MAY 2014 IN REVIEW

June 10th, 2014

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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….

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!!!”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.” 

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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!”

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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!”

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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.

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“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

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“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

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“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.

THE LINKING RING

May 14th, 2014

Cindy and I are honored to be featured in the current issue of THE LINKING RING, the oldest magic publication in the world.  During its ninety years, The Linking Ring has had fourteen editors and evolved from a four-page mimeographed publication to a professionally printed and internationally distributed journal. It has documented the most significant events in our art 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. Through the years, The Linking Ring has had its detractors, and yet – to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill – “Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end – there it is.”

For more information on the International Brotherhood of Magicians, check out their website:  www.magician.org.

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APRIL ON THE ROAD….

May 9th, 2014

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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!

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

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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!).”

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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!

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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MARCH ON THE ROAD….

May 8th, 2014

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March was another COLD month on the road!  Honestly, I think you could have plotted our tour by watching the Weather Channel – wherever the bad winter weather was located, we seemed to be right in the middle of it!  In spite of frigid temperatures and sometimes blizzard-like conditions, we experienced wonderful audiences and remarkable residencies.  Working with theatres who believe in the power of the arts beyond what happens on their stages and in their buildings is one of the greatest privileges of my job.

In March, I had the honor of spending a week with The Lone Tree Arts Center in Colorado.  I wanted to share a small part of what the executive directors had to say: “We have just finished a week-long residency with Kevin. In that week of workshops in the community of people with special needs, we have made an enduring and important difference.  Kevin delivers lessons of empowerment, determination and joy, one person at a time. This is incredibly powerful, and by facilitating Kevin’s work here, the Lone Tree Arts Center has made a difference in our community that will be remembered, perhaps even more than some of the work we present on our stages.”

MARCH IN REVIEW

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I started the month of March participating in the Midwest Symposium on Leadership in Behavior Disorders (MSLBD) in Kansas City.  After my workshop presentation, one of the participants emailed this comment to my office:

“Kevin brought me some awesome ideas to work with my students! I did not know what to expect but he surpassed anything I had imagined! He was absolutely amazing!  Loved it – every minute of this 3-hour workshop I was on the edge of my seats waiting for the next shared thought and research.  Most impressive – he offered a wide range of interventions toward creating positive classroom and school environments to promote optimal learning.”

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I have been looking forward to working with Texas A&M University for more than a year!  In the fall, you may remember that I was invited to come to College Station so we could explore potential partners for our time together this month.  As a result, our time together was packed with meaningful activities that resulted in real transformational experiences for everyone who participated – including me.

“We were fortunate to have the Spencers here to perform their magic for our audiences.  However, the real magic happened when we took Kevin into our community for three days.  We still laugh and cry when we think and talk about the impact of those residency activities.  Thank you, Kevin Spencer, for bringing magic to our kids!”  – Executive Director, MSC OPAS

“What an amazing week we had during Kevin’s stay in Bryan/College Station. Seeing him work is wonderful…seeing him work with the kids is incredible! It was 4 straight days of magical moments as we saw the awe and pure joy on every child’s face as they learned to perform magic! They left having mastered something, not necessarily easy, that they could take and share with their friends and family with a sense of pride and accomplishment.”  – Director of Education/Outreach MSC OPAS

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This was my first time to perform at the Amarillo Civic Center.  The Globe News Theatre is one of the most uniquely beautiful spaces in which we’ve ever performed.  And the crew is friendly and professional.  Top it all off with an audience that was enthusiastic and engaged and it made for the perfect weekend!

“You won’t regret booking the Spencers Theatre of Illusion. The cast and crew were a joy to work with and Kevin brings passion and skill to his work. Kevin immediately established a great rapport with the audience and they loved the show! We are looking forward to having them return in the future.”  –  CFE/General Manager, Amarillo Civic Center Complex

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This was my second visit time to work with the Lone Tree Arts Center.  This week was dedicated totally to outreach activities.  This is one of those places that “gets it,” one that understands completely the power of the arts to transform a community.  We partnered with Developmental Pathways.  Together, we reached out to individuals in the community who have developmental and intellectual disabilities.  We spent 5 days serving several hundred young adults, parents, therapists, and support staff with arts-integrated approaches designed to help improve the skills that some individuals find challenging – academically and functionally.  It was a phenomenal week – one that I look forward to doing again!

