Magic and Malarky

Ron's magic for libraries, preschools, children's birthday parties, and more in Chicago's west and northwest suburbs and northern Illinois

Respect for Children and others in the Audience

A fellow magician, John (Doc) Morrissy, recently wrote in his newsletter about mistakes that clowns – and magicians – make in approaching children.  He initially addressed it to clowning because the costume can be particularly scary to some children, but his comments apply as well to magicians.

Those of you who have met me in person know that I am aobut 6 feet tall, a bit on the hefty side (I could stand to lose a few pounds), and I have a beard.  Someone this size can be scary to small children.  And some are additionally scared by a man with hair on his face, if they are unfamiliar with beards.  It only makes the child more timid of performers such as clowns and magicians if said performer rushes into the child’s space unwelcomed.

Recently at the St. Charles Farmers Market, the organizer of the market, Rob Murphy, mentioned to a group that there was a magician across the way.  The group was made up with a little girl, possibly about 4 years of age, a mom, grandmother, and another woman.  The group was about 15 feet away from me.  One of the adults in the group pointed me out to the little girl, who promptly turned and walked the other way.

The little girl was a beautiful child, with curly hair and bright orange sun glasses.  (As I recall, but you know how THAT is at my age……but I digress…)  I knew the totally wrong thing was to go and try to talk to her.  So as the group moved away from the vendor’s booth they had been at, I armed myself with a certain red silk, and went and hung out about 15 or 20 feet away from the group.

After a few moments, the little girl noticed me, then watched for a moment as I waved the red silk.  Then I tossed the silk in the air and, presto chango! it turned into a magic cane.  The little girl shrieked in excitement, and pointed me out to the adults.  She then wanted to see more magic and I performed for her and the group she was with for about 10 minutes.

I hope this little girl grows up with a positive feeling for magicians.  But it begins with respecting the child and the child’s personal space.  Many times I have asked a child permission to reach behind his or her ear and sometimes the child will shy away.  When that happens, I say, “Ok, may I reach behind your mom’s ear?”  That is almost always ok.  Frequently, as soon as they see the red silk that was “behind” their mom’s ear, they start to warm up to me.  If not, I perform the trick at a safe emotional distance for the child.

{NOTE: The silk comes from behind the ear.  We don’t put things in our ears, now do we??  :) }

I believe that this same respect is important for all audience members.  I don’t understand performers who ridicule and totally embarrass audience members.  Certainly, there are times where one teases or jokes with audience members who assist the magician.  But in my mind, this kidding and joking should be gentle and friendly.

And, for what it is worth, I am the subject of my jokes as often or moreso than any audience member.  I believe that a performer must be able to make fun of himself or herself, to be able to be the object of humor if they are going to use humor in their routine.  I believe that such self-deprecating humor is an important part of humor in an act.  Not in every joke or quip, but still used occasionally.

This lesson of respect and space is especially important with children, though, because it is too easy for a performer to get involved in their schtick and patter and routine and invade the child’s space, making them uncomfortable.  But if one respects that child and their space, and slowly wins them over, they might well have a great new fan.  And the parents and adults will notice the care one takes as well, and appreciate it.

What do you think?  Have you seen performers who were not careful enough with children or other audience members?  Click on the “Comments” link immediately below to share your experiences and thoughts.

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2 Comments»

  docmorrissy wrote @

Hi Ron – I totally agree with your comments, both about invading a child’s “safe space” and about putting down audience members. That is especially true for children. They can have very fragile egos. They face enough “bullying” every day without an entertainer adding to it! Nice job!
“Doc” Morrissy

  Wyrd Wanderer wrote @

Thanks, John. I appreciated the article in your newsletter. Our profession should bring joy to children, not scare them and make them afraid of magicians and clowns.


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