How to Perform and Work Internationally

Many magicians have a dream of performing internally but there’s many road blocks to navigate along the way. That’s why I decided to do an interview with Paul Romhany who’s without a doubt one of the most qualified people in our community to answer the golden question “How do I work internationally?

For the past 25 years Paul Romhany has been travelling the world performing at corporate events and festivals, as well as cruise ships around the world. During that time he has been in over one hundred countries and in 2012 flew over 500 hours to get to gigs. When asked where he lives he replies, “I’m a Citizen of the World”. The answer that Charlie Chaplin gave when asked the same question almost 80 years ago.

And if that is proof enough to listen to his advice, Paul literally wrote the book on international bookings. In his book “The Real Deal” he covers all aspects of flying, packing, show equipment, staying safe, and other tips. You can buy this from any magic shop or from his website.

Leif: How did you first start working internationally?

Paul: When I started out all of my overseas gigs were through word of mouth and friends putting my name forward for jobs.

My first real international break came when a producer booked me to tour Australia with American Illusionist Chuck Jones and Co. and included such amazing acts as the World’s Best Pickpocket Ricki Dunn. I must have been about 20 years old and honestly, when I look back really didn’t have an act all. It was however, the most incredible learning experience because I just sat back and watched how these pros handled themselves. I ended up touring with this company for a few years and twenty years later I’m still working for them on and off, although NOW I have an act.

Then came a regular gig I did for several years in Fiji. Again it was a huge learning experience as I found out about different cultures, what to do and what not to do. After working every gig possible here in New Zealand a friend then put me forward for work in Dubai which again, I did for several years on and off.

Pretty much my entire career is built on people seeing me and recommending me for work, both locally and internationally. At the end of the day you could have the best 3 minute promotional video but if your live act isn’t up to the same standard you won’t last long. I’ve seen that happen many times where the video is way better than the act.

Leif: How do you market your show to international clients?

Paul: Today I don’t really market myself for international work – I’m lucky that I have a great team of people including agents and a management team who get me the work I want.

Obviously having a website really helps, but more importantly having an agent friendly website is even better. It’s a dedicated site that agents can send their clients to get more info and watch videos of you performing without any contact on there.

Leif: How many different agents do you work with?

Paul: I’m not one of those people who put my name forward to every agent out there. I prefer to only have a few agents who specialize in different fields. For example only one who gets me enough cruise ship work that I can handle, an agent who gets me my work in Asia and another in North America and one in Europe. That’s enough, you also need to choose those you can trust. From experience I have found they work harder for me if I’m not with everybody else and are loyal to them.

A great example is my management here in New Zealand. They have been actively getting me top dollar corporate gigs here because I’ve only gone to them. All the other local guys have their names with everybody who says they are an agent, so when a client is looking to hire they get the same act with various agents but at different prices – it just doesn’t look good. If they phone my management it’s the only way to book me and the price is set.

Leif: When you travel abroad are the audiences themselves prospective clients that might hire you?

Paul: Every time you perform, whether it be in a theatre internationally, a corporate gig or a kids party, there are prospective clients out there. I tell all the younger guys that the best promotion and way to get more work is word of mouth. The most important thing though is to be professional.

This year I did a job for Mont Blanc in China and was approached by two different people to do work for them. I took their business cards and told them I don’t book direct but they need to contact my agent. They did this and the agent was very impressed and worked on my behalf to secure those jobs. Had I taken those jobs myself and the original agent found out, then they would never use me again.

The key to this type of work in loyalty. A classic example was when I was working in Singapore. I used to work there every year for three to four months. One year my agent got another act in from the USA. I was also working there at that time. He thought he would come back the next year but book all the work himself. I lost all respect for this guy when I heard that. He did come back and didn’t do well at all, and of course hasn’t been back since!

Leif: How do you legally work in foreign countries? Any shortcuts or tips?

Paul: It really depends where you work. Usually the agent will take care of all this including VISAS and work permits.

The hardest place to work is the USA.  It can be done. I have a C1D1 Visa which allows me in and out on ships, but work on land is a different type of VISA. My tip is to always CHECK what you need before you get there. The first gig I did in Brazil was a classic example. I arrived and wasn’t told, and didn’t actually check, that I needed a VISA to enter. I ended up flying in after twenty something hours and made to sit in a little room for eleven hours, nobody spoke to me, I had no idea what was going on. Finally somebody told me I was on the next flight out as I didn’t have a VISA. From that point on I always check what I need.

