“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, ”
Now we explore the subject of travel. Benjamin F. Asked me in an email if I like to travel so much and if there are any downfalls to becoming a professional magician in relation to traveling.
Over the year I have had dozens of great questions, but most have had to do with the performance of magic or the business side of the art. This question really hits home for me. Since I was just a small child I had always dreamed of being a professional magician and traveling the world. I never imagined that I would one day really travel the globe doing what I love.
Yes there is a downside to being a professional magician. An amateur magician is always learning new effects to present to a similar audience of his peers and local clientele. Most professional entertainers do the same material for years to new audiences. Great magicians such as Channing Pollock and Norm Nielsen did the same eight minutes for most of their career. This meant they had to travel. In the past there were numerous venues where one could sign a year long contract, move into a small apartment and have a semi normal style existence. For me, this is not the case.
I travel close to two-hundred days a year on airplanes and rarely ever work for the same audience in the same venue in the same year. I do have many repeat clients but the events are usually a year apart and by then they recall highlights of your show but not the entire event so I change just a few effects to keep it fresh.
These days the gig is the easiest part of my job! It is the logistics of getting me and my magic equipment to the gig that has become the challenge. The secret I have decide is to pack small and play big. It’s an old saying, but it is as true today as it was in the 1940′s.
When I first embarked on my career I had an old 1973 Ford van that I would pack to the rafters with everything I could possibly want or need. Extra cables, tables, props and costumes. When I think back I can truly say I was prepared for anything. In those days Lori, my Wife, and I traveled to all our bookings by van and the furtherest we went was a two hour drive. As our reputation began to grow and the bookings started to come we realized that there were audiences much further away that had interest in our show. Soon we were traveling as far as eight or ten hours from home and having to spend a night on the road. At first we chose to say money and stayed in our van which we had converted to include a bed and small counter. This meant packing less material due to less space. We would often drive ten hours to a rural town and do a two hour show and pack the van and head back for home in the same evening. What was I thinking? It was a matter of time and funds. The less we spent on hotels or motels the more that was left for us. In those days we were not making huge dollars and everyone of them really counted!
Soon we were unable to reach many of our contracts in a single days drive and we were forced to stay over night in motels or show up at the gig unwashed and smelling of the road. Yes, we discovered this by not staying in motels and showing up looking like unwashed Carnies ready to entertain. Odd thing was in many of the smaller bars and fairs we played this was acceptable as we were still the cleanest folks around!
As fuel prices rose we started taking less equipment with us to cut down the weight of the van and reduce our costs. As I started trimming the tricks and focusing on making the few gems I had better by adding more patter and better presentation I realized there were audience to be found that were not reachable by road.
Soon we were cruising the world on the most luxurious vessels and seeing amazing locations like the Caribbean, Alaska, Mediterranean and Baltic. The audiences changed weekly and I didn’t have to drive! I just woke up every morning to a new place to explore and every week to a fresh set of faces to amaze. What could be better?
The years passed and we stayed with the ships. We only flew a few times a year to join the ships and we were to the point we hadn’t driven a car in so long that it felt odd to get behind the wheel. Was it paradise? No. You see after years of doing the same ports on the same ship, well things get old. The lavish meals that you experience are spectacular on the ship but the truth is the day you leave the menu reverts back to day one and soon you realize that every Wednesday they serve the same dish. Within months of eating your favourite food on Wednesday you soon decide to try your second favourite choice on the menu. By the end of a year you are eating the choice on the menu you would never have tried, just to have something different. Oh don’t misunderstand, the least favourite choice is still better than much of the food I would eat in the future when I returned to doing shows on land!
The port of calls also became less exciting as over time you explored the area until it is so common you just can’t find anything new to discover. Soon the traveling is not really traveling as much as killing time between the shows.
Eventually we left ships and returned to land. Now with an international audience wanting to see my show I had to learn the fine art of transporting cargo to various countries. This is an art in itself and could be the subject of an entire book. Timing is essential. My favorite quote comes from my international broker who says “poor planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part”. Many times your gear has to leave several days in advance of you. What do you do if you have shows in one country and need to start moving gear to another? Well you have two sets of gear! Soon I was playing leap frog with my cases and it was a nightmare trying to keep it all straight. Once the gear was settled it was time to focus on getting myself to the gig too. There are so many choices when it comes to flying now that you must study the flight schedules to make sure you are getting the best option at the best price.
If you fly a half a dozen times in a year this is not so important, however if the cabin attendant knows you by name because of your frequent visits, you know you want to minimize your time in the airport and in the air!
