In context of a magic show, I have a strong opinions about how children who come on stage as volunteers should be treated. Fundamentally I believe every helper should be a hero. Every child assistant should be shown great appreciation and respect. I do not think a child should ever be made to feel uncomfortable, nor do I believe in making jokes at a child’s expense.
Over the years I have developed a variety of techniques to aid in making children feel good about themselves when on stage with me. A few of the ideas might be original. Others started with things I saw others do, which then were adapted to my style. As far as I am concerned these techniques, although simple, are worth their weight in gold.
I am glad to share them. If you can use them, please do. If the end result is more children having affirming and magical experiences when on stage, it is a reward for me. I am grateful to be part of anything that brings more happiness and good into this world.
Note about selecting child volunteers
In the effort to find a volunteer, rather than standing on stage and pointing at someone, I walk out into the audience. I like to be right next to the individual I am selecting. This ensures I do not have the wrong child come up and allows me extra opportunity to interact with the audience as I walk among them searching for helpers.
Technique #1. “This audience is so pleased you are willing to help!”
After walking out into the audience to find a child volunteer, as the child and I move back toward the stage I pretend to whisper something to the child, but actually make sure my microphone picks it up so everyone hears it. I say, “Want to know a secret? This audience is very happy you are willing to help me. In fact, they are so happy about it they can hardly wait to clap and cheer for you. When you arrive on stage you will not believe how loudly they will clap…and all the applause will be for you.”
Then, when the child and I arrive on stage, I make sure the audience does clap loudly to welcome the child. Because I already cued the audience into this, by way of my supposed “whisper” into the mic, the audience happily and loudly responds. (This amplifies the overall enthusiasm of the audience, along with encouraging the child.)
Technique #2. “You have an awesome smile!”
When walking back toward the stage with a child who has just been selected to assist I comment, “Do you know one of the reasons why I picked you? It is because you have an awesome smile. I will show you how great your smile is. When we get up on stage, if you just look out at the audience and smile, they will go crazy. They will clap and cheer. You will see what what I mean!”
Then, when the child and I arrive on stage, I ask the child to smile at the audience. (Seeing a small child make a great big smile is cute and fun.) I step behind the child as this happens and, in a way the child cannot see, I cue the audience to go crazy clapping as the child smiles. Audiences love to do this. They like being in on the idea of making the child feel special. This too elevates overall audience enthusiasm.
Technique #3. “On their level.” If the child is fairly small (short), I get down on one knee so I am at at eye level as I learn the child’s name. This seems to put children at ease and makes it easier to connect with them for sake of simple conversation. It also seems to be appreciated by an audience. People like seeing an adult lower himself to talk to a child.
Technique #4. “Is it okay if I write down your name?”
I do not always do this, but I often do it. I have a small pad of sticky notes with me. Once the child is on stage and I ask for his or her name, I say, “I would like to make a name tag for you. Would you mind spelling out your name so I can write it down correctly?” This helps me to be sure to properly understand the name. (With modern names, one cannot always know what a name is just by hearing it.) The spelling out of the name helps to ensure I actually say the name correctly. Letting the child stick the note to himself or herself, makes it easy for me to remember the name during the routine. At the end of the routine I thank the child for being an assistant and say, “You can keep the name tag. Thanks again for being such a wonderful helper!” (When working with assistants, I have the assistant come out and write out the name tag, while I continue talking to the child.)
Technique #5. “When I was your age I wasn’t that old!”
It is a standard line for a magician, after asking a child his or her age (such as six year old), to say, “When I was your age I was six years old too!” I have found it better to put myself down. My approach is to say, “Wow, when I was your age I was only five!” This suggests the child is maybe superior to me. The line typically gets a good laugh and usually seems to make the child feel good. He or she basically thinks, This guy may not be as smart as I am! Beyond what the child may think, adults in the audience enjoy the fact that I give the child have the upper hand in the matter.
Technique #6. “Where are you from?”
I think, after learning a child’s name, it is good to actually show interest in the child. One way I do this is nod my head and ask, “Wow, so your name is Caleb! Where are you from?” Children do not always know how to answer the question. Whatever they say, I listen carefully. Recently a little girl told me, “I’m from Disney.” Rather than trying to correct her I simply said, “That is amazing. I don’t know if I have ever meet anyone who is from Disney. What do you do there?” The girl answered, “I sleep.” The audience thought this was wonderfully funny. The girl was not embarrassed because I went along with what she told me and accepted her answers. Whether the child does or does not answer the question, it is worth asking it. It provides opportunity for the child to say something that maybe cute or funny. It indicates you want to know the child.
Note about conversation on stage with a child…
I try to put children at ease and want them to know I am paying attention to them. I am careful not extend this or overdo it. I don’t try to make something funny out of everything they say. (I hope for humor, but do not force it.) I gently ask a few simple questions such as, “What is your name? And “Where are you from?” I react to whatever they say, then I move on with the routine.
Technique #7. “What do you think of my jacket?” (Or shirt)
Since, for a show, I normally wear a fancy jacket or sparkly shirt, I have found I can get some humorous replies if I look down at what I am wearing and ask the child, “What do you think of this jacket?” (or shirt.). A child may say, “I like it,” or he or she might say, “I’m not sure.” Whatever they say, I respond with, “You are probably thinking this makes me look old?” If the child says, “Yes,” or nods his or her head in the affirmative, the audience usually laughs. If you are not an older performer you might say, “Do you think it makes me look handsome?” (Or beautiful?)
At one show, when I asked a little girl what she thought of my jacket, she said, “I have tiger pajamas at home. I like them better than your coat.” Her sincerity and the spontaneity of her response was delightful. The question is not an attempt to get a compliment from the child. The purpose is the creation of opportunity for the child to give an sincere response which likely will be entertaining.
All of these techniques center around the idea of treating the child as a person rather than a prop. I think children are more wonderful than any trick a magician would ever do. Therefore, when I bring them on stage, I want to showcase them. In my perspective, a child is not there so I can do a trick. The trick is there so I can feature a child. Whatever the trick or routine, if it involves a child volunteer, I see the purpose to be that of providing a child with a great experience and making a reminder to all about how special children are.
I realize not everyone enjoys children like I do. Nevertheless, I think any performer who invites a child on stage needs to comprehend the wonder and delight that can be found within children. A good performer finds ways to make that wonder and delight shine out.