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Profile of Johnny_Dee
Mr Ellis,

few month ago I've bought your DVD and let me tell you that it was a great surprise to me. The production was really great as well as all the materiel included in this DVD.

Last year, I was contact to perform for some school shows (for teenager) and that was a great experience. The response was really great. I would like to develop this market. In your opinion, what is the best way to promote a school show and to sell it to concerning people? Do you have any advice concerning performing in a school show style?


Tim Ellis
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Melbourne, Australia
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Profile of Tim Ellis
Johnny, I'm really glad you've enjoyed our DVD, I'm sure Ben Whimpey (from Orsino Images) is around here somewhere and he'll appreciate the feedback too.

Now to your questions:

PROMOTING A SCHOOL SHOW - Here in Melbourne there are essentially three ways to sell a school show:

1 - The Victorian Arts Council. This is an organisation that employs a certain number of shows each school term and promotes them through the school system. The schools book whichever shows they are interested in and the Arts Council organises the tour itineraries for each show accordingly.

This is a great way to do school shows if you just want to do one season. Depending how popular your show is, you could get several weeks of shows at a time doing up to 15 shows a week.

The real benefit here is that the Arts Council pays you a set wage each week regardless of how many or how few shows you do, and they give you food, accommodation and petrol allowances.

You do have to keep a lot of paperwork, and they look for new shows every year so even if your show is great, you may not get a return booking for a few years.

2 - School Show Agents. We have used one called Nexus Arts. They are similar in operation to the Arts Council but they tend to arrange shorter and more sporadic tours, which suits some performers better. They also take one-off bookings, tours of only 3 or 4 shows, but will continue to use you year after year if the demand is there.

As opposed to the Arts Council who might just sell a dozen different shows each term, they represent dozens of different performers. They don't offer particular shows, they offer schools whatever they'd like.

Financially, you will go out on a "per head" basis where kids will pay $4 to $5 per head to see your show, with a minimum fee. You really need to count each child as this - minus 30% commission to the agent - is the only money you'll be getting.

3 - Self promotion. This is the hardest road to take. Unless you have plenty of time and actually enjoy sending out letters and making lots and lots of follow up phone calls, this is a real hard slog.

A friend of mine is doing this at the moment and he says one of the problems is that the Arts Council and the Agents have built up years of trust with the schools so it's much more difficult for the individual performer to sell themselves.

You'll need to purchase mailing lists for all of the schools in your area, then whittle them down eliminating those schools that are too small to be profitable or are otherwise unlikely to use your services.

We have toured for the Arts Council and Nexus Arts, but I would never attempt to sell myself (though many people do it and do it well). When you sell your show individually, you will inevitably do fewer shows in a week, but you'll keep 100% of your fee.

Say, for example, you did 6 shows in a week with 100 kids in each show at $4, that $2400 for the week.

If you did a Nexus Arts Tour you might do 10 shows - $4000, less 30% = $2800.

If you did a Victorian Arts Council Tour, you have a guaranteed weekly salary of say $2500 per week with anything from 6-15 shows, but your food, petrol and accommodation is taken care of.

These figures vary of course. Some people would rather just do two shows a week every week of the school term. Others, like us, have a complex show and would rather just do the whole tour in one hit.

And of course, only 100 kids in the audience is rare. You can imagine the difference it makes to your income doing 12 shows a week of 200 kids per show.


There are many different styles out there. Some are very simple shows where the magician just turns up with a suitcase table and does, pretty much, a birthday party show. The Victorian Arts Council and Nexus Arts aim to offer schools something more theatrical. They don't want a magic show with road safety or anti-drug messages, they want a show that introduces the kids to quality theatre.

With that in mind, all of the school shows I've been a part of have been far more involved than any of the corporate shows we've done since!

The beauty is that in Australia you don't do 'Assembly Shows' like in the USA. You go into the classroom, which has been emptied in preparation for your show, and you can take your time to transform the space into your own environment.

STAR MAGIC - was my first. It was the brainchild of Terry Dansic and was performed by two mime characters (Terry & I) who "discovered" the audience and played with the magic, and was set entirely to classical music. The 50 minute show had it's own backdrop, soundsystem, basic lighting, a bubble machine, a zig zag and a sub trunk as well as lots of smaller magic and comedy. Audience involvement is also a must.

At the beginning of the show I addressed the audience (out of character) and laid down the "rules": Sit on your bottoms, don't cross the line, clap and cheer, when the show ends, follow your teachers out in single file.

At the end of the show we'd have a question and answer session.

Star Magic toured through Queensland, The Northern Territory and Western Australia for the various Arts Councils.