There are ways to fast track VISAs – there are companies that can do this for you so check out your local directory or Google search.

Something we have here in New Zealand, which is very handy, is we are allowed two identical passports. So if one is away getting a VISA it means I can still work. I had to miss a convention in the USA (the PCAM Convention) because I had sent my passport away to get a VISA to enter Brazil (I had learnt my lesson) but it wasn’t back in time for me to get in to the USA. For some reason the PCAM members didn’t understand this, but I guess they didn’t travel that much overseas to know all the in’s and outs of world travel.

So, in most cases the agent or person booking the act needs to legally check out how long you can stay in a country, how you can go in and work and they always pay the bill. You should never be out of pocket for any of these charges.

Leif: You perform a full evening magic act as Charlie Chaplin. How did you design your act so that it would work anywhere?

Paul: When I first started developing the Chaplin act I knew it needed to be silent, visual and play well in any language. Of course different cultures like different things, but I’m very fortunate that Charlie Chaplin is so universal. No matter if I’m in Africa in a jungle or in Dubai, audiences still know who Chaplin is.

One trip we turned up and we had to perform a full evening show to a Korean audience that spoke no English. In my one man show I speak a little, just to set the show up, etc. I spent the morning working on new material so I could take out the talking parts. I couldn’t have done that had I not had all those years of experience performing and reading up on the craft.

One of the funniest stories was working in China. My agent told me the client wanted The Vanishing Bandanna Trick. I could only assume they had seen another magician do it and they loved it. The audience were non-English speaking and I tried to explain that the whole joke was the similarity between Banana and Bandana, but they just didn’t understand. We had the routine translated in to Mandarin and when it came time to perform the audience just sat there. It made no sense because Bandana and Banana are very different words in that language!! At the end of the trick they just applauded the vanishing of the banana – but it was very surreal.

There are certain things you DO need to make sure when working overseas, particularly with different cultures. During certain times of the year with fasting in some religions for example you can’t do tricks using food or drink. I was in Singapore during Ramadan and had a guy on stage for the ‘drink’ trick I do. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t take a sip. It wasn’t until after the show my agent told me so I had to re-work the handling of the trick for future gigs.

Just be VERY aware of cultural differences. In some countries you don’t touch a person’s head because it is considered taboo, etc.

Leif: What does a standard booking look like from beginning to end?

Paul: Let’s take a recent trip where I was asked to perform in Beijing for the Royal Family of Monaco. I get the e-mail from my agent with the info on the show and they ask “how much?” I e-mail back with a price and pencil that date in. They then e-mail back with confirmation of that date and it’s now confirmed with a contract and deposit up front.

A few months go by and they e-mail me more info about the show and I get my Chinese VISA. NEVER leave anything up to the last minute otherwise you’ll live a stressed life.

Closer to the time I get an urgent phone call asking if I can change the day because the Royal Family can’t make it, so we check my schedule and confirm another date which I can do.

With bags packed (check luggage allowance and if it’s not enough then ask for more on the ticket) – I fly from Auckland to Beijing. I am there five days to do ten minutes!

I am met at the airport (I always insist on this) and taken to a very flashy hotel. Day two I have off and do some sight seeing. Day three is a full dress rehearsal where I spent about 6 hours waiting until I do my walk through. Never complain though because THAT is what you are being paid for. In this type of work you are paid to ‘wait’. Friends who work internationally and I joke all the time about this, we say we are paid to travel and not to perform. On the fourth day is the show so they pick me up early – I make sure I’m all ready – do the gig and go back to the hotel. I leave on Day five and fly home.

Within two days the money is in my account and the report back to agent has been positive.

Of course they aren’t ALL this well run. The one thing I can say, after having done this for SO long is that I make sure all my prep work is done on the gig including name of hotel I am staying in, making sure I’m picked up at airport, cell phone works internationally, have enough cash on me and credit cards, photo copy of passport, etc. There is a HUGE check list prior to any international gig.

Leif: What are the negatives aspects of such a rigorous travel schedule? What are some of the highlights?

Paul: The negative is if you have family. Family really should be anybody’s main priority – if it isn’t then check your priorities!!

