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The Secret of Performing Magic for Very Young Audiences (Lessons from the Great Zucchini)

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It could be said that 5 or 6 years old is about as young of an audience that can really "get" a magic show or at least this is what I used to think. This may be a narrow way of thinking about things and could possibly be limited by the fact that we often think of ourselves as magicians first and entertainers second.

For those that are expecting the "secret" of performing magic for the very young audiences say 2 to 5 to been just handed to them, you may be disappointed. Rather, I would like to explore the answer to this question by means of a limited case study.

There is a magician, a.k.a the Great Zucchini, that works in the Washington DC area and commands $300 per show working with primarily pre-school childen.  The Washington Post did an in-depth article about the Great Zucchini in which the author, Gene Weingarten made the following observations about his show:

At the moment, the Great Zucchini was trying and failing to blow up a balloon, letting it whap him in the face, hard. Then he poured water on his head. Then he produced what appeared to be a soiled diaper, wiped his cheek with it, and wore it like a hat as the kids ewwww-ed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Great Zucchini was behaving like a complete idiot.

What is his secret you ask?  When it's not by his fancy costume, since he doesn't wear one or his expensive magic props, as he uses old standards which appear to be well used and tattered.  In fact, most would characterize the Zucchini's show and not containing much magic at all.  In fact, in there may lie the real secret.  He uses simple magic as a mechanism to make the kids laugh and have a good time.  Everyone agrees that the Great Zucchini has an uncanny ability to relate to his audience. Weingarten goes on to explain:


That's one reason he has fashioned himself a specialist in ages 2 to 6. He behaves like no adult in these preschoolers' world, making himself the dimwitted victim of every gag. He thinks a banana is a telephone, and answers it. He can't find the birthday boy when the birthday boy is standing right behind him. Every kid in the room is smarter than the Great Zucchini; he gives them that power over their anxieties.

Check out the Great Zucchini in action:

Great Zucchini Video Clip 1

Great Zucchini Video Clip 2

So next time you think an audience is too young to accept a gig, think again.  Here's one magician that makes a living on just doing those shows. So what's the secret?  Do you just copy the Great Zucchini's act?  Ultimately, you need to come up with something that fits your own style but you must think about being an entertainer first and magician second.

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+1 #1 Pix Smith 2009-12-13 04:55
I thought the Post article was fasciating, but it did put a bit of a spin on my watching this performance. That said, he does seem to be connecting with that audience, and in the two examples posted here, it's pretty clear that the kids are having a good time and are engaged. I emailed this to a buddy who performs a LOT for that age crowd, and encouraged him to submit some of his thoughts. We have talked at length, and I think he would have some valuable additions.

Thanks for this -- it is nice to put a living face to the article's subject. I really found this pretty compelling and completely irresistible.
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