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

A Tip of the Hat to Reza the Illusionist

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Last night I had the privilege of seeing Reza the Illusionist perform at ECC in Elgin, 40 miles out of the Loop near the Windy City in the Land of Lincoln. That is, the far west suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Out here in the sticks, at a lovely, intimate auditorium on the campus of Elgin Community College.

It unfortunately was not sold out, but those of us there had a great time. In addition, those in VIP seating, front rows and middle for a few rows back, got to attend a meet and greet with Reza before the performance. He performed a little close-up magic, answered questions, and even taught how to perform a trick that anyone could purchase the items for at the local quick shop on their way home.

Reza was asked a lot of good questions like how he got into magic, his favorite illusion to perform, would he be performing more in Branson, Missouri. etc. And the obligatory “Are you married?” question. (Technically he isn’t, but he and his lead assistant are together.) My question was about whether he had a particular philosophy for performing for children.

Maybe my question was poorly worded, or maybe he just misunderstood the point. At any rate, his answer was telling. He said that he doesn’t do a lot of performing for children. He tries to make his shows family friendly. I mentioned a video of him performing for a child in a hospital bed. He said that that was the first time he had done so, and he did that kind of a thing through programs.  (I hope that is a fair representation of your answer, Reza.)

That said, I have to respectfully disagree with his answer. I believe he has a very strong philosophy and ethic for performing for children. And that answer, too, is telling. And to his credit.

Thinking about the video of the child in the hospital bed, and his answer in general, I think Reza may be a little shy around children. But he is always respectful. His humor in general is fairly gentle, though he does joke at the expense of audience members. His show is an updated classic large magic show, and a lot of the humor is in that vein. His jokes are often fairly up to date, or at least contemporary. (Watch out, Kim Kardashian.)

And while he doesn’t ridicule audience members, his humor has a sort of no-holds-barred aspect. With one exception. The humor is almost all directed at the adults.

He asked an adult to toss him a sponge brick on the count of three. The adult “messed up,” due to magician’s timing 😉. He tossed before the magician counted, but the magi really set him up. Later, when a child tossed him something on the count of three, he turned in the direction of the adult and said, “See? That’s how it’s done!”

Both in the preshow meet and greet as well as during the main show, Reza referred to his childhood love of magic that began at the age of six when he attended his first magic show. He came home and declared that he wanted to be a magician. “My parents were thrilled…. Yes, they though I said physician.” He applied himself, and had turned pro by age 14.

His philosophy of performing for children, even if just children in his main shows, seems to be to give his first magic experience to as many children as he can.  That doesn’t mean doing “children’s shows,” but doing family magic that spans the range of classic illusions, close-up, humor, and does so with respect for the audience. And aims to give children the magical experience to spark that inner magi, just waiting for someone to say “abracadabra.”

So maybe I asked the question poorly, but when I finally got the answer to the question I was trying to ask, I was quite pleased. Reza follows a lot of great magicians who perform great illusions, exhibit great humor, are respectful of their audiences, and who seek to inspire in children the spirit of wonder and magic.

Hope to see you again soon, Reza!


How to Learn Magic

I am occasionally asked how I learned magic, or where I find magic tricks to perform.  How does one go about learning magic?

My very first magic trick (I didn’t think of it as that at the time) was a card trick that my friend Jim showed me when we were both kids.  It used a principle that is common in card tricks and that I still use occasionally.

My next experience with magic was in graduate school.  That was the first magic show I had ever seen, put on by another student.  The only trick I remember was the Phanto Tube, but it blew me away.  When I began performing, that was one of the early tricks I learned.  It is an old magical standard, and is one of my standard tricks in birthday parties and preschool shows.

After graduate school, I became friends with my children’s elementary principal.  His name was Ron and we used to play chess together.  I told him that I hoped to take up magic someday and if I ever did I would be glad to do an assembly.  One day he called and asked if I had ever done that – he would like to have me do an assembly.  I told him I would be there, then went to the magic shop in Des Moines, bought tricks and began to learn.  In those first shows, I did a little chemical magic as well.

The pattern continued over the years.  I would go to The Secret Magic and Joke Shop in Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, Iowa.  Jerry would demonstrate tricks and I would think about what effects I wanted to perform.

An excellent way to learn magic is to see someone else demonstrate a powerful effect, then learn that trick.  That is the model I use when I go to Farmer’s Markets.  I perform generally, but I also demonstrate the magic tricks I am selling.  When someone buys a trick, I take them aside and show them the secret and how to perform the trick.  Of course, instructions are included with each trick, but magic is a visual art, and it helps to see it done, then to see how to do it.

At magic shops (there are several in the Chicago area), staff are generally happy to demonstrate various tricks and effects.  Remember, though, magic stores sell the secret.  You will not be shown how something works until you buy it.

