Over the years I’ve worked a good number of children’s parties. I suppose if I had my choice I’d rather work for adults only, but when you live in an area that’s comparatively low in population it’s often a case of taking what you can get. Besides, the magic I do for children is essentially the same as what I do for adults. I recall reading long ago that when working for children you can either go down to their level or expect them to come up to yours, and I’ve always found the latter approach works best for me.
It’s not my desire to discuss the pros and cons of working for children, however. I bring it up because, if you’re obliged to work children’s parties or not, out of necessity you often find yourself taking gigs which are anything but stimulating. Sometimes you ply your trade for lively and engaging audiences who offer great feedback, and sometimes you find yourself before folks who could care less. It’s ironic that the tough groups are often the most rewarding to work for because when you succeed in winning them over the feeling of accomplishment is immense.
Even when you have an ideal audience, it’s easy to get bored. When you’re first starting out and each performance is a challenge, there’s real excitement in what you’re doing. But after doing the same act hundreds of times it’s very easy to find yourself wishing you were doing anything else. That’s what I want to talk about.
I remember a Saturday some years ago when I had to do the same act multiple times in one afternoon. I think I was on the third repetition when it suddenly occurred to me that I was strictly on auto pilot. I mean I wasn’t putting anything of myself into what I was doing; I was delivering the lines and doing the effects strictly by rote. I realized I’d been gazing rather blankly through the people watching and was actually thinking about washing the car or something. Not good.
That moment had a real effect on me and helped to shape my philosophy when it comes to performing. You see what I realized was that I had been cheating. Here was a group of people who had paid me their hard earned money in return for a service, but instead of rendering that service to the best of my ability I was providing an imitation of it. I wasn’t really there, and not being there was incapable of giving my best.
What I came up with shortly thereafter was the approach to performing that’s served me well ever since. Simply put, I treat every performance, no matter the venue, no matter the audience, as if it were The Show.
What do I mean by The Show? Well, imagine if you were booked to do a show which was to be attended by those you admired and revered most, a show which would decide the rest of your life in magic, what caliber of magician you would forever be remembered as. In other words, the single most important show of your life. Would you go out and do it on auto pilot? Would you stare through the audience and think about watering the dog?
No, you would put everything you had into making it the best show you’d ever done. You’d diligently rehearse what you were going to do even if you’d done it a thousand times before. You’d look your best, sound your best, be the very best you could possibly be.
Treating performances in this way is a terrific motivator. You stop settling and start giving everything you have to insure that what you’re doing is going to be stellar. It’s really a kind of pledge to always put your best foot forward and not short either your audience or yourself.
Listen, it can’t be an abstract concept. You have to treat it with seriousness and really go out of your way to pretend that it’s so. But you know the best part? By treating every performance as The Show you’re always ready for the time when The Show is a reality. Because the truth is any performance you give has The Show potential. There might be a producer in the audience just looking for the next great TV magician, or an agent who’s able to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. You never know when opportunity is going to come knocking, and doesn’t it make sense to be at your best when it does?
Again, it’s a simple philosophy and one I feel has made a great deal of difference for me. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some practicing to do. That’s right, The Show is coming up. Catch you next time.