Linkage and the length of the show. Make or break matters.

What is Linkage?

The most overlooked way for a hobbyist to improve his performance is by working on what goes on between the tricks in his show. When you watch a truly seasoned professional comedy magician perform you will notice that there is never (unless he/she chooses to intentionally switch gears) a moment when one trick ends and another begins. Linkage is a useful term to cover the action of a smooth and seamless transition. A few focused lines of dialogue or comedy material can get the job done; “For my next trick….” doesn’t!

A visual gag can be a perfect way to break the mood from one effect and move into another. A magical running gag that builds with continued failures or postponement such the “Eggs in Glasses” prior to a successful denouement is a perfect form of linkage. One of the hidden benefits of carefully constructed linkage is the opportunity to use it to increase the texture and variety that is such an important element of a successful act. The thoughtful performer will spend just as much time planning what goes on between the tent pole moments in his show as he will his featured highlights. Tricks are the building blocks of a show, linkage is the cement that turns those bricks into a solid structure.

How long is the show?

 The old cliché about always leaving them wanting more, like most clichés, is well worth keeping in the back of your mind.


However, sometimes a booker or client will come up with a time structure that is perched somewhere between random and ridiculous. Let’s talk about the after-dinner show here. When a buyer says they want an hour show for their banquet event they probably have no idea how long an hour can seem to a group who have already spent several hours nibbling on appetizers, drinking cocktails, listening to speeches, and eating dinner. The client may just be looking on an hour as a nice round length of time and they may not be looking at the big picture.

Sometimes the reverse can be the case and a client says, “Oh, I just need a ten-minute show.” Well for most performers, we will eliminate manipulative acts here, ten minutes is just too short a time to establish who you are and what you do. The great Billy McComb used to respond to requests like this by saying, “Of course I can do ten minutes. Now, in ten minutes I can either have a card selected and not find it, or find a card that no one selected. Which would you prefer?” Generally speaking the far less common request for a show of such a short duration is based on the theory that the performer will charge less for a brief show than a longer one. As if doing ten minutes instead of 30 in any realistic way affects the time we will devote to the overall execution of the gig.

In my experience, when dealing with a buyer, and here I am largely excluding experienced agents and producers, the secret is to really talk over the details of the gig. Ask pertinent questions and really listen to the answers. Incidentally, this is also the best way to fine-tune what salary you are going to ask for your performance. How many people will be present? What is the schedule for the evening? What are the seating conditions? How about the sound, stage, and lights? The very fact that you are asking these questions turns the situation around and makes you the expert whose opinion is most likely to be correct.

While in most situations the length of the show is probably negotiable, you should have a pretty good idea of your most effective running time for any given occasion so steer the buyer towards that goal. Beware of promising more than you deliver, as long as they know in advance almost every client would rather have a strong 45-minute show rather than a 60-minute show that falls flat and withers after 45 minutes.

On a personal level, and as simple as it sounds, it took me years to formulate and assimilate the following procedure. I usually suggest to the client performing a 45-minute show and if the audience is really having a blast doing an extra couple of tricks. Sometimes, I also mention that if the event is running late, and the audience is getting tired, that we might tighten the running time to more like 35–minutes. This whole process gives you some nice wiggle room and is usually welcomed by a savvy buyer.


~ by Nick Lewin on March 30, 2018.

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