|Joe’s Personally Speaking – August 2009
Ethics 101 by Mike Rogers
How many times have you seen close up shows at magic functions where performers leave behind a pile of salt, a wet table cloth, a table covered with cut up playing cards, or any other similar mess? Should the succeeding performer work with spectators seated at the table these spectators are often forced to avoid wet spots and trash on the table, not to mention the problem the debris creates in performing the act.
Recently the magic journals have devoted a great deal of space to the subject of "Ethics in Magic." Most of this discussion has dealt with the lifting of performing material or the unauthorized marketing of commercial effects belonging to another. I’m now going to relate a different form of ethics in magic that I have not seen in print, and that is the respect, or lack of it, that one performer extends to another. Much of what I have to say relates to magic functions; however, it also exists to some degree in the real world of performing arts.
To set the scene I’ll tell of a personal incident from the real world. Years ago I worked with Jerry Jordan, an old time comic in a sleazy bar down in Florida. Though the venue was little more than an upholstered sewer Jerry Jordon was a professional in every regard. He had done it all and there was little he didn’t know about the performing arts, including the respect one entertainer must show for another when appearing together on the same program. I was probably about 21 years old and thought I knew it all. How wrong I was, for Jerry Jordan leveled me to the ground our first night together, and rightly so. It went like this.
I was Jerry’s opening act. Back then my act consisted of such things as Rice Bowls, Hat Coil spinning, Torn Paper, Card Cascade, and Cut Rope among others. At the end of the act the stage was quite a mess being covered with spilled rice, bits of torn paper, playing cards, and sections of cotton rope. To me this was not a problem. What the Hell, no one threw rotten tomatoes. It was a good act and I was rather proud. That is, it was a good act until Jerry Jordon came on to follow me. He absolutely refused to appear with the performing area in such a disgusting state of appearance. Keep in mind this was a seedy bar and there was no such thing as a stage manager or stage hands to clean up the rubbish. As seedy as it was Jerry Jordon had professional pride and would not perform with a background of rubbish from the previous act. There were three choices. Either I would do it, Jerry would do it, or the program for the evening was over. Now he was a seasoned pro with enough material to absolutely crucify me. He could have ridiculed me right into the ground and gotten a laugh with every breath, but he didn’t. He simply picked up a large push broom and silently swept the trash to one side. No comments were made, no laughs were had, and my lesson was learned. He didn’t have to make jokes or say anything. I silently got the message, and so did everyone in the audience. Since that day more than 35 years ago I have never left the stage or performing area in a mess for another performer.
These things extend beyond the performing area. Quite often performers are expected to share the same dressing room and the area where one prepares for his act. Frequently the house (client) Will provide meals to the performers and it is not uncommon for these meals to be eaten in areas other than the dining room. The common thing is to simply take the meal to the backstage or dressing room area. All performers have done this and it is simply accepted as part of the business. The problem arises when the dirty dishes remain. All too often the one enjoying the meal fails to return the dishes to the kitchen. Hence, other performers are forced to live over the top of this mess in the course of the evening, and quite frequently on into the next evening.
I once worked a club where the act ahead of me, a comic who also did one trick, The Bill in Lemon, prepared his lemons in advance on the one table we had in the dressing area. This advance preparation left behind quite a lake of lemon juice on the table, which didn’t bother the comic at all. However, have you ever tried to set a magic act using a work bench covered with sticky lemon juice?
Years ago I was the house compeer (emcee) for a NATO Officers Club in Europe. We had cabaret entertainment nightly with the acts changing each week. In the course of a couple years I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of different acts and several house bands. For the most part these were all full time professional entertainers. Acts such as these, know the value and the need to respect the rights of fellow entertainers.
Sadly, much of poor behavior I’ve mentioned relates to magicians.