Perform for 500 spectators in one day - a guide
or ... Akirafist's guide to Flea Markets!
Go ahead and ask the question: Akira, why the living Jesus would I want to perform magic in a flea market? And the simplest answer is people. Hundreds of them shuffling around looking bored, drinking a coke and perusing the 75th sunglasses table they've seen today, simultaneously daydreaming about what's on TV tonight.
The whole idea came about when I'm at my local flea market just wasting time with my daughter. She actually wanted to shop the sunglasses table, found two CD's she liked and then I saw a cat bed that looked really comfy for my aging tabby. And I'm becoming annoyed by the massive crowd of minions walking around. At certain tables, you practically have to shove people aside to see what that vendor is selling.
And out of the corner of my eye I spot this huge swarming crowd of people in the back area, gathered around some older guy doing a painting. Finished and dried paintings were hanging up and sitting around his little stool with price tags attached, while he sat there painting a fresh sunset. Slowly. Very slowly. At least 50 people, young, old, hispanic, white, black all gathered around to literally watch paint dry.
Why? Because it's DIFFERENT. It's not another sunglasses table, CDs, DVDs, nasty stained mattresses or bird cages. It was an unusual sight and everybody wanted to see! So the idea hits me after I get home - isn't that like street magic in reverse? Instead of interrupting people, desperately seeking the next spectator for some half baked effect, what if the spectators came to you?
So I buy a table for $10 and sit 10 boxes of forks and 4 decks of cards on it, then start approaching people that walk by and look at me. My goal? I want to see if a double twist in Liquid Metal gets better reactions than a single, plus I want to master the Classic Force. And I need a sh*tload of people to pick a card to make that happen.
At first I tried "hey watch this" or "you wanna see something", but ultimately ended up "I bought a deck of cards from that guy, and they catch on fire. Check it out, pick one". I don't actually do a fire trick however, instead I launch into a quickie three phase ACR.
So did it work? HUNDREDS of people stopped and picked a card. I was there for six hours until my fingers started to bleed, and progressed from Classic Force ok-ness to VERY GOOD in ONE DAY. Occasionally a big crowd, small gathering of interested peeps, or one lady who looked bored out of her mind. Again... HUNDREDS.
So why a flea market:
- Price is dirt cheap. Six dollars to twenty, depends on where you go.
- You can leave anytime you want. Stay one hour or the entire day.
- No competition. This ain't busking where 3 other guys are performing magic next to you, competing for your audience. At worst you'll have some old lady selling silver jewelry near by.
- No security. Assuming you're not obnoxious or impeding traffic, the two bored rent-a-cops stationed at the market don't care about you, your table, and normally have no issues with you wandering around doing magic far away from your designated area.
- Real audience. It's not your mom, sister, girlfriend, but instead 500 strangers perfectly willing to tell you about your cover pass flash, your effect completely sucks or walk off mid-trick during your awful presentation. Watch their eyes to see if your misdirection worked, discover how to entertain a younger vs older crowd or keep 20 people engaged vs 2.
- Anonymity. Nobody knows your real name, you're not getting paid to walk around so you can perform the worst tricks ever or experimental effects to master a particular sleight. You make the rules.
So here are my tips for flea markets:
Your primary goal in life is to BLEND IN. Don't stand in the middle of a busy isle full of people shoving you aside, trying to get around you. In fact both you and your spectators need to be slightly out of the way of any main traffic flow, which is why I sometimes favor the food court in bigger markets during slower periods. Full-bellied spectators are relaxing after a couple hours of shopping, perfectly willing to see a quick effect before returning to their busy day. Also ease up on the wild outfits or over the top clothing. For me at least, they don't get attention but scare people off because you're WAY out of place. I wear standard jeans, shirt but add in a wild hat for flavor.
Also don't chase people down. They'll show ample interest by making eye contact, which demonstrates a willingness to see whatever cool trick you have loaded in the cannon. Irritating an old couple that hates magic and wants to be left alone will go poorly. Face it, some people hate magic. Or kids. Or fat white guys, whatever you are.
Have a goal, a reason for going. Don't waste your valuable time just burning through the same ACR you've already mastered 2 years ago. Work on your classic force, cure nervousness by performing for so many different people that you no longer care what they think, try out a trick you invented to see if it sucks in front of real spectators, work on your misdirection, just DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE.
For the love of God don't try to sell sh*t or busk. Don Driver has great videos for busking or selling decks of cards at flea markets if that's what you're into. But my article is dedicated to you accelerating your mastery of magic skills that require spectators. Your presentation works great in a mirror, but does it function in the real world? The classic force needs a hand to pick a card, etc. Milk money out of people some other day, so stay focused.
Take frequent breaks. Being tired, cranky and your feet hurting doesn't help you reach any goals, instead you'll get sloppy and uninteresting. Let the crowd pass by your table while you put your feet up and relax in the chair you brought.
Take notes and pay attention. My classic force sucked for real people, I was going too fast. Then I over-adjusted and was slower than a snail which hurt me even more, so after I finally got my timing just right I noticed the stupid force STOPPED WORKING. I got really angry and just sat there for like 20 minutes trying to figure out why. And it would take me at least A HUNDRED times more to finally discover what was wrong. But after two flea market sessions I can score that stupid thing 90% which is like having a super power. If the classic force failed btw, I did an unsigned quickie 3 phase ACR and let the people go, in order to get a new set of hands. Attempts that worked morphed into a prediction trick. So either way my spectator scored a great, fast effect.
So that's all guys, thanks for reading! See you at the market.