It's finally here! You've booked the show, practiced and rehearsed your tail off, contacted the venue, and set the stage. Dinner is over, the M.C. has announced you, and you are walking on stage. Now what?
First, take the stage like you own it—like you belong there and you've been doing this all your life. Stride confidently, with your shoulders square and head held high. Smile! Try to covey, before you've said a word or started an effect, that you are a pro who is going to give a good show, and that you are happy and looking forward to it yourself. Stand with your weight forward, on the balls of your feet rather than on your heels. This gives you a more energetic appearance and makes you lean slightly toward the audience, as if you want to be near them. By being conscious of your body language and making sure it is confident and upbeat and energetic and happy, you can "trick" yourself into actually feeling that way!
When you address the crowd, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, and most important, is EYE CONTACT. Whether you are speaking or going straight into a silent routine to music, look at individual people in the audience. Meet their gaze, hold it for a moment or two, and look at someone else. Intersperse this with looking at your props or hands at the appropriate times, but look at individual audience members right in the eyes. Don't work your way down the row — look at someone near the front to the right, then near the rear at center, then in the middle to your left, etc. As the show progresses, you will notice the people who are really "into" the show. Focus on them. Don't concentrate on the people who don't seem to be enjoying themselves, but don't ignore them either.
When you speak, even if you have a sound system, SPEAK UP! Project your voice. Don't shout, but imagine that your mom or dad is at the back of the room and you are talking to them without the sound system. Make sure to enunciate — speak clearly and distinctly and fairly slowly. You will probably be talking faster than you think you are, so make a conscious effort to speak slowly. If people don't understand you, they will lose interest. Also, make sure to speak directly to different people in the audience. Address the audience as a whole part of the time, but spend as much time speaking to individuals. This is the secret to "connecting" with the audience.
When performing your effects, always go a little slower than you feel you should. If you are all nervous or excited, you will tend to rush. Don't drag, but go about a quarter slower than you fell you should and you'll probably be just about right. T. Nelson Downs said that the main difference between an amateur and a professional is that a pro performs slower!
Whether you are doing a "talking" act or a silent act, remember that the pauses between words and actions are as important as the words and actions themselves. This is called "timing." If you are talking or moving nonstop, there is no time to appreciate what is taking place and the show quickly becomes boring. It has been said that the art and beauty in music comes through in the silence between the notes. The same is true of magic. Eliminate all extraneous patter or motion. Try to have a "flow" to your routines. There are a couple of schools of thought regarding the opening of the show. Some say you should hit them hard and fast with your second best effect (second only to your grand finale) right off the bat. I belong to the other school (along with the likes of Red Skelton), which says that for the first couple of minutes, the audience isn't really paying attention to what you do —they are sizing you up and deciding if they like you, and the actual routine will probably go largely unnoticed. So I "warm them up" a bit with some lively banter, telling them a bit about myself and thanking them for the opportunity to perform for them. Then I tell a quick joke or two. After I get a couple of laughs and I have "connected" with them, then I "start" the show. Now they are paying attention and they want me to succeed—they are ready to be entertained, and I am ready to entertain them.
I cannot and will not attempt to instruct you in what routines to perform or how to arrange or construct your show. Everyone is different. There are a few general rules, however. Don't do a whole bunch of routines in a row that require audience assistants. The "dead time" of having them come up to the front and return to their seats can quickly kill the momentum of a show. Intersperse routines where it is just you up in front, and have at least one or two effects where you go out into the crowd, even if it is only for a short part of the effect. Your first routine should "set the tone" and your last routine should be a killer that they'll remember.
But keep in mind that YOU ARE THE MAGIC, not your props. People often tell me before a show, "We had you here last year. You know, I don't remember a single trick you did, but I DO remember laughing, applauding and having a great time." I used to think that this was a flaw in my show, that my magic wasn't strong enough. Now I realize that it is the ultimate compliment—they don't remember the tricks, but they remember ME and HAVING A GREAT TIME! When it comes time for them to rebook, I'd MUCH rather have them say, "We've gotta get Great Scott!" than, "We've gotta get that guy who floated Edna. What was his name? Can anyone remember?"
Most important, have fun! The audience will sense this and they'll have fun with you! You have my best wishes for your success.
Scott F. Guinn
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