Almost anything could get pulled from Bob Kann’s top hat Saturday at Portage Center for the Arts.
It won’t be his frog because it croaked, the Madison performer said. It won’t be his rabbit — no way. That’d put everyone in a hare-y situation.
It could be Kann’s cow, he supposed. “That’s a moo-ving experience,” he said.
Kann is the first of two performers scheduled for PCA’s new Family Series sponsored by Festival Foods. Children’s singer Ken Lonnquist performs April 13. The Family Series could be expanded soon depending on local response to the first two acts, said Holly Powers, chairwoman of the center’s performing arts series committee.
Kann is a storyteller, juggler and magician who has performed full-time since 1984, and he’s promising fun for all ages Saturday.
He answered — and asked — several questions in an interview with the Daily Register.
What’s in store for your Portage audience?
I’ll do everything to make sure whoever shows up has a good time. I’ll do juggling, I’ll do magic, I’ll do tongue twisters. We’ll probably play “Simon Says.” There will be a mix of performing arts showcasing and audience participation.
What are your best tongue twisters?
Would you please try saying “Unique New York” five times, as fast as you can? Go!
Unique New York, unique New York, unique New York, unique New York, unique New York.
Not bad but kind of slow. There’s also “Red leather, yellow leather,” and there’s the famous one, “Toy boat, toy boat.” There’s also, “Good boy, bad blood,” “Thin sticks, thick bricks,” and “Mix biscuits, mix biscuits.” There’s a bunch.
What stories do you tell?
I tell all different kinds of stories, but first I’ll need to assess the age range of my audience. It might be a children’s story like, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Then there are tongue twister stories and a fractured version of “Cinderella” called, “Dincerella.”
How does “Dincerella” work?
It tells Cinderella’s story, but instead of saying, “Once upon a time in a foreign country,” it says, “Once upon a time in a coreign funtry.” Instead of a beautiful girl, it’s a geautiful birl. It fractures the language for comic effect. Instead of dropping her slipper, she slops her dripper. Instead of going to a fancy ball, she goes to a bancy fall. Instead of a fairy godmother, she has a gary fodmother.
So it’s very funny, but if the kids are very young, I won’t do it.
When and where did you learn how to juggle?
I learned how to juggle in high school. I went to college at UW-Madison in 1971, and some of the other kids in my dorm juggled, so we played around with it a little bit. But it wasn’t until I started performing in the 1980s that I really started practicing and picking up tricks from other jugglers.
What kind of objects do you juggle?
I’ll juggle pins, I’ll do balls, I’ll do scarves — I’ll probably juggle a bowling ball somewhere in there. I’ll do top-hat juggling, and I’ll juggle what are called devil sticks. I’ll juggle a variety of things.
You’re a magician, too?
Yes, I’ll perform a handcuff escape trick, and I’ll make peanut butter and jelly seemingly, magically, trade places. I’ll make dice appear and reappear in totally different places, and I’ll pour water into a cup and make it disappear. I’ll also put a needle through a balloon without popping it.
What might our Portage audience be surprised to learn about you or your act?
For the adults, it might surprise them to learn that I used to be a professor of education. So before I was an entertainer, I was an academic, which is kind of unusual. Kids couldn’t care less about that, but I was a professor at UW-Parkside and UW-Stevens Point, and I taught graduate classes through the UW System’s Continuing Education program.
As a professor of education, I trained teachers to teach reading, and in continuing education I taught classes on storytelling, humor, creativity and motivation.
What seems to get the most laughs during your performances?
I think for adults, “Dincerella” probably gets the most laughs. In a storytelling class, one of my students had shared this story with us, and I don’t know where she got it from.
But the whole reason I got into performing was because of the movie, “Willy Wonka.” It’s like “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” where you have two levels of humor going on at once: one for the adults and the other for kids. I remember thinking, “Wow, what a challenge, to have two separate shows going on at same time!”
So “Willy Wonka” is really what captured my fancy, and that’s why I’ve been doing this for 35 years for family audiences. I want to entertain everyone.