I'm sharing my recipe for a successful banquet show. This was designed for a forty-five minute after-dinner show, where I was the feature entertainment at the event. Following this template will help you do a great show at easy gigs, and pull off a good show at tough gigs.
This show strategy is for events where the magic is often a surprise. People aren't there for, or expecting to see, my magic show. This is your battle plan to win them over and maintain their interest.
You'll need to look at your repertoire and match up what you do with each objective slot in the show. I believe any magic trick can be adapted to fit any slot. (more on that below) You won't need any new tricks, but you might need to create some new presentations to suit the objectives.
- Clean, efficient and professional. No fumbling with props or tables.
- Make eye contact with those who are already watching you. They will be your biggest fans.
- Objective: as Bob Fitch says, “to entrance!”
- Big and loud, fills the room
- Set to music, but with a few short verbal bursts. (so they know it’s not “background”)
- Simple to understand what’s happening if they start watching halfway through
- Displays skill to build credibility (“hey this is worth watching!”)
- Objective: Gets people to turn their chair towards the stage
- Break the fourth wall, speak directly to the audience.
- Tell them who you are (very briefly, they don’t care yet)
- Tell them they’re in for a good time. (reward for their investment of attention)
- Tease something that comes later.
- Establish a running gag.
- Make them laugh.
- Objective: To set expectations for the show
- Encourage everyone to physically participate with some action. (can be part of a trick)
- Ease them into playful participation with a low-risk activity. They don’t need to leave their seat, no spotlight on them.
- Sets you apart from boring sit-and-listen presentations.
- Objective: To un-cross arms and initiate engagement in a comfortable way
Let's Get This Show Started
- A second opener – quick, flashy, amazing.
- More music and action, less talking
- Objective: Cleanse the palate after the preceding “business” and deliver a burst of energy
Your Personality Piece
- Tell a story about yourself. Make it easy to like you.
- Be less of a “magician” and more of a human.
- Engage directly with audience members, without them leaving their seat.
- Objective: Once they like you, the rest of the show is easy.
Laugh It Up
- Your funniest routine.
- Get an audience member on stage with you to share in the fun.
- Call-backs to running gag.
- Objective: Get everybody laughing as much as possible.
- Your most amazing routine. Impressive even to those who "don't like magic."
- Emphasize the impossibility, which likely makes for fewer laughs and less action.
- Lower energy, but more focused.
- A chance for audience to rest.
- Objective: Jaw-dropping amazement.
- Get the most people you can actively engaged in the show.
- Re-energize those who have been passively watching. (never a dull moment)
- Ideal if it ends with the audience excitedly chatting amongst themselves. High energy buzz will help transition into the closing.
- Objective: Invite people to be a part of something special.
- Any “thank you’s” and announcements here. (Shout-out to the person responsible for booking you, thanks to the event crew)
- Follow my social media. Pitch merchandise if you’ve got it.
- Tell them the show is almost done, “I’ve got one more for you.”
- Objective: Say this stuff now rather than muck up the flow of the ending.
- Your most heart-pumping routine with a strong sense of tension and release.
- Give the appearance of this being a risk. It may not work out.
- Make it clear you are giving it all you got.
- End with a moment of triumph.
- Objective: To do the most remarkable stunt you can manage.
- One more thing; a small trick connected to a personal story.
- This could be set-up as an “encore” if you think the audience will buy into that.
- Reinforce the one thing you want people to remember.
- Final pay-off for your running gag
- Objective: Share your heart so they remember you more than the tricks
There you have it. If you can check all, or most, of those boxes I'd say you've got yourself a good show, and a great product.
The opening and closing is really the delivery system of your show. It's the structure which sets up and releases the entertainment. The middle is the payload, and much more flexible to your own tastes and repertoire. In the middle, basically, do what you do and do it well.
...But What Do You Actually DO!?!
One of the most common questions among magicians; "What is the best trick for [blank]?" I get it, you're looking for guidance. You want to be comforted in knowing the trick you choose is a good trick for the venue.
It really doesn't matter what trick you do in any of the slots. For supporting evidence, consider some of the most succesful entertainers who did the absolute dumbest things;
- Harry Anderson would open by blowing a note on a recorder/whistle with his nose.
- Howie Mandel would close by blowing up a rubber glove (again, with his nose) until it bursts.
- Gallagher closed his show by smashing a watermelon with his nose a sledgehammer.
As always, it's not what you do, but the way that you do it. In this case, part of the way you do it is adapting a trick to meet the strategic objective. Here's a concrete example from my own repertoire;
My Energized Cards Across was designed to be my Audience Warm-Up for corporate shows. It's a classic Cards Across trick. (three cards travel from one packet of 10 to the other packet across the room) Nothing is special about the trick itself, but the presentation was tailored to the objective of getting everybody in the room to engage. First I have particular people involved in counting cards, and sitting on packets. Finally, the entire crowd is invited to "move the energy across the room" by doing the wave from one side to the other. I playfully call out those tables who are not participating. Three cards, three waves, which gives me the opportunity to get everybody on board by the final go. This is how I literally get every single person in the room to engage with my show.
When focusing on one objective, other things will be sacrificed. I love the Cards Across, and researching different methods, but my Energized routine specifically uses the most basic effect. No thought-of cards, no envelopes. Bare bones. I do it that way because any of that focus on the trick was distracting from the goal of getting people engaged. I could just as easily place Cards Across into the Strong Magic slot and play it as a miracle. Mac King makes his Cards Across a Laugh It Up routine, as the peak of ridiculousness in his show.
You May Disagree, But Only On Purpose
If your show is cobbled together by listing the tricks you know, and putting them in order, I politely call baloney. This trick-first show design is the opposite of thinking strategically, unless you count "whatever is easiest for me" as your strategy.
I welcome and encourage you to set your own objectives for your show. Think about what your audience wants and needs, and fulfill that for them. Audience-first show design, or perhaps client-first, is the path to long term success.