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JAEIII
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Hey everyone. My name is Jon. I just discovered this site today and think it's great. I have a question for an illusionist who I suppose would have to be successful. I have an illusion show in the works and am hoping to have it ready by mid 2003. My question is acutally regarding employees (Assitants, dancers, sound/light crew, etc...)

Although I am confident that the show will do extremely well, how can you hire a crew when in all actuality you don't know if the show will do well and you don't know if you can pay them? Even though I believe my show will be a hit, I can't see the future. How do you convince people to work for you when you can't assure them money? I know every illusionist had this problem when they first began, so I'm hoping to get some good advice. Thanks in advance to any and all who have any help for me. Thanks!
Believe In Magic....I do!
cfrye
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Portland, Oregon, USA
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Jon,

I'm not a practicing illusionist, but I have done lots of theater as a performer and technician, so I'll throw in my thoughts.

In my opinion, if you aren't in a position to pay your assistants, you aren't ready to put on the show. Not so much that you're using the folks, because your point that most beginning performers face the same issue is correct, but that if you don't pay them, they won't feel bad about leaving the show at the last minute.

My advice for generating funds to pay your folks is to sell advertising in your program. Make a full-page ad $100, a half-page $60, and so on. Also, see if you can't double-up your assistants as technicians, even if it's just for the install.
ChrisZampese
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Hmm, you could always befriend the local theatre group! I have been doing amateur thatre for about a year now, and I recently suggested to a few people that I would like to put together an illusion show with music and dancing etc. I now have a full cast and crew, all doing it for the love of theatre and performance. Not the most practical suggestion I know, but I just thought that I would let you know you may be able to find reliable, friendly people that will give you a hand.
But, like Curtis said if you can pay them, then all the better!
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are
cfrye
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Quote:
On 2002-11-05 05:14, ChrisZampese wrote:
Hmm, you could always befriend the local theatre group! I have been doing amateur thatre for about a year now, and I recently suggested to a few people that I would like to put together an illusion show with music and dancing etc. I now have a full cast and crew, all doing it for the love of theatre and performance.

I want to emphasize that I don't think your idea is totally impractical -- it may very well work. I just want to caution you that working on a show for someone else, as opposed to being a named character in a play, may work against you.

I do wish you nothing but the best, and hope it comes off without a hitch!
Michael Messing
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I am a performing illusionist. While I do not pay assistants for rehearsals, I have never asked an assistant to work without a guarantee of pay.

I generally work with college dancers and they have no complaint about rehearsing for free. (They rarely get paid to dance. They are used to college dance companies and free public performances.) But when it comes to the actual performance, I always guarantee them an amount.

I'm a little confused at what you're planning to do. Before I ever hired an assistant, I already had a commitment for several shows. (They were a couple of months away so I knew I had enough time to rehearse.) Do you have a projected customer and venue or are you building a show first and then hoping to sell it?

If you're planning a show without a good plan for how it will make money, I think you need to do some more planning. You need to have some sort of business plan and have done some research so you can project your income and expenses. Only then will you know what you "should be able to pay" your assistants and tech help.

Personally, I keep my show small. Just me and an assistant. I have used a second assistant when the show paid enough to justify it. As a former booking agent, I have seen too many magicians put together a show with two assistants and two tech people, only to find that they couldn't get a high enough price to make enough money for everyone.

For example, if you charge $1,500 for a 45-minute corporate show (a very modest price) and you pay your assistant $150-$200 for the show, you then take home $1,300-$1,350 before expenses. There are many expenses!

On the other hand, if you have two assistants ($300-$400) and two techs ($200-$400), you have to get $2,000 or more to make the same amount.

You need to project how much money you will need to charge to cover expenses, salaries and the amount you want to make. Then, you need to figure out if you can really get that much. Hoping you will isn't the best way. You need some concrete research.

I have a young friend who put together an elaborate illusion show for a fundraiser. Since it was a fundraiser (and he was making no money), he was able to get several high school friends, his parents and grandparents to work the show for him. He had three onstage assistants and three or four offstage helpers (sound, lights, etc.)

