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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » New to magic? » » How to handle heckling children (3 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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jymlewis
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I am not totally new to the world of performing magic. I used to perform quite a bit several years ago, but that was mostly street magic or strolling party magic. But that was always with adults, and adults are more respectful when a magician is performing. Kids, in my experience, aren't.

I've been asked to perform for a group of kids at a church auction this weekend. And I am not nervous about anything except how to handle the little annoying ***** who always pipe up with stuff like, "Oh! I bet I know how he did that!" or "Look! he's hiding it in his other hand!"

How do you deal with clever little... err..., I mean... angels, like that?

Any advice would be appreciated.

My wife suggested that we go over some ground rules before the magic show begins. Then, I can cover what's appropriate to do while a magician is performing, and what's not appropriate. Is that a good idea? Any other ideas on how to handle these hecklers?
pradell
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First, if they think that you think they are "brats" and "*****," you've already lost the battle. Kids know if you like kids. If you don't like performing for kids, stick with adults. Kids will test you and they're very real about it. But there are many things you can do in your shows to really enjoy working with kids, and to keep them focused on your magic.
You need to establish control from the onset. You can do this by putting tape on the floor, separating the performance area from the children's area. There is yellow "caution magic show" tape that you can purchase from Jeff Brown http://www.alaska.net/~jbrown/ that you can place between you and the kids. This establishes your space.
When the children yell out, "I know how you did that" or "I've seen that one before", the worst thing you can do is get flustered and let them know that they've hurt you. The best thing you can do is to deflect it and move on. Retorts like, "I know how I did it, too!" or "I've seen it 1000 times" may work for you. Most of the time, they don't say these things because they really know how it's done. They're just kids. You have to forgive them! Enjoy them! Have fun with them! If they see that their heckling doesn't get the intended rise out of you, they will most likely stop. But you have to stop thinking that they are "*****" and "brats" first. If you can't get beyond that, they'll spot your disdain a mile away.
:magicrabbit:
budsie175
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I do magic on occasion for the fourth grade kids I tutor. I have found that while they love to be entertained, these little "brats” are clever. When one of them says, "I know how you did that", 50% of the time they are right. So, I tell them when the show is over, they can come and tell me how they think I did "that", and if they are right, we can share the secret. That way, they won't feel foolish if they are mistaken. Works for me.
Bud
jymlewis
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Thanks for the advise. I appreciate it. I will use both of your ideas.

I should clarify that I don't think all little kids are turds. I have two small ones of my own, and I adore them. I really enjoy most other kids, too. It's just the little rude ones who insist on constantly barraging me with "My dad does that one! See! There's something on his thumb!" or "Whatever. It's just a trick, guys." or "That's easy, I could do that." or any number of rude comments that keep coming out of their mouth the entire performance. Those are the ones I think are turds. This doesn't apply to most kids, just some. It's their entire attitude. One of "I'd rather not be here. I know it's all a trick, and I intend to expose it and dilute it every chance I get!" That's the attitude some of them seem to have.
Brad Burt
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Part of the problem is that you HAVE to understand your audience. My first impression above was that you didn't like children generally, but that seems to not be the case.

You have to ask yourself, "What is it about children that might make them sing out with a comment about how something is done?" And, "What is it ABOUT children that makes them a more difficult audience than adults, and how do I deal with it?" You got the "how do I deal with it" part, but not the more important first questions.

Children can be enthusiastic without it being rude. It IS rude in an adult context, but NOT in a children's. Kids yell out such comments GENERALLY ... BECAUSE ... they are having a good time, and THAT's one of the ways in which they have been taught to participate.
Put yourself in the place of a child who is harangued over and over again in school to participate by what??? By giving ANSWERS to the problems set for them. But, what IS an magic trick? If the child doesn't, in fact, think it 'real', then what is IT? It's a problem to which many children will seek an answer! They aren't being rude, they are, in fact, just doing what every other freaking adult has taught them to do!

How do you handle it? First, don't freak out and feel threatened. Stroke the kids egos that think they have the answers. Look at them and smile warmly and truthfully and say, "That's cool...tell you what...let's keep it between us magicians...OK?" Nod as you say this. Get them on your side. You get the idea. You might have to experiment with this, but I can tell you from personal experience with both children and adults that this tact works more than it fails. Just acknowledge their 'maybe' cleverness in a real way, and move on.

Got a real loud mouth? Then, look at your audience and say, "You know, I love the fact that we have so many clever and smart folks in the audience today, but I am going to have to ask those who know, or think they know, how some of these tricks are done to please not tell the rest. OK? If you do, I am very sorry, but I will have to stop the show."

