To Pay Or Not To Pay, That Is The Question……..

Magic is not an inexpensive hobby and props, books and DVDs do not come cheap. I have noticed a tendency for this financial model to fall apart, when magicians try to inveigle (the fancy word for weasel) free admittance into magic shows. Shouldn’t magicians be the first people to support shows dedicated to their particular line of interest?

Let me preface this by saying that I am not talking about friends or direct peers in the magic world. The day Michael Finney or Mac King have to buy a ticket to see my show has no chance of arriving. This blog entry is written along more general than specific lines.

My vision for the future is to see more professional magic nights springing up across the country. I believe this could be a wave of the future, not unlike the way comedy took hold in the 80s. It would be good for magic and great for magicians. The reality of actually presenting a paid show for magic lovers could begin a whole new era of professionalism amongst the magicians who participate in it and think of the private gigs generated by it.

Sadly, there are many magicians who expect free admission to magic shows just because they are magicians. It is not inexpensive to produce an evening’s entertainment for the public and expenses are involved that are usually totally incomprehensible to someone who has never attempted it.

Sometimes it is the kind of magician who will drive 15 miles out of his way to go to ‘Magic Cleaners’ to get his laundry done, just because it has the word magic in its name.

Flashing your IBM membership card and expecting a ‘comp’ just because you are a magician is as logical as walking into an Apple Store and expecting a discount on your new iPad, just because you have a subscription to MacWorld. I can almost hear Steve Jobs’ roar of fury from Cupertino.

If you want to support magic then go all the way. Remember any seat you are filling, could potentially have been filled by a paying customer. In a world where the new $50 thumb tip sold out at the last convention I attended, it isn’t flashy to pay a few bucks to watch a quality magic show. If you want to watch a bunch of tricks performed haphazardly in an unsuitable environment go to your magic club. You will even get masses of respect when you show off your $50 thumb trick.

I recently performed at ‘Monday Night Magic’ in New York and attended their sister venture ‘Magical Nights’ at the legendary ‘Feinstein’s.’ What a model of doing things right, no wonder they have had such a long and successful run. This is a formula that could be adapted in every major US city.

While in New York I was staying with my friend Peter Samelson one of the 4 co-producers of the events. A highlight of the visit was overhearing Peter and Michael Chaut’s continuous phone conversations. They centered primarily on two things, quality control of their show and handling the comp situation. I gained great respect for their production just from hearing how they approached both issues.

It basically came down to a very simple equation; “How can we present the best show possible and make it profitable.” In my 48 hours in New York, I was amazed at their realistic handling of the ‘comp factor,’ and realized the position it holds in the continued success of their show. If the NYPD is ever looking for coaches in the ‘good cop, bad cop’ scenario they have got the perfect training team with Peter and Michael!

Having had a one-man show in Las Vegas for 5 years, I have some first hand experience of this situation. I ‘comped’ many people into my show happily, what they probably never realized was that for every comp I gave, I also gave the ‘Maitre de’ a $5 tip. Why because I’m a great guy: no because it is good business. You would be amazed at how often you comp a guest and they not only behave like ‘big shots,’ and then fail to tip the staff. This is how the staff earns their living; they couldn’t care less if you’re a member of Ring 1081 in Boise.

One glorious exception to this rule was the late, great pickpocket Rikki Dunn who frequently brought guests to my show; he had a particular central booth he loved to sit in. I always made sure it was waiting for him, and Rikki always tipped the ‘Maitre de’ a fifty-dollar bill for the courtesy. I tried to convince him that for $50 he could have paid for the booth and still have included a nice tip! Rikki, however, would have none of it and explained; “It’s the principle.” It was a fine principle and made everyone happy, especially me, to realize how much he really did want to see the show.

I recently attended and performed at two of Jeff McBride’s ‘Wonderground’ events in Las Vegas. In spite of the fact I was part of the show, I gladly handed over the $10 admission for myself, and each of my guests. Admission even included two drinks –what a deal. I know how much work goes into presenting this event: they are wonderful evenings. and when I heard some magicians at the door trying to avoid the door charge, I couldn’t believe that they thought $10 bucks was too much for an evenings live entertainment and to rub shoulders with the likes of Siegfried and Amazing Johnathan.

To see magic grow as a commercial venture across the country, magicians must be ready to support it as a commercial venture. Skip that next $50 thumb tip and attend the next five ‘Wondergrounds,’ It will do more for you and more for magic!

~ by Nick Lewin on September 18, 2010.

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