Lessons from 2 shows (long)

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Postby Guest » 07/27/05 12:52 PM

I had two shows last week. Both had good points and bad points. I hope Im learning the right lessons from these. Any input is appreciated.

The first show was for a local library - the Grand Finale of their summer reading program. I did a show for them last year, and they were sufficiently enamored (or memory challenged!) that they asked me back. (Okay - Im also the only magician available in my area.) There were about 20 kids, ages 4-14, with the majority in the 6-9 age range (Im guessing at this). This show was held indoors, in a room off the main library. I had time to set up before the kids came in.

The second show was a backyard birthday party. The party was thrown in honor of the childs first birthday, so the guest of honor wasnt available for any tricks. (Didnt think the Vanishing Baby would go over well!) When I entered the yard, the kids were there - about eight of them, ages 6 to 10 (guessing again). They were playing other games, paying me very little attention, except to try and look in my bag and climb on my table.

I tried to start off with a Ropes Thru Body for both shows. Its presented as a test for my first volunteer - if theyre magical enough to help me, when the ropes pass through their body the top half will stay on the bottom half. If the top half falls off, then they have to go put it back together and then come back to try again. In the first show, the thread didnt break after two big tugs! Poor girl - I had to reach back and help it along. Well, I guess when I reset it for the second show, I used too light of a thread; the simple act of wrapping the ropes around the kid broke it!

Lesson learned: I need a stronger opener, something that is almost foolproof so I dont fall flat right out of the chute, and something with enough oomph to grab the attention of video-game-stoked attention-challenged 3rd grade twerps. If theyre not impressed with *ME*, they wont care about my magic.

For a two-deck Do As I Do trick, in which both the kid and I have magically chosen the same card, I usually throw in some business with a change bag. Since were reading minds, they need a thought antenna, so I make them a balloon hat. But the balloons vanish from the change bag, which gives me reason to pull my 5-foot wand out of a lunch bag and bring them back. Great reaction last year at the library, but because I did it then I left it at home this year. Big mistake - if it works, keep it.

So I threw it back into the line up for the birthday party. As soon as the balloons show up, they all want one. Im making the hat (only two balloons, so not much time), and a youngun comes right up to me to tell me This is taking way too long!

Lesson learned: Something about the environment and mix of the library made the balloons and change bag okay. The low interest level of the kids at the birthday party should have warned me that long pauses in the action (over 15 seconds) are not well received.

Oh, and both times in the card trick, the kids remembered their card wrong. Right value, wrong suit. We switch decks, so Ive got their *actual* card in my hands - and they have the audacity to say *I* goofed! Okay, Im still getting paid, so I can suck it up.

Yelling out the magic word and magically wiggling the fingers got a resp0nse from maybe four kids at the library, and zilch at the party. Maybe something about the familiarity level: at the library, they know each other and are maybe friends at home or school; at the party, theyre probably related or family friends.

Lesson learned: Older kids wont do anything potentially embarrassing in front of someone theyre going to try and impress, especially in a small group. Maybe I can recruit a few vocal younger ones to help me.

At this point, I think I should have been better prepared for the library show, and I should have stopped the party show and made balloons: hearts and flowers for the girls, and straight 350s for the boys to beat each other with! Theres more to mine from all of this, but I can only chew so much at one, so Ill start here.

Any thoughts anyone would like to share will be greatly appreciated.

Prof OfWhat
WildAir Balloons and Fun
Turning Balloons and Magic
Into Family-Friendly FUN!
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Postby Guest » 07/27/05 02:58 PM

Your first routine should have a goal of establishing yourself with the kids, showing what kind of guy you are. I don't suggest using a helper for the first routine for anything beyond a minimal participition. I often open with the color changing laces or a basic silk vanish. It gets the kids interacting with you and they then know that is something they can do during the show. If you don't establish your character and what is allowed right of the barrel the kids won't know how to deal with you.
Simply put, if you are entertaining to the kids and can get them into the show, you can do an entire show w/out anything more than an envelope, piece of rope, and a silk.

Cards with kids? Don't bother, you get exactly what you got. The only card thing I do is if there is a teenager hanging out I'll whip out the Phil deck just to humble 'em a bit.

