Colin Underwood discusses the action/reaction technique kids entertainers can use in their performance

Part 3 of the 10 Essential Techniques That Kids Entertainer Professionals Do Not Share

Last time we talked about how to add suspense to your act. (Have you applied the tips?) Now in this article, we’ll look into one of the most beneficial methods you can use to enhance your character—the action/reaction technique.

Act and then React

I was first introduced to this concept by a very talented actor/producer, Kurt Wurtsman. He booked me for many acting-type roles, with my ‘skills’ coming second to the main character. I had to play for 3,000 delegates for a Microsoft convention at one of our large resorts, Sun City.

Kurt showed me this Action/Reaction technique to help me play bigger in such a space. Let me say that this ties up with the last two articles on Surprise and Suspense. I suggest you reread those articles first.

Right, welcome back if you wandered off to read them.

Simply put, Action/Reaction is to act and then react. That means for every action you make, a contextual reaction must also take place.

You need to break up your actions into many smaller sub-actions, very much like what you did for the Surprise technique (in fact, the same cue points for the Surprise technique can be used although the appropriate response might be different).

Now with these points in mind, apply the appropriate response to the action. It might be surprise, sadness, or whatever.

What this does is stop you from becoming a ‘robot performer’ and it makes your show spontaneous.

There are so many bad magicians not because their technique is bad, but because they do not believe in the ‘magic’ and the character they portray.

Yes, they make certain stock lines at the appropriate moments, but if they portray genuine astonishment or emotion appropriate to the action at the same time the audience does, they will be better able to engage people.

The thing is, the more you show the same emotion as the audience does (you may even exaggerate it), the more you bond with them. Salesmen know this, that’s why they mirror their clients’ body positions in meetings as a way to link with them.

To highlight this technique, let’s take the actual scenario I was in on that Super Bowl stage many years ago.

Here’s the scene as I remember it: Lights down and in walks this crazy character with big shoes, large, exaggerated eyebrows, and a lot of rouge on his cheeks and lips. (Not by my choice, mind you.)

Three thousand people (mainly men) stood around the stage area in a large horseshoe arrangement. Immediately I was aware of the comments and murmuring. (I was thinking, “It’s the damn rouge.”)

I was holding a briefcase to my chest, clutching it for dear life. I placed the briefcase down on an office chair with a jacket draped over the back rest.

I then proceeded to take my gloves off, and all goes well until I find my left glove getting longer and longer. Now I was in panic mode! I made exaggerated poses trying to release my arm from the crazy man-eating glove.

Kids entertainer Colin Underwood performs onstage utilizing the action/reaction technique Kids entertainer Colin Underwood performs onstage utilizing the action/reaction techniqueKids entertainer Colin Underwood performs onstage utilizing the action/reaction technique  Kids entertainer Colin Underwood performs onstage utilizing the action/reaction technique Kids entertainer Colin Underwood performs onstage utilizing the action/reaction technique

Finally after what seemed like hours, I escaped. I moved over to the suitcase very slowly and opened the lid. I immediately backed away in panic, slamming down the lid.

I looked at the case, then at the audience, and back at the case. I moved back and reached down for the lid again, and again I jumped back as a large sound effect from backstage made me jump. (By now the audience was engaged, with some people shouting that I could do it. Tough crowd!)

I picked up the case, opened it, and very slowly revealed a bowling ball. I looked surprised and horrified. Then I smiled, and with a slight shrug and sigh, I tossed the ball over my shoulder.

I once again recoiled in fright when the ball made a loud bang when it fell. I turned around and in one motion, I pulled a revolver from my pocket and pointed it at the ball. (My pose was an exaggerated police pose.) I realised my silliness in overreacting so I shrugged and placed the revolver back in my pocket—but I accidently shot my foot.

To summarise the rest of the act, I survived the ordeal, produced another bowling ball, vanished it, and then produced a soccer ball from the jacket. I left to great response and exited stage left.


Applying the Technique

To know how you can use the method in your show and comedy, let’s make an example.

Say the child is next to you and you give him a wand. Immediately the wand breaks so you give him another one. Now the wand turns blue and a little smaller, followed by another.


How about turning your Nesting/Breakaway Wand routine into this?

You: “Mr. Johnnie the Magician, folks! Give him a big hand! Now what does he need to do magic?”

Children: “A magic wand, hat, bunny, etc.”

You: “No! Money—lots of it!”

“Now, who has seen a magician give a magic wand to a child and it breaks?” Pause. “Well, I don’t do that, as its old-fashioned.” (Make sure the wand breaks just as you say the word ‘breaks,’ then look at the audience as you finish the sentence.)

Act surprised at the broken wand. Pause then say, “I just told you I don’t do that.”

Repeat this, getting more worked up with each go. Take out the blue nested wand and say, “This used to be my best magic wand. It was given to me by my uncle and when it worked its magic it would turn . . .” (Give the child the wand as you expose the red wand and say, “Red!”)

Freak out at the sight of the red wand and ask the child how he did that. Go down on your knees and beg him to tell you (you can even pretend to cry) and say that you also want to be a magician.

Carry on begging and crying and move to an adult. Cry on his/her shoulder while pointing to the child and saying that the child won’t tell you how to do the magic.

Crying may not suit everyone’s stage persona, but I can highly recommend it as it could be a viable comedy option. It’s very funny for both kids and adults to see the children’s entertainer burst into tears, especially over something silly. The audience knows instinctively that crying is used to get your own way.

This is the exact routine I do in my show. When finding someone to cry on, I generally choose a jolly type of woman rather than a blonde in a mini skirt (although my real preference would be the latter—I’m a guy, come on!)

I also sort of come in at an angle so when I rest my head on the adult’s shoulder, my body isn’t totally in front of her.

Now if the woman tries to pacify me by patting me on the back, I proceed to become calmer—and then let out a loud snore. After a second, I immediately jump backwards, act all indignant, and say something like “Come on” or “Stop it” to the audience.

And you know what? The audience gets a laugh. So why not give acting/reacting a try? It just might work for you.

Next time, we will chat about writing your character brief. If you have any questions or suggestions, write a comment below or e-mail me. Ciao!