A new twist on the “watch it done” principle comes from online.  Magic stores often have videos demonstrating various items.  Or performances of various magic tricks and effects can be found on You Tube.  And DVDs may be purchased that show various effects and how to do them.  Of course, in the case of the DVDs, you must purchase them to see how a trick is done, but you will know ahead the types of tricks that are featured.

Once one is started in magic, another way to learn magic and an excellent value is a magic book.  Early on, I began collecting magic books.  Where one trick (such as you will find in the Magic Shop on this site) may cost anywhere from a couple of dollars to $6.00 or more, a book may give you several tricks.  The booklets that I sell for $3.00 contain 50 tricks each.  There is no equipment provided, but generally common items are used.  In more advanced books, special items may be referenced that can be found at magic stores or magic shops online.

There are some books that constitute an entire course in magic.  While a little more expensive, these books are excellent values and valuable resources as one continues to learn and grow in the art.  I have built props and devised my own tricks from instructions in books.  Comprehensive books or sets of books are also good ways to find different ways of doing the same effect.

Of course, another way to learn is to take magic lessons.  One may take ongoing lessons, much like music lessons.  Or one may take a few lessons, then continue learning on one’s own with the purchase of individual tricks and effects, books, and DVDs.  Lessons are a good way to start.  They are also a good way to make the most of a magic set if you are new to magic.

Another way to learn magic is to join a magic club.  At a magic club, magicians share tricks back and forth, helping one another learn new material.  When you join, you generally will need to perform for the group.  You will not be expected to wow old pros; they just want to know that you are serious about magic.  Do some basic, simple things that show that you really are a magician.

One last way to get started in magic for children is to have me perform at a birthday party.  When I do that, I bring a small bag of magic tricks for the birthday child.  If time permits, I include a complimentary lesson on how to use the tricks in the bag.   This combines the watch it done and learn principle above.  It also includes a show which, in addition to bring fun to the occasion, also can inspire the child to want to learn.

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.



Magic for Grandparents (and others old enough to know better!)

While selling little magical items at farmers markets several years ago, I had a variety of customers.  There were been the kids with their allowance money, many of whom became repeat customers.  There were parents who, sometimes without the children present bought magical effects for the kids and, in one case, brought her son back for the brief lesson that always came with the purchase.  There were grandparents who bought magic.  And there were a couple of occasions where the magic was not bought for the child, but to perform for the child.

While not all magicians perform for children, I learned early on in my magical career that I love to be able to say to a child, “Would you like to see some magic?”  I love the look on a child’s face when the magical surprise happens, whether it is the red silk from behind their ear, or the bunnies multiplying in their hand, or the string visually passing through their thumb.  Yes, I perform for adults and can do adult parties as well, but my forte is family events and I especially love doing magic for children.

What I think has not been emphasized enough is that “magician magicians” – those of us who regularly perform magic for groups – are not the only ones who can enjoy this marvelous, enriching experience.  Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and godparents and older friends can learn stunning magic that can fascinate the children in our lives.  Teachers can use an illusion as a break, or a reward, or as an example of a lesson.  Mentors can use magic to build the relationship with their mentee.  One can easily use magic to bond with a child and add to the charm and power of the moment.

Even children as young as 3 years old (or maybe even a few months younger) can begin to understand tricks that end with “GONE.”  And from that, tricks that have things appearing from and disappearing into an empty box or a bag or even into an empty hand.  My (then) 3 year old neice was adorable as she waved her hand over the small drawer box I carried and said”Abadaba!”  And young children seem to be endlessly charmed by something pulled from behind their ear.  (NOTE:  BEHIND the ear, we don’t put things INTO our ear, now do we?)

One can enhance their reputation as a special aunt or uncle or grandpa or grandma – or as a really cool mom or dad – by having a few simple magic tricks “up their sleeve.”  Speaking figuratively, of course.   And one need not have a large case of props.  A few simple items, a small bag, perhaps just items you carry in a pocket, and you can be truly magical.  Remember that evn simple magical effects can become real magic, since the real magic is in the relationship of the magician and the person watching the magic.

Visit me at one of the farmers markets in South Elgin (through August) or St. Charles (through October) or contact me and I can introduce you to some of the wonderful little illusions you can use to entertain and mesmerize the children in your life.

The only thing more fun than being able to say, “Would you like to see some magic?” is to see the look of surprise and wonder and delight on their faces when the magic happens right in front of them.

My Sales Philosophy

This summer I began selling small magical items at a couple of local farmers markets.  In addition to demonstrating the items that I sell, I teach customers how to perform the product they just purchased, and I do some general performing.  My joke is that I am the resident magician of the market; I told the organizers that every farmers market needs a resident magician, and they fell for it, uh, believed me!

