An amplified word or two about microphones.

•April 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

What about microphones?

 Here is an important topic that is often very misunderstood by beginners—and quite a few more experienced performers. The real role of a microphone is not just to make your voice louder but more importantly to allow you to speak more naturally, with greater dynamics, while of course amplifying your dialogue.  In this day and age a good wireless microphone system is integral to a quality performer. You can’t just turn up and hope the audio system works. A good microphone is a performer’s number one prop.

As a comedy magician having my words clearly understood and heard is vital to me. Let me tell you that in my (and many other top pros) opinion the Countryman E6 is as good as sound gets.  There are cheaper microphones that can get the job done but it is like buying a car; a Mercedes and a Hyundai will both let you drive from point A to point B, however they are not the same vehicles by any means. The good news about buying a top of the line microphone is that you are not talking about the same price difference as you are with a car! Unquestionably a wireless headset achieves the most natural and best quality of sound in almost any circumstances. There was a time when a lavalier microphone worn on the lapel was state of the art, that time is gone.

One of the great benefits of the Countryman unit is that it has replaceable cables to attach it to transmitter unit in your back pocket. This is almost always the link in the system that gives out and instead of having to replace the entire microphone, or send it away for repair, you can carry a spare cable and replace the faulty cable in a matter of seconds. I carry all the leads and plugs needed to attach my microphone to a receiver/transmitter supplied by the venue if at all possible. I also carry a Shure wireless receiver and transmitter unit to augment my Countryman microphone if needed and this combo works very well.

You are going to have to arrive at the venue early to have a sound check before the room is filled with your audience, a bit of a pain but important. You must always request a hand held (wireless) microphone on a straight microphone stand as a back up. This microphone can also be used by whoever is introducing your show. You should also always carry a good “round the neck holder” to use if your wireless microphone gives out or there are any other problems.  I could, should, and probably will write an entire article on the subtleties that I have been unable to cover in this brief audio primer.


 

Drinking on the job, plus setting up and striking the show.

•April 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Can I have a drink?

Very often a client will invite you to have a drink either before or after your show and when this is the case there is sometimes a fine line between being rude and being professional. I think the general rule of thumb is that it is better not to drink around/with the client prior to show time: if something goes wrong it is wiser not to have been seen at the bar or to have alcohol on your breath. After the show it is another matter; if your client invites you to join them for a cocktail then, by all means, do so, just don’t get drunk or raise your alcohol level to a point where it would be illegal to drive home. If all this sounds like standard common sense realize that this is not always the way things work out in the real world. Your client may well be ecstatic about a successful event and knocking back tequila shots at the bar, but you are a paid guest at this event and joining him in the process does not make you one of the team or his new best friend.

Another common courtesy extended by clients is to invite you to join them for dinner prior to the show. I strongly advise against taking them up on this good-hearted gesture; you are there to work and not to eat. I thank the client profusely but decline the offer on the grounds that I prefer not to eat prior to performing. You really have nothing to gain by being around the audience prior to show time and it is much better to keep yourself well hidden from your audience during dinner. It is a much better impact when the audience’s first sight of you is when you arrive onstage. Personally, I don’t like having food sent backstage or kept on hold till after the show because it confuses the issue, and once again you are nota guest you are working. Throw some protein bars and trail mix into your working case if you are the kind of person who needs to eat immediately prior to your show.

How about the setup and strike?

 Setting up for your show is a two-part process, part of it is done at home and part at the venue. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from Roy Johnson; he said that he was happy to spend an extra hour setting up his props at home if it saved him ten minutes

of time setting up props prior to the show at the venue. These are words I have lived by ever since. The more fully prepared for performance you are when you arrive at the venue the smoother things will go. I choose to work from a small case rather than using a table onstage. There is no question of needing to set that table onstage prior to show time and no chance of it being knocked over backstage. The goal is to be as self-contained as possible, the less you have to worry about your props the more you can concentrate on your show.

Striking your show should be done as soon after the show as possible. You don’t want anyone “exploring” your props or over-enthusiastic cleaning staff throwing away that crumpled empty paper bag that actually contains an expensive rubber bottle! Make sure you collect any equipment from the AV team such as receivers or other sound equipment as soon as possible to avoid them getting accidentally packed and removed.


 

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!


 

 
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