Living a Creative Life With Magic

I just finished reading “Big Magic: Creating Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert is the same woman who wrote the massively successful book “Eat, Pray, Love“.

I’ll admit that I was drawn to the book because of the title and the awesome cover. Quickly I discovered the book was about one of my favorite topics, “Creative Living”. In it she discusses attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.

I remember being a 10 year old magician and after my shows business-y adults would ask me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

I wasn’t too sure… I was just a kid after-all. But I would answer with things like:

  • “I want to be a famous magician on TV.”
  • “I want to perform grand illusions.”
  • “I want to perform on cruise ships.”
  • “I want my own show in Vegas.”

As I grew up, I realized those weren’t authentic goals. I just answered that way because I thought that’s what I was supposed to say.

I’ve realized that I don’t want any of those things. I don’t believe crossing those off my list would make my life feel more complete:

  • TV Magic? I don’t wish to spend my time in production meetings or rapidly developing TV only effects.
  • Grand Illusions? I don’t want to lug around tons of gear. I want to be a magician – not a professional mover.
  • Cruise Ships? I don’t want to be more familiar with airports than I am with the history of an effect.
  • Vegas Stardom? I don’t wish to chase after fame. Becoming famous is outside of my control anyway.

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Are You Performing Old Material Because It’s Easier?

Today I performed for a daycare client that I’ve been working with for over 12 years. Every Halloween I do two shows for them. It’s a perfect client because they re-book me year after year and the audience is always different!

I suspect that for many performers the temptation would be to do their regular show, collect the cheque, and never think twice about it.

In this article I want to urge you to not be one of those people. Instead, I want you to think twice about the material that you’re performing.

Are you performing your regular show because it’s the absolute BEST show that you can deliver? Or, are you doing it because it’s EASY? 

For my daycare client I decided to include material from this summer’s library show. Much of that material I haven’t performed in several months so it was a great opportunity to keep it fresh in my repertoire. But, it wasn’t easy. I had to spend extra time pulling out all the props, then I had to create a set-list that would work, I had to create a special playlist, and I had to quickly rehearse the lines for one of the routines since it has a lengthy story as part of the script. At 11:30 at night while packing everything up all I could think was “It would be so much easier to do my regular act!”

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Different Types of Giveaways To Use In Your Show

In my last article I discussed the benefits to using giveaways in your show. In this article I’ll discuss the various types of giveaways that I’ve used before. This isn’t just theory on things that I’ve seen or heard about. All of these items I’ve used in my performances. For each item I’ll discuss the context in which I used it, along with sources and examples.

Balloon Animals

A giveaway could be as simple as giving away a balloon dog. In the case of balloon animals there’s lots of ‘bits of business’ that you can include to make it entertaining. There’s the old gag of ‘accidentally’ snapping the balloon into your face while attempting to blow it up, or accidentally letting go of the balloon before tying the end off so that it flies away. These old gags have stood the test of time for a reason. On Gary Dunn’s DVD “Keep them Laughing” he does about 10 minutes worth of material just by making two balloons animals for a couple volunteers on stage. It’s a great way to get lots of entertainment out of a minimal amount of props. Watching Gary work is a masterclass in children’s entertainment. I highly recommend it!

IMG_1628For small shows you can make balloon animals for everyone at the party, and for larger shows just make balloons for volunteers on stage. Be aware though, that if you’re at a birthday party and you start making balloon animals – you’re probably going to get suckered into making one for each child. So, plan accordingly. 😉

There’s also the option of charging extra for making balloons animals for everyone at the party. Personally I’m better at magic than balloons so I stick to simple balloon sculptures like the dogs, swords, flowers, and hats. I find that by doing simple balloons I can make each one in under a minute. Making them quickly is important if you have another show to attend that same day.

Balloons are a great giveaway but they don’t carry any brand information and they don’t last very long. Let’s look at some other options…

Ball and Vase Trick

ball and vaseMy goal was to use the Ball and Vase as a general giveaway and then pitch them as an inexpensive back of room sales item for $2. They didn’t sell very well though. People were more interested in purchasing my Magic Wand and DVD so eventually I stopped selling the Ball and Vase.

I found that it was too difficult for kids to learn on their own from the instructions. I think that this trick is better suited to be part of a magic class or workshop.

Even though I don’t offer any magic classes I’ve still found a way to make use of the Ball and Vase trick. I’ll use it as a  special giveaway in a 1-on-1 situation for a child that’s interested in learning the secrets of magic. It’s a great trick for that 9-12 year old range where they can execute the basic handling and presentation. The magic of the ball and vase is quite deceptive, the secret is clever, and it can be taught in just a few minutes. I’ve found that using them in this way can create a very special moment that goes beyond just a normal giveaway and can be very rewarding on a personal level. For the right person in the right setting, it’s absolutely perfect!

