I’ve had a number of really busy days lately, and Thursday was no exception. I did my very first children’s hospital show ever. My husband Geoff had done one when Rancho Los Amigos reached out to the Magic Castle for volunteers some time back, so he was able to share his experience with me. Still, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.
I did my typical check in call in the morning with my fellow magician who was working the Children’s Hospital Orange County Holiday Party with me. When he called back, I shifted gears. I had planned to do strolling magic, but he explained that we may also have quite a number of children in the playrooms, so I should bring some kid’s stage magic with me too. For maximum flexibility I decided to add to my strolling magic those things from my kids show that required no table to perform and had no reset. I also packed some funny hats, and some Christmas books, just in case. I had already planned to go as Mrs. Claus, so into the costuming and wig I went and out the door for the hour and a half drive to the hospital.
Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) is amazing. It is so kid friendly. It first opened in 1964 and was made possible thanks to the efforts of Walt Disney and Walter Knott (founders of nearby DIsneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm), who joined forces with a small group of Orange County pediatricians and civic leaders.
I arrived at CHOC as Mrs. Claus (who I wrote about on my blog ) and met Victor Globa, my fellow magician from the Magic Castle and his daughter Alex, who is a former patient, and now nurse there. I checked in at the desk, and told them I was Mrs. Claus and that’s how they checked me in and printed up my name badge. Victor called dibs on the 4th floor, because that’s where his daughter works and I was only too happy to work wherever they needed me. It turned out to be primarily oncology and neurology.
I was guided about by Riley, who would go into each patient’s room and see if they were up for a visit. I felt I was there to provide a bit of a diversion to the patients, and I so enjoyed seeing them react and smile at the magic I shared. Most kids I worked with one-on-one and it was great to be there for them on a day where I appeared as an unexpected surprise. While there were aspects that made me sad (like Riley saying of a patient, “she is just too sad to see anyone today”) there were so many wonderful things that happened that I will carry with me – like the delayed smile that snuck onto a little boy’s face who was just starting to regain muscle control over much of his body – now that’s amazing.
I headed out about 4:15 in the afternoon. Of course traffic was already heavy. I had originally planned to go home and touch base with my honey before heading out again, but that would have added about an hour to my commute time and given that my planned rehearsal time on what I am referring to as, “my love act,” was lost when I needed to retool in the morning, I thought I would just head toward my next destination. So, I headed out toward the home of Dale Salwak, stopping for a change into civilian clothes and dinner on the way, (and camping out at a Starbucks for a half hour to go over the material I should have rehearsed more.)
Known as “The Gentleman of Magic”, Dale is a legend in magic circles. He works all the time, is very smooth, and since 1978, he has been the director of the Chavez Studio of Magic. This highly respected school was founded in 1941 by Ben and Marion Chavez. In 1946, the course of study was approved by the California State Department of Education, and veterans could attend under the GI Bill. Marion, who worked under the stage name Delores, was an accomplished entertainer and master sleight-of-hand artist in her own-right. After Ben died in 1961, she continued running the school and teaching.
What Dale has accomplished in magic is impressive, but it is just one part of his many accomplishments. He is a respected educator at Citrus College, where he has taught classes on Literature and Faith for 45 years.
He is also a prolific author, with 25 books on religion and literature under his name. They include Kingsley Amis: Modern Novelist, Carl Sandburg: A Reference Guide, Anne Tyler as Novelist , Philip Larkin: The Man and His Work, The Life and Work of Barbara Pym, the autobiographical Teaching Life: Letters from a Life in Literature, and his most recent work where he acted as editor for essays by twenty-two distinguished contributors. It is titled Writers and Their Mothers.
Best of all, he is a really good magician.
As you can imagine, I was excited to be able to spend a couple of hours with Dale. I had met him previously at the Women Magicians Association. Dale is directing a show I will be appearing in of all women magicians, and he graciously made himself available to go over my act with me. It is a brand new act, and getting advice from someone so knowledgeable was amazing. He also had one of his students there, my friend Dana Douglas, who has a very different thought process that I do. “White boarding” with the two of them about my act was so wonderful. I really appreciated their insight and having someone as experienced as Dale run through an act with you was the best gift I could ever get for Christmas. Yep, Mrs. Claus had quite the day.