Security at the international airports became so thorough that I didn’t even consider bringing any of my stage act on as “carry on” luggage. I did however pack enough stuff in my luggage to do a show if by chance my cases should not arrive. The restrictions on what can and can’t fly continues to get stricter and I predict in ten years we will be issued “sanctioned flight attire”. With my luck it will be silk PJ’s.
Once your plane hits the ground you’re not done and in fact the fun is just beginning. In many countries English is rarely spoken and getting a taxi or alternate transportation can be quite a challenge. I recall arriving in Japan only to discovered that there were no van sized taxis. Yes, they can be arrange in advance by services, but the odds of hailing a taxi larger than a shoe box is exactly zero. Imagine my surprise when I had to hire two taxis and fill one with luggage and hope it followed my taxi to our destination! It was so crammed with gear that the driver had to unscrew his meter from his dashboard to accomodate the longest piece. This is something I am certain they would not even consider doing in NY city!
Most recently I have turned to close up magic as it doesn’t hurt my back. I can carry everything I need in my carry on bag and in most cases find the majority of the materials anywhere in the world if things should get lost. I’ve come a long way from that rusty old ’73 Ford van. The hardest part about travelling now is being away from my family. I take them quite often, when school permits, and new technologies like Skype have helped to ease the pain and loneliness of being on the road. I spend more days in hotel beds than I do in my own and the big question is, do I like what I do? I love magic and if that means dragging my sorry butt half way around the globe to do … well bring it on!
“Practice makes permanent—not perfect”—Warren Buffett
My Father always said every great magician begins and ends their career with a deck of cards. I believe this to be true. Cards are such a great place for magicians to begin as they are readily available and common place to our spectators. They can be used for both stage and close up and the cost is minimal. Recently Ryan W. wrote and said; I am more of a card magician than anything else. My question is what kind of tips could you give to me for practising card magic, like the sleights and the routines in general? Could you also pass this question on to Lance Burton, if possible?
Well, I sent an email off to Lance Burton and he was kind enough to reply the very next day. Lance, the star of his own show In the Monte Carlo hotel in Las Vegas is one of my all time favourite magicians. (It should be noted that Lance replied during his negotiations to end his show at the Monte Carlo. I am sure he had more pressing things on his mind and yet found the time to reply. Another rexample why he is such amazing person, on and off stage) His reply was; Most of my experience with card magic is in stage manipulation, ala Cardini, Channing Pollock, Neil Foster, etc. This type of magic is much easier to learn now than it was when I was your age due to the instructional DVDs that are available. Jeff McBride has a fantastic series of DVDs on card manipulation.
As you are working on your routine, dont be afraid to experiment and try out new ideas. As you are rehearsing try to run your routine from top to bottom with out stopping. A video camera set up from different viewing angles will help you to evaluate your technique and routine. Of course, when I started out we didn’t have camcorders. I set up multiple mirrors to check my angles.
Most important of all, listen to your audience. They will tell you by their reaction how you are doing. A good rule of thumb is this; keep it short. Dont go on too long with fancy fans or hand washing. As my first Mentor, Harry Collins, used to tell me, Do it. Prove you can do it. Then do something else. I dont think I can improve on Harrys advice.
Not wanting to just cover stage card manipulation I sent Ryan’s question to Helder Guimarães, the 2006 FISM World Champion of Card Magic. Helder is also an outstanding magician and entertainer and his advice is also stellar.
Helder is from Portugal and English is not his first language, yet the following reply is almost non-edited and is so well written.
My main advice in these days is always to read. People have lost the courage to read and to learn from books, but in my opinion they still are the most value tool in the self-learning process. Descriptions in books will give you more precision in your technique and will stimulate your own creativity. Videos are a great help, because you can look and see how things should look (if you see the good videos, of course). But a book forces you to have a mental procedure to reflect the words into movements. That will help the precision of your technique along with your knowledge of its mechanics. My list of books for the start of the card magic enthusiast: The Expert at the Card Table, from S.W. Erdnase; Expert Card Technique, by Hugard and Braue and Card College, by Roberto Giobbi. You’ll find very useful information in these pages and from them you can build a very strong repertoire. Don’t discard this information only because it will take you more time than learning tricks from a video. It will help you deeply in the future, believe me.
In these books, you’ll find references to other books and the discovery journey will take off. My personal experience is to see a lot of young magicians trying to master everything they possibly can, trying to create new moves and be original from the start. I’ve always tried to climb the stairs of magic very slowly because I prefer to be certain that I now something before I take another step. Sometimes, less information well learned is better. Never think in terms of “how much” but in terms of “how well”. Quality in the work takes time. I think that should be the goal of the beginner, quality. Originality will come with time, don’t worry. But when it arrives, if your work is not sustained by it’s own quality, originality will not make anything for you.
