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 Post subject: Retirement Home Shows
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 9:37 pm 
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Retirement Home Shows

My first ever online essay, since revised and buried somewhere in the forum.

Retirement Home Shows:


I have done these shows part-time for about 10 years now. They can be a very difficult venue, or a very enjoyable one. At the request of another member at another forum site, I have written this essay on the subject. Here are some tips from my own personal experiences:

I was doing a show one time for a local birthday party, and one of the spectators came up to me and asked me where I usually perform. It was funny, because I didn't "usually" perform, and I only did a few shows once in a great while for fun. They were in disbelief that I had such a talent, and did not do it for a living. It just so happened that she worked at a retirement village, and said that they would love to see my show. So I went through with it, and even taped it, so I could evaluate myself later on. I remember being scared to death at first, but as the show went on, I lost all fear, and my concentration was finally on my performance fully.

That is how I started in that type of venue. I was then recommended, and my name was spread around to other facilities by the lady, and retirement village staff themselves. I got so many calls the following weeks I could not keep up with them! I didn't even have to advertise myself once! Sometimes this type of audience can be the greatest ever, and sometimes the worst. A lot of the people will sleep, cry out, not be able to see, or hear you, not even know you exist, will moan through out the show, may need medical treatment, etc. If someone cares solely about reactions, this may not be the type of work they would want. However sometimes I get huge reactions, especially with tricks involving easily understood props, or natural items, such as flashy silks, sponge balls, other types of balls, rope, fire, flowers, jumbo cards, linking rings, comical stage props, etc.

You cant tax this type of audience mentally, or physically, and you must make them as relaxed, and comfortable as possible. Just being there with them will provide enjoyment more than you know. It can be a very tough audience, or a very pleasant one, and you will never know what your going to get. All you can do is, perform as you always do, and pray for the best. It can be a very reliable venue financially, as activity aids, and residents of the homes are usually starved for entertainment! These homes get up to $5,000 per person, and even more I heard, per month. So their entertainment budget should not be much of a problem. It was funny because before I did my first show for this particular center, they had some very bad so called entertainers.

They said they had a clown that was terrible, bad bands, singers, comedians, etc. Probably more people trying to pursue a living at something they were not quite ready for I exclaimed. They paid these people up to 4 times what I was asking, and was in disbelief at the end of the show that my fee was so cheap. Being it was my first professional show, and I was just starting out, I did not really consider $75.00 cheap, especially back then. I wanted to be sure I could do what I was selling I could do, and it was a success. Heck the retirement home themselves told me I should be getting at least $150.00! So that is pretty much how I began in this type of work environment. I was not aware of any go rates back then.

It was not until later that I began advertising, and made my own 6 panel (3 back to back) full color brochures, and business cards. I had the same problem back then that I still have today, whether to quit my day job for a full-time one in magic. I thought the risks would be too high for this area, and was not sure, and still ain't sure, it would be sought after enough to compensate my financial needs. Other factors played a role as well, and still do. I did not want magic to become a chore, and possibly lose interest later. I wanted to keep it fun, and not have it become stale. So I chose to do it seasonally, in the fall/winter part-time.

Also you have to specially select your effects for this type of audience, and you should keep card effects limited, or anything that may be to difficult to see for this audience. The more visual, the better. You need to use a microphone of some sort, and I didn't know this until I was on stage that day. I had to immediately improvise, and do all my tricks around a cumbersome microphone stand. I caught on quick however, and adapted well. I also recommend that you get your own wireless type microphone, or headset type. Also plan on doing no more than 45 minutes tops, and generally around 30 minutes usually. It all depends on the situation at hand, and how much time the facility allows.

Small stage magic using a lot of the above items, is usually the best kind for this audience. Try to select effects that are mostly visual, and require very little thinking, or memory on their part. Close-up magic is tough to do on this audience, as all the people gathered around,(usually in wheel chairs) will not be able to see what your doing. The more visual, and bigger the better. I been doing these types of shows specifically, for almost ten years now. In some cases they can be the worst audience, and in other ways they are the best. Good visual tricks get big reactions, others less visual, or mentally demanding, expect total silence.

