(Close Window)
Topic: Lessons from a regular nursing home gig
Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Apr 20, 2011 01:59PM)
Hey everyone,

I worked as a nursing assistant last summer at a nursing home. After starting nursing school, time constraints made it impractical for me to continue working there as a CNA. However, they have hired me (for a very modest fee) to perform for an hour(!) on Wednesdays and Thursdays every other week. On Wednesdays I do a show for the long-term care wing and on Thursdays for residents with dementia issues.

Since the audiences are different on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I can do the same show both days, but I try to switch it up week to week.

What a great opportunity to do service, gain performance experience, try out new material, and get a modest paycheck!

As many people have noted here, nursing home audiences are not very typical -- the responses are often not immediate and not always obvious. However, I have no doubt that my performances there are as meaningful and memorable as any show I have ever done.

I will post some tips, best practices, and lessons learned soon -- right now I have to load up and head off to a show!

Message: Posted by: Amazing Magic Co (Apr 20, 2011 02:42PM)

Thanks for your post. I've been wondering about these types of venues and what mix works best. I'm looking forward to your posts along with others' experiences.

Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Apr 21, 2011 05:35PM)
An unexpected nursing home hit: the air cannon.
(See the 1st pic on the "Photos" page of my website, linked below.)

This thing shoots a blast of air 30 feet across the room, and seems wildly inappropriate for the elderly. Which is why, I think, it's such a success.

I introduce it by talking about the fact the we grownups don't often get to play with toys. One of the things I love about magic is that it lets all of us reconnect with the wonder and fun of being a kid. I show the air cannon, explain what it does and how it works. I then go out into the audience and ask one of the residents to hold up a red silk. I back up 20 paces and take aim. Everyone sees the silk fly up.

After a couple of demonstrations, I ask if anyone would like to know what if feels like to get a puff of air in the face. I pick someone with hair that will visibly fly up and ask their permission. It inevitable gets a big surprised and delighted reaction from the volunteer and from the crowd when they see the person's hair blow back.

Pretty soon everyone is volunteering to be a target and everyone has a huge smile on their face.

When I was packing to go to my first nursing home show, my partner said, "Your not bringing the air cannon are you?" And I said, no of course not. But...after being a little desperate for new material and thinking carefully about how to do it, I tried it. I'm glad I did.

More reflections to come.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear about what other people have done successfully that might not be an obvious choice for nursing homes.

Message: Posted by: rsylvester (Apr 21, 2011 09:02PM)
Hi Daniel: I'd like to do some performing at nursing and assisted living homes, as well. I'd like to hear more about what effects really work well for you, whether they're considered appropriate or not, especially for the long-term care wing. I think those are the folks who may need the pick-me-up magic brings the most. But they also seem like the most challenging. Since you're a trained nurse, I'd like to hear more about your philosophy for doing magic in these settings. I'm also considering volunteering at a local hospital, doing magic. I've never done either of these before, but I'm drawn to them after seeing my parents through ill health, and finally death. They always liked my magic, and I like the way it brings smiles to faces, at times when they may not have as much to smile about. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.
Message: Posted by: Mike Maturen (Apr 23, 2011 08:35AM)
I did quite a bit of nursing home work when I was a teen (yes, magic DID exist way back then!). It was very rewarding, and a great way to practice. The audiences tend to be very forgiving.

I would recommend an occasional nursing home visit, even if you don't make it a regular thing. The residents love it, and it will do your own heart some good, as well!
Message: Posted by: djurmann (Apr 24, 2011 05:20AM)
Interestingly I offered my services to a number of nursing homes in the UK....not one reply, not even thank you but no. Maybe it is a UK thing. Doing a couple of fundraisers for hospices, after that I may re-apply.
Message: Posted by: Mowee (Apr 24, 2011 01:38PM)
Having had my mother in a nursing home for several years (albeit in another state) I think it would be great to learn more about what works and why. I know you have a lot of challenges...limited eyesight, hearing and mental awareness. My guess is the magic would have to be fairly straight forward and simple to comprehend. Looking forward to more tips.
Message: Posted by: Damon Reinbold (Apr 24, 2011 07:06PM)
Daniel, you are to be commended for your charitable efforts. If anyone needs entertainment, it is nursing home and assisted living residents. I hope you produce a flower and give it to the person in the audience who is smiling the least because they will need it the most.

Kudos. God bless.

Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Apr 24, 2011 11:21PM)
Here is another tip:

Be good to the staff. I did everything I could to make sure my show wouldn't cause additional work for the staff. I wanted them to be excited about my performance, not resent me for disrupting their routine or causing additional work. (The truth is, these people work really hard for not a lot of money, under some very draining circumstances.)

