Last week, David Calamari (epic last name, right?) and I performed our new show The Schrodinger Effect, in New York City. Despite the stress, I love four-walling shows, and it’s especially fun with friends. Four-walling, by the way, refers to producing and performing in a show.
A week after the show, David and I sat down and evaluated what went well, what went wrong, and lessons that we’ll carry through for next time. Let’s get the bad out of the way.
What went wrong:
Prep: Due to my school schedule, I couldn’t get to New York until late Thursday night for our Friday shows. This created a lot of stress because of the sheer amount we had to do in such a short time. If you’re ever doing something similar, I’d give yourself at least one full day of not performing to get yourself in order. We managed to make it work, but it was more stressful than I would’ve liked.
Advertising strategy: Let’s just say, we didn’t really have one. While David and I have spent most of our lives learning magic, we’ve spent very little time learning advertising. When we do the show again in the summer, we’re going to sit down and figure out an advertising plan, rather than just “telling people” about the show. This will include:
Free shows and performances around New York City to energize new audiences for the show.
A publicity stunt that encourages people to share content on social media, expanding our reach.
Lining up media and podcast interviews to give audiences a taste of who we are.
We also need to strictly define our target audience.
Magic should be a very easy thing to advertise because participating in magic is a first-hand experience. That’s why my strategy for the next show includes doing smaller, high impact performances that encourage those people to tell their friends about our show.
I’ve always been self-conscious about continually emailing people, and while I still need to get over that, a different strategy is simply showing people magic more often. I’m talking about magic during casual interactions, house parties, waiting in line, etc. Anything to show people something interesting. And if they happen to want to come to our show after seeing a trick, even better. I’m assuming you don’t do magic, but ask yourself what you can offer people casually.
If you’re a photographer, take great pictures with your phone when you’re out and about. If you’re a chef, cook for your friends. If you’re a writer, offer to edit a friend’s essay. There are so many ways to weave your work into interactions with your friends that don't feel forced, and in fact, may be beneficial to your target audience. Offering some of your services for free is genuinely kind and an effective business strategy.
Too often, I fall into the trap of assuming my potential audience will magically know what my show is. But the public has a very hard time conceptualizing magic shows simply because people rarely see magic shows. It’s not like a concert or photography where people regularly encounter songs and pictures. This, though, is not a burden, it’s an opportunity–we get to define the experience, and that starts in my everyday interactions.
3. Start time: We did a 6 PM and 8 PM show. In the future, we won’t start our first show until 7 PM if it’s on a weeknight, to give people more time to get off work. There was a disproportionate amount of seats sold for the 8 PM show, and we think it’s because of the work schedule. Lesson learned.
What went well:
Friendship: David and I had two great friends, Ari and Tom, help us during our show (both of whom are magicians and actors. Ari, too, is a fantastic photographer who took photos for us). Ari and Tom were incredibly generous with their time, helping us with odd tasks, giving us notes, and ushering the audience. Additionally, in between the shows, we only had 45 minutes to greet the audience, clean the stage, reset the props, open the house again, and start the show. Had we not had Ari and Tom, we could not have started the second show on time. David also brought in two friends, Dennis and Matt, to help us with lights, sound, and stage management. All four men were invaluable parts of our team.
Run time: The first time putting a show in front of an audience can always be a bit of a crap shoot. Like a comedian not knowing what jokes will play, magicians have to test their material for real people before they get a sense of what really works. And often, audience participation changes the running time of a trick, even when you budget for it in rehearsal. David and I, though, both stuck to our allotted time, and the running time of the show, ~1:10:00, is exactly what we hoped for.
The magic: I’m proud to say that the magic worked great. Of course, the logistics are always going to be a bit of a hassle: especially in the middle of New York City in a snowstorm. But when push came to shove, David and I put on a magic show that both of us are proud of, and we can’t wait to do it again.
Surprise is inevitable: But that’s ok. Surprises become stories and lessons. One such surprise was dealing with lower audience numbers due to the impending snow storm, a theater with an overactive heater, and seats with not enough leg-room. We’re working on all of those issues (except the snow storm) for our next show. It’s also worth remembering that there are some things you simply won’t know until you get to the theater. For example, we initially planned to tape envelopes to every seat for a trick. But we realized after setting up the first show that we simply didn’t have time to do that for the second show–we had too much to reset, and taping the envelopes took a good 15 minutes. So, we arranged for the envelopes to be handed out to the audience instead. The point is, until you actually arrive at a location, especially in a magic show, you need to assume that things will go wrong. And that’s where the next lesson comes in:
Being calm is essential: Actively staying calm is the only way to get through the day. Mid-day, David and I were both feeling stressed. So we put chairs on the stage and meditated for ten minutes. It literally changed the day. We both felt calmer, and were able to give two great shows. I don’t know about you, but hyping myself up before a show is a bad idea. Being excited, happy, and in a good mood is great. But the most important thing I can be before a show is fundamentally calm.
Friends are an incredible resource: Imagine if one of your friends wanted your help with a project they cared deeply about. Would you help? I hope so. I know I certainly would, and I’m incredibly grateful that Ari and Tom feel the same way about David and my projects. Find your friends, ask for their help, and help them in return.
Gratitude always wins: David and I were overwhelmed with the support we got from friends and family, and if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have had a show. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who came to support us, and all those who couldn’t come, but still wished us well.
I believe that the more successful somebody is, the more they have to be thankful for. Which means that as David and I took this step in our careers–our first public performance in New York City–we have dozens of people to be thankful for.
Additionally, practicing gratitude is a great way to remain calm. You can even be grateful for seemingly tiny things, like the fact that the seats exist, or that there’s a stage, or a curtain. This kind of “micro-mindfulness” grounds me in the moment and slows me down. It all helps me remember how lucky I am to do what I like to do. If you’re reading this, you’re one of the reasons I get to work on magic every day. Thank you.