This is the most radical of situations, and it's more threat than anything else. Generally, if you can get the voluble ones on your side, and basically just IGNORE most of what is said, the show will go fine. The Ignore part is key because, unless the kids are messed up somehow, THEY WILL MAKE NOISE AND COMMENT. Means they are normal children having a good time.

Best,

Brad Burt
Brad Burt
The Magic Ref
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Also, if you get a child that is really vocal or rude beyond the norm, call him up to be a helper on a trick. When he gets up there, whisper in his ear that you can see he really knows his magic. And ask him if he can help you out by not yelling out. The idea is build him up and befriend him. Make him part of the show, if you have to. Think how sucky a show would be if no one yelled out or laughed out load.

Never do battle with them - even if you win, you loose. Make the trouble makers your friends, and you will have a GREAT show. Good Luck...
Be Young...Have Fun!
jimhlou
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Jym:

If you're going to continue doing kid shows, pick up a copy of "Seriously Silly" by David Kaye. He covers everything you need to know about working with little hecklers and turds.

Jim
Brad Burt
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Anything by Kaye is great. It all comes down to Attitude, Attitude, Attitude. Kids know when you are uncomfortable with them. On a basic psychological level, children WANT adults to be in charge. But, they want the adult to 'like' them, also. If you seem intimidated by a child 'maybe' knowing that manner of a tricks execution...well, think sharks and a drop of blood.

I thought more about this, and here is something I used for the last couple of years in my kids show phase. BEGIN the show this way, "Wow! What a great audience. Thank you all for being here. We are going to have a great time. First, a couple of simple rules. Number one...when the magician...that's me...(mug it up here)...does a great trick, I want everyone to clap really loud and yell out, YEA!!... O.K., let's try it. (Here you get the kids yelling and clapping and having fun.) Man, you guys are the best! O.k., rule number 2, I know that some of you may have seen some magic before, and some of YOU may even be fellow magicians, so I want to ask you to please keep the secrets in today's show, well, secret. OK? Good. I think you guys can follow the rules! Let's get on with the SHOW!!!"

This is actually a very clever way to set up some rules without making it sound like you're a jerk. Keep it light, keep it cool. You'll be surprised how well this works. Kids generally want to have fun. IF the price for that fun is, in essence, more fun (the yelling and screaming, etc.), then you have a win, win, win. Slipping in the request for the children to NOT yell out things about how the magic is done is hidden in the first request, etc.

The best way in which to handle problems that you find common to shows you have done is to come up with a way to SHORT CIRCUIT the problem before it happens!!! I can't stress enough for you beginning performers. As you do shows, various problematic situations will arise. If it looks like they will arise more or less often, then you should look for a way to STOP the problem from arising or a way to mitigate the problem BEFORE it happens. This will make your performing life much, MUCH easier, but more importantly, it will make the show more enjoyable for your paying audience or paying client.

This is, again, why it is important to keep a show JOURNAL. You should make a note of each show you do, even if just to say that it went well. But, the important stuff will be the ad lib lines that pop up...that if you don't write down right away, you'll forget. More important than that, you need to list what went wrong, so you can work out how to make it right, etc. Anyway, hope that helps.
Brad Burt
jymlewis
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Brad, thanks for that! I love it. Like you said, it sets some ground rules in a fun way, without sounding like a kill-joy. Thanks! I'll use that.
Brad Burt
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You're very welcome! Rehearse it a bit, and try to imagine the affect on the audience, etc. If you get a chance to try it out, do so, even if you are only going to do a test of 1-2 routines. Best
Brad Burt
MagiClyde
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Another great resource might be Mark Wade's "The Art of the Kids Show." Mark is a ventriloquist who has been doing children's shows for at least 20 years. He really knows what he's talking about.
Magic! The quicker picker-upper!
jymlewis
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Ok, so a little feedback on how it went today....

I started the show off with Brad's INTRO above. That worked very well. And actually, the kids there were all very well-behaved anyway. There was one kid in particular who just didn't seem like he wanted to cooperate at all, and he started to ruin one trick, but I reminded him about the secrets thing and he quieted down. That was the only incident. Otherwise, the kids were very entertained and enjoyed the show.

The biggest problem was that I was nervous. First, I am used to entertaining [mostly adult] friends and family at parties or BBQs, not a bunch of kids all hovering around me way too close. So that made me nervous, and I screwed up one effect that uses a Chinese emperor coin, Mexican centavo, and fifty cent piece. Nobody really noticed that I screwed it up. I didn't show the gaff or anything. I just didn't do it the way it's supposed to be done, so it wasn't as impressive.

