Kids in an adult show and tragedy in the air. Two difficult series of choices.

•April 6, 2018 • 2 Comments

What if there are kids in an adult show?

It is always difficult if you have a bunch of kids in an adult show. The magician has to fight the time-honored misconception that magic is primarily an entertainment for young kids at a birthday party. Never let the adults in the audience take the irritating and patronizing stance of merely watching the kids reacting to the magic show; make sure they realize that the adultsare the focus of your material.

The very worst thing that can happen in a situation like this is if the kids are ushered into occupying the front rows of the crowd. Generally speaking, if kids are seated with their parents scattered throughout the audience they behave just fine and you don’t have to adjust your show much. On the occasions when I have been stuck with a couple of rows of kids in front of my target audience of adults, I have a tendency to pretty much ignore the youngsters and quite literally work over their heads. Just bringing them into the action on one or two occasions eliminates any perceived insensitivity in this maneuver.

The major concession I make in these circumstances is to have a trick with me that I can add, that directly plays to the kid quotient in the crowd, and present it with a slight wink and a nod to the adults as if to say, “Let’s humor them a little!” I use either the Cards Across or the Six Card Repeat in this manner; both tricks I always have with me but seldom slot directly into the running order of my main show.

I probably don’t need to mention that you should cut any devastatingly unsuitable material if you find a contingent of kids out front. You might not offend the kids much, but you will almost certainly upset adults who are offended for kids in the audience who aren’t actually their own offspring.

 

Should I be funny if the group faces tragedy?

Yikes, questions don’t get much tougher than this.  The answer is usually yes if that is what is requiredof you, but only after you have allowed the audience to appreciate that you understand the situation and have reservations about doing so. I performed to several hundred New Yorkers the day after 9/11 and I certainly had NO desire to do my comedy show. My employer made it clear that it was not my choice so after acknowledging that it didn’t seem right to be laughing, I did the funniest damn show I could. Somewhat to my surprise, it worked just great. I was amazed and touched by how many people, including several who had lost friends and loved ones, came up to me after the show and told me how much it meant to them to have got an hours escape from grim reality into laughter. On that occasion my employer was right and I was wrong, and in fact the comedy I performed truly proved cathartic. However, it was certainly not an easy call and in my opinion, it could have resulted in a psyche-scarring failure.

Some Good Tricks NOT to do in your show!

•April 4, 2018 • Leave a Comment

What tricks should I avoid?

 Magic has a general reputation of tending towards the dated, sexist, and misogynistic and having watched a great deal of magic over the years I would have to say that this is often a fairly well-deserved observation. The take away from this statement (a statement that is bound to be disliked by most magicians) is to avoid tricks that are in any way dated, sexist, or misogynistic. The key factor towards applying these criteria is to remember that you should be judging this from a contemporary and youthful viewpoint and notyour own. Magicians revere the past probably more than any other group of entertainers and it often affects our relevance to our audiences.

On a more specific note, it is a good idea to avoid any trick that has become so familiar to an audience that they groan when they see you starting to perform it. This really comes down to what the average person is seeing on TV. Interestingly enough there are many older effects that are now relatively fresh to an audience, so try to be very aware of judging the mood and reaction of the crowd when you start a routine. There are a great many tricks to choose from in magic’s database and an unlimited amount of interesting variations to throw into the mix. Don’t be influenced by what tricks you see other magicians perform or you start the search for originality on the exact wrong footing. Conversely, it is definitely not safe to say an audience will respond to a trick just because it is brand new in effect or method. Especially method!

There are, however, many tricks that are familiar and have been performed repeatedly because they have stood the test of time. The burnt and restored banknote is a plot line that resonates with any audience due to the situational comedy inherent in the action. I perform a burnt bill routine that hinges on the fact that the audience knows pretty much exactly what will happen the moment the trick begins. I pull the rug out from the audience expectations three separate times and add two big surprises before the routine concludes. In other words, I have very carefully taken a time-proven effect and repeatedly used a one-ahead principle to increase the interest of the audience. I hate to say it but changing the Bill in Orange to the Bill in Grapefruit doesn’t count!

Mixing close-up and stand up for a booking.

