Mayhem, Madness and Magic by Tony Chris
This month I would like to talk about something that has only happened once in my 25 years of performing magic. As a professional children’s magician, I have always taken great pride in my performance, appearance and entertainment value of my kids’ magic show. After all, that is how I earn my living.
I have always made sure that I arrive on time with 15–20 minutes for parking, greeting the children and setting up my show. I have done it over 4000 times and it is very routine. That all changed a few years back when something happened that would change everything up until that point. It was a fairly typical Sunday afternoon and I was working outside my home doing some touch up painting on my home exterior. Just a little touch up work that I decided I had some time to do before heading out to perform at a couple of birthday party shows.
I could have left the task for after returning but decided to go ahead and finish it before heading out. I had almost finished the task and was just doing a few last strokes with my brush before finishing up. Literally only seconds away from being done and I would have gone inside my home, changed into my performance costume and head out the door to my shows.
I should add, that I was on my ladder about six feet high with paint brush and bucket doing my thing when I suddenly lost my footing and toppled to the ground. Now I was not physically hurt all though it shook me up at first. I landed on the soft lawn and didn’t have any damage to my body but a very full can of paint landed on my stomach and spread out all over me as it poured a whole lot of paint everywhere. My main concern now was that that I was splattered with paint all over, including my face and hair.
Now I came to the realization, that not only was I a complete mess, but I had thick gooey paint all over my head, face, and especially, my long hair! I was 100% in deep panic mode now. I realized, that this mishap was going to make me very late for my first show and consequently my second show.
I was covered in paint and yelled out to my wife to quickly bring me some towels. Being panicked, I started to wipe myself off from head to toe as I could not walk into the house until I was at least dry. My wife helped me out as best as she could as I covered those towels with tons of paint from my body. Now I had no choice but to go back inside and take another full shower to get all the rest of it off, including the paint that was soaked in my hair.
It took me a very long time, almost 25 minutes to be completely paint free as my hair took the worst of it. I knew I was now running late to get out of the door and still make my shows on time. I quickly changed into costume, slipped on my shoes and rushed out the door knowing that it would take a miracle to make my first show on time. Now, please remember that this extra 25 minutes of time I spent getting clean was time I actually didn’t have to spare that day before heading off to my gig. In hind sight, I should not have been on that ladder painting when I have shows to do and I should not have taken up the whole paint can which was almost full. I could have easily just poured a small portion of paint in my paint tray and the mess would have been much less. But I can’t change the past. All of this is now leading up to a life changing aspect of my performing career.
I jumped into my car and quickly inserted the address for my show into my GPS and raced off like a madman. I was actually making really good time as the traffic was nonexistent, even for a Sunday so I was starting to think, maybe I will only be a few minutes late now. This made me feel a whole lot better! The first birthday show was about an hour’s drive from my home so I figured as I always leave about 20 minutes as my safety net for all shows, I was actually going to arrive just around or a little after my scheduled start time. Now, I wouldn’t make a habit of being late ever but a few minutes late to start isn’t that bad with all things considered.
Almost 40 minutes into my trip, I came to a very sudden realization. I couldn’t remember if I put my show performance case into the back seat of my car. This was a very horrible thought! I have never forgotten my show case in my life. Like I said, this was after thousands of shows over decades. That all changed on that fateful Sunday. I had such a panic with the paint mishap that I may have actually raced out the door without my show.
I looked over my shoulder hoping to see my case. It was not there!!! In my panic, stress of leaving late and overall anxiety of the day, I left my case at home in my office. It was packed and set up for performance but that wouldn’t help me now as it was over 40 minutes away.
I had three options. Call both my customers up and explain that I would now be about 90 minutes late for the shows as I had two that day so I would have to drive back home and get my show case. That would be completely unprofessional, disrespectful and quite frankly, I would have to give those shows up for free at that point or at least half price. That was simply not an option. So I had two other options. The next one would be to call up my first customer and cancel the show completely and either lie to them with some excuse or tell them the truth about what happened. Either way, their little boy would lose out on the fun day of having a magician and it would be a big black mark on my career. If I did cancel the first show, at least I would still be able to drive home, get my show and make the second show on time. Still, very bad in my books so I did not take that route. That left me only with the third and final option.
