Learning Life Lessons from Children

The following interview was requested by and published on the Dutch website: kidsmagic.nl.

How do you define your profession, or the work that you do? Do you find your self a magician, illusionist, or entertainer?

All of the above. I feel that many people start out with an interest in magic, and by pursuing the craft, the “how, what and why,” of magic, they become entertainers. Illusionist is a tricky word. In the “business of magic,” it means someone with lots of boxes and dancers. It has nothing to do with creating the experience of magic or entertaining. Many entertainers can delight an audience, make them laugh, make them cry, but never deliver the experience of magic. I feel the best term to describe my work is “Magician.”

Have you thought about your image?

Have you thought about the word “image?” Let’s deconstruct this word, and have some fun with it. “I” – “Mage”. If we look at it this way, it means “I the magician.” If we break it down even further, it’s “I’m age” Over the years, or ages, I have experimented with my image, mostly through make-up, costume, and persona. As I have grown and aged, so has my image, or persona. In Greek, persona means mask, our public mask. In my performance, I continually shed masks, as I have in life. There is a difference between “character,” and “being a character.” We explore this at our Master Classes. Many students come to us, wanting to work on their “character,” without really knowing what this means. Often, to the inexperienced, it means putting on a costume and stage make-up, and acting in a certain way. This is applying a character to the outside of your persona, much in the same way you apply paint to the exterior of a house… This is more of becoming a caricature, or cartoon construct. There are many performers who have had success with this route; Rudy Coby, Sylvester the Jester, Blub and other fine clown actor magicians. However, the most enduring and complex magical personae are not caricatures at all, but are developed over the years, with a magical power and force of character that comes from within. If we look at great magical characters, like Eugene Burger, Max Maven, Lance Burton, Mac King, Juan Tamariz— they are much the same off stage as they are onstage. Their force of character may be turned up a few levels onstage, but their magical persona is consistent throughout their lives. It is not something that can be wiped off their face with a wet cloth, nor stripped off of their costume. They are real magicians.

Do you find that a magician, illusionist or entertainer must have an image or should create one?

Yes, if you want your performance and name to be memorable. On the other hand, if you wish to remain anonymous, like a Japanese bunraku puppeteer, dressed all in black, then no image or character is necessary— all you have to do is to work on your craft.

Which cultures influence you as a person and entertainer? And why these cultures?

One of my passions is traveling the world, studying the arts and magic of other cultures. It is an interesting phenomenon that we always seem to be fascinated by other cultures, and they by ours. One of the most amusing trends I see in the magic world is cross-cultural exchange. When I was young, I was fascinated with the exotic Orient, martial arts, masks and Kabuki theater. Magicians that I have met in Asia are fascinated with Hollywood musical comedies, art deco, and American sports. At magic conventions, you will often see Westerners dressed in exotic Asian garb, and Asian magicians dressed in Western tailcoats, producing doves. We always seem to be fascinated with things that are different from our culture.

Which music or styles of music are inspiring for you? Do you find music important in your life and performances?

In our show, we use everything from tribal to techno, classical to pop. Music is essential for creating the mood of a piece, even if there is just some soft music playing in the background, it can add a subtle texture to the show. I encourage our students at our classes to experiment with many different types of music. Today, this experimentation is made easier by the abundance of internet music libraries, such as rhapsody.com. The most inspiring music is the music that my wife Abbi creates. I often help her in the studio when she is recording. I do some back-up vocals, chanting, and percussion. Abbi creates spiritually inspired music that we often use in our shows. She also works with ZINGAIA, a techno-tribal trance band based out of Las Vegas. You can hear some of her music on our website.

Do you find performing for children differently than for adults? What do you think are the differences?

