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Topic: Free Shows???
Message: Posted by: MAGICTOM (Mar 25, 2003 08:12AM)
Hello Everyone,

I apologize for the length of this post, but I need some help. Last night I feel was a turning point of some kind in my magic career. I had volunteered to perform for a girl scout troop in my church for free (they have a very low budget). I was looking at it as advertisement. BUT I had a BLAST!!! I had more fun performing for free last night than in any paid performance yet. My show lasted about an hour total, with no script for the second half, but I was so relaxed, and was having so much fun, you would have thought that I had memorized every routine to the letter.

I love performing for children. I have 3 daughters myself, and just looking at their faces during and after an effect is enough to let me know what magic is really about.

It's not about making a six figure income. It's not about fooling someone. It's not about making yourself look cool. It's about giving your spectator an experience that brings a smile and a feeling of wonder into their lives. Granted, a six figure income would be nice, and up until now I have concentrated so much on the business side of magic that I have forgotten how much fun it is. When you worry about advertising, and how much to charge, and do they get their money's worth, and insurance, and everything that bogs you down, you tend to drift away from what you are really there to do.

OK, now to my question: I would still like to get paid for birthday performances and events of the like, but I would also like to do as many free shows for kids whose parents could not normally afford to pay a magician.

Low Budget Day-cares,
at Homes for orphans
at places like the Scottish Rite Children's Hospital
Low income families
Boys and Girls Clubs

There are a ton of places that I could perform for free as a charity, [i]but will I be will I be hurting the business of other magicians who make a living from getting paid?[/i] How do I set this up so I don't hurt them? I figure my target audience for this type of work are not potential gigs for other magicians in the area, so am I hurting them at all?

Anyway, if you have been down this road before, and you know it's a crash course, please fill me in on the ups and downs. Any advice or comments would be greatly appreciated.


Message: Posted by: drhackenbush (Mar 25, 2003 01:10PM)
MagicTom -
Congrats! Sounds like you made a neat discovery! I think you should go ahead and do free shows as you wish. You seem to already be doing shows for pay and that is great; when you do a free show for a good cause, as you just discovered, the great feeling you get feels just as good as being paid fiancially (perhaps even better!). If your goal is to make a living as a magician, or a certain amount of money through your shows, you want to make sure you balance paid shows with free ones; look at the free ones as your own personal community outreach program. As a win-win situation, you'll find that your free shows invariably bring you more paid shows, and in terms of cutting into the business of other magicians, don't worry about it. They aren't keeping any tabs on what you do, and probably do free shows themselves for libraries, hospitals and other places as well.

And I noticed doing this recent show made you enjoy your work again in a way you felt was missing. You can be sure that if you really enjoy it, and are passionate about it, you WILL do well, both financially and otherwise, because your audiences and customers can tell when you are doing something you love - it just shows. When you are doing something for the joy of it, and would do it whether you were paid or not, you put an extra effort into everything, and your competency in what you are doing grows and grows, and soon you find people are tripping over themselves to hire you specifically because you put yourself into your shows in a way most performers around you might not.

Here's to your success!
Message: Posted by: MAGICTOM (Mar 25, 2003 02:15PM)
That's what I was hoping I would hear.
Thanks for the kind words!
Message: Posted by: Andy Wonder (Mar 25, 2003 05:32PM)
I donít really follow your logic on this one, Tom. The children donít know what your fee is or if you have charged anyone a fee at all. That should not affect their enjoyment of the show. If you do a lot of free shows, it wonít be long before you start to notice some clients (and they are still clients) will be quite disrespectful and unappreciative of your efforts. I perform a safety show for schools and got some government funding at one time so schools did not have to pay to see my show. I noticed with a lot of the schools that received the free show they had much less respect for me than the schools that had paid. If you want to contribute you can donate a portion of you fees [url=http://www.christianchildrensfund.org ][b]The Christian Childrens Fund[/b][/url] and sponsor a some children in a 3rd world country. You would be contributing a lot more to the happiness and well being of children but only have to give up a small part of your magic income.
Message: Posted by: drhackenbush (Mar 25, 2003 06:16PM)
I guess everyone has different styles that work for them. My free shows made it possible for me to do what I love for a living, and make as much, if not more, than I ever did working for someone else, and I have never had an organization disrespect me because I did free shows. Mind you, I don't do 50 free shows and one paid, I do 98% paid and 2%of free benefits and the like. There's one rest home in Washington, DC, where I have done an annual benefit (and they just invited me back this year) for a couple years, and now I do a monthly intergenerational program with both toddlers and the elderly in the rest home itself and this is a higher-end paid monthly gig, including back-room sales. So 2 free shows at this one place over two years have actually netted me literally thousands of dollars in steady gigs and birthday parties, and I continue to get business from this one source. Multiply that by even a small single digit number (a few more free shows every once in a while), and you're talking tens of thousands of dollars of added income that would not have been there. Then add your regular paid parties and gigs, and if applicable, your full-time job, and you can multiply your returns again.

