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


 

What about a signature trick and a closing trick?

•March 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

What is a Signature Trick?

It is very easy to define the signature trick in your act; it is the one that audiences talk about after they have seen your show. It is the one that they remember and associate with you; the one that often gets you rebooked. While it may not be an original or unique effect, the way it blends with your personality and performing style will probably convince the audience it is. Developing a signature trick doesn’t happen overnight but don’t sweat it, eventually you will realize that it has happened without you really trying. It is a very organic process.

Obviously there are similarities between a feature trick and a signature trick: in fact over time that strong feature effect might morph into becoming a signature piece. Then you take the time to chose, polish and develop another feature effect. The goal of any commercial performer is to hone his act so that every effect is a feature or signature trick. After achieving this plateau you are truly the master of your art.

 

What about a Closing Trick?

Your closing effect should be the effect that gets the biggest round of applause in your show. Not necessarily the strongest piece of magic but the one that creates the most concentrated impact. Conventional wisdom says that you should not have any spectator(s) onstage with you at the close of your show, and I find no reason to argue with this guideline. Starting and closing your show alone, in the spotlight and center stage is a pretty damn good idea. I have seen exceptions to this rule but more often I have observed that ignoring it slows down and breaks the focal point during those all-important final moments.

It is also a fairly common notion that your closing trick should not be so strong that the audience is left puzzling over its methodology rather than clapping. I don’t think in any way you need to “dumb down” your finale,

I do think you should be working hard to appeal to mind, eye and heart simultaneously and in equal degrees. The impact of your entire show is often judged by bookers/buyers from that final applause and/or standing ovation, therefore you had better get this detail right if you want more bookings.

What makes a good opening trick, what makes something a feature trick?

•March 23, 2018 • 2 Comments

                                                                         What should my Opening trick be?

 Let’s keep this answer short. It should be a foolproof effect that effectively establishes your personality with the audience. You should have plenty of eye contact with the audience and remember that unless this trick works out well then you are stuck in a hole you will probably never dig yourself out of. If you don’t win ‘em now in all likelihood you never will. The effect should be clean cut, easy to grasp and appeal to the kind of crowd you are working to. Bringing a spectator or you leaving the stage is probably a mistake this early in the show

 

What is a Feature Trick?

 It is vital to construct your show so that it involves texture in the tricks that make it up. These tricks should be varied in content, tempo, length and execution. This is just good theatre. Don’t perform five card tricks in a row or seven tricks back to back where you bring spectators onstage. Sorry about that last one mentalists! Create an interesting and varied mosaic of magic to entertain your audience and this construction now becomes your ground zero as a performer.

Once you have achieved the basic framework of a balanced act, then you find the one effect that achieves more impact and interest than any of the others. You will probably discover that this happens automatically. Don’t overthink it, and make sure you chose the effect that the audience likes best and not the one that you personally favor.

Polish this effect still further, add a couple of surprise touches to it, or highlight the tempo to strengthen it. It might need a few more minutes to fully develop the plot, or it might need tightening up to add to its impact. Put the time, energy and sometimes cash into turning it into a genuine feature effect in your show. Think of it as the heart of act and make sure it powerfully pumps blood to all the extremities of the show.


 

A series of pointers for developing and improving your magic show.

•March 21, 2018 • 2 Comments

One of the mixed blessings of gradually finding yourself a ‘senior representative’ in the magic community is that you get increasing amounts of people asking advice about the performance of magic. It is definitely true that after 50 years as a full-time magic professional I have plenty of answers.

Nowadays I feel increasingly comfortable expressing my opinions, because to have an extensive ‘getting paid to perform’ background definitely teaches one things that you can only guess about when you are first planning and plotting to make a serious living doing something that is, to most people, just a rather expensive hobby.

Whether these answers of mine are right or wrong is a totally subjective matter, but they are certainly worth seriously thinking about. You might decide I am totally incorrect, and for yourself this might well be the case. However, one thing I can assure you is that they are pretty darn good questions that are worth thinking about and then defining and postulating your own responses.

With all this in mind I have formulated a 20-part checklist if you want to be a successful comedy magician. Most of the questions and answers are highly applicable or easily adaptable to every kind of magic. I have made my living primarily as a comedy magician since the ‘60s and feel most comfortable using that genre as my primary focus, however along the way my performances have embraced every aspect of magic with the exception of street magic or busking. Therefore if you peddle your performance on the pavement feel free to ignore every word!

I have a list of 20 pointers that might well speed up your learning curve and improve your show. I will dedicate my next 19 posts to the remainder of this list.

 

1      “How do I book a paying gig?”

 First you get together a show that is worth booking. Not a series of good trick tricks, but a fully developed show where the whole is greater than the various parts. Then you go out and perform that show every chance you get until it is polished and worth getting paid to see. It is always wise to remember that old saying, “An amateur rehearses until he gets it right and a pro rehearses until it can’t go wrong.” While it isn’t as snappy a ground rule but I would amend this to include automatically knowing what to do when things go wrong so that the audience doesn’t realize you messed up!

When you have your show ready to go, then just start performing it every chance you get, without worrying about the salary part. The more people who see you performing a good show then the more likely you are to get bookings. The necessary back up at this point is to have a good business card, a professional website and a strong video. I often notice performers who are trying to break into the business who become obsessed with their marketing/social media plans, while most of them would be far better served by polishing every factor of their acts.

 


 

Nick Lewin and Little Jewford at The Backstage in Austin, Texas.

•February 14, 2018 • 1 Comment

I had the very great pleasure of performing with my friends Little Jewford and The Durawa Band at The Backstage at El Mercado last night here in Austin during our Valentine’s Eve/Fat Tuesday Party.  Kinky Friedman has been lucky enough for the last forty years to have double threat funny man/musical maestro Little Jewford as his onstage “sidekick” I had the time of my life working with him again—-I can’t wait till the next time! I wanted to post a couple of short clips from our vignette together. It is my 6 Card Deja Vu Routine.

We also performed a piece that I haven’t used in a long, long time! I brought it out of retirement as a little tribute to the great comedian Marty Allen. I had just heard the sad news of my old friend’s passing the night before the show. Many magicians are not aware that Allen & Rossi featured and made the Banana/Bandana routine uniquely their own back in the ’60s in their show. I thought it would be fun to take this now, all too familiar, piece out of mothballs as a specially tip of the hat to this legendary funnyman.

If you have never seen Marty and Steve in their heyday look out some old clips from YouTube and enjoy their masterful performances. Marty was 95 years old when he passed and never stopped performing live. His energy and comedic timing never faltered through the years. In this picture you will see Marty and I accompanied by Marty’s lovely and talented wife Karon Blackwell who was his partner in performance and life. We are losing so many of our great comedian’s from the Golden years of comedy and it is so sad. Marty was kind enough to be the very first guest on my ’90s Las Vegas interview show “The Entertainment Files.” I will try and locate and digitalize the footage and upload it onto my blog.

This is my (somewhat rusty!) performance of his classic routine for that same “Backstage” performance.


 

 
%d bloggers like this: