Have you ever received a standing ovation? It’s a great feeling to know that your performance so moved an audience. Did you know they are seldom accidental? A polished and prepared performer knows how to control an audience’s laughter and emotions. These performers know how to bring an audience to their feet. Understanding Stage Up-ers will give you tools to lead toward your next standing ovation. Up your stage presence and appeal with this educational and entertaining CD.
7 Reminders for Stage Up-ers
- Stand still.Too much movement on stage is viewed as nervousness and very irritating.
- Open up your body language. Present a welcoming and open character to the audience.
- Know the big three. Know your props, know your blocking (movements across the stage as well as prop movements), and know your script.
- Always remember it’s an act, not reality.
- Never embarrass audience helpers. Treat audience’s as you would like to be treated.
- Always give more than you get. Give more energy, more personality, and more friendliness.
- Things don’t always go the way you want or plan. Suck it up, deal with it, and move on.
TRACK 1 Introduction
“The modern magician is fundamentally an entertainer, and to be a successful entertainer he must please his audience. The magician is somewhat like a mirror on the stage reflecting back to his audience the things they want to see and hear. The style and method of presentation are as important as the magic and mysteries.” Those are the words of Harlan Tarbell from the Tarbell Course in Magic, volume 2. I highly encourage every variety artist to read the Tarbell course. You may skip the tricks but don’t miss the lessons on showmanship, routining, and proper stage presentation. That’s exactly the information we’ll be discussing.
Thank you for your interest in giving the best stage performance possible. That’s what you’re doing by listening to this CD. You’re saying, I want to know the little things that will help my act. My name is Barry Mitchell and I’ll do my best to explain those details that make us professional entertainers.
I call them stage uppers, as in Open Up, Show Up, Dress Up, etc. Uppers to up your act. As you listen you’ll be thrilled as you hear me explain the things you’re already doing. Congratulations! You’re well on your way. During our time together on this CD you’ll be challenged to make improvements in what you’re doing in order to become your best. You might even want to kick yourself for missing some details that become obvious as you listen. But don’t bother kicking yourself. You’re on the right path now, the one that leads to learning and improving.
You’ll also hear Challenge Uppers. These will be short notes and ideas to inspire and challenge you as we progress toward our best stage presence and appeal.
Several years ago the media ran a story about a very well paid businessman. It was mathematically determined that his time was so valuable that it would cost him money to stop and bend over to pick up a $100 bill. My first thought was, “How could someone make that much money?” My second thought was, “If he’s smart enough to earn that kind of money he’ll be smart enough to pick up a free 100.”
As a performer there is a 100 lying at your feet. Your ego may be saying it’s not worth your time to pick it up. You’re now facing an opportunity to balance your ego with reality and make an easy 100. Or walk away with your ego in tact. What will you do? The following information may challenge your ego while improving your act. Are you ready to move ahead and up your stage presence? Here we go.
TRACK 2 Open Up
The importance of a strong opening
Ladies and gents come close and I’ll tell you the story as only I can.
Or miracle medications to make the most of any man.
A varied selection to solve your miserable ills.
From wizard oil to cough syrup to liver pills.
Salves and notions, remedies and herbs, that only I can bring.
As your humble servant and reliever of pain.
Now friends we don’t advertise on bill boards or street cars.
And you won’t find this served in your neighborhood bars.
I stand before you as an advertising representative.
Not here to take, only to give.
I just can’t count how many lives I’ve saved.
From tiny tots to those with one foot in the grave.
If you have any of the better known aches and pains.
Suffer from rehumatisim, artheritis, or stiffness when it rains?
Stay and listen to what I have to say.
My magicial elixiars will help you on your way.
So grab a chair or stand anywhere you would.
Ladies and gentlemen, I AM doctor Freddie Feelgood.
Now that’s an entertainer. When you stand in front of people what is it that makes them want to listen and watch? Why do some people have it and some really need it? That something is called stage presence. No matter what group you stand before you’ll be judged, subconsciously, by your presence.
Some consider stage presence to be a gift or talent. But it can also be taught. We’re going to discuss some of the Up-ers that will help improve your stage appeal.
TRACK 3 Open strong or die fast.
You don’t have to be a medicine man to have a strong opening. A strong opening must be planned and written in advance. Your opening will be determined by your act. A children’s magician and an illusionist may use different props on stage but their opening will be similar. Both will say or do something to GRAB the audience’s attention and hopefully hold it throughout the show. Those first few seconds on stage will set the pace for the entire show. Remember a strong opening is PLANNED. The old rule about planning applies well to an entertainer’s opening. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
TRACK 4 Climbing the show mountain
As you plan your opening be aware of the entire content of your show. Think of the show as a mountain hike. It’s going to be a long hike so let’s stretch a little before heading up the mountain. As a performer your stretch is your audience warm up. A children’s entertainer always begins with a warm opening that introduces the performer and his or her talent. This is also the perfect time to establish some rules for the kids behavior.
In my personal experience I like to cover the rules early when working with children. My school shows always open with a poem of rules. The rhythm and rhyme of the poem grabs the kid’s attention. The humorous wording of the rules explains my expectations for their behavior. Within less than a minute I have fulfilled my primary opening goals when working with elementary age children. Now it was time to give them a show.
Here’s my opening poem as an example.
Good morning and welcome to the show.
There are some important rules to keep everything just so.
Pay close attention and lend me your ear.
The rules are very simple and quite clear.
Rule number one stay in your seat.
It’s very annoying to see roaming feet.
Rule number two, put on a happy face.
Remember you could always be some other place.
Rule number three, watch and listen with all your might.
It’s much more enjoyable when everyone is quiet.
Looking sharp and being attentive is really the key.
To give everyone a great time, both you and me.
Some of you in this audience today.
Will be a part of the show in some special way.
I choose only helpers who follow the rules.
I overlook those who act uncool.
With all that said, let’s start the magic.
Here comes my first clever little gadget.
Here’s another way I cover the rules in children’s programs.
Good afternoon I’m Mr. Barry and I’m a magician. Do you like magic? Excellent! Would you like to help me in the show? Great. Put your hands down and I’ll tell you who I’ll be looking for as helpers. I choose helpers who are sitting up straight with a big smile. I only choose helpers who keep their bottom on their seat. When I ask for helpers I’ll look for raised hands. However, I don’t choose monkeys. Monkey are those who raise their hand and go oh, oh, oh, pick me, pick me. Our show will have some funny stuff, that’s when we laugh. Our show will have some silly stuff, we can laugh at that too. Our show will have some amazing stuff, that’s when we’ll say Oh – Ah. Let’s practice the Oh – Ah. That’s great, I think we’re ready, let’s see some magic.
TRACK 5 Each Performer is unique
Not all performers need to open with rules. An illusionist might open with upbeat music and a voice over. A comic magician might open with a humorous pre-recorded introduction. Some performers even use video footage to warm up the audience.
With the stretch behind you it’s time to put on your pack and take that first exciting and energetic step up the mountain. This is your first opening effect or story. This should be a strong one. However, not too strong. Your show should be similar to that mountain climb. As you move through the show the level of energy rises toward the top of the mountain. If you begin with your biggest ta-dah then you have no where to go but down. That’s not good mountain climbing or good show business.
