I talk to older kids before every show.
I didn’t use to. I used to roll into a birthday party full of 10-year-olds and try to immediately befriend them. I would be high-fiving them, joking, talking conspiratorially about how we could trick the adults.
My thinking was I would bond with them and then we would launch off into some crazy fun together.
My plan had one fatal flaw. I didn’t realise how smart kids are. They could see right through my ploy. They could see right through me that this was actually a smoke screen to cover how unconfident I felt with them. Kids hunt in packs like wolves and they sense the lame deer. I was the lame deer.
This went on for many years. I forced myself to take older kids bookings even though I always had a big knot in my stomach before every show.
Through sheer trial and error, I realised I was very wrong. I was just going about it all back to front.
Where I thought that being a middle-aged adult who physically reminded the kids of a teacher or an authority figure would be a disadvantage, it was actually one of my high cards that I was never playing.
My approach with older kids upon meeting them is friendly but a little aloof, a little stand-offish, a little mysterious. Where I used to give off the vibe we’re all in this together and we’re all going to have fun, I now keep an air of “I know a LOT MORE than you do and if you’re good, I’ll show it to you.”
This is the thing. Kids this age appreciate skill levels much higher than they possess. They crave knowledge and secrets and quickly acquiesce to those who have them.
With this mindset, I begin chatting to them before the show. Sometimes they are all in a group; other times they are just wandering around as I am setting up.
But to be clear, I never do this smugly.
I tell the kids that I am going to treat them like adults. but I will start treating them like kids if they start acting like kids. Of course I don’t say it that way.
I stick a smile on my face and say:Who has seen a magic show in a big theatre? Anyone? No one, huh? You gotta do that one day. I’ll tell you what happens in those theatres. As the tigers are vanishing and people are being sawed in half and the most amazing card tricks are being done, do you know what people say? Nothing. You don’t go to those theatres and hear everyone yelling ’Hey, I know how that’s done.’ You don’t have people crawling across the floor of the stage to try and look underneath something. You don’t see those things done for two reasons. One, it’s just bad manners; and two, security will throw you out. So, I’m bringing a magic show into your house, and those same rules of the theatre apply. That does not mean you cannot have fun—lots of that coming. It does not mean you cannot yell out and join in—I want you to. It just means there is a line you cannot cross … Do you know what that line is? It’s manners. If it’s not good manners, you’ll know. So I’ve got one question for you: who wants to see a magic show? Say yeah. Oh, you weren’t ready, were you? I’ll give you another go…
So now I have a compliant group of kids. Kids get this. They understand and appreciate the ground rules.
And you know what? The parents appreciate you more for doing this. I’ve had parents tell me, “I was so glad you did all that because we thought they were going to tear you apart when you got here.”
Now you have to show them magic they want to see. You have to introduce them to the challenge.
But it is definitely okay to explain all of this, to set these ground rules, because remember, live performance is not as common as it once was. You are staying in control.
Sometimes though the kids have been coached by one little ring in kid who has likely come from a family where, to be frank, the father is probably just an idiot who is the type who would heckle at a comedy club and he has passed the tools of the trade down to his child. You’ll know this when you see it. This kid has, in a fashion, bullied the other kids into doing everything opposite of what I want. He then will be seen as the real controller of the show.
This is where I take an extra moment to use a silencer.
This is where I apparently, just as a spontaneous act, decide to show them one quick thing before we start. And this thing needs to be a VERY strong visual magic trick.
What about you? What do you have that works for situations like this? Add it in the comments below.