The Ball and Vase sets are a bit more expensive than other giveaways plus they aren’t branded so I only use them in those 1-on-1 situations.

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11 Tips To Get Kids to Stay Seated During Your Show

Birthday ShowFor any children’s performer one of the biggest problems is getting the kids to sit for the entire show. It isn’t because they’re bored or restless that they squirm, instead it’s because they’re so excited and they want to be involved! But, standing children causes lots of problems… 

The reason standing children are such a problem is because it’s distracting for everyone in the audience, it blocks the view of others in the audience, a child is more likely to come up on stage even if they aren’t asked to, and they end up getting closer and closer to the stage making it more difficult to perform.

However, by using a few simple audience control techniques you can create an environment that will result in a better show. I’ve compiled a list of 11 Tips to Get Kids to Stay Seated:

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Professionals Take Care of Their Props

Pathetic looking silk

Pathetic looking silk

I remember in my first few years of business I didn’t have to do any maintenance or repair on my props. However after several years of business and a few hundred shows later everything begins to show its age!

No matter how well you take care of your props they’re going to show wear and tear over time. As performers we use use items that aren’t designed to survive the abuse we put them though. Thin pieces of cardboard and paper, envelopes, cards, and rope, all need to be replaced.

Once in a while look over the props that you use with a critical eye. Does it need to be touched up with a few minor repairs? Does it need to be repainted? Or does it need to be repaired? Even if it doesn’t need to be replaced it may just need some TLC. Iron those silks, give your misers dream bucket a wash, and polish those coins to restore their shine.

Awesome brand new silk

Awesome brand new silk

It’s really hard to see our own things as other see them for the first time. I find that pulling them out of their normal context helps to look at it with fresh eyes.

Even if the audience only see’s the prop for a brief moment it should still look its best. Take a moment to replace those pathetic old sponge balls, use fresh playing cards when you’re hired to perform, and replace old silks once they need it.

If you use anything mechanical make it a habit to check it before every show. Things like hand choppers, finger choppers, and anything with remotes or electronics should be checked frequently. Make it part of your setup and pre-show routine to check these items to make sure they’re in working order.

These small details contribute to the overall professionalism and quality of your show. Plus, by working with better equipment it will make you feel more comfortable and confident on stage.

If you enjoyed this article, please hit the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons below. Thanks!

DIY Performance Table by Evan Reynolds

The following article was written by fellow magician Evan Reynolds. This article was also featured in Vanish Magazine for magicians.

Performing Table Design

I do a lot of birthday party shows. I normally use a suitcase style table, and it’s wonderful. It has been a workhorse. But now I have a smaller car. It’s nice but my suitcase table no longer fits unless I laid it down its back. And furthermore, the suitcase table is heavy – it’s 45 pounds when empty, and once my show is loaded, it’s quite difficult to carry around. And when I get to a birthday party and have to climb stairs – that was getting ugly.

So I had two problems. My table was too big, and too heavy. But I loved having a table that carried all my stuff AND served as a performing table with lots of storage.

So I decided to design and build my own table. I’ve gone through three iterations so far. All of them have their advantages – and all of them are really easy to build. One involves nothing more than sticking on Velcro and using an iron. The other two involve a drill and a screwdriver, but if you plan carefully that’s about the only tools you’ll need. And the next plus? The last two tables have a built in sound system. It’s cheap, easy to operate, and there’s nothing to plug in. It’s not a big system – but it’s perfect for a birthday party.

I’ll point out the advantages and disadvantages as I go as well as the things I’d do differently next time. But the key to all this is to think about what you want out of the tables and then modify them. Make the tables bigger or smaller, add shelves, add compartments, and make it what you want. And then go to JoAnne’s and get some nice boxes/art storage bins. They go in the table beautifully and store your smaller magic props wonderfully while looking great.

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That’s Not a Problem – Dealing with Problems at Shows

One of the techniques I use when I’m working at events is having the attitude that nothing is a problem. Sometimes it’s just a small switch in the mental thinking that something isn’t a problem, sometimes it will be demands put on you by the client, and other times it’s actually being able to solve the issue so it’s no longer a problem.

  • There’s going to be audience members sitting at bad angles for the show? Not a problem.
  • The show needs to start later than expected? Not a problem.
  • There’s another performer going on stage immediately following you so the stage needs to be cleared quickly? Not a problem
  • The show is going to be outside instead of inside? Not a problem.
  • The power went out in the venue? Not a problem.
  • That one kid won’t sit down? Not a problem.
  • Nobody was hired to run the rented sound system? Not a problem!

