Let me make one thing abundantly clear, I'm not a magician. I'm an entertainer that does some magic. I was never interested in magic when I was younger and it's not something I've ever been really passionate about. I was more into collecting Panini football stickers and watching Monkey on a Friday night as opposed to Paul Daniels on a Saturday night. When I started as Mr Banana Head I'd see children's entertainers on FB talking about the latest trick they'd bought and felt I needed to do the same to keep up. It didn't take long however to realise that I didn't want my shows to be all about the magic and I didn't want to be the same as everyone else.
From the start, everything I did was silly as that's what came naturally to me. The magic routines I did were fairly quick so in a two hour party I had an average of 5-6 of them along with Mango the Monkey and games. Over the years the routines have evolved. Whist the magical content is still the same, the silly bits interspersed throughout the routines and the party itself have made them longer. In a two hour party I now do two magic tricks. Neither are complicated and can be done by anyone. As many people have said, it's the journey, not the destination that's important. A magic trick can be done in seconds but this can be turned into 5-10 mins or longer adding in all the silliness. I've always felt that magic for me needs to have humour in to be entertaining. Don't get me wrong, I can be impressed by clever magic but not often entertained by it. I appreciate that I might be in the minority with this and that's fine.
Personally, someone preening onstage as if to say, "Look how amazingly and incredibly clever I am," never does it for me. Being self effacing is what endears me to performers. It makes them more relatable and likeable. When I tell the children what we're going to be doing at the party I actually say, "Then we'll do some really average magic." I like to keep expectations low in case anyone's expecting me to float, cut myself in half or disappear and have a tiger appear in my place.
Now that's out of the way, let's get to the point. I want to talk about three very common items used in magic. They're all instantly recognisable and polarise the magician / entertainer community. I used all three when I started and still do. They are the Breakaway Wand, Magic (Change) Bag and Magic Colouring Book. There are plenty of entertainers I know that turn their noses up at all of them. "They're so old hat", "everyone knows them", "Children can do them", are all reasons I've heard for not having them in their shows. I remember a conversation a few years ago with another entertainer. I was telling him about the reactions I got from the Colouring Book and asked if he did it. He said he got it out once, a child shouted out, "I know how you do it" and he immediately put it away and never used it.
Here's the thing, children are always saying, "I know how you do that." Most of the time they don't. Their explanation will often be "You swapped it over when we blinked" or "When we weren't looking you got another one from your box." Sometimes they will know but so what. At almost every party someone will shout out, "Your monkey's not real, he's a puppet or "You're controlling him." That same child will still be shouting out, pointing and laughing as Mango has multiple balls coming out of his mouth and attacks me with a comb.
The child who knows how the Colouring Book works as they actually have one at home will still be screaming when the colours or the pictures disappear. As I said earlier, the magic can take seconds and won't be very entertaining. Add in the invisible rubbers, colour collecting feather duster, dummy and me going crazy when they do what I tell them not to makes it a whole different proposition.
If you ask most people to name a type of magic wand, chances are it will be this one. You know how it works, you hold it and it's fine. You hand it to a child and it breaks. Everyone will have their own way of using it depending on their style etc. Some shout, "What have you done?" to the helper. Personally, I reassure them they haven't broken it. The first time I say, "Don't worry, it wasn't you, it's always breaking on it's own. The second time it's because everyone was supposed to say the magic words together. The third time it breaks when I'm holding it. How quickly I reassure them depends on the child. Most of the time when I turn and see it broken the child is already laughing. I'll often just stare at them smiling whist the laughing continues. With a younger child or someone who looks worried I'll reassure them fairly quickly. I'm watching their face the whole time they're with me so I know what to say and how to say it.
When I give them replacement wands that aren't wands at all they feel more secure with me and I can get away with being a bit more accusatory towards them. 99% of the time, children recognise it when they see it, know what's going to happen and still go crazy when it does. There are a plethora of wands you can buy that all do different things. Some entertainers aren't fans but I still love my Breakaway wand.
Magic Colouring Book
This is probably the most recognisable magic trick for children. The book can either be shown with black and white pictures, coloured in pictures or blank pages. I was at a festival last year with the girls and the entertainer got out the colouring book. He looked at it for a few seconds and then threw it away saying, "Don't worry, I'm sure you've all seen that way too many times." It got a big laugh from the adults. I don't get to use it that much now due to time constraints but when I do I love it and the reactions it gets. From a child's point of view it really is magical. They get to make colours appear, disappear and then turn the pages blank. They get to ignore me and do everything I tell them not to. They also get to see an almost 50 year old man suck his thumb and a Minnie Mouse dummy. It doesn't get much better than that!
It's got constant audience interaction and I love the fact that it can get the children who are reluctant to join in really getting involved. When I tell them not to rub the colours out again they invariably do. Sometimes they all do it simultaneously and sometimes it will start off with a few and then others join them. They'll normally always be at least one who's looking at everyone first and then feeling it's ok for them to join in too. By the time I show the pages blank and pretend I haven't seen it they are going absolutely insane. I love it.
Magic (Change) Bag
The official name is a change bag but I call it the Magic Bag at parties. Again, I'm sure you know how it works: items are placed inside and different items come out. There are so many different types of these from the traditional one that looks like a church collection bag (where it originated from) to egg bags to flat bags to hats and socks! I use a traditional one. There are countless ways to use it but for my shows we get a picture of the child's favourite show / film, cut it up and then magically mend it back together. When I started, the routine took less than 5 minutes, it now takes 15. The magical content is the same, I've just added things like my dodgy Kate Bush singing medley to help turn all the children's fingers into magic wands.
Again, I love how the children do the magic and their reactions when it goes wrong. As with the Breakaway Wand, I reassure the birthday child (who does this trick) that they didn't mess up. There's always a reason why it didn't work. I do throw smelly socks in their faces but want them to feel empowered and not like they've got something wrong and messed up. I know others will do things differently and that's what's great about being a Children's Entertainer, we're all unique and do what's right for us.
I'm very fortunate in that I never get bored with anything I do in my shows. This is also very handy as I'm quite lazy about learning new stuff. I have bought a few new tricks over the years but most haven't got past the "still in the packet" stage. I love performing it all and like to think I put my heart and soul into every single party I do. When I stop doing that it will be time to give up. Hopefully that won't happen til I'm at least 96!
I wonder if people's perceptions of the breakaway wand, colouring book and change bag depends on whether they see themselves as a magician or an entertainer who does a bit of magic. Maybe I'll do a survey and find out. I think they'll always be polarised opinions with regards to all three of them. As for me, I love them all and the reactions they get. I'm not interested in being the person who does incredibly complex tricks to look clever. I'm very happy to be a silly Banana Head. Please raise your glass, cup, beaker or llama. I'd like to propose a toast.....Here's to average magic.
See you next time.
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