Children and magic...

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.

Postby Guest » 10/24/01 08:16 PM

I'm not sure how deep we can get into this. Could be a shallow subject.
How many of you experienced this:
You're working a table or small group of adults, and there is a child present, say, two or three years old. No matter how sophisticated your routine may be, the entire group will turn to the child for a response. It becomes ALL about the baby.

This is a problem!

It reflects a deeper problem of magic being associated with children.

There is no winning in these scenarios either. I've tried every conceivable ploy to get attention away from "little Johnny" and his reaction to my four ace routine, and nothing works.

Sometimes I get, "wow, that was terrific, I wish my son was here!" Only to find out that the son is three!

Keep in mind that I respect children's magicians...I'm just not one of them.

Postby Steve Ehlers » 10/24/01 08:29 PM


It has been my experience that if you start doing magic for the kids no matter how great you are the adults subconsciously think, so what he fooled a kid. That is why I mostly do magic for the parents and ignore the kids. The parents get involved and once you have them involved, then do something for the kids. This always works pretty well for me.

Steve Ehlers
Posts: 31
Joined: 03/13/08 07:19 PM

Postby Guest » 10/24/01 09:14 PM

Keep in mind, these are toddlers. You can perform rather sophisticated routines for seven or eight year olds. They get it.

I find it extremely difficult to ignore the little ones. Their presence dominates.

I've spoken to fellow professional magicians, some of whom are very aggressive in their approach, and they've all admitted to the same problem.

Magic and children are linked, in the parents view. Which is almost like saying magicians and clowns are linked, since clowns are about the only entertainers a toddler can relate to.

Even sponge bunnies is wasted on a two year old. They simply do not possess the logic to understand a magical effect. Parents do not perceive this, naturally.

Frankly, I find the whole thing bizzare.

Postby Jeff Haas » 10/24/01 11:35 PM

It's not that bizarre. The very subject of magic reminds adults of when they were young, and the world itself seemed magical. When they see a magician working, they want to see how the kid reacted, just to enjoy his or her experience of the performance, even if it's just a reflection.

When adults have kids, they get reminded of this whole part of life that they'd pushed aside, and as their child/grandchild/nephew/etc is experiencing new things in life for the first time, they want to share in it.

The problem is that parents, especially first-time parents, don't really know the different stages of child development. Magic begins to work for kids when they get to the preschool age, because at that point they understand the basic rules of the world (things that are hidden are still there, etc.)

When you perform for kids in a setting where you don't know how old the kids might be (restaurant, strolling at a corporate family event, etc.) a good way to work is to address the kids first...but use extremely strong visual magic for them. Remember, most adults have never seen closeup magic live. So if you start by doing, say, Roth's Flurry, kids will get it (the coin jumps around) and the adults, while assuming "magic is for kids" will suddenly have their impression of what magic can be elevated.

Jeff Haas
Posts: 924
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: San Mateo, CA

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 05:55 AM

Well put, Jeff. Thanks!
Would you agree though, that magic needs to be elevated in the publics eye?

Would you agree that there is a style of magic strictly suited for adults?

And finally, would you agree that it can be frustrating overcoming the obstacles of an adults' enjoyment of magic, when a toddler is present?

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 08:37 AM

In the same way that the very best children's literature is enjoyable to adults (against stereotype), the very best children's magic is enjoyable to adults (once again, against stereotype).

Children are quite capable of understanding "magic" at a very early age. What they lack are the "cultural commons" that define magic in our society. At the other extreme are magicians: far too much "magic for magicians" has implicit dependencies on "in the biz" knowledge.
Unfortunately, too many magicians proceed lemming-like (apologies to SL) toward the kind of magic that alienates their most appreciative audiences.

regards, Doug

Postby Jeff Haas » 10/25/01 10:18 AM

Chris, I think what elevates magic in the public's eye is a few things:
- competent performance
- doing something more than just following the stereotypes
- being sensitive to the audience and what their expectations are

If you can do all that, then they will say, "He's good!" They may compare you favorably to other magicians they've seen.

If the audience expects that you are going to do something that addresses the toddler, then you'd better do one or two small things that address the toddler! Saying "I don't perform for kids" just makes you sound like a curmudgeon.

With that said, here's how I approach it...

Generally, you say something like, "Let's see how he likes this..." and do one very simple coin vanish. Everyone will turn to watch the kid. Either he'll get it or he won't. Try it again, with a variation. If he doesn't get it, just smile understandingly and say, "Oh well, he's a little young. Maybe in a few months."

I should also mention that, while I initially used to do children's magic like we all expect it to be done, I've completely altered my style of performance so that it works well both for kids and adults. This is similar to Doug's comment about books that work well for both audiences (like Harry Potter).

Jeff Haas
Posts: 924
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: San Mateo, CA

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 03:31 PM

Excellent analogy, Doug. And yes, Jeff, you would come off like a "curmudgeon" by dismissing the toddler.

There are many stereotypes, obstacles, and preconcieved notions about magicians that need to be overcome when you enter a group of stangers to perform for a few moments.