Again, I know different styles work for different people, and none are wrong. The above has worked well for me, and it has helped build my career.

The neat thing about this forum is that you can ask a question and get lots of great answers, all of which, while perhaps reflecting different takes on the same subject, are filled with sound advice. Then it's up to you to take what you feel fits your style from all the answers, including the answers you already have in your own mind, and go for it. Hey, things might flop. Or they might work really well. If they flop, then what's the worst that can happen? You'll have learned what didn't work, and you can try something else if you need to. And when you find something that works, hey, look out!

MagicTom said, "It's not about fooling someone. It's not about making yourself look cool. It's about giving your spectator an experience that brings a smile and a feeling of wonder into their lives."

You hit it right on the head! That's EXACTLY what it's all about. That is the kind of attitude that does eventually bring in the 6-figure income, because what you're really doing is giving the customers what they want, and are making the whole process of hiring you smooth and painless. One of the greatest compliments I've ever received business-wise (this was from a school)is, "We'd rather hire you than anyone else because you have a nice manner and are easy to work with." And I wasn't exactly charging them peanuts.

Individuals and organizations will pay a premium for a performer's program if they can be sure they'll feel, from the first contact to the post-show thank-you note, that the performer was easy to work with. And this doesn't mean giving up control of your needs as a performer; rather it means -to be totally redundant at this point - making the whole process easy for them.
Message: Posted by: Steven Steele (Mar 25, 2003 08:55PM)
I only do free shows for organizations that I believe in and support. I have done free shows in the past for a variety of groups which have done nothing except provide free entertainment for the sponsor and calls from people asking if I'll do a free show for them too.

I have even done free shows where I've been the only free entertainment, everybody else had been paid.

If you have fun doing magic for the girl scouts, go for it. I do free shows once in awhile myself, but I make it the exception. Organizations are always trying to get something for nothing. That's why they call them non-profit.
Message: Posted by: Shadow (Mar 25, 2003 09:34PM)
Just remember, when you work for free,
odds are you're over paid.

It comes down to perceived value.
Message: Posted by: MAGICTOM (Mar 28, 2003 08:39AM)
Thanks for the advice everyone, I value greatly the different opinions offered here at the Cafť.

On 2003-03-25 18:32, Andy Walker wrote:
I donít really follow your logic on this one, Tom. The children donít know what your fee is or if you have charged anyone a fee at all. That should not affect their enjoyment of the show. [/quote]

I think you may have misunderstood my post. I know the children will enjoy the show, free or not, but when I perform for free, I have more fun performing. I don't feel pressured to make sure the parents feel like their money was well spent, so I relax and have a lot of fun.

Also, I was thinking about the consequences brought up about the loss of respect when performing for free. I have an opposite point of view. When I performed the other night for the Girl Scouts, I was overwhelmed with "thank you's" from the adults. They could not believe that I would take time out of my schedule to perform a free show for their kids! They were [b]stunned[/b] that I asked for nothing, and they [b]all[/b] wanted my business card for future engagements. I believe the issue of customer relations is essential in this business, and when I left there, I was viewed as an incredibly nice person, an excellent magician, someone who will show up on time and be well dressed, and someone who will be sure to provide guaranteed entertainment. [b]none[/b] of these qualities and perceptions would be in consideration if I had not performed for them, and [b]none[/b] of these perceptions can be gained by an ad in the Yellow Pages.

Take care all
and again, thank you for the different opinions.

Tom :)
Message: Posted by: Peter Marucci (Mar 28, 2003 09:31AM)
Free shows can cut both ways, as MagicTom has found out.

I have done a number of free shows and have never had a problem with the organizers treating me with anything but the utmost respect and gratitude.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which groups positively can't afford entertainment and which groups are trying to get something for nothing.

Go for the former, and avoid the latter!

MagicTom, you appear to gear your performance to younger audiences. I do something of the opposite and you might want to try performing at nursing homes, veterans' hospitals, seniors' residences, etc.

