Abracadabra — Poof! Calgary-based magician Steve Harmer went from performing dozens of school shows a year to barely a dozen all year.
Provincial pandemic protocols and classroom closures over the last 15 months have been a difficult trick to contend with, says Harmer, who spent three days at Lac La Biche's Vera M. Welsh Elementary School last week, bringing some magic to the pre-school to Grade 3 students.
And while most of his scheduled Motivational Magic stage shows have done their own disappearing act since pandemic measures restricted audiences, travel, school activities and much of the entertainment profession, Harmer was all smiles (under his facemask) for the visit.
The magic for Harmer — a former school principal who has spent the last 21 years using his shows to share positive and uplifting messages to school-aged children — is the reaction from his young audience.
"I love to see their faces, their smiles," he said during a 10-minute 'breather' where he re-folded and stuffed rainbow scarves back into 'hidden' boxes, re-wrapped a rope-filled wand, re-positioned a line of giant-sized crayons and checked on his co-stars, Stu ... the rabbit and Charles the dove, between a whirlwind of small class performances at the school on Friday afternoon. "The pandemic has changed a lot around them, but the kids still want to laugh and smile and have fun. That's great to see."
Harmer normally brings his Motivational Magic show around the province for gymnasium presentations with dozens of classes watching together. Because of COVID cohort regulations in schools and restrictions on audience sizes, the shows he has been doing over the last year have been much more intimate. And again, that kind of one-on-one interaction is magic for the entertainer.
"It's really nice to be right there with them. One row of kids or two in a class all watching and clapping. You can see it in each of their faces when it's like that," he said.
Of course, with little eyes paying that much attention — all in the front row — the smaller crowds also help to keep the veteran magician on his toes.
"Oh, mistakes will happen — but not too often," he says, admitting that his reduced performance schedule from the COVID pandemic has created a little 'performance rust' he'd like to wave away with a magic wand. "But the kids love it all."
Using positive messaging that encourages all the youngsters who watch his shows to believe in themselves, be gracious and helpful to others, Harmer has been coming to Vera M. Welsh for the last 14 years. His most recent performances were to promote the school's pre-school registration and to give all the students a magical 20-minute break from their classrooms.