About 15 minutes into Jeff Civillico exciting Las Vegas show, he does the most amazing magic trick you’ll probably never notice. What you’ll see on stage is a child coming up from the audience to help Civillico perform a juggling act. The child will hold some sticks while Civillico spins plates on them.
What you won’t see is the crying mother who comes up after the show, so moved by her autistic son having a breakthrough by performing in public, or the father who tells Jeff that his daughter was so shy she never did anything like that before.
At first glance, Civillico may appear like your typical Vegas headliner and corporate entertainer—someone who does a combination of juggling, comedy, and improv for a living. However, if you pay attention you’ll discover that Civillico’s motivation to entertain is fueled by the chance to change lives, just how his life was changed one night in Harvard Square when he was 10 years old.
When I talked with Civillico, he told me about the fateful night. “I was on a trip to visit my older brother who had just started at Harvard. I was walking through Harvard Square with my family. It was crowded—full of magicians, buskers, and drummers doing their thing. However, the largest crowd was watching a street performer who went by the name of Peter Panic.”
“He was dressed all in green,” Civillico recalled. “He was doing all these amazing juggling tricks: balancing a shopping cart on his chin, juggling three bottles of wine, and then he stopped to ask for a volunteer from the audience to help him with his spinning plates act. He picked me.”
What Peter Panic didn’t know was that by choosing Civillico, he changed the path of a young boy seeking direction in life. Civillico said he grew up the youngest of three boys and was always looking for a place to focus his energy to get attention. At that time, Civillico was at a tipping point that could have gone good or bad.
“I could have gone in any direction. But I was so taken with juggling after being selected by Peter, my parents bought me a juggling set and book for our ride back to Philadelphia. It was just something to keep me occupied on the trip back. I read the whole book. Soon after I was juggling in the kitchen, performing for my grandmother while my parents cleaned up.”
Civillico would keep on juggling throughout high school and college, performing for school events, and hospitals, wherever he could get a gig. As he got older, his juggling act spread to comedy. While attending Georgetown for college, he performed at the DC Improv and other comedy clubs, even performing before then President George Bush.
“Fast forward 20 years,” Civillico said, “and I was reading a chapter on success and mentors in The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It said, ‘Go find the person that inspired you and thank them. Put down the book right now and do it. We’ll be waiting.’”
Civillico did put down the book. After Googling the name Peter Panic on his computer, he was surprised to find Panic’s website. “He had his phone number on the site and I made the call thinking he won’t pick up, that I’ll just send a note. But he did.”
After thanking Panic for inspiring his entertainment career, Civillico said, “I could tell he was moved, really choked up. He had just thought of himself as this street performer who didn’t have the power to change lives.”
Inspired by Panic’s gesture to pull him out of a crowd and set him on a path, Civillico hopes to do the same thing in his act when he asks for a child volunteer or when he calls up an adult at his corporate events.
“Coming up on stage instills confidence and shows a person’s individuality,” Civillico said. “Maybe no one has seen a colleague that way before. It takes a lot of bravery to come up. If you have bravery to come up on stage, in front of your friends, that also translates to business and personal life.”
Civillico says giving back to others is what motivates him to work. “Having the opportunity to inspire others, or maybe help someone to laugh who hasn’t in a while. Paying it forward keeps me motivated to do my best everytime I go on stage.”
And maybe, just maybe, by doing his performance he’ll inspire a child to follow their dreams or help an adult build more confidence.
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