The show was pretty impressive. The problem? He has done it twice for fundraisers, but isn't sure how to sell it to make money. To make it equitable for everyone, he'll have to charge a pretty good amount and have to find the right venue and buyer.

Hope this helps a little.

Michael
JAEIII
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Thanks to all who replied. The show I'm in the process of making right now is still months away from being finished. In fact, I don't see anything happening for six to eight months. That is why I'm trying to get all this information in advance. If anyone else has an opinion, I'd appreciate it. Thanks again!
Believe In Magic....I do!
Michael Messing
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Knoxville, TN
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JAEIII,

You still haven't indicated what type of show you are developing. Is it for corporate convention work? Is it a touring show? Is it a fundraising show? What's you market and your projected venue?

Michael
JAEIII
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Sorry Michael,

I forgot to answer you when I replied. I would like this to be a touring show. I do a lot of corporate gigs now but with few illusions. I would like to take the illusion show on the road. As for my marketing strategy, I don't really have one yet. So I suppose I will build the show and then market from there. So any marketing advice anyone has for a touring illusion show would be greatly appreciated as well. I suppose I don't like booking things until I know for a fact that I have a show to book. This is why I am not doing any marketing for the show yet. Unless someone thinks this is a mistake? Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks!
Believe In Magic....I do!
cfrye
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MISTAKE!!!

You want folks to go on the road with you without the guarantee of money? That's totally unrealistic.

Also, if you're looking to do the show in corporate gigs, you need to remember that they operate on two time frames: way ahead, and last-minute. If you get some bookings ahead of time, ask for a third of the money up front and pay your assistants.

I'd also question the practice of selling a show for which you don't have everything ready to go. If you get a booking for three months from now and they say they've moved up the date to next week, you're in big trouble. Not saying you'd do that, but it's tempting to try.

I hate to say it, but you may have just stepped outside the possible. If you were planning a three-weekend run with a community theater outlook, maybe, but not as a professional show.

I didn't notice you specifically said you wouldn't market the show until it was built, so I withdraw my criticism about selling the show before it's ready. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
Michael Messing
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While I admire you for not marketing the show before it's ready, you do need to determine if there is a market for the show! You have to research who your buyers will be and what they want. If you build a show and then decide to sell it, how will you know it's what your market wants?

I would suggest that you look at other magicians who are already performing a show of the type you are building and look at who's buying their show. You may not have exactly the same buyers, but it will give you ideas. See if you can find a magician who is willing to share some inside tips on touring with a show. Established magicians are usually pretty open because they aren't as worried about competition since they are established.

Touring shows have several different markets available: colleges, fine arts theatres, fund raising shows, festivals, etc. Each of these markets has different needs.

I'm not trying to discourage you but I am trying to encourage you to ensure that you are successful. Products, and your show is a product, are constantly being marketed before anyone knows if there is a buyer. Sometimes, they get lucky but most of the time, they're not. The really successful products have determined what the buyers want and given it to them.

Michael
Kendrix
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I live in Orlando where I have access to 100's of dancers and I can tell you only a select few are great at working in Illusions. I have had the same main assistant for 8 years. She gets $20 an hour a minimum of $60 for each practice (2-3 per week). She gets $500 per show. She is worth every Penny. She is always on time and doesn't complain about the bumps and bruises. I have had many other 2nd assistants who were good but, not great.
The worst possible thing that can happen to a magician/illusionist is to get a reputation for not paying, not being organized and not getting shows to keep everyone interested. The assistants truly do this as a labor of love, because it can be very hard work.
I would suggest learning and performing your illusions in groups of 3's. I would have 3 illusions that you can pack and perform at a moments notice e.g. broom suspension, Jam, Mini Cube Zag. I would get 3 that are more suitable for grand stage work e.g. Levitation, Origami, Bits and Pieces, etc.
I would, also, get a back up piece for an emergency e.g. linking rings, Zombie, etc.
This is just my 2 cents worth.
Harry Murphy
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The absolutely best assistant I ever had was my wife (now ex-wife). She was a 60’s California blond that looked great in skimpy outfits. She was a college level gymnast and a dancer so was both strong and flexible. Frankly I could have not been able to pull off my little show without her. I know I would not have been able to do it if I had to actually pay her a salary!