In a mixed crowd aim your performance at the majority age group and hope beyond hope that the majority is 5-9, 9 plus and you may just want to surrender. I'll be honest, if there are four seven year olds and a dozen 10 year olds it is more important to me that the seven year olds have fun because they are likely to. The ten year olds? You can make an elephant appear, have it dance then explode into butterflies that rise into the air and form the name of the birthday child and the ten year olds will yawn and say "I know how you did that".
Steve V
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Postby Guest » 08/07/05 02:44 PM

Hi Prof OfWhat,
It is absolutely essential for you to warm up your kid show audience prior to bringing any helpers onto the stage. The warm-up allows your audience to get to know you, and to get comfortable with your personality and your sense of humor. The warm-up can either be magical or verbal humor. It can even be a combination of these two things. There are plenty of books available that deal with this very issue. I would suggest something by Samuel Patrick Smith, David Ginn or David Kaye.

Personally, I open my kid shows, (actually ALL of my shows) with comedy AND magic. In this year's library show I happen to be performing the color changing shoelaces. In order to provide you with an example, I will briefly describe my library show opening for 2005:

AFTER the library director or children's librarian has introduced me, (with a big round of applause) I walk out holding an orange shoelace in my right hand. I quickly reintroduce myself with a bit of subtle humor. I then look down at my right hand and notice that several people are staring at the shoelace. I say, "Well, I guess you are all wondering why I am holding this shoelace." "Yes! they usually respond. I continue, "You see, my wife flew to Alaska a couple of weeks ago in order to visit our oldest daughter, our son-in-law AND... to see our new granddaughter, (a true story at the start of the library season.) Anyway, she went to Alaska and left me at home alone. That's right; Dad was at home alone... AND IN CHARGE. I have to tell you that it was a little scary being at home alone and responsible for all of the household chores. I can tell you that I really do appreciate my wife a lot more now that she has returned, (as I make this comment the women in the audience usually nod their heads in smug approval). True, it was a good learning experience for me, but I'm also ashamed to say that I made quite a few mistakes during my wife's absence. For instance... I learned that our vacuum cleaner DOES NOT run on unleaded gasoline!", (giggles and a few laughs from the audience). "Matter of fact, it won't even hold a full gallon of gas. What a mess THAT was!"

"Next, I learned that our pet goldfish, Farfel refuses to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken.", (bigger laughs now from both kids and adults). I continue... "Farfel doesn't even like popcorn chicken. I DID teach Farfel a new trick though... Farfel can now FLOAT ON HIS BACK! Don't worry... Farfel is fine.

I also learned that if the milk in your refrigerator is chunky and two weeks out-of-date it doesn't taste any better after it's been run through the blender." I make a funny face as if I remember tasting the bad milk, (lot's of laughs from the kids and shouts of "Gross! or "Yuck!)

"Finally, I learned that if you get your tennis shoes wet while you are washing your car it is not a good idea to try and dry them in the microwave oven.", (more laughs). I now pick up a shoebox that has been sitting on my table and open the lid. As I open the lid a puff of white smoke escapes. I pick up and display two very melted tennis shoes. Again I make a face and continue... "At least I know 30-minutes is WAY TOO LONG!" (Again, lots of laughs at the sight of my burnt and melted tennis shoes.)

As I place the shoes back inside the shoebox and set the whole thing aside I continue... "Now I'm left with this shoelace, so I thought I would give everyone a magical observation test before we start the show." (Tell them they are going to have to pay very close attention so they can SEE and HEAR everything.) Begin color changing shoelace routine...

Well, that's my 2005 library warm-up. Just thought I would offer it as an example. Be sure to make your warm-up short, magical, funny, and unique to you.

I am usually at least two or three routines into the show before I would even THINK about bringing someone on stage to help.

After your warm-up make sure to get the kids laughing and clapping their hands. That way they will know that this type of behavior is not only O.K., it is also EXPECTED of them. Additionally, make sure to prompt applause from your audience as each helper comes up AND leaves the stage. This is your job and, quite frankly, if you fail to perform it you will never appreciate proper audience response.

Balloons? If there were any toddlers present I would steer clear of them entirely. Just my thoughts on that one.

Cards tricks at kid shows? You know, it really all depends on the ages of the kids in your audience. Six to nine year-olds? NO! However, if your audience primarily consists of "tweens" then, well... perhaps. The problem, as you have learned is that young kids can't recognize suits, values, etc...

For a younger audience make sure to substitute your cards tricks with something like the EXCELLENT "Deja Zoo". If you notice you have mostly "tweens" in your audience you can perform something like the jumbo MCcombical Deck. If you decide to do this just make sure you pick the older ones as helpers.