“For many presenters (myself included), a focus on the bottom line is a critical part of our business. Presenting work that is artistically excellent AND will sell lots of tickets is a winning combination, and our reputations grow when we can make both things happen. This is one way we can make an impact on our community. There’s another way, too, and one that we have found profoundly meaningful: by looking outside traditional ways of reaching audiences in our buildings and instead taking artists to the community in unexpected ways. We have just finished a week-long residency with Kevin and in that week of workshops in the community of people with special needs, we have made an enduring and important difference. Kevin’s work, based in science and research but cloaked in the art of magic, is an example of how one person can make a difference in the lives of many. By teaching children, adults, caregivers, and therapists the simplest of magic tricks, Kevin delivers lessons of empowerment, determination and joy, one person at a time. This is incredibly powerful, and by facilitating Kevin’s work here, the Lone Tree Arts Center has made a difference in our community that will be remembered, perhaps even more than some of the work we present on our stages.”  – Executive Director, Lone Tree Arts Center (CO)

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After being in Colorado, I made a quick flight home so I could get my hair cut…and meet up with Cindy and the rest of the crew.  While I was in Colorado, they drove on to Minnesota and flew home for a few days.  The weather was nice in Virginia – at least for a few days – but then the cold weather moved in.  A blizzard in Minnesota and an ice storm in North Carolina threatened our return to Minnesota for the show at the Ames Center.  Our flights were canceled TWICE but we finally got a confirmed flight out and arrived at our hotel at 1am the day of our show.

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This was our second time to perform on the stage of the Ames Center. I really enjoy working with everyone here – great crew, terrific staff, and such a fantastic audience!

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From Burnsville, MN, we travel back to Eau Claire, WI for our next show.  We last performed at the State Theatre was in 2007.

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It was great to be back with a new show.  It was an enjoyable day working with the crew and performing for such a wonderful audience.

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We were at the Paramount Theatre several years ago so it was great to be back!  This time, we partnered with a STEAM School in Austin for 3 days to work with 6th graders, teaching them lessons in fractions, motion, friction, force, energy transfer and a little Newtonian theory using the art of magic.  The week ended with a nearly sold out house of wildly enthusiastic families!  There was a great article in the Austin Daily Herald too!

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 After wrapping up in Austin, MN, we started the drive WEST toward Wyoming…..

MORE THAN MAGIC….

April 6th, 2014

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IT’S MARCH…

March 15th, 2014

I haven’t been writing in my blog nearly as much as I once did.  Much of that is because I’m connected to so many people through Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare that you know my day-t0-day activities without having to write them here.  But I know that some of you aren’t connected with me so, please, take a moment and do that:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/kevinwspencer

Twitter: @kevinspencer72

The last few months have been incredibly busy.  In January and early February, we toured in Florida performing for wonderful audiences in beautiful places and warm temperatures.  In February, we moved the show to the Midwest where we toured Iowa – where we also performed for wonderful audiences in beautiful places and COLD temperatures!

After a nice run through Iowa, the team flew back to Virginia for a few days while I made a visit to Kansas State University to work with some of their drama therapy students.  Over several days, an amazing group of people gathered to prepare for an exciting research project happening this summer at the Flint Hills Summer Fun Camp.  We will be exploring the impact that learning/performing magic tricks can have on the executive function skills of children with Autism and ADHD.  This will be the first multidisciplinary, arts-integrated intervention model designed to document this type of program!

After a few days in Manhattan, KS, I drove back to Kansas City to present a 3-hour workshop at the Midwest Symposium for Leadership in Behavior Disorders.  This was a wonderful opportunity to share the Hocus Focus program with special educators across the U.S.  The workshop was overwhelmingly received with more than 40 schools signing up to participate in future research.

Once things wrapped in Kansas, I was on a plane to College Station, TX where I would meet up with the rest of the team.  We had a great show and spent several days working in the area:  3 television interviews, 1 newspaper interview, 1 radio interview, 8 workshops for 205 special education students in 7 schools, and 2 professional development workshops for 53 teachers and therapists.  It was a productive week!

We drove on to Amarillo for a performance at the Globe-News Theatre.  This is a truly spectacular theatre – one of the most unique I’ve ever seen.  The audience was amazing and we wrapped it all up with another standing ovation.

As I write this, I’ve been partnering with Lone Tree Performing Arts Center and Developmental Pathways in Colorado.  It’s been a busy week working with a variety of young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities throughout the Metropolitan Denver area.  But it has been an amazing experience!  Tomorrow is the last of our events here and then I’ll be on a flight to Virginia on Sunday to spend 36 hours at my house…just in time for another snow storm.