My last big advice to a young generation is this: see live performances. YouTube is a very useful tool and it allows you to see a lot of magic (good and terrible) in your own home. But, there is nothing like live shows. So, travel as much as you can to see magicians you want to see. Talk with them, ask them questions and try to learn from live shows as much as you can. I’m fortunate to say that growing up in magic, I’ve seen a lot of full one man shows from great masters like Juan Tamariz and Rene Lavand. What I learned from those experiences is not something I could have learned from any other place. Those were the moments that brought up my desire of being a performer. So, if you feel this, force yourself to test your new tricks in front of an audience. In most cases, their reactions will tell you if you are in the right track. Magic is an art and needs an audience to happen, not only a mirror in your room. Magic is about communication, about sharing moments and ideas. Don’t loose this big part of magic, please.
Just to finish, I’ll also encourage young people to not focus only on technique, because magic is much more. Please, read books in theory and presentation. The Fitzkee Triology, by Dariel Fitzkee, or Strong Magic, by Darwin Ortiz, for example, are great books for any serious magic student. Don’t focus everything in your own hands, magic is much more than that.
Well there you have the opinions of two world champions of magic! Both expressed how important it is for the magic to be put in front of an audience to be tested and to learn from their reactions. I believe my Father was right when he said that magic is entertainment first and foremost. That means you should practice your presentation and not just the tricks. You will be surprised how much you can get away with when the audience likes you. Try not to be someone else in your performance but more of a amplified version of you. More on that some other time … until then keep well, busy and most of all happy.
Suggested material from this article include:
- Showmanship for Magicians – Dariel Fitzkee
- The Trick Brain – Dariel Fitzkee
- Magic by Misdirection – Dariel Fitzkee
- Strong Magic – Darwin Ortiz
- The Expert at the Card Table – S.W. Erdnase
“ It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.”
Dr. Rob Gilbert
This months column is a question I am sure has affected almost all the readers at one time or another. The question comes from Matt who wrote: I know you do a lot of big shows and all. What would you recommend to a magician about being nervous on a stage. You don’t seem nervous when on a stage. How did you get rid of it because its been haunting me a lot lately. Any advice will help.
Dale Salwak, the famed Director of the Chavez Studio of Magic was one of the first magicians I met who offered advice not just on tricks but on performance skills. I use and think of his advice often to this very day. I knew he would make an excellent addition to this months column. Dale wrote: Even the seasoned pros are nervous before a show; that is a sign that they care about their work and their audience. With time they have learned not to let that nervousness interfere with their performance. Usually within the first thirty seconds after they have walked out and greeted and “felt” the audience, they settle down and are comfortable with themselves. A great deal of this comfort comes from experience. The more shows you do, the less prominent will be your nervousness. You are always a step ahead of the audience; they don’t know what is coming but you do, and that is a great advantage to you as a performer. Deep breathing exercises before going out are also an excellent way to relax. “Living through the show” in your mind the night and morning before is a great way to get yourself “in the moment.” Finally, remind yourself that you have nothing to lose, that you are doing what you love to do, and that the audience is there to be entertained. Take to heart the example of Howard Thurston who, before going out, repeated over and over to himself, “I love the audience.” This feeling was genuine, and it spilled over the footlights. You are not onstage for yourself; you are there for the audience. In every audience there will be people who are hurting, or suffering, and part of your reason for being there is to lift their spirits, even for a few minutes. “To lose yourself in performing is one of the highest and most sustained pleasures of life.” As Red Skelton said many times, the purpose of a performer’s life (or anyone’s life, for that matter) is to serve others, in your case through your art. Grab hold of that truth and it will transform you, your performance, and your audiences.
Gregory Wilson, the brilliant close up magician and FISM winner, also took time from his busy schedule to reply. He feels his answer to the question is most likely different than other magicians as he never get nervous on stage. Why? Attitudinally, He doesn’t take himself too seriously. So, if he fails it’s not the end of the world. He’s not beholden to a tightly-scripted performance. Instead, he prefers a loose and free-flowing outline. Naturally, parts are very tight, but that’s the foundation that gives him wiggle-room to deviate, explore and “feel” the audience. He’s secure in the knowledge that the audience wants him to succeed. He suggest that you be a leader and they will follow—willingly. The famous singer with the big voice, Kate Smith, who reached her pinnacle in the 40′s said, “I don’t get nervous because of one thought: If those in the audience could do what I do, they would be on stage!” In other words, if we’ve put in the requisite time and practice, we should feel entirely comfortable that we belong there.
