Getting more audience experience, advice?

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby D. Smith » 08/17/08 12:04 PM

A quick back story to preface my question: I'm still really new to magic and have only been involved for a couple of years. I started with a lot of enthusiasm, and had a blast performing new stuff for my friends all the time. Even when I first started I had the nerve to perform for people I'd just met, even in public. I thought I had begun to become "good".

Then it hit me like a load of bricks... I wasn't really that great, I hit that point in the learning curve where you become aware of what you know, and what you don't. Quite obviously, there was a lot I needed (and still need) to learn. And most recently in the learning process: I really bit the bullet and tried to pare down and stick to a few effects, really polish them and make them look good. I also learned at that point that I love practice, and really regiment myself to practicing and honing everything down. I'm so much happier with the effects I perform now, but, with a more lithe routine -- I run out of fresh audiences much faster (than trying to learn new effects constantly). I guess I also learned in this process, that... Showing off for my friends had gotten old, it did nothing for them, wasn't doing much for me, and... That I just loved magic, I really wanted the effects to be beautiful and for people to be inspired.

What I really want to improve upon, is my presentation and my comfort level with an audience. And I know the only way to do that is with experience: actually performing for audiences.

I'd love to hear anyone's stories on how they first got some audience experiences. I'm sure workers get great experience by working 4 shows a night at the magic castle, or even 20 shows a night with a regular strolling gig, but... How can a guy who isn't a pro get more audience experience (especially outside of their "home audience")?

I'll take any advice or ideas (or reading material suggestions, etc), and thanks for taking the time to read my topic and your replies!

-Doug
"While you guys were in the back of a '57 Chevy, I was in my room [shuffling cards]!"
-Tom Mullica
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Postby Dick Christian » 08/28/08 10:01 AM

I am surprised and disappointed that in the 10 days since you posted your note no one has stepped forward to offer you any suggestions, so here goes.

First, is there a local magic club in your area? If so, are you a member? A good club usually has occasional workshops or teach-ins to help newcomers to the art perfect their skills and the more experienced members are usually willing to offer sound advice, encouragement and constructive criticism. It is important however when you seek help that you let the person you are asking know that you want them to be frank and candid in evaluating your technique and presentation and that you are not only willing to hear any bad news but consider it essential to your development that you do so, otherwise they are likely to simply tell you what they think you want to hear (i.e., that youre simply wonderful) -- which may not necessarily be true.

A quick search of the Internet reveals that there is an active I.B.M. (International Brotherhood of Magicians) Ring, Ring 245, in Manchester Center, VT. The person to contact there is David Bort and you can reach him by telephone at (802) 375-2254 or by e-mail at djsaltbox1797@webtv.net. There is also one, Ring 126, in Burlington; however, I believe it is currently inactive but you can contact Bob Bluemle at (802) 658-8489 or by e-mail at RLBluemle1@aol.com for more information.

There is also a S.A.M. (Society of American Magicians) Assembly, Assembly 155 in Rutland, but there is no contact information available on the S.A.M. web site.

Once you have reached the appropriate level of competence to justify imposing yourself on members of the public -- AND ONLY THEN -- (your mentors in the magic club will tell you when youve reached that point) should you seek opportunities to offer to perform free of charge for audiences such as YOUR CHILDs Cub Scout Pack or Brownie Troop, YOUR CHILDs elementary school or Sunday school class, the office party at YOUR place of employment, the childrens ward at the local hospital, the folks in a local nursing home or elder-care facility, etc. There are two important things to keep in mind when offering free performances: 1) be sure that the group you are offering to perform for understands that you are only an amateur/beginner seeking to gain experience in performing for a live audience other than your friends and family and that you are NOT, in any sense of the word a professional magician and, 2) that by offering a free performance you are not taking the opportunity for a potential paid performance from one of the professionals in your area -- hence my advice that you perform only for YOUR childs pack/troop/class, YOUR office party, a hospital, nursing home, elder-care facility or senior center or other such group whose budget makes it impossible for them to afford to pay a performer.

