Originally published in the book, Seriously Silly
My name is David Kaye. My performing name is Silly Billy. And yes, I do kid shows. And I love it!
I’m tired of kid show magicians getting a bad rap. It’s time other magicians stopped treating us as second-class citizens or not even magicians at all. You know what I am talking about: “I don’t do kid shows.”
Do kid show magicians deserve better? You bet, and here’s just three reasons why.
1. The category of magic that is performed most often is kid shows.
Kids magic shows, whether at birthday parties, schools, libraries, or day care centers, account for the majority of all the magic shows performed each year. There are more kid show guys out there actually performing for audiences than all close up workers and stage show performers combined. There are more rabbits produced each week than tigers. (I’m not talking biologically, I’m talking magically.)
2. The audience for kid shows is larger than for other magic shows.
More children see magicians on the weekends than adults see all week in Las Vegas. Add school and library shows to that equation and there are a hundred thousand children watching magicians all week. Compared to a couple of thousand in Las Vegas.
3. Being a kid show magician really makes a difference.
Do you remember the first magic show you saw when you were a kid? Do you remember what kind of impact it had on you? If you hadn’t seen a magician perform a kids magic show when you were a child, you might not be a magician today. Kid show magicians are having that impact on thousands of children every day.
Is it easier to perform magic for children than for adults? Maybe. Close-up card workers must put in hours of practice to achieve technical perfection. And all we have to do with a Coloring Book is flip through the pages. But aren’t there other forms of magic besides children’s magic that are also simple to perform technically?
As far as technical skill is concerned, it is probably easier to perform standard children’s effects than, say, the perfect pass. That is probably why so many people put down kid show magicians. But there are other forms of magic that are also simple to perform technically. How hard is it, technically, to push metal plates through two slits in a Zig-Zag illusion? When a beautiful girl changes into a tiger, the magician isn’t even involved. It’s the assistant in the box who does all the work. Siegfried and Roy used to earn $75 million each year by walking back and forth on a big stage raising their arms every now and then. The field of mentalism is also easy to perform technically. How much technical skill is required for a mentalist to check out the imprint on a clipboard?
But it takes more than technical skill to be a magician. Though technically simple, a stage illusionist requires skills in many other areas. The stage magician must be graceful and elegant. He or she needs professional choreography, music, blocking, lighting, and costumes. A mentalist who simply glances at the facing page for the matching word must also be a great actor and showman, creating drama and mystery.
Likewise, though technically simple, performing children’s magic requires more than ownership of the usual props. You must have an understanding of children, including their intellectual and verbal skills. You have to understand them psychologically. You have to know what makes them laugh and how to keep their attention. You must be likable, funny, and non-threatening. And you must be able to improvise rather than follow a rigid script.
There may even be some aspects of performing magic for children that are harder than performing magic for adults. This may explain why so many adult performers hate performing for kids. Because they can’t do it! Because it requires a whole different set of skills that performing for adults does not teach you. In fact an audience of children may be the most difficult audience to perform for. Why? Because…
Children are different than adults
1. One of the reasons many magicians have trouble performing for children is that they don’t realize that children are not adults. If you attempt to design a children’s show using your adult sensibilities, you will fail. Children’s brains are different than the brains of adults. They don’t think like adults. Therefore, children react to magic tricks in a completely different way than adults do.
2. Complicating matters further, children of different ages react in different ways to the same magic trick. Unlike the category “adult show,” the category “children’s show” is not a category for which one show would be universally appropriate. In fact, I perform a different show for every different age group. Some differences between, for example, age four and age five may be minor presentational differences, while other increments will result in a major change in the tricks that I do.
3. Children have not been socialized into being a polite audience yet. An adult audience will sit and clap politely during a mediocre magic show, out of courtesy. (You may have witnessed this at the local magic club meeting last month.) Children watching a lousy kid show magician will leave the room to play computer games the first chance they get! During the show, adults don’t yell out their own explanations for how the tricks are done. After all, when was the last time you heard someone in the close-up room at The Magic Castle yell out “It’s in his lap!”? Adults usually won’t tell you that you did a lousy job. They might even be polite and compliment you. But we all know kids will tell you their opinions: “Boooo-ring!”
If a bad kid show magician loses control of his audience, he might have one or more children run up to “examine” his props. Kids love to look behind your table and grab, grab, grab. Have you ever seen a member of the audience run up on stage during a sub-trunk performance and shout, to the delight of the rest of the crowd, “He’s coming out of the top!”
Be proud of your talent. Be proud of your show. Be proud to be a kid show magician. You may be under-appreciated by fellow magicians. But you are appreciated by the people who matter most: the children.