Scott Wells – How Do We Look?

Columnist:
Scott Wells

“Attention to detail is the essence of showmanship.” This quote from Henning Nelms’ book Magic and Showmanship is indelibly etched in my mind. I refer to it constantly when fine tuning my routines before going out to perform professionally. But I also think about it as I make one last check in the mirror.

I naturally check for the obvious . . . hair combed, shirt and suit freshly pressed, zipper in the upright and locked position, etc. But there are other things that are a bit less obvious and may not be noticed at a glance.

If you are performing close-up, then you should definitely take care of your hands and fingernails. In a close-up performing situation, your close-up pad is the stage and your fingers are the actors. Everyone’s eyes will be “burning” your hands so they should be made of asbestos…and look “as best as” they can. I’m not suggesting that everyone get a manicure every other week (although it wouldn’t be a bad idea). What I am saying is that you can do something about those hands. In particular they should never have dirt or grease under the nails or appear to be chewed to the bone.

You should obviously wash your hands and get them as clean as you can before going out to perform. You can nearly eliminate hangnails by using hand lotion every night before going to bed. Perhaps you suffer from the “Vernon Curse” which is dry hands. Some performers who have this problem will soak their hands in ice water before going on stage and others rub in a little glycerin before breaking out the playing cards.

Take care of your nails by clipping them and applying clear nail polish about every two weeks. This will give them a luster and elegance that suits your clever handling of your card/coins/cups and balls or whatever you’re using. By taking this advice, your hands will become more visually appealing and your audience will not be distracted by your dirty hands and nails. That’s not the kind of misdirection you want.

One last thing on your hands is your jewelry. Are you wearing a wedding ring (recently cleaned) and a watch or do you have rings on every finger and gold bracelets that makes it look like you’re wearing a Mr. T starter set? Some magicians prefer not to wear any rings which might distract from the performance or “clink” at the wrong time when you use coins. Others prefer to wear rings because they want the misdirection and they use the sound of the coin hitting the ring to sound like they have more than one coin in that hand. The choice of what jewelry you wear, if any, is yours but be sure that your choice is a conscious decision.

Listen to how you speak. Do you use good grammar? Do you have an accent that could possibly offend someone in your audience? A friend of mine in Tulsa was from Louisiana who had a strong Cajun accent. He knew that it would be accepted in his own land but perhaps not outside the South. As a result of his concern, he chose to perform a silent act with doves and illusions rather than trying to communicate with his dialect. As a side note, the club where he was working in Tulsa made a mistake when they asked him to do some strolling magic. When he opened his mouth, his lack of education was clear and he lost some potential bookings. Consequently, he went back to his silent act. Much has been said and published about studying dance and theater but little has been said about studying and using proper English. This is no less important than other educational endeavors. Perhaps it is even more important since you must speak properly to get the booking in the first place despite how great your promotional material might be.

Along this same line, a whole article could and should be written about dialog with your audience. Does your patter include offensive, degrading, prejudicial, or embarrassing humor or do you put your volunteers in compromising situations? Using such material could cost you a future booking and is generally not good for the magic profession. You should be cautious about what material to use and when to use it. Be sure to know what your audience wants before you prepare your show. You may be able to pick up on the “mood” or “feel” of the audience and what seems to be going over the best. You may be able to insert some effect or joke that you previously thought wouldn’t be appropriate or once you’re into the routine you may want to take out something that you thought might be acceptable. Here is a good place to remember the old adage “when in doubt, leave it out.”

Since most performances are given in the evening, we need to take one last look at our beard stubble. Be sure to scrape off that 5:00 shadow. If you’re going to be talking to people, then be sure to check your breath. Gargle before you go and you may even want to occasionally take a spritz of a breath freshener or chew a mint throughout the evening. Also be sure that you are freshly bathed and anointed with deodorant. On the subject of smells, is your after shave/cologne/deodorant so over powering that it leaves more of a lasting impression than your magic performance? It’s not necessary to bathe in the stuff before you go out. Besides, your audience may not like its smell as much as you do. A little touch goes a long way. Another thing that may seem minor is to make sure that you have used the restroom facilities before you go. It’s better not to have anything on your mind or anywhere else before you suit up to fool the world. Also be conscientious of your posture. This is important on stage when all eyes are on you but equally important as you approach a group to do some close-up magic.

You should appear confident and successful. People want to associate themselves with successful and interesting people. And who better now has that image than you?