You are traveling through your show toward the mountain top. The top is the point in the show that you want the audience to remember. It’s the apex of the show that everyone has been waiting for. For an illusionist it might be the signature effect that was advertised all over the posters. For an educational children’s magician it might be the point when all the small messages form into one overall program lesson. For a motivational speaker it might be the emotional story that creates an unforgettable memory in the minds of the audience. This is the mountain top. If you don’t have a mountain top written into your show then you’re probably thinking, “Wow, I should do that.” Yes, you should. A good show is like a good story or movie. It has ups and downs but it leads toward a climax or resolution.
George M. Cohan is credited with saying, “A play has three acts. First act, get the hero up a tree. Second act, throw rocks at him. Third act, get the hero out of the tree.” I love simple thinking and that is simple. We’re heading up that mountain throughout the show. The audience is building anticipation. Will he make it or fall on his face? Let’s keep climbing.
Once we reach the mountain top it’s time for a calm walk back down. This could be the point in the show where we leave a nice heart tug with the audience. I prefer to leave the audience with an emotional ending. Illusionists often end with a rapid fire of illusions and dance numbers to generate that standing ovation. Because I’ve worked in professional tourist theater for several years I know that theater shows always end with a patrotic number and the reveal of the largest flag the show can find. The theory is simple. If the show itself doesn’t bring the people to their feet maybe the flag and patriotism will. Children’s entertainers will either aim for an educational closing or a magic memory maker. My personality aims for the educational message simply because experience has taught me that teachers want to see that style of closing. And teachers are the ones who will hopefully get me hired again. But not just teachers, parents also like those little stories of positive virtues mixed into the show.
TRACK 6 Evaluate your opening
Because this CD may be encouraging to a variety of entertainers it’s impossible to give specifics for a great opening. However, here are some simple questions to help evaluate the show content.
- Does the warm up prepare the audience enthusiastically for the show?
- Does the opening grab the audience’s attention and appear to hold that attention during the first routine?
- Does the show appear to build in audience approval?
- Does the closing bring the audience to their feet either physically, as a standing ovation, or mentally, as a challenge or encouragement moment? I should also add enthusiastically for children’s audiences.
Answers to these evaluation questions will determine the quality of your entertainment. However, you, the performer, won’t be able to evaluate this from the stage. You’ll need a trusted friend to watch the audience responses and take notes. Or video the show with one cameral on you and one camera on the audience. You can match up the audience response with your work to see where improvement can be made. Some performers audio tape their show and listen to the audience responses. This is important but I feel watching the audience body language as well will offer a gold mine of information.
An audio tape might reveal applause after a routine leading you to believe the routine worked well. However, the body language during the applause may reveal the audience was just being polite. No one wants sympathy applause.
TRACK 7 Taking Notes
I had the honor of watching one of my friends, Tim Sonefelt’s, magic shows. I sit near the back of the room and watched and listened to the audience response. Beside me was the person who hired Tim. Throughout the show she would make comments like, “Nice music,” or “That’s funny!” I wrote down every word she said. Here’s the logic, if someone gives a verbal response during a show it is an honest response. It meant Tim had made a great music choice that inspired the audience. It meant that Tim had some clever humor that kept the audience’s attention.
The same logic applies to negative comments as well. What if the lady had said, “Oh, he chose the wrong person for that.” That statement could mean the helper was uncooperative but it could also reflect on the performer’s ability to control the audience. Every moment in a show is important if you’re striving for your best.
Let’s say you’ve evaluated your show in one of the ways discussed. You’ve determined the audience response is not where it should be. Let’s also say that you know the material is great because you bought the script and props from a world famous entertainer. If this is the case there are only two options remaining to explain the poor response. 1. It may be that the script you’ve bought works for some personalities but not your own. 2. It might be you. Now we’re getting somewhere. If the problem is you then it’s most likely a stage presence issue that can be solved.
From opening to closing a professional show is a scripted, planned, and organized unit with one purpose, entertain them. There are several details that will improve our ability to entertain. It’s time to start learning those details.
GRAB the audience’s attention and hopefully hold it throughout the show. Those first few seconds on stage will set the pace for the entire show. Remember a strong opening is PLANNED. The old rule about planning applies well to an entertainer’s opening. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
TRACK 8 Act Up It’s an act, not reality TV
Have you ever patted someone on the back before they stepped on stage and said, “Just be yourself?” Don’t do it again, that’s terrible advice. If I wanted to be myself I would be sitting at home in front of the tv in my underwear. Not a pretty picture. And not something an audience wants to see. If an audience wanted to see the real me they wouldn’t be paying me. The audience is paying to see a character. They want to see that character the moment you step on stage. One might say the audience is laying in wait for us to reveal our character. Don’t disappoint them.
TRACK 9 A Cast of Characters in every individual
Welcome to the academy awards, we’re all actors. Whether we admit it or not we all portray a variety of characters throughout each day. We act differently around our boss than we do our spouse. I like to joke that if you’re married you’re an actor. You know you had to put on an act to get that woman to like you. If you’re divorced she either saw through the act or met a better actor.
The key to a good stage presence is to know your character before you step on stage. Think about some memorable characters in entertainment history. Jack Benny, Gomer Pyle, Barney Fife, Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis Jr. and David Copperfield. Each of these names evoke a memory of a character unless you’re too young to recognize any of the names. Yes, David Copperfield is a character as well. He’s an actor playing the role of an illusionist.
The sooner you recognize you’re an actor and not yourself on stage the quicker you will increase your stage presence.
TRACK 10 Being a character off stage
As family entertainers who seek repeat business we should also consider our character off stage. The show begins when we speak with the client on the phone and continues until we drive away from the show. The client is expecting an entertainer, not a grumpy premadona. However, many entertainers neglect to present a pleasing and friendly character when they meet the client. We can be grumpy again when we get in the car but assume a nice guy role when we meet the client. Entertainment buyers see enough disfunctional people in the media and they are hoping we’re not in that group. Set their mind at ease with a smile.
You may be wondering how I know magicians act this way? It’s simple, my clients tell me. When I walk in and give a friendly greeting and take the opportunity to become a friend the clients open up and reveal a variety of secrets. Without my asking they tell me about past performers and their unfriendly and demanding ways. Don’t worry, they seldom give me names because the names are forgotten like bad memories. Don’t leave a bad impression with clients. Even if you’re not a friendly person in real life, just act that way for a few hours. It can be done.
One note about making friends with clients. If possible I encourage it. However, some people just don’t want to be friends with entertainers, or maybe anyone. It’s okay, just be polite and leave them alone, they will like you more for not pressuring them. And now back to the stage.
TRACK 11 Get a handle on your impulses.
All movement begins with an impulse. This impulse, or surge of energy, begins in the solar plexus. The solar plexus is the part of the body that attracts the most sunlight. No, I’m kidding. The solar plexus is located in the upper abdominal region of the body.
Imagine a handle running through your upper ab section with part sticking out the front and part sticking out the back. If you impulse forward someone is pulling the handle forward. Or the handle is pulled backward when you impulse backward. The handles may impulse you up or down as well. Imagine that air may be pumped into the body through these handles. The body will expand or contract. Expansion will open up the body and contraction will close the body inward.
A forward impulse implies eagerness, forcefulness, or pleasure.
A backward impulse implies fear, repulsion, or discomfort facing an issue.
An upward impulse implies happiness, strength, or control.