FLORIDA….TO IOWA!

February 9th, 2014

Once again I’m beginning this post with an apology for not having written in a very long time.  If you are a FaceBook friend, the you see many of my updates on a daily basis.  So, please click over and join me there.

After NYC, we made our way to Florida – first stop, Jacksonville.  This is absolutely one of my favorite places to perform.  The theatre is spectacular, the audiences are great, the crew is phenomenal, and the staff is so much fun.

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The day before the show, we were up early to head over to the television station for a morning interview, then off to Alden Road Exceptional Center to work with some incredible kids…

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…and then we made a trip over to Wolfson Children’s Hospital to do a workshop for the therapists there – speech, occupational, and physical therapists.  This is always a great time but I love working with pediatric therapists!

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We had a great show at the Florida Theatre on Friday night – excited crowd, ready to have a good time.  But, then again, we are never disappointed in the Jacksonville audience!

From there, we drove on to Palm Coast for a performance on Saturday night at the Flagler Auditorium.  Again, this is one of my favorite places to perform!  The audience is always so appreciative and ready to have a good time…and Lisa is the best!

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After Flagler, we had a few days to relax a bit before heading down to Fort Pierce to the beautiful Sunrise Theatre.  It’s been several years since we last performed here so it was great to be returning with our new production.  And the marque welcomed us!

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The day before the show, John had made arrangements for me to do a workshop with the rehab therapists at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center.  There were about 40 for the workshop and, as is generally the case, there were some who were a bit hesitate about using magic tricks as a rehab tool. It didn’t take long for them to “get it” and see the connection between learning to perform a simple magic tricks and all the therapeutic potential for their clients.

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The next day was the performance at the Sunrise Theatre.  Tickets had been selling well so it was going to be a nice crowd for the show.  Crew guys were awesome and the show went up quickly.  Before we knew it, it was time to take the stage!

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After Ft. Pierce, we were on our way to Leesburg – heading back to Central Florida.  The temperatures were so pleasant for January – in the mid 70’s.  You can’t argue with that…and the best part, THREE SOLD OUT SHOWS IN LEESBURG!

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It had been a very busy weekend with 5 shows in 3 days so we were all a little exhausted after the final matinee on Sunday.  After loading out, we crashed at the hotel.  The next morning, we were on our way back to South Florida for our final Florida performance in Jupiter.

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The audience at the Jupiter could not have been better.  They were playful, enthusiastic, and looking forward to an evening of magic and illusion. The intimacy of the space made for an incredible experience for me as a performance – and then as an audience.  Another sold out performance for us at the Jupiter Theatre was a fantastic way to wrap up the Florida tour!  Unfortunately, we would also be saying farewell to the warm temperatures.  Iowa, here we come!

On another note, I was interviewed by Scott Wells for his podcast, THE MAGIC WORD.  If you’re interested, you can check out the interview.

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STARTING IN NYC BUT HEADING TO FLORIDA!

January 14th, 2014

There no other city in the world like New York City – and that’s where my 2014 began.  Thankfully, the deep-freeze that had enveloped the East Coast had gone away and NYC was unseasonably warm (making for a much lighter suitcase).  I had some great meetings over my 5 days in the city…and ate too much food!

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As I write this, I’m sitting in LaGuardia International Airport waiting for my flight to Washington, DC continuing on to Jacksonville, FL.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll be appearing on the WJXT MORNING SHOW to talk about the work I’ll be doing in the Jacksonville community prior to our show on Friday night.

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After the Morning Show, Kevin Stone and I will be heading over to Wolfson Children’s Hospital to do a workshop with the therapy team.  This is always great fun – and provides lots of laughs while learning engaging ways to motivate patients to actually do their therapy!

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If you live in the Jacksonville area, come check out the show at the FLORIDA THEATRE – beautiful place!  You can buy your tickets HERE!

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MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL…

December 26th, 2013

Yesterday was a fantastic day!  Cindy and I spent most of the day at my brother’s house with family.  On the way there, my mom and dad called so we were able to talk for a bit before losing our AT&T cell signal (only Verizon in that part of town).  Christmas is such a special time of the year for so many reasons but, most importantly, because we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world.  It is this truth – the acceptance of this truth, this faith – that binds our family in ways that are much deeper than “family relationship.”

