A Magician’s Retreat

Yesterday, Jim Perry Magic hosted a Magician’s Retreat and Workshop. Nine magicians, clowns, and balloonist shared ideas about magic, entertaining, and the business of the show.

The goal was to spend sometime, thinking only about magic and entertainment. Ideas were bantered about, new magic was invented, great suggestions were shared.

I learned a great deal, and the show is benefiting already. And we are already thinking about next year.

Starting Rehearsals

Last Monday, Krissy and I started rehearsals, and we are off to a great start.

Magicians like to distinguish between practice and rehearsals. Practice, they say, is the process of learning how to perform an effect perfectly, and rehearsal is learning how to present the effect. The very technical nature of Magic makes this distinction useful.

I like to define things a little differently and prefer to think of show development as an overlapping multi-part approach:

Workouts are the very fundamental sleight of hand techniques, or general postures, or memorization, or whatever that can usually be done without any special preparations. Ideally, just for a few seconds at a time. I might, for example, grocery shop with a coin in my hand, producing it and vanishing as I go. Workouts train the muscles and the brain to execute without conscience attention. Workouts are not necessarily part of rehearsal; they are the daily life of a magician.
Brainstorming is a time set aside to let the imagination flow. Sometimes, it is as simple as using my floor-to-ceiling whiteboard to scribble ideas. Other times, I brainstorm with pen or pencil on paper at the mall or the coffee shop. My favorite method is to just sit among my props and other cool objects and just play with them. Brainstorming continues throughout the development of the show, not just at the beginning.
This is my name for what most magicians call practice: the learning of new magic techniques. I borrow the word class from the traditions of Ballet. In Ballet, class is where young dancers learn the basics and experienced dancers warm-up for the day of dancing (This is, of course an over simplification). The key is that every dancer attends class. I like to think of magic class as a place to learn. Magic class is the place to refine performance. And I think it is an essential activity before every rehearsal.
Rehearsal focuses on presentation with an important limitation: No Stopping. Early rehearsals have no stopping during effects, but, over time, the no stopping rule extends to routines, segments and then the whole show. Everything in rehearsal is real: Real liquids, real streamers, real fire! I seek to create the most realistic live performance conditions, so that we can discover all the things that might go wrong, before we perform for you.

These short descriptions cannot do justice to the many aspects of creating a show, but they are a good place to start. Not only are these phases described in broad strokes, but we haven’t even discussed prop and illusion building, costumes, sets, sound, writing and more.

What aspect would you like to discuss?

My Start in Magic

I was born into magic.

I studied magic with my father, who learned from his Vaudevillian uncle. Dad began performing locally (in Kingston, NY) at nine years old, and by thirteen was invited to perform as a ventriloquist on television’s Radio City Music Hall based “Ted Mack” show.

My first experiences in magic were as my Dad’s assistant. He continued to perform throughout his life, teaching the art to all his children.

During the 1980’s the family performed as the revue: Magic Incorporated. While I continued to support the family’s seasonal shows, I also pursued a year-round solo career performing at private, service group and corporate parties throughout the Catskill mountains, as well as commercial and club shows.

That was many years ago. A few years ago, I moved to South Dakota, and Jim Perry Magic continues share wonders and smiles at shows near and far. What began as a family tradition has become the best full-time career I ever had.

The Current and the Next Show

I became a magician at two years old. At least that was the first time I took the stage with my dad. At times magic was a hobby; at times it was my main source of income. I created some great magic, but I never found the time I needed to create the fantastic show I imagined.

Like many part-time performers, the old Jim could never step back. I could never practice and rehearse enough to be confident and excellent. This meant stagnation or worse: cramming half-ready stuff into the act at the last minute.

As a full-time performer, I found the way to beat the problem: The Current and the Next show.

The Current Show is the practiced, rehearsed and perfected show that I perform publicly. If you called right now, I could pack in 45 minutes and perform soon after arriving. There is a close-up and stage version, ready to go! The Current Show is Jim Perry Magic.

The Next Show is the future of Jim Perry Magic. It is show under design, being practiced or rehearsed. If you called right now, I would not book the Next Show before its production-ready date. There is a strict and ambitious schedule for the Next Show. There are a close-up, stage and illusion versions. The Next Show is future of Jim Perry Magic.

Making this delineation between development and production means that I can be more creative in the Next Show, because it is not promised, and therefore not rushed. Being a full-time magician gives me the time and space to make that happen!

My Good Friend, Eddie

He was my father’s partner. They started working together before I was born and continued to perform together till my Dad passed. Dad always introduced him as: “my good friend, Eddie.”

Working with a ventriloquist friend is a great fun, even though it may seem a little strange at first. Eddie is never “the dummy.” He is always Eddie, and he never addressed in the third person. When strangers visit, I introduce them formally.

When we rehearse, we joke and argue about scripts. We sing together (you should he him sing Chris Cornell’s part in Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”–it is very creepy). Sometimes, we work though the old routines that he performed with Dad–just for practice.