•April 2, 2018 • 2 Comments

What if they want me to do close up?

 Many performers like to perform walk around close-up magic in the cocktail hour and then an after-dinner show. Personally, I am not a fan of this process, but different strokes for different folks. The process of doing strolling magic and being a featured after-dinner entertainer is very different. If the audience thinks of you as a magician doing card tricks table to table do they approach your formal show in the same way? If you are getting the equivalent of two separate salaries then you certainly do have a serious financial incentive to do a double booking. If, however, it is just a “throw in” then it may not be such a good idea.

One thing that marks a true pro in the magic business is his ability to present himself as a specialist in his chosen area, this also allows him/her to charge higher fees. Personally, I cringe when I see a magician’s website or business card stating he specializes in Kid’s Shows, Corporate Events, Close-Up Magic, Keynote Speaking etc. etc. What he is really saying by trying to be all things to all buyers is that he doesn’t specialize in anything. If you want to present yourself as available for a large variety of different kinds of events then have a series of separate business cards, brochures, digital flyers, and websites that focus your claims and mark your turf.

Sometimes when a client is very set in involving close- up with my stand up work I will suggest that I hang around a little after my performance and do a little close- up for the head table or key individuals. Once you have established yourself as a stand-up performer then it is a very different process to entertain with some intimate magic. You are offering a legitimate bonus to your client without invalidating your “celebrity” status in any way. This is also a fine way to allow attendees to seek you out and exchange business cards or discuss their own potential bookings.


 

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

•March 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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.

Nick

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.


 

A few notes on my current series of blog articles……

•March 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I have received many emails about my recent series of blog posts. It was interesting to note that many of the items that I thought were very basic, and indeed pretty much no-brainers, received quite a bit of discussion. My answers are not intended to be definitive responses, but rather launching pads for an existential inner dialogue. Often formulating and articulating the correct questions is just as important as the answers you come up with. The longer that you perform the more you realize that the questions don’t really change while the answers often do. It is rather Zen in its own way.

These next blog posts will be useful to any performer who is attempting to turn performing shows into a money making proposition. The focus of this article is primarily for the after-dinner, corporate or private banquet style performer. There is a seemingly endless list of magicians who consider that they are fully equipped and deserve to accept payment for a show. However, it is the performers who have deeply explored the kinds of topics featured on these checklists that actually deserve to be getting paid for a gig.

As I always like to emphasize, job number one for any performer is improving the show (not just the tricks, but the show itself), and making sure that it is as strong and versatile as it can possibly be. If you become obsessed with your marketing plan at an early point in your career, you are probably putting the cart before the horse because a strong show has a tendency to market itself. Next week we will get on with the remaining blog posts!


 

Back Ups, Non Arriving Props, and Oh, My—What to Wear!

•March 28, 2018 • 4 Comments

What are my back-up tricks?

  It is vital to have a couple of back-up tricks with you for each and every show. Things can go wrong; in fact it is a sure fire guarantee that over the years things will go wrong. Your job as a professional is to be absolutely capable of doing your full time without the audience getting any hint of unseen performing trauma. If your table gets knocked over while it is being set, and your props scattered on the ground backstage, —you still need to have material enough to cover your show.

I personally have my Cards Across, 6 Card Déjà vu, Coin in Bottle and Linking Finger Rings with me, on my person, at all times and at every show. It is a powerful feeling of confidence to know you are fully prepared for anything. With these four tricks, that fit in an inside jacket pocket, I actually have a totally balanced and strong 30 minute show at my fingertips. If the show is running short for some reason, I can rectify the situation by adding one of them. If the audience absolutely insists on an unexpected encore you are ready to go.

What if my props do not arrive?