Even with some of the greatest effects there is in magic, they just may not realize what you did. You need to just continue on, and enjoy what you are doing. Some of these spectators don't have the ability to show reactions as they once did, but may be feeling a ton of joy deep inside. Never judge a book by its cover. Some spectators are also very astute, and will often surprise you with huge loud reactions! This is always an added thrill, and bonus. Some may even curse loudly! I have had that on occasion.

If it is big reactions you seek solely, you may want to avoid this venue. However performing for this type of audience feels very rewarding in itself, no matter how much appreciation is showed. You are providing them company, and an activity to be a part of, and in the end it was all worth it. A good way of starting, is to send them a brochure/flyer, along with your business card, then go from there. Usually if they like you, they will tell other facilities about you right away, and recommend you! At least that was my case back then. This venue has its pros and cons, just like any other, but overall it is a good way to make a living if one chooses to do so.

Make sure that you are able to improvise if necessary, and often you will. This kind of audience will really test you, not only as a performer, but as an entertainer. It varies from day to day, some days seem like edited, others go by very well. For the most part, it is very enjoyable, especially if you love what you are doing, regardless of who is watching. I hope this may help someone who may be interested in this line of work.

It is not easy, but it can be very rewarding in a lot of ways. If you can provide someone a little bit of joy and happiness, who may not see many people, are feeling alone in the world, or whatever the situation may be, it is all worth it in the end.


Last edited by sirbrad on Thu Nov 26, 2009 4:03 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 9:42 pm 
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Awesome essay!


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 9:57 pm 
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Akira, you took the words right out of my... fingers. lol Great essay, Brad (can I call you Brad?)!


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:01 pm 
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Thanks guys, yes you can. I get that a lot. Glad you enjoyed it, a lot of work went into this over the years and it is a special essay to me being it was my first ever written online about 4 years ago. I still do the venues till this day, although not as often as when I first started. This venue started my career, and I have not looked back since...only in delightful memory of how my career began, and how I am still doing it today.

It was definitely not easy at first, but it got better as I did as a whole. It served as a great learning experience, and still does till this day. I may write another essay on just what can be learned from this venue sometime in the future when I get free time. (Hah yeah right...free time.)


Retirement Home Shows Part 2:

I decided to expound upon this venue a little
further after receiving countless questions regarding
it. I will address a few of the most common questions
that seem to come up often. Let’s start with the first
one.

“What kind of effects are best?”

Well as I said previously, you want keep the effects
“visual,” and the larger the effects are the better.
You want to do effects that even the most
disadvantaged of the group can understand, and follow.
Sometimes this may be hard to gauge, but the more
experienced you are, the easier you will be able to
select what effects, and routines work best with these
groups. I am not really saying you have to use effects
that require no memory or concentration, but keep in
mind, it should be very little.
There are exceptions to every rule, and as I stated
before; some of these audience members are pretty
sharp sometimes, and very alert to what is going on. I
am speaking however from a general point of view, and
for the majority of what type of audience you will
most likely get. As far as microphones go, a cordless
microphone, and extra batteries is a great idea. Most
facilities will have a microphone of some sort
already, but maybe not one you enjoy using. Personal
preference is key here.

“Do you recommend performing with a close-up table or
not?”

I usually set a table up front, about five to ten
feet away from my stage table, and about five feet or
so from the audience. This works well for effects that
you can walk closer to the audience, allowing them
better visibility of what your doing close-up wise.
You can also have the table off to the side until
needed. My table up front is slightly lower than my
stage table in the back, but I usually have it out of
the way while using my stage table. I generally do not
do any more than three close-up effects tops anyway,
but if the situation allows I may do one or two more.

“How far between yourself and the audience?”

Usually about ten to fifteen feet total. You can walk
back and forth to a close-up table, or you can just
have your main table about ten feet away from the
front of the audience. If there is a lot of people,
you may want to spread the audience from side to side,
so that they are not pushed to far to the back. But
you need to be careful because if the room is too
small they tend to “wrap around” you some, which could
be a bad thing depending on how angle sensitive your
effects or routine is. In some cases it may not be a
problem at all.


“What kind of seating arrangement do you recommend for
the audience?”

