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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Tricky business » » Drawing a Crowd at Fairs and Festivals (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Mystical Matthew
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I've noticed that most magicians, vents, mentalists, and jugglers performing at fairs and festivals "work the crowd" before the show. They do something that draws the crowd in. Since people who are already in motion walking by tend to stay in motion, you have to do something that gets them to stop and take notice.

Over the past few years I've seen several things... An old white guy rapping, a magician teaching simple tricks to the audience, guys just talking to people, juggling, etc... The list goes on.

What kinds of things have you tried that have been successful in drawing a crowd? Just as important, what doesn't work?

Please note the goal of this post isn't to steal anyone's material. Intellectual property theft is one of the most frustrating parts of being a magician. Instead, I'd like it to serve as a spring board for coming up with original ideas and material.
tacrowl
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Maryland
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Matthew,
I've worked fairs and festivals for years. If possible, I suggest a 10 minute runner of music and announcements prior to the show. This of course depends on what is going on around you. The runner, along with a time clock or posted show time on the stage tends to draw a small crowd. From there, it is easier to work the small audience and build it into a larger one. People see and hear something going on, and others watching, so they are more likely to join in. At that point, your job is to hold them.

Good luck,
Tom
Tom Crowl - Comedy Ventriloquist

ComedyVentriloquist.com

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rossmacrae
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Arlington, Virginia
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You need to look on forums for buskers, and here in the "Believe it or Not" section and the "Step Right Up!" section, for advice on "building a tip"
Mystical Matthew
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This probably should be moved to another forum, my apologies. I still haven't found a lot of good information yet, but I'll keep looking...
Al Angello
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Collegeville, Pa. USA
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I wear a top hat, juggle my clubs, and chatter with every passer by. When a few people stop to look at me closer I do an audience volunteer trick, and usually a crowd will gather. I usually do a 20 minute show, If the venu is not paying me, or paying half, and I pass the hat for the rest of my money I do my fire juggling finish before I pass the hat.
Al Angello The Comic Juggler/Magician
http://www.juggleral.com
http://home.comcast.net/~juggleral/
"Footprints on your ceiling are almost gone"
CanadianMagicguy
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Hi Matthew,
I have done more festivals over the last 40 plus years than I can count. I live just outside Vancouver BC, and was hired to make several appearances during the last Winter Olypics celebrations. Most recently, this past week (July 1st)I entertained with walk-around magic at the biggest Canada Day Festival in BC with over 125,000 people in attendence. I find that at a lot of these festivals the live bands are up on stage and you have to find your own space to entertain in. I will usually go as far from the main stage as posssible so I can be heard without yelling (they use very big speakers for the bands), and like to find a well travelled area where I can back up to an information kiosk, a large sign, or the side of a vendors tent so there will never be anyone directly behind me. This also lets me keep an eye on my suitcase or bag of equipment so I don't lose it. If I am entertaining for several hours, I will find three or four such locations and travel from one to the other after each performance - like Al I keep them to about 20 minutes each. Now the trick is to have at least one person stop and watch. Once you have one, you will reel them in and see people stop in little groups until you have a fairly large audience. People feel safe stopping to see what is happening when there is a crowd. I like to grab the attention of that first person by taking out my Comedy Folding/Collapsing Chair ("The Chair" available from Hank Lee), or even simpler, a spinning plastic plate on the end of a stick (the no-talent version that has a dimple in the middle to keep the plate on it). These aren't very magical, but they have the "What the heck is this guy doing?" factor built into them. When one adult or child stops - and they envariably do within a couple of minutes, I start right into the magic, and the crowd will grow. If I want to do another show in the same location, I usually spot someone who has walked up towards the end of the first show and hasn't seen much. When the crowd starts to disperse at the end of your show, I approach them and comment that they missed most of the magic, but you can show them a small trick or two. I'll do something, then back up and start doing larger magic - using these people to attract even more people. Believe me - it works! I get comments afterwards from many of the festival origanizers that whenever they saw me I always had a big crowd! That's what you want (and that is your job!) - and it will get you repeat, and even more business. Hope this helps!

