by Scott Guinn
So you’ve been learned a few tricks, you feel like you’re pretty good, and you think it would be really cool if you could make some bucks performing magic—maybe even make it your full-time profession? Whoa! Easy, big fella!
There are two basic definitions of a professional here. The first is, “Someone who performs for pay or as an occupation.” The second is, “Someone who performs skillfully, in an expert manner.” Rule number one to performing professionally (in both senses of the word) is this:
You’ve got to pay your dues first!
I talk about this in my book, Officiously Yours, but I want to elaborate on it here. Imagine a freshman in high school that had one semester of woodshop under his belt. Would you want him to build your dream home? How awful would it be to undergo open-heart surgery at the hands of a junior higher who had taken health class? Yet every day, people who have learned a couple of tricks bill themselves as “professional magicians” and foist themselves on unsuspecting clients who are looking to provide quality entertainment at their events.
Do you ever wonder why magicians often seem to be perceived as one step above trained seals in the entertainment industry? There’s a simple answer: rampant unprofessionalism! Again, I’m referring to both of the above definitions!
I know I’m probably not going to make too many friends here, but it’s time we raised the bar in this business! Stop telling the other guys at the club or in the “session” how good they are, or how flawlessly they executed a routine if, in fact, they totally sucked! Don’t be a jerk about it, but let them know if they are flashing that palm or pass. Tell them if they are coming across as an egotistical, arrogant putz. More harm has been done to our art in the guise of “just trying to be encouraging” than a thousand “Masked Magicians” could ever do!
So, before you quit that day job (or even start charging for performances on the side), you need to do a few things.
1. Make sure that you have taken the time to study, understand and learn the effects you are going to do. This means the presentation and staging of the effects as well as the methods. A local magician in my area actually had a piece of promotional material exclaiming that he did thirty tricks in his thirty-minute show! I saw him perform. It was horrendous! There was no presentation at all—it was a quick demonstration of some props (“See this handkerchief? Look, it’s a cane!). The people who hired him were mortified, and so was I.
2. Contrary to what a number of well-known “names” advise, I think you should spend several years performing for free at community events, churches, charities, nursing homes, etc. Some seem to think this cheapens magic and undercuts the local pros, to which I reply, “Bovine excrement!” Offer your services to the above venues, explaining that you are studying magic, and would like to get some experience performing in front of a real audience. Give the event coordinators evaluation sheets to rate you on a scale of one to ten in different categories as they watch your show. These categories would include appearance, stage presence, interaction with the audience, audience involvement, audience reaction, etc. Have them fill these out anonymously and give them to you all at once after the show, so no one will feel uncomfortable about criticizing you. At the bottom, have the question, “What could I have done that would have made this show better?” When you get the forms home, read them and apply them! I spent five or six years doing this before I ever charged for a show. It is far better to have people at your free shows consistently telling you that you should be doing this for money, than to have people at paying gigs saying they can’t believe you actually get paid!
3. Once the two above requirements are met, you’re ready to begin charging for your shows. But before you take the plunge into full-time magicianship, you better make sure you have enough bookings over the next six months to a year that you’ll be making at least as much as you would have in your day job. I’ll discuss some things you can do to meet that goal in a future issue. For now, there’s no reason not to do some professional gigs to supplement your income. The big questions in this regard are, a) in what venues? b) How do I get the gigs? c) How much do I charge? I’ll address those questions in the next installment. Until then,
Best Wishes for Your Success,
Scott F. Guinn