Thank you for the kind responses. I've been busy lately and have just now been able to check back, and I'm gratified that some have found my post useful.
I just finished a weekend of two strolling gigs, and they could NOT have been more different. They also help clarify some of the points I made in my other post.
The first gig was being held in a recently converted warehouse space in a rougher part of town. It was very "constructionist," with a labyrinthine layout, the kitchen in the open (and I mean the WHOLE kitchen - shelves, stoves, etc) - along with tables, etc. There was also a low-ceilinged second level with a dining table, restroom and office.
Strange space, but who cares, people are people, right?
This was a surprise birthday party, and for all of the guests, English was pretty much a second, or even third language. But hey, great for them - I'm the American after all - monolingual - but I started with built-in communication difficulties. And I'm a mentalist. Hmmm.
Add the fact that is was a costume party (masks, etc), it was very dark, with only occasional dimply-lit areas. Also add loud, blaring Euro-pop, mostly in Polish and, I think, Russian.
The groups stood, not in small clumps, but it Rugby scrums. It was nigh on impossible to penetrate a group - they acted as if they were penguins huddling for warmth at the South Pole, and I was ... well, something that wanted to hurt them.
So I reverted to some tried and true openings - readings. I start with simple numerological readings (women love them), and then open the crowd up to what Im doing and to me. When they're warmed up, I transition to some regular material.
Not having it. I was actually told, after introducing what I was doing to one person, "No thank you, I know enough about myself." Pretty stunned, to tell you the truth. But I soldiered on, and actually convinced a few people to be read, but the vibe was definitely all about THEM, and I was an interloper.
I managed to get a few guests to tell the host (the caterer & owner) that they enjoyed what I was doing (that's a separate tactic), but the night was spiraling downward. It was a 3-hour gig, and I began to think I had crashed on the Highway on the way, and now I was in Hell. I actually stationed myself off to one side after a while, staying out of the host's view, watching the guests dance to the ear-splitting music and Spencer's disco lights, and I actively WATCHED 5 minutes tick by on a clock on the wall. Wow. I'm really good.
Eventually, I made my way upstairs AGAIN, and lo and behold a very thickly accented, Euro guy came up to me (interesting hair, many piercings, but a nice manner) and asked, in broken English, if I was the guy "Telling Fortunes."
"Sure," I said! What the heck - it was some interest. I sat down with him and took out my Tarot Deck (I always carry the Major Arcana with me ... just in case). He had specific questions, so I lapsed into full reading mode (party-style, of course), and the dam broke.
His wife then came up and sat down, and the line formed. I spent the rest of the night simply doing readings. My host came up at the end and wanted to be read, "Before you have to go."
The last 90 minutes flew by. At the very end of the night, I did a quarter-bend (making a Lucky Charm for her- separate routine) to demonstrate for my host (and potential client again) the flavor of my other stuff. It worked.
That was a night where the audience and situation was tough, tough, and standard tactics went out the window. (Lawyers are even tougher, but I digress...)
The next night I went to a private home show in a moneyed Northern Suburb. Long story short, I had a couple immediately recognize me from a previous gig and began singing my praises.
I started doing my regular routines and everyone was totally buying what I was selling. I could do no wrong. I used my 1,2 and 3 sets, along with some tangential stuff, and it was like a textbook version of my shows. Great night - the kind where you end up just having a drink and talking with everyone about psychic stuff - not even performing anymore.
In summary, it's never ever going to go the same way twice. Ever. Get used to that. I've posted on other sites about how many working guys create what I call my "Drunk Show." You gotta have one. Bulletproof stuff that will get you through the night.
I did a gig earlier this year where the private group of about 20 was SO drunk, many couldn't get out of their chairs to come up front. And I'm not exaggerating. I chose someone, and they couldn't stand, so I finally asked point blank, "who can stand up?" It got a laugh, but I was serious.
They were completely TOASTED. Even the wait staff, back of house, was commenting on the amount of liquor this group was putting away. (And to add insult to injury, the washroom in this small place was broken, so guests needed to go to the Sports Bar next door to go ... and get another drink.) Yikes.
Ugly, ugly night. I ended up doing more pure magic (like Sidewalk Shuffle, etc.) that needed no one to help. Just presentational, and if they were listening ... that was a bonus.
And of course, afterwards, everyone was very complimentary as they staggered out. (The guest of honor's Mom had to be "helped" to the car.) And these were (supposedly) high-class people holding an event in a private wine bar. Sheesh. Give me the Plumber's Union any day.
Ah well, the life of a strolling performer. Advice is good, but doing it will teach you what you need. Or you'll learn that you hate it, and stop.