If we can't use our talent to help out another human being, or group of human beings, then why were we given it at all?
Message: Posted by: kenscott (Mar 28, 2003 08:36PM)
I must say I totally agree with Peter!!

Message: Posted by: harris (Mar 29, 2003 12:38PM)
This is an area where one will get lots of opinions.

As a part time pro I wear 3 (if not more) hats. The first one is as a person who offers show already paid for through County Grants.

I also do work through my own company, Nearly Normal Magic.

Beyond that I also do pro bono shows for agencies that have special meaning to me.

Something I discovered a few years ago is that some "charity" agencies have a budget for entertainers/entertainment.

This is an area you will have to work out for yourself after gathering your own information. I would also suggest talking in person with one of your local magical mentors.

After a recent day of sharing my Magic of Choices program, I got the following Nearly Normal Feedback. The counselor who arranged the programs told me that her "Cool Factor" went up with the kids for bringing me into the school. I was also told that the teachers were impressed because they did not have to discipline any 5th graders.

The program cost the school no out of pocket.
I work through a county grant. Most days I do the regular individual and groups on anger,death, drugs...

During Spring Break and Summer School, I go out in the community with my Nearly Normal Program on Choices/Bullying and Substance Abuse.

Message: Posted by: Cheshire Cat (Mar 29, 2003 02:55PM)
We don't mind doing an occasional free show but they must be for organisations of our choosing. I think it also fair (and not selfish) to point out that some people expect you to donate your services for such events at your peak times of business, which of course, if this affects your earning potential as a professional, is unacceptable.
Message: Posted by: BarryRice (Mar 30, 2003 01:40PM)
I think it is great. In my opinion, you do not even need a reason to do a free show. I think free shows are great experience because you do feel more relaxed. It is a great time to try out new material and make sure everyone else is just as thrilled by the newest effect as you are.

I think this shows that you are passionate about magic. And I say keep up the good work. You may face resistance from other local performers, but in truth you are probably not hurting them much if at all as long as you don't approach former clients of theirs. I have yet to find a place where the magic market is saturated. Then again, I just perform on an extremely part time basis, so what do I know about professional magic?
Message: Posted by: Chrystal (Mar 30, 2003 09:35PM)
I think offering to provide a free show of your own choice is a great idea when you are first starting out. However, you'll find if word spreads of your offers of free shows you'll be swamped with every non-profit organization wanting your service.

At the beginning if you only do them occasionally you won't notice the time you put in. As time goes by you see that each show puts you out of pocket for gas expenses and balloons if you provide those. You also turn down paid bookings and you must always honor your first commitment whether it was a free show or not. Most people don't realize this when they ask you for a free show..that in turn you will or may have to turn down a paid booking. So in theory it's like you are giving up 100-200 dollars (depending on rates in your area) out of your own pocket not to mention the gas and balloons. If you suddenly become popular in your area you may be asked to do a lot of shows and you'll find you will be taking time away from your family and eventually they may come to resent this. Whew! I'm giving you all the negatives just so you can be aware of avoiding the downfalls of free shows.

Now for the postives: If you are sure they do not have the funds to normally hire an entertainer then by all means volunteer your services. You will have much satisfaction and gain so much experience. Old age homes appreciate it so much when they have visitors and would enjoy having you there. This holds true for any good cause which you feel strongly about but I would be selective as to what you choose. Not that anybody means to, but there are literally thousands of organizations out there that would take you up on your offer.

I think your heart is in the right place, Tom. I've often said If I could afford to, I would do all of my shows for free!!! Alas, reality is that it is my business, but I still offer my services to organizations I really want to help.

So good luck to you and may you spread smiles to a lot of people!
Message: Posted by: p.b.jones (Mar 31, 2003 01:46AM)
"I was looking at it as advertisement. BUT I had a BLAST!!! I had more fun performing for free last night than in any paid performance yet."

I cannot add much to what has been said, apart from pointing out that just because this free show was a show that you enjoyed/went really well does not mean that it had anything to do with the fact you did not charge. Not charging is not going to improve you as a performer in itself. Yes, the fact that you might get more gigs will, but that would be the same if you did more gigs for which you where paid too.

I am sure after performing several shows for free you will see that some shows just appear to go better than others, regardless of whether they were paid or unpaid.

