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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Notes from a Designer's Logbook - by George Ledo » » “Yes, the audience will notice it,” or, How to avoid that “amateur” look (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

George Ledo
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I've written about this subject a number of times here in the Café, but a recent thread brought a lot of it to mind again, especially in view of a few recent experiences I've had in the theater world. I'm going to start by bringing up three facts and explore how they tie together to create expectations and pre-conceived ideas in our audiences. Then, over a couple of posts, I'll discuss what we can do about it.

Fact #1 is that, in general, Americans are not a theater-going people. Yes we have Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and so forth, and very active professional theater companies in some of the major cities, but, for the most part, live theater in the U.S. is viewed as part of “the arts,” and not as part of the entertainment industry. Which I find amusing, but that's fodder for another column. In any case, we tend to prefer the movies, sports, and certainly TV as entertainment mediums. Nowadays, the internet is catching up, what with YouTube, podcasts, and so forth.

The net result of Fact #1 is that a large percentage of Americans do not realize how “professional” professional theater actually is, and how much work is involved in mounting a show.

Fact #2 is that a lot of people in this country have been involved in “the school play” in some form, either as students or as parents. These people remember making (or scrounging for) the sets, the lights, the costumes, the props, and everything else, borrowing from here or there, schlepping stuff back and forth, pinching pennies, and everything else they did. They also remember the performances, and the experience of sitting through them, for the sake of “supporting the school play.”

The bulk of community theaters, unfortunately, are in the same boat. Whether for lack of money, or staff, or resources, or imagination, or all of the above, the typical “community theater” performance in this country falls far below a professional standard. People involved in these theaters do the best they can—and sometimes do a wonderful job—but the audiences tend to have a certain level of expectation, and that level is below what they would expect from a professional performance. These audiences, also, generally tend to attend these theaters in order to “support the arts” or because their friends or relatives are involved.

The net result of Fact #2 is that a lot of Americans think of live theater as something they did in school or as parents, or as a community activity, and—because of Fact #1—equate live theater with “amateur theater.”

Yet (Fact #3), a lot of those same people go to touring rock concerts, or to Las Vegas and Branson, and pay good money to see the stars, live on stage, doing shows that cost millions. And for some reason, going to these shows is not “supporting the arts,” but “going to see live entertainment.”

So the net result of Fact #3 is that our expectations of what we perceive as “star” performances is much higher that that of what we perceive as “non-star” performances.

The question of “how all this ties together” belongs, I think, in a grad school seminar on sociology, with a PhD professor at each end of a long table, spouting long passages of scholar-speak, and a dozen or so grad students on the sides, looking back and forth at the professors like they were watching a tennis match. I remember attending seminars like this, and how our brains hurt afterwards.

So I'll spare you the scholar-speak, mostly because I'm not a scholar and I don't want to make your brain hurt.

However, I will provide my usually-very-strong personal opinions as to what we can do to reduce the risk of our audiences looking at a magic show as an amateur performance.

First, I'd say we need to understand that audiences tend to be very forgiving when attending certain types of events, and that's because of Fact #2 above. When we go watch an amateur-league ball game, or an amateur golf tournament, or something similar, we don't expect to see star performances, because our expectations are only so high. If things during a magic show are a bit out of whack, or the performer's suit doesn't fit like a glove, or the silks are wrinkled, or the jokes aren't always funny, well, that's because this guy isn't a real pro. But that's okay because we weren't expecting one.

But—and here's a sad fact—by fulfilling the audience's low expectations, we are reinforcing what they thought of us in the first place: that we are not a real pro.

The way to avoid this is to not fulfill their expectations, but to exceed them.

I still remember a comment I heard fairly often when I was doing my cards-and-doves act as a teenager paying his dues while climbing the ladder. After the show, the organizer would tell me something to the effect that the show “was nothing short of professional.” I'm mentioning this, not to pat myself on the back, but because these comments always told me that the guy had certain expectations of this teenage kid doing a magic act, and that I had gone beyond them.

What did I do to exceed his expectations? My outfit fit me like a glove and was immaculate. My performance was polished, and tight, and clean, and there were no hesitations or blunders. I looked and acted my age, but I could still manipulate the audience and lead them from one thing to another, and get them on my side even though I was “fooling” them (how I hate that word!) time after time. I had a personality, and they liked it, even after only seven minutes.

Sometimes I'm a little slow on the take, but what finally sank it in was when I noticed that people would often ask me “personal” questions after the show, like how long I'd been doing magic, or how often I performed, or where else I performed, instead of asking about the tricks. They saw me as a person with something to say, not just as a guy doing tricks.

In the next post, I'll cover other ways to go beyond what the audience is expecting and get them to see us in a different light.
That's Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
www.georgefledo.net

Latest column: "Quote, How to get into illusions, unquote"
George Ledo
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Magic Café Columnist
SF Bay Area
2772 Posts

Profile of George Ledo
Right after I uploaded the post above, it occurred to me that I should probably add a disclaimer, Smile even though it's basically the same one I've used on several of my other articles.