I talked to the activities director about what time and space would be easiest for everyone. I sent posters ahead of time so people could get excited about it (or at least not be surprised when I showed up!) I stopped by for a few minutes the day before with d'lites and a few small pocket tricks to introduce myself (or reacquaint myself -- I had worked there last summer)and promote the show/remind people I was coming the next day.

When I arrived (early), I was patient and flexible, asking if there was anything I could do to help get the space ready. I also thanked the staff members before during and after -- for helping to get people to the show, interrupting their routine, being willing to volunteer, providing some applause, etc.

If you need volunteers who can read a dictionary word, identify a regular size playing card, or come to the front of the room, you may need a staff member to be a volunteer. I ask nicely in advance if they would be willing to help out, and reassure them that it will be fun and easy.

Finally, I try to include one or two tricks that will absolutely fry the brains of staff members who are paying attention -- I want them to know that I'm a serious magician as well as a goofy entertainer. These are the folks who may ask me if I do parties, bridal showers, etc. and ask for a business card.

More to come about the material that has worked best and how to really make it a great experience for the residents.

Message: Posted by: manal (Apr 25, 2011 03:10PM)
As an LPN in resthomes the past 6 years I feel the above is great advice, especially concerning the staff and involving them as well as residents. Don't perform Snowstorm in China. Anything involving cleanup as noted above puts extra work on already overworked staff.
Silk to Egg plays well as well as Jeff Hobsons Balloon Bag and various balloon gags/bits.
Here are a few more that went well; comedy hat tears, Cut and restored rope, Egg on Fan, salt pour (into a receptacle), Misers dream.
They enjoy being made to feel apart of the show,laughing/calling out. Getting out of their rooms and doing something besides current events , music appreciation and bingo really breaks the monotony.
Most resthomes have very little funds for recreation and I have worked in one that had no recreation budget at all! Nothing! All their entertainment was provided for free by volunteers and most of it was worth what they paid,"nothing".
You are doing a great service Daniel and I hope the experience continues to be pleasant for you.
Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Apr 26, 2011 03:04PM)

Nursing home residents do not arrive for the show en masse. They trickle in one at a time with a staff member (who will then go back and bring another resident.) This means that there will be people sitting around for quite some time before your show is supposed to start.

I fill this time by playing music and warming up. I try to choose toe-tapping music that is upbeat, but not too loud or modern -- such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Blossom Deary, etc. My warm up includes setting and checking all my props, stopping to do a few seconds of juggling, introducing myself to residents as they arrive, doing a short close-up trick for the early guests, continuing to adjust props, playing a few chords on my ukulele, doing some hat tricks, etc. During this time, I repeatedly tell everyone my name, that I'm here to do a magic and juggling show, that I'm just warming up, and that the show will start in 15 minutes (or whatever.)

(Added bonus: doing a few preliminary card-flourishes, hat tricks, juggling moves, etc. helps me feel less nervous.)

This is a good time to learn a few names, so I can address individual residents during the show. I can also gauge who might be an appropriate volunteer, and even ask them if they'd like to help out during the show.

I feel like the most important thing I can do before, during, and after the show, is spend time interacting with the residents in a way that is personal, caring, and upbeat. This pre-show time is a great opportunity for that.

More to come. : )

Message: Posted by: rsylvester (Apr 26, 2011 10:09PM)
This is fantastic, Daniel. Keep it coming. You are an inspiration. I've lost both my parents -- my mom in hospice, my dad in residential care. I would really like to give back to the people who have helped them. Great advice, @manal. I will be following this thread with interest.
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Apr 27, 2011 03:46PM)
I've done a few of these myself for gratis and practice purposes. Daniel is spot in with everything he says. Staff are so busy that most of them don't even get to see the show, so anything you can do to make their lives simpler while you're there is also appreciated. For the folks with dementia, the staff does like to observe so they can measure just what some folks can and can't understand. So magic for these folks can be theraputic as well. I get great reactions from the simpler tricks, like sucker die and mis made flag in a change bag..they always get plenty of response....always! Nursing home folks love a dove pan producing candy amd it's always a hit too. Vanishing bandana too! I've never had a nursing home turn down a free show; they need as much variety for the residents as they can get.
Message: Posted by: Amazing Magic Co (Apr 27, 2011 09:40PM)
I've been really enjoyng rhis thread ... This may seem like a silly querstion but can you do any mentalism routines like a book test or Impossible Insight. How about Bill in Lemon routines? I'm trying to get a better handle on what works best. I'm hearing keep it visual. How long is your show usually?

Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Apr 27, 2011 11:12PM)
Believe it or not, I perform for 50 - 60 minutes, plus the pre-show warm-up time (see "pre-show" post above.)

I've tried 3 different mentalism-oriented effects with ok results. (They get a bigger reaction from any staff members who might be watching.) I'll write more about which effects I've tried tomorrow. In fact, I'll post my set list from a couple of the shows.

I'm glad that you guys have found this thread helpful and interesting. Let's keep it going. : )

- Daniel
Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Apr 29, 2011 11:24AM)
Here's an example of a flyer I emailed as a PDF in advance to help promote my show.

Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Apr 29, 2011 11:51AM)
Sample set list for nursing home show.

Warm Up:[list]
[*] Hat manipulation.
[*] Card flourishes and boomerang cards.
[*] Close-up ring and string effect.

[*] Introduction and quick change (Dress Code by Callen Morelli)
[*] Club juggling routine to music
[*] Torn & restored sign / mouth coil
[*] Silk productions / silk fountain / candle production and vanish (Yes, I light the candle. Yes, I asked permission.)
[*] Hopping Spots
[*] Quick mentalism bit
[*] Invisible Deck
[*] Ropes (mostly Fiber Optics stuff)
[*] Song: Five Foot Two (sung with Ukulele accompaniment plus kazoo.)
[*] Money sequence (jumbo coin productions, miser's dream, spring bills, etc.)
[*] Ball juggling routine to music
[*] Silk-to-Egg
[*] Song: My Girl (with karaoke accompaniment)
[*] Thanks for having me -- throw streamers

Music and schmoozing while I pack up.

This lasts about an hour. In my opinion, this is a little too long for a nursing home show. However, that's what the administrators wanted, and actually, the residents stay pretty engaged.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to ask about specific effects, or whatever.

Message: Posted by: Mike Maturen (May 1, 2011 09:15PM)
Daniel...what a great thing you are doing!

I haven't done a nursing home show in 30+ years (shame on me!)...but I do often perform free of charge for various charities. Last month, I was the headliner at the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention of Alcona County (CANPAC) free family fun night. This month, I am the entertainment for our Catholic parish's Mother's Day celebration. In July, I am doing the Walk For Life for cancer awareness.

Now...I gotta book some paying gigs so I can afford all this stuff!

But, it does my heart good, and I love it.
Message: Posted by: rsylvester (May 2, 2011 09:48AM)
Thanks for the set list, Daniel. I've heard nursing homes are tough because of eye/hearing problems. But it looks like you have big visuals, and I bet the songs help give it variety. Unfortunately, my wife and kids tell me I should never sing.

On silk to egg, do you do sucker effect and crack the egg at the end?

@Mike: You are to be commended on the Child Abuse Prevention Network. What a wonderful cause.

I've got a day job (thankfully, still) which pays for this. I'm looking for places to perform and make a difference and bring some smiles to faces, which may not otherwise have reasons to smile.
Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (May 2, 2011 01:34PM)
Rsylvester: Yes, I do a sucker version and break the egg in a glass.

Message: Posted by: twm (May 3, 2011 01:53AM)
On 2011-04-27 22:40, Amazing Magic Co wrote:
... This may seem like a silly querstion but can you do any mentalism routines like a book test or Impossible Insight.
I'm going to try Alan Chitty's 'Behaviour Patterns'

This is highly visual and doesn't place too many demands on your audience. It will suit my small group, table hopping style as well as being suitable for larger groups. Though as you will see from the thread I refer to, you may want to make a larger version of the book for stage work.
Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (May 4, 2011 10:50AM)
This week, instead of doing a traditional show, I'm going to do strolling magic. I'll visit residents in their rooms and in common areas and try to reach some people who haven't been able to see my show.

For close-up/strolling effects I'm planning to bring d'lites, ring-scape (fantasma), maybe a gaffed deck or two, extreme burn, crazy man's handcuffs (which I follow-up with star-gazer), and maybe one or two other bits.

I'll also bring my ukulele and a few juggling props.

This is a bit of an experiment, so I'll post about how it goes.

Message: Posted by: magicdano (May 6, 2011 10:53PM)
Just great. I have always had the thought in my mind that I would work in a Nursing Home, but I never got motivated enough to do it. I think reading about your work will get me going.
I especially like your suggestions for the type of magic that works best for these spectators.
Message: Posted by: Mike Maturen (May 7, 2011 07:14AM)
This is incredibly satisfying work, as well. I haven't done a nursing home in a long while...but am inspired to throw in on occasional visit.

I used to do a ton of these as a teenager. In fact, for my Eagle Scout project, I put together a variety show and visited many nursing homes with it. I had a pianist/singer, a dance act, myself and a couple of others.