Message: Posted by: MAGICTOM (Apr 7, 2003 07:40AM)
I understand your point, but I have to disagree with you. Personally, I feel a great deal more pressure when performing for a fee than I do during a free performance.
Thus, when performing for free, I am more laid back, relaxed, funny, and entertaining.
What I need to do I guess is perform a few free shows every now and then and try to merge that state of mind into my paid shows.
It may be a confidence issue, who knows..
Ill let you know how it turns out
Message: Posted by: Al Kazam the Magic Man (Apr 7, 2003 10:44AM)
Hello All,
This truly is a great forum being able to discuss these topics and get such varied and as always great advice, and differing ways to look at the elephant.
I myself do some free shows for orphanages, and regularly volunteer at a kids ward in a hospital once a week to make balloons and perform a small show in the play room.
I too feel relaxed when doing these shows due mainly to not having to "feel the pressure of getting it all right to make the payment seem worth it to whoever books me". At free shows I do often try out new routines and don't worry too much about scripting and the such. I just sort of let it rip and have a blast.
So far it hasn't been too much of a problem with others calling for free work, because they hear that I offer shows for free. Here in Asia is not unpolite to ask for a small fee to cover gas money and balloons and things you use in the show if it is a pro bono show. Just last week a hospital offered me this to go to their city to do a show and make balloons for their kids, as they had seen the story in the newspaper that we were doing the same where we live. They payed our way and covered the costs.
If the cause is really worth it, then I say it's fine.
Message: Posted by: drhackenbush (Apr 7, 2003 12:51PM)
Yesterday I was performing for some toddlers and infants at Children's Hospital in Washington - some with cancer, some with other medical issues - a father who looked around 20 asked if I could come to his daughter's room since she was all hooked up to the IV's for her leukemia and couldn't leave her room(she's 14 months old & luckily the prognosis is good).

Just being in the same room with these kids made me remember how unimportant most of my everyday "problems" are. As I think about it, I'm realizing that for me the issue of free shows really has nothing to do with whether I'm undercutting myself or anything business-wise, for that matter. It's about a child or whomever smiling for a moment when they might otherwise be miserable or sad, and when a parent says "This is the first time Nicole has laughed or moved since her operation", that is worth so much more than any monetary fee I could ever ask.

Also, in terms of suddenly being beseiged with requests for free shows, I've never found that to be the case, but that's just my own experience. If someone asks for a free show and it is obviously not the right choice for whatever reason, the worst that can happen is you say, "No, thank you.", and they say, "Oh.", and you move on.
Message: Posted by: p.b.jones (Apr 7, 2003 02:47PM)
I too feel relaxed when doing these shows due mainly to not having to "feel the pressure of getting it all right to make the payment seem worth it to whoever books me". At free shows I do often try out new routines and don't worry too much about scripting and the such. I just sort of let it rip and have a blast.

I suppose that this is where are personalities differ. Even when magic was just a hobby for me I would not have considered performing for lay people anything short of my best. I have always had a group of test people (friends and family) on whom to test and tweak. I would only perform stuff I was 100% sure of with lay audiences paid or otherwise. Where all different I suppose.
Message: Posted by: Al Kazam the Magic Man (Apr 8, 2003 12:34PM)
Hi Phillip,
Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your opinions and do take seriously your advice, which I feel is from a real professional.
To clarify a bit, at the hospital where I volunteer every week I get a different crowd basically every time. Some of the kids are on medication, some are a bit drowsy, and all of them are accomponied by at least one parent, but basically about 10 to 12 kids a show. Here in Taiwan the relatives have to stay with the kids basically 24/7 while they are in the hospital. I don't perform a new act every week of new material to try out on them. I have added new things into my short half an hour show as I have developed the ideas for the routines at home. I do use some of the new additions to the routines to get an idea of how the kids react.
One difference for me with my act than yours (maybe, I'm not sure) is that at home I speak English to my kids, who are a bit jaded by performing as they have all done performing most of their lives themselves. However, my shows are all done in Chinese, as kids here don't speak English at all. That is the biggest challenge for me in performing magic, getting the right point accross in another language than my own and being entertaining and magical all at once. Sometimes I just have to try out new things to see how they go, as I'm not always sure I got the right words to convey the story line for different effects.
Just thought I'd share the situation from my performing side of the fence. Thanks again for your honest comments which makes this board a wonderful place of learning and sharing.
JoJo :righton:
Message: Posted by: p.b.jones (Apr 8, 2003 02:12PM)
HI JoJo,
I was not trying to say that there was anything wrong with having a show test market.Lots of pro performer do Micheal Ammar for one used to use nursing homes for testing material. I think as I said it is down to a different personality I am just not comfortable testing in public.