There is a paradox in performing magic as a solo gigging performer. It is all about you as an individual but it is also all about the audience. You have to present what only you can present, tricks that you have selected to suit your style in your own inimitable way, not copying anyone else. You have to be you and entirely you, not a facsimile of another performer. However, you also have to completely aware of those to whom you are performing and you have to tailor your material and presentation to suit them.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
I do not wear the same costume or use the same patter when I am performing a nursery school show that I do when I am strolling round a corporate drinks reception. Strangely enough, some of the magical effects will be the same, but they will be performed in very different ways. And yet, though the situations and performances are very different, I am still unmistakably me in both of them. It is all about me and yet it is all about the audience.
I have had great debates about this with professional speaking colleagues. I would argue that the audience are the most important people in the room and my colleague would say that the speaker is the most important. I have come to realise that we are both right. You have to be authentically yourself but you have to prepare and present with the audience in mind at all times.
As with magic and speaking, as with life and work in general.
No kicks from slick tricks
Who are you doing it for? Just as a magician works out which audiences could suit his or her style, you need to work out who you are going to target with whatever it is that you do. I realised a few years back that I am no longer (if I ever was!) able to compete in the expensive-suit-slick-smart-young-corporate-close-up magician market. For a while that bothered me as I had, in my head, been holding that up as the holy grail of magic work, the type of job to which I should aspire.
But then I realised a few things. I don’t really enjoy that kind of work anyway, on the occasions that I have done it. Also, I love doing the multi-generational-significant-birthday-and-wedding-anniversary type family events, I love doing open air shows at community events and I love doing kids parties. And I am really good at all of those things, if the repeat bookings are anything to go by. So why was I aiming at the wrong type of customer all those years? Since I realised all this I have been much happier and less stressed.
Find your audience
Think about your own life. Are you aiming for the right kind of customer, the ones that you can serve better than anyone else? They will be out there, and they may well not be the same customers as the ideal customers for your friends and colleagues. And that is OK.
Build up a picture in your mind of your ideal customer. Write down their characteristics. As with my magic business, you may have more than one type if you have offer different products. That is OK, create a profile for each one. This has been called creating an “avatar”. Whenever you are designing something for your business, be it website copy, graphics, publicity material, a speech, do it all with the appropriate avatar in mind and imagine that you are designing it just for them.
4 Replies to “Who’s Looking at You, Kid?”
Forgive me playing devils advocate:
You are an intelligent and charming man – but I’ve met some very boring people who do magic in a very boring way.
Shouldn’t they forget authenticity for moment and find an entertaining character to be?
I’m also a little tired of the illusion that magicians do thing their own way, as Steve Martin said ‘ Magic is the only skill you can buy’. As with everything that is good in this world it is imitated almost as soon as it is created, where there is a short-cut, people will take it and only the cognoscenti will appreciate the original for its true value.
Firstly, thank you, the feeling is mutual 🙂
You are quite right that people should find an entertaining character. But I feel that they should find their *own* entertaining character, not a copy of someone else’s.
I love that Steve Martin quote, I had not heard it before. But no-one would be able to perform magic in exactly the same way as Steve Martin, even if they were doing the same effects.
I think that authenticity for an entertainer does not mean that you have to be yourself when performing, but I think you have to be true to your entertaining persona, just like clowns talk of “finding your clown character” which will be unique to each individual.
You are also right about the cognoscenti, cheap imitations and off-the-shelf effects. It will always be possible for anyone to find someone who will clap or laugh at them, especially in today’s world of internet video, etc.
Steve Martin is wrong, you can’t buy magic skill, you can buy magic effects, that doesn’t mean you can perform them well, we’ve all seen great magical effects performed very badly. It takes a good deal of skill to perform them well.
I agree with John though, it takes skill to find your audience.
Nice looking dog too.
Thanks Carl on behalf of Layla, 7 month old cockerpoo 🙂