Welcome to the January 2019 edition of the Career Inspo Blog!
This is a monthly interview with someone who has followed their passion, dreamed big and now has a successful and exciting career. Whether you are searching for your passion or looking for guidance and insight from those in your chosen industry, the Career Inspo blog will have something for everyone. After the success of the 2018 blog, I am so excited to be continuing the interviews into 2019 and I am sure this year’s line up will provide plenty of motivation and inspiration!
For the very first interview of 2019 I wanted to introduce a little magic into the start of your new year; and what better way to do that than by interviewing the marvellous Magic Hatter, Daniel Wood! Dan set up his own company, performing as The Magic Hatter at parties and events, 9 years ago and also finds time for plenty of charitable work, working as a Giggle Doctor in children’s wards across the North of England.
Sarah Ellis: Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for the very first blog post of 2019! Please can you share with the readers some information about your business and charity work?
Dan Wood: My working life is split between my own company, and my charity work in hospitals. As The Magic Hatter I perform comedy magic at birthdays and events, in residency at a local farm attraction and in annual theatre shows.
In hospitals, I work as a Giggle Doctor – Dr Teapot – for Theodora Children’s Charity, and as Ditto for POD Charitable Trust. Both roles see me visit children of all ages and abilities at hospitals in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Manchester.
SE: Why did you choose to pursue a career in magic and entertainment?
DW: My career now is a culmination of a lot of my training and interests. It combines my childhood passion for magic with my love of performing, my experience writing and directing and my training in children’s theatre. Growing up, I had always wanted to be an actor or presenter and, in a sense, I am doing elements of both whilst also working in a role I find really worthwhile and rewarding.
SE: What route did you take into this career and what training did you undertake?
DW: Growing up, I was always interested in magic and performing and would put on little shows in my back garden. Donning my dad’s oversized suit jacket and a cardboard top hat, I would charge friends 10p to watch…a young entrepreneur! I was soon in school productions and treading the boards in local youth theatre shows and festivals.
I trained in Drama, Applied Theatre and Education at Central School of Speech and Drama, and considered a career in children’s theatre. After graduating, I worked for two years as Creative Manager of Alton Towers – writing and directing the shows across the park and hotels. I then moved to York to set up an Arts Education franchise and deliver workshops in schools.
I realised though that I missed performing, so I started a company offering themed birthday parties as character magician The Magic Hatter. This led to events and residencies at family attractions, and I gradually started working in hospitals during the week. I found the hospital work especially rewarding so when the opportunity came up to apply to be a Giggle Doctor, I jumped at the chance. The charity rarely take on new performers, and so competition was fierce.
I now do two or three hospital visits a week as well as parties at weekends, and seasonal theatre shows over the holidays. I also review family shows and experiences under the brand Hatter’s Magic Moments, and work freelance for a magic shop filming demos and writing routines.
SE: What makes you jump out of bed in the morning to come to work?
DW: It may sound cheesy, but it’s the difference it makes. In hospitals, I see first-hand how a bleak situation can be turned around. I often enter a room and see solemn faces, but usually the mood is lifted and the atmosphere becomes fun and playful. The simplest things can make all the difference, but it’s tapping into what is needed and playing sensitively and gently at first.
At birthdays, it’s being a key part of that special occasion – knowing that I have helped to make that child’s day extra special, and made them feel special as the star of the show! The sound of laughter is music to my ears, and I would say I definitely use comedy more than magic.
SE: What have been your biggest challenges? And what reignites your passion on the tough days?
DW: I can’t discuss any specific moments, but I sometimes work with children who are in a very bad way. Some may be on palliative (end of life) care, or have a life-threatening injury or terminal illness. Especially with two children of my own, this isn’t easy to see but Theodora provide extensive psychological support should I need it. I also have great support through my family and friends. The passion is reignited by focusing instead on all the smiles, giggles and positive interactions – which thankfully are the majority.
SE: What are the key moments and most memorable experiences in your career so far?
DW: Some of the most memorable moments have come not through the big high-energy parties, but in quiet bedside interactions on the wards. Every visit has moments that tug at the heartstrings and that stay with me.
I’m proud to have won York’s Best Children’s Entertainer three times in the past three years, voted by the public. It means a lot for local parents and bookers to have nominated me and – being a Hatter – a hat-trick is certainly satisfying!
In terms of a real ‘buzz’, I love being back in the theatre. For my annual theatre shows, The Magic Hatter’s Christmas Cracker, I hire a 200-seat studio theatre and sell tickets. The shows seem to get bigger each year and take a lot of planning and preparation. I am adding a fifth performance in 2019 and have a growing team including an elf, a penguin, Santa and my Aunty Madge Hatter (me as a dame, including a very quick costume change!) It’s a really memorable way to end the year, and lovely to see a lot of the same families keep returning.
Christmas to me is – as the song goes – the most wonderful time of the year, and the theatre shows also allow me to take more time off with my family, rather than take countless bookings right up to the big day.
SE: What key strengths do you have that make you great at what you do?
