You need to know the following before you read this:
1. The names, ages and small details of this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.
2. I wish I could tell this story better. I hope these words do the story justice. I’m not the soppy type and don’t mean for this to be a soppy or sad story.
I’ve been performing a routine in family shows since 2008, where I get a Dad from the audience to come up with his daughter. Dad plays the part of a King and I give him some challenges to pass. And if Dad can pass just one challenge, we turn his daughter into a real life princess, with a crown, an official scroll and everything.
The challenges are all in good fun and involve the Dad passing tests of: Bravery, skill, magic and finally attempting some impossible mind reading.
It’s a fast paced routine with a lot of messing and a lot of laughs, as Dad is trying his best to be the hero, but failing time and time again.
During a show one day, Joe the Dad comes up to help along with his little 6 year old girl Sophie.
Having done the usual routine where Joe get’s 4 challenges, and he fails the first 3 (because I set it up that way, not because Joe’s an idiot). Everyone is laughing and having a good time, I notice that Joe is getting genuinely nervous as he fails more of the challenges.
This isn’t the normal kind of nervous people get when standing in front of an audience, but the kind of nervous you get when you’re heart is racing, your hands shake, a little sweat appears on your forehead and you feel a little sick. Genuine nerves. Just one step away from shock. I look at Joe before he does his last challenge and notice he’s gone pale, his hands are shaking and he’s breathing is shallow and fast. After the show, a friend in the audience who was watching, told me he thought Joe was crying. But I didn’t notice it at the time.
I decide to wrap up the routine as fast as possible, keep an eye on him, and be as professional and nice to Joe as I could.
Dad of course got the final test right (By magic of course, even Joe didn’t know how he got it right)
The crowd cheer as I say “We have a princess!” I look at Joe again, and see him exhale and his shoulders relax as the tension releases. He starts to grin from ear to ear and his eyes light up.
I place the princess crown on Sophie’s head. She runs across the stage and hugs her Dad. Sophie, Joe and I holds hands and take a bow. I high five Joe and get another round of applause for “his daughters hero” as he brings his princess back to their seats.
The show ends there. But the story doesn’t.
After the show, Sophie and her Mum Joan and Sophie’s little sister come up to me, to shake hands, say thanks and take a picture. I oblige. As we take the photo, I notice Dad, Joe is sitting alone in the seats. I ask Mum to go get him to join us in the picture. Joan tells me “He wants to be left alone” I thought it was a bit unusual but carried on. Mum sends the kids back to Dad, she looks me in the eye and says…
“Thank you again. Our Sophie is terminally ill, and her Dad has been feeling helpless for years. He’s overwhelmed because now he feels like her hero”
I didn’t ask why Sophie was so ill, I kind of just stood there silently a bit stunned. And a bit embarrassed that I was just messing about, having a laugh, doing the normal act and had no idea what impact it was having.
For a few moments in that families sad story, there was a bit of laughter and happiness.
I wasn’t sure about sharing this story, but the family have been in touch since to say thanks, and Mum said they’ve been telling the story every chance they get, and so should I. For them it’s a happy story so that’s how I’m going to think of it too.
For other magicians and performers reading this…
If you look at the statistics – The hundreds of shows you’ve done. Times the number of people at each. It works out that a similar thing has in all probability, happened to you with someone you’ve performed for. You just didn’t know about it.
The only difference is, by some fluke I found out my audience volunteers back-story.
And it also means you have the opportunity to have this effect on someone in every show you do, ever again.