I realized that my last option was to drive to a toy store or dollar store and quickly put together an impromptu magic show. The nearest one I knew of according to my new GPS co-ordinates was about 5 minutes away. That is the advantage of living in a big city. Dollar stores are everywhere. As I was driving to it, I was scrambling in my mind what I could buy and make up very quickly once I got to the first show. I was still going to be a little late no matter what but at least it was only going to be about 10 or 15 minutes now, including the 5 minute stop into the dollar store plus a few minutes to set things up when I got to the gig. I knew it was what I had to do so I drove as fast as I could to the nearest dollar store. I parked and ran into that store with my shopping basket and purchased the following:
A box of straws
Paper Lunch Bags
A Stuffed Teddy Bear
Balloons (260 variety for balloon animal twisting)
A box of tissues
Styrofoam coffee cups
A gift box
Now all these ingredients are basic dollar store stuff and very readily available. I already knew what I was going to perform at these two shows and knew that I would only have about 7 or 8 minutes safely to set them up when I arrived.
I paid for everything and quickly tossed everything into the large gift box which would now serve as my performance case. I arrived at the show only a few minutes before my actual show time. So I wasn’t too late at this point. I greeted the mom and dad and the birthday boy and did not mention a word about what happened earlier on in the day. I did apologize for being a little late as they were expecting me 15 minutes or so before show time as I told them that would be my arrival time when the mother booked me originally. I explained that I would need about 7 minutes to set up my show.
They led me into the living room and the kids were still playing outside in the backyard so now I had only minutes to save the day. I didn’t want the parents to think that I just threw this together and it was an emergency, last minute show so my demeanor and professional attitude really helped here. They would never know the difference.
Here is what I threw together in about 7 minutes before Showtime:
I cut a piece of rope about 6 feet in length and placed it in the box, near the scissors. This was definitely not the best rope for the cut and restored magic effect but it would do in a pinch. The soup ladle would sit in the box and was going to be used for the floating silver ball. That is the effect where you simply insert the handle of the soup ladle up your coat sleeve and make the ladle part float as you raise your hand. The chocolate coins were set up to perform the wonderful effect, “two in the hand and one in the pocket”. Easy to do and only a few seconds set up. I set up the string and straw trick to perform the cut and restored string.
I know it was similar to the cut and restored rope trick but I figured I would only do it as a backup if I needed more material. I had the playing cards ready in my pocket so I could perform card to forehead. I don’t actually do any card tricks in my kids shows but they birthday boy and his friends were all about 7 or 8 so I could get away with one here if it was funny enough. I really like Michael Finney’s rendition so I stuck close to that one. It always gets lots of mileage.
I took one of the tissue papers and rolled it into a small little ball and had it ready in my gift box/new case, inside the tissue box. That allowed me to palm it as I took a new tissue and tore it up and restored it for the torn and restored tissue trick. Just a simple palm and switch and you have a miracle in your hands. Only a few seconds to set that one up. I used the three baseballs to perform a very basic juggling routine which is always fun for kids. No set up time for that one. Just picked up the balls and started to juggle with them. I also set up the paper bags for Jeff Hobson’s “The balloon Bag” trick which is a knockout, fun kids effect. It took the longest to set up at about 2 minutes including the gimmicked bag and balloon. I won’t explain it here as it is on his fantastic DVD, Jeff Hobson Live. Well worth the effort on that one.
I then took the scissors and cut open the bottom part of the stuffed teddy bear. I removed most of the stuffing out leaving only the part in the actual head. I now had room for my hand to go in the stuffy, including the arms. A very impromptu puppet. This one was necessary as I advertise a puppet routine in all of my birthday shows. It only took a minute to make. I also had three crayons set up for the “pick a crayon behind my back trick”. This is where you take three crayons and place them behind your back while holding them in your hands. You invite a child to come up and remove two of the crayons and put them into their pockets so you can’t see which ones they chose. They sit back down and you immediately take the remaining crayon and nick your finger nail of one of your hands so it leaves a colored mark.
