The Christmas Gigs

One of the biggest differences between my early years in magic when I lived in England and my American life were the Christmas Gigs.  Kid’s parties: the ‘bread and butter’ or ‘cherries on the icing’ of most English magicians. In the United States there is a great deal more close-up and wandering magic performed.

The primetime of the children’s gigs was centered round the Christmas season, when children’s parties were an almost non-stop source of income for the performer. Most of us made as much money in December as we did in any other 6 month block of time.

The first truly organized pay scale I devised for my services was ‘a pound and a slice of birthday cake’. However the exciting part was that you could sometimes perform five parties in an afternoon! These Saturday (and to a lesser degree Sunday afternoon) gigs were and probably still are the economic backbone of any performing magician in the UK.

Don’t think it was just the beginners mopping up this seasonal gravy. Bookers often didn’t realize the quality of the performers doing ‘baffling bunnies’’ in the living room. With the prospect of a fast ‘tenner’ you might end up with a Billy McComb, Pat Page, Ali Bongo or Robert Harbin on your doorstep. Hell I am pretty sure even Maurice Fogel had a Hanukkah Mindreading Show for kiddies.

In my earliest engagements and bookings in the children’s party market my parents chauffeured me from gig to gig as I was too young to drive. I certainly wasn’t too young to give orders. I would sit in the back of the car snapping out orders and directions like an overexcited mercenary at an old-fashioned regime change. Reading addresses and directions from little slips and pieces of paper I would shout frenzied directions to my good-natured father in the front seat.

I would occupy the back seat of the car and rummage through my big light green suitcase without a handle. I would perform the ‘bear claw,’ which is a nervous habit I have retained until the present day. Every show I do there is a moment just prior to showtime when I think I have lost or forgotten an important prop. I then claw through the closest box/bag/drawer or suitcase looking for the missing item. I am beginning to think this could be a nervous reaction.

Looking back on it now I learned a great deal performing those kid shows. They prepared me for the hustle bustle of actually working as a magician. They had a really nice quality of hit and run. You did your gig; you got your money,you ate your cake and then off to the next one.

Frankly I Kind of miss the simplicity.

~ by Nick Lewin on December 25, 2009.

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