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Performing Magic for Live Audiences w/ Steve Rowe

Performing Magic for Live Audiences w/ Steve Rowe

My name is Steve Rowe I’m a professional magician in the UK and have been performing full time now for over 10 years. During this time I’ve been lucky enough to be booked for private parties, corporate events and weddings.

My core business is close up walkaround and table magic though I do also offer parlour, cabaret and stage and this is something very much in development, it’s a natural progression if you want to move into that style but does take time as the practice is really audience based.


Close Up Magic

So let’s talk about the close up side, it’s probably what I can offer the most experience in and I’m reasonably successful at it. The bellow is a generalisation, Weddings are little more specific as I sell that as a ‘per period’ rather than by the hour.

1. Tailoring to the event

Whilst my act is now honed in to my character, any enquiry that comes in I need to know some basics to ensure I offer the best package for that event.

2. Timing

Timing is crucial, it’s important to know how long you will offer to perform and that is based on the type of gig but more importantly the number of people attending. If it’s a small crowd of only 20 people at a home, you don’t want to be offering 2 or 3 hours of close up magic, it’s too much, you’ll burn out of material and out stay your welcome. I generally say 1 hour for smaller crowds of less than 50 people, 2 hours for up to 100 and then 3 hours for larger events.

3. The Routine 

Over the years I’ve experimented with various magic effects and presentations. When you start out you think you need 100’s of tricks ‘up your sleeves’ and pack way too much, the perception being ‘more is more’ rather than ‘less is more’. I now have a core of around 10 that I can do in my sleep. It’s important to have effects that work with smaller crowds and larger, if you are performing for two people who are reacting well, often the two become 4,6,8, you look up and ten are watching. When that happens, after that piece I’ll address someone else in the large crowd who’s just joined perhaps and treat the crowd as a crowd and make sure all are engaged.

4. Your Persona 

The approach is super important, how you look, how you act, what you say, what your face says. You need to be happy and upbeat and aware of everything.

When I arrive at a gig, before getting ready I introduce myself to the booker and explain I’ll just need 20 mins to get ready. That being said, arriving early at the gig is paramount. If you arrive ‘on time’ and don’t have a chance to get ready, or aim to arrive on time and are late, your booker will be pissed, you’ll be stressed and the event just won’t go well.

Once I’ve spoken to the booker, I meander around the guests. What I’m doing is ‘sussing out’ the crowd, looking for those who seem fun, those who seem otherwise. I do this because I want to start the gig with a fun and upbeat bunch, their reactions will feed me, I’ll be starting well and others around will see their reactions and want to know what its all about, this then makes my approaches super easy as they know I’m interesting and are intrigued. I don’t address the ‘grumpy’ person in a crowd but often win them over by the time I’m done.

You don’t know what is going on in peoples lives so just be aware of that and don’t push yourself onto unwanted attention.

On the whole, people WANT to be entertained, remember that.


5. The First Group of Spectators 

So, the first group, my simple approach is SMILING at one person, and saying ‘Hi’, then moving my gaze to others, ‘how you doing, I’m Steve, I’m a magician’

You may get a ‘oh wow’ from them, run with it.

‘Have you ever seen a magician before’ again run with the responses, engage, talk, listen

Often I’m with a group for 2 or 3 minutes before even showing any magic and I’ve had people say ‘I bet your good’ or ‘I have seen a magician but you are the best I’ve seen’ remember I haven’t even shown them any magic, they make judgement on YOU not the tricks.


6. Not In The Mood for Magic

Sometimes, and I mean sometimes as it’s very rare, I find maybe one person every 3 or 4 gigs may not like magic, or is just not in the mood. 

I’ll give some examples of actual conversations on approach I’ve had, which will hopefully show how I dealt with it.

Scenario 1

‘Hi’, then moving my gaze to others, ‘how you doing, I’m Steve, I’m a magician’

‘Oh no, I hate magicians’

‘Oh no how come, maybe you just saw a bad one’

‘I just don’t like being fooled’

‘Argh ok, I’m not here to fool you, it’s about having fun, look I won’t pick on you, you just watch, in fact, you choose someone I can pick on’

Let's analyize the situation

So in the above, I am engaging and listening to what their issue is, genuinely wanting to know, it’s not false. I’m reacting to it and diverting the issue away from them and I’m then putting them in control. I’m involving them, making them important in the interaction and making them comfortable. During performance I also say things like, ‘I know… it’s a miracle, but John knows exactly how I did it don’t you John…no don’t tell them’


7. 'Haters' / 'Hecklers'  

I’ll say similar lines with ‘hecklers’. Hecklers in groups are interesting, they are the alpha of the group and you’re coming in being a potential threat to them, so they will do what they can to put you down. Don’t rise to it, don’t fight it, go with it. The line above is great for getting them on side, they will play like they know exactly what you