In this regard, beware of charities and/or nonprofit groups that may seek your services. Many charities and nonprofits pay their staff some very hefty salaries (e.g. the national officers of the United Way are knocking down major $$ -- the CEO gets a multi-million dollar salary) and if they do, they can damn well afford to pay for entertainment. If you do agree to perform at one of their events be sure that all of the other goods or services involved are also being donated. Many of us who are professional performers have been asked to perform for free at events where the charity/nonprofit is paying to rent the hall, paying the caterer, paying the decorator, paying for party favors and everything else, often even the band, but thinks they should get the other entertainment free of charge (based, one assumes, on the old image of the starving artist living a garret and working simply for the love of the art). They will also often tout the fact that you will be getting exposure. I sometimes have to remind them that people often die from exposure. While I have heard others claim that they got lots of paid jobs after giving a benefit performance, my personal experience has typically been that giving a free show usually only leads to more requests for free shows and that when the group later has a budget that lets them pay for a show they will call someone else because now they can afford a real pro no longer need a volunteer (which is what they are apt to consider someone who performed without compensation even though that person is actually otherwise a highly paid full-time "pro" who generously donated his/her services). They will also be apt to tell you that you can declare your performance a charitable donation and thus claim a deduction when you file your tax return. Unless the law has recently changed, that is NOT true. While the tax laws DO allow a deduction for the fair market value of donated GOODS, no such deduction is allowed for the donation of SERVICES. Even if you turn down a $1,000 performance in order to give a free show the law only allows you to deduct so many cents (Im not sure of the exact amount) per mile for the actual cost of travel associated with the event.

IMO it is only after a lot (and I mean A LOT -- like 100 or more) of free performance before real, live audiences that you should expect to have honed your skills and polished your act to the point that you are ready to offer your services as a professional performer. Remember that to the public at large anyone who is paid for their services is perceived to be a professional whether or not performing is your sole, primary or only an occasional part-time venture. The pro, semi-pro, part-timer, amateur and hobbyist terminology used within the magic community is meaningless to everyone else. To the rest of world paid = professional and unpaid = amateur (and that implies amateur in the worst sense of the word).

Im sure this is a much longer response than you were anticipating. Im equally confident that there will be no shortage of others who will post highly contradictory opinions, but I believe in being honest (sometimes even brutally so). All I can give you is one mans opinion. Opinions are like rectums -- everybody has one and each is entitled to his/her own.

Good luck in pursuit of your dream,
Dick Christian
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Postby Marc Rehula » 09/02/08 05:28 PM

Some excellent and sober advice, Dick, thank you. I also would have expected more people would have responded. My situation is similar to Doug's. I've taken up magic only a few years ago (though I'm in my mid-forties), and almost everyone I know hates magic. As for magic clubs, I'm rather self-conscious of my (lack of) abilities, and, well, magicians aren't particularly inviting to newcomers. Or maybe it's just me. Meanwhile, I've just concentrated on my expanding my skills and knowledge.
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Postby Dick Christian » 09/03/08 07:12 AM

Marc Rehula wrote: I've taken up magic only a few years ago (though I'm in my mid-forties), and almost everyone I know hates magic. As for magic clubs, I'm rather self-conscious of my (lack of) abilities, and, well, magicians aren't particularly inviting to newcomers.


Mark,

I can't speak for all magic clubs, but the ones that I'm most familiar with (I.B.M. Ring 50 and S.A.M. Assembly 23) here in the Washington DC metro area are very open, friendly and welcoming to newcomers. Only a handful of the members actually perform in public -- most are amateurs or hobbyists (many of whom are quite skilled and knowledgeable BTW). While it is true that many of us, myself included, tend to be rather circumspect regarding with whom and on what level we share the "real work" I think that most of us are happy to encourage and assist others in "expanding their skills and knowledge" at an appropriate level.

You might want to check out the local club(s) in your area.
Dick Christian
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