|Yup. dis me. In Mime makeup. in 2011.|
When I was twelve, I returned to the Performers Academy. I made more friends. I practiced performing, built an illusion, and learned pro-tips from magicians that were locally famous who talked to me at the age of twelve as if I were a peer.
At thirteen I became a CIT for magic camp, and learned that aside from performance-focused camps, they teach the magic of self confidence through a magic, juggling and puppetry curriculum. But the REAL magic, again, was the people. The real magic was the spine-tingling joy that I STILL feel when I hear Sousa's Washington Post march, which signified carnival day-- a day in which campers dressed however they wanted and spent the afternoon winning tickets and trying their skills at a variety of quality hand-crafted games. The REAL magic of magic camp was finding a place where I whole-heartedly BELONGED in a world where I felt like an outsider.
It has been twenty years since my first day at magic camp. In twenty years I have referenced the skills I've learned, both internal and external, from that experience almost every day. I have attended weddings of friends that I met at this little day camp when I was barely a teenager. From this one life experience I have an adopted-uncle, a second father, and a whole family of life-long friends. Because of this simple-seeming day camp, and all the passion and intention that went into it's development, I have earned several jobs, had a few magical relationships, and supported many camp friends through pursuit of atypical jobs.
At Magic Camp, I learned the beauty of empathy.
We practiced an all-inclusive model, never turning down a child who was interested in coming to camp, despite any diagnosis or ability they may have had. We had a "Director of Empathy" who spent at least half a day with a different kid building relationships and getting to know why they didn't want to do juggling that day.
We had campers with ADD, ADHD, bi-polar disorder and Downs Syndrome. We had counselors with those qualities as well. Gay, straight, bi, tall, black, Asian, overweight, speech-impediment, autistic... all together, old and young with one common goal- to learn magic. But the magic wasn't the slight of hand we were taught in magic class. The magic was the non-verbal nine-year-old teaching the autistic seven-year-old boy the magic trick she just learned. The magic was having a trick to show and an audience to listen.
What I really learned from ten years of working at camp, as a CIT, counselor, front desk manager, and camp director, was that we ALL have special needs. Some of us need to be left alone. Some need hugs. One needed to draw with his poop on the bathroom walls, but we worked on that. I needed all the papers on the front desk to be perfectly straight despite the fact that Joe would purposely run down the hallway to make them blow everywhere.
I have applied this knowledge to all my interactions since then. When I see someone angry, or hungry, or drunk or manic, I can empathize. I wonder what needs of theirs aren't getting met and how I can help them. This is especially true with the children I teach.
I learned external skills at magic camp, too. Just last week I had a class full of fifteen elementary students from kinder to fifth grade with almost unmanageable energy. Everyone was asking me different questions. "Can we go outside?" "Can I color?" "I need to call my dad". The day was only 10 minutes from ending. I opened my drawer to a bag of rubber-bands-- a simple tool that i bring Everywhere, and spun around with, "Who wants to see a Magic Trick?!". Instant silence. The group sat down. I showed my default, the "Aggie-Handcuffs." After all the kids but one fifth-grader got picked up, I swore him to secrecy, and taught him the trick.
Despite having almost two decades between when I first learned some of these techniques and activities, I still teach them with great success. I had a student who is always "bored" and asking "Do we HAVE to" when I introduce a new game or activity. But when I did some clowning activities today he was totally engaged in a way I hadn't seen him before.
I use other skills, too. At a check-out line, I drew a happy face on my finger and entertained a crying infant with my novice ventriloquism. I have built puppets of all shapes and sizes with many different groups of people after learning the power of a glue gun, at Magic Camp. Yesterday I pacified my group of wild elementary students with a lesson on balance, inspired by Peter's ladder-on-the-chin lesson. When I went to my aerial class after work, I decided to bring my jar of peacock feathers inside, rather than leaving them in the car. I subtly taught feather balancing to a child sitting bored on the couch while here mother took a silks class. At the end of the class, the child was running around the room chasing a peacock feather on her hand while I offered tips from my upside-down-on-a-rope position. This encouraged a conversation with the owner about kids camps and now I'm developing my own kids juggling class in Taos.
Oh, also-- knowing how to tie a balloon dog, bear, or sword has come in handy at the strangest times.
Hands down, the most important thing I learned from Magic Camp was improv. Life is improv. So many people are afraid to stand up and say something off the top of their head in front of other people, but that is literally what life is. Making swift decisions that hopefully have some comic relief but ultimately help you survive the moment and relieve your stress by putting it on someone else. Especially in working with children, and working in the outdoors, I have to improvise every day. I have taught several basic Improv classes to different groups of co-workers, students, and at conferences. We taught improv classes, but it was also just the mentality around camp. A mentality that I still carry. How can we rig the lights to turn on and off with a magic wand? Improv it.
The school for the blind is coming today and the show for the day is a wordless vaudeville act?! Time for some quick-thinking skills.
Magic Camp didn't take place in Hogwarts. You didn't have to jump through a wall to get there. It was usually in an old school or church or mall. Yet, we improvised a magical world within that space. Without it ever being spoken, you could feel that as soon as you entered, you could try anything, fail with friends, practice something all day if you wanted, and just be yourself.
I suppose the secret to our successful improvisation, was that we were challenged to do it in the first place. The Magic Camp empowered young adults to empathize, improvize, and take care of a cadre of campers who didn't otherwise belong. At age 14, I was responsible for taking care of a whole group of campers. At age 17, I was responsible for knowing the names of 100 campers and their parents, and sometimes their dog. At age 21, I was responsible for running a whole camp! I felt empowered, and supported. And that has translated to my whole life, through my own careers, and empowering other young people.
It's been twenty years since I first attended Magic Camp. Peter the Adequate is the uncle I never had, who has shown up for me in my most trying times without hesitation. Founder Kent's advice and role modeling has stuck with me as much as my own father's. And, although this is intended for parents of future campers, I can't neglect to mention that I met the love of my life there... when we were staff... and I chased him across the country for 14 years before we got engaged-- my own Forest Gump story.
I shudder to think of who I would be if we hadn't found the Magic Camp ad in the newspaper twenty years ago. Would I wake up and listen to Stars and Strips Forever with the delight of a kid on Christmas day, wearing a red ribboned choker with a top hat on it, on my way to teach juggling at the aerial gym? Would I live my life diving into my passions, however unpopular, knowing that whatever happens to me I have a core of framily who TRULY understand me, in a way that no one else ever did?
Since moving away from Magic Camp, I no longer enter a room full of people and have them cheer at my arrival. I haven't been a magician's assistant in at least a decade. I definitely don't have my magic briefcase anymore. I recently donated some of my more enduring magic tricks to a beginner magician friend. My kids Magic Camp shirt doesn't fit anymore. But I have a bag of juggling supplies that I carry with me to new places-- a great way to break the ice. On my floor lies a bag from the Society of Young Magicians, and my laundry bag has the Magic Camp stamp. On my shelf sits a half dozen magic-themed books. But beyond these material things polka-dotted through my room, Magic Camp has woven dozens of amazing people, experiences and skills through my life. Now I believe in Magic.