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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » For the record » » Where did the concept of 'Children's' magic originate? (3 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Orson
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I am really hoping there may be a bit of a history buff out there that might be able to help out with this one. I've no idea where to even start.
I personally treat children and adults relatively the same. When I look back through my old magic books (100 years etc..) there is no hippity hoppity rabbits or billy has a balloon head effects. They are just called stand up routines. Sure there are some routine focused at children but they are not for children's show. Am I right in understanding the devision of magic focused towards children came about around the same time as the magic shops? When did magicians move from performing the circuits as family entertainers to performing at children's parties?

Questions from an utterly curious family magician.

BennyO
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Michael Baker
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Great questions!

I have seen a photo of Houdini performing for an audience of mostly children, and vaguely recall seeing another of some famous magician (maybe Thurston). These men largely performed theater shows, and their performances for children may have been linked to hospitals, orphanages, etc. where their audiences could not otherwise attend the theater shows. These were undoubtedly, charity events.

At some point, the Matinee show came into existence... likely with reduced prices, making it more probable that children would be in attendance.

I'd imagine, like other specialty markets that magicians have targeted, the children's party was eventually tapped when someone figured out how to make it come with a viable income.

Just shooting from the hip there.

I would also be curious to know more about the early pioneers in this field.
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Jonathan Townsend
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As OP observed, it's recent in terms of specific literature/mention as it was presumed earlier that the entertainer would adjust his manner to serve his audience.
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Orson
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I personally always adjust my manner for children; just not my props.
At some stage magicians started wearing coloured capes.. It is just as interesting as when clowns ended up at birthday parties too. (An action I humbly believe never should have happened.)
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Gerry Walkowski
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I do believe that David Kaye (Silly Billy) covers the history of children's magic in one of his books and/or lecture notes.

Gerry
CJRichard
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Do you think school shows played a role in the transition? Somebody get Dick Oslund over here and see what his thoughts are.

I know from Punch and Judy history that English performers transitioned from the seaside to birthday parties as vacation trends changed. Many do children's shows with magic, too. Magic and Punch and Judy are very intertwined over there, especially through Supreme Magic.
"You know some of you are laughin', but there's people here tryin' to learn. . ." -Pop Haydn

"I know of no other art that proclaims itself 'easy to do.'" -Master Payne

Ezekiel the Green
motown
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I know Bruce Posgate had a book out called Kid Show Showmanship in 1960.
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motown
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Doing "Magic for Youngsters" was released in 1948.
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Orson
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Thank you everyone for your feedback.
To add more confusion to this question I would like to recount a conversation I had with a friend of mine last night. She was saying that 15 years ago the yellow pages (The telephone business directory) separated magicians into the 2 categories; kids and adults. Almost everyone in the area was annoyed at this as they where now forced to pay for 2 advertising packages.
As I look into this more I realise the ridiculousness of this separation. I remember someone asking Paul Daniels what the most important thing about a magic trick was. His answer was 'It must be deceptive'. Not funny or even entertaining, but deceptive. I believe that if one is performing for children the magic must still be deceptive. So if both adult and children's magic is deceptive the only difference becomes the theme and the character. Assuming hippity hoppity rabbits is deceptive the only reason it is deemed a children's magic effect is because of the pictures and the patter that comes with it. Cartoons are often viewed as child like because of the themes they convey. This maybe true for most western cartoons but not for Japanese. Magicians even used cartoons devils in their promo.
The more I look into this I start to wonder not so much when but why we have children's magicians. I understand some adults do not like kids. I also understand some people think they might not be good enough to perform for adults and my reply to that is they are probably not good enough to perform for children either.
Maybe this question is better suited for another thread or my own personal discourse.
Benny Orson
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CJRichard
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To follow up on your thoughts, Orson, it must be remembered that at least into the 19th Century the very concept of "childhood" as we know it did not really exist. Children dressed like miniature adults, performed chores and even worked in factories. There were few toys. Childhood started to evolve, probably, during the Victorian era, though I'm by no means an expert in this. Childhood and the Victorian notion of Father Christmas or Santa may have evolved around the same time.

Magic, like puppet shows, were enjoyed equally by adults and children. Even in the earlier years of cinema in the 20th Century, animation--even by Disney--was aimed as much at adults as it was at children. The cartoons shown in movie theaters in the 1930s and '40s were sometimes quite "adult." Entertainment was entertainment.

At some point--and THIS is the heart of your question--it became common to hire puppeteers, magicians and, probably later, clowns to entertain at family gatherings and children's parties. We might be able to determine if it was common for magicians to perform at birthday parties before or after they began performing in schools. I really think that English children in the late Victorian era were probably entertained at home by professionals before American children were.

