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A Most Important Skill for a Magical Entertainer

By Brad Burt
Copyright 2011

I’ve written about this quite a bit in various places, but I was thinking about it again and I believe I can make the material even more valuable than in the past.

What is this “skill”? Simply put, it’s the ability of ‘you’ the performer to ‘OBSERVE’ your audience and determine from their reactions how ‘you’ are doing as a performer. Over the last 40 years of being in the magic business there is probably no more common seeming oversight by magical performers than the failure to truly observe how their audience is reacting and to make changes in the performance based upon that observation.

The reasons for this could be many. I honestly think that the most basic reason is simple fear of confronting what is happening before one during a performance. It’s a kind of shying away from the reality on the other side of the ‘lights’ so to speak. Your audience at every single moment during your performance is TELLING you things. There is a dialog going on and if only one of your is participating if will affect the overall quality of your performance and it need not be so!

I can tell you this with absolute certainty: Your audience WANTS you to listen to them. They really do. They want to know that you value their response to what you have offered by way of performance. And, believe it or not it’s fairly easy to communicate with an audience once you are aware that that is what is going on!!!

Let’s look at an example from my own past performance. In any number of cases early on I noticed that the reaction of the audience to routines that I considered VERY strong was odd. Faces would go slack, eyes would squint, applause was desultory and scattered. It was disconcerting. Was the routine not as good as it has proven itself to be on the magic demo counter? Was it a matter of some change in presentation that happened in the more formal setting of a paid show? Did I smell bad? Was it something that I was doing at the finale that did not signal a greater response from the audience???

I began to really, REALLY watch my audience members. I looked closely to see what was happening in their faces and body language. I began to come some conclusions.

Conclusion one was that the audience was so flabbergasted, so startled and amazed that they just did not know what to think or do. I was a fairly new performer overall and although my ‘magic’ was quite good and my presentation was fairly strong, I did not in fact have a good concept of how to draw out the response I wanted at the end of a routine. I was, in fact, weak in the area of ASKING FOR APPLAUSE.

Anyway, that was my working hypothesis after a few shows and looking at how they went. Soooooo….. I began to more forcefully end each routine. I would look up, smile at my audience and take a short step forward (at times) and give a little bow THANKING them for the response I was now anticipating! It worked like a charm and got better with experience.

The lesson learned was that ‘magic’ unlike many other of the performance crafts can leave the audience in a kind of ‘mental limbo’. What happened! Did he JUST DO THAT???? What the heck??

The hook was set and the fish reeled in. They bit and were both fooled and entertained. Now, it was up to me to let them know that it was perfectly ok to acknowledge that they enjoyed what I had “done to them”.

Watch your audience and you will learn how to pace, change, move your show in ways that will make it more powerful. The audience is ALWAYS saying something to us. Always! Do they look bored? That’s not good. Are they restless? Why? Is the show not moving along at a pace sufficient to keep their attention??? What’s going on?

You can’t ignore them. Even if you are only working for ONE person it all applies. Don’t be afraid to do this. Trust me. Don’t let the fear that you may not “be that good as proven by your audience reaction” keep you from learning from that reaction.

LEARN from it. ACT upon it and you will find your enjoyment of what you do soars into places you never thought you could go as a performer. I guarantee it. And, again, it’s not that difficult. It just takes thought and the courage to confront the truth of what is happening and then the further courage to make changes and see how they work?

Go for it!

All my very best,

Brad Burt
Brad Burt
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