First, I would like to congratulate you all on your desire in wanting to learn the art of magic! I am Kristen; a proud member of the Society of American Magicians, a mother to a two time award winning performing youth magician, and also my daughter's box jumper. Both my husband and daughter are also members of the Society of American Magicians. We all play a vital role in my daughter's magic. My husband builds her custom illusions, I do the preliminary write-ups and put together the show with my daughter's input, and she does all the final tweaking and masters her performances. My husband and I both are her hardest critics and hecklers and her greatest supporters.
I wanted to take a few moments--and I will admit to being long winded, but I hope you will bear with me, to try and offer some advice in your pursuit of your magical endeavors both in the real world and here on the forum based on our own experiences.
Most important to your learning experience is to hopefully find a Society of Young Magicians organization or International Brotherhood of Magicians Youth organization near you. If a youth organization is not available to you, sometimes (at the discretion of each Assembly or Ring) they may take a Junior Member, but your rights may be limited within the association. To find one nearest you please try: www.magicsam.com
(SAM) or www.magician.org
(IBM). If you are located outside of the United States you will want to use the International Brotherhood of Magicians to locate a Ring near you. Besides the extraordinary benefit of meeting magicians (and mentors) at monthly meetings you will also receive a monthly magazine. Both contain wonderful articles and keep you up-to-date in the magic world. The Society of American Magician's magazine is called, MUM, and the IBM magazine is called, Linking Rings.
The benefit of belonging to an organization is you get to work with professional magicians one-on-one. Their feedback, suggestions, and criticism, is going to be one of the best tools you have available to you as a newcomer and 'apprentice', because that is what you are in essence. They are also a valuable networking avenue and can help you along the way when they feel you are ready. My best suggestion--- don't bite the hand that feeds you, even if you don't agree with some of the advice that is sometimes given. Listen and absorb everything that someone tells you. They are the voice of experience. Sometimes you may get two conflicting opinions on something, and that is when YOU, as the individual have to decide what is ultimately right for you, your character, and your magic. Our experience in our Association, and in the magic community, has been nothing but blessed with wonderful friendships that we hope will last a lifetime. We have met so many amazing people that we truly admire and enjoy--not just as magicians-- but for the people they are.
Now, back to magic in general. Bear in mind that there is an old saying that says "the only stupid question is the one not asked"--- well, yes and no. Whether in the real world, or here on the forum, you are seeking help from people that are professionals. They want to see a "spark" in you, to see that you have a real desire to learn, which means research and studying. Never ask a magician what I should do for my magic show. You may brainstorm with a magic friend or throw about ideas--- but those ideas should really begin with you and the feedback should come from them. I have one friend, who is actually the ONLY person I have ever asked when I've gotten stuck on a prop for a storyline, if he had any suggestions? Well, being the good friend that he is (and wise) he left my email unanswered. I sat for the next couple of days really pondering what to do and obsessing over it when I woke up one night out of a sound sleep and started writing in my notebook. The next day I emailed him back and told him what I had figured out--- I promptly got a response back with a "knew you'd figure it out" type message. That was the best help he could have given me and he knew it.
PUTTING TOGETHER A SHOW:
When I first got started in magic I hadn't a clue what to do or how to put together a show. So we started out slowly. My daughter first just only performed at SYM/SAM. Then she was recommended for her first paid "city event" by her SAM instructor-- oh, wow, she thought she was 10 feet tall. She was then 12. The first year all her stage shows were choreographed to music. It allowed her to focus on her magic, the choreographing, and being comfortable on stage "performing".
The next step in her progression of magic was taking on a speaking role during a stage show, and later to start birthday shows. That meant putting together a full, scripted show. I had no idea what an undertaking that would be. It took us months!
Here was my process:
Before you do anything at all, get yourself a notebook. Write any ideas big or small that come to mind whether about a storyline or a prop-- anything, it doesn't matter. This will be your brainstorming notebook.
First, I came up with different storylines I wanted to use that would fit HER personality. It has to be something that represents you as an individual to be believing. You need to captivate your audience and your greatest tool to do that is your personality. My daughter's greatest gift on stage is her ability to "charm" an audience. When she is telling a story, she pulls you into it. She uses her voice to hit her 'highs' and her 'lows'. This "alone" takes hours upon hours of rehearsals, videotaping, and playback. You have to know your storyline backwards and forwards because something is always guaranteed to go wrong at a show-- and if you really know it-- you'll be able to adjust for it. If you are a comedic magician, you really have to hit those punch lines, know when to pause, know when to move in for the laugh. I absolutely love watching Dana Daniels perform. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen him perform, but each time I laugh. There is nothing like watching Whit (Pop) Hayden do his ring work—again, his timing is perfect. The thing you have to remember is that first and foremost you must be an ENTERTAINER, magic is secondary.
One of the most important lessons we learned was to always plan for the unexpected, because IT IS going to happen! Any professional will tell you that. The better you know your show, the more apt you will be to handle it. You may not always be able to stop or recover from a mishap, but it will greatly increase your chances of doing so.