As for me, I appreciate that you perceive that I am not nervous on stage. However, I am always a little nervous or perhaps a better word might be anxious. I love the thrill of a live performance and the energy that comes from the audience is intoxicating. I love my job and want to do the best I can so I get wound up and have to fight the adrenaline rush that comes before the show. Bob Fitch is a brilliant coach for magicians and actors alike and recently I had the opportunity to take a short workshop with him and learn some valuable techniques. I discovered I didn’t know how to breathe! Yes, something I have done all my life and yet I was doing it wrong. Since adjusting my breathing I have found a new energy on stage and I feel less wound up before entering the stage.
I use almost all the advice mentioned above by Dale and Gregory. I remind myself that I am the only one who knows where the show is headed and that magic is about surprise. I may know what is supposed to happen, but the audience is seeing it for the first time. I remind myself that they came to have a good time and are on my side from the moment I step in front of the audience. I take several deep breaths before starting and remind myself that I am one of the luckiest guys on Earth. I get to “play” for a living. I get to put smiles on peoples face and magic into their lives. Then I go out and have fun.
I think in time you will find the more shows you do the more of a comfort level you will discover. Rocco, the world’s most original magician, quoted Claude Debussy and said it’s the space between the notes that makes the music. Learn to relax and enjoy your time in front of your audience.
“ Show me any top entertainer or top business executive, and I`ll show you a guy who has mapped out his life from the very start.”
– Bobby Darin
I had two different magicians with similar questions. Chris P. Wrote: “ I’m not sure you can help me with this but as a fellow magician who has won several awards and made a nice name for himself I figured you would be as good a person to ask than anyone else. I was wondering if you could give me any suggestions as to how to get into magic professionally. I don’t want to be stuck doing birthday parties and little things like that. I want to light up a stage. I have done one stage show and I felt at home up there. Like thats where I belong. I don’t feel I am anywhere near as good as you or better than anyone else but I do feel I could entertain a crowd for a good amount of time if given the opportunity. So anything you can give me, any info, recommendations, suggestions, any help at all as far as how to get into magic as a career would be greatly appreciated. “
Brandon W. Also wrote to say: “ I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind throwing some advice my way. I want to perform! And I look up to a lot of different performers (you being one of them) and I just wanna know… What does it take to be performing as much as you or anyone else? What did you spend your time doing in the early stages of your career? Did you do nothing else but practice, compete, local performances, etc? What is the smartest way to make a career? “
Well these two question are basically for me so I will do my best to answer it alone. So you want to go Pro. Chris said he didn’t want to be “stuck” doing birthday parties. To be honest the majority of pro’s do lots of birthday parties. In fact I know of a few Vegas headliners who do bar mitzvahs! Why? Because they pay! Until just a few years ago I was making $35,000 a year on weekends doing birthday parties. I would still probably be doing them if I had started with a better marketing plan.
What did I do wrong? I used my own name instead of a character to promote and present the kids shows. This made it really difficult to expand into the corporate and comedy markets. Who wouldn’t freak out if they saw the guy who was booked for their little Billy’s party at a local comedy club doing more adult style humour! If I had it all to do again I would create a character like the Purple Pirate or Freddy Fusion (both names I helped to create for friends since learning my lesson). I would change my look so it was entirely different from the character I envision becoming for the bigger stage. Doing this would have allowed me the flexibility to expand a new market without losing the old one. Grandpa always said don’t burn the bridge until you get across. I personally don’t want to burn any bridges. Once I had a firm hold on the new market and wasn’t in need of the old one I could easily SELL the old market and the character to a young up and coming magician. That’s right, you can sell the kids show when you no longer want to present it anymore because it’s not you… it’s a character and a show with all the good will and contacts you have cultured over your career.
My Father always said you are in show-business. That’s two words and one is bigger than the other. Treat them that way! If you plan to be a pro, that means professional. That means learn about business, marketing, letter writing, telephone skills and communication. Learn to accept rejection. You’re going to get a lot of that during your entire career.
Nothing is better than standing in the spotlight. I live for those moments. It is the most comfortable place I know. The hardest thing is getting the gig to do what we were born to do. Study the market you wish to conquer. Look at others who have succeeded and use their actions as your road map. A time will come when you surpass those that you admire but by then you should have a firm grasp of what to do to continue your journey.
All of this advice will mean nothing if you don’t have the show. All the business skills in the world won’t help to make you a star. You must strive everyday to be a better you. To find a better way to do what you do and to keep your magic and your show current. This of course has to be done in tandem with your efforts on the business side.