A downward impulse implies defeat, sadness, or exhaustion.
An expansion implies comfort and acceptance.
A contraction implies discomfort and a pulling away from things we don’t like.
Our impulses reveal a portion of our body language. Controlling our body language on stage will keep the audience focused and therefore increase our stage presence. We’ll discuss the importance of understanding these movements when we discuss body language.
The theory of impulses is not a recognizable idea taught in most drama classes. My college professor, Dr. John Welton, created this idea to better explain stage body language. Many thanks to Dr. Welton for his help preparing this CD.
TRACK 12 Blocking isn’t just for football
One of the biggest mistakes made by beginning and unaware entertainers is to fail to block the show. Blocking refers to the entertainer’s positions on stage, the path we walk from one position to another, and the way we face or turn away from the audience. Blocking is all our movement on stage. For our purposes we’ll also say that blocking includes the positions of our props on stage. Since our props have everything to do with our performances it’s important to plan our blocking around those props.
A performer’s blocking may go unnoticed by the audience, as it should be, or it becomes a distraction. When unplanned stage blocking takes away from a performer’s stage presence. Poor blocking sends a subconscious signal to the audience that the performer is uncomfortable and most likely an amateur. Since we don’t appear to know where to go we give the impression that we also don’t know what we’re doing. This impression is correct. If the show hasn’t been blocked to be efficient and focused for the best possible entertainment then, we really don’t know what we’re doing. BUT, now you know. Block it.
Unless my character is a bumbling drunk I should have the show blocked in advance. Even if my character is a bumbling drunk the show should be blocked. That means every stage show should be blocked or the act may appear to be that of a bumbling drunk.
Most beginner performers have no idea of the importance of mapping a show. Having a plan will dramatically improve the act. Think of blocking as a road map to the show. At the starting point we enter the stage from stage right. Stage right refers to the right side of the stage from the performer’s perspective when facing the audience.
The road map guides us to center stage for an opening effect. As props are used our hand easily lays them on the pre-positioned table just behind you on stage. Following the opening you move to a small table stage left and begin a second routine. The props for that routine are on the table. The next effect uses an audience helper. You will exit the stage on the stairs stage left to begin the search. Before the show you scanned the audience for a smiling face that would be perfect on stage.
The previous example should make it clear that a professional show is planned to every detail. This detailed blocking plan is completely unseen by the audience, therefore, allowing the show to be a seem-less suspension of believe and worth every penny they’re paying. An unblocked bumbling performer disrupts the audience’s focus and allows them to wonder why they believed the advertisement and hired you.
TRACK 13 Blocking is planned, not mechanical
Blocking is planned and methodical but it doesn’t have to be mechanical. Moving from one location to another like a robot is also a distraction to the audience. You may laugh and think, “Who would do that?” Many performers make this classic mistake. Timing makes all the difference as to how the program will appear.
Here’s an audio example of a joke with proper timing.
What does a snail say when riding on the back of a turtle? Whee! Now the same joke with poor timing. What does a snail say when riding on the back of a turtle? Whee! The move from set up to punch line was too fast. The audience doesn’t have time to create a visual image of the joke. They are, therefore, distracted from the correct laughter response. The same is true of mechanical blocking. It distracts more than benefits.
Another important blocking point is to avoid turning your back on the audience. Unless you’re Jennifer Lopez it’s probably not your best side. This rule means find a way to locate your props without turning and bending to reach them.
Controlling the audience and having helpers face forward is also dramatically important. I use small carpet squares with footprints painted on them. These footprints allow children to know where to stand and which direction to face. They really work, allowing the audience to see all the most important smiles of the helpers. They work just as well for adults. Since audience facial reactions are contagious like laughter we want them seen. Proper blocking is the answer. Remember, blocking isn’t just for dummies, it prevents you from looking like one.
TRACK 14 The Music of your character
Did you ever stop to consider the implied music behind your stage character? Consider how movies use music to help tell the story of the action? Words, body language, actions, and music combine to tell the story. Remove any element and the story becomes more difficult to express. Movie music is designed to help tell the story. However, the music of your character is the mental music created by your character. One might think of it as the implied music playing in the audience’s heads as we perform.
Think of well known television characters like Barney Fife from the Andy Griffin show. Barney’s character music would be upbeat, exciting, and humorous. When I think of Barney I think of Henry Manceni’s Elephant Walk on steroids. It’s filled with childlike wonder, warmth, and humor, just like Barney.
Let’s consider Robin Williams. His music would definitely be high energy. How about Donald Trump? His music is definitely the money song from his Apprentice show. They really pegged him with that one.
How about you? Is your music upbeat and inviting. Naturally, if you’re a mentalist your character probably won’t be high energy, unless you’ve developed a very unique act. But children’s entertainers should be exciting. Allow me to backtrack and remind you I’m not speaking of actual music playing during our shows. I speak of the mental music created in the audience’s mind when we’re on stage.
So what goes into the creation of our music? Consider tempo, how fast your character speaks and moves. Consider the patterns of speech and movement, tight, flowing, grand? Consider the “score,” is it flat or widely varied with great movement and vocal ranges? My drama professor, who just happened to work his way through college as a magician, Dr. John Welton, describes it this way.
“The mentalist probably tends to have a more flowing, quiet, tempo and score than does the children’s performer. David Copperfield has a very calm, quiet approach to the music of his character. Some other illusionists may use flashy, high speed movement and delivery. Copperfield’s music is more like a quiet symphony than like the jazzy or hard rock approach of some other performers. Chris Angel is an interesting mixture of both in that he is a very quiet, easy going performer, but at the same time his illusions are upbeat and flashy. It makes an interesting combination that keeps the viewer fascinated.”
Picture in your mind the most boring and dull speaker you’ve ever heard. What was his music like? It was dull and boring. But what was his topic? Did his dull tone match the value of his topic or could he have developed better character music?
Think about the music of your character throughout your act. It will change back and forth between routines the same as movie music changes to fit the scene. Considering the music of your character is just one more way to better understand who you are on stage. The more you know about your stage character, the more you can improve it.
TRACK 15 Look Up, Face Up, Dress Up, and Speak Up
Body language, appearance, & voice
The two ways an audience reads a performer: What they see and what they hear
Well over 75% of all communication is through body language. Try this experiment, mute the volume on the TV and watch a program. You’ll be surprised how much you understand about the plot from the actor’s body language. Try the same experiment watching a video of your own act. Does your body language match your entertainment intentions or are you sending mixed signals. As we understand more about body language we often discover that most of us send mixed signals. Our words say one thing while our lack of confidence may reveal the opposite through our body.
Words are said to be sharper than a two edged sword. But they are dull in comparison to what we see. Our actions and body language will always speak louder than words from the stage.
TRACK 16 Body language and the secret agent
We are talkative beings. Even when we have our mouth shut. Our body says what we really feel even when our lips are lying. But how does a secret agent spy conceal his body language and maintain his cover? He learns to control all the aspects of his language. He becomes an actor. So do we when we step on the stage. Learning the language of movement will improve our act.
TRACK 17 Face Up
The body language of the man on the street
Here’s another interesting experiment you can try to learn more about body language. Walk down the street and attempt to make eye contact with those who pass by. Be prepared to offer a smile and nod. Take note that some will walk past you as if you’re invisible. Their body language may be saying, “I’m more important than you, I have stuff on my mind, or I’m not a friendly person.”