MAGIC UNLIMITED - was my first solo show. It featured 'Bon', my character from 'Star Magic', along with six other characters all played by me. It had the same basic elements of 'Star Magic' - backdrop, sound system, lights etc - but it was a completely different style. Each character did a mini act, from The Spy who greeted the children as they came in and informed them of the rules, to the zany Professor Googalfitz, to mischievous Mitch, and crazy Bananaman.

The show was only 40 minutes and it was also very popular in libraries.

It did take me an hour to set up, and the only schools I performed in where schools I booked myself, so it didn't do that much touring.

SPELLBINDER - was my next show and it was extremely popular. Again it had a backdrop, and I insisted that schools provide a room that could be blacked out, that way I used lighting, a laser, shadows and fire in the opening sequence. In this show I had an assistant, Wendy Richards, and the story of the show was that I was the 'Spellbinder' and I was there to show the kids how they could become magicians.

The show featured a super x levitation (I tried to hypnotise Wendy but I fell asleep and she levitated me) and a sub trunk. (Plus the by now standard sound system, lights etc). It even had two small pyros in the show.

This show was performed in shopping centres and other venues and toured several times for the Victorian Arts Council before I "retired" it to introduce my next school show.

DREAMWEAVER - This show was all about people bringing their dreams to life. Before the show started kids had filled out slips of paper reading "When I grow up I want to be ....." The papers were collected and, after the opening sequence which included a suspension on a microphone stand, a child was brought up and asked to reach into the (clear force) bag and choose a slip of paper. Whatever he or she chose, we would make that dream come true for them!

The show also invloved an interactive video sequence where I reached into a TV screen and handed my TV image various objects and he handed other things back (that was the beginnings of a FISM routine for close up I was developing) and the 'Chef' routine (which evolved into our 'Arms' routine). It also featured a 'Teenage Ninja Turtles' routine that dated very quickly... but could be brought back today I guess!

After that tour, for the Victorian Arts Council again. I decided I'd had enough of school shows... until FISM came around and I had to rehearse 'Runaround Sue'.

PURE MAGIC - was the next show and, in order to justify the inclusion of 'Sue' the purpose of the show was to tell the history of magic. Michael Boyd and myself demonstrated early magic (a cave man banging two rocks together to make fire) all the way up to Michael's futuristic magic, and we finished with the Rap.

This show had a backdrop and soundsystem, but no illusions, so it was probably the laziest school show I ever did. However, the audiences enjoyed it and I got my 6 weeks of rehearsal for 'Runaround Sue'.

In 1998 Sue-Anne competed at the National Magic Convention and came second with a 10 minute act set in a Haunted Mansion. One of the judges said he marked her low because he felt the act was impractical because it used black art. We decided that he might just be wrong about that, and created a 50 minute version of Sue-Anne's act for schools.

MAGIC UNLIMITED'S BEST SHOW EVER - was picked up immediately by Nexus Arts as they'd been trying to get us to tour for them for some time. This show had a very large backdrop (of black velvet!) and featured it's own lighting, sound, the Squash illusion and the instant vanish of a person under a cloth standing on a table using black art.... in full daylight.

This was a story show with Sue-Anne and I getting left behind on a tour of a Haunted Mansion where we endeavour to find the secrets of "Uncle Eliot's" magic.

The show toured repeatedly for two years until we were finally able to convince Nexus Arts to use a young, upcoming magician called Cosentino (who they are still using very happily now).

As a special one-off when we had to do an entire school of 700 students in one-sitting, we arranged for Michaerl Boyd and his troupe to bring 'Uncle Eliot' to life in the middle of the show. So Sue-Anne magically became possessed by his spirit and transformed into him and performed several illusions including fire cage, sub trunk, dagger head chest, linking rings, head chopper and bo-staff. Quite a school show!

We still do the odd school show as a favour to Nexus Arts (we actually have two this month), but we do more or less a collection of our favourite effects from our corporate show. No backdrop, just a basic sound system... it feels so empty...

It is a lot easier for a one-off show though, because the other shows were so complex (they all took about an hour to set up and half an hour to pack) we would do a week or two of rehearsals, then fill the van with equipment, tour extensively for several weeks, then stop.

My mentor Lyndsay Rietschel came to one of my school shows once and said "Son, I dunno why you cart all that junk around with you, I could entertain the kids for an hour just from a briefcase!"

It's true, a good magician can.

But from what I have learned over the last 20 years is that when you have the opportunity to introduce children to theatrical magic, take it. Not only your audience will thank you for going to the extra trouble, but you will learn so much and grow as a performer.

If you'd like any more info on school shows, please ask. Sue-Anne has a booklet she's written based on our Haunted Mansion Show, but she only has two left. (They can be ordered from our website ) But if you have any other questions about specific aspects of performing in schools, please ask.

I promise my answers will be much more succinct. Smile
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