In the beginning I did shows anywhere they would have me. I did three shows a day for thirty days at West Edmonton Mall on a riser stage for less money than I now pay in commissions to agents! Why? Because I got to do the show over and over to new audiences. Once I had a few acts that were well rehearsed, I went into contests. Why? I used contests as a vehicle to promote myself, to increase my skill level and to set myself apart from the other magicians. I practiced constantly but as I have said many times it is important how you practice. You can only stand in front of a mirror for so long and then you need to present it to a live audience. Only then will you know what works and what doesn’t. Yesterday I sat through a five hour stage contest and only one of the acts ever looked at the audience! The rest could have been doing their act in their basement and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Take a moment and think of your favourite entertainer. It doesn’t have to be a magician, it could be a singer, comedian or actor. What is it that makes them so special to you? I’ll bet it is the fact you relate in some way to that artist. That in some way you and the artist made a connection. This is extremely difficult but worth learning. It will take you a lot further than the newest sleight or prop.
The when you decide to add new material to your show think about what everyone else is presenting … and don’t do it. Yes, that’s a hard task. I too have several pieces in my show that many others present, but I try to do them different. I try to make them my own. I am often stunned by the number of sub trunks I have seen in my life. Can you image how often a booking agent see this trick in a promo photo or DVD? Why would he book you instead of the other guy with the same prop? There is no reason. So why not make your sub trunk look like something else. Over the years great magicians figured this out and adapted the effect to different props. Jack Hughes created a Hat Box, Mark Wilson did Excalibur which was recently performed on America’s Got Talent by Michael Grasso and Greg Frewin has his Shrouded Transition. All of these magicians knew the value of being different. The same effect with a different looking prop makes you stand out in the crowd … yes there is a crowd!
It’s not an easy road. In my early days I ate ketchup and hot water for many a dinner. I had close friends who invited me to their homes just to make sure I was eating ! I lived in the worst apartments you could imagine and did shows in bars I would never dream to even enter now. All of these things helped me to be the man, the performer, I am today.
I would recommend you read Joel Bauer’s book “Hustle, Hustle” and the Tarbell course in magic to start. Michael Ammar has a wonderful audio CD which is even available on digital download on how to negotiate higher fees too. Find a mentor in your area. They don’t have to be a magician, just a great business person. Read, study and put into practice all you learn. Some will fail and other things will succeed. The secret is to learn from the failure and don’t do them again. My Grandpa used to say that a man who succeeds, is a man who aimed to low! If you have never failed … you really have never tried.
Get out there and do shows. Take a decent photo of yourself that you can use to sell you and your magic. Don’t make it look like all the ones you have seen before. Do it different! Borrow a video camera and make a short promo video and create a DVD to give to local agents and talent bookers. Call companies and clubs and ask them if they could use your services. Expect a lot to say no … but don’t write them off. Put them in a pile and in a few months call them again.
That’s basically what I have done all my life to a be a professional.
Keep well and busy …
It’s a typical Tuesday in the life of Shawn. I slept in a bit but was still able to see Hannah off to school. I watched a little YouTube, scanned my FaceBook account, read all my emails and even drove out to a suppliers for my other magic company, Palmer Magic. It’s almost noon and now I get to start working…
It seems more and more each day I get messages on FaceBook, YouTube and via email asking me to help guide new magicians. I say new magicians, because many of them are not young, just new to magic. I try my best to answer all the questions and some say thanks while others just vanish after their question has been answered. I’m OK with that too. As a young man learning magic I asked a lot of questions and I fear I did not give thanks where thanks was deserved. I think those folks were OK with that too…
So why this post? Well most of the questions are very similar in nature and I was thinking this morning that maybe it would be much easier to make one post that answers many questions and then just refer them to this site. It is a little less personal, but it will be much faster for them to get a reply and will ease up a little of my time to do more of what I really love, magic.
So, with that in mind, here’s a few questions and answers. ( feel free to add your own answers, suggestions and comments below)
“Shawn, I have been trying my best to learn the art of magic. I can only learn so much just by myself. Is there anything you can tell me that will help jump start what I want to do for the rest of my life? plz help if you can.”
So, I’m a student of magic too and I want to do this for the rest of my life as well. I know I will always be a student because there is far too much to learn and as in all art, it is ever changing. I began my studies alone too and to be honest it was very difficult back then. These days there are tons of resources for the magician who live outside the proximity of local help. I think the three best things you can do to jump start your career are:
Define your character – who are you and why do you want to do magic?
Study magic books – DVD’s, online videos and packet tricks are cool but books are #1
Perform lots of shows – Practice first, but success only comes from performance.