A guy at a local magic shop gave me some ideas for kids. One went over particularly well. I never would have thought of it because I kind of gave up on thumb-tips and silks long time ago, since most adults catch on quick or have already seen them several times in their lives. But, the effect was I made the silk disappear and then, I told one of the kids I thought it might be in his shoe. He removed it and brought it to me. Nope. Nothing there. "Maybe it's in your sock!" This is where everyone kinda starts to laugh a little. So he takes off his sock, and I ham it up about how stinky it is. Everyone laughs. But sure enough, the silk turns up in his sock. Not only were they very impressed, but they also thought it was very funny. So that was a highlight. I never would have thought of doing that, but it turned out to be a great thing for kids.

They enjoyed the rubber band tricks, especially RB up the nose. I did about 3 others with RBs.

As I suspected, card tricks didn't go over real well with all of the kids. Most young kids don't get the dynamics of a deck of cards, and so they just assume you have a deck full of the same card or something. Many of them don't get the suits or numbers or face cards. So when you bring one to the top, only the older kids, who get it, are impressed. But, the Invisible Deck trick did manage to blow some of them away, as well as the adults.

At the end, I said I was going to do my final trick. "People love this one! So I always like to go out with a bang," I said. So I had one kid chose a card from the deck, and then I offered him a pen to write his name on the card. Of course, the pen was an exploding pen. And that was the trick! I said, "See! I told you I liked to end with a bang." All the kids thought that was very funny, and it ended things on a high note. So that helped.

If I were to do this regularly, I'd definitely invest in some other effects that would work better on kids. But this was a one-time deal, as a favor to my mom. So I probably won't do too many more kids shows.

I did get paid, though, which I didn't expect at all. I was totally doing it on a volunteer basis. So does that make me a professional magician, now? LOL

Thanks for all the help. Overall, I did find the kids to be more manageable than I thought.
jimhlou
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Good show, Jym. As you can see, for the kids, getting there is most of the fun. The actual ending to the trick sometimes is secondary to the kids. The silk from sock is brilliant!

Regarding card tricks for kids, you almost have to do a card in balloon or something more "spectacular" than just deck manipulations.

Jim
Rkull
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The first thing you must do is entertain them, make them laugh. It's true for any kind of performance, but with children it's really important. Don't be a smart guy or a superman in front of them, do your magic WITH them, be friendly, and they will like you... and your magic.
marty.sasaki
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When I am about to do something in front of, or with kids, I try to size them up before I start. It isn't hard to find the kid that is shy and withdrawn, or the one that wants to be the center of attention. I try to play to the shy kid and watch out for the attention getter. Dealing with the others is pretty easy and you can often just be patient, maybe joke with them, they will get along. The one who demands attention won't be happy until they get it, so it pays to make them your assistant or your helper.

Don't make fun of them though and don't show them up. An angry demanding child will make your life miserable.
Marty Sasaki
Arlington, Massachusetts, USA

Standard disclaimer: I'm just a hobbyist who enjoys occasionally mystifying friends and family, so my opinions should be viewed with this in mind.
LeeDillingham
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I think that most kid performers forget about it to make sure that you keep the adults interested also. Have a few tricks where you bring an adult up as a volunteer. The children actually enjoy this. It also ensures that the parents are paying attention. If the parents are paying attention, there is a good chance that the children will be better behaved. Good luck.
DoctaJones713
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Great advice Lee . . .

Keep the attention of potential clients! Remember, it's going to be YEARS before those kids can book you for another show themselves. Make sure their parents are interested too. If the parents enjoyed your show too, you're much more likely to get future bookings from the crowd.
. . . but the third man answered, "I am building a cathedral."
Greg V
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I did a show for a children's birthday party a few months ago, and had some trouble with this issue as well. All the children were 5 year olds, so you can imagine how restless they would get. But it wasn't the 5 year olds that were the problem, it was the older brother in the back who would shout out things like, "I know how that's done, my cousin can do that one, etc." I tried to get him to stop by saying things like "That's great you know, but try not to spoil it for the rest of us, etc." I wanted to get him up to be a helper like suggested above, but he was at the very back, and occaisionally left the room, so I wasn't sure when to fit him into one of my routines. He continued to make subtle remarks throughout my 30 minute show. Does anybody have any suggestions of how to get this type of heckler to be quiet??
Thanks
-Greg
Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic.
jolyonjenkins
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Greg - I don't really know what the answer to that one is and would be very interested to hear from more experienced performers. I do think you probably needed to take control as soon as this became an issue, and hauled him up to the front, so he was forced to either stay or go. Perhaps you could then have done paper balls over head with him?
Jolyon Jenkins
Greg V
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Thanks! Paper balls over the head is a great "sucker trick". I like the fact that now all the rest of the children can see how its done and he can't. I'll be sure to do this the next time it happens.
Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic.
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