DW: The skill I use the most is improvisation. I don’t stick rigidly to scripts at parties and events, or even during my theatre shows. I use a script as a loose guideline, but am happy to improvise and go ‘off-book’ as the show dictates. Children are especially unpredictable – I never really know what they are going to say or do. In the early stages this could throw me, but I’ve now sharpened my improv skills and relish the chance to be more playful and spontaneous.
My work as a Giggle Doctor is almost all improvised. I have pockets full of props, toys and tricks but constantly change what I do. Over a 4-hour visit I may see 20-30 children from babies to eighteen-year-olds, and I have to quickly assess and adapt to what each patient needs. For one child it may be bubbles that break the ice, for another music or a little puppetry. Or we’ll joke and play, make up stories, chat or look for imaginary treasure. It is this job more than anything that has pushed me to not over-think, not over-plan or rehearse and just go with the flow! It’s fun and liberating, not always easy but a great creative challenge.
Organisation is a key strength too, and something I’ve had to work on with so many different roles. Thankfully my wife Bev is a trained Stage Manager, so helps keep me in check!
SE: Do you have a role model or mentor? If so, what have you learnt from them that has helped you in your career?
DW: Growing up, I watched television specials by magicians such as Paul Daniels and David Copperfield and looked up to them. I was fascinated by the impossible – seeing things float, magically multiply or vanish into thin air! In fact, it was a Paul Daniels magic set I received at the age of 6 that first sparked my interest in magic. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to create that same sense of wonder that I had as a child.
It was seeing the 1998 film Patch Adams starring Robin Williams that first inspired me to look into hospital work. In 2018 I realised a lifelong dream to meet and work with the real Patch Adams, on a humanitarian clown trip in Morocco. I travelled in full costume to meet 43 other clowns – including Patch himself – and we visited orphanages, schools, women’s refuges and hospitals in Casablanca and Marrakech.
I learnt a great deal from Patch and from the trip, so much in fact that I wrote an extensive blog all about it at clowningaroundmorocco.wordpress.com
One of the key things I took from Patch was how he lives his life. He claims to have been a clown for 40 years – not a circus clown in a big wig and face-paint but rather a playful, colourful and engaging character for all ages. He interacts with people all the time, and lifts the mood not only in hospitals but wherever and whenever people need it. It’s not a performance that Patch switches on and off for work, it’s simply how he lives. I feel it’s about being more open-hearted, more approachable and ultimately more interested in people.
Since the trip I’ve especially tried to adopt those qualities, and found positive benefits both professionally and personally. I’m now writing a book aimed at doctors and play specialists about how they can integrate more humour and playfulness into their daily work. I’m also developing a lecture programme to go with this which I hope to take to medical conferences.
SE: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DW: Frank Sinatra once wrote, “Dare to wear the foolish clown face.” I don’t necessarily mean go out and put a clown nose on, although you might be surprised at the positive impact it can have! But dare to be silly, playful and colourful…not just in your work but in your everyday life as Patch does. We live in a society that increasingly shuns interaction, but my line of work is all about connection. I need to connect with an audience during a show. On the wards, despite being called a Giggle Doctor, the goal is not always to make people laugh – humour is just one of the many tools I use to connect with people.
Practically, if you are going to work as a magician or other entertainer then I would strongly recommend some training in drama. This will not only boost your confidence but also teach you key skills in stagecraft, improvisation and storytelling. And, crucially, find your own performing style. The YouTube generation has led to lots of copycat magicians, recycling other people’s scripts with patter that doesn’t suit them. Be yourself!
SE: What are the top 3 things to consider when choosing and pursuing a meaningful and exciting career?
DW: I’m very much a family man, so work-life balance comes high. Unlike many businessmen, making money isn’t my primary goal. I’ve never wanted to be the kind of father who works all hours but doesn’t have time to be with his family, and so I’ve tried to create a lifestyle that provides for us but also gives ample time off. My eldest has recently started school and so I’ve tweaked my working pattern to fit, reducing weekend parties and increasing weekday hospital visits and taking more work in the magic shop. It’s a constant balancing act, coupled with the uncertainty of self-employment but it’s worth the effort.
Apart from that, I’m an advocate for doing what you enjoy and turning your passions into your work. I also like variety, which is why I have several interlinking jobs. It’s important to consider whether self-employment is right for you – it’s not without risks and there’s no holiday or sick pay. You need to create your own work and opportunities, but for me there is a great deal of flexibility. I can manage my own time, try new things and push myself creatively. Whilst there’s no pressure, I always have new tricks and routines to work on – I’m currently learning the ukulele for hospitals and honing my close-up magic skills. It’s taken a while for all the pieces to fit, but I really enjoy this unusual but fun and rewarding career!
If you would like to continue the magic and learn more about Dan’s work, you can visit The Magic Hatter website here, follow him on Facebook and Twitter and read both of his blogs: clowningaroundmorocco and hattersmagicmoments – both well worth a read! You can also learn more about the wonderful work of both the Theodora Children’s Charity and POD Children’s Charity.