One of the things I want to write about in this blog are the experiences I have while learning to be a better magician and performer. I don’t know how many people get into magic like this during mid-life, so I don’t know how my experiences compare to anybody else’s, so comments to that effect are always welcome and encouraged.
Right, then. Here we go.
A couple of months ago, a call was put out for magicians from I.B.M. Ring 1 to perform for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (http://stl.jdrf.org) Walk for the Cure over in the Kids’ Corner by Steve Finkelstein, who coordinates our participation with JDRF events. Enjoying the idea of performing, let alone performing for a good cause, I submitted myself.
When Steve responded later, he told me I could perform my busking routine for the crowds, and I was pretty jazzed. That is, up until early the morning of the event after a fitful night of waking up due to my sinuses beginning to drain due to changes in the weather. Sigh. But seriously, not being crippled or contagious (this happening in the spring and fall is nothing new to me) and still having a voice, I was damn sure going to be out there. (Note: This review would have been posted earlier, but said sinus condition has left me incapacitated for the past few days.)
As soon as I got out there, I was warmly welcomed in my Steve, Larry Minth, and Tom Westerheide, who had arrived there before me. After a quick discussion with Steve, I found I was going to set up in front of about 50 seats. After my last trip out busking, where I was set upon by a few teenagers who successfully got into my head a few weeks before, I’ll admit, I was feeling less than outgoing in calling in the crowd. After a little bit of encouragement from Steve, though, I started getting into the swing of calling in the crowds. “Young ladies,” or “Young sirs, would you like to watch some magic?”
All in all, the experience was very rewarding. The groups I performed for tended to start off small, usually about 5-10 people and, except for my last go round, always ended a larger crowd, even if some of the initial people had moved on. After one group, I realized I had performed my 12-15 minute routine for about 30 people. That might not sound like much, but at this stage, being able to get in a crowd that size felt pretty successful. I realize that the folks teaching magic at the booth behind me were probably also sending people my way, but still, that feels like a win.
Before, in my routine, I had started off with my Linking Rings routine hoping the sound and shiny objects would help to draw a crowd, but this time I started off smaller and more intimate doing my Sponge Ball bit. From that moment on in the act, I never had to even ask a second time for volunteers. Only once did the wind work against me and leave me scrambling for a sponge ball that had been sent flying off and rolling about 30 feet. Hazards of the gig, I suppose. Steve Barcellona (http://stevebarcellona.com), one of the small number of pro magicians in our organizations, later advised me against doing the sponge balls for this type of reason, and I see his point. On the other hand, it tends to work for me, so the risk/reward factor is keeping it in the act. When it’s windy, though, I may have to rethink my strategy.
Because he was able to watch my routine and saw me perform one trick that he also does, Steve B. was able to give me performance pointers on my movement which I wasn’t aware of. Even though my ending to that bit always got laughs from dads in the crowd, I can see what he was getting at and the advice was perfect. (Sorry, but when you pretty much get out of a “situation” by telling a kid to “Pull my finger,” you’re going to get dads to laugh.) That may be one of the best things about performing not only for regular people, but also while being watched by fellow magicians: they can help you hone your act. I might not be following Steve B.’s advice on doing the sponge balls, but I know why. On the other hand, with the other bit, I’ve started practicing the movements so I can maximize the impact of the performance.
As for my work with the Linking Rings and my performance of “Ropes Through the Neck,” I found that even though the movements are pretty much fully ingrained into me, whether it was because I wasn’t feeling 100 percent or I hadn’t practiced enough (probably a combination of both) some of the moves didn’t feel as smooth as usual. If the audience caught on to what I was doing, they didn’t show it, but there were definitely moments where things didn’t feel completely right, even if the move was successful.
And then came the worst moment of the entire bit. It was at the end of the three hours, people were packing up and the crowds were thin. I was pretty much spent, but I wanted to give it one more go. I stopped a young girl and her mom and performed the sponge balls and ropes just for them, and I probably shouldn’t have. I wasn’t just phoning it in, but I wasn’t near at the top of my game and the little girl cottoned on to what I was doing and neither trick got past her. I should have stopped while I was ahead, but the high of the last successful group was that little push that makes the little voice inside say, “Just give it another go.” Though the mom was impressed, I flubbed when it came to my real target audience at the time. Hello awkward experience.
One other piece of advice was imparted to me by Steve B., and one that I’ll try to use when I hit the streets again, let alone working any crowd. I told him about the teenagers from the few weeks prior, and he told me to listen to them next time it happens. And busking on the streets ensures it will happen again. Maybe the hecklers are calling me out for something I’m missing when I practice. Despite the ”fight or flight” feeling that goes through me during those times, I’ll try to pay better attention. Admittedly, it might not be anything I’m doing, but in case it’s not a case of jerks being jerks, I’ll try to remain open to what they’re calling me out on.
My thanks and appreciation to those Ring 1 members that came out on a brisk morning to perform, teach, and support the walkers: Steve Finkelstein, Larry Minth, Andy Leonard, Tom Westerheide, Dana Scott, Steve Barcellona, Tom and Audrey Levit, D. J. Lentz, and anybody else I forgot or didn’t realize was there.
More so, my thanks and appreciation to those kids, friends and family who were at the walk. It was a pleasure making some of you smile.