Performing for 10-13 Year Old’s… Compared to Adults

In a previous article I talked about how We Teach Our Audiences. The idea is that during the course of our performance our behavior will dictate how our audiences will respond.

If you’ve ever performed for children you’ll know that different ages react very differently. 10-13 Year old children will be the most difficult to perform for because they have a good understanding of how the world works and feel like they should know how the magic tricks are accomplished. David Kaye talks about this in his book Seriously Silly. In the book he discusses the idea that you have to eliminate every possible solution before the magical effect happens. In the book though he doesn’t explain WHY that’s happening and I think that the psychology behind it is just as interesting.

It’s my theory that 10-13 year old’s act this way because they are able to dismiss the abstract situation that we as magicians are creating. For example if you say “If I tap my hand with this magic wand the handkerchief in my hand will disappear”. For this age group they understand that things can’t simply just disappear. This is great because it means that we can create a magical effect for them. It also means that they are immediately searching for method. At this age they’ll feel your artificial and abstract context is a lie and therefore they don’t buy into it. They don’t want to made foolish or get taken advantage of. That’s why they will say things like “Its in your other hand!” or “Its up your sleeve!”

Giggling birthday boy

However when performing for a 5 year old that child will accept the artificial situation as being true. For 5 year old’s there is no method to figure out but instead the magical effect is just how the world works when there’s a magician around.They will accept as truth that you can tap a handkerchief to make it disappear. This makes them an excellent audience to perform for because anything you say will be accepted as truth. But because there’s no “rules of reality” being broken there’s also no magical effect, meaning its the journey and the comedy that makes the show worth watching.

But the same thing happens too when performing for adults. Adults intuitively recognize that there is deception involved but they are able to still accept the abstract world that you are creating. When you perform that same trick for an adult they experience a magical moment instead of immediately thinking about method. For adults you’ll want to entertain them first and also perform solid effects because they will think “How did you do that?” once the show is over.

Here’s a video that demonstrates what I’ve been talking about: 

The ages are obviously different than I’ve been describing above. At a magic show young children don’t recognize that the rules of reality are being broken because they have no previous experience to compare it to. [Adults fall for the same tricks- the beer scheme. ]

I think we’ve all had the experience where we watch an act and we think “Wow, that was so entertaining!” but it isn’t until after the performance is over that we consciously realize that we have no idea how the tricks were accomplished. During the show though we accept the artificial premise as being real and we just go along for the ride.

Penn and Teller have famously said that they never tell a lie in their Vegas act. Every trick deceives the audience because the people in the audience make incorrect assumptions. But never in their show is there anything verbally said that is an out-right lie. When performing for 10-13 year old’s I think this is an excellent approach to take. David Kaye had it right too, you’ll want to dismiss all possible explanations first. By setting up the presentation within the rules of reality you can then create moments of magic for this age group as well.

I think when performing for adults we end up with more interesting presentations by starting with more abstract lies. We can start by creating a presentation where we can manipulate time, read minds, or levitate for example and ultimately we end up with a more theatrical and unique experience.

My point is that different audiences and different ages obviously need different material to suit them. Pay attention to how the audience responds to your material and you’ll quickly find out what does and doesn’t work. Happy Performing!