Just the look of sheer joy on these people's faces was worth the time and effort. Many of them have, quite literally, NO ONE visiting them. They are unceremoniously dumped off by ungrateful children (now selfish adults), and left to die with only an occasional visit when convenient.

Excuse the harsh words...but I have seen far too much of this as a young teen doing these shows, that it made me vow to help my own folks stay in their own home as long as possible, and then--if necessary--put them in a nursing home. And I have already told my folks that they would NEVER be left alone.

My mother (now 80) visited her own mother in the home at least 2-3 times per week. I think that is a great example to follow.

Sorry for the rant. Just remember as we perform, we might be the only "family" some of these folks have.
Message: Posted by: jcrabtree2007 (Jun 2, 2011 11:00AM)
Hi there.
Glad to see someone else is entertaining those seniors. They are very appreciative of the effort that you put forth. For many of them, it is the highlight of their day, week, or sadly, month. I have been doing regular visits to some of the local nursing homes in the area. I also plan to start doing two of our local veteran's homes. Cant forget our vets.
My experience with the nursing homes is that they like Big Stage Tricks. Most have failing eyesight and are hard of hearing so close up tricks and card tricks don't have the same effect on them. I literally spent years perfecting the false cuts and shuffles for Bill Malone's "Sam the Bellhop". Forget it, it kinda goes over most of their heads. Still, it is okay to do it if you want to practice it in front of a crowd...they are usually very cooperative but don't expect great applause. My nursing home crowds always let me know which tricks they like with their applause.
The tricks that seem to go over particularly well include:
Bill Malone's version of Rub-a-Dub-Dub (if you don't know this cups and balls routine-get his DVD "Here I Go Again Volume 1". It is worth the price of the DVD by itself!)
Axtell's Magic Drawing Board. They go nuts for this.
Linking Rings (Whit Haydn's Routine)
Ring and Rope Routine
Silk to Egg (break an egg)
Break-aWay Wand (silliness)
Billiard Balls
Acrobatic Knot
Rope Routine (Daryl)
Color Changing Silks
oh yeah- don't forget your D'Lites. Pull that out of their ears. They go absolutely nuts for this.
They really seem to enjoy Rub-a-Dub-Dub. Aside from the great routine, I think they really like the poem that goes with it.
I usually give my cards a rest and just have fun. I also go and visit some of the residents who may need some cheering up but are unable to make the show. I just ask the staff. I use sponge balls, sponge rabbits for these little visits.

Hey Daniel- good luck with your Nursing Classes.
Jim Crabtree RN
Message: Posted by: Leland (Jun 15, 2011 06:29AM)
I think you're doing a great service to those folks that have no one else to turn to. Im sure that they look forward to you coming around to visit. I saw your site and it looks very basic but it works, very clean. Keep up the good work.
Message: Posted by: DanielCoyne (Jun 22, 2011 11:51AM)
Thanks Leland.

Your statement about my website is exactly what I was aiming for. Simple, clean, legible, and friendly. Hopefully, as a potential client, you get a sense of who I am and whether or not I would be a good fit for your event.

Message: Posted by: Ethan Lin (Apr 30, 2014 10:50AM)
I'm not a pro magician or anything but for medicine you are required to do voluntary work in homes etc and I was thinking that this is the best time to practice before going public. I've got a couple of visual effects (and anything I do would be done would be in a persons own room) like dresscode and Torn/Torn Too, Rapture, invisible deck and maybe alchemy. What sponge ball effects do you? normally I've stuck to card magic but for obvious reasons its best to throw visual effects in the mix it seems
Message: Posted by: SD Houston (Apr 30, 2014 11:01PM)
I'm finding this thread quite inspiring. I've been considering the idea of volunteering to do some small magic shows for nursing homes here but have been a bit hesitant. However, I'm beginning to think it might be a really good idea. It'll still be a little while before I have enough material to do it, but it's definitely something that I'll be making a near-future goal of.
Message: Posted by: Ethan Lin (May 1, 2014 02:22AM)
I feel the same Houston. I also feel I should be doing this on some kind of regular basis just because everyone else is helping out.

Question: are you doing it for groups or individually in their own rooms?
Message: Posted by: BeThePlunk (Oct 11, 2014 07:19AM)
I'm also with you, Houston. I havn't performed in public yet and have thought about volunteering in local senior centers as a place to get myself going. This thread is both encouraging and instructive.
Message: Posted by: Bohacek (Oct 17, 2014 03:06PM)
I have done one magic show at the nursing home, and wil do another in a week or so So I am preparing for it now. I have learned that they are not the best audience, can't come to the front and participate and some have a hard time clapping or using more than one hand. I handed out jingle bells with pipe cleaner loops to hold them and told them to jingle the bell when they liked something. They loved it, and many did not wnat to give the bells back. So don;t expect to get them all back.