Some will be looking your way as they approach and then look down or away as they get closer. This person may have low self-esteem, fear giving the wrong impression, not be in the mood to say hello, or just not be a friendly person. Try saying Good Morning or afternoon to this person and watch how they respond. It may be shock, surprise, outrage, or warmth. I don’t recommend this exercise on a busy New York city street. Others may offer a friendly nod and warm smile. If I am watching an entertainer that is the body language I want to see, a nod and warm smile.
As you become more observant of body language you’ll discover a better ability to choose perfect audience helpers. We’re all observant of body language but for most it’s subconscious. As a performer it should be a conscious effort. As we begin to notice the language of others we’ll be able to notice our own.
TRACK 18 What are we saying from the stage?
Appealing stage presence is primarily about body language. When a performer figits or paces back and forth on stage he is nervous. He has a lack of confidence and it shows. An appealing performer stands still, doesn’t sway, and has purposeful stage movement. This planting of the feet, as I like to call it, shows confidence. Audiences are drawn to confidence.
A performer with hands in pockets, head down, or a contracted body impulse also reveals lack of confidence, insecurity, and fear. Head up eye contact with the audience and open arms exposes confidence and warmth.
A shaky body part such as a tapping foot or figiting fingers reveals an attempt to control nervousness. However, the nervousness is leaking out through these appendages. A self-assured performer doesn’t leak.
A fast talking performer is nervous. I started performing professionally, for money, when I was 16. My mom used to say, “You talk too fast.” Although I knew she was correct I wasn’t doing enough shows to work through my nervousness. And I wasn’t practicing the important stuff like my script near as much as I did the props. Yes, I loved to practice my props, but my words were left to happen live at each show. It took years for me to get to the level of “actor” playing the part of a magician. This helped to slow down my pace. As my pace and timing improved so did the laughs in my show. I like to say the three rules to make a living in comedy are 1. timing, 2. timing, and 3. a spouse with a real job. Bet you thought I was going to say timing again. Nope, it isn’t a joke if the ending isn’t a surprise.
TRACK 19 The unseen, but nevertheless, real energy of the audience
A performer is an energy director. Energy begins with the audience. They anticipate entertainment and a memory making show. Whether it’s a birthday party or a rock band in a concert hall the audience’s expectation is the same.
The performer chooses where to direct the audience’s energy. An illusionist might direct the energy to a stage prop. A comedian might direct the energy inwardly toward himself. We see ourselves in him and his funny views of life. An audience interactive performer such as a children’s entertainer or clown may play ping-pong with the energy back and forth. A comedian such as Jerry Seinfeld may direct the energy to the head with a more intellectual humor. A storyteller will direct the audience to walk hand in hand and see the story in their mind’s eye. The classic character, Barney Fife of Mayberry, stirred the energy with his nervous and excited personality.
Your character will determine where you direct the energy. Naturally the flow of energy will change from one to another throughout the show. An illusionist is in danger of overloading the audience if everything in the show is one big box after another. Without time to reveal a character’s personality an enjoyable stage presence cannot be developed.
Your character will determine everything about how you direct the energy from the audience. Posture and body language are also determined by our character. Allow me to go back to the idea of those handles in our solar plexus. As we think of body language imagine how our body’s impulses communicate. As air is removed from the imaginary handles we contract. This contraction signals our desire to be closed off from others. The opposite is the case for an expansion. You appear welcoming.
Picture in your mind the simple act of the final bow. One actor contracts inward, lowers his handles and bows with humility and appreciation. Another might raise his handles, pulling forward, and expand his arms showing confidence and pride for his performance. Circus performers are often taught to expand their arms, turn palms up, and look up with a smile of confidence. This is another example of confidence and showmanship. An audience enjoys rewarding applause to a confident entertainer with a strong performance. However, a poor performer with a confident bow sends a mixed signal and makes the audience uncomfortable. They must be thinking, “Doesn’t he know he stinks.”
If all this seems like a lot of heady thought for something as simple as a show then you may need to lower your fame aspirations. Show business is a business and there are details involved in running a successful business. If you can picture the solar plexus handles we spoke of you will be able to visualize how you communicate on stage. Review your show. How does your blocking improve or distract from your entertainment goals? How does your present body language match with your patter? How can you use this understanding of basic acting to improve your show?
TRACK 20 Test your body language perception
Unless we consciously watch the body language of others we often miss hidden messages. Our subconscious receives those messages and makes appropriate judgments. However, our conscious memory may not know why we made certain judgments. I realize all that sounds confusing so allow me to clear it up with a test.
There are several choices for the evening news. This evening I want you to watch Lou Dobbs on CNN. In particular watch his facial expressions. He is one of the most expressive media spokespersons. Watch how he rolls his eyes or shrugs his shoulders after a segment. Notice how his words may say one message but his facial expressions sometimes say the opposite.
Evaluate if he is reporting the news or expressing personal opinions or a little of both. Try the same experiment with other media personalities. However, I think you’ll agree Mr. Dobbs may be the most expressive.
After the test determine how you use facial expression in your program. Do your words match your face?
I was recently working with a magician’s assistant to help him be more expressive on stage. I offered an example of something for him to try. He tried it several times but each time his head was down and his body language didn’t match his actions. His excuse was, “It’s just not me.” I explained that it’s not supposed to be him. He’s an actor playing a role. He’s supposed to step aside from the real him and be the character. The biggest mistake we make as performers is to forget we’re actors. As long as we try to do the work as ourselves we’ll always be working against the fear of rejection and embarrassment. When we become the character our body language will match.
On the subject of character development allow me to make a point about casting. I just said you’re not playing the real you but you’re acting as a character. However, that doesn’t mean the character you’re attempting to portray is properly cast.
Many years ago, I was in my 20s, I did a show with a couple other magicians. I did my comic magic act and it brought the house down. It was a very small house. After the show I was riding high. We booked the show again the following year. Since my comic act was successful I decided to go back into my childhood and pull out my old cane and candle act.
I practiced the act and had it really polished. I completely changed my character from comic magician to polished magician. I was wearing a nice black tux and top hat. I walked out on stage with music playing. I waved a scarf, which was about to change into an appearing cane. Not the plastic cane, one of the really nice metal canes. Following the cane production I had staged a nice twirl and toss to the other hand and I would strike a pose. That would be followed by a candle act and more polished magic. At least that’s what was supposed to happen.
So I walked out waved the scarf and the cane shot out of my hand like a rocket heading for the audience. The audience laughed and I was immediately faced with a choice. I could accept the embarrassment of the moment and try to pull the audience back into my act or I could make a goofy gesture and pretend it was planned. I went for the goofy gesture. I continued the act messing up as much as I could in funny ways. Following the show I sold my cane and candles to another magician who was better cast with polished magic. The lesson I learned was that even though I COULD walk out there and act like a classic magician I wasn’t really properly cast for that role. The same is true for you. Yes, you can act in any part you choose but be sure to choose a character that is best cast for your style, personality, and body type.
TRACK 21 Dress Up The silent salesman
The audience sees your appearance before you speak a word or even offer a smile. The audience begins to judge your act based on your appearance. I’ve often wondered how beginning entertainers can be so focused on their sound system and props and then wear jeans and a t-shirt. Or worse, wear an out of date tux with a ruffled blue shirt to a breakfast show. What are we thinking? With one exception, it is just wrong to wear the wrong costume on stage. The exception would be if it is your character. If your character is a bumbling idiot magician from the 70s then, by all means, wear a light blue tux with ruffled shirt. But if that ain’t you, don’t do it.