This is YOUR show. Make sure your contract requires adult supervision and privacy for show setup and show breakdown. The threat of a few expensive broken props should be your primary motivation. Adults won't get upset if you make this clear. These requirements will actually make them realize they are dealing with a true pro.

Finally, I no longer work birthday parties, but when I did I would never accept a show if the birthday child was younger than five.

Again, these are just a few of my thoughts. I have plenty more, but I will yield the floor so that others may respond.

Hope this helps!

Kevin
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Postby Necromancer » 08/10/05 05:12 PM

Hi Prof,

May I throw in a few suggestions?

1. Ropes Through The Body: I don't think the problem was that it wasn't strong enough. It's that it wasn't rehearsed enough (wrong weight of thread) and wasn't placed in the show effectively. It's not an opener, but it can be a closer.

2. Do As I Do: the problem wasn't the balloon hat idea (a "thought antenna" is funny). It's that the time spent twisting the hat wasn't entertaining for your audience. Think about how you can make it entertaining (Docc Hilford's "20 Minutes With A Balloon" video might help). Also, if the kids aren't remembering the cards properly, you can use older kids (as suggested) or try a different deck of cards that they will remember (a deck of Pokemon cards or whatever the kids in your area are into).

3. Magic words participation: you're spot on there -- if it makes them look silly, older kids won't do it. However, if it makes you look silly or is otherwise fun for them to say or do, your chances are much better. For more about this, check out Silly Billy's great book.

4. Farfel is an excellent name for a goldfish. Though still shy of the mark set by the name my Jr. High School Science Teacher had for her mutt: Tzimmes.

Best,
Neil Tobin
www.SupernaturalChicago.com
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Postby Bob Taxin » 08/11/05 10:57 AM

I do a few card tricks for young kids, and I never rely on them to remember their card - I always have them sign it, or draw something on the card that they'll be able to identify. I also use kid-style cards with animals or whatever, available in toy stores. Works well with a "Joanne the Duck" revelation, or even a card to wallet.
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Postby Guest » 08/11/05 12:57 PM

The mention of balloons made me think of a trick Bob Brown introduced me to on making moms happy. I always have a green and red or yellow balloon ready to go and make a quick flower. I have the birthday child give the balloon flower to the mom or who ever is tossing the party and tell them 'thank you for the party'. The moms love it and the kid thinks he/she is pretty slick as well.
Steve V
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Postby Fred Zimmerman » 08/11/05 02:29 PM

Wow! Well, it certainly sounds like you're getting your baptism by fire, and believe me, you'll be all the better for it.

Without going into a blow by blow post mortem, I would like to give you some general advice (and we all know the value of free advice, don't we?)

The best thing to do is step back a little, breathe, and do some serious thinking. And not about tricks--those are merely the tools of what you'r doing, which is entertaining and engaging the audience. Performers do this in a multitude of ways--you're choosing to do it with interactive magic.

Now, put yourself into the mindset of a child in the audience. First of all, you don't want to be talked DOWN to--ever. This is a given. Next, you better be fairly happy to be there. By that I mean, you can't coast with kids. They pick up on it in a minute.

And lastly, they want the performer to take control. Children (and adults too, but that's a different discussion) crave control. If you are able to control the here and now, then they can relax a little, and relinquish the tentative control THEY have on the situation.

If you're uninteresting or weak, they will take over again and talk to their friends, crack wise, or just goof aff--they are at a party, after all, and their top priority is to have FUN!

So, you must engage them immeidately and demonstrate that YOU are in control and that YOUR primary objective is for THEM to have fun. If they see this, then things start out much more easily. You've built a little trust, and this is tough for magicians because our reputation is not a trustworthy one.

Next, take a look at who you are. Are you a big, strapping person, with a loud voice and good physical presence? Are you small and unassuming? Are you somwhere in the middle and aren't easily categorized? You most likely identified with the last one, and this is also something to consider.

The people in the audience will want to know who you are right away. Kids are pros at this. They may jump to an incorrect conclusion, but jump they will. Therefore, you must guide them to the conclusion you want them to make. This comes from developing a very strong sense of who you are and what you have to offer them.

Do you have a theme? This may sound weird to you, but think about it. Are you, "Mr. Happy who is dedicated to making everyone in the world LAUGH!" Or are you "Mysterioso--the man of mystery who wants to put everyone under his spell!"

