If you know a lot of magic tricks but you’ve never performed for an audience, are you a magician?
I know lots of amateur magicians who practice every day, but who’ve never performed for an audience that isn’t close family or friends. So many magicians are waiting for the “right trick” before they get up the courage to perform for strangers.
The truth is: there’s no such thing as the “right trick.” If you want to be great, you have to go out and perform. You need stage time. Because the only way to get good, is to go out and fail.
Getting in front of real-world audiences (as often as possible) is the single most important thing any performer can do. Steve Martin even wrote a book about it.
Talk to any professional magician or comedian, and they’ll tell you stage time is crucial to becoming great. But what they don’t tell you is that stage time is the single most important thing to staying great.
Learn from Jay Leno
Jay Leno was the host of The Tonight Show for years. But did you know he also performed every Sunday night at the Hermosa Beach Comedy Club? He was there for over 30 years.
Why did the host of The Tonight Show work a locals-only comedy club?!? He didn’t need the experience, and he certainly didn’t need the money. Jay needed stage time. He needed a place to workshop new jokes, test new material, and push the envelope.
Keeping on your A-game is why comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Patton Oswalt will stop by local comedy clubs. No matter who you are… you need to a venue to try new things.
You Need a Place to “Be Bad”
…and it CAN’T be a client event!
Here’s some advice I gave a fellow corporate magician: You need a low-pressure environment to try out new material, because the last place you want to do new stuff is at a client booking!
Get a weekly performance at an upscale restaurant. Offer charity performances at a steep discount. Do open mic nights and variety shows. Join the Fringe Festival. Find a place where you can “be bad.”
But whatever you do, never perform untested material for paying clients. They deserve your best.
The Magic Castle was my Gym
The Magic Castle is a private club, with some of the best magicians in the world. For the first 15 years of my professional career, it was my 2nd home.
Even if I wasn’t hired to perform there, I’d visit the club once a week, and do impromptu performances in the museum for any guests who came down. These were free, unscheduled performances (no pressure!), and the guests were genuinely interested to see what I have to offer.
In the beginning, I wasn’t very good. But over time, my reputation grew, and within a few years, I was getting booked in the showrooms to entertain the guests and members.
When I wasn’t at the Magic Castle, I would perform at any small venue that would hire me. This included local country clubs, the Laugh Factory comedy club, and even high-end restaurants where I would perform strolling magic.
I’d work on new ideas every night. And it made me good enough to make a career out of performing. But my career would NEVER have happened without “flight time” in front of real-world audiences.
Go Out and Fail
My advice to any performer is to a venue where you can regularly work on new stuff in front of a live audience. Because if you’re waiting to be great before you ever step on stage, you’ll wait forever. So go out and be bad.
One day, you’ll be mediocre – then one day you’ll be good – and eventually, you’ll be great! And once you’re great… keep getting stage time so you can stay great.
Go out and fail. Failure is a great teacher. As an artist, you owe it to yourself. You owe it to your audience, too.