I must remind myself of these dress standards at times when I get lazy and perform a kid’s show in my jeans. Yes, I’m guilty of forgetting the important stuff too. Lest we forget, here come the judge, here come the judge, and it’s the audience.
I should also mention that new generation performers are breaking many of the old rules that I grew up with. David Blaine seems to make it okay to perform magic in a t-shirt. However, take a closer look at his character and his surroundings. A well-tailored suit just wouldn’t work when doing card tricks on the street. It’s all about a balance between your character, good taste, and professionalism.
TRACK 22 Dress Up on location
If you’re a polyester performer you may think this won’t apply to you. But it does. No matter how wrinkle free your costume may be don’t wear it in the car. Keep it pressed and neat until just before the show. When I worked in theater we would walk around the dressing room in our underpants until the last moment. I don’t recommend wearing your skivies in front of the client while setting the show. Unless you’re in a different kind of entertainment. But I do recommend giving your best. your best show, best costume, and best appearance.
TRACK 23 We’re still in control
I’m about to touch on a subject that may offend some. But if you know me personally you know that has never stopped me before. Nothing on this CD is said with a purpose to be judgmental or insensitive. However, ALL performers need to understand a simple fact. Although words may not be spoken audiences JUDGE us.
As we’ve discussed before, the second you step on the stage the jury is in. But don’t take it personally it’s our own fault. We chose to step on the stage. Therefore, with all honesty I say that we are judged on our physical body as well as our costume and talent. Yep, them’s the facts. Nope, it ain’t fair, but it’s still a fact.
I happen to be on the large side myself, extra large that is. I’m well aware of my body type and the role it plays in my career. It’s a good thing I’m a comedian. A comic can get away with a little more weight. But an illusionist is expected to be trim and fit. When was the last time you saw an overweight illusionist with a TV show? It just doesn’t fit the audience’s preconceived stereotype. It’s a little like going to a Hooters restaurant to eat chicken wings. That’s not the preconceived agenda. Not that a fat boy can’t pull off an illusion show and not that the wings aren’t tasty. It’s just not what’s in the audience’s mind.
So what can you do if you’re unattractively proportioned like myself? Choice one, get a desk job and give up the entertainment career. Choice two, remember you’re still in control of your body shape. We can choose to exercise and make diet improvements. It really has to do with discipline. The same discipline that we put into our show content can be applied to our body image. But wait, when we’re working on our show it isn’t discipline, it’s passion. When we’re working on our diet, it’s discipline. I know and I hate it too but, once again, them’s the facts.
Here’s what I know. My body image isn’t perfect but it could be much worse. I have a tendency to enjoy food too much, eat late, and blow off exercise. So what keeps me in the gym on a regular basis? The answer is, it’s my job. I consider it part of my work to head for the gym each morning. Even when I’m on the road I find a gym. On average I pay about $10 a day at a gym while on the road. I only use the motel fitness room if nothing else is available.
Here is my thinking on the subject. When I’m home I need to be up and out the door for the gym before my mind is awake enough to know what I’m doing. On the road the most difficult decision I’ll make all day is to say no thank you to the cinnamon roll at the Holiday Inn. If I’m on the road and I pay $10 to a gym you can bet I’m going to stay long enough to get my $10 worth. IT IS my job to exercise, otherwise I would be bigger than I am now, and that’s not a pretty sight.
My personal story and choices are meant to be an encouragement to you. We’re still in control of our diet and exercise choices. That means we can still make improvements in our body image. It’s never too late to improve.
TRACK 24 Dress Up the stage
Your stage reveals volumes of information to the audience as well. Dress your act and avoid clutter on the stage. Have a place for everything and a reason for why it’s there. These advance decisions go back to the need for blocking. Your physical movement from one prop to the next should be minimal. Map out the stage the way you would a vacation destination. An 8 foot table with a row of props is appropriate for a magic club lecture but it looks like a raffle at a show. No one wants to be called the “Discount Magician.” A cluttered stage sends a bad signal to the audience.
But what if your show uses lots of props? Good question. Then pull a little time away from your purchase and practice of props to do some planning. I like to say that a successful magic career is like the professor’s nightmare rope trick. Three unequal ropes become equal. A successful entertainer places an equal amount of effort into planning, promotion, and practice, also known as playing with our props. An unsuccessful entertainer puts a very small amount of attention on planning, just a little more attention on promotion, and a great deal of time into playing.
It’s the planning that will take you further in your career or hobby. Planning works in every vocation. Plan your show, plan your advertising calendar, plan your costume, plan your blocking, and plan for your standing ovation. But always remember that planning pays off in the end.
TRACK 25 Challenge Up
We must continually evaluate the value of all of our efforts OR the results from our lack of effort.
TRACK 26 Pose Up A memorable act is a series of still poses
My knowledge about stage presence has come from personal observance of others better than me and personal coaching from others better than me. That means everything I share comes from someone better than I. Hopefully, that will boost your confidence in this material.
In 1997 I was the opening act for some Grand Ole Opry stars. Dr. Jerry Burgess, a magician from KY, came to see the show. We did dinner after the show and discussed my act. Without realizing it, he gave me a compliment and a nugget of wisdom all in one. He said, “What makes your act so enjoyable is that you strike still poses throughout. Those poses become photographic memories in the audience’s mind.” Since that moment I’ve given extensive thought to the way I pose throughout the show. I look for places in the act where I can make a funny pose and scratch that memory on the audience.
Striking those poses does more than create memories for the audience. They also slow the performer’s pace diminishing the look of nervousness. They are also a form of blocking. As you block your show be sure to script in exactly where you will strike a pose.
TRACT 27 Challenge Up
If you use helpers on stage with funny props or hats ask everyone to skrike a pose. Then look at the audience and say, “This would be a photo opportunity.”
TRACK 28 Speak Up Projection isn’t just for big screens
Have you ever wondered why today’s Hollywood cartoon movies have top name stars doing the voices? Part of the answer is simply because their names and publicity help to sell tickets. But I think the important reason is because an actor knows how to control his/her voice. They are able to project the character through their voices and not just read the lines. Since the actors are unable to use their facial expression and body language they are forced to put all they have into their voices.
As stage entertainers we should remember that our voice quality is vital to a good show. We are responsible to project our voice, meaning to say our words with strength as if speaking to the back of the room. We should articulate, meaning say our words correctly and clearly with appropriate emphasis on syllables. When our words are articulated they don’t sound like mush to the audience. Our voice tone can be used as an effective tool to control or set a mood for the audience. And finally, speaking with proper grammar is a must. Unless it’s part of your act and it’s scripted. But even a country hick with poor grammar needs to articulate and project.
TRACK 29 If they don’t hear you, they won’t listen
Unless you’re doing close up at a table of four you probably need a PA system. I used to think if there are only 50 people in the room I won’t need a sound system. I figured I could project to that small group. I certainly can but if I’m screaming the entire show I lose the ability to control a mood by lowering my voice. I also lose all the little funny lines that happen just after a big laugh. The simple fact is, we need sound amplification, even if we don’t think we do.