This article, as well as most of my other ones here, is focused on performing for the general public (i.e., those we call “lay people”), as opposed to performing for a group that's involved in magic, or for a special-interest audience such as at the Magic Castle. If I were writing about how to perform for these “inside” audiences, I would be saying much different things. However, since I've never had an interest in doing this, I don't have a clue what I would be saying.

So much for the disclaimer, but this takes us right back to the whole idea of expectations. From my years of membership in the IBM, and doing exchange shows and conventions, and more recently hanging around here at the Café, I feel very strongly that the expectations of the general public are totally different from those of.an “inside” audience.

There have been a number of threads here recently about how to do stronger magic, and I feel that the answer lies—not in the magic itself, or the routining, or even the story—but in the performer. In the post above, I said that the first thing we have to do is exceed the audience's expectations, and now I'm going to turn that around.

The second thing we need to do is understand the audience's expectations.

People, in general, are far more interested in other people than in things. However, we've all known a few who were just so focused on one specific subject that they didn't have time for anything else. Back in school, we had the sports jocks who totally lived for sports (and the girls who were always trying to “civilize” them, but that's another story). We also had the “brainiacs” who lived for their textbooks and labs, and who couldn't seem to talk about anything else.

Hey, I was one of them many many years ago. I read those magazine ads that promised I'd be the life of the party if I could do magic, and I believed them. I really did believe them. And, after a while, I was a magic geek. Just ask my old friends, who hung in there regardless... probably because being a real friend means hanging in there regardless of what a jerk the guy can be when he wants to.

Sorry, but I just had to 'fess up there. Smile Thankfully, after a couple of years, I learned how to un-become a magic geek.

Anyway, Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People, written in the mid-1930's, is to this day one of the best-selling nonfiction books ever published. It's probably the granddaddy of all the self-help books now on the shelf. A capsule summary, which I found in Wikipedia, lists the first way to get people to like you as "Become genuinely interested in other people."

It doesn't say “Fool and amaze them,” regardless of what those magazine ads say.

Okay, fine, so how does this tie into understanding the audience's expectations? Simple.

General audiences expect their entertainers to be real people who put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, not just larger-than-life cardboard cutouts. Movie magazines (“fan” magazines) have been around since the 1920's, and they've always had articles on what the current stars do when not on camera: where they travel, who they're married to or divorced from, what they do in their spare time, and so forth. Some of the older issues are actually pretty funny, portraying the stars as real people who just happen to be larger than life. Even today, music magazines, sports magazines, and so forth, all have personal-interest pieces.

Funny that computer mags do not. Hmmm... there's a message there somewhere.

In any case, if we like to view our celebrities as real people who are living a fantasy life, we go to the “fan” magazines.

Or, if we like to view our celebrities as being just as screwed up as everyone else, we can go to the tabloids.

And there are always the TV shows and the Web sites: fan magazines or tabloids in a different from.

So, no matter how we view our celebrities and what our choice of medium is, we can see them as real people and get a glimpse of their life outside the screen, or the stage, or the court, or the concert. We expect them to have such a life.

How different from experiencing someone who does not have such a life, and who comes across as a caricature because he or she has only one dimension.

Case in point. Last weekend Donna and I went to an event at one of the wineries up in Napa. Before the event started, we were all standing around, drinking coffee, using the facilities, and just generally gearing up for a good time, when suddenly the winery's owner walked in, ostensibly to get a refill on his coffee. He milled around for a bit, said hi, talked about himself, about his wife (who had recently had heart surgery), about other groups that had come through, and joked around, but not once did he talk about wine or the winery.

Later, before lunch, we all met again for hors d'oeuvres, and, once again, he just talked about this and that, like anyone else. I just found it refreshing to meet this guy, on his own turf, and not get a sales pitch. During lunch, we were joined by a few of the winery staff, and yet managed to talk about anything and everything without getting hit over the head with the product... and the product was outstanding, by the way.

Okay, okay, I can see some of you asking which winery? It was Cakebread.

How different, indeed, from going to a party, meeting a guy who says he's a magician, and, after a few minutes of watching trick after trick, wanting to whip out the communicator and beg Scotty to beam us the heck outta there.

That's what I meant by understanding the audience's expectations. We need to behave like other entertainers—other people—who have more than one dimension. Get our audiences to like us as individuals first, and then let them in on the magic as something we do as individuals, and not as the only thing we do.

Next up: getting the audience to take us seriously. Stay tuned.
That's Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
www.georgefledo.net

Latest column: "Quote, How to get into illusions, unquote"
The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Notes from a Designer's Logbook - by George Ledo » » “Yes, the audience will notice it,” or, How to avoid that “amateur” look (1 Likes)
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