The most difficult (and why I posed this question to begin with) is the "tricks are for kids" stereotype.

At the end of the day, satisfaction is greater having excited the imaginations of adults who have real-world troubles and concerns. Children already live in a fantastically magical world.


A good example is the $100 bill switch. Unless you have a concept of money, turning $1 into $100 has zero meaning.

Unless you understand that solid objects cannot pass through eachother, penetration effects have no meaning.

When a coin dissapears, there is no developed logic to alert a toddler they have seen the impossible!

This is my point.

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 06:41 AM

Originally posted by ChrisDavid:
When a coin dissapears, there is no developed logic to alert a toddler they have seen the impossible!

I'm sorry, the soapbox is too tempting... ChrisDavid has introduced a convergence of three of my favorite subjects: science, children and magic.

Would you believe that "magic" has been used by scientists for decades to investigate the thoughts of pre-verbal children? It is true: very (very!) young children react with more interest to visual events that seem to defy natural laws.

There is a lot more "pre-wired" logic than we might imagine.

regards, Doug

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 07:05 AM

your response dismisses my point entirely.

First off, let's define "toddler" as 1, 2, 3, and sometimes 4 and 5 years old.

A toddler cannot appreciate the impossibility of an illusion. For them, the whole world and everything in it is magic.
When they see a movie about a man who can fly, they leave the theater perhaps believing some people can fly.

Adults however, are captured by the idea of flying and the freedoms it might bring.

Again, escapism!!

Just because a toddler reacts with "more interest to visual events that seem to defy natural laws", doesn't mean they get it!!

Get it?

[ October 26, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 07:25 AM

Originally posted by ChrisDavid:
your response dismisses my point entirely.

I apologize for not "getting it", but I was not dismissing a thing, honest!

In the same post by ChrisDavid:
A toddler cannot appreciate the impossibility of an illusion.

On what basis do you make this claim?

I have been performing magic for children of all ages for some time. I am a scientist who considers children to be the most fascinating study on the planet.

I have met many one-year-olds who appeared to "appreciate impossibility". Most four-year-olds are gladly led into worlds magical.

Another point from the same post:
Just because a toddler reacts with "more interest to visual events that seem to defy natural laws", doesn't mean they get it!!

Please tell us: what does it mean?

BTW, I would happily take this offline; my profile has an e-mail ;)

regards, Doug

[ October 26, 2001: Message edited by: Doug Peters ]

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 07:44 AM

I meant no disrespect either!
And might I add I have nothing but respect for children's entertainers, I'm just not one of them. I made a concious decision long ago to focus on adults; more sophisticated plots and routines.

Would you agree that children (toddlers) are already mystified by the real world enough so that the illusion of a simple magic trick is taken for granted? Show me a one year old who can understand and appreciate Dai Vernon's "Travelers"!

A coin vanish is just as impossible for them to grasp as a blooming flower. For them, it's all the same thing.

We appreciate magic more as we get older because we understand certain laws of nature cannot be broken; solid through solid for example.

As adults, we enjoy the illusion!

We know magic isn't real, yet we enjoy it anyway.

[ October 26, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 07:55 AM

If blooming flowers are less magical than vanishing coins, God help us all! ;)

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 11:48 AM


Your issue is valid, your approach may not be. Congratulate yourself that you have discovered the problem; perhaps, more than half the work to correcting it.

Originally posted by ChrisDavid:
I made a concious decision long ago to focus on adults; more sophisticated plots and routines.

Consider whether you have forgotten to concentrate on a faction of adults called "new parents". These folks are, with good reason, very absorbed in their children's reactions to the world around them. It can last for years.

A performer who wishes to surpass this "turn to Jimmie for reaction" needs to understand and address this phenomenon.

Have you considered an adult routine/presentation about children? Afterall, the topic of children is probably major in these people's lives.

By talking about children you engage the adult's interest and seem to include the child as you play a bit to them to accentuate the presentation.

I know most parents want their little children to be the center of everything. By presenting an intelligent adult routine about kids to the parents you can sidestep their interest. Directing the focus to the child when you want puts you in control.

I have found best is to have focus on Jimmie toward the end, bring it back to you, then create the final moment of magic. The interest in Jimmie's reaction will have been satisfied, so, the final moment can be absorbed by the parents directly.

Watch a successful wait-person. They will spend time acknowledging the children before addressing the order with the adult.

Phew, that's a lot to think about. Thanks to Richard Kaufman and the rest of the forum geniis for creating a place for conversations like this to develop.

Tom Cutts
Publisher, AM/PM...About Magic, Performing Magic

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 03:01 PM

Thanks Tom,
The issue is an important one for those of us who work in the real world several nights a week.
The original problem concerned "toddlers".
Also, the image magicians have in the eyes of the public; for the most part, we're synonomous with clowns and Barney.

Honestly, my material would hold no interest for someone under the age of 9. This is fine.

Would you expect a small child to appreciate the films of say, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorcese, or Oliver Stone? These filmmakers market to an adult audience. They cover adult themes and issues.

Return to Close-Up Magic