Having started regular paid gigs at 15 (wow, that‘s over 10 years ago), I had to learn quite quickly which material works and which doesn’t, for me. Audience tested effects are a must if you wish to continue working for money as a magician but what should you test on your first paying audience ?
First thing's first
Right at the beginning I shall state the obvious. Your first paying audience CANNOT be your FIRST audience. Of course, I am sure most know that, but I just had to say it because you never know.
Make sure your ‘test’ audience is of a similar kind to your paying audience. Performing in front of your little 12 year old cousins is great if you want to do kid’s shows but not if you are going out and performing in a restaurant in front of adults for the first time. Your family and friends may find it difficult to tell you what you did was rubbish unless you stress otherwise.
Questions to your friends and family such as, “Was that good ?” don’t work. Unless your friends or family feel safe to be absolutely, brutally honest, you must find a way to get more honest feed back.
Instead of putting them in the position of having to say “That was really bad” try asking a question that allows them to say it in other words. When you want to show them, don’t let them know you have been working on that one trick for 4 months. Don’t make a massive deal about it, say “Can I show you something ? I just want to show you this because I don’t know if I’m on the right track or not”
Now you are giving them permission to work WITH you rather than have to stand in opposition.
If you complete your trick and they do not freak out, jump out the window, join a convent, that’s okay. Not every effect has to electrify them into a huge shocked reaction. Look at them and say something like “I don’t know if I like it or not, what do you think ? Is there anything I could do to make it better ?”
You will get more honest answers if you suggest you are being honest yourself.
My housemate is rather well trained and she will tell me what is wrong with it if I ask her. Even if she freaks out at something I do, I still ask straight away “Anything to make it better ? Faster ? Slower ?”
- End Side Note
Find out what your audience and location is like before you perform if possible.
If you do stage work, then this is ESSENTIAL.
I had a friend perform on stage once at a convention , I was not there. Apparently he did an effect with an invisible thread and it was visible even to the back row. Certain lights make thread glow, sunlight can be the worst thing so this is why it is important to check these things out first.
If you need a big stage to perform on for some of your illusions then make sure you visit to see if it is going to be possible or whether you are going to have to remove it or replace it before you even start the performance. Don’t just be happy if the person that hires you says “Oh it’s okay , it is about 10 metres wide…ect”
They forget to mention that there are large speakers on each side, with a podium and there is a live band behind you, leaving you with 2 metres instead of 10.
For close up (which is my area) we have less restrictions, but if you require a table, prepare not to have one if it turns out that way. Sometimes it is impossible or inappropriate to place your props on a table and you will have to work directly from your pockets.
If you require to be SEATED at your audiences table then make sure the person who is managing the event or function is aware of this. Some (most in my experience) top notch corporate parties like to go all out with fancy themes and decorations and they put a huge bunch of flowers or some other garish artistic nonsense in the middle of the table. If that happens, then you will have to move from side to side occasionally so the poor little old lady behind it can actually see you perform at least something.
Yes I know, you should definitely practice so you don’t make mistakes but you can’t always. Everybody drops a card occasionally or a sponge ball ACTUALLY disappears (or an audience member rips it in half trying to find the secret as once happened to me. We all laughed wildly).
You should always think of the ‘what if’s and I don’t mean getting paranoid and rehearsing what happens if a chicken wanders in and does a pole dance stealing your thunder because you were planning to use it (unless that’s your thing…).
I have dropped cards, ruined a pack set up (on TV no less) but with experience you learn to get away with these things and move seamlessly into another and they never think twice about it.
So, what if you drop your cards ? What if you genuinely lose their card. What if your gimmick messes up ? Always practice 'outs'.
True Side Story:
Marc clears his throat for his first audience at his first paid job, the restaurant is lavish and people are sipping expensive wine. He walks up to his first table and does his introduction, they seem interested. He performs a card trick and they respond nicely and then he asks for a lady’s ring. She unscrews a massive, diamond chandelier of a ring off her slender finger, he speculates it is worth more than his house.
His Ring Flight routine is flawless, he can do it at home and in front of friends flawlessly, nothing easier. Sure enough, the ring vanishes, there is a gasp from the audience. He smiles and reaches into his pocket and pulls out his key case.
There is no ring there.
If a 15 year old can have a heart attack, he suspects he shall be one of them soon.
“We will get back to your ring in a moment” he says smiling (on the outside). He starts to look for the white gold finger ringer ring, hoping the massive diamonds will make it shine, and he does this while doing other tricks. He drops cards on the floor ‘by mistake’ and looks around on the floor. He has used all his material and still cannot find it, he decides to own up. “I’m sorry Ms” he says “I…” he drops his arms to his side and he feels a ring land in his hand, apparently it had been trapped in his sleeve “Here is your ring !!” he yells and pull it out of her ear, they applaud and he bows then wanders off to have that heart attack.
- End Side Story
There are many other things you must consider when you start performing for audiences but since this is a forum and not a book, i will write some more on this topic at another time.
I hope you have enjoyed it.