On February 13, 2012, I was hosting “Monday Night Magic,” New York City’s longest running off-Broadway magic show. Headlining that night was the incredible Peter Samelson. I have watched Peter headline this show a dozen times and his act always inspires me. It combines humor, beautifully conceived themes and story lines with amazing magic. Peter always handles his audience volunteers with kindness and professionalism. But on this night, something went “wrong.”
On the left side of the stage stands a small table. On it, there is a clear bowl and a vase filled with water. Peter uses these props in his signature closing routine, a “Snowstorm in China” effect that occurs while he tells a story of seeing a snow globe as a child. During an earlier routine, Peter has 2 audience assistants on stage with him; a somewhat older husband and wife. He asks the woman to take 1 step back. She takes many steps backward and accidentally knocks into the small table. The clear bowl and vase come crashing to the ground, shattering and spilling glass and water everywhere. The crowd gasps and the woman on stage puts her hands over her mouth in embarrassment.
Here we are. Every magician’s fear becomes reality. How will Peter close his show with these props destroyed? How will Peter handle the next 60 seconds as the whole crowd is realizing that what they just witnessed was not supposed to happen?
Peter…..gently pulled the woman away from the broken glass and water, said “That’s OK” and continued on with his patter. Peter could have made a joke at the woman’s expense and received a cheap laugh. Peter could have reacted in horror and stopped the show to figure out how to deal with the mess. Peter could have been very distracted by what happened. But instead, Peter Samelson continued on with his routine and allowed the entire audience (and especially the woman on stage) to relax and once again lose themselves in the magic and storyline that Peter brought to the stage.
When the routine concluded and Peter was escorting his volunteers off the stage, the woman once again apologized (my thought is that now that the routine was over, she was brought back to “reality” and began to feel bad about breaking the glass.) And once again, Peter quietly responded to her “It’s fine, really” and helped her back to her seat.
When it came time for his finale, Peter reached just beyond the back curtain where he knew a small plastic cup and bottle of water sat and he used those props for his routine. While it may not have been as beautifully elegant as the original vase he had on stage in the beginning, Peter was still able to transport his audience into his presentation and make an emotional connection with them through his routine.
I learned a lot that night about being a “worker” when the magician really is in trouble.
First, I learned about the importance of making your volunteers comfortable on stage, even during a crisis. No stupid jokes, no snappy one-liners, no emphasis on anything other than what you want the audience to focus on (the magic.) Second, as we have learned in other aspects of magic, the audience will pay attention to what you want them to. So if you do NOT WANT them to pay attention to the broken glass and water on the floor, then you should not either. Acknowledge it and immediately bring the audience (and most importantly the volunteer who caused the accident) back to the place you want them to be. This entire situation could have been disastrous in the hands of a less experienced performer. But because of the way Peter handled it, the entire audience walked away thinking about the magic and not the accident.
So the next time your rubber band breaks….or someone at the restaurant table spills a little bit of water on your cards during a routine…or your prop breaks as you are taking it out of your case, take a deep breath and remember that as a professional, it is your job to keep the audience entertained no matter what. That is the mark of a true “worker.”
If you have any questions you would like us to address in a future column, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, go be Awesome.
David Corsaro is a part-time professional magician working the restaurants and major events throughout New York and New Jersey. He hosts the popular web series, “Time to be Awesome,” and released his first DVD of original material (“The Magic of David Corsaro”) in 2010. Corsaro is invited annually to attend and perform at Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic, arguably the most prestigious close-up magic convention in the world.
Kyle Knight and Mistie have been performing their illusion show on
cruise ships for more than a decade, and in that time they’ve been
able to travel to over 60 different countries. In the last 6 months
the show has taken them from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic
Circle, so here’s a few things that they’ve learned from experience
during their travels…
• Don’t assume that everyone speaks English. When we’re in another
country, we always try to learn a few key phrases in the local language (hello, good evening, thank you, etc). It’s always appreciated and goes a long way, especially in the show.
• Have respect for the local culture and customs. In France it’s considered rude not to greet a store owner and thank them when you leave, whether you’ve purchased something or not. In Turkey, public displays of affection of any kind are not a good idea, and in Greece, Italy and Russia, giving a “thumbs up” is the equivalent of giving someone the finger, so it’s a good idea to be aware of any hand gestures that you might use in your show.
