Last weekend, I had the pleasure of performing at the Chicago Magic Lounge (CML). While I was there, I learned a few lessons about what it takes to create a successful show that keeps people coming back. Here they are:
1. It takes a village
Every night of the week, fifteen minutes before doors open at CML, there’s a tradition that nobody in the audience will ever see—the team meeting. That’s where we all sit in the theater—performers, waiters, bartenders, managers, box office staff—and go over the plan for the evening. Specifically, the manager announces who’s working in what part of the venue that night, and gives special details about the guests. After each group gets announced, we give them a little round of applause, signaling that we appreciate their work. Every person gets the same amount of applause and attention—no matter if you’re headlining the show, working behind the scenes in the light booth, or making dozens of meals in the kitchen. There’s a fundamental recognition that we are each equally responsible for a successful evening. After all, would people really enjoy the show if their food and drinks didn’t come on time, if the performers weren’t well-lit, or if the box office didn’t put in extra work to make sure you and your family were seated together?
It would be easy to forgo this process and send out the announcement as an email, or post it on the wall, but it wouldn’t have anywhere near the same impact. For a night at CML to run smoothly, it takes upwards of 30 people working at an extremely high caliber. For that to happen, everyone needs to trust each other. And that trust is built by taking time out of our days to acknowledge the work we’re putting in. The team meeting, albeit lasting only five minutes each day, was one of the highlights of being at CML.
2. Be remarkable
After performing at the lounge, I’m not at all surprised that they sell out every show (Want proof? We did a sold-out show during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl). Every single aspect of the evening is thoroughly thought out. I won’t ruin the surprises—you’ll have to see for yourself. But know that from the second you walk in the door to the time you leave, there are surprises and high-quality experiences in store, even ones that don’t explicitly involve seeing magic. So when people leave, they’ll tell their friends that just entering the venue is magical, that they felt attended to and recognized throughout the evening, that there’s memorabilia everywhere, and that the entire experience is branded perfectly. We know that word of mouth is the most important driver of business, and the team at CML generates it in spades.
3. Be kind
I’ve written about this a lot, but I really don’t think anyone is truly successful if they get to the top by putting other people down. I could tell from the moment I walked into CML that while each staff member was great at their job, they were also great people. I owe so much of the success of my act last weekend to the staff. For example, they saved me valuable time by setting 100+ envelopes in the theater before each show, and by escorting a member of the audience outside so they could release a helium balloon with their money attached into the air (come see a live show if you’re curious about this trick). Everyone at CML was doing favors for each other all the time—not with any expectation of reciprocation, but because it was the right thing to do.
And clearly, being kind generates responses. For example, I’m writing this article simply because I want to spread the word about a bunch of great people working incredibly hard on the north side of Chicago. So if you're even remotely in the area, go see a show.
Maybe on my deathbed, I’ll decide that I was wrong all along, that there’s a different key to success than kindness. But so far, I haven’t found one.
I've got a ton of live shows coming up--if you're in New York or D.C., come say hi!