When you think of animals in entertainment you may think of a magician producing beautiful white doves or pulling a rabbit out of his top hat, or perhaps the good old days of Westerns when a famous cowboy star had his faithful steed. What about all the animal acts in the circus like tigers and elephants, some may even remember circus legend Lou Jacobs and his Chihuahua Knucklehead. Having an animal in your repertoire can be a great addition to your act but don’t forget to consider all the pros and cons, especially when it comes to entertaining for everyday folks in a private residence. I will share some ideas and personal experience working with animals and let you decide if it’s an avenue you would like to peruse or if it’s for the birds.
Before you purchase an animal even if it’s a cute little bunny, remember this is a living creature that needs proper care and attention not just another magic prop to sit on your shelf until the next gig. Working with animals also takes patience, if you want to have a rabbit perform all kinds of cute tricks it really isn’t going to happen. They are adorable but beyond that they don’t really learn tricks, you can however look for unique personality traits and work that into the bit. I once saw a magician who had a rabbit that would pull a card out from a fanned deck and throw it to the table seemingly to pick the chosen card. I asked the magician later how he was able to get the rabbit to do that, his reply was that the rabbit already would do that with an item placed in front of him that was not food related, the magician was just clever enough to make that part of a gag.
Our fine feathered friends are also commonly used in magic acts especially doves. Doves are naturally gentle birds, relatively calm and easy to manipulate into small magical props safely. Many bird owners will trim the lift feathers so the bird can only fly a short distance, this is safe and humane. This practice allows the dove to flutter around when produced but not fly away and get hurt. Remember the dove pan we showed you in the Easter Candy Magic article? Well low and behold they are also good for producing doves. This is probably one of the easiest methods of producing a dove and is very safe for the bird. My doves do a couple of tricks like play dead and wave with their wings but trust me, they do not always follow direction. Just remember to be good natured about it and have a laugh with the audience if they are reluctant to perform.
When I have my animals in a show I like to make allow time at the end of the program for the guests to come visit the animals, this allows them to see that they are healthy and well cared for just like any family pet should be. All of my animals whether they work in the shows or not are treated as pets. If you just keep the animals locked up in a cage between shows they will not be comfortable around people, so it is to your benefit to take them out and give them some TLC.
As there are upsides to having critters in your show, there are some downsides; if there is one thing bunnies and birds do well is eat and poop. This is why I highly recommend nice pet carriers with news paper or other absorbent cage liners be used when transporting the critters to a show. Make sure to have clean up items like paper towel and spray cleaner to take care of any mishaps during performance. To help avoid this situation, don’t feed your animals until after they go on. Also make sure to not keep an animal inside of a prop any longer than necessary, I try and have an assistant off stage loading my animals just before they are to appear, however if that situation is not available, I produce the animals first and then set them in their carrier where they can rest comfortably for the remainder of the show.
Allowing your guests to pet the animals is a great way to bond with the audience, remember though they are animals and could possibly bite someone if they feel threatened, so making your audience aware of that is just good common sense. If you carry performers insurance they do have specific polices if you use animals in your act. I also keep hand sanitizer available for guests to clean their hands after touching the animals.
Has this whole animal business gone to the dogs? We certainly can’t forget man’s best friend, some performers out there add dogs into a skit, not often seen in magic but more so in novelty acts or perhaps more with a clown. Comic legend Stan Wolnic first got his feet wet with animal acts while performing with the family dog Pickles in a local talent show. Later in his career while with the circus Stan was know to employ an animal from one of the other acts on quite a regular basis.
Having an animals in your show can certainly be an attention grabber but may sure you consider all of the facts like the cost of food and care of the animals verses how much you will make on them being in your show. More than one of my little friends are in my care because someone purchased them without thinking and later no longer wanted them. Also if you wish to employ any of the wonderful production props like the dove pan, make sure that your animal is the right size for the prop to avid any injury or in worst case death.
If you are still unsure if animals are right for you perhaps you have a career as an Spring Animal trainer.