I think you see where this is going. When you have a theme, a direction from which to start, then a lot of other things fall into place. You can now frame your magic with something, and patter lines and business will begin to come much more easily and organically, rather than having to jump from trick to trick in a disjointed manner and for no apparent reason.

When these kinds of issues start to gel in your mind, THEN you can start thinking about the tricks again. They'll begin to make more sense. You'll want to accentutate certain things because they FIT with your persona and your theme, and you'll want to shelve other things because they just don't work. This doesn't mean that someday, they won't be appropriate again, but right now, they just don't work--so don't waste time on the square-peg-round-hole problem.

Lastly, you're working venues that could make anyone weep. There are tricks of the trade that I'm sure you can obtain through careful research. Also, you'll discover things that work for YOU that wouldn't work for anyone else, simply because you are who you are.

All in all, you're on the road to a lot of education and a lot of valuable experience. Always remeber that every "failure," and I use that word loosely, is simply another chance to learn. There will come a day when you walk out of your show and think, "Hey, that wasn't half bad! Now, let me work on the stuff that isn't quite right." There will be no more self-beatings!

Take care and enjoy the ride.

Fred Zimmerman
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Postby Ryan Matney » 08/11/05 03:45 PM

I would think alphabet cards would better for kids up to, say, 11-12. If you used alphabet cards there's a lot of standard revealations with just the deck or some prop that you could do.
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Postby Necromancer » 08/12/05 03:16 PM

Well said, Mr. Zimmerman.

Best,
Neil Tobin
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Postby Guest » 08/16/05 02:23 AM

My thanks to all who replied, and an extra helping to Fred Zimmerman and Neil Tobin. I am slowly but surely making the broad turn from performer of tricks to entertainer. Its something Ive always known - tricks by themselves are NOT entertainment or entertaining. But it is something else entirely to step back and see how much of that has infected what I do.

Of course the kids got bored when I pulled out the balloons for the hat - I was now giving all my attention to the balloons and had disengaged from them. Kids want to be involved - and all I offered was watch me! No, not all the time, but it doesnt take much.

Character - bland but silly man doesnt qualify??! *sigh* I knew that! But I stuck with it because . . . well, just because! Maybe too much work to change? Maybe change is needed - or there wont be too much more work! <G>

And I think right here is where too many amateurs stop, and real professionalism begins. Theres a lot of people out there with good chops that are not the least bit entertaining, or at least dont know how to make it work for the audience thats in front of them at that moment. (A balloon guy named Don Caldwell wrote an excellent article on BalloonHQ.com about this - http://www.balloonhq.com/column/caldwell/aug05/ Don Caldwell column ).

Okay - got my homework assignments! See yall in the big time!

Prof OfWhat
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Postby Guest » 08/23/05 11:26 PM

I have found that a very good opener for kids needs to be very visual. As an opener for kids I always do In a Flash by Jay Sankey. If you dont know what the effect is, Quickly: a card is freely selected, signed, replaced, and cut into the deck. A quarter is borrowed and signed, and wrapped in "tissue paper" (flash paper). It is then placed on the deck and a match is touched to the paper. It goes up in a big flash (obviously) and when the smoke clears the quarter is seen to have melted through half the pack leaving a clean whole in half the deck, and the quarter has stopped and is lying on their card. I would definitely check this out if you haven't already heard of this.

Kids normally aren't interested in card tricks, but when the flames shoot up and they see the pck, it is extremely visual, and they love it. Also, since the card is signed the kids cant remember the wrong card, or deny that the found card is theirs. Its a really good trick, check it out.
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Postby Guest » 08/25/05 02:58 PM

I never looked at anything by Sankey before - I guess I always thought it was way over my head, because I don't do any card or coin sleights at all. But I checked out In A Flash, and it looks great!

Also Killer Key and Gemini Pouch. I think I'll get these and may start in some new directions.

Thanks for the tips.
Prof OfWhat
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Postby Pete Biro » 08/25/05 03:45 PM

Library show? HOt book. Coloring Book?

Now I remember why I didn't specialize in kid shows... you aren't a magician but a clown and uncle dood PLAYING WITH THEM.

No cards unless jumbo animal pictures (like McCombical deck).

Egg Bag.

Simple cut restored rope (Short and Long is best)

Linking rings to get attention.

Monkey bar.

Hippity Hop Rabbits.

Dye Box.

The classic kids tricks.
Stay tooned.
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