The products that I sell are generally magical effects (“tricks”) that beginners can learn, especially beginning around the age of 8.  I have at least one that much younger children can begin to learn to perform; they can understand how it works, and begin to work on presentation.  One little customer was showing his new magical ability around the Baker Memorial UM Church where his mother was helping set up for a special event.

Many of these same effects exist in much more expensive versions.  In fact, I have several in various versions, including one that I made myself.  My prices are generally lower than anyone in the area.  (I invite you to comparison shop, and I can tell you where some of the brick and mortar stores are.  They also have larger inventories than I have.)  My prices are probably comparable to some discount sites online, though you would have to pay shipping.

The philosophy behind my prices is that I want to provide an introduction to magic to children at the farmers markets.  The way that I learned a lot of the effects that I still perform was to see Jerry at The Secret Magic and Joke Shop in Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines stand behind the counter and demonstrate various pieces of magic.  I try to do that for my young customers.  I also try to set my prices low enough that any given trick is not prohibitive; I have several customers that are learning great magic, simply though it is.

As I said, my prices are generally lower than shops in the area; I don’t have a brick and mortar site to keep up.  But do understand that I am not only selling the props for doing a particular magical illusion.  Sellers of magic will always emphasize that we are selling the secret.  So sometimes magical items may seem a little high priced (comparison shop to ascertain an appropriate value), but do remember that the seller is selling the secret.  Written instructions – and, of course, the secret – come with the trick.  And as often as possible, I give a short lesson in how the effect works, how to perform it, various key elements, etc.

So stop by at either the South Elgin Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons (2:30 – 6:30 p.m.) or the St. Charles Farmers Market on Friday mornings (I am usually there from about 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.).  I have sold to children, to moms buying for a child, grandparents buying for a grandchild or for themselves to be able to be a magical grandparent.  So stop by, see me perform some magic, perhaps pick up a little magical effect to amaze friends, children, grandchildren, or to perhaps teach them to perform.  Abracadabra!

Ages and Stages in Appreciating and Learning Magic

Unless otherwise requested, all of my magic is inter-generational, suited for families and all ages.  My library shows are aimed at approximately middle elementary ages, and my preschool show is aimed at preschool age.  However, many of the same illusions appear in both of those shows, and others that I perform.  What changes is the presentation.  And the illusions in the preschool age show still baffle parents and librarians and other adults!

I was recently asked about a birthday party for 2 year old children.  I admit that for that age, while I think the child would enjoy the magic, the show would mainly be part of the over all celebration.  A 2 year old won’t grasp most of the magic.

That said, at about the age of 2 or 3 there is one form of illusion or magical effect that children do begin to grasp.  That effect is: GONE!  When something vanishes, a child of a fairly young age can begin to grasp that something was there and is now …. GONE!  I learned this with my grandsons and also with my niece.  Most magic is lost on them, but “GONE!” does register.  My niece at that age was enamored with a red silk that appeared from and empty box and disappeared back into the same box.   And, of course, a child of that age is adorable as they concentrate and say, “ABADABA” over the box to make the magic work.

As a child gets a little older, they are quite capable of enjoying the effects that happen before their eyes, even if they don’t fully understand why.  And as part of an audience that includes older children and adults, they do just fine. I have had many a 4 year old sit with wide open eyes, mesmerized at one effect or another.

The age of 5 is a good age to think about having a first magic party, though hopefully not the last!  That age the child is old enough to enjoy being the magician’s assistant, waving the wand, etc.  I especially enjoy the reactions of children of that age.  At various performances, I have asked, “Is magic real?”  While the older children were busy saying no, or telling me it is fake, the younger children sitting on the front row are nodding yes.  I love that age!

What that age does not tend to grasp well is how magic works.  While they make a wonderful, charming and adorable audience, they are not candidates for Wizard’s School.  They are still a little too young for magic lessons.  Because while they are old enough to enjoy the display of magic, they are less able to grasp the secrets behind that magic than they will be at a slightly older age.

That said, I have had 5-year old children enjoy learning the coin slide and other simple tricks.  Still, even when children start to understand that magic is illusion, “tricks,” they may be a little young to grasp the various secrets, have the physical dexterity to perform the effects, the ability to follow the sequence, or the ability to put it all together into a performance. For that reason, children should probably be around seven or eight years of age before Wizard School, unless they show an special aptitude.  From that age on, they are capable of learning simple magical effects, simple sleights, etc.

From that point, the next step is learning more from older magicians and learning to learn on one’s own.  One begins to do more involved effects with more involved sequences, learns to make one’s own magic from simple items, and stars collecting some of the classic effects and props of the art.  And from there, the world is the wizard’s!