The Difference Between Magic for Children vs Childrens Entertainment
Children’s entertainment sometimes has a bad rap. Many people without any experience decide that running a “kids party” is well… child’s play. In fact, there is a great deal of skill in working with children. As children are still developing their understanding of the world, and because any party can have a range of ages present, children are perhaps even more complex and more challenging than working with adults.
Unfortunately many people jump head first into children’s entertainment without considering these skills. It disappoints me when an entertainer tells a group of children they are a magician, and then proceeds to get everything wrong “for comedy!”
While I agree that making a mistake can be a useful technique and can be funny, like anything it is one tool among many. Too often this one technique is used as a substitute for quality magic. The character of the magician becomes an idiot, that just gawks about throughout the show. Now some people might say that if something works, then why change it? However I think that is a lazy way of thinking. As a professional performer, I know that when I create something unique, not only does the performance result in more enjoyment for me, but that joy is translated across to the children too.
Is That Really a Magic Show?
Just recently a parent who chose to book my show told me that she appreciated that my magic show was a 100% magic show. Perhaps that sounds strange but I know of many ‘magicians’ who sell a magic show and then spend 30 minutes performing with a puppet on their arm. That can be entertaining, and there is certainly a place for that, but to my mind it is not a magic show. I honestly believe that magic is one the most effective ways to engage children. As a magician I would not feel comfortable to compromise the mystery of magic by watering the show down with something else. For me, my show is impressive and impossible magic first.
The Theatrical Experience for Children
When I created Ready Steady Magic, I set out with the idea that magic for children should be more than just ‘clowning around’. From my experience with children’s theatre, I know that art should aim to be emotionally and intellectually engaging. Now you may be of the opinion that these concepts may be too complicated for a four year old, but I would disagree. As I mention in my opening paragraph, children are not simpler adults. They are complex humans in their own right. Too often there is a tendency in children’s media to underestimate the children’s ability to understand. This leads to making content for children one dimensional at best, and at worse you end up with that awful situation of an adult talking down to a child, as if they are a baby.
Now of course my show is not full of difficult language. Take empathy for instance. A child may not know what that word means, but if I perform a trick that fails several times, instead of acting like an idiot I can act upset or frustrated. Children can recognise this emotion and likewise will empathise with my joy of overcoming the challenge when the magic finally works. This also helps to build soft skills and reinforces persistence and never giving up.
As I’ve mentioned, clowning and having fun are great. Children love it, and there is certainly a place for shows that are pure entertainment. For me though, I like to think of it as magic plus…
This approach transforms the audience from passive consumers into an engaged audience. It also helps to carry the narrative of the show along, instead of being merely a demonstration of tricks. This nicely brings me on to my next point.
Children believe in magic. Father Christmas exists. The Tooth Fairy exists. Magic exists. Nothing sums this up more than a quote from a child at one of my very first shows, he said, “I know how you did that. You just clicked your fingers and something magical happened!”
For children a magician is a doorway to a magical world. A magic show isn’t a series of tricks where the magician tries to fool you. It’s a real magician demonstrating what is possible in his or her world.
At every show I perform, I also keep at the forefront of my mind that this may be a child’s first ever experience of magic. It has been said that, all art is education. We can either teach our audience that magic is about belittling our audience and getting the “tricks” wrong, “for comedy”, or we can open their mind to the wonder of the world around them.
Of course having read all of this, there may still be those who want to hire an all-round entertainer. That’s totally fine, but my approach is what sets me and Ready Steady Magic, apart.