Generally they are in wheelchairs, and they usually
bunch up in front of you. Typically there are anywhere
from twenty to thirty people, and the staff usually
sit in the back at a table. Sometimes people that are
able to walk on their own sit in regular chairs, and
behind all the others. As I stated above spread them
out side to side, and sometimes they may wrap up
around you slightly to the sides of the table. Be sure
to have props and other equipment that you don’t want
seen behind a table cloth, or some other type of
cover, in case they wrap too much around the sides of
you. It all depends on how many people you have and
how much room is available.

“How much audience participation do you recommend?”

A little participation is always a good thing.
Usually though if your going to involve them, you have
to walk out into the audience to them. It is good to
do a few effects requiring their assistance, as it
allows you to be on a more intimate level with them,
and sometimes get better reactions from them; and
their peers. You must be able to judge who will be a
good candidate as an assistant, and sometimes this can
be very difficult. That is why I stress keeping it
simple as possible. A lot of times I study, and gauge
the audience while performing, to see who is mostly
involved, who is paying close attention, and using
these determinations to help me decide who will be a
good candidate for assisting me later on.

There may be members who are able to enjoy your
magic, and understand it just as easy as anyone
would—but your show has to be geared to fit the least
fortunate of the group, not the most astutely aware.
Sometimes I may need a coin, or a card signed, and not
all of them will be able to write or see what they are
writing. So it is a personal judgment call. Ask the
audience first if anyone would like to assist you, and
if anyone is quick to respond, select them.
Also try to pick someone near the front of the
audience, so that you don’t have to walk back through
them, and have the front of the audience struggling to
look back at you, being they are positioned in their
wheelchairs to face the stage. Be sure the entire
group can see the object you have, but not necessarily
the signature. It will be assumed anyway that the
signature is legitimate, if one is used. That being
said, I rarely ever do signature effects simply based
on the fact that they have poor visibility; and even
more so in this case.


“What type of effects should you perform?”

These types of audiences are not always “zombies” so
to speak, as I already mentioned. It is a good
guideline to follow the general rule of “big” and
“visual,” however as you know there are exceptions to
every rule. Some personal effects I do? well I do a
lot of customized/personal versions of existing stage
effects. However I can also say that you can get away
with using both “prop types” for Retirement Homes,
that you would use for kid’s shows. They both seem to
be interchangeable for the most part.
When people get to a certain age, they seem to become
a kid all over again. When we were born we start out
in diapers and are bald—near the end of the cycle of
life most of us end up that way again. Just an analogy
to ponder. I have lot of different routines to select
from, I use six feet of stage rope that I made myself,
by hollowing out the inner core and tying or burning
the ends together to last. Some use glue as well. This
type of audience seems to love rope effects a lot I
have noticed, because rope fits the criteria of
“simple and easy” to understand.

An example of only some of the effects I do are:
Rope: I do cut and restored rope, uneven ropes,
(Professor's Nightmare) ropes through body, (two ropes
placed through both jacket sleeves, coat is put on,
rope tied together into a knot as they hang out of
sleeves, ropes are pulled through coat, and body to
the front) rope a card, ( a classic I have been doing
since the age of ten or so) linking/unlinking rope
loops, rope to silk, etc...

Coins: Misers dream, (sleight of hand vanishes using
a lighter to make it flashy, and using half dollars
for visibility) coin in bottle, (close up at the
table) matrix effects, signed coin in ball of wool,
and sealed matchbox(own version) jumbo coin effects,
and not too many more due to limited visibility

Silks: Endless possibilities! Squared circle
deception (made my own pretty impressive one long ago,
but also have an original, burned and restored silk,(I
play this off as an accident while heating it up in an
attempt to change it to another color. “Indeed it did
turn red ladies and gentleman and....black....”) 21st
century silks, (updated from 20th century!) the
invisible silk, (my own method of making a silk
invisible) appearing candle (my own version) dancing
hanky (think Blackstone) crystal silk cylinder,(can
use this effect to vanish or produce virtually
anything that fits in the tube) soft soap,
linking/unlinking silks, etc...


Cards: Flourishes, jumbo invisible deck, (as well as
other jumbo effects) rope a card, selected card
through window, (own method) rising card deck,
floating card (own method) Note: These are just some
of the effects I do, and they are all usually in the
same show. I keep card effects to a minimum usually
due to visual limitations. It all depends on the
audience that day.