When I work with Eddie, it is like my Dad is here, coaching me through the show.

Our new Asst. Magician

Our new Asst. Magician, Krissy Leitru (Photo: Josh Kingsbury)

I am so excited to welcome our new Asst. Magician, Krissy Leitru from Yankton, SD, to Jim Perry Magic. Krissy, is a graduate of Elk Point-Jefferson High School, in South Dakota, and she brings acting, musical, dance and artistic experience to our show.

In her new role as Assistant Magician at Jim Perry Magic, Krissy performs and supports magic, juggling, puppetry and other entertainment up-close, on-stage and as part of our illusion show. She interacts, on and off stage, with audiences and clients, and participates in promotion and marketing including public appearances, video, audio, still photography and social media.

The Rolling Stones Didn’t Have a Back-up Plan

At least, I doubt they did. To create their unique sound requires focus, not a safety net.

When I was a college professor, I advised students with varied interests. Some wanted to be game programmers, but studied web programming just in case. Some were musicians, who wanted a college degree should the band fail. I advised them to make a choice, throw their hearts and souls into that choice and create a product (themselves) better than any of the competition.

It was easy advice to give, even if some parents (and some administrators) would have preferred that I tell them to stay in school no matter what.

The advice was not so easy to take. Almost five years ago, I left a tenured asst. professorship to perform magic. The show was pretty simple back then, and I had a very limited clientele and market appeal. I worried that I would fail, so I accepted a job part-time teaching at another college. I played it safe. That was a bad idea.

The show grew. It was fun and people enjoyed it. I went from about 10 shows a year to over 75 a year in the first year performing. But I paid a cost. The twenty plus hours a week that I spent on teaching prevented me from creating the show of my dreams. Brainstorming never happened. New effects weren’t designed. In short, my back-up plan failed my primary plan. I returned to teaching for after a year and taught for the next three years.

On the day I decided to re-launch the show, I posted a sign above my desk. It reads: “The Rolling Stones didn’t have a back-up plan.” Since then, I refused several opportunities to hedge my bet. Since finishing my last teaching assignment at the end of May, I have made more progress designing scripts, making illusions and costumes, and creating the show I always wanted. I am on schedule to launch the new show (working title Faescape and the Magical Explorer) this fall.

Jim Perry Magic doesn’t have a back-up plan.

Kicking-off Professor Jim: Magical Explorer

“A strange apparatus is wheeled downstage center and spun 360 degrees. The machine begins to make noise, and the shutters rise on the transportation chamber. Steam spews forth from the bell. Through the slats on the chamber, an eerie light shines. After a delay, the slats drop and Professor Jim, Magical Explorer appears sitting in the machine.”

This is a quote from the script of the opening scene of our currently under development illusion show for schools and the whole family.

Professor Jim is an ordinary magician, who discovered some very strange things in his father’s papers. Following clues like a 150 year-old coin, some letters, an old map. Jim discovers a portal between the ordinary and a magical dimension. And this is where the adventure begins.

Of course, “Professor Jim: Magical Explorer” is a magic show with illusions and magical effects that will make you laugh and say wow! But, it is also a story–intended to be an ongoing serial–of a hardworking human, the magical friends he makes, and the challenges they face.

Work on the script has begun. Costumes designed and sewn. Illusions are moving from the drafting board to rehearsal stage. Many aspects of the show are in the works, yet even more work lies ahead. Fairy costumes are next. What is your idea of the perfect fairy costume?

The Five D’s of [Performing] Entrepreneurship

Performing, especially performing magic, is a collaboration between the show and the audience to create something unique, memorable and magical. But, success depends on much more than talent and presentation. The show is first and foremost. But there can be no show without the business.

With apologizes to the movie DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (2004), here are my Five D’s of [Performing] Entrepreneurship:

Business is a daunting proposition. Performing is exhausting. Only a strong desire to succeed leads to success.
Drive is the manifestation of inspiration and desire.
The commitment must be total. Dedication means making the tough decisions about investment of time, money and energy. It means giving up that weekly television show or missing the end of the game. It means making your own coffee or eating frozen pizza to save a buck. It means late nights and early mornings. It means the show is a top three priority.
Let’s face it: there are bad days. Days when giving up seems the best choice. Honestly, maybe it is. But, success is the last action in a series of failures. At least once a day I have that “I give up moment.” Determination is the moment afterward. And by the way, determination depends on a great support system. My supporters are my family. Who talks you down and tells you that they believe in you? Find someone.
Business is a process. Repeated. Regular. Refined. All aspects of the business process require faithful execution. The Smith and Elliot book mentioned below can help you with this.
You have got to want it. And work on it. Every chance. And it needs to feel good.

I want to thank Elliott Smith and Ian Quick, whose must-read for the performing professional book Highway to Success: The Entertainer’s Roadmap to Business inspired and informed this list.

I keep a sign over my desk enumerating the Five D’s. It keeps me focused.

What’s on your list?