• Know your audience. An act that works well for an American audience might not play for a European or Latin American audience. One of the reasons we’ve been able to travel so much is because we’ve learned to be versatile and change our show based on the demographic. For example, when we’re in South America or Spain, we translate the dialogue in Spanish and make the show more visual, and when we’re performing out of the UK, we modify the material planning for a more a reserved audience.
We’re currently booked through 2013, and this year you can find us on
Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity Cruises, as well as some
engagements in Las Vegas and California.
Listen, there is a very good chance that a lot of readers of this blog who happened to be named Mike will be out gigging this weekend. There is a possibility that during an introduction when you mention your profession and first name together there will be some giggles.
“Are you like Magic Mike?” they might ask.
Don’t be confused. Magic Mike is a new Steven Soderberg film opening in wide release this weekend starring Channing Tatum centering on a male stripper. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it’s pretty good. As far as we know, there is no actual sleight of hand in the flick.
Below is the trailer. We’re looking out for you, Mike.
So, I turned to some of my magic mentors and the iTricks community for help and advice in preparing for this challenge. I want to give my sincerest thanks to all of you for your help and support. In exchange, here’s a list of the things I learned from my experience:
1.Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. ALWAYS.
I decided to “Go big” and bust out a cross-dressing metamorphosis routine I do with Karin Webb. (An amazing performer/creator in her own right.) It’s a great big routine that would play well for a large audience. It’s a broad comic piece and the plot could be understood even if the audience couldn’t hear a word that was said. It’s a solid 7 minutes and meaty enough to anchor my whole set on.
But Karin was booked with one of her own projects that night. So, I called in Sarah Joselyn (a.k.a. Malice in Wonderland) who I’ve wanted to work with for awhile. She was able and willing to spend Saturday learning the routine. Then I called the venue to see if we would have space to perform it, and the stage manager said “We won’t know until Garbage has finished their set-up”. So, we drilled Metamorphosis all day and gave Andrew Mayne’s “Voodoo Box” one run-through figuring that if we get to the venue and can’t do Metamorphosis, we’d know right away and be able to rehearse “Voodoo Box” a few times before showtime.
Then, on the way to the venue, disaster! A packing strap slipped and my curtain and frame for the sub trunk flew off the back of the truck, smashed to the highway and got run over 3-4 times. So, Metamorphosis was out. By the time I was able to get to it and get my load re-secured, and deal with memorial day traffic, we were an hour late for load-in.
So, 45 minutes before showtime, we’ve absolutely gutted my act, had to re-arrange the entire thing, and completely changed my assistant’s role. Now we had to do a 30 minute set that we’ve never rehearsed in front of a slavish fanbase who were there to see a band that hasn’t performed in 7 years.
What? Me worry?
2.Want work? Don’t be a d–k.
We got to the venue to see that there were barriers up around the stage. This was understandable because the Paradise is a small venue for an act like Garbage and direct access to the stage would be a bad idea. But since a lot of my act involves volunteers…well, more improv was needed.
Did I mention that Garbage’s tech people had completely taken over the venue, so the local lighting guys couldn’t even give me a follow spot for my needle-swallowing? The most they could offer was a CD line-in for my music and the most rudimentary control of the lights. “Do you want blue, red or purple?” the lighting guy asked, silently fuming.
Some people might have been tempted to demand that things be changed to suit them and their act. That is possibly good advice if you are the main attraction (see Ken Weber’s excellent “Maximum Entertainment”), but in this case, I was the opening act. My job is to entertain and warm up the crowd while the main act is getting ready, period.
Instead of going on the attack, I accepted the bad news, and sensing the frustration of the local crew, I told them what I needed and asked for suggestions on the best possible way to make it happen. Coming at the crew with “We’re all here in this situation, and we all want to make the best possible show, let’s work it out.” did miracles. Within seconds we’d found a solution to getting volunteers on stage during the show and worked out blocking for removing my props. Not only that, the lighting guy did wonders with his limited resources.
If I had been a diva about the stage set-up you can be sure that they would have made no extra effort to help me out. In addition, you can be sure that word would get out that “Dezrah The Strange” is a pain in the ass to work with. If you don’t think that roadies and crew from different venues talk to each other, you’re sorely mistaken.
In any business, the person who is easy and enjoyable to work with will almost ALWAYS get more work than the most amazingly talented jerk.
My props were destroyed, I had almost no access to volunteers and I had no control over lighting. There was no way I could do the set I had planned to do, or even most of my standard routines.