We toured a small two-person illusion, illusionette (remember them?) and magic show. We did have some livestock (dog, doves, snake), carried our own sound system (PA run by toe switches on stage! – How primitive!!), a very simple flood light system, and a couple of backdrops. Oh yes we had a small wardrobe of costumes. Everything packed into a fairly large box truck. We spent more than one night sleeping in the truck and cooking on a Coleman camp stove.

We played the small towns of Oklahoma, Northeast Texas, and New Mexico (late 60’s). We promoted and booked ourselves, and played school auditoriums, churches, community theaters, and wherever there was a hall we could book for a day or two. We connected a couple of times with a large carnival and did the “free act” (low pay but got the truck worked on and we were fed!).

In all, it was a lot of hard work. The magic part of it represented less than 10% of our time. We managed to make a living, but just barely. We did not break into the “Big Time”. Ultimately we just got tired of the rigors of living on the road and living by our wits with only a moderate income to show for our efforts. So sold many of the illusions to a young couple that wanted to tour an illusion show. Of course we did not even try to talk them out of their dream.

Was it fun? No, not really. It had fun and funny moments and it was clearly an interesting and challenging time.

Would I do it again? If I was 25 again I probably would, but at 60, nah!
The artist formally known as Mumblepeas!
zigmont
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Kendrix

E mail me if you have any contacts for dancers besides the one(s) you are currently using.
I am casting for new girls right now.
My main girl for the past 8 year went and got married and is due in Dec. My other girls have moved out of state etc....

Your right its hard to find dancers that can work the illusions and have that sell as they do.

zigmont@zigmont.com
Zigmont
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Zack
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I'm not an illusionist, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

I don't know where you live. Here in LA there are tons of people trying to get into show business. I've actually lost track of the number of girls who have offered to be my assistant. (I don't use an assistant, and I really don't need them, but hey its good for getting phone numbers. Smile

It seems to me that what you should plan on doing is doing the show for free in some kind of workshop stiuation (loft theater, coffee shop, open mike, etc.) Get people on board and rehearse the show for this free show. Video tape it. If it goes well, you may be able to use the tape to sell it.

Don't look at this as a free show, look at it as an opportunity to workshop the show. You mak even want to rent a space for this purpose. (Masonic halls and church Auditoriums can frequently hbe gotten for under $50) You need to get the show in front of people before you can sell it. I still work for free when working out new material. Hell JAY LENO works out new material for free in Hermosa Beach.

When you get the people on board, explain the situation. You want their help in building a show that you PLAN to sell and make a fortune for. If they help you out know, they can get in on the ground floor.

This is pretty typical in local theater. I would also recomend paying them SOMETHING like 30 bucks a show, just to hel them FEEL like professionals.

Also what about offering a percentage when you begin selling the show? Like 15-25? That way they become a part owner, and you are not strapped for paying the Salary. You could offer a percentage with the expectation theat they will do several free shows to work out the kinks.

How do you plan to recruit these people? Are you going to take out an ad, or do you already have a circle of contacts that you can recruit from? I think that the latter would be preferable.

The thing up front is to present yourself as professionally as possible...not just some guy saying "Hey I had this great idea, do you want to help...there are tons of these types in LA as well...coffeeshop artists." But as somebody putting forward a business proposal that might help THEM realize THEIR dream of quitting their day job and being a professional dancer.

Free advice, worth every Penny!

--Zack
JAEIII
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Wow! Everyone has given great opinions and great advice. I really do appreciate everyone's help. I will definitely have to do some more research, but ALL of you have helped a lot. You've all given me a good start on how I want to plan this out. Thank you all very much!
Believe In Magic....I do!
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