I’ve been around many acts who at the end of their careers are grumpy and washed out old men with nothing. All they have is their act and I personally find that very sad. Having experienced this I decided early on to put life in to perspective. I still travel but for years took my wife, now we have a young son I only do short contracts where I’m away no longer than five days – unless they fly with me.

If the money is really good then of course I’ll take a seven day job, but that would be it for the month. In December I’m busy overseas for three weeks but will be around for the next two months, or at least not away longer than a few days at a time.

If you’re single and have no commitments then it doesn’t matter – take longer contracts. When we work in Asia for 3-4 months my family goes with me. If they want me for a longer period then that is written in to the contract.

There are so many positives. Firstly you get to see the world. There is nothing quite like it to be honest. Having travelled to well over 100 countries and eaten in pretty much all of them, our lives are so much more enriched because of it. We’ve met people form every walk of life and made friends all over the world. These are memories that will live with us forever and as our adventure continues now with our son we are looking forward to travelling more with him. He is already a seasoned traveler at one having flown from Canada to NZ and a few NZ flights to be with gigs with me.

The bottom line for me is that I get to share my show with audiences from all over the world. The Internet has really changed the way we do business and opened up the world to me. It has enabled my wife and I to live a life I only dreamed about as a kid.

Working internationally isn’t easy, the travel and excitement wears thin very quickly, but once you perform your show and think “Wow these Germans actually loved my act!” then spend the next day walking around someplace in Germany you realize just how lucky you are – and how all that hard work and the past twenty-five years of doing this for a living have paid off.

Leif: How much equipment do you travel with?

Paul: This is the BIG question and when other acts see my travel bag they start wanting to hit me!! I travel with ONE BAG. The entire one hour Chaplin show is designed to PACK SMALL AND PLAY BIG.

Gone are the days where clients will fork out money to put an illusion or two in the show so I sold all the illusions and started developing the act so it is a fly on and off act around the world. I also don’t like to rely on other people in my act, or as little as possible.

One thing you learn very quickly about working overseas is that you have no control over the venue. What they tell you in an e-mail and what you end up working on might be two completely different things – so BE PREPARED. I remember working in Singapore the first year. It was a hectic schedule with three to four different corporate gigs a night in different hotels. I had my Chaplin Act in quite large suitcase and when my agent saw it, upon my arrival he asked if it would fit in a smaller case. When asked why he told me I was travelling to each job on the back of a motorbike. So there I was, dressed as Chaplin, with my hat, cane and show bag on the back of a bike!!

Another time, at the USA Club in Singapore they asked me to come in to check out the performing area. It wasn’t large but was big enough for me to work. The night of the gig, which was New Year’s Eve, I turned up and where I was to perform had table of ten people sitting there. They had run out of room so I ended up doing my entire act standing on a damn chair!!

Now nothing phases me, I just go with the flow and make the act work. I might be cursing under my breath but at the end of the day I’ve still got to do my act if I want to be paid in full.

Leif: Any packing tips for travel?

Paul: I suggest you ALWAYS check how much luggage you are allowed to take on any flight, both international and national. If there is excess then make sure the ticket allows it, or have the client pay for it if they want a particular illusion.

There are certain techniques to packing a suitcase that can help make life easier. I usually like to use ‘space’ bags which shrink all your clothes down to nothing. Once we didn’t have them so just used regular trash bags, sucked the air out with a vacuum cleaner and tied duct tape around it so the air couldn’t get in – worked just as well.

My motto is to PACK SMALL AND PLAY BIG. For those that have seen the Chaplin act you’ll know what I mean. I can fill an entire stage with a growing hanky from my pocket, or create an illusion using a broom. Even the broom was made to pack in to my suitcase so it comes apart. Over the years everything has been made to pack in to one case.

You also need to think about security these days – what can you take on a plane for example. In one year the airlines lost my luggage FOURTEEN TIMES – I still had to perform and ended up using whatever I could find in hotels or local shops. Actually this helped me develop my second stand up show which is all now mentalism. Gotta love mentalism 🙂

Also, make sure you have a back up of every prop at home, just in case the airlines do lose your luggage like they did mine. Travel insurance is also a MUST have both for health, lost props, loss of flights, etc.

Leif: Thanks again Paul for taking the time to answer these questions. Again, for more information on traveling internationally check out Paul’s book “The Real Deal“. Please comment below if you have any questions, and don’t forget to “like” and “share” it on Facebook!