 No matter how tough flight restrictions are, you should be able to carry a full show with you in your hand baggage. Even if you end up on some God forsaken puddle jumper of a plane, that won’t allow you to take your props with you inside the plane, you should have a mini box/bag inside your working case that contains the bare necessities of a balanced show. This is your first duty as a travelling entertainer. Make sure that you don’t have so many electronic and video items with you that your props take second place. You will see my luggage in the photo here they contains a lot of clothes, a mini tech store and performance wise 2×50 minute and 1×20 minute shows. 90% of the props are in the larger of the two small hand baggage. The larger blue suitcase is a Travel-Pro which in my opinion is the lightest and best made case you can buy. Inside my checked case is a small GPS unit called Lugloc (70 bucks) that uses Wi-Fi, Cellular or bluetooth to tell me, on the map, where my case is anywhere in the world should we get separated. The service costs about $8 a month and is GREAT. Their URL link is https://lugloc.com

It is also a wonderful exercise to make sure you can put on a decent show with just items you can easily find on location or acquire with a simple visit to a couple of local stores. There have been several books/DVDs on this topic and I plan to add another to the mix in the near future. Once you have been placed in this “no prop” situation a few times, you really appreciate the importance of being fluid and flexible enough to make your show work in ANY conditions, and that includes having your props go missing. Always remember that YOU are the show and not the little overpriced gimmicks you bought from an online magic store.

                        What do I wear?

 You should wear something suitable for the act and also suitable for the audience. Whatever you wear should be high quality, well pressed and accompanied by shoes that are well polished. Generally speaking if you are working a business or social event then you can’t go wrong wearing the same level of clothes as the audience or slightly better. If they are wearing suits then you should be in a suit, if they (God forbid!) are wearing tuxedos then you should be in a tux. If the audience is casually dressed then you should be a notch above them, i.e. If they are in shirts then you wear a jacket, if they are wearing jackets and open neck shirts then you should wear a tie.

I think it is a mistake to look too formal if the audience is casual, you don’t want to look like the maître d’ by dressing in a tuxedo if the rest of the group are dressed in golf clothes. Billy McComb always used to point out that your outerwear should be top notch also. No point in wearing a slick suit topped by a tacky, greasy raincoat. Billy also has a wonderfully detailed regime for keeping your nails spotlessly clean in his book McComb’s Magic: 25 Years Wiser.


 

Taking a bow properly and managing your pockets! Very important things….

•March 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

How about my Bows?

 Everything I said about the importance of your closing trick can be undone by bad or sloppy bows. This is the very final moment of rapport between you and your audience, make sure it is as carefully planned and rehearsed as anything that comes before. Sound, lighting and performance most all come together into one seamless package as you take credit for all the work/show that came before. Good final bows may be the surest sign of a true professional that exists in this business.

Working with so many wonderful acts over the 50 years of my career has taught me many glorious tips and stratagems that can turn a strong round of applause into a standing ovation. Maybe at some future occasion I will write an article (or a book) detailing some of them, but that isn’t the goal of this little article. For now just be aware that lay audiences are much more susceptible to theatrical staging tricks than a magical audience, who tend to react to the actual technical feats of magic they have seen. You might want to watch a few Ed Sullivan style variety shows on YouTube, many of those old timers had bows that were a work of art.

What’s in my pockets?

 Pocket management is a very important part of our art and needs to be considered with extreme diligence. Having easy access to the props you use is a vital element in presenting a show that runs smoothly. Of course the majority of your props will probably be contained in a prop bag or on a table, however everything I am saying about pocket management applies in a slightly different form to them also. Nothing much looks worse than watching a performer fumble through his pockets/case trying to locate a specific prop. It is the very fastest way to look like an inexperienced or newbie performer

In my standard 50-minute show I have 17 items that have to be stashed on my person and available for instant use. I have a list/map of what is needed pocket wise to contain them all. I also have some very specific extra pockets (like change pockets) that need to be added to all my performing outfits. It isn’t complicated,

but it is vital that each suit I wear is correctly tailored to add these pockets and it is the first thing I do after buying new working outfits. On a side note I always buy two identical suits at the same time and highly recommend doing likewise—there are many advantages.

First and foremost, it is important that when you walk out onstage you don’t have huge bulgy pocket—it just looks really bad! It is also vital that you fully plan out what goes where, and when, during your show. If you discard a large bandana in your pocket on top of a finger ring that you need later, you are adding an unnecessary fumble. Worse still if you discard a finger ring in a pocket from which you later need to pull out a large bandana—the ring might be flipped out the pocket along with the bandana. These are all small but very important details


 

 
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