Let’s face it, children do not censor or edit their responses… They tell the truth, or better yet, the way they see the truth. Here’s an example— a few years ago, Abbi and I were performing in Atlantic City, at a casino. Every night, I would do my mouth coil routine, and every night, I would hand the end that came out of my mouth to a person in the audience to pull out the paper ribbon. The participant in the audience always just took the end of the ribbon, no questions asked. One day, Abbi and I did a special event at the local elementary school. When I handed the end of the mouth coil to my young assistant onstage, he touched the end, and the entire class went “eewwww! yuck!” I realized, in that moment, that the adults that I had been performing this routine for, would never express what they felt out loud… That touching the end of a piece of paper that had just come out of someone’s mouth was actually repulsive. The kids told the truth, and I learned from them, what adults, who are much more “politically correct,” would never tell me. That night I changed the routine— this is what I did: When I produced the first few feet of mouth coil, I attached the free end to the top of a three foot long cane, I simply wrapped some adhesive tape, sticky side out, around the top of the cane, and attached the paper to that. I then handed my participant/assistant the opposite end of the cane so that the paper that just came out of my mouth was three feet away from their hand, thereby eliminating the “yuck” factor. This is just one of many lessons that performing for young adults has taught me.

Where do you obtain the energy, when doing for instance a Master Class?

At our classes, we often run ten hours a day with short breaks. To keep my energy up, I have to watch what I put in my body. I eat healthy, I don’t smoke, and I never drink alcohol the day of a class. I also work out and have been a martial artist for most of my life. I suggest to anybody that is serious about their performance career, to take up some sort of physical discipline or sport.

Do you have one favorite children’s trick If so would you tell us why this particular trick?

My favorite routine in my entire show is “the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” This is my version of what magicians call “the Miser’s Dream.” It is interesting that this is the oldest routine in my current repertoire. My coin routine started out as “filler,” for my family show, and has remained the feature of my full evening show ever since. In fact, I feel that this is the most important piece of magic in my entire full evening show, and it began as a humble birthday party trick. I feel the reason it is so important in because of the relationship I create onstage with my young apprentice magician. It is not merely an audience participation routine, but a ceremonial initiation and a rite of passage. There is something mythic happening onstage, and the audience can feel it in their heart.

Small children can be tumultuous or rapidly distracted. Do you have a tip for the Kids Magic readers how you can get these kids quiet or keep the attention without raising your voice? And how would you do this with t tumultuous adult public?

The most important advice I have in this area is to do pre-show work. I make sure that the youngest of the kids are accompanied by adults, so they do not run around and disturb the show. I often use masking tape to tape off the floor area, and performance area, to make sure that the kids are sitting in the right place for the show. In extreme situations, I have had young adults standing at either side of the audience as monitors, to catch runaway kids and deliver them to their parents. A good sound system, with a good microphone will give an advantage to the performer when kids start to become noisy. Also, before the show, you can have the master of ceremonies, your assistant, or even just the party host, make an announcement that unruly or noisy children will be removed from the show and taken into another room until the end of the show. This is an extreme measure, but often necessary because today’s children have been raised in front of television sets, and have no manners when it comes to live entertainment, so they must be taught proper behaviors, before the show begins, instead of during the show, because then it’s too late…. Give the lesson before the test.

Jeff? Do you love sweets or candy or do you prefer snacks? If so what are your favorites?

I have cut as much sugar out of my diet as possible. Abbi is a good cook, a vegetarian, and makes sure to watch out for my dietary needs. The body is an incredible machine, and it’s output depends on the purity of its fuel. If I have a favorite snack food, it would be exotic cheeses.

Which names of artists rise spontaneously in your mind, when I ask your for Magicians for kids?

Let’s redefine “KID SHOWS”. I do not like this term. I think it is extremely limiting. Let’s consider not using the phrase “kid shows,” anymore. Instead, let’s use the phrase “family entertainer.” The term family entertainer is much more expansive, and encompasses a wider range of possibilities. I would consider myself a family entertainer. When I play Las Vegas, even though there are high rollers and adults in the audience, there are also families; parents with their kids. When I perform on television, who is watching the show? Parents and kids are. If you define yourself as a family entertainer, you will widen your range of opportunities. I have been a family entertainer all my life. My all time favorite family entertainer is Rafael, from Belgium. His work transcends family entertainment.

Are you still nervous before attending the stage? And how do you relax your self before a performance?

I often say that it is OK To have butterflies in your stomach before the show if you can teach them to fly in formation” I always have performance energy before a show. Today I spend the time before the show out in the audience meeting the people. Yes out in the theater before the show. I really blows peoples mind! They are expecting to see me onstage, but 15 minutes before the show I go out into the theater and walk around, shake hands and “win over” the audience and break the ice. For years, I waited backstage, in my masks and make-up, being “nervous.” Now, I do not wear the heavy make-up, and I’m more natural and relaxed, both onstage and off.