It is unfortunate that Christianity in America now includes so many “add ons” to faith.  One of the main reasons Jesus was born as a baby in genuine human flesh was to demonstrate to all of us that humanity is capable of displaying the Divine.  Being a Christ-follower simply means accepting the death of Jesus as our own sacrifice for the things we do that stand between us and a relationship with God.  If we approach the Christian life in a mechanical way, simply trying to imitate what we’ve read of Jesus in the Bible, we will inevitably fail.  It is about accepting His death for us and through that acceptance, we change at the core of who we are – and we are able to “display the Divine” in our own lives.  We are called to discover a life that is instinctive to us as “new creations.”  Christ becomes our pathway to forgiveness, the source of true fulfillment.  God wants us to know that Christ works in us, through us, and alongside us as a result of being spiritually joined to him.  Having Christ live through us begins with knowing that, as a result of believing, His life resides in us.  And in this process, He has no desire to erase our uniqueness and turn us into “Jesus clones.”  Each of us is gloriously designed and He considers our hobbies, interests, and sense of humor.  He wants to work through these individual characteristics in us to express Himself.  As a result of our faith, we are made for expression of Him.

As 2014 nears closer, it is my desire that my life will express the Divine – in my relationships, my attitudes, my actions, and the way I love people.

MY WEEK IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

December 8th, 2013

The first two weeks of November were fairly busy with performances and workshops in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Michigan.  But Cindy and I were able to relax as well by spending Thanksgiving with my family in Virginia.  The day after, I was on a flight to the United Kingdom.  I would be participating in a series of meetings that held a great deal of potential…but were shrouded in uncertainty.  Two extraordinary ladies whom I met in Vancouver at the IASE Conference in July – Bronwen and Judith – organized the trip.  They were operating totally on a “gut feeling” that we could find some exciting partnerships in the UK for this project.  And so, I was on my way to London.

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Unlike my recent travel experiences with United, US Airways managed to keep their flights on schedule and the trip was uneventful.  I arrived at Heathrow, jumped on a bus to my hotel and spent the day in one of the greatest cities in the world – London.

The following morning, Sunday, I was at the train station for the journey to Newton Abbot, an enchanting community in Devon, the South of England.  I would be spending the next few days at Hannahs at Seale-Hayne, an extraordinary place for people of all abilities.  First Great Western graciously provided my ticket to start this adventure.  Carl picked me up at the Newton Abbot station and we were on our way to the Seale-Hayne.  I dropped my bags off at my room and Carl gave me a brief, but impressive, tour of the property.

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This is quite a spectacular place!  On Monday, I was given a more organized tour of Seale-Hayne and the sister property at IvyBridge.  I also met up with the rest of the team here at Hannahs – some incredibly awesome people!

As you walk through the main arch of Seale-Hayne, you enter into the center of “campus” – a once agricultural university built in the early 1900’s and then, almost immediately, used as a hospital during WWI.  After the war, it became a part of Plymouth University with a focus on agriculture.

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Today, it is owned and operated by The Dame Hannah Rogers Trust, a charity that serves the needs of individuals with disabilities of all types.  This is such a nurturing place for people of all abilities, integrating them into every facet of what happens here – from art, music, food preparation, service, etc.  And the buildings and the land are beautiful examples of their abilities.

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Even the Christmas tree at the front entrance is a piece of art – constructed of Coca-Cola cans and LED lights!

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Hannahs at IvyBridge is designed to meet the needs of people who have more complex and profound disabilities, most of them physical.  But the atmosphere is incredible and supportive – from cooking and fitness areas to some fun places for people to socialize.

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Tuesday was the big day for me.  More than 50 professionals gathered at Seale-Hayne to participate in an introduction on using magic tricks in the rehabilitation and education of people with disability.  The audience was diverse – occupational and speech therapists, physiotherapists, neuropsychologists, special educators, and professors from Plymouth and Exeter Universities.

The most exciting part?  They got it!  They could see the multi and interdisciplinary connections in using magic tricks to motivate and engage those with whom they work!  And now, we are exploring how to take this project to the next level in the UK – big adventures ahead!

After the workshop, everyone gathered for lunch for a Q&A.  In the afternoon, Karen drove a few if us into Plymouth to see some of the sites in this historic port city.  Then, all of us reconvened with the Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University and several of the disability support staff to begin a dialogue to discover potential connections with some of the academic departments.  In the evening, we all had dinner in the Royal William Yard area – historic and picturesque!

