How To Add Drama To Kids Entertainer Shows
A Kids Entertainer Hub master class with Christopher T Magician
Last time in Part 1 Christopher T Magician showed us how to play the very popular T Shirt game. Now he takes us into territory many kids entertainers haven’t yet experienced …
How-to books on screen and play writing regularly stress the importance – no, absolute necessity – that the main character in a show possesses a strong want or desire. That desire is what captures the audience and draws them along on the journey. We watch because we have to know if the main characters will finally reach their goals.
If the heart of every dramatic work lies in the main character’s Want, then one can argue that adding a Want – or for our purposes an ‘I Want’ Routine – to a magic show will result in a more captivated and involved audience.
The number one piece of advice I can give to improve a show and lift it from mere string-of-tricks status:
CREATE AN ‘I WANT’ ROUTINE.
Figuring out what your Want should be is a surprisingly simple task. Take the end of your show and work backwards. That’s it. Take the end of the show. Then work backwards. Easy!
I don’t mean the very end of the show. I mean the big effect. The grand finale routine. You might follow the main attraction with a smaller, intimate, and more personable routine. That is not the ‘end’ I’m referring to. I mean your biggest effect either at the end or near the end of your show.
Whatever your showstopper grand finale may be, describe the effect and frame it as your Want:
1. Rabbit Production #1. “I’ve always wanted to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but I’ve never been able to do it.”
2. Rabbit Production #2. Same production, different want. Whip a cloth off a cage to reveal … “Oh no! My rabbit is gone! We better find him before he gets lost!”
3. Chair Suspension. “There’s one trick I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve never been able to do it. I’ve always wanted to make somebody float in the air.”
4. Sawing In Half With Ropes. “How many of you know that trick where a magician saws a lady in half and puts her back together by magic?! Well, I can’t do that. It’s the one trick I’ve never been able to do.”
5. Birthday Present Production. “Oh no! I just realized. I forgot to get Steven a present for his birthday. I’d make him one by magic, but I can’t. The only time you can make a birthday present by magic is if it is your birthday.”
Once you’ve defined your desire, it’s time to connect it with an effect. The task can be accomplished two ways.
1. Perform a trick, the end of which highlights the magician’s inability, and therefore forces him to confess his secret Want.
2. Confess the Want and follow it up with a trick that further emphasizes the desire. I’ll provide an example of both that I’ve used in my own shows.
The Effect Leads To The Confession
After my opening effect, I whisper to the kids, “I’ve been working on a brand new magic trick. Would you guys like to see it?” I then present my brand new vanishing carrot trick. Unfortunately, the trick fails; rather than disappearing, the carrot continues to multiply out of control. I place each carrot into the magic hat on my table during the hilarity. In the chaos, I get a glimpse into my hat and freeze.
“There’s something in the hat! There’s something in the hat … eating the carrots!” The kids grow tense with anticipation. “It has a cute little nose … a cute little tail … and two cute little ears! What do you think it is?”
“A rabbit!” the kids shout.
“Skunk!” I exclaim as I reach into the hat, pull out a Spring Skunk, and struggle with it as it runs all over my body. Finally I frantically toss the skunk behind my back drop. “Ugh! Gross!”
Calm now, my shoulders slump as I frown at the top hat. “I should have known there was no rabbit in that hat. I’ve never been able to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It’s the one trick I’ve always wanted to do, but I always seem to screw it up.”
The Confession Leads To The Effect
In my current show, I lean in to whisper to the children after my first two tricks. “I’ve been working on a brand new magic trick. Would you like to see it?” When the kids shout their approval, I continue by asking, “How many of you know that trick where a magician saws a lady in half and then puts her back together?”
The kids enthusiastically raise their hands.
“I can’t do that,” I admit, “I’m not that good. But I’ve been practicing. I’m working my way up. So today, instead of sawing a lady in half and putting her back together, I’m going to do that same trick with…” I pause to reach into my table and reveal… “A Pop-Tart!”
