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Topic: Explaining something without disillusioning small children...
Message: Posted by: JJDrew (May 28, 2004 10:56PM)
Just thought I'd share this little tidbit. I get a lot of similar questions, but usually they don't involve animals.

A little girl came into the magic shop where I work and asked me if we sold hats or something that could make birds appear. She was quite crestfallen when I explained that we sold things like that, but you had to already own the birds, and that the birds were trained performers. A couple of sponge balls cheered her right up, though.

Since the Harry Potter craze, we get a lot of small kids that ask if we sell magic wands, as in you point them and they turn people into bugs and stuff. They're generally looking in the counter at the plastic wands and have that look of "Wow, I wonder if those are the ones" on their faces. My answer to this is that the wands they're looking at are pretend wands that look cool, but don't do anything. I then explain that you have to be 18 to buy the "real" wands, which we keep in the back and can be dangerous if you don't use them correctly.

Do any of you have similar stories where you've had to either explain something or invent an explanation for children who want to keep the bunny because "You can always make another one!" (I read that somewhere here on the Café)
Message: Posted by: Bob Sanders (May 29, 2004 10:07PM)
Hello JJ,

I haven't heard from you in a while. Glad to see you posting on The Magic Café.

These are delightful questions that keep us all in magic for decades. The more we think like kids, perhaps the better we think.

Back in the 60s I did a kid's birthday party for a friend's son. (Generally, I don't do children's birthday parties. That is because I try to avoid "house" parties.) In this case, the Dad was a friend just home from Viet Nam so it was a special gift for both. After giving my "professional best" I ended the show by producing a rabbit. The "Wow!" was there, but it was immediately followed by "Now make it into a pig!"

In over forty-five years as a professional entertainer, that is the only time I got that response. Should I keep a pig in a change bag just in case?


The Amazed Wiz
Message: Posted by: JJDrew (May 30, 2004 04:31AM)
You mean you didn't have one on you?! What were you thinking?

Great story!

I've been around, but I've spent a lot of time in the food for thought section, as most of the posts here discuss doves and rabbits, which I can't really comment on, never having owned them. Miko's doing great. He's been moulting for about three months and I'm still waiting for him to grow some pretty new tailfeathers to replace his beat-up baby ones. Who knew a parrot could take so long to get new feathers!

Anyway, he certainly has a stage presence. He loves to be the center of attention and knows quite well when the applause is for him. He hasn't performed in any shows, but around the shop we practice on the patrons occasionally. I've finally found a way to produce him (as he hates anything around his body and would chew his way out of a harness if I were foolish enough to try and get him into one). I can't go into details on a public forum, but imagine a common method for producing a wine glass in your hand from underneath a silk. It works with parrots too. Every time I produce him he flaps his wings and chirps. I didn't teach him that, it's his own little "Ta da!" What a ham.

He has a play area in the corner of the store, but when he gets bored or lonely he climbs down and walks over to wherever I am. If the situation is suitable, I take advantage of the fact that there is a parrot nobody knows about at my feet, get a handkerchief, and promptly produce him.

Today we were performing a card trick (spectator picks a card, I lose it in the deck, Miko finds it), and at the classic, "Pick a card" one of the people watching (a group of high schoolers) said, "Oh, this is the trick Dave does!" Another responded, "Yeah, but he never gets it right."

It went fine and Miko found the card, at which the student blurted, "Wow, the bird's a better magician than Dave!"

I think Miko is well on the way to stardom. :D
Message: Posted by: Bob Sanders (Aug 1, 2004 08:26PM)

My parrot, Dobbie is apparently never going to be ready for "prime time" as a magic bird. He just stays near the computer and runs my life. If the dogs bark, he barks back!

In the early 80s I accepted an orphaned dove that had been raised by hand and an eyedropper feeder. He was a mite over socialized and very demanding. When he wanted something he sounded more like a rooster and said, "Err, Err, a Err." So that became his name. I used him to train other doves to come to me after they were magically produced. Ultimately, I could not use him in shows unless I produced him last. If I produced him first and put him on a perch he would only stay there until I produced another dove. Then he would fly over and land on my head and really fuss, "Err, Err, a Err." It was funny but just destroyed the rest of the act. So he had to stay home. He lived about a dozen years. Of course, he was in charge everyday! Kids would get to hold the wand with him on it and he would talk to them. If they tried to touch him he would come tell on them. He was one strange bird!

