In late 2013, Norwood’s Michael Kirschner was performing a magic show at New Jersey Governor James Florio’s holiday party when another guest, who worked for the Diocese of Metuchen, asked him if he performed in schools. Kirschner told her he was considering starting an anti-bullying program, combining magic with an anti-bullying message. She called him the next morning, asking if he could host shows at seven different schools.
Through tears, he said yes, recalling his own suffering with bullying, and quickly put together his program. Initially, the show was only magic-based, but he slowly worked his own story into the act and called it the i.C.A.R.E. program — an acronym for individual, community, attitude, respect, and empathy. “I use my story and some magic to help deliver the message,” Kirschner says.
<section subhed>Where the Magic Started
Kirschner goes by the name Mike Magic when performing at schools. But businesses, corporations, and folks holding private functions know him as Kirsch — a mentalist, hypnotist, and magician. “The magic started first,” he says, “and the Abracabully program came in much later.”
Kirschner became fascinated with magic when he was just five years old and started practicing it at age seven. “I think the first thing that really caught my attention was a performer on the Coney Island boardwalk,” he recalls. “It gave me a sense of wonder, like, ‘What is going on here? Why is this happening? How can I do that and make people feel the same way?’”
At a sleepaway camp a few years later, Kirschner met a magician named Adam who taught him not only magic tricks but also how to be a performer. He would help Adam set up and break down his show, but he also was worked into a routine or two. Over time he would perform the entire routine alone. Kirschner adds, “Then eventually, I found myself in the habit at eleven years old of doing my own shows, working for his company.”
<section subhed>The Abracabully Program
Abracabully confronts bullying from three perspectives: teaching kids about avoiding bullying, helping someone who is being bullied, and explaining how not to be a bully. The i.C.A.R.E. program involves an interactive magic show that Kirschner believes“empowers children to make better decisions.”
One of the magician’s favorite tricks involves a yo-yo. He breaks the yo-yo string into many pieces while talking about painful experiences. But as he shows the string coming back together, he describes that, in the end, he had the courage to ask for help, “and that made everything better. What was once broken is now healed.”
Kirschner has performed in local school districts as well as taking his show on the road at schools, camps and youth centers across the country. He’s teamed up with the Harlem Globetrotters, Do the Write Thing, the Special Olympics, and the John Starks Foundation.
Along the way, he’s found his message has resonated with children who have been bullied, creating a sense of community over isolation. “People are there to help them,” Kirschner said. “They do not have to deal with or go through this whole process by themselves.” Parents have also contacted him about the impact his message has had on children who have bullied their peers. “They said that their children came up to them and said that they never realized that they were bullying and that they needed help.”
For Kirschner, each performance carries emotional weight. “I sometimes choke up or tear up, and I know that by me telling my story, it is possible to help somebody else. When people reach out to me, or sometimes come up to me right after the show, and they want to give me hugs and thank me, it is emotional. I feel their pain, I am very empathetic — and empathy plays a role in this whole program.”
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Steve Sears is a northern New Jersey-based freelance writer. Since 1996, he has divided his time between his writing desk and time well spent in nature with his family. Currently writing a book about nature and spirituality, his website and companion blogs can be found at >stevesearswriter.weebly.com.