Anything is possible.
If you remember nothing else, The Bubble Man wants you to remember that.
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It's a theme Geoff Akins comes back to over and over again as a speaker, performer, teacher and fledgling author.
It doesn't matter if he's dazzling a group of Aurora-area preschoolers, as he did last week, or serving as the keynote speaker for 1,500 early education professionals in West Virginia. It doesn't matter if he's demonstrating how to cut a bubble in half for a group in Israel or merging 10 bubbles to make a caterpillar for children in a Chinese orphanage.
You can snicker when people call him The Bubble Master, or a Bubbleologist.
You can be amazed that a Barrington resident travels the world teaching people of all ages how to make a square bubble with a round wand (it's more science than magic).
None of that really matters, though, as long as you remember his three-word message.
"I make a living playing with bubbles," he says deadpan. "Anything is possible."
The bubble boy
This is how it begins.
It's nine years ago and Akins is in his first stint as a teacher's assistant in a summer special education program for preschoolers in Lake County.
He's kind of hiding in a corner of the classroom, checking out the games and puzzles, when he comes upon a plastic bubble bottle.
He can't explain it, but there's something about those bubbles calling to him.
So he glances around to be sure nobody's watching and then he starts blowing bubbles - just like he did when he was 4 years old.
It changes his life.
There's an autistic boy in the room, a kid who, as far as Akins can tell, has never interacted with anyone in class - students or staff. But on this day the boy sees Akins blowing bubbles and edges over to sit by him. Akins looks at the little boy and the little boy looks right back - eye-to-eye for the first time all summer.
For a moment, the world stops. Akins peers across the room at the teacher with one of those what-do-I-do-now looks.
Then he blows another bubble.
"I just kept blowing bubbles for the little boy," he says. "It was just such an amazing experience."
He drives home that afternoon and can't get the boy and the bubbles out of his mind. He's not sure what sparked the connection, but he's sure it was there, and he's sure he wants to build on it.
Akins doesn't know it yet, but he's taken the first step toward a new career, the first step to traveling the world and becoming a speaker and performer - the first step to becoming The Bubble Man.
He doesn't know it yet, but anything is possible.
Leap of faith
This is about four years ago.
Akins is still working in special education and still blowing bubbles, only now he's performing much more intricate tricks.
He's seen a guy named Tom Noddy do some amazing things with bubbles on TV, and then he's seen Noddy perform live in Aurora and Rockford.
Akins has wanted to be a magician ever since he saw one perform at summer camp, and as he watches Noddy he dreams of combining the two art forms.
He gets the chance to meet Noddy. He spends time with him and picks his brain, and Noddy is more than happy to share the secrets of the tricks he's invented. Akins becomes the student learning at the bubble wand of the master, his "Bubble Godfather."
Akins keeps honing his skills. The child's diversion becomes a bigger and bigger part of his life and each day he becomes a little more proficient, a little more entertaining.
He starts performing wherever he can - parks, libraries - wowing his audiences and preaching the importance of dedication and persistence and believing in yourself. Bubble magic with a message.
"Nobody around here had ever seen anything like it," he says.
When school starts again in the fall, the man who can carve a bubble in half finds himself torn in much the same way. He still enjoys the classroom, but The Bubble Man lure is getting stronger.
By October he's already used all his vacation time, all his personal days, all his sick days, to go off and perform. It's time to decide, to take a leap of faith - leave the security of the classroom for the uncertainty of a career blowing bubbles?
He thinks about the three words he always uses with his students. The same three words he uses instead of hocus-pocus or abracadabra when performing magic on stage. The same three words he uses to close every one of his shows.
Anything is possible.
He takes the plunge.
This is last week and Akins is fresh off a performance at Prairie Children Preschool in Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
He's done all his tricks, resplendent in his tie-dyed T-shirt and red beret. He's demonstrated how to make a square bubble in a round-bubble world, he's created the giant bubble caterpillar, he's pulled off his absolutely favorite move where he uses a Hula-Hoop for a wand and totally encases a little girl in a giant bubble. He's made the kids laugh and cheer and laugh some more.
Even Principal LuAnn Shields is impressed by his energy, his focus on what she calls an "interactive, science-based theme" and his ability to engage with young children.
Did the kids like it?
"I would say the kids loved it," she says.
He's also asked them a question, but not before instructing them not to answer out loud and not to raise their hands. Just think about it, he says. Listen to your own heart, find your own answer: What's your dream? What's your square bubble?
The Naperville kids probably don't know it, but Akins has asked the very same questions of people in many corners of the world. Hong Kong. Singapore. Israel. China. Bali. Mexico. This Thanksgiving he'll be asking it in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
He remembers doing a show for a group of deaf students in southern China. Imagine the challenge: one person translates his English into Mandarin and then another translates the Mandarin into sign language. The patter, it turns out, gets lost in the translation of the translation.
Finally, he just tells everybody to stop and does the rest of his performance in mime.
The kids enjoy it even more.
"There's something very magical about bubbles," he says. "They cross all barriers."
So, it turns out, does Akins' message, which is why he's become a popular speaker and performer at education conferences, where he teaches teachers about bubbles and magic and storytelling and how to use them all to redirect kids' attention in a positive way. He calls it the Art of Wonder.
Now he's working with some folks who are convinced that same approach can help them engage with senior citizens and Akins can hardly wait to try.
Anything is possible.
'Dreams come true'
When young Geoff Akins spent his summer at Camp Duncan in Ingleside and saw that magician perform, he felt something click. When he grew up he wanted to do magic, to touch people's lives - "making your dreams come true."
He recently went back to that same camp and stood in practically the same spot where that magician stood maybe 40 years earlier and Akins performed his bubble act for a whole new generation of campers. Like a rabbit pulled out of a hat, the wide-eyed boy from long ago has been transformed into something else. He has become The Bubble Man.
At the end of the show, with memories of his own childhood flooding back, he told the kids what he has told thousands of kids before them, and what he hopes to tell thousands of kids in the future. He says he believes it now more than ever.
Anything is possible.
• You can check out Geoff Akins' Web site at BubbleShows.com