Inevitably there’s going to be things that go wrong and other challenges whenever you’re performing at an event. And as a professional entertainer you need to be able to deal with any difficulties that arise. What separates the amateurs from the professionals is being able to confidently deal with these problems and put the client’s mind at ease. Ideally the client shouldn’t even know that there were any challenges in the first place.

Sometimes these situations are going to be less than ideal, but with the proper knowledge, experience, and preparation I would say that almost all of these problems can be solved. You need to be able to anticipate these challenges by being prepared with additional props, routines, equipment, and knowledge.

I don’t think that there’s any way for me to teach someone how to be able to do this. It’s just something you’re going to have to figure out through experience. But what I can try to explain is that it’s all about a confident attitude you project to your client once you have the experience. I believe that after a while problems that an amateur would have at an event are invisible to the seasoned professional because it all becomes automatic and second nature. You’ll find that with experience you’ll be able to anticipate challenges that an event might have even before you arrive.

The truth is that the show itself is only a very small piece of the puzzle. By being low-maintenance in the eyes of the client it makes your services more desirable. You become a PLEASURE to work with when you can consistently over deliver on your promises to deliver a quality show. I believe that if you put in the hours, put in the work, the results will show. You’ll end up providing higher quality services to your clients so you can keep your schedule full year round. So get out there and perform, perform, perform because there’s no shortcut for experience.

Dealing with a Difficult Child Volunteer on Stage

comicPerforming for kids is always a unique experience, which can either be a really fun and rewarding or it can be a true test of your patience. Generally children’s shows have lots of audience participation so you’ll end up with all kinds of personality types on stage. Eventually you’ll end up with a kids on stage who just don’t want to behave properly.

I’ve found that these children raise their hand to volunteer to be on stage, but once they’re on stage they really don’t want to help. Sometimes they don’t follow directions intentionally because they’re ‘acting out’ or because they’re nervous, scared, or shy.

If this happens to me I always use the same line. I ask the child: “Do you still want to help? Or would you like to sit down?” You can deliver this line in either a friendly stage whisper if I suspect that the child is shy or nervous, or I can deliver the line loudly in a commanding way in front of the entire audience to demonstrate authority. In either case, one of two things will happen:

  1. The child will say “I want to sit down” or they’ll sit down without saying anything. At this point I can select someone else to come up on stage to finish the routine.
  2. Or; The child will want to stay on stage and at that point they’ve basically agreed to behave properly on stage.

In very rare cases the child will stay on stage but still act up. At that point the only thing you can do is cut the routine short if its something that’s modular, or get to the end as quick as possible so they can return to their seat.

The wonderful thing about this line is that from the audiences point of view, you’re giving the child a choice to either help out or sit down. Whenever I’ve had to use this line I’ve received comments from parents on how well I handled the situation. I hope this tip helps you out next time you’ve got a difficult child volunteer on stage with you.

If you’ve got any tips of your own, please leave them in the comments below. As always, don’t forget to ‘like’ and share this post with your other performer friends.

Late Night Conversation – Lecture at the 3 of Clubs Magic Convention

This past weekend I lectured at the 3 of Clubs Magic Convention in Coquitlam, BC Canada. In the talk I discussed my stage setup for shows, branding, marketing materials, advertising, newsletters, and evaluations. There were a few additional topics that I discussed live at the event that aren’t included in the below video. You’ll just have to attend in person if you want to hear everything!

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How to Stay Cool While Performing in the Summer Heat

Now that summer is in full swing you’re probably performing plenty of outdoor shows. Client’s looove to host events outside. Performing outside can be a very enjoyable experience for both you and the audience, but it can also be an extremely difficult without the proper preparation.

Here are 8 tips to help you stay cool while performing in the summer heat:

1. Avoidance

Unless the weather is absolutely perfect, usually you’re better off doing the show indoors. There will be less distractions for the audience, you’ll have more control over the performing environment, creating a better performance in the end. Once you explain this to the client you may be able to move the party indoors for your show.

Find out during the booking process if there’s an alternative plan for bad weather. Is the show going to happen rain or shine, will it be cancelled, or will it be moved to another location? Find out all of these details in advance so there aren’t any surprises on the day of the show.

2. Acceptance

If you have to perform outside find out if you can be in the shade somehow. Sometimes you might be able to perform under a tent, under a tree, or against the side of a building.

Keep in mind that even though YOU might have shade the audience won’t be. If you’re performing at a festival the stage might be covered but the next available shade space will be under trees that are far away. You can bet that the audience is going to stay under these trees instead of sitting close to your stage. This distance between you and the audience is going to kill your interaction and make your show more difficult. In these situations you might have to setup closer to the audience to get the rapport that you need for the show.

shade under the trees

[ Above: I had a tent to perform under at this show but the audience all sat under the shade of the tree’s. So I left my tent and walked closer to the audience for better interaction. ]

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