The following is a guest post by my friend Ben Zabin. Ben started the first known weed-based magic show, Smokus Pocus, in 2021. Below, Zabin talks about the lessons he's learned along the way. When this piques your interest, grab tickets using the link above to his Denver show on April 24th!
1. Could you give everyone a brief history of Smokus Pocus?
The idea of combining weed and magic was first introduced to me by a friend of mine back in 2018, so it was an idea on the back burner for the last few years. When the COVID pandemic hit most of my work was on cruise ships or traveling overseas with the Navy, and so overnight I became unemployed. I decided that if there was ever the time to launch Smokus Pocus, this was it... I felt I had nothing to lose. Portland, Oregon seemed to be the best place to launch the show and so I moved there, sight unseen. I started to work on the show in February of 2021 before finally debuting it in May of 2021 when the world started to open back up. I started with just two performances a month in Portland, but it quickly grew. By September the show was selling out weekly in Portland with additional residencies throughout Oregon and Washington, along with engagements as far as Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Alaska.
2. What was the biggest challenge that you faced developing the show? The biggest challenge I faced was the unknown. What tricks will I do? Would the tricks work? What would the audiences be like? How am I going to sell tickets? Is this even an idea worth pursuing? The seemingly endless unknowns were daunting. But what I tried to keep in mind was that if things were easy, then everyone would be doing it. (This is still something that I have to remind myself of on a daily basis) Doing something new is scary, and often lonely. But I dealt (and still do) with these obstacles (there are always obstacles) by really trying to focus on creating the show that I would pay to see.
3. What's a small win that propelled you a long way? A small win (which felt huge at the time) was when the inaugural Smokus Pocus show sold out. This gave me the confidence to venture even further into my idea. If I could get 50 people to see the show (my venue’s capacity at the time) then why not 500? Or 5000? This taught me to start small. Instead of attempting to launch a full nationwide tour I focused on the first small step. In business this is called the MVP- Minimum Viable Product- which is a development technique in which a new product is introduced in the market with just the basic features, with enough to get the attention of the consumers. That first show was my MVP.
4. What advice can you give to young artists with a vision? Start small! For years before doing Smokus Pocus I knew I wanted to produce my own shows where people paid money to see me. Instead of reaching out to top venues right off the bat, I started in my hometown by producing fundraiser shows for charities in local school auditoriums. I then moved onto producing my own show in small hotel conference rooms and art galleries. From there I started doing small theaters in middle of nowhere towns. And it kept growing and growing.
Looking at a big goal/vision can be very intimidating. But if you start with the absolute smallest task you can, and keep at it, eventually things will snowball into your larger vision. It might not be a good idea to try and bring a full illusion show to a 1000 seat theater your first time. It’ll probably take a while to get there. But if you’re devoted to your mission AND work hard at the right things, it will happen.
The skills you’ll learn and the mistakes you’ll make from doing the smaller venues/shows will be crucial to development, which is necessary to accomplish the bigger goal. Remember- if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.
5. Can we get one more piece of advice? It’s nice to have friends and family to support you, but the people outside your circle- the paying audience- probably don’t know or care about you. They will probably go years without even considering going to a magic show. Just because you have a good headshot and awesome Bill in Lemon doesn’t entitle you to have people in seats. Figure out WHY you’re doing what you do. WHY should people take money out of their paychecks and time out of their busy lives to see your show? WHY should they care about you and what you have to offer? Once you have your WHY figured out, it will be easier to get people on board with your vision. Watch this Ted Talk (and then read the speaker’s book, Start with Why).
For Smokus Pocus, instead of coming right off and saying “I do a weed magic show, please buy a ticket”, my WHY that I lead with is that “It’s been a long pandemic and it’s time for us to come together for something dope!”
Two updates: First, Ben is performing Smokus Pocus IN DENVER on April 24th at 4:20 PM. Get tickets here!
Second, I'm debuting my show, Everything I Don't Know, in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, April 23rd. Tickets are available here!