During the Master Class you told me that you sometimes read a newspaper or watch television in your hotel chamber when traveling around the world. How do you keep up with the news? Or are you not that interested in the news?

Most of my news comes to me from friends or the internet. Due to the nature of our touring schedule, Abbi and I are in transit most days of the week, so it is always possible to see a newspaper and impossible not to see a television set. I read a lot, and gather most of what’s in my mind from books, and try not to get too depressed about the global situation from being force-fed negative media.

Which books or DVD’s you recommend for Kids Magicians to be a inspiring source?

Most family entertainers are stand up or stage entertainers. There is so little information on stage magic available on DVD. To fill this gap, I created MCBRIDE ONSTAGE, a three volume DVD series. All of the material on these DVDs is suitable for family entertainers. Almost all of the material on these tapes was developed from my family shows. David Ginn’s books are very informative for the family entertainer as well. My favorite David Ginn book is “Strictly Visuals.”

Do you have a important tip for the all over Kids Magicians what they never should do during a performance?

Never ever ever call yourself a “Kids Magician.” Be a family entertainer. Never make fun of anyone who helps you onstage, regardless of their age. Stop using the old “clean hand, trap door, breakaway wand” type of humor. Many performers I’ve seen work with children make fun of the kids by putting them into embarrassing situations. THIS MUST END. Remember that you are often the very first magician that your audience will ever see. The imprint you make will last a lifetime. Being the first magician a person will witness is an incredible honor and responsibility.

Do you have a important tip for the all over Kids Magicians what they never should do during a performance?

Never repeat yourself.

Do you have other hobby’s where you are intensively busy with? If so what are these hobby.

I spend a lot of time drumming and dancing, creating alternative magical experiences. I travel all over the world, between show tours, and create all night drum and dance festivals. Last year, Abbi and I , along with the help of Luc Sala and George Parker, co-created an event just outside of Amsterdam, called SPRINGFIRE — A DRUM AND DANCE CELEBRATION. I hope to return year after year to this amazing event. These are places where magicians, shamans, storytellers and mask-dancers come together to co-create an extraordinary experience. If you want more information on what Abbi and I are creating, go to vegasvortex.com.

Can you tell a anecdote which happened to you during a Kids performance?

Just a few weeks ago, I was in the middle of a performance for adults, giving a rather serious lecture. During the lecture, a very hyperactive little girl went running all over the stage, and managed to evade her mother, who was trying to catch her. After about five minutes, I just had to surrender to the moment, and be in the “now.” There was no point to even attempt to continue my talk. I had the choice of attempting to remain “in control,” or to surrender to what was really happening on the stage. In years past, I may have shown my frustration by reprimanding the child, or even their parents. Today, I have much more experience in improvisational theater, and realize that it is often necessary to surrender control to the moment. This technique has also helped me avoid confrontations with drunk hecklers at my shows here in Las Vegas.

Are you planning to come to the Netherlands again doing a Master Class? And could you imagine doing a Master Class for a group of people who are only performing for Kids?

Yes, I will return to the Netherlands. Over the years, George Parker has produced the MASTER CLASS and he is doing a great job. We also plan to add some public shows to our tour of the Netherlands. I could not imagine doing a MASTER CLASS just for family entertainers. This would not be productive, and here’s why: The family entertainers gain so much insight into the world of performance, by interacting with the other types of performers who attend our classes— stage performers, strolling performers, corporate entertainers, and all of the other full-time pros that attend. On the other hand, all of these magicians learn serious lessons about family entertainment from the family entertainers. The cross-pollination of all these different types and the diversity of experiences increases the learning experience for everyone involved. How you handle aggressive audience participants does not depend on the age, but the insight and experience of the performer.

I could go on asking you all kinds off other questions, but is there something you would like to share with the Kids Magic Magazine readers you find important were I did not pay attention to?

Remember that the young folks that you have onstage today will remember you for the rest of their lives. These are the people who will grow up to run the casinos, theaters, and cruise ships where THEY will book you in the future.

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