After the initial laugh, I proceed into my torn and restored Pop-Tart routine to provide a visual representation of the trick I long to perform.
While both versions of the “I Want” routine (effect leading to confession or confession leading to effect) work perfectly fine separately, utilized together, they will without a doubt instill in the audience the Want that will drive the show forward.
Rewind for a moment and imagine I just pulled that skunk out of my magic hat. Phase one now complete (the Multiplying Carrots led to the Spring Skunk, which led to my confession), I can continue on with phase two, performing another related trick that emphasizes my Want.
After my embarrassing confession, I continue, “But I can imagine what it would be like if I did pull a rabbit out of a hat. I even know exactly what he’ll look like. Here, I’ll show you.” I grab my Magic Drawing Board and draw a rabbit. Eventually, the eyes start moving, and the mouth eventually opens to scream every time I scream in fear. Terrified, I erase the rabbit and move on, still panting out of breath.
Whether you present your Want before an effect, after an effect, or between two effects, one question remains…
So what do I do now?
Once you’ve effectively set up your Want, you can build your entire show around the journey of your character reaching that goal, every effect and piece of dialogue essentially helping to tell that story.
But I’d call that the advanced version.
Here are a few simple ways to easily lead your show from the ‘I Want’ Routine to the finale.
1. Running Gag
After setting up the desire in the ‘I Want’ Routine, attempt to reproduce the desired effect two or three times during the show.
Continuing with the rabbit in hat scenario, a couple of times during the show, I can pick my magic hat back up and reach inside, completely certain and excited that this time I’ll do it. I will pull a rabbit out of the hat! Both times … nada. Finally, at the end of the show, having introduced my Want at the beginning and continued the storyline of it as the show progressed, the final production of a rabbit will feel like a pleasing and satisfying conclusion.
2. Five Paragraph Essay
Did you ever have to learn how to write a five paragraph essay in school? In the first paragraph, the writer presents his thesis statement. The three following paragraphs make arguments that support and reference back to the original thesis in that first paragraph. Those three paragraphs lead up to the fifth and final concluding paragraph, summing up everything written and restating the thesis from a fresh point of view. The same basic concept applies here.
Your ‘I Want’ routine is essentially the thesis statement for your five paragraph essay. Once you state your goal, the following three paragraphs – a.k.a. the rest of the effects in your show leading up to the grand finale – support and reference back to that Want.
The key is to perform your set list of tricks (any tricks at all, no need to add or replace routines), and a few times throughout your show, find a way to tie some of the effects back to the thesis statement. Or in this case, the ‘I Want.’
Back to that rabbit in hat storyline. After you color in your Clown Magic Coloring book with your normal laugh-filled routine, notice a picture of a magician and some rabbits. “Aw look, that magician can pull rabbits out of a hat. I wish I could.” Before you use your change bag for your Mis-Made Flag, get a brilliant idea. “Hey! I can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, but maybe I can pull a rabbit out of a bag!” Try and fail, the desire growing stronger. Cut and restore a rope. After the routine, claim you will turn the rope into a rabbit. Hold the two ends of the rope up behind your head, so they look like rabbit ears. “See, I look like a rabbit!” The kids will moan, and you once again pine that you’ll never make a rabbit appear.
Don’t overdo it. Three or four mentions during the show will be enough to build up to your final rabbit production.
The simplest answer … nothing. Seriously, even if you do nothing else concerning your ‘I Want’ Routine other than reaching your goal at the end of the show, even doing only that will already bump the show a step up from ‘string-of-tricks’ status. At the very least, you’ll have provided a sense of book-ending as well as an arc to your character.
I said it once, but I want to say it again (get it … want!). Add an ‘I Want’ Routine to your show. This one concept, even integrated in its simplest form, will automatically propel your show out of the doldrums of random trick after random trick after random trick and into the category of … well … show!