Bruce
"Using words to describe magic is like using a screwdriver to cut roast beef"
Al Angello
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Bruce
Great post, after reading your post I realised that you made all the points that I skimmed over. No one here has mentioned busking, do you do these festival jobs for an hourly wage? I kinda like 1/2 pay, and 1/2 hat, because it keeps me on my toes, and of course if you are dealing with a big crowd busking can really pay off.
Al Angello The Comic Juggler/Magician
http://www.juggleral.com
http://home.comcast.net/~juggleral/
"Footprints on your ceiling are almost gone"
CanadianMagicguy
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Hi Al,
Most of the festivals I do here are for an hourly fee as the bulk of the entertainment is hired by the organizers of the festival. A good percentage of these venues are run by the actual city or municipality (usually through the parks department), and are sponsored by several private businesses that have booths set up to either sell goods or represent themselves - for instance, a sponsoring bank may have a tent with Kids crafts or games. They are pretty well policed and usually don't allow anyone on the property to do any real or private busking as the entertainment is already being paid - which means no passing the hat! I have done busking at non-sponsored street festivals where I did have a hat/bucket out, and you are right, it does keep you on your toes because mediocre doesn't make the money, but if you can draw a good crowd you can make some pretty good bucks. I do like to do sponsored events where you know there is a nice check waiting for you at the end of the gig! Most of these things seem to have a lot of money and don't balk when they find out I don't come cheap.
"Using words to describe magic is like using a screwdriver to cut roast beef"
Mystical Matthew
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Hey guys… Thank you so much for your advice! It's hard to convey emotion via text. I'm sincerely appreciative. Thank you.

I've gotten some really good advice here that I intend to put into practice.

Usually I work from a stage. The intent of my original question was actually "how do I get people drawn in and sat down so there's a nice crowd already in place at the stage when our show starts".

I've been thinking though about scaling down our stage act into a larger street act. I had a negative experience recently due to the location and scheduling of the stage.

I won't go into the details because I'd rather it not be on the Internet for eternity and I don't think it will add to the conversation.

If I do downscale it, then I'm going to have to change a lot of the script accordingly. One of the considerations I need to make it the "draw". You've given me some excellent starting points for that. Thank you ;-)

…And of course any additional thoughts are certainly welcome!
Dannydoyle
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Matthew remember one thing. Work enough and not every situation is going to be perfect. The fact is that organizers do not always know what is the best way to present entertainment, or the best times to stagger them or what not. Worst part is they often do not learn before being replaced by others who do not know so well either.

Many times they want to 'try something new', with less than spectacular results. None of this is a reflection on your show.

The stage area is not tough to fill. The thing is that people are looking to do things. That is why they show up. Simple. So what you need to do is to play into this idea and GIVE them a time and a place where something spectacular will be happening, and if they miss it then comming to the fair was almost pointless! You need to make your event at the fair this experience. Posters help huge in this regard, running announcements as Tom has suggested are a big part as well. Music and things happening to gather them into the seats. If you can get the crowd or what there is of them laughing, I guarantee people will come in and will stay in.

Bottom line, engage them while they wait. This gives them a reason to stay. Otherwise they will be looking for the nearest funnel cake place and may forget the show. (again none of this reflects you or your show, it is simply the reality of the environment you have chosen to work in.)
Danny Doyle
<BR>Semper Occultus
<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
Natural Mystic
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Mystical Matthew,

Here’s three links on building a tip and, the fairs and festival market.

Don Driver's Building A Tip Bally DVD
http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewt......orum=111

Kyle Peron should write a book on the festival market!
http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewt......forum=44

"The Festival Entertainer" by Keith Stickley
http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewt......orum=110
http://www.howtobookfestivals.com/
"You never change the existing reality by
fighting it. Instead, create a new model that
makes the old one obsolete."
-- R. Buckminster Fuller
Mystical Matthew
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It appears that Don's DVD isn't available anymore... His website is gone and I can't find it on any of the big magic shop sites.

Kyle's thread is great. One of the best on the Café! I've read through it a couple times.

Keith's book looks interesting, but my opinion of info products is VERY low. 99.99% of them are pure crap and you can't trust what others say because they're usually an "affiliate" who gets a cut if they help make the sale.

Info products market to people who are struggling and need real help. They promise answers, but just steal money out of your pocket at the end of the day.

My finances are *very* tight right now. I can't gamble the $50.

(Not an attack on Keith or anyone else on the Café. I've just learned my lessons the hard way when it comes to info products)

Danny - You're right. What happened wasn't a reflection of my show. Other than trying to control the circumstances better during the "booking" stage there wasn't anything I could do. Unfortunately I doubt the festival organizers saw it that way.

Putting up posters is a good idea. I appreciate that suggestion.