If I had put too much emphasis on those specific routines, I would have been sunk. However, I learned the hard way in the past and now I always prepare an additional 10-15 minutes of material for any appearance. Overkill? Maybe, but since I had packed “Voodoo Box” and a few other geek/sideshow tricks, I was prepared to fill the hole left by the loss of my sub-trunk and stage barriers. Not only that, my rapport with the crew got me an extra wireless mic that I could use to hand to the people standing at the front of the stage. With a little thinking, I could minimize the number of times I needed someone on stage with me, while maintaining the spontaneity and fun of playing with volunteers.
Ten minutes of juggling the setlist and planning with Malice, and we were ready with a solid 30 minute show again.
4.Flight time trumps EVERYTHING.
At least “Flight Time” is what Penn Jillette calls it. It’s the time spent performing for real people in the real world. You can (and should!) spend hours and hours in front of the mirror or on camera perfecting your pass or slaving over your delivery of that exquisitely crafted punchline, but until you’ve done it over and over again in front of a real audience, you will never discover all the ways your act can go wrong.
The real world is unpredictable, you will never, ever have total control over your environment. “Flight Time” gives you the chance to experience new problems and learn how to deal with them. You figure out what parts of your act get the biggest reaction and what parts drag. You start to discover the near-infinite number of ways that things can go wrong.
You need to be prepared, but you can only be prepared for problems you’re aware of. You may have plans for what to do if your IT breaks, but what if the venue suddenly loses power? What if the AC doesn’t work? Do your props and equipment work in a super-humid, super hot room? On the other hand, what if an industrial fan starts up in the middle of your routine? You did practice in the wind, right? What if your mic completely dies? Or the sound crew misses a cue? Can you finish your act gracefully in silence?
The only way to get a feel for what could go wrong, and how to fix it, is to get out there and do what you do as often as you can.
To be frank, all of the issues I faced with my props, the venue, etc, didn’t really bother me too much. In the venues I work, nothing EVER goes to plan, so I learned to roll with the punches a long time ago. There was only one thing that I was truly worried about, one question that kept me pacing and panicking for 2 days straight. “Why the hell does Garbage want me to open for them, and how could I possibly do a show that their fans would like?”
My name is “Dezrah The Strange”, not “Dezrah The Urban and Gritty”. I’m a comedy magician that dabbles in sideshow and I fly my geek flag high. I work private parties and indie venues that appreciate the variety arts and general weirdness. Garbage is cool, slick, dark and intense. I am not.
I’m savvy enough to where I could have tried to custom tailor my act to meet their tone. I could turn my blockhead act into a grim and gritty display of pain and angst instead of the punchline to a blown card trick.
I could have done that, and they would have seen right through me. The would have (rightly) seen me as a poser and heaped deserved scorn on me. Even if it did succeed, I would have misrepresented what I do and who I am and set myself up for further failure down the line.
Instead, I stayed true to who I am onstage. A geeky guy who does some cool things. I didn’t ignore the fact that I clashed with the band, I embraced it. My opening line? “Hi, my name is Dezrah the Strange. I’m a magician, and I’m going to do something that no one has ever attempted. I’m going to read the minds of everyone in this room…’WHAT THE HELL IS A MAGICIAN DOING OPENING FOR GARBAGE?”
This got a great laugh, deflated whatever tension there might have been, and let the audience know that what they were about to see may have no connection with the band they love, but was going to be entertaining, at least.
Short story long: I was presented with an unexpected and intimidating opportunity, hit potentially massive speed bumps on the way, but with the help of some incredible people and lessons learned by a whole heap of failures in the past, I was able to put on an entertaining show. Magic or no, career opportunity or no, that’s what matters.
As my friend and mentor Brian Brushwood said:
“Here’s the good news: It actually doesn’t matter how it went. Even if you completely sucked balls, and every single person there wanted to stab you…
Johan Stahl is a close up magician in competition at FISM Blackpool. He shares his road from a third place finish at FISM Beijing three years ago to his ultimate goal of FISM glory this summer…
Five years ago I decided I wanted to compete at the World championships of Magic, FISM2009 in Beijing. It was a great experience, a lot of hard work and preperation. I ended up third place. A great first time attempt at the biggest magic competition in the world. After I got home from China I decided I wanted to give it another try. A few thousand hours of practice and development, three years later, here I am. One month to go until FISM Blackpool.