Now that I have lectured on preparedness, let’s get back on topic. We have our storylines, what’s next? Well, I had ordered a huge magic catalog from an online magic company. I won't say where because it wasn't Penguin. The catalog was over 400 pgs I think. Now, I started to figure out what magic props can I use to tell her story because I didn’t want to do the same thing as everyone else. Sometimes I would find a prop and just have to have it, which meant re-writing my story to fit the theme and the prop. We are in the beginning stages so that is just fine! (A word of warning here, I also spent a lot of money on things that I just had to have knowing full well they wouldn't go into the show-- thats a risk you take with a magic catalog!)
Along the way the show developed. I've used this process ever since. I'm sure that as we all develop in our own pursuit of magic, it will be easier for us-- and less tedious planning a show, but for now we still continue to use that strategy.
Before posting and asking a question on the forums, please remember to treat the forum as you would an Assembly or Ring meeting. PLEASE, search to see if your question has already been asked and replied to by others. PLEASE DO NOT ask what tricks I should do. Instead, do your research and ask something like, "I was thinking of using these tricks (list) to do a show, but was wondering if anyone had any input why these are good or bad choices". The professional magician will then feel as if you did your homework, are trying to go about the process of learning, and will do their utmost to help you. They are less likely to want to give you information without seeing first an effort. Also, PLEASE DO NOT state that you have a show booked, but now need suggestions for a show. Why? Because if you don't have a show, you shouldn't be booking them yet because you are not ready to perform. There has been a lot of strife on the boards in the past because newcomers don't do their research, ask for material, and ruffle the feathers of some of the professionals. I don't want to see this happen. I want to see everyone have a harmonious experience at Penguin, but that takes effort on everyone's part. ^_^ What I do want is for everyone to succeed in their magical goals whether it is for fun, or a magical future in the business.
THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THINGS
If you are going to set out to do shows there are a few things to bear in mind. As a youth performer you may have a bit of a struggle getting work. Your parents can help you with this. Let them make the first contact since you are underage and make the arrangements. (You can later contact them to confirm the details prior to the show). Don't bother with contracts, because you are a minor and thus it is not enforceable. We send out a letter of confirmation and a few other goodies for the child if it is a birthday or children's event. Have a professional business card, please do not do the freebie kind, it is NOT professional. The company that we personally use, and I have found to be quite reasonable, is Overnightprints.com. Even some of my magician friends have switched over to using them after our recommendation and seeing my daughter's card. They also do very nice postcards and t-shirts. If you are going to do a website, again do not use a freebie one. You get what you pay for and you want to look professional. There are a lot of people that can host your website, although I just use Yahoo/ATT and add it on to my monthly phone bill. If you create your own website, and have that knowledge, please be sure to have an adult proof read it because after spending so long designing it you can miss things yourself just because you have stared at it too long! (Thanks Blindside for catching my typo for me!) Things to include on a website: 1. Homepage 2. Awards/Testimonials 3. About Me (can even include Academic Awards so the client can get a feel for how responsible you are) 4. Performances (Upcoming & Past) 5. Contact Page (as a minor we only include an email address where I first peruse them)
Insurance, really? YES! Okay, so you're doing a show what is the worst that can happen right? The best is that everyone has a great time, the worst is someone gets hurt. Well, you’re a minor so they can't sue you right? Correct, but they CAN sue your parents, which is why YOU need to have insurance as the performer. Insurance can be hard to find at your age. Don't bother with SAM, they won't insurance a minor. I don't know if IBM will or not. However, Performers of the US will. For a nominal fee both you and your parents will be comforted by knowing if something does happen you are covered with a pretty decent policy.
WORKING WITH CHILDREN:
So you've done all your homework, you have a show, you've got the booking, you're insured-- now you have to confront those kids. Wow, even for a seasoned performer it can be difficult to control a room full of kids-- and you yourself as a kid-- well, it’s going to be a lot harder. Just because you have a little brother or sister, or you’ve done some babysitting, doesn’t qualify you to handle a large group of kids under these circumstances. Heck, even some professionals won’t take on children’s parties! So how do you gain experience? My best suggestion benefits both you AND your community: start volunteering. Every city has a recreation district that runs camps and they are always in need (in most cases) of junior counselors and counselors. This may require some training on your part before volunteering, but that training is exactly what you need! My daughter has been volunteering for the past five years. She wouldn’t miss a summer without her “kids” and loves making a difference in the community. The plus side is it gives you experience that you will need in dealing with all the different personalities children have. Some will be shy, some outspoken, and some will just be off the hook. You not only have to deal with the magic portion of the show, but you have to deal with the kids and you had better believe that the parents will be watching to see how you deal with it all. You can walk away from that party with either a really bad review or you can walk away with referrals, which do you want to be? The upside to volunteering is that it is also an avenue for future bookings! My daughter has been hired by our recreation district to do shows, and they allow her to promote her new shows as well at the center where she volunteers. Therefore, not only are you doing something good for your community, it is a win-win situation for yourself as well.
There is really a lot to contemplate when thinking about performing magic. This is really just a short synopsis of all the things you have to consider. The first thing to do is to learn, whether it is through books or DVDs. I really do suggest books and have listed some suggested reading below. If you remember only one thing about this whole article please remember this: You can be the best magician in the world, but if you can’t ENTERTAIN your crowd it will never matter.
Wishing you all the very best and every success,
Suggested Reading Material:
Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic
Speaking with Magic
Tarbell Vol. 1-8
Tommy Wonder Vol. 1-2
Professional Magic for Children (Ginn)
The list is really endless depending on the type of magic you want to pursue, but this is a good starting point.