Recently John Archer published a wonderful thing on Facebook which is too good to be forgotten in the Facebook ocean. It is some advice for the new generation of magicians, and I think he’s spot on with what he says. Generously, he gave me permission to re-publish it on the blog. Thank you, John!
Some advice to younger magicians from an older magician who nearly made it.
I will stick my head over the parapet and risk being controversial.
Before reading, remember that this is advice from one guy, and though it may not read like it, it is meant to be helpful. Some performers will possibly disagree, alright, almost certainly.
I could, of course, be wrong; I was in 1993. I’m happy for you to decide. If nothing else, it may generate a bit of healthy discussion, which I haven’t had for a while.
I recently looked at listings for magic shows at Edinburgh Festivals. I’ve also started to get hit by a plethora of social media posts from Magicians far and wide claiming to be an award-winning so and so and ‘The best in the business. I’ve heard stories of people using celebrities’ paid-for ‘Cameo videos’ to promote their shows. New acts are hounding venues, and bookers to hire them. Performers use fake quotes or quotes out of context to make them seem even more significant than they are.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to all acts out there or working in Edinburgh or touring in general; Ben Hart and Pete Firman both have gushing promotional text for their Edinburgh and tour shows, but it is earned and honest. I’m not against healthy promotion. Of course, there are other ‘earned and honest’ acts, but I don’t want to start a naughty and nice list, and I would inevitably get some on the wrong list.
Some would say that all of the above promotional tactics are fine, and yes, there are no laws against a hefty dose of hype. In our business, we do have to promote ourselves. I will contend that in the long run, if you rely on your promotional materials more than you count on your performance, I believe it can, in the long run, do you damage.
It is easy to understand why this hype can be done with a genuine belief that we are as good as our self-written publicity. As Ricky Jay said, “Magic is a powerful art that can support a weak performer.” Sometimes ‘the trick’ is enough to impress an uninformed lay audience, and we, the performer, can easily confuse that applause as being for us rather than the roughing fluid that really fooled them.
Why do I think overhyping or, worse still, downright lies can have an adverse effect? People talk, and if something appears too good to be true, it probably is, and they check. If you claim to be the greatest act in the UK or the world, people will expect that, and when all you deliver is a standard show of reasonably presented but standard tricks, they will talk again. Your status goes down, not up. You can sell quite a bit of Lasagne in fancy packaging with a fantastic picture and a few delicious quotes on the outside, but if the pasta is off and it has no meat inside, people will soon hear and stop buying that Lasagne. Supermarkets don’t put budget sausage in fancy packaging.
When I get introduced in a show, I give the MC two or three things to say about me, tangible things, not something I made up or got a friend to say about me. I don’t want to be introduced as the best (I know who would do that to me.) I want to raise the audience’s view of me as the show continues, not see it dwindle as they realise I am not the next David Williamson.
If you check out Tom Crosby and Pete Heat’s Edinburgh blurb, they both use comedy and self-deprecation to temper the glowing quotes they have. It’s smart… It makes you likeable. Join the nice list, boys.
So here is the advice that I said some would disagree with.
Don’t think that social media and hype alone will make you a success. It rarely does.
Be good. It doesn’t guarantee fame and fortune, but it will get you more work than a fake Broadway Baby review. You will always work if you are good, not just the tricks.
Don’t do this job for fame or fortune. Do it because you love magic and what it can bring to an audience. If you want fame and riches, there are much easier ways to get it than by being a magician.
Be nice. Human nature is such that people like working with friendly agreeable people. A reasonable act who is a lovely person will often get booked before a great act who is a tosser. (I mean not nice).
Slow down. Experience makes us good, and experience takes time.
Let others decide how good you are. It feels much nicer when it happens that way.
Be honest. If you make things up, exaggerate, or downright lie, you will be found out. You may never know you’ve been found out, but everyone else will.
I’m sure there are a lot of other things I could add to that list but I have probably overstayed my welcome.
I am about to hit send… Please don’t contact me to say, “Did you mean me?” I probably did.
Wish me luck…