In some cases the person you’ll need to convince of that is the show buyer. Be specific when ordering with a client booking you for a hotel banquet facility. The hotel may be setting up a podium mic which will be useless to you. Your customer will need to prearrange with the hotel for the mic you want. And they will most likely have to pay extra rental for that. This is why you need to be specific. If you get to the show and the mic isn’t there, there’s a very high probability that the hotel will not be able to get you one at the last minute. If you’re depending on them be specific, otherwise bring your own sound system.
TRACK 30 Nerve Up
If confidence is one of the greatest aspects of appealing stage presence then why do so many famous actors have a low self-image and fear of rejection? The simple answer is, “That’s why they’re considered excellent actors, they cover it up.” But there must be some skill or habit that helps them nerve up when stepping on stage. There is a habit, it’s called rehersal. I have discussed this throughout the CD so I’m sure you’re getting the point. If we know our stuff before we step on stage we’ll be able to nerve up as well.
The most terrifying show I ever did was the first time I walked into the arena at the Dixie Stampede. One thousand people were about to watch me do several things I had never done before. I had never projected my voice in the way I was asked to do in the show. I had never memorized lines the way I was about to do. I had never stood in front of 1000 people. But none of that was really true. I had performed for years in front of smaller groups so I knew I could do it. I had been in rehersal for a week and I had said all those lines before with the correct projection. And the management wouldn’t allow me to step into a multi-million dollar production if they didn’t believe I was prepared. That’s what I was, prepared. I was able to nerve up and act confident because of the 5 Ps. Prior preparation prevents poor performance.
Following four years of walking in that arena over and over I never even thought about what I was doing. It was so well engraved on my memory that the confidence was no longer fake. That confidence then carried over to the next show and the next. When I open new shows today I still feel that nervous lack of confidence in the beginning. But there’s also a depth of confidence and experience that I draw from to push me past that first show.
Nothing will build your confidence more than good experience. And nothing gives good experience more than preparation before the show. It’s all about the 5 Ps. One more note, bad experience is also a great teacher. The game of self-confidence is just like a race. Everyone falls at times but winners always get up and start running again.
TRACK 31 Positive Up
Have you ever seen an advertisement that read, “Don’t read this?” Did you read it? Of course you did? Was it human nature that moved your focus or could it have been something else?
I suggest that it may be the number of positive and negative influences. In the simple sentence, “Don’t read this, “ there is one negative word, one positive, and one descriptive. “Don’t” is negative. “Read” is positive. “This” describes where we will “read,” or do the positive action. I believe the two positively focused words trump the one negative and “we read.” I also believe for many listeners this will all seem like a bunch of hooey.
Here’s my point. I think negative words and actions may be overcome with a larger volume of positivity. Imagine how your attitudes about life will improve by surrounding yourself with more positive influences. Imagine how your mood and relationships will improve as you speak with more positive affirmations. Imagine how your stage appeal will become warmer as you affirm your audience with positive words. It’s your choice. You can listen to this and say, “This could be a big improvement.” Or you could say, “This is a bunch of hooey.” I suggest we positive up.
TRACK 32 The Sour milk cow
Here’s a little poem I wrote about a person who was a negative influence on my life. Maybe it will inspire you to be a little more positive.
(Studio Only Content
This poem was written about my mother. She had a wonderful heart and cared for my grandparents until their death. She also had a hard life and we didn’t have a good relationship in my youth. As she got older, she developed memory loss and moving in with me. She living with me several years before her death and I grew to appreciate her over that time. She was an influence on me in many ways that I treasure as well as a negative one in my youth.)
There once was a cow with an ugly frown.
She was known to be mean all over the town.
Whenever she spoke it was a nasty word.
She didn’t have a friend in the whole herd.
She would chew her cud and eat alone.
No one wanted to hear her complain and moan.
She ate and ate and made her belly full.
She was one big cow, and that’s no bull.
All the other cows would smile and sing.
But she wouldn’t be happy for anything.
The farmer gave her udder a squeeze.
But the milk was so sour it was turning to cheese.
The farmer patted her back and rubbed her ear.
He asked her to smile and be of good cheer.
But she would wrinkle her face and give a kick.
Then she walked away saying, “I feel sick.”
All the other cows gave sweet creamy milk.
The taste was smooth like drinking white silk.
But the sad old cow was bitter to taste.
Her sour milk was a terrible waste.
There was only one thing the farmer could do.
He had to get rid of the sad mean moo.
He took her to the auction where mean cows are sold.
He traded her in for a few pieces of gold.
There’s a lesson in the story of the sour milk cow.
It makes good sense and I’ll tell you how.
The way we act and the words we say,
Will determine our future day after day.
We choose our words either sweet or sour,
And those words will predict our real power.
To rule our future with joy untold,
Or trade our life for a few pieces of gold.
TRACK 33 Energy Up
The person most responsible for the energy in the room is the performer. Often I hear performers share stories about BAD audiences. I have lots of GOOD stories as well. A bad audience is usually a low energy group that doesn’t seem to be interested to participate in the show, physically or mentally. But a performer’s energy level may be able to up the energy more than we realize.
I was the comedian at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner show in Pigeon Forge, TN for four years. We did on average two shows a day, seven days a week, 1000 people per show. The energy level had everything to do with the weather and age of the audience because the show was great. On a hot summer day the tourist would spend the day at Dolly’s theme park, Dollywood, and come to our show virtually dead tired. On a rainy day the tourist would spend more time indoors and have an abundant amount of energy stored up for our show. In October the largest group to visit the mountains are senior adults. Their energy level is low but their appreciation and enjoyment level are very high at the end of each show.
Because of the extreme changes in audiences our MC would sometimes call TURBO SHOW. However, the management knew nothing about this. This meant we would perform the full script only faster. Some of the timing pauses were left out since the audience wasn’t laughing anyway. We could cut several minutes off the show and head for the house a little earlier. When one performs that many shows you’ll be more likely to play such games to keep it interesting.
And now the point. I don’t believe in the turbo show. In my personal show I have an energy up policy. When it becomes obvious to me that the audience energy level is low I up my own level. It becomes a challenge to me to defeat the forces of the EVIL ENERGY SUCKERS. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t appear to. But I’ll never know for sure. It may be that even the worst audiences are a little better because I chose to energy up. You can too.
TRACK 34 Challenge Up
Most people put in 8 hours each day. As a performer we have anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple hours. Suck it up and energy up, it’s our job.
TRACK 35 What’s Up
What makes a routine play better for one audience than another? I perform quite often. One of the benefits of volume is improvement. With practice and multiple performances the script becomes tight and unchanging. The timing becomes more consistent. Over all I become confident that I have a great routine. However, it doesn’t always play the same. My most popular selling magic story is the Mother of all diamonds. I have performed it hundred’s of times in front of every age audience. I tell it the same EVERYTIME. That’s what a professional does. At one show the kids will gasp when the diamonds appear. At another show the audience will burst into applause. At another show they will sit there with the sound of crickets in the distance. At a very few shows a small number of children will talk during the story. If my part is unchanged why is the audience inconsistent? The answer, I don’t know!
Actually, I can’t know for sure but I have some theories. Age, stage conditions, lighting, sound, and ability for the audience to see the performer are understandable possibilities. It could also be the position of the effect in the show. Maybe the audience needs to see my personality more before I share a story. Maybe the effect works best as a closing. Maybe there was a recent tragedy in the community and the audience isn’t ready to be entertained. Yes, this happens. All these are worthy reasons.
