My teenage son rolled his eyes when I said I was looking into a magician for his brother’s tenth birthday party. But I know better. When the magic starts, he’ll be in the front row, eyes wide.
“Some people don’t like jugglers or ventriloquists,” says Tim Garrett, manager of Just4Kids (j4kfun.com; 858-278-6557). “But magicians book up fast. We’ve had this company for 35 years, and we’ve been using the same magicians for 20 of them. We customize our show, depending on the age of the audience, but all our shows are interactive. All the children get to participate from their seats, and a couple of them are often brought up onstage to help. And while the acts vary, each of our magicians knows how to do a chair suspension. A child is placed on a board that sits on two chairs. One of the chairs is removed, and the child remains floating in midair. It’s a great photo opportunity.”
For younger groups, says Garrett, “The show is very visual and silly. The magician may let a balloon blow up in his face. But if the kids are older, the jokes will be more sophisticated. And you can have magic lessons at the end, so the kids can learn a few tricks.”
A more sophisticated trick might involve the magician “asking someone to come up and choose a card from a pack of playing cards. Then the magician draws it on a large piece of paper, but it’s the wrong card. Everyone thinks the magician has screwed up. But then he adds lines to the drawing to give it depth, and says, ‘Your card is in there.’ The person holding the card shows it to the audience, and that card literally rises from the deck on the paper.”
Prices vary, depending on length of show. “A 30-minute show is $175, and a 45-minute show is $225. And if you have more than 40 people at the show, we’ll need a sound system. We charge a little bit extra for that.”
Leo Sy (leomagicshow.com; 619-339-1558) is a solo act who’s been practicing magic for a quarter century. “When kids tell me they want to learn magic, I encourage them to do the research, study, join the local magic club, learn from other magicians, and mostly just practice.” He also suggests visiting IBM Ring 76 (ring76.com). “You can go there and watch magic for free. It’s a very cool place; you see people from all walks of life becoming like kids for a couple of hours.”
Sy specializes in kids’ parties. “I start with 20 minutes of close-up table magic, where I mingle with the guests. Then I do 50 minutes of stage magic. For the final 20 minutes, I make balloon animals for the kids. For kids five to seven, the routines are two to three minutes each. They feature lots of participation, lots of colorful items. If I do a rope trick, I get someone to assist. But if the kids are older, I don’t ask for assistants because I’m doing more complicated moves. For a younger kid, I’ll make a ball disappear and then reappear in their pocket. For an older kid, I’ll do ball multiplication to music.”
But, says Sy, “the trick is just the tool of the trade. The magic is the way you deliver it: the way you talk and tell stories, get people excited. A magic show is dynamic; it changes every second, depending on what’s going on.” His standard fee is $110, but it varies, depending on the event.
Professor Rich at A Bit of Magic (richthemagician.com; 619-583-7323) is another veteran solo act. Like Sy, he stresses the importance of stage personality. He says, “I’ve been doing magic professionally since 1976, and I’ve invented a lot of my own tricks. For younger kids, one of my favorite tricks is where I take a picture of a cake that gets colored in by the kids yelling all sorts of magic words. For older kids and adults, it would be a mind-reading trick where I predict what word they’re going to choose out of a newspaper column.”
Rich recommends talking to the magician you’re hiring in order to get a sense of whether or not they will be entertaining onstage. “Also, ask for a reference from a show they did recently.” His prices vary but usually run around $190 for 45 minutes.