Scott Wells – Magic-related Stress

Scott Wells

Stress. I’m convinced that everybody experiences it. I used to think that only I had job- related stress but now I believe that it doesn’t matter if you are a CEO of a major corporation or work as the janitor in that corporation’s building or even carry out groceries, you still experience stress. Everyone expects something from you by a certain time . . . your boss, your customers, your stockholders, even your family. Perhaps each of us just experience stress to a different degree than others but I think that it’s all in the way that we handle it. We try to eliminate stress by relaxing on the weekend or through a hobby that takes our mind off the daily stress. Many of us play golf, tennis, racquetball or some other sport that relieves our tensions through a physical activity. Those who are reading this column, however, no doubt relieve their stress through finger flinging.

Magicians experience stress. We experience stress in making the calls to get the shows and fearing rejections, making the right impression on the phone to convince the client that you are the one for them. Once the show is booked, there is the planning, routining for each performance, making sure that each effect is just right for that particular group and that everything is fully rehearsed. Before the show the real stress begins as we check and recheck to make sure that we have everything we need for that performance. Then it’s off to the show, hoping that the directions are correct and that we don’t experience any traffic delays getting there or parking problems once we arrive.

Once we get there, we need to hurriedly find our contact, bring in our props, find the stage and start setting up our show. Next we have to check the lights, does the electrical outlet work, and do a mike test. Most importantly we check to see where and how the audience is seated and make any last minute adjustments to our routine due to bad angles. During the show we worry about making sure that each trick was rehearsed well enough so as to avoid any problems and use an “out” if necessary. Also, how is the audience reacting to your show…are they responding like you think they should? And what about timing, not just your timing of the effect for its maximum impact, but is the show too long or too short.

After the show, how have you arranged for payment? Do you have to chase down your host, do they need an invoice, do they need to find someone else to sign the check, is there a misunderstanding in your charge? Once the show is long past, how do you know what they liked about your performance or if they even cared for you at all?

Much of the stress can be eliminated by careful planning. As soon as the show is booked, you should immediately follow up with a performance agreement or contract. It may not seem like much and it may not stand up in court, but it sure relieves the stress knowing that the details have been agreed to by both parties and that there is no misunderstanding as with a verbal agreement. You have it in writing when and where you are to perform and how much and in what manner you are to be paid. Moreover you have reduced your sponsor’s stress because that is just one less thing that they have to worry about now.

Once the show is booked, make sure that they send you a map to the location. If it’s possible, drive to the site before the show to see how long it takes you to get there and what potential problems you could have in making the correct turns or in finding suitable parking. As Slydini said “check out your battle ground first.” Go inside and make contact with the restaurant/banquet manager or maitre de’ to find out where how the room will be set up for the evening of your performance. If necessary, then find out where the electrical outlets and light switches are and if the stage size and sound system is adequate. Find out how the tables will be situated around or in front of you, where the curtains, band or wall will be in relation to you. Check on the lighting conditions…will they be able to dim the lights or focus in on you with a spot or overhead lighting or will there be full lighting. Will there be a window behind you that could be distracting to the audience. Are there mirrored or reflective tiles behind or above your performance area? I once eliminated my performance of the sub trunk in a shopping mall by checking in advance and noticing mirrors on the ceiling.

If it is impossible to go to the location prior to the show, then you should at least contact the establishment by phone and get as many of your questions answered as possible. No doubt they can also give you better directions than your sponsor and tell you about the best parking and where to unload.

You may only be performing strolling magic but it still needs some advance preparation. Will you be competing with a band and if so then where are you to stroll? Do they want you to stroll throughout the entire area inside and outside, around the pool, or just in a specified area? Where do you set up, leave your extra props, etc? Is there a place where you could stand that might be more convenient for the crowd to stroll past you?

On the evening of the show, be sure to give yourself enough time to get there and set up and plan to have about 15 minutes to spare before show time. Normally, banquets run late so you will have plenty of time before your show starts, but don’t plan on that happening 100% of the time. The time you arrive late expecting them to start late, that’s the time that they will be waiting on you. You don’t want your sponsor to experience any more stress than they have to and you can help by arriving early. After the show is over you should make notes as to how long your show lasted, perhaps even how long it took for each effect. This will be helpful in planning your next show when you want to include some of the same effects for another group. By keeping a record of your routine, you can mix and match some effects when routining your next show. Additionally, if you are booked by the same group, then you know what you did for them the last time.

Immediately after the show you should ask what effects they liked best so that you can start to eliminate those that receive the least comments and leave in those strongest, most memorable effects. After you get home, you should send a letter thanking your sponsor and requesting that they send you a letter of recommendation to be used for your booking of future engagements. The best way to ensure a response is by taking a tip from magician Chris Carey and enclose a self addressed stamped envelope for their reply.

A little planning goes a long way in eliminating stress in magic or any other job. And less stress means that we will live longer and a longer life means that we can do more shows. And more shows means more experience. And more experience means improved quality with each show. And that’s what this world needs is better magic performances elevating the art to its highest degree.