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.
“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?
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?
I love magic.
Magic allows me to help people laugh and wonder, and think creatively. It allows me to express my creativity.
But, most of all magic allows me to ignore boundaries: the boundaries of science, of normality, of reality.
I enjoy the current show. It contains a beautiful, fun and funny, and exciting selection of effects. Audiences can directly participate in the Silk to Egg transformation, or wonder at the opening productions and the silk penetrating a balloon. They are amazed at the card effects, (and rope, and rings, and fire, and water effects and more) and the escape–which really contains a dangerous element–is visual and amazing. Throughout, we enjoy the wonder and humor together.
Its a good start, a great start for the customer’s dollar.
But it will never be enough!
Each day that I am not performing, I create. Sometimes sewing new costumes, or building new illusions, or exploring new venues. I go to sleep each night thinking, “Today, I made progress. Today, the show got better. Today was good start.”
And in the morning, as I sip my coffee, I think, “What’s next?”
Last night, I was delighted by the “The Illusionists: Live From Broadway” at the Orpheum theater in Sioux City, IA. The show features seven magical personalities in a two plus hour spectacle.
Each magician performs as a prototype magician in a seamless show that overcomes one of the basic problems of the evening magic show: how does one provide variety while maintaining continuity?
Much of this success depends on the comedy of Trickster
Jeff Hobson Dave Williamson, the whimsical visions of Inventor Kevin James, and the magnetic personality of Deductionist Colin Cloud. Their interactions with the volunteers and audience make the show work as a whole. Moreover, they each present masterful effects. Special mention must be made of Kevin James’ unique sawed-in-half.
Hobson Williamson, Cloud and James, would be enough reason to endorse this show, but Weapon Master Ben Blaque and Escapologist Andrew Blazzo add danger and excitement to the show in just the right portion.
An Ha Lim, the Manipulator, is a master, and one of my magician heroes. His card productions and manipulation are a beauty that reach the level of art.
I left Anti-conjuror Dan Sperry for last. What can be said? His Edward Scissorhands meets Harry Anderson with just of touch of Lance Burton persona was alternately and collectively comic, macabre and wizardly.
As I walked out of the theater I said to my former assistant magician: the lesson is to take a great idea and push it to its logical limit. That is The Illusionists. Magician or fan go see their show.
Update: Many thanks to magician friends Dave Tenneboe and Dave Madsen for pointing out that Jeff Hobson was replaced by the hilarious Dave Williamson for the evening’s performance.