For a few reasons, it was earier for me to perform as a puppeteer in my youth, rather than as a magician. At that time, in the 1970s, in my area, a high school or college aged puppeteer (or magician) wasn't going to find much of an audience beyond shows for children's parties, libraries, and PTA sponsored school shows. Even at local fairs, the puppet show or magic show was considered to be the entertainment for the kids. Children's shows were kind of where you started as an entry-level magician or puppeteer. (I, as a puppeteer, was often on a double bill with a magician who was around the same age as me.)
"You know some of you are laughin', but there's people here tryin' to learn. . ." -Pop Haydn

"I know of no other art that proclaims itself 'easy to do.'" -Master Payne

Ezekiel the Green
Mark R. Williams
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Childhood as we genneraly now know this term, largly started with the authors Mark Twain and Charles Dickens in the mid nineteenth century. Dickens in particular was a VERY strong perponent for the establishment of childrens rights. He was himself also known to perform magic in drawing room entertainments. Out of the common apearence of a magician in the home for private parties I think grew the idea of performances for childrens Birthday parties. I have read of such Victorian performences long before the advent of a School performance................

Best Regards,

Mark
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Dick Oslund
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CJRichard's posts caught my eye. I had never visited this "table" in the Café, before.

When I started performing, I was 13 in the 9th grade. I had done a show for the students in my school, and one or two "club dates". Having entertainers at kids' birthday parties was relatively unknown. My "fame" (???) had begun to spread, and, a neighbor invited me to perform at his son's birthday party. Most kid parties played games like "Pin the tail on the donkey", opened the gifts, sang Happy Birthday, ate the cake and ice cream, and left!

School assemblies (Lyceum programs) evolved from from Chautauqua, which evolved from the Lyceum of the 1830s. Originally, Lyceum was a program developed to educate Sunday School teachers. Chautauqua followed the original Lyceum and was a week long series of classical orchestral music and classical (Shakespeare) plays. Chautauqua slowly began using more light entertainment and speakers. Magicians, jugglers, ventriloquists ETC. were booked. (No radio or TV, and no super highways existed in those days! Chautauqua filled a need in northeastern small towns in the U.S. Producing companies would arrange with local civic leaders to organize "Chautauqua Week" every summer. The company sent a big "Dramatic end tent, and folding chairs, and a crew to set it up. A different concert, play, novelty performer would do a matinee and evening performance every day for a week.

When automobiles "arrived', and roads were constructed, rural folks could travel to the cities to real theaters! Chautauqua faded. The producing companies, with a 'stable" full of talent, realized that schools had auditoriums. Instead of one week in the summer, the company would arrange with local citizens committees to sell "season" tickets, and the talent appeared in the evening, in schools over the winter. Lyceum was re born! Eventually, as times changed, The evening Lyceum programs moved to day time for high school students. Slowly the programs were used in Junior High students. Slowly programs began to be used in elementary schools. Of course program material for high schools was too advanced for the tiny kids, and lyceum managers booked performers more suitable for elementary students. Some states continued to use the term Lyceum. Other states called them CONVOCATIONS. Others' ASSEMBLY PROGRAMS.

Principals seeing the need to augment the "three "Rs", with some "cultural enrichment", considered the assembly hall, as "their" classroom. Some programs were considered "tension relievers" other, were "educational as well as entertaining", etc. The students were learning by experience, how to behave in a group.

In the past two decades, TV has taken over much of the live programs. Schools feel that kids have access to entertainment more easily than years ago. The emphasis has turned to much more educational programs, although if the entertainment can include enough education, it can still get booked.

I presented a magic program (schools preferred that term to shows) for almost 50 years all over the USA. One season ('71/'72) I presented an educational program (The "Puzzling Environment")to create an awareness, and foster a concern for the environment. I used magic for a visual aid. It sold well. I did 335 programs that season,

I didn't "touch" on birthday programs, except for that first mention. Other with more experience in that area, can chime in. (I've done a few b'day parties, over the years, but, don't consider myself as qualified as others.)

I hope this was helpful, CJ!
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ringmaster
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The Sphinx Magazine used to have Christmas covers featuring Victorian engravings of The Christmas Conjurer preforming for upper class children in the parlor. During December the English theaters had daily matinees called pantomimes where parents would go with their children home from school or the country. These always had variety acts including a magic turn.
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Pop Haydn
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There have been street performers doing magic and puppetry largely for children for a long time--Punch and Judy for example.
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