My ideas for nursing home magic is BIG colorful and easy. It is sometime hard to come up with such tricks. Yes I also go for an hour, but at the end make balloons for the residents. For the halloween show I will have spiders, pumkins and ghosts to give away.

I can not use ANY fire, so the fire to cane routine has become a silk to cane effect, not as strong but still works.

I am currently on the lookout for tricks to use that are Big colorful and not complex, so I solicit your comments.

Message: Posted by: jcrabtree2007 (Oct 31, 2014 08:04PM)
Here is a BIG tip for the nursing homes that I have made it a habit of doing. For me to volunteer my time- they must advertise the show to the resident'a families. I make the routines very kid friendly (good thing kid's magic plays well for seniors). Get the kids (grand kids ) to come to the show. The seniors will be so excited watching the kid's get excited about the magic. It will really help liven up the room and make the seniors happy.
To do this you gotta accept the fact that the children are the center of the senior's attention. But hey - half of them were probably sleeping anyways. I'm not that interested in getting the referrals myself (don't have the time) but you will get people imterested in booking you for their shows. (Just remember- even though the nursing homes, schools are charity - birthday parties are not. )
Try it- it will liven up the day
Message: Posted by: Rook (Nov 20, 2014 02:29PM)
Admittedly, Senior centers are a different animal from nursing homes, but I kind of wanted to share a lesson recently underscored at one of my engagements. I perform free at just about any venue that provides a service to the underserved and at risk. I make it a point to work themes of hope and empowerment in each effect. I've recently been getting a *lot* of requests from senior centers and have gone on what I've jokingly called my "Senior Tour."

The day before yesterday, I did a show for a small group at one of the centers. The audience was engaged, we laughed, had fun and processed things like positive relationships, achieving goals, breaking patterns and the like.

There was one elderly gentleman, however, in the front row, who didn't seem to be enjoying himself at all. He avoided eye contact. He didn't laugh or even crack a smile. Each moment I drew near (I walk through the audience quite a bit), he quickly looked away. When I offered him an opportunity to participate in an effect that involved the entire front row, he muttered something unintelligible and closed his posture.

Ah, well. You can't draw everyone in, right? Best not to pressure him and move along.

The show went otherwise successfully (that is, no one knew what went wrong but me) and members of the audience approached me after the show to thank me and simply chat. The 'unresponsive' gentleman slipped out as quickly as he could.

The next day, however, I received a phone call from the events coordinator for the center. She just wanted to thank me for the show and to let me know something about one of the audience members.

"You may not have noticed him. He's quiet and doesn't like to interact much. We don't know what's really going on with him most of the time, but he went into the directors office right after the show and told her it was the best thing he's been involved with in years. Thanks for that, you never can tell what's going on inside people can you?"

Folks at the senior centers have a lot of experiences and, sometimes, a lot of difficulties. Just because they don't give you the immediate feedback from which a performer thrives, doesn't necessarily mean that the show didn't work for them.

Message: Posted by: Lou Is (Jun 1, 2015 02:54PM)
Some very good posts on this thread. It's really worthwhile doing shows in these kinds of environments. Both for the performer and especially for the residents.

And as others have mentioned, there are a wide variety of seniors residences.

Independent living: seniors who are still independent, do their own shopping, mentally still sharp. It's essentially an apartment setting with all the security that brings. Great group for all kinds of magic.

Assisted Living: seniors who need a bit of help. Some mobility issues, onset Alzheimers is common, meals provided. This is definitely the most common setting. Can be tricky to perform for. Audience participation should be non challenging, and clearly explained. Even then, it is impossible to tell somes degree of mental functioning just by appearance. Working in the audience, giving people things to hold, a slow friendly pace, are all important. Although often very subdued, these audiences really enjoy the variety and (hopefully!) amazement a magic show can bring.

Alzheimers/Dementia wards: often an additional branch attached to Assisted Living residences. Residents can cover a very wide range of states of mind. This is challenging. Often there will be several aides in attendance too which are very handy when requiring audience participation "on stage". Simple, direct, colorful and visual magic is best. This is not a kids show though, so leave those "sucker" things (which I freaking hate at the best of times) at home. These shows can provide some extremely funny moments and generate some amazing responses from the residents.

Seniors shows are a great way to try out new things, make some "ok" cash, and help get your name out. It also will bring some amazingly touching reactions from the residents. Trust me on that one.