It is tiny and not noticeable to your audience but when you take your free hand from behind your back and simply steal a glance at your finger nail as you point up in the air explaining you know the color they chose. You then announce which crayon is left in your hand behind your back. It takes no set up either to do this one, so another quickie. Finally, I took one of the Styrofoam coffee cups and poked a whole in the back of it towards the bottom just big enough for my thumb and now I could perform the classic floating coffee cup. The balloon animals always come at the end of my show so they are just sitting in the box. Admittedly, they are not the best quality of latex balloons compared to the ones I use, being the Qualatex brand, but the dollar store variety, will work in an emergency.
So there you have it. An emergency magic show made in a real life performance emergency! Everything cost me less than $15 dollars and kids had a great time. Not because the magic was stellar. Not because the balloon animals were amazing but because I was able to perform a show with the same amount of professionalism, comedy and zany, off the wall antics that I generally exude at all my shows. Different tricks but same entertainment value! The parents were happy, the kids were happy and I learned some very valuable lessons that day.
I decided to write about this event because I know I am not the only one who has done this before. I have some very close magic friends who are also professional and part time professionals who have also left their case at home on one occasion or more.
The point is, you can adapt and improvise to your situation no matter what. My actual birthday party package is one hour. That includes a 35 minute magic show, 5 minutes of puppetry and 20 minutes of balloon twisting at the end. I was able to do exactly that, that day. It was definitely stressful but I managed to perform the same last minute, pieced together show twice that day. I also made sure that it would never happen to me again because I implemented a brand new tactic after that weekend.
I went out to my local magic store and puppet store and purchased a few duplicates of some of my existing effects that I perform in my standard birthday party show and created a second show that was smaller than my regular birthday show but would all fit in a briefcase that I could always leave in my trunk of the car at all times so this would never happen again. Now my actual performance case is a custom built, rather expensive case that is bigger and fancier with lots of bells and whistles so I would never leave it in my car all the time. It also has some bigger pieces of magic than the briefcase show so it always goes back into my home when I am done shows. However, the briefcase version is now always in the car from this day on. It is still a great little birthday party or general kids show but just a little more compact and always there if I need it.
Here is what I keep in it.
Magic coloring book, rope to silk, egg bag routine, vanishing cane, color changing silks, cut and restored rope with scissors, thumb tip with silks, change bag effect, linking silks in tube, magic wand, break away magic wand, a deck of cards, coins, 3 small balls for juggling and a duplicate bunny in hat puppet that I use in all my shows. Finally a bag of Qualatex latex balloons.
All of this fits nicely into my small briefcase but is a full children’s show. The only things missing from my regular show is the vanishing milk pitcher trick, a very cool appearing bunny in hat trick from Ton Onosaka, and one other effect that is too big to fit in my briefcase. But I have a few different tricks in the briefcase that will substitute without any problems. As you can see, I now will always have a back up show ready to go in case I ever forget my case again. It has never happened to me again but if it does, I will never have to worry or scramble.
I might add, that in the same briefcase that I now keep in my car at all times, I also have some rubber bands, the deck of cards, a gimmicked deck of cards (invisible deck), some coins, a butter knife and a few napkins for a cards stab close up effect and a couple of cool packet tricks. These are in the briefcase because if I ever forget my adult close up case for walk around magic, I will also be able to show up at that type of show and have everything I need to perform close up, walk around magic for adults.
So remember everyone, the point here is that as professionals, part time pros or beginners, you should always be ready to adapt, improvise and overcome one of the worst case scenarios that could happen to you as a performer, and that is of course, forgetting your tools of your trade at home as I did that one fateful midsummer’s day about 4 years ago.
From VANISH MAGIC MAGAZINE vanishmagazine.com