Later in this post I will list a bunch of books I think you should read/study. It wan’t be a full and comprehensive list, just those books I have read and think will benefit most magicians in general. Every once in awhile I will return to this post and add more that I think are relevant.
I am interested in learning card/street magic but I have no clue on how to learn. I was wondering if you could tell me how you learnt card magic and what is the best way to learn? (By yourself, from a video tutorial, book, etc).
I began my studies of magic with books from the local library in Summerside, PEI. The town had a population of just over 8,000 and the library had three books on magic. I checked them out week after week and when I began to perform I realized that the secrets were easily discoverable if someone went looking. I tried tell the librarian that I had lost the books and would be happy to pay a fine, but I’m a terrible liar and she quickly discovered the truth. I apologized and explained why I had try to deceive her in the first place. She told me that very few people had ever checked out the books and my secrets were probably really safe! I couldn’t believe that no one else wanted to know the secrets, ho could that be possible. Turns out few people really care how a trick is accomplished. I am happy I had to learn the “hard way”. It made me a better student.
These days I think a combination of many mediums is the best solution. Read books, watch videos from multiple sources on the effect you wish to master and then video tape your self practicing to see what needs to be improved. Finally, go out and do it for real people. Not just your social circle… real people. It’s hard finding a place to perform, but one you get the knack for it, the opportunities will present themselves more often. Do NOT film the effect and put it on YouTube and offer a tutorial! This is so not cool. Make others dig to find the material too… the quest to discover the secrets is half the journey …
Do you have any advice on how to get a restaurant gig?
Yes, I do have a lot of advice that worked for me and has subsequently worked for others who have tried my suggestions.
Since it is a big subject I will write about it in a separate post. Here’s the link: RESTAURANTS
What do I need to know to get started in the cruise ship business?
This is another huge subject and I know many people will have various opinions. Mine is based on living on ships most of my adult life. I began cruising in the Spring of 1983 and still work often for the finest vessels in fleets like Disney Cruise Line.
I wrote a column for the International Brotherhood of Magicians magazine, the Linking Ring. The column was called “Approachable” and this question was a topic for two months. Here’s a link to read what I wrote: CRUISE SHIPS
This is by no means a complete list:
- Royal Road to Card Magic – Jean Hugard
- Expert Card Techniques – Jean Hugard / Frederick Braue
- Card Cavalcade Series - Jerry Mentzer
- Card College Series - Roberto Giobbi
- The Complete Walton – Roy Walton
- Scarne on Card Tricks – John Scarne
- Anything by Paul Harris
- Encyclopedia of Silk Magic – Rice ( Do NOT buy the newest volume! – Vol #4 is terrible )
- Anything by Paul Harris
- Simply Harkey – David Harkey
- Books of Wonder – Tommy Wonder
- Modern Coin Magic – JB Bobo
- The Magic of Michael Ammar – Michael Ammar
- Tarbell Course of Magic – Harland Tarbell
- Books of Wonder – Tommy Wonder
- Approaching Magic – David Regal
- Korem without Limits – Danny Korem
- Stars of Magic – George Starke
- The Dai Vernon Book of Magic – Lewis Ganson
- Amateur Magicians Handbook – Henry Hay
- Whack to the side of the Head – Roger Von Oech
- Hustle Hustle – Joel Bauer
- How to win friends and influence people – Dale Carnegie
- Maximum Entertainment – Ken Weber
- Anything by Jim Steinmeyer
“ On a cruise ship you party, you sleep when you get back to work. That’s why they invented desks!”
Kieron Buffery, Cruise Director
Keith B. Is another camper/magician from Sorcerer’s Safari Magic Camp. He wrote to me to say “I know you have lots of experience working on cruise boats and I am wondering if you could tell me how you got your start on them? Is there a type of cruise boat that’s preferable? How long were you on each cruise boat for or were your contracts always different? Who should I contact in an organization about working on one?”
First off let me set the record straight. I have never worked on a boat. Boats are what fishermen use, I worked on a ship. Ships have Captains and boats have frustrated husbands! It is probably my biggest pet peeve in regards to this industry. I used to tell passengers that they were on a ship and to tell the difference was easy. If the ship was sinking they would be getting into boats.
Now back to the question at hand. Keith has asked the questions I have been asked countless times over the past twenty years. I have spent over two decades entertaining audience all over the world on the finest vessels in the world. Over those years I met some incredibly talented entertainers and I thought they might be able to help with Keith’s question.