To prepare for this competition I have done most of the major close-up competitions in the world. SAM, IBM, MacMillan in London, Abano Terme in Italy, World Magic seminar in Las Vegas. At a few of the American competitions I got feedback afterwards. They said that it was unwise to use music with lyrics. The story of the lyrics will get in the way of the story that is told by the magic. Since I love the songs I’ve been using, I decided to make instrumental versions of them, without words. I hired the duo that creates most of the music for the TV series “Glee”. They are almost done. It sounds great. And with their résumé it should.
Generally, a magician is a lone wolf. They want to do everything themselves. Trick development, homepage, marketing, light and sound etc. I’m fortunately not like that.
I love working with talented people who are able to see things that my lack of experience within various fields preclude me from seeing.
I have had some friends and colleagues helping me out. Tom Stone with misdirection. Tim Star building and inventing my original props. Peter Gröning with the concept of the act and Joachim Solberg with the finer techniques.
It’s a lot of fun working with talented people who I really like.
Also, with a joint effort, I think the end result will be much better.
The big differences I find in the small details. Maybe a detail so small I will be the only one to notice it. But the thing is, I would know if I took a shortcut and that would make me feel less proud of my work. For instance, I use a glass in the act. People only see it for five to six seconds. But the only suitable glass I found on the magic market looks like crap. Poorly made out of plastic. So I had to go to a glass blower to make what I saw in my head. Now I will be proud of those five to six seconds as well.
I believe that if you do something a lot, you will become good at it. It takes hard work. Blood, sweet and tears. Talent has nothing to do with it in the long run. One of the world´s best stand-up comedians, Eddie Izzard, had an ”over night success”. With a truly amazing career to follow that magical breakthrough. What most people don’t know is that Eddie had struggled for almost 20 years. 20 years of people saying,
-”Maybe this isn’t for you, Eddie?”
He knew what he wanted. He worked hard and long to reach that ”over night success”.
Making it look easy is hard.
It takes a lot of practice.
In Sweden we have the Magic Bar. A miniature Magic Castle in the central parts of Stockholm. Performances five days a week. All magic. That place has been my dojo. Every friday and saturday there is a stage/parlour show. A great opportunity to practice my act. However, if I performed it on stage, I would ”only” get one show a night. Instead I choose to use the small close-up room in the back. Guests are invited from the restaurant to this room. That way I can do four or five shows a night. Good practice.
I see my FISM act like a beautiful present wrapped in exclusive paper. Maybe you know the feeling when you have bought a present for a close friend that you think he or she will like. A lot. You are just waiting for the moment when they open the present, to see the surprise smash into their brain, to bringing a big smile on their face.
I feel that way every time I do my act. The anticipation to see how the audience reacts.
Good magic is a lot like a good movie. There will be some unexpected moments. Moments you did not see coming. Magicians usually don’t react like an ordinary audience of laymen. Magicians have seen a lot of magic. Most of the time we magicians know what to expect and when to expect it. But if we see something new, something we have never seen before – all of a sudden we turn into laymen. We will get caught in the moment instead of analyzing it. That’s why I have decided to save the biggest surprise for FISM. I haven’t shown it to anyone yet, but I’m very proud of the effect. As far as I know, no one has done it like this before in the magic world.
Since a lot of people say that one of my competitors will win, I know I will have to work really hard. I feel like Rocky when he is preparing for his fight against Drago.
I might be the underdog, but I sure will put up a fight. The “Eye of the Tiger” is playing and I feel ready.
The morals may be a bit buttoned down and the tech a little antiquated, but you might learn a thing or two from How to Become a Magician. Released in 1882, the beginner tome not only lays the theoretical groundwork for an aspiring conjurer but teaches a wide variety of tricks. Many of the methods are still used today.
As stuffy as the Victorian era was, it’s interesting to note how much getting a laugh at the right time was still a crucial element of the business.
“You must remember to keep talking the whole time, and always try to make a joke, or otherwise to distract the attention of the audience, while you are executing the necessary changes.”
It serves as a stark reminder exactly how old some well known tricks are.
A few hours ago, I got a call from a local venue asking if I would be interested in opening for Garbage. Yes, that Garbage… I’ve been a professional performer for a few years now, working colleges, burlesque shows, neo-vaudville, etc.
If you have experience bringing your show in front of a rock audience, what mistakes should I avoid? What’s the best way to convert a cabaret-style show with a lot of talking to a high-impact show that will let me survive a group that’s there to see Shirley Manson?
In short, how do I turn a geek magician into a rockstar…literally overnight?
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