It was at the end of a birthday party that I was asked this question. It hadn’t been a tough party by any means. They were a lovely bunch of kids and an equally lovely bunch of grown-ups, but clearly the clients thought I had worked much harder than was actually the case. Apparently I knew exactly what to say to the children, when to say it and how to say it. Well, as I said, I do this for a living and I have quite a bit of experience.
“So when did you choose to entertain children,” the mum asked me.
Well, that is a long story, and to be honest there wasn’t a single moment I can point to.
Let me take you back to when I left school. I’d been practising and performing magic for friends and family for a few years, and I was asked if I would perform for a local primary school.
Being young and stupid (well, more stupid than I am now!) I thought performing for children would be easy. How wrong could I have been?
After a few performances being destroyed by the little terrors, I decided that performing for children wasn’t for me, and fairly soon after that I threw out most of my magic props (pre-eBay days) and mothballed my dreams of fame and fortune in magic.
Skip forward 25 years. I’m now married and attending a friend’s wedding, and I’m being mobbed by our friends’ children. “Kids love you,” my wife tells me. Frankly, I couldn’t see it, but she insisted I had a connection with them.
Back in the time machine, and it’s my own daughter’s fifth birthday. Frankly, I wasn’t going to pay someone else to entertain her, so I bought a few cheap props and put together a magic show for her. Here’s a short video from the party.
That was my first magic show for more than 30 years, but the response from the other parents was that my wife was right (she usually is, or so she tells me!) and I do have a connection with children. I’d learned a lot in the intervening 30 years, none of it to do with magic, but it had made me the performer I had become. I was asked for do birthday parties for four of my daughter’s classmates. After 30 years, I was an overnight success!
Now, five more years on, and with hundreds of shows for families and children behind me, I can look back at my juvenile self and smile at my naivety and innocence. Entertaining children isn’t easy; it takes skill and it takes experience.
And not just experience of performing in front of an audience. It demands experience of life, of children, of families, and of group behaviour. A performer needs to draw on that experience in dealing with audiences. And every audience is different, so it takes quick thinking, improvisation and, occasionally, discipline to keep an audience of children under control but happy, entertained and involved. These are the skills I picked up not from a book or a training course but by living life.
When did I choose to entertain children?
I honestly don’t know. In fact, I think they chose me. Like we have a connection.
And I’m having an absolute ball. I love my job.