Chip Romero has been at sea for so long I think his first Captain was Noah. He has done everything from a grand illusion show to a cabaret act on board the ships. His reply was: “My first cruise experience was as a passenger on the Magic Cruise in 1985. A seven day magic convention with a fantastic line up of great magicians on a ship. As incredible as the convention was, I was blown away by the cruising life. The ship, the food, mainly the travel, and the entertainment. I had heard of magicians working on cruises, so I decided there and then that was what I wanted to do.
I got my start on cruises through an agent. While working at Magic Island, Todd Oliver told me to get in contact with Ron Wilson. I met Ron at a convention, we talked, he liked the promo tape and that’s how my cruise career began. After twenty years, I still love working on them.
What type of ships are preferable? I’ve worked with RVL, NCL, Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Celebrity, and Princess cruises. There all pretty much the same but different. Each ship has it’s own personality. As does each cruise. After working a few ships you get an idea of what you prefer. Personally, I like big ships. (2500 passengers and above) More people, more things to do. Also I love big show rooms. Great stages, great stage crew, a pleasure to work in. I love cruising in the Mediterranean and in Asia. For me these ships are a lot of fun to work.
On the other hand, I have friends who would rather work smaller ships. (900 Passengers) With a ship that size you really get to know everyone. People interact more on these ships. The cruises feel more relaxing. The ships feel more intimate. The smaller ships do most of the world cruises. They are both very different experiences.
I’ve performed contracts ranging from one week, six weeks, three, four, to six months. I’ve performed shows ranging from a twelve minute illusion act in a production show, a twenty minute Welcome Aboard or Farewell Show, and a fifty minute full evening show.”
Greg Gleason is also no stranger to the ship life. He has worked around the globe and choose to cruise over gigs like Las Vegas. Why? “I have been performing on cruise ships for the last 14 years and it has been a great experience. Theaters on cruise ships are nicer than many Vegas and Broadway theaters seating up to 1200 people. Working on cruise ships had been one of my goals for a long time before I was finally booked on one. The first thing I did was try to find out as much as I could on what the other magic acts on the ships were doing. There were two reasons for this. One is to see what is expected of the magicians as far as how much material was needed, the types of stages they worked on, the storage space available to store props, and what the demographics of the audiences were so I would have the appropriate material. The second reason was to make sure my video showed that my act was different and I wasn’t doing the same tricks the other acts were doing. I wanted to stand out from the pack, but still be a commercial act for the passengers. The most important tool to get booked on a ship is a video, it needs to show the buyer what your show is. It needs to look like you have been working on professional stages already. I did not have a video on a professional stage so I rented a theater for a day, hired 2 camera operators with high quality cameras, and a sound and light tech. I also hired 3 dancers and rehearsed the illusions until we had them perfect before renting the theater. We taped each illusion several times. The video was then professional edited. This was the video I submitted to the cruise lines. Was it expensive, yes, but it got me hired.”
My story is not like the others. I had never intended to enter the world of cruising. I was working a shopping centre in Williams Lake, BC in May of 1983 when I got a call from an agent asking if I could do a week on a ship. It seem the magician was doing the broom suspension and it broke and hurt his assistant and they were leaving the ship and a replacement was necessary. I was to be on for just one week until one of the cruise lines regular acts could be flown to join the vessel. During that cruise a very influential executive of Cunard Cruise line saw my act and I was invited to stay for as long as I wished. That ended up being four years. I later performed on Holland America and Royal Caribbean, but soon settled on Norwegian Cruise line where I stayed for nearly a decade. Ron Wilson was also responsible for my contract with NCL and I have been deeply indebted to him for all his faith in me and my show. I have always had long contracts. Most of them were ten and a half months in duration. When I first started signing these kind of deals it was unheard of in the industry but now other acts are signing them too.
Using an agent to get on ships is a great idea. Once you are at sea it is hard to stay in touch and to have someone you trust to negotiate future contracts is a must. There are plenty of agencies that specialize in booking magicians. Some are better than others. A quick Google search will help you find them and a little reading will tell you which ones to avoid.
Before you decide to approach the agency make sure you have the best possible product to offer. These agents and the cruise line executives that make the final decision all talk to each other and it only takes one negative to destroy any chances you may have. You have to have at least 60 minutes of “A” material. You will most likely be expected to do either an opening or closing show as well as a full evening show during a standard seven day cruise. Don’t use fire or live stock. Fire is the most frightening thing at sea and the hassles of having animals on the ship is not worth the trouble. When you do have the necessary material. Have the best DVD you can possible make. That goes for your photo’s too. In fact you should have a bunch of press clippings and testimonials to accompany the package. Working on ships is a high paying gig and there are hundreds of magicians looking for that same single spot on the ship. Like Greg said, be different.