I also appreciate the advice from those of you who have lots of experience in the festival market. Again, I can't express my gratitude enough...
Dannydoyle
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OH they never see it that way LOL! Nope, and what is worse neither did your audience. It ALWAYS comes back to the guy with the michrophone on stage. Life goes on. Don't sweat the small stuff, and when it gets right down to it, IT IS ALL SMALL STUFF!
Danny Doyle
<BR>Semper Occultus
<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
MagicalArtist
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Here’s my thoughts on drumming up a crowd.

I have worked a small city festival where the Main Street is closed off to traffic and the whole street is turned over to the festival. The side streets are closed off for about half a block and opened up to entertainment stages, craft fairs and other type events.

Some of the entertainment stages have much greater visibility than others. I have worked on stages That have good visibility, immediately following another act, and I have worked on stages that are very out-of-the-way and almost hidden to the main traffic. Believe it or not, both situations can have their problems.

Obviously, with the hidden away stage, it can be very hard to drum up an audience.

I’m not interested in busking are doing close-up magic because my main goal is to draw people to the entertainment stage where I will be doing my family act. Having a small crowd around me performing close-up wouldn’t help much unless I could draw them to the stage in a pied piper like fashion after performing.

What I have done is take out my ventriloquist puppet, walk over to the main concourse, and just carry on a dialogue and tell people that my show is about to begin in X-number of minutes.This is also recommended by Jim Snack. I have had fair to middling results with this for the simple fact that it’s hard for people to hear me.

My idea this year is to do a same thing but using my portable amplifier. That way, more of the passersby will be able to hear me. In addition, I will have a large folding sign announcing my magic show set up nearby.

The drawbacks to this technique is that you either have to have someone available to watch your props while you are drawing a crowd or you need to perform your act out of a suitcase which you can either lock away or carry with you and then set up instantly. Also, I suspect that this technique will be most effective about one half hour before your show actually begins. If you begin too soon, people will forget, if you begin too late, you will not have enough time to announce your show to enough people.

The other situation, performing on a much more visible stage immediately following another act can, believe it or not, also be difficult. I have been in a situation where I have followed a musical group and then when they announced that a magician was going to be on next, 90% of the audience got up and left! The problem is that the type of people who want to watch a musical group will not necessarily be the type who want to see a magician (and vice versa)!

My “amplifier announcement” idea might work with this situation too, as long as you set up far enough away that you will not interfere in any way with other vendors or the act that is on, which is admittedly not always possible!
Mindpro
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I'd be careful with the techniques you mentioned as it seems you are trying to take audiences away from other performances, performers and entertainment stages. I would really be offended if I was performing on a main stage and someone from a kids or secondary stage attempted to do this. It may also offend festival committees and management, especially the entertainment chairperson.
MagicalArtist
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Hi Mindpro,

No, I wasn't talking about going over near a main stage and hawking for a crowd. I was talking about going to the main concourse near your own stage to do so. At the festival I referenced, the stages are quite well separated from one another.
JamesinLA
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Los Angeles
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Bruce,
I agree; good post. The spinning plate is a great way to draw an edge. I will try it sometime.

Jim
Oh, my friend we're older but no wiser, for in our hearts the dreams are still the same...
Mindpro
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Ah, I got ya now. Didn't mean to slam you, but I cold see some younger or newbies getting the wrong idea perhaps. I agree that many performers take the mentality that it's the venue or events job to get the audience there, but the truth of the matter is you are better off taking this into your own hands when done right. It is your efforts that can make the biggest difference.
kaytracy
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On my recent trip to a country where language was an issue, I sat upon my stump with a piece of rope "trying" to tie a knot- it kept dissolving. I would look confused and sigh, and try again...As soon as the first person stopped and noticed, I would look up..go to them with the rope and ask them to (or gesture to them) to please tie a knot.
Once they did, I would pull another person to help, until I had a few standing ready, and-incidentally- slowing or stopping the flow of people- wave them in closer and begin.
The venue was small and tight and I would have had little success yelling in English. I have the pipes for it, but not the local language to get very far..
Kay and Tory
www.Bizarremagick.com
MagicB1S
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Matt,
Don Sold his Dvd Rights, I can't remember to who, However they are still available. you can contact Don and I am sure he will point you in the right direction. Don is a member of the Café he hangs out in the Step right up room of the Café. or do a search for him.
"There are Tricks To All Trades.... My Trade is all Tricks"

"An amature practices until he gets it right. A Professional Practices until he can't get it wrong"

www.Themagicchest.webs.com
bobswislosky@yahoo.com
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