Treading the boards

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Written by Alisdair Chisholm on 1 July 2014 in Opinion

Alisdair Chisholm reflects on a recent encounter with the XBox Generation and encourages them to start caring for themselves

As someone who was expelled from more schools and colleges than most people attend, I claim a natural affinity with the young and disenfranchised. Mind you, this is an easy thing for me to say from the comfort of my castle, and might just be tested when I have the XBox Generation as my audience, which is, I remind myself on the appointed day, largely why I took the gig.

It is a charity event – I am being paid, obviously, although more a pauper’s purse than the usual king’s ransom – for local, unemployed (or did someone say ‘unemployable’?) teenagers. Whatever, the brief is simple, I am merely asked to ‘do all that motivation stuff’.

I arrive at the site stupidly early as ever, for my long ‘get ready’. The building where we are booked is not just on a building site, but is an active part of it; still, the room we are in is finished and functional, and that is all that matters. There is also a Nespresso coffee machine, with a huge bowl of capsules, so I am more than usually happy – most coffee does it for me, in truth, although I draw the line at Mellow Bird’s.

I while away the best part of an hour, setting up the room, getting rid of the screen and other PowerPoint-junky paraphernalia, putting out a few props, walking the space, making it mine, mentally rehearsing, and I am all set, good to go.

Even though these days I only have an e-cigarette habit, I still head out to the smoking zone, where the students are, practically to a boy, smoking heavily, cigarettes and suchlike. I shake a few hands and then head off – my pre-gig walk is always where it all finally comes together in my head.

Ten minutes later I am back in the room, in the zone, listening to a lacklustre introduction, and then I am on, doing what I love, happy as can be.

In my intro, as I outline the session ahead, mentioning that there will be some magic, a student interrupts me, without apology, to let us all know that he ‘doesn’t believe in magic’, which is good to hear.

“Good,” I say, “because there is no belief necessary or sought. It is just magic, that is all, not a religion.”

This gets some laughs, but he is not appeased. “I still don’t believe in it”, he says, and I realise that I have to deal with it.

I toss him a deck of cards and turn my back. He shuffles the deck, takes out a card, looks at it, shows it to everyone but me, shuffles it back into the deck, puts them back in their box and drops them back on the table.

I walk over to him, look deep into his eyes, and name his card, “The two of hearts.”

Everyone is stunned. I get a round of applause for the now-believer and just carry on.

It is only a 90-minute gig – full of magic, hypnotism, challenges, a dangerous stunt and five simple messages; ‘entertainment’ at its best, I like to think – and a single cup of black coffee, getting colder each minute, gets me through; cold coffee is, like many good things, a learnt delight.

It is an upbeat session, hitting the mark, and then, midway through, one of the students says, apropos of nothing at all, “Nobody cares about me.”

The silence that follows this tells me that he is probably telling the truth, and that he is likely speaking for others in the room less inclined to share their feelings. It is heart rending to hear, and in other circumstances I would probably have given him a hug and platitudes. Instead I look him long and hard in the eyes and quietly say, as if it was just him and me in the room, “At least that is something you can change in an instant.” I pause, adding, with a loud snap of my fingers, “Just like that.”

He was clearly expecting a different response, looks hard right back at me, then quietly asks, “How?”

“It is simple”, I say evenly, “just start caring about yourself, and others may follow.”

He nods, as others do too around the room, and I have them. They were listening and having fun before, but now they buy every message, because they know I am a ‘truth-teller’.

All is well from there on in, to the finish where I produce a flash of fire, and there is applause and hugs, and then I wave them away in their coach, knowing I have found a new audience, a new sense of purpose.

Good fortune.

About the author

Alisdair Chisholm is managing director of The Original Training Company. He can be contacted at


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