After a very successful tour on the West Coast in April, we made our way to the East Coast to close out our Spring 2014 performances. One of the many highlights was a trip to Maine. What a privilege to work on the stage of the Collins Center…and Maine in the spring is beautiful. The photo above was clicked while I was hanging out with some wild black bears….
In May, Cindy and I were incredibly humbled to be featured on the pages of the oldest magic publication in the world, THE LINKING RING. During its ninety years, it has evolved from a four-page mimeographed publication to a professionally printed and internationally distributed journal. It has documented the most significant events in the art of magic over the past nine decades, traced the rise to fame of the “greats” in magic, and enabled magicians all over the world to exchange ideas. We were featured on the cover in 1998 and now, some 16 years later, I am honored to be on the cover again. The article gives a “behind the scenes” glimpse at our production and in-depth coverage of the Healing of Magic and Hocus Focus projects.
Summer is here and, as I write this, I’m sitting in Heathrow International Airport in London waiting for my next flight to Istanbul continuing on to Japan. There, I’ll be presenting with Melina, a friend of mine from Weber State University (UT) at the International Society for Language Studies conference. We will be talking about the benefits of learning magic tricks to help second language learners develop interpersonal and pragmatic language skills. It’s the first stop of a 7-week adventure that will take me to 11 cities in 9 countries to work with children with special needs and to train educators and healthcare professionals on arts integrated interventions. Look for updates here!
Some of the most exciting moments in learning are grounded in the unexpected and the engaging. And that’s what makes magic such a great teaching tool! I have been a part of some exciting research over the last 5 years, some of which was quoted this month in an interesting article from BUILDING CREATIVE BRIDGES (http://newsle.com/article/0/143481342/), an organization directed by Paul Signorelli, a San Francisco-based writer, trainer, presenter, social media strategist, learning advocate and consultant.
I started the month of May in Manhattan, KS working with the incredible team from Kansas State University and McCain Auditorium in preparation for one of the most exciting and comprehensive arts-integrated Autism and ADHD research projects that has ever been undertaken. Thanks to the great work of the people who started and oversee the Flint Hills Summer Fun Camp, 80 special campers will be transported to the world of “Magic Camp” where magic tricks will be combined with the camp’s drama, music, dance, and art activities to explore their impact on executive function skills and socialization. While it may take us some time to aggregate all the data, everyone involved is confident that this will be groundbreaking in many ways.
Our first shows back on the East Coast were at the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville, NC. This was the first time to perform here. The theatre is beautiful, the crew was fantastic, and the audience was incredibly engaged and “conversational” throughout both sold out performances.
The executive director received this unsolicited email from a member of the theatre’s Board of Directors – someone who is usually very “picky” and has occasionally left performances during intermission:
“The performance was really terrific. Kevin is a fabulous entertainer…really holds his audience with amazing feats of illusion and his terrific personality. I’m still trying to figure out the newspaper trick!!!”
In my 30 years of touring, I’ve only performed in Maine on two occasions so I was excited to be working at the Collins Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of Maine. I have to confess that I was a bit concerned about a Wednesday family-performance and was pleasantly surprised by the almost 1,000 patrons who attended. And there was no lack of excitement and enthusiasm from this audience!
The executive director of the center shared these comments: “The response to your show was very positive. I had several people thank me afterwards for doing such high-quality, family-friendly programming. Your show took our audience away from their daily lives and allowed them to be transported to a place of imagination and wonder. They believed. The reports from our technical crew were equally as complementary. They very much appreciated your hands on approach to the tech process and found you very easy to work with.”
This month, I also had the pleasure of working with the folks at the Paramount Theatre in Vermont again. We first worked together in 2011 and I was excited to be returning to the stage of this beautiful space! This time, they also decided to add an outreach component to our visit.
The Paramount Theatre partnered with Rutland Mental Health Services (RMHS) to reach out to the autism community in the area. This gave me an opportunity to visit students in the City Public Schools and conduct workshops for some very special young adults.
