, glitzy and brightly colored. This works great with my very young audiences (I don't work for adults, only children).

I get lots of compliments from the moms, preschool, and elementary school teachers on my choices of primary colors for my wardrobe and props. Many have told me they enjoy seeing something that looks like an "old fashioned" magic show. There are very few children who don't love a circus.

I have the greatest respect for all children's entertainers who take the time to create a theme and look for their acts. Since I worked for years as a trumpet player for Ringling Bros. Circus, the circus theme seemed to be a natural for what I do.

A close friend reminded me yesterday of an Andy Dallas quote, "There are many rooms in the house of magic".

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Postby Mark Pettey » 01/29/08 11:26 AM

Excuse the sloppy grammar in the first sentence of the previous post ! Lack of sleep.....

8~)

Mark
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Postby Spellbinder » 01/29/08 02:49 PM

Mark:
When I look at the photos on your Web site http://www.kidabra.org/member//ROBBIE/index.html

I see that you don't feel locked into magic store props, but have come up with props and costumes that reinforce your Ringmaster style. Even your assistant dressed in his bellhop costume seems to fit in. Rather than let the props determine your style, you have created an original theme and taylored the props around it, which was exactly the point of my opening post.

I have nothing against primary colors or glittery costumes when they are a conscious choice and part of the theme. My hackles only rise when I see a magician in a sequined suit that he got on sale and which seems to be his only reason for wearing it. Ditto for the performer who drags out one magic store prop after another and does a show based on what he bought rather than coming up with an original theme and designing a show around it.
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Postby Mark Pettey » 01/30/08 07:23 AM

Phineas,

Thank you for such kind words ! I feel quite honored to get compliments from one so respected in the community.

I couldn't agree with you more regarding the lack of effort some exhibit by just trotting out expensive prop after expensive prop with no real theme or point to the presentation. Unfortunately, I see this right here in my own area. I can't win the fat wallet contest with these type of performers, so I chose to start building many of my own props, which has proved to be very rewarding.

As for my assistant, unfortuantely, he has currently decided to follow his interests into other fields, and no longer seems to have time to assist me. Too bad, as it was some great father/son time. However, I try to be an understanding dad, and let him follow his own path. He has grown so much lately that the costume dosn't fit anyway ! It was nice, though, having a real live AttaBoy on stage, and most of the area magicians got a kick out of it.

Mark
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Postby Spellbinder » 01/30/08 08:48 AM

I sympathize with you in that regard; kids these days seem determined to grow up and go their own ways. However, that gives you an opportunity to expand your circus. Here's a crazy idea (so I don't feel bad if you ignore it!).

Before your show (or at anytime you feel appropriate), haul out a little circus wagon on wheels ( a modified kids wagon) with a sign on it... HELP WANTED. From the box, remove the costume and explain that your last helper grew up and that you need an assistant to fill his costume.

I'm sure you'll have no end of volunteers, and you can hold up the costume in front of each one and find whichever helper seems to "fit." Of course, you are actually picking a helper for the role based on personality traits, etc., but the kids don't know that. Give each of those who "don't fit" a "FREE TICKET" that will allow them to be picked as a helper during the show, and send the child who you want to wear the costume behind a screen or something to put it on.

You only give the helper the top and bottom of the costume to wear... no hat. When he reports for duty, notice that he is missing the hat. Do a tissue paper hat tear and produce a hat for the helper to wear. It is made of tissue paper and you can give it to him as a souvineer, so you don't have to worry about head lice or fungus issues.

I'm sure your son did a lot more than stand around in the costume, but at least you have someone to hold up his end of the string of banners, and who can assist you in other ways that don't require any knowledge of how the tricks work.

It's a free idea for you and it's probably worth exactly what you are paying for it, but perhaps you can get some milage from it anyway.
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Postby Mark Pettey » 01/30/08 09:04 AM

Phineas,

Very cool idea !

I built my own circus wagon production (just like the $200 one you see on all the magic catalog sites) that I use for my puppet production. The kids are always fascinated with it, as an old-time circus wagon is not something you see everyday.

The idea of an even bigger circus wagon fits right in with the new idea I have for doing a mini circus parade during the show.

Only problem is trying to figure out how I am going to fit the wagon in my Toyota Prius. It is pretty packed to the gills right now. Some parents who watch me pack up say that they think one of my best tricks is getting my rather large show into such a small car !

By the way, I just finished looking at some of your latest stuff in the Nook, and WOW ! Man, has that catalog grown. I have never ordered from you before, but I think it is time to do so.

Thanks again for the great idea on the wagon !

Mark
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Postby Spellbinder » 01/30/08 09:27 AM

If you can build a base with removable (or lay-over) wheels, the sides of the wagon can be separate slabs of hardboard, either hinged to stand up, or separate sides that fit into slots in the base. That should be small enough to squeeze in, otherwise, it's time for a roof carrier!
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