By Scott Wells
I have recently been engaged in in-depth discussions concerning the terms “Professionals” and “Amateurs.” The root of the discussions was founded on the traditionally defined understanding that a Professional earns his living performing whereas an Amateur does not. My article on the Hierarchy of Magical Skill apparently stirred emotions regarding “Professionals versus Amateurs”.
I would like to reiterate an overlooked and often misunderstood part of my aforementioned article in which I stated “The point of this article is for you to search your own soul to learn where you fit in the grand scheme of things . . . and more importantly, where do you want to be? There is nothing particularly wrong with being nor staying at any stage, but you should recognize where you are before you can advance to the next stage in the Hierarchy of Magical Skills.” What I was trying to say was that not everyone aspires to be a “Professional” magician. Many are happy learning the secrets and fooling themselves or a few friends . . . and thatÃs okay, too. I was not trying to create nor promote a Pro versus Amateur fight.
In certain disciplines, one may lose his or her amateur status by accepting money or anything exceeding a certain value. If this is were applied to magic, then a magician automatically falls into the category of professional once he accepts pay for that first birthday party. Accordingly, it is bit less universally accepted what makes up a Professional in magic. Whatever your opinion, the subject of this column is intended to deal with attitude.
What is “Attitude?” ItÃs a matter of deportment. ItÃs how you “hold” yourself. ItÃs how you appear to others. ItÃs in the way you approach a subject. ItÃs something that you may only be aware of when it changes. They are “vibes” or an “aura” that everyone gives off at some time or another. Sometimes the “vibes” that are sent out are stronger than other times. An attitude can be a positive or a negative thing. Your audience often perceives your attitude before you utter your first word. Therefore, it can be a matter of posture and “body language.” In fact, WebsterÃs Unabridged Dictionary defines attitude in part as “behavior representative of feeling or conviction; a persistent disposition to act either positively or negatively toward a person, group, object, situation or value.” Although this topic can go in several different directions, let me contain it to our chosen field of entertainment as it may pertain to the “Professional versus Amateur” status question.
Gene Anderson gave us the wonderful alternative term of “part-time pro” for the derogatory description of “semi-pro”. I believe that this description best reflects the attitude of the majority of those who are engaged in the pursuit of magic as a hobby or more serious endeavor but not yet ready to break away from that nine to five job. It implies that even though one may not be a full time pro, they perform part-time providing a professional show to their audiences while carrying on another full time job on the side.
Gene Anderson created the term “part-time pro” because he found the term “semi-pro” both distasteful and inaccurate and it implied something less than professional. To quote Gene . . . ” Ã«Part-time ProÃ is a better title because it describes both the attitude and time devoted to this activity. Indeed, this term is frequently used in todayÃs business world. Teaching and nursing are just two good examples of professions with many part-time practitioners. Professional teachers and nurses require full professional training and certification whether they choose to practice their professions on a part-time or full-time basis. A part-time professional magician has no less stringent requirements: he must meet all the criteria expected of a full-time professional magician.”
Unfortunately, there is no official certification required to move from being (as Gene Anderson says) an “energetic amateur” to a “part-time pro” nor even to a “full time professional.” In fact, anyone who is otherwise out of work but who has enough money to buy a few self working or packet tricks can become accomplished enough with those few tricks in a matter of days or weeks to perform for pay and call himself or herself a full time pro. There is no “time in grade” nor requirement to pass any oral nor written test to become a full time professional magician. Those who choose this short route will find it difficult to stay in the field and earn a living without learning how to be a pro the hard way. That is to say, one would have to learn all of the basic elements through experience rather than having heard the advice from books or other magicians who already experienced those problems.
Before jumping into the world of the full-time pro, their time might have been better spent learning all of the basics of magic, the history of the art, talking with other full-time pros and part-time pros, reading magic books, attending lectures and magic conventions, practicing, learning basic sleight of hand techniques, understanding not only how but “why” tricks work, and just plain thinking about magic. Just as in any profession, all of this takes time and canÃt be learned overnight.
After you accomplished all of these essential elements, you must still have the right attitude. Gene Anderson touched on this when he said that being a part-time pro is in “both the attitude and time devoted to this activity.” As I said earlier about attitude, itÃs how you approach the subject. One should approach magic in a professional way. As with being a part-time teacher or nurse, you should be as accomplished as the full-time pro when you go out to perform and accept a professional fee. Even if you are donating your talents to a charitable organization, that does not mean that your show nor your attitude should be any less professional. The part-time pro should never give less than his best performance.
I recall a story by Bev Bergeron who said that when he first moved to Los Angeles, he couldnÃt book himself for the fees that he felt that he was worth. He finally decided to accept a show for less pay and he delivered a less than professional show feeling that he was giving them their moneyÃs worth. As a result, he got more bookings for the cheaper show that he provided for a while with his inferior performance. Then he realized that not only were his sponsors getting less (value) but also he was getting less (money). He could not secure higher priced bookings until he proved that he could deliver a better show. As a result, he changed his attitude and gave stellar performances for fees that finally rose to a satisfactory level.
I believe that being a professional or an amateur is not so much a matter of whether or not one accepts money for their services as it is how you approach the art/profession. Do you give every audience a professional show? Do you give your audience what they paid for or are you giving them more than they paid for? Are you in magic to learn a few tricks and amaze your friends, business associates, and grand children? Is your intent to make a little money on the side or a lot of money as a full time occupation? None of these endeavors is right or wrong for everyone. Just be aware of where you fit into the grand scheme of things before you call yourself an amateur or professional.