I’d like to share the comments with you from the perspective of the different participants – the Director of Support Services for the Rutland City Public Schools, and the President/CEO of Rutland Mental Health Services.
Dr. Eloise McGarry (Director of Support Services, Rutland City Public Schools): “Thank you for bringing the Hocus Focus program to the area. I received nothing but positive comments from staff and parents. It was truly amazing and delightful to watch Kevin interact with the students. His enthusiasm engaged the students and captivated their attention. It was clear how he was able to take the ‘magic’ and help them feel successful at something that was a mystery to the rest of us. The students were so engaged in learning and I enjoyed watching how he was able to reinforce ‘functional/academic skills’ through his ‘magic.’ Thank you again!”
Daniel Quinn (President/CEO, Rutland Mental Health Services):
He forwarded a copy of an article that appeared in the Rutland Herald along with these comments: “This article provides a good description of what was done by Kevin Spencer; but the article doesn’t capture the spirit of what happened on Friday. Kevin did not see, or define, the children by their ‘disability.’ He just saw them as children. He didn’t focus on what might be their limitations. He focused on what could be their possibilities. He didn’t see a child limited by a disability. He wondered what could be this child’s potential if you gave them a chance, just as we should do with all children. What I saw was inspiring. It was uplifting. You felt joy just being in the room and witnessing what took place.
“Kevin Spencer provides this service to children around the world. With the collaboration of Rutland Mental Health Services, the Paramount Theater, Rutland City Schools and our corporate sponsors, we were able to bring this service, even just for a morning, to Rutland. It was a wonderful morning [of workshops] and a great evening [of entertainment]. I am glad we were able bring this day to our community.”
Jessalyn Gustin, (Director of Community Support, Rutland Mental Health Services): “I cannot begin to thank you enough for the work you did with students of Rutland County. Your approach and methods for engaging each and every student was fun, respectful to the unique and varying needs of each individual, and presumed competence in the abilities all the students. Your passion and commitment to teaching and growing the skills and confidence in children with perceived disabilities is evident in the energy and attention you give to each student. The outcomes from this type of workshop reach farther than the many benefits of learning that the students receive. Thank you for your contribution to our community!”
I have talked many times over the years with the program director at WCC in an attempt to find a date that would work for both of us. Finally, it happened and we wrapped up our season on the stage of the Academic Arts Theatre on the campus of Westchester Community College. We had a very lively and excited full house of families and friends!
The Director wrote, “The Spencers were an absolute delight to have and work with and the audience enjoyed the show. It was quite positive and enjoyable!”
After our last show in Westchester, my team drove the big rig home while Kyle and I rented a car and drove up to Ogdensburg to spend a few days doing outreach activities in Ogdensburg, Canton, and Potsdam. The Ogdensburg Command Performances made arrangements for me to spend a full day with each of three organizations.
“Thank you so much for the opportunity for us to have Kevin work with our staff and participants. He is incredibly talented and was simply amazing working with the various functioning levels of our participants. Our clinicians particularly appreciated the training he provided to them and stated that they plan to utilize the tools he gave them with their clients. Our participants are still raving about his performance today and have asked repeatedly when he is coming back!!”
Andrea Montgomery, NYSARC, Director of Community Programs
“What a GREAT day…and to see all the residents laugh, interact and engage in the activities was inspiring. The therapists were able to take away ‘magic strategies’ and implement them into the treatments. It was a wonderful day!”
Terry Micelli, Director of Rehab, United Helpers
“Hocus Focus was OUTSTANDING!! Kevin integrated magic tricks with critical thinking skills, problem solving, collaboration, fine motor tasks, speaking and storytelling (communicating). Everyone was actively engaged and had ample time and opportunity to practice ‘tricks’. Students became more confident with each try and I actually witnessed self-esteem rise and student willing to take risks to “perform” in front of their peers. I only wish every grade, teacher and therapist would have been present, as it truly was an interdisciplinary approach to learning.”
– Lisa Grenville, BOCES, Potsdam, NY
It was a great way to wrap up May! Afterwards, Cindy and I took a few days to fly to Texas just to chill out and spend some much needed time together.