This is my last essay in this series. My next series of essays will deal with promotion and advertising. Before I start though, I do have to say what comes next is simply my opinion. I know some magicians and entertainers will disagree, and say that it's never a good idea to do free shows; but I don't share that opinion.
Once you've completed creating a routine, improving that routine, and getting the legal work done (contracts, insurance), you're ready to start performing. Starting off, I suggest doing a couple of free shows. It's important that you don't over do them though. Just a couple will suffice. Otherwise, if you perform many free shows, you run the risk of gaining a reputation of being "that magician who does free shows." This is something you want to avoid.
The venue you choose for you free shows will depend on what type of performer you are. For kid shows, local libraries are ideal. Churches are another good option for a variety of shows (I suggest if you do do a free show with a church, ask for a good-will offering). Local clubs such as the Eagles, Moose, Elks, etc. can be another option. Personally, I wouldn't do a free show for a local club though, as they often do hire entertainers. If you've done a free show for them previously, they may not want to pay you later on. It's just not a risk I would personally choose to take.
A free show can be a very good idea, if handled properly, and not over-used. It will allow you to get honest feedback from laymen. Face it, friends and family often will try to spare you your feelings. They don't want to be mean, so many times they will say you did better then you really did. However, a stranger doesn't know you. They don't have to worry about hurting your feelings. So they will be more honest. Which is something you need when you're beginning. It's the only way to grow as an entertainer. Free shows also give you experience, as well as a chance to get testimonials and references. Clients want to see that you have done previous shows, and that people have liked those shows. So getting testimonials and references is a must. Finally, free shows allow you to get your name out there, as well as gain contact information.
Like I said before though, you don't want to do too many free shows. You don't want to get a reputation of being an entertainer who works for free. It will come back to haunt you, as people will expect you to work for free. Which is why I also advise not to perform free private shows. Never do a free birthday show, or free party (there are some exceptions to every rule. But for the most part, I do advise to never do free private shows). Doing free shows for family is also debatable. Personally, I rarely do shows for family in general. If I happen to do a show for family, they are usually for free, but given as a gift to the family (this way there is still a monetary value to the show). The problem I see with doing free shows for family is that they may end up expecting you to continue doing free shows for them. Which can also lead to them assuming you will do free shows for their friends. Family has a tendency to unknowingly take advantage. They don't do it on purpose (for the most part), but it happens. Which is why I stay away from doing free shows for family, unless they are given as a gift.
There are pros and cons to doing free shows though, as I've shown. Personally, I did free shows when I first started. I only did 5 in total. I wouldn't suggest doing many more than that. Just enough to get your name out, get a little experience, and a little feedback. Now, I rarely ever do a free show, unless it's a rare circumstance. For instance, I've done impromptu shows at parties, simply because I know important people are in the room, and that if I impress them, I can look forward to a nice paying booking. A circumstance like that doesn't happen often. I would say in the last 4 years that I've been performing professionally, it's only happened twice, maybe three times at most. My point is, don't get into a habit of giving away free shows. A couple when you start off isn't bad. However, after that, unless is a special circumstance, don't do them.
One last thing about free shows. If you decide to get into restaurant magic, free shows can be a little more acceptable. After talking to the general manager, and they seem to be interested in your services, but are a little wary; it can be a good idea to offer to come in one night and perform for their guests. Now, you would still accept tips, and it would be just a demo (meaning you wouldn't be doing a full night, just an hour or two). But it is a way to sell your services to a general manager who is on the fence about hiring you. Only offer a free trial though if it seems as if the manager is interested in hiring you for a more permanent basis. Sometimes a general manager will just need that little extra push to be completely sold. If the general manager doesn't seem interested though, don't bother offering. It's a waste of your time.
That's it for this series of essay. What I've given you is just a basic outline. You're now ready to go out and start booking gigs. However, remember that promoting yourself is an ongoing process that you can never stop doing. Which is why in my next series of essays, I will be focusing primarily on promotion and advertising. I will be giving you methods that have worked wonderfully for me. Until then, good luck in your new endeavor
Dustin Boyd White