Magic By Sander
Message: Posted by: rossmacrae (Aug 18, 2004 10:37PM)
Oh, come on! "Preserving childhood innocence" is only worthwhile when not taken too far.

If the kid has actually taken the effort to get in to a magic shop, it's about time you let them know that "those are just stories, and they're a lot of fun. What we have here are all illusions, and you might enjoy making this kind of magic a lot more!"
Message: Posted by: JJDrew (Aug 19, 2004 03:40AM)
Maybe you're imagining slightly older children. I'm talking VERY young. Like, so young they accuse you of having cheated because you used magic.

The shop is located in a mall. Lots of kids who never even THOUGHT to look for a magic shop simply wander in following parents or older siblings. We're talking kindergarden age and younger.

A couple of times I've sold (against my better judgement...parents don't always listen to advice) basic magic tricks to the parents of very small children so that the very small children could learn to do them. When the kid realized that there was more to it then simply saying the magic word and having it happen, that it was a TRICK, they were mighty upset. I try to steer the parents toward age appropriate things, but there's an age before which you're just not ready to perform magic.

You suggest saying, "Those are just stories, and they're a lot of fun..." That's fine if we're talking about Harry Potter, but what about the seven-year-old that comes up to you and asks, sincerely, "Is magic real?" How do you respond without a) upsetting the child, and/or b) upsetting the parents?

After all, magic is a touchy subject, overlapping with religion in a lot of people's minds and overlapping with things like Santa Claus in other people's minds. Would they want some random person explaining to their child that there is no Santa Claus? How about somebody explaining to their kid something that their religion disagrees with? You can offend many religions by saying that magic is real, and others by saying it's not.

If we're talking about a kid who has learned some magic tricks from the library and found a magic shop and is interested in the craft...well, they usually have a more reasonable expectation from the gimmicks to begin with.

There are times when your advice would be dead on, but it's not as cut and dried as you seem to think.

Define "too far" as you see it, and explain to me why that line is universal for all children of all ages. I certainly don't tell EVERY kid the line about the real wands.

A sampling of the other responses I give when asked about what the wands do, depending on the situation, and the child's age and attitude:

They don't do anything, they just look cool.

Well, you can use them to point at things, or whack people on the head. (This one only if the parents and the children clearly have a sense of humor).

In routines like the cups and balls, for example, it can be an extremely useful tool for focusing attention where you want it.


There are others, but you get the idea.

If the kid has made an effort to get to a magic shop, I consider them to be a student of the craft at whatever level, but their attitude is very different from the children who just wander in out of curiosity.

Just like the adults who walk in and ask about the gaffed coins. There's a big difference in how I would respond to these questions, all of which I hear on a regular basis:

"Do you have a half-dollar shell?"
- They know what they want and need, cool, I get them the shell.

"I already perform with a scotch and soda, what other trick coins would you recommend?"

- Do they know some sleights or do ALL their coin effects depend on this single gaff? If they don't know a production, a vanish, and a switch, at a minimum, I try and steer them toward books or videos that will teach them the basics and improve their performance overall, allowing them to be less dependent on gimmicks and help them to use the gaff as a tool rather than a crutch.

"My friend does this coin trick where he puts a cigarette right through a coin! How does he do that?"

- I give no answer. Why expose the friend's trick?

"Do you have that trick that David Blaine does where he bites off a piece of a quarter?"

- This one's tricky. If they're genuinely interested in learning the trick, we talk, otherwise, see response to previous question.

These are just some of the responses. If you look at my original post, I think you'll see that I was very straightforward with the little girl that asked about making birds appear.

How do you respond if a child asks you flat-out if magic is real? Does the age of the child make any difference in your response? If you have a rote answer that works with all kids and all ages, I'd LOVE to hear it. Seriously, it would make my job a lot easier.

You say it's about time I tell the kids the truth, but their parents may feel differently, and I won't open THAT can of worms. One of the best ways to make someone hate you is to tell their kids something they didn't feel the kid was ready to hear.

My nickle's-worth. (This message is too long to be just two cents).

- J. J. Drew