Every few years, our tour takes us to the West. And it seems like it’s always in April. This was our year and we started the month in Gillette, WY working at Cam-Plex. After an incredible week in Gillette, we continued further west toward Utah, California and Washington. Along the way, we stopped in the small town of Kaycee, WY to fuel up the rig. That’s where I met the little guy pictured here. This little lamb was only a day old and when I asked if I could take a picture, the rancher suddenly dropped him in my arms and Cindy clicked the photo! He was much lighter (and softer) than I had imagined…and, new life reminded me that spring was just around the corner!
GILLETTE, WY: This was my first experience working in this incredibly visionary complex in Gillette, WY. This was an extended residency that included working with the school district and culminating in a final sold out performance at the Heritage Center Theatre to a wildly enthusiastic audience.
“We recently had the pleasure of hosting Kevin Spencer and his crew in our community for a week-long residency. He conducted a teacher workshop and several workshops with Autism/ASD students over the course of the week. It’s rare to find a teaching artist who is willing to work with this student population. It’s even more rare to find a teaching artist who not only excels at working with them, but also loves doing so. Kevin has a heart for working with these kids that so many others are afraid to do. He is a warm and caring individual who sees these kids as they are – students who want to be treated like their peers. He draws them out with his disarming smile and his talent to see past their disabilities and focus on their abilities. Everyone who was involved in the residency week raved about the experience. It was no surprise that we ended the week with a sold out public show! We will definitely be inviting Kevin back to our community in the near future.”
The Education coordinator worked brilliantly putting together a very thorough residency with the autism & special education programs in the school district. The week started with Professional Development training for special educators on arts-integrated teaching methods that would engage all of their students, including those with a special education classification. Over the next few days, I worked with multiple classes from 12 schools teaching students simple magic tricks. The skills required to learn these tricks are complex on many levels including attention, motor planning, dexterity, organization, sequencing, non-verbal and verbal communication, and social skills. Evidence demonstrates that learning and performing magic tricks can enhance student self-efficacy, self-esteem, and the ability to persevere. In a fun and motivating environment, students were able to improve the skills they find most challenging – academically, socially, and functionally.
Studies have demonstrated over and over again that arts-involved students get better grades, have higher rates of college enrollment, and are more likely to volunteer in their communities, vote and become involved in politics. They are, in short, more optimistic about what is ahead of them and they are more likely to set and achieve goals. Teaching magic tricks to students helps them develop and improve important 21st century skills often defined as the 4C’s — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. The Gillette News Record featured Hocus Focus on the front page in an article entitled “Making Pure Magic.”
PLEASANTON, CA: After many years of attempting to make it happen, we were finally able to route through Northern California and set a date at the Firehouse Arts Center.
This is an awesome venue that’s not quite a proscenium stage but not a thrust stage either. It’s a great space that’s intimate for both performer and audience. Thanks to the flexibility of the technical crew and the “road experience” of my team, they were able to pull together a show that worked perfectly. Teamwork paid off in a big way and the sold out audience had a great time.
GRASS VALLEY, CA: That’s me standing just outside the Stage Entrance to the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, CA. This was our first time to work here. This is truly a “cowboy town” located in the hills of Northern California – scenic, charming, and friendly. We were almost sold out when we arrived and by show time, we were oversold with a packed audience!
“On behalf of all of us at the Center, I just wanted to pass on my thanks for a really great show on Saturday night. We’re all in agreement that everyone in your company was not only very professional but wonderful to work with (that doesn’t always happen, as you can well imagine from your time of being on the road!).”
LOGAN, UT: I was privileged to perform on the stage of the Ellen Eccles Theatre in 2007 so I was more than excited to be returning with a new show AND the opportunity to do some meaningful work in the Logan community. I worked with Jim several years earlier in Michigan and he had recently come on board as the Executive Director of the Cache Valley Center for the Arts. The near-capacity crowd on Friday night made me feel like a rock star! The cheers, shouts, and exuberate applause for each illusion electrified the house. After the show, I had the chance to talk with a couple hundred “fans” in the lobby. In an email, Jim shared these comments:
“Kevin has a rare gift. He moves easily from filling the stage with boundless energy to engaging the audience one-on-one with warmth and generosity after the show.”
And we made the front page of the Herald Journal!
In the days leading up to the show, I was able to make some awesome connections in 2 adult care facilities, speak to the Occupational Therapy club at Utah State University, and work with 7 schools throughout the Cache Valley providing me with the opportunity to do a little magic with some great people. The FOX affiliate in Salt Lake City covered one of those outreach programs at a school and the local newspaper featured another event on the front page of the paper the following day.
