Teaching Magic at the McCord’s Camp ABRACADABRA

McCord Abracadabra grand spectacle 14 July 2017

It’s not the magician who teaches the children. It’s the children who teach the magician.

I had a great time working with the McCord Museum’s education team to teach over 100 different mini-Montrealers how to perform magic onstage this summer as part of their ABRACADABRA camps.* This series of week-long summer camps was inspired by the ILLUSIONS exhibition. The exhibition contains beautiful chromolithograph posters from the Allan Slaight collection acquired with help from the Emmanuelle Gattuso Foundation. Each week, the ABRACADABRA kids took a tour of this magnificent collection as part of their discovery of Montreal’s entertainment history. They then worked with me and their camp counselors (Skippy, Scala, Echo, Stein and Marc-André) to learn a new effect or two each day as preparation for their “Grand Spectacle” at the end of the week. As part of preparing for this big show for their friends and family, they learned fine motor skills, creative brainstorming techniques, performance vocabulary, public speaking skills and how to interact with audience members onstage.

I’d like to thank David Ben, Julie Eng and their charitable organisation Magicana for training me to work with their My Magic Hands team during my graduate school years in Toronto. I had experience teaching individuals and very small groups magic due to my end-of-highschool job as a demonstrator at Grand Illusions magic shop. However, it was working with Julie Eng, Suley Fattah and James Alan that I learned how to teach sleight-of-hand to larger groups of kids (sometimes as many as 30 or 40 at once) while coordinating with a larger team of magic coaches and volunteers. We worked with at-risk youth, children at Bloorview Rehabilitation Hospital and kids at Camp Oochigeas who all taught me a lot about overcoming obstacles, perseverance and what a magical moment can be.

Of course, the kids in Montreal taught me new lessons this summer too: clarity, joy and the power of overcoming fear through friendship onstage. The ABRACADABRA kids reminded me everyday to be as clear as possible when demonstrating techniques. Children are mirrors. They reflect back almost exactly what you show them. You have to model what you’d like them to do 100% of the time. Children are also tough yet extremely rewarding spectators. They love it when you perform something great, when they have a learning breakthrough, and when they get their moment to shine. Sharing those wonder-filled moments with them is inspiring. Finally, these kids reminded me that one of the secrets to overcoming stage fright is going onstage with a friend or getting used to it a little bit at a time. In one of our rehearsals, a little girl was forlorn and terrified by the idea of performing onstage. I told her that it was fine if she didn’t perform, but I could really use her help crossing the stage silently with magic posters to announce her friends. By the end of the show, she was so accustomed to walking onstage and looking at the audience that she chose to perform after all. She didn’t want to miss out on the fun! Some of the other kids found strength and joy by going on as a duo or trio. All of these variations on the single performer model added variety to our “Grand Spectacle” at the end of each week.

Who knows? Twenty years from now one of these little magicians might have their own magic poster up in town.

*Special thanks to Suzanne Sauvage, Sylvie Durand, Dominique Trudeau, Sophie Viennot and Christian Vachon at the McCord Museum.

McCord Abracadabra posters 14 July 2017

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  1. Shelley
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    This was probably one “school” that the kids thoroughly enjoyed and wished their whole school year could be full of courses like yours! Great experience and good job, Joe!

    • jculpepper
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Shelley. I suspect you’re right. I didn’t assign any homework, but parents told me that they practiced at home each day after camp.

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