July 2000

Look, Don't See

Two thousand years ago, in the streets of Cairo, there was a magician performing the Cups and Balls. Everything was going fine, until one of his balls rolled off his table onto the dirt road, and he didnít see it happen. The magician looked for the ball hopelessly, since it had rolled behind him, and under a leper. The adults in his audience were disappointed, but the children were surely laughing and pointing. Yes, this was the first time ever that children experienced Look, Don't See. This is one of the most basic and most powerful principles used to entertain children with magic. Popularized by David Ginn, Look, Don't See means that something is happening, the children see it (and yell "Look!") but the magician does not see it.

The classic use of this principle is in Run, Rabbit, Run. This prop, approximately two feet long, has one door on either end, and a valley between the two doors. A rabbit runs back and forth between the two doors. The children see the rabbit running between the doors, but the magician does not. The magician is dumbfounded while the children know the whereabouts of the rabbit and they try to tell the magician. Run, Rabbit, Run has been around for at least 50 years, and has spawned many recent cousins who also run back and forth, including a bear, a cat, and a dragon.

Why is this such effective entertainment for children? For a child's whole life, he is always in the position of "not knowing" while the adults in his life are the source of all information. The child always asks questions of the adult in order to gain knowledge. But during Look, Don't See, the child is in the rare position of knowing something that an adult does not know. This may be the first time in the child's life that this situation occurs. And it is very empowering to the child. This empowerment is a strong feeling and thatís why he enjoys it so much.

So why not add this powerful experience to some of your routines where it does not already exist? When vanishing a silk with a thumb tip, put the silk in your empty fist first. Open your hand and claim that the silk has disappeared... as the silk flutters to the floor. The children see your error and you donít. If you use a break-away wand, try to 'not see' that the wand has fallen into pieces. Let the children tell you it has broken. It is very funny this way. Last month in my Crystal Silk Tube routine the silks accidentally got poked through to the floor. I added Look, Don't See to an otherwise straightforward routine.

This is what Bruce Bray has done with Timothy Wenk's PB&J (Peanut Butter and Jelly). Bruce is one of New Jerseyís busiest kid show magicians. He took a well-made prop with a transposition as its theme, and turned it into a powerful and wild ride for the children.

Effect and Routine

Timothy Wenk's PB&J consists of a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly. Each jar is covered with a black shell. The jars start under the shells. Lift the shells to reveal the jars and their placement. Return the shells. Lift them again and the jars have changed places. The instructions that come with PB&J gloss over the fun that can be had with the transpostion, but highlight a finale of a production of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bruce does not do the sandwich production (although you may want to), and instead uses Look, Don't See to create five minutes of fun with the transposition. You will also need an ordinary wand for this routine.

The two covered jars are on your table. "How many people ever had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I love peanut butter and jelly. If you like peanut butter and jelly raise one hand." Raise your hand as an example. "If you love peanut butter and jelly, raise both hands." You raise both hands. If you love liver put your hands down. Put your hands down. "You like liver!?"

"Who can guess what's under this cover?" Remove cover showing peanut butter. "And this one is the..." Remove cover as children finish your sentence. "You're right!" Both jars are exposed. Pick up jelly jar. "We're going to try to make this jar of jelly and this jar of peanut butter (point) switch places. Everybody put your hands on your hips and say: "I'd like to see that Bruce" Shake your hips, as kids repeat your words. "Okay I need your help. Everybody wiggle your fingers and say the magic words Abracadabra" Extend your arms and wiggle fingers, as children do the same. The jars are still exposed. Tap the jelly jar with your magic wand as you first look over and see that they havenít switched. Tap it a few more times as you say, "They switched." Then, as if encouraging it to move, you push it with the wand. But you push too hard and it tilts over.