“Kevin’s caring and engaging persistence helped these kids find the confidence they needed to overcome physical and emotional challenges and find the magic inside them selves. They had ten outreach activities in two days and about 80 miles of driving on unfamiliar roads. Color me impressed. I would say the Spencer’s Theatre of Illusion is a top notch group of professionals worthy of emulation.”
Here are some comments from a few of the teachers who participated in the Hocus Focus program in the days leading up to the show:
“Loved it! It was amazing. Kevin and his assistant were friendly and charismatic. I loved how he integrating magic to help kids with fine motor skills and thinking skills. I have a student with autism who was picking it up and loved it! He was able to do things I didn’t know he could to do. I’m so glad we did it. They were able to quickly build good rapport, and my students were energized and entertained. Let’s just say I’d love to have him back!” - Becky Winn, Birch Creek Elementary
“Kevin was great with the group. He remembered their names!! I thought it was both fun and informative for the kids. I wish he had had a little more time to make the connections with the kids about how they focused on the magic tricks and how they can benefit from that same kind of focus in their school work. I would highly recommend the program to anyone!” - Tammy Roper, Thomas Edison North Campus
“I had all of my students at the Hocus Focus Workshop and they loved it! Kevin and Eli were very personable and great with the kids. I loved that they first performed some tricks and then taught tricks the students could do themselves. My students really enjoyed the workshop and we would be VERY interested in doing something like this every year if possible. Thank you for such a wonderful opportunity!” Mountainside Elementary School
“Fantastic! We absolutely loved him. The residents totally had a positive, interactive experience. He was funny, kind, and loud enough for everyone to hear. One resident almost left right before he came because she said she was afraid of magic. But she stayed and loved it! Residents were using fingers, arms, and shoulders just by showing them tricks – great therapy! We’d love to have him back.” - Laura Wolford, Pioneer Valley Lodge
“The kids enjoyed being able to be in a small group and being able to participate. Those kids don’t usually get to do something like that. In most situations, they don’t like to volunteer because they’re afraid they might do something wrong; so, it was nice having them be able to participate. He tried to involve everyone, even the kids that weren’t sure they wanted to. The other thing I liked was that he had them tell a story with magic. They were learning and not realizing it. It was fun.” - Jill Wanner, Lewiston Elementary
“It was great! The kids loved it and were very engaged. The kids got front page of the paper and they loved that. It was great helping them work on their motor skills. They had to practice it a few times, but they didn’t get frustrated because it was a fun thing. If they every come back, let us know!” - Robin Patton, North Park Elementary
TACOMA, WA: This was my second performance at the spectacular Pantages Theatre in Tacoma. This is a stunning venue – and the audience of almost 1,000 was fantastic!
The difference this time was the amount of outreach they were able to incorporate. The day before the show, I made a visit to Grant Center for the Expressive Arts. This is a public school where subjects are taught through the framework of interactive arts programs – what a concept! My point-of-contact for the day was Conrad, the “kid principal.” That’s me and him in the picture above….
I spoke to students in 1st – 3rd grades and then spent time working with two groups of students in autism support classes. After working at Grant, I spend the afternoon working at Custer Elementary School with two classes of special education students.
EDMONDS, WA: This was my first time to work with the Edmonds Center, but I hope it’s not the last! The venue is very intimate for its size giving every member of the audience a “front row seat” to the production. The “oohs and aahs” from the near-capacity crowd was awesome and the dialogue between me and the audience made it feel like I was performing in my living room, not a 750 seat theatre!
I made a stop in Edmonds two days prior to the public performance to do a little community outreach. The ECA partnered with the Everett Clinic to sponsor a 3-hour continuing education workshop for occupational and physical therapists. As is our practice, we conduct extensive evaluations of each workshop. Here are a few of the comments from participants:
“This workshop was entertaining, well thought out, researched, and explained. This far exceeded my expectations. One suggestion – make it longer…I can’t believe I actually said that!”
“The instructor was dynamic. Loved the opportunity to DO the tricks!”
“The instructor was very knowledgeable – dynamic and interesting.”
“After being a PT for 11 years and attending LOTS of continuing education classes, this is the only one that I feel I will remember, use, and tell other about for days…even years to come! I can’t wait to go to work with kids tomorrow!”
“Best workshop I’ve attended! Very practical activities we can use immediately in our practice. Time flew and it was very interactive. Fun, full of learning – not just magic, but therapeutic uses of tasks.”
And, finally, just a few pictures from the road….One More Stop On My Journey.