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This is a great time to introduce you to two other people with whom I worked this week.  Anastasia is a student at the London School of Economics where she is completing a master’s degree in Human Rights.  She is a brilliant advocate for others with disabilities because she has cerebral palsy and lives the struggle each day.  I also met Allison, one of the people who assist Anastasia with her activities of daily life.  The three of us had a fun time exploring Plymouth!

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Wednesday morning was an opportunity to sit down with directors and staff at Hannahs to sketch out how this relationship will develop in the future.  We’ve managed to put together a good starter plan that will give us a strong foundation on which to build.

In the afternoon, Karen took us to two small nearby towns to do a little shopping.  The first was definitely the most charming.  Sadly, I’m not sure how to spell the name of the town but it was close to Darlington – I remember is sounded like Lochness?  I took several photos, enjoyed the scenery, purchased a few Christmas gifts for Cindy, and stopped at one of the local bakeries for some original British pastries.

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On Thursday, I was up early, packed my suitcase, met everyone for breakfast and then we made our way to the Newton Abbot Train Station.  We boarded the Great Western Train to London and settled in for the ride.  We arrived at Paddington at about 2:30pm – just in time to make our way to our first meeting.

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We arrived at the Marriott County Hall Hotel at 3pm.  This is a magnificent complex on the River Thames next to the London Eye.  As the sun began to set, the view of Parliament and Big Bend was stunning!

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Over tea, mulled wine, and sandwiches, we had our meeting with the CEO of the National Association of Special Schools.  They hold their annual conference in October to reach the 222 schools across the UK that serve the educational needs of students with disabilities.  We are investigating the possibilities of speaking at this conference in fall 2014.

Once we wrapped up the meeting, I caught a taxi to the London School of Economics (LSE) with Anastasia and Allison.  They were kind enough to let me drop off my bags in their flat.  The LSE accommodations are on Drury Lane, very close to where we had plans to meet several of the awesome people from Seale-Hayne for dinner.  One of Judith’s life-long friends also joined us.  She is an enchanting and delightful person named Maggie Steed.  She is also an accomplished stage and film actress who has starred in productions on Broadway and the West End.  We became fast friends over dinner sharing stories of life on the road.

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Sadly, over dinner we also learned of the death of Nelson Mandela.  We raised a toast to his work in human rights and his impact on the world.  Among the many highlights of the week was the “final act” – a chance to sit and visit with Nigel Planer who is starring as “Grandpa Joe” in the West End production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

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After the show, Nigel gave us a backstage tour of the set at The Drury Lane Theatre.  And while I was allowed to take a lot of fantastic photos, sadly I can only share them with friends “in person” – not on social media, which means, you will have to take my word that it was MAGICAL!  I can share these photos because they reveal none of the magic of the set.

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We talked well into the morning at the Loch Fyne Restaurant on Catherine Street, just around the corner from the Drury Lane Theatre.  It was a dazzling evening that I won’t soon forget.  Afterwards, I walked with Anastasia and Allison back to the LSE to pick up my bags and head toward my hotel at Heathrow.  Unfortunately, after a mind-blowing evening with friends, there wasn’t a train, bus, or taxi that would take me to Heathrow…which only lead to another adventure!

Christmas in Central London is beautiful, crowded, and crazy!  I walked from place to place hoping to find someone who would take me to my hotel.  From the West End – bags in tow – I walked through to Covent Garden with no luck.  I then made my way to Leister Square – no luck.  Continuing on to Trafalgar Square, I passed the South African Embassy where people had assembled and bag pipers played in memory of Mandela.  I stopped for a few minutes to FaceTime with Cindy to let her know I was okay…but still, no luck on a taxi.  I texted Bronwen at 1:30am (with great apologies) and she said she would make arrangements for a taxi from the Park Plaza Hotel.  I walked from Trafalgar Square, across the Westminster Bridge to the Park Plaza Hotel.  Steve greeted me in the lobby – a wonderful sight to see at 2am – and my taxi was on the way.  I couldn’t resist taking this photo as I crossed the Westminster Bridge.

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I arrived at Heathrow on Saturday morning only to find that there had been a major power outage in London that caused havoc with air traffic control in all of the airports in the area.  Flights were backed up for hours, especially those with international flight plans crossing the Atlantic.  Fortunately, our 4-hour delay was only 90 minutes and I’m sitting on USAir731 for Charlotte.  Soon, I’ll be home…but, after this trip, I’ll never be the same.

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