Pick up the jelly jar. "I forgot to tell you the secret." Lean forward. "You're supposed to do this trick in the dark. So everybody close your eyes." Turn your back on the audience and, as if you were being sneaky, lift the two jars and switch their places. But do it loudly so that even if the children do close their eyes, they will still know you tricked them. Announce proudly, "They switched!" Children will yell that you moved them yourself. Respond,"You were peaking! That's not fair, I said close your eyes and you were peeking. Did you guys know that I switched them like this?" Pick up both jars and switch back to original spots. Lift the peanut butter jar by tilting it forward and inserting your pinkie under the shell a la cups and balls. This subtlety shows the peanut butter jar to be ordinary.

"Oh, you wanted them to switch by magic? All right, but this time I'll cover them up. "What's on this side, (cover peanut butter) and what's on this side (cover jelly)?" This reinforces their positions prior to the actual switch. "Everyone wiggle your fingers, and say the magic words." Tap the jelly jar cover, leaving the wand squarely on the top. Then tap the peanut butter cover, but hit it hard and let it bounce off, causing the cover to bounce up exposing the bottom of the peanut butter jar. "Should we see if they switched? Everyone say shhh." As if to sneak up on the jars, lean down and peek under each jar without exposing to the children. "They switched! The hard part is to make them switch back." The children know the jars didn't switch because they saw the peanut butter jar when the cover bounced off the table. To the adults say, "Do you know a easier way, lady?" To the children, "Say Abracadabra.!" But the kids won't do it. Tap the covers and remove them from the jars. "And the peanut butter is back on this side and the jelly is back on this side."

"Oh! You wanted to see them switch?" Pause, "Well, I'm going going to tell this girl in the front row (birthday child) a secret . Don't anybody else listen." Walk forward, lean into child, and say loudly, "I can't do this trick." Kids hear you and react! "What! You heard me? Okay, if you heard me, what did I say?" Fold your arms across your chest, like a cranky child. Kids respond, "You can't do it!" "Oh, you did hear me. Do you know why I can't do this trick? Because if the peanut butter is on this side (cover jar) and the jelly is on this side (cover jar), you can't say Abracadabra and make the jelly appear over here (lift cover showing jelly) and the peanut butter appear over here(Lift cover showing peanut butter)." This time you actually do the switch, but expose the jars only by lifting the covers and lowering them right away, without looking at them. Beware: you have sucked the children in so much by now that the kids will go nuts. Be careful, they may rush you!

"What? You mean the peanut butter is here and the jelly is here?" Just point to covers. Lift off covers and lower right away showing jars in their original positions. No switch. "Nu-uh." "You said the jelly was over here and the peanut butter was over here." Lift and drop covers showing them in new, switched position. But don't look at the jars. Children react!

"Look, if the peanut butter is on this side and the jelly is over here (lift and drop showing in original positions), you can't make the jelly go over here and the peanut butter go over here." Lift off the covers and place them aside leaving the jars uncovered in the switched position. Don't see it yet. Let the kids get a bit closer to a heart attack as they try to tell you. When you are ready to take them out of their misery, finally look at the jars. React to the transposition for the first time. "Someone is doing magic around here."


I love this routine. It has everything a good kids show routine should have. It has Look, Don't See, without overdoing it. There is lots of verbal participation from the children. They are completely hooked into this routine. Once it starts, they don't have a chance to get bored. It builds and builds. And with the convincer of lifting the peanut butter jar off the table, the magic is strong enough to fool the adults.

The obvious Look Don't See moment is when the covers are lifted to show the switch and the magician doesnít see it. But even when you tap on the cover causing the cover to bounce off the table, you are doing a subtle Look, Don't See. Plus, if we define Look, Don't See as something the children know that the magician does not, then even Bruce's stage whisper is a Look, Don't See moment. When he stage whispers to one child that he can't do the trick, the children "know" he can't do it, while Bruce "does not know" that they know. It is a wonderful moment for a kid show.

I emptied my jelly jar and painted the inside with black paint. This looks just like a jar full of jelly without the weight.