For stand alone stage effects, you never want to do
all you got in one show. You want to spread them
evenly through out your routines of course. If you do
a show consisting of eight effects, you should only do
about three tops, and no more than four stage effects
(stand alone) because you don't want to use up all
your expensive goodies in one trip. For the rest of
the show you will use some fillers, but quality
nonetheless. Heck you can even do your best close-up
also if acceptable for the situation. You want to save
the rest of those expensive stage effects for the next
time you come back. Maybe start the show with one, one
in the middle, and lastly the grand finale!


Just a few of the stand alone stage effects I use are:


Stage: Zombie ball, silk to egg, vanishing milk,
hippity hop rabbits, vanishing water in newspaper,
torn and restored newspaper, penetrating silks,
(knotted together, they melt through and apart, while
the knot remains) sponge balls, (2-2 ½ inch red or
yellow on black cloth) match to flower, (blow a match
out, instantly changes to a flower. I always loved
this very visual effect!) Multiplying billiard balls,
(not really billiard) strat-o-sphere, (they love this!
Covers all rules: visual, balls, colorful, comical!)
mismade flag, top hat effects, (vanishes/productions
as needed) linking rings, passe passe, (tricky
bottles) magic coloring book, Chinese prayer sticks, (
a tissle and a tassel ) needle thru balloon, bill in
lemon, (works well for stage, or variation card in
orange, being residents don’t carry cash usually)
flame from finger tips and transfer to candle,
(picking up a flame, and moving it around) soft soap,
ultimate airborne, (floating glass) vanishing coke
can, (vanishes in a tube, only to have a red silk
blown out) vanishing ketchup bottle, (paper bag) water
suspension, egg vase, slush effects, as well as others
I already listed above.
So that is a basic idea as far as what kinds of
effects work well for this venue. Just always keep in
mind the general rules when selecting your effects.
Try to make them large, simple, and as visual as
possible. As long as you use these rules as your
guidelines you should not have too many problems.


Last edited by sirbrad on Thu Nov 26, 2009 4:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 09, 2008 8:32 pm 
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born to perform.

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Sorry for bringing up an old topic. but this deserves it. Wow. This was a great essay.. fantastic! I really enjoyed your opinions on the tricks, and how you took everything into consideration (wheelchairs, visual problems, hearing problems). Thanks for writing such a great essay.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 09, 2008 8:55 pm 
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Thanks! There is nothing wrong with bringing up an old topic if you find it helpful, or have something to contribute. This was my first essay ever written on magic, and lead to a slew of others and eventually my own book which I have yet to release. Seems as though some weird codes always get added to my older essays somehow, looks like I will have to change it again.

Glad you appreciated the detail. :)


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 15, 2008 11:29 am 
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Suberb essay, Brad.

I got a lot of use out of this.

I have a question about the dress. What would you typically wear for these shows. A colorful vest like you would at kid shows?

I also would like to point out, that not to use small objects or props, because usually not all of the people will not have the best eyesight, so keep the visuals big!

Thanks, Brad.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 15, 2008 4:41 pm 
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Yeah I covered "visual" large props thoroughly. I just wear a suit and a loud tie, or even a bright solid one. A colorful vest would not hurt either.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 15, 2008 5:44 pm 
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Nice essay sirbrad!

Indeed long but worth reading it througth.
~Max


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 15, 2008 11:39 pm 
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Wow..what a good idea..you could get lots of practice in these homes.

You could do the exact same effects every single week, and they would never know because of alzheimer's

Just kidding great post :)

KC


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 7:02 pm 
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I'm currently doing some part time work at a care home, and I have performed there as well, one thing I will mention is be careful with complex tricks.

A lot of people in care homes have vasular dementia or alzheimers. This means that often their perception of the world is completly different to what we see. For example I did a show there recently and during the middle of the show a resident who is developing vascular dementia said to me "has the magician started yet?". Residents may not recognise you as a magician at first, so maybe get them involved more and show them a small thing to keep them focused. I know that sirbrad said he used spongeballs and this is somerthing I would reccomend as well, they get great reactions especially from people with dementia

Warning: When dealing with Dementia be careful. Many residents may not be fully mentally capable and if you approach them they may see you as a threat (I have the scars to prove it - seriously). A lot of the time staff think its a good idea to bring these people to shows and they may get a bit upset. Dont let this put you off but be careful!


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