So what’s the point? We can speculate about what or why but there’s really only three things to do. 1. Determine if the problem is me. It could be script, attitude, energy level, or maybe talent level. Then fix it.
- Assume control of outside conditions. Make every effort to control the room temperature, lighting, stage, sound, and seating arrangement. If it’s within our power, fix it.
- If the first two aren’t the problem then get over it. Some people just don’t want to be entertained.
TRACK 36 Word Up
Beginning performers have several strengths; a passion to perform, an enthusiasm to learn more and for most the desire to practice for improvement. However, many have a fatal weakness, the lack of a script. What’s even worse is that some honestly don’t think they need one. You’ll know you’ve met one of these individuals when they brag about their ability to adlib. Nobody is that good of an adliber that they can do a good show without a script. Notice I said good show. Anyone can do a no script bad show, no skill required. I share this for two reasons. 1. Because I meet so many performers at conferences that actually believe this. 2. Because I used to believe it myself.
Other than myself, the worst I’ve ever seen was a magician doing a library show with me. The library hired both of us to have two shows. We were sitting up in different rooms. I asked him which tricks he would be doing to make sure we weren’t overlapping. He had a big box in front of him. He said, “I haven’t really decided yet, I’ll pick some of these.” I was shocked. We were minutes away from show time and he had no plan. Was he really that confident in his abilities or just an idiot? I found out after the show he was just an idiot.
My script education began when I auditioned for Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. I got the job because of my magician skills. They handed me a script and I said, “I’m a pretty good adliber.” They explained how professional show business worked and told me to learn the script. It was one of the most difficult learning tasks I ever faced. It was the first time in professional theater for me, not a high school play anymore. And it was a growth opportunity to discover I had been doing it wrong all those years. Fast-forward to present day and a script is the first thing I write. It’s just second nature now. But it seems like yesterday when I learned there are no PROFESSIONAL ADLIBERS.
TRACK 37 Script Mathematics
Subtract filler, add blocking, and multiply thinking
I grew up in a small town in TN. I am southern thru and thru and very proud of it. I use it to my advantage when performing by adding to my accent for that southern charm. Northerners just can’t get enough. They laugh and think I’m stupid while writing me a large check for my accent. By the way, us stupid southerners seldom pay northerners for their accent. But I DIGRESS. (Southern accent)
From my childhood in the south I remember going to a small country church revival. The speaker was a huh preacher. That’s a speaker that talks so fast that he has to draw air between phrases. That air sucking sounds like a huh. If you’ve never heard a huh preacher you have missed a real treat.
After the sermon I asked my youth minister what he thought. He said, “206 huhs.” I learned a great lesson from his comment. Some people miss the message and count the huhs. The same is true of performers who say uh between sentences. Words like these are unnecessary filler and take away from a performance. Each of us have words and phrases we use WAY too often. I use words like “actually and honestly” when it’s not necessary. If one considered the times I say “let me be honest with you,” one might conclude I’m a liar. I also love to use, “as a matter of fact.” Am I subconsciously a liar and don’t know it? Or do I just have language habits like everyone else? I vote for the habit argument.
However, a script can help to solve our bad habits. When I write a script I purposely avoid the repetition of my habits. As I review and edit the script I subtract all the filler. The filler is the stuff that fills the routine but does not advance the entertainment or understanding of the effect. Another way to say it would be the time in a routine that wastes an audience’s time. Writing a script and subtracting the filler will save time for you and your audience as well as UP your entertainment potential.
Here’s one more note. Next time you watch a DVD watch the deleted scenes and listen to the director’s commentary. The director usually points out that the scene was great but after additional thought it was determined it wasn’t necessary to carry the story. A script helps performers do additional thought and remove the unnecessary.
TRACK 38 Add Blocking
An efficient script also contains appropriate blocking. When I write a routine I write as if creating directions for the trick to sell. I insert hand and body movements, positions of props, and all details. If I choose to sell the routine in the future I have already written the instructions. If not, I still have gone through the mental process to make the routine more effective.
TRACK 39 Multiply Thinking
One of the best habits I ever developed in entertainment was to ask for help. Our ego often encourages us to do everything ourselves and then revel in the glory of success. However, a wiser choice is to ask others for advice and ideas that will improve our work. By the time this CD script is recorded it will have been read and corrected by many friends. That makes it the best it can be. It also means that all mistakes aren’t just mine, I have a group of idiot friends to share the blame.
TRACK 40 Light Up
Several years ago I did a magic convention in Des Moines, IA. On the bill with me was John Calvert. John is about 300 years old but looks like he’s 60. Actually, he’s not that old but you would never guess his age if you meet him. I was honored to meet him and share a little time in conversation. He is a legend of magic because he has truly done it ALL. He’s been a movie actor, stunt man, magician, well he’s still a magician. But the point is, he has a load of experience.
After watching my show he gave me some great advice. He said, “Stand in the light!” He referred to my position on the stage. This particular convention was held in a church so the lighting wasn’t the best and the lights focused on the stage but the front row of the audience was 15 feet away. Because I work closely with the audience drawing from their energy I moved most of my talking material down in front of the front row. However, there was less light there. John told me after the performance that he kept thinking, “Stand in the light so they can see you.” He was right. I was trying to gain a more personal feel with the audience so I moved closer to them. However, since I was out of the light I may have lost some of the attention of the back of the audience. It’s a tough call but I probably should have stood in the light.
When I do a show and the lighting people ask what I want I have a very simple answer, “Turn it all on and focus it on me.” Of course there are colored gels and other options that can improve your look on stage but basically I want to be standing in the light.
Depending on the venue of your shows you may also want to invest in some portable fill lights. If you get there and the light is horrible you can fill it with your own equipment. But above all, stand in the light.
TRACK 41 Value Up
We have beliefs and values. We express our beliefs in word but we express our values through behavior.
I may say that I put work into my show to make it a memorable audience experience. That’s my belief. But if I spend the majority of my time enhancing my sound system with new gadgets I’m only improving the sound, not the entire program. Therefore, I value good sound. For me personally, I value good stage presence and powerful storytelling. I put too little time into my sound and music choices and feel those to be the weakest links in my shows. That’s why I teach on creativity, storytelling, and entertainment potential, not music.
As I encourage you to value up I refer to taking a survey of your present beliefs and values. Then consider the beliefs and values expressed in your marketing. Here’s an example.
I stumbled on a magician’s website that conveyed a mixed message of beliefs and values. His advertising or beliefs promised a great show with educational content being high on the list. However, as I continued to read, I noticed that he offered the benefits of his show. The number one benefit was that he brought a large sound system with him. It was obvious that the sound system was his value, not educational content as he claimed in his beliefs. It’s important to review your marketing materials to be sure your message isn’t mixed. This is truly a difficult task if you advertise a variety of skills and shows. Buyers on the higher paying end prefer experts in their field, not magicians for ALL occasions. Solving this problem may require multiple websites and advertising materials if you offer more that one style of entertainment. A corporate trade show buyer will most likely be turned away from the website of an entertainer who offers clown and birthday parties as well. You can still do all these shows but you’ll need to manage how you advertise to each of your markets.