If you choose to go directly you will want to locate the Entertainment Director of the cruise line. I did a quick Google and found that the information is still accurate for lines such as Cunard, Norwegian, Holland America and Royal Caribbean.
Once you’re booked on the ship it’s just getting started. I have always said “it’s easy to get booked on a ship and even easier to get fired!”. Your show is only a part of your job on the vessel. You are an ambassador of the cruise line. A star in the eyes of the passengers and they want to meet you and get to know you better. They will interrupt you private time, take photo’s of you when your laying pool side and even ask you questions while you dine. Why? Because you are basically in a giant fishbowl on display. If you don’t like attention, this is not the gig for you.
The interaction with the passengers is just the start. You also have to navigate your interactions with the Officers and crew of the vessel. They too are ambassadors of the cruise line and if you choose to over shadow them you will find their wrath to be quite extreme.
We haven’t even begun to discuss your living arrangements. On several vessels I had a first class balcony suite with an open bar while on other lines I had a deck one cabin which is below sea level and I had to stuff wet towels around the door sill to keep out the smell of the clove cigarettes the crew smoke! Most cabins are very small. Space is limited on a ship and since your aren’t a revenue making item your space will be very small. Think closet with a bed and perhaps a small chair or couch. The showers are always special. I once had a shower curtain that I was so fond of me it wanted to be a part of me! If you’re the type of person that like lots of personal space .. cruising is probably not for you.
Who then is right for cruising? You have to be a great act, who genuinely likes people, works well with others, knows when to be “on” and when to be “off”. You have to be able to deal with confined spaces and be able to keep yourself occupied during the long days at sea. You have to love to travel and are up to the challenge of presenting several shows in a week to an international audience who will see the best the world has to offer. Nowdays cruise line guests are treated to shows like Blue Man Group, Second City Comedy and production show from people like Andrew Loyd Webber’s “Real Useful Group”. If you have what it takes … it’s a great life.
Keep well and busy.
Do you have any advice on how to get a restaurant gig?
I personally have only done a few restaurants, but the ones I did work, I did for years. I began with a small local restaurant and basically went in for dinner one evening. The next time I visited I waited to eat until late in the evening so it wouldn’t be so busy. After my meal I asked to speak to the Manager. When the Manager approached I thanked him for a wonderful evening and complimented his food and service. I gave him my business card and left. The following day I called in the mid-afternoon, following his busy lunch and well before the evening rush. I reminded him of our meeting the evening before and told him I had an idea that might be great for the both of us and asked if he had time to meet me the following day around this time.
When we met I told him a little about my magic and how I believed it could enhance his restaurant and create the illusion of faster service by making people forget about the time. I showed him a few quick effects and offered him a deal. Oh what a deal.
I told manager I would come on one of his busy nights and do two full hours for the price of a dinner for two on another evening and a meal on the show night, following my work. I also explained to him this was a one time offer to give him the opportunity to see how this added value would enhance his patrons dining experience.
The night was a resounding success. I kept a few simple things in mind. I was not the reason they came to the restaurant, I should only approach tables after their orders were taken, I should not over stay my welcome at any given table and the most important rule, I would not take tips. Tips are funds given to servers To Insure Prompt Service. I’m not a server and to take their tips would only make me look less in the eyes of the patrons and especially the servers who rely on those tips to make a living. Many will disagree with me on this particular rule, but it has served me well. I can easily recall dozens of times I thanked a patron for their offer of a tip, but declined it as the management paid me a very high wage to entertain them and in fact if they really wanted to say thanks, they could add those funds to the servers tip as they work far harder than I ever would. The first time a server heard me refuse the tip they quietly took me aside to say thanks. Later that evening when the staff were having coffee that same server told the Manager, I was the best thing to walk through the doors of their restaurant in years!
I made friends with the servers and we worked together to make sure I was at the right place at the right time. I visited table shortly after their orders were taken and was gone just before the appetizers were served. To the patron it seemed like they had just sat down. I did effects that left them scratching their heads and opened a whole new dialogue of conversation for the tables guests.
After the initial audition night I sat down with the Manager and we discussed money. I didn’t want to be in the restaurant for more than a couple of hours an evening. I also only wanted to be there a couple of nights a week. In the end we agreed on a fee of $100 an hour and a certificate for a dinner for every four hours worked. It was the perfect arrangement.
I had selected my restaurant very carefully. I picked one that I liked that was close to my home and had a clientele that would likely host private parties where my services could be used. I also wanted to do bigger shows and for that I knew I needed an agent. To convince an agent to book me over other performers was going to take a little coaxing and what better a way to influence someone than over a free dinner or two at a restaurant that already loved my work and where I could get free meals!