There are many mixed messages offered up as educational magic shows. It is important that an educational show actually contain educational content. Several years ago anti-drug shows were very popular in schools. Rumor was that government money was available for anti-drug education. Okay, it wasn’t a rumor it was true.
Many magicians jumped on the fad and offered a show. Sadly, some knew nothing about the subject, or maybe they were just on drugs themselves. The classic stereotype was for the performer to do their magic show and then close with, “Oh, by the way, don’t do drugs.” This is, of course, an exaggeration. However, my goal is to never be a stereotypical magician. I want to value up my show, my educational content, my music, and my stage appearance. Don’t you?
Allow me to note that there is a large crop of really professional children’s educational entertainers that know their stuff. Magicians like Julian Franklin, Mark Tripp, and Tim Sonefelt have excellent shows as well as valuable content. That’s only three names that I know personally but I’ve met many others who are well worth their fee for educational shows. Don’t you want to be worth your fee too?
TRACK 42 Put Up
Encouragement from the stage
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I strive to be encouraging toward my audiences. There are hundreds of entertainers who seek to make fun of the audience and even go so far as humiliate them. I used to do that too. But over the years I concluded it was more about my negative personality trying to feel better about myself than it was about entertainment. As I’ve learned to be more positive and concerned about pleasing my audience I’ve slowly started changing the focus of my audience interaction. My career didn’t really gain steam until I started treating others as valuable.
I now encourage you to be a positive influence on your audience. Tarbell also discusses that magic should never offend or embarrass. Read more of his ideas in Tarbell volume 3.
Here’s a story of mine that is always a reminder for me of our power through encouragement.
I was telling a story about encouragement to my 5thgrade Sunday school class. After the story I was reviewing the moral of the story. I asked the kids to define encouragement. Several children gave good answers. But one boy said, “It’s putting up.” I stopped and asked him to explain. He said, “Encouragement is putting up instead of putting down.” Wow, did he nail it. Such depth of wisdom from a young mind. It’s the greatest definition of encouragement I’ve ever heard. I hope you will put up your audience instead of putting them down.
TRACK 43 Show Up
To the majority of you listening this subject will not apply. Most likely you’re so excited about performing your show that you will be there on time. However, there will always be those who struggle with punctuality.
Here are some thoughts to consider. Being late without proper cause is a sign of selfishness. It shows a lack of respect for the show buyers time and money. Being late is also damaging to yourself and other performers. Your actions will have an impact on a show buyers future decisions, positive and negative. I have lost many school show opportunities because of past bad magicians. After a bad enough experience some schools just say no to all magic shows. And finally, being late will most likely be the one memory you can’t overcome with a good show.
Many years ago I was late for a school show. I got lost and I didn’t have a cell phone at the time. I was trying to get there and really speeding to do it. I stopped three times at payphones to call the school but each time the line was busy. I finally made it and the principal allowed me to set up the show. However, she was very angry and never excepted my apology. I sent her a card after the event but it didn’t help either.
The school didn’t hire me back for three years. This was very unusual for me because I had very loyal annual customers. When she did finally hire me back she made it clear that she hadn’t forgiven me. When she introduced me to the audience she told the children that I was late the last time I was there. I was shocked! How could she do that after three years. However, I’ve never been late for another show. I carry a cell phone and a GPS. They may find some other reason not to like me but it won’t be because I’m late.
TRACK 44 Flexibility
Along with being on time, flexibility is just as important. Every show will have issues and some will make it difficult for you to perform your show to it’s greatest potential. However, some things can’t be fixed and you just have to deal with it. Pitching a fit serves only one purpose and that is to assure that you won’t get hired again. As an entertainer you’re hired to make the life of the buyer easier. If you come in and complain about the conditions you’re not doing your job.
I do feel it’s appropriate to point out that circumstances may not allow you to perform everything in it’s best light but you will move ahead and the show will still be great.
TRACK 45 No microphone in Charlotte
I flew into Charlotte, NC for a show in the Ovens auditorium. A church had rented the facility for a large children’s program. After I set up props I went to the sound booth to get a wireless clip on mic. I had explained to the buyer exactly what I would need and she said it would be there. The sound man, who was contract labor and not affiliated with the church, said he didn’t have a wireless. He offered me a handheld. I explained I couldn’t use that and asked if he was sure he didn’t have what I needed. He became angry with me and said, “If they had ordered it I would have it.” Obviously this wasn’t working. I went to the show buyer and explained the situation. I asked if they could find me a wire coat hanger and I would adapt it to hold the mic and make a joke about it from the stage. She was frustrated that the sound company had not brought the mic but she was very impressed with my flexibility. After the show she was quick to compliment my show then follow with a big thank you for my flexibility.
Next time you show up be ready to flex up because there’s always something that you won’t expect.
TRACK 46 Live Up
Thank you for listening to all this information so far. Some of the material has directly related to stage presence. The rest has covered some of the other uppers that I feel are necessary for a good show and good customer relations. The next two deal with our integrity and customer relations.
Several years ago an actor friend told me that on stage we must live up to our publicity but in real life don’t start believing it. It was great advice. If our advertisement says, “You’ll bust a gut with laughter,” then we should be funny. But not just funny, side splitting funny. However, if we start to get the idea that we are God’s gift of humor to the world our head will swell so large no one else can be in the room with us. Live up to your introduction but don’t live up to the stereotype of a spoiled entertainer.
TRACK 47 Mess Up
We may not be able to change the world of entertainment but at least we can clean our mess up after the show
As I write this I’ve just finished a show where I performed the cut and restored rope. After the performance there were several small pieces of rope left on the stage. The floor was also messy with trash from the children. However, as I packed the show I picked up every rope piece and smallest thread. I could have determined that since the room was a mess why should I pick up my rope. Here’s why. When I work with children I usually share something about the importance of good character. If I had walked out leaving my mess for someone else what does that say about my character.
Secondly, people notice small things and I believe it’s just one of the small things that people notice about the quality of my show.
TRACK 48 Closing Story
When I was 15 years old I got my first job at the local dime store. A dime store was the early version of a Wal-Mart. I was the official stock boy. I moved boxes and swept the floor. I loved it. They gave me money and it was much easier than working on the farm at home. At the end of each day I would push the broom. Almost every day I would sweep over a wad of gum stuck to the floor. In my back pocket I carried the perfect gum scraping putty knife. Down to one knee and I could have that gum up in seconds.
The longer I worked at the job the more I found myself wanting to sweep over the gum and get it another day. If a pretty girl was in the store you could be certain I wouldn’t lower myself to get that gum. I was a well-paid stock MAN. Obviously I was filling in for the broom boy.
What had happened to me? How did I go from enthusiastic employee to pampered president? The answer, I allowed my ego to rule my world.
Moral: When you get too big for your bretches you can no longer scrape up the gum. Scraping, is what got you where you are. Don’t forget where you came from.
TRACK 49 Final Words
It is not wrong to be bad on stage, a time or two. It is expected. However, to be bad then shown what is good and not change is fatal. The simple truth is that performers may live a lifetime with horrible stage presence. Some will never be mentored or observant enough to see the difference. Others will be shown the better way and choose meatrocity due to agronance. But those willing to learn will improve and write their names on the hearts of a loving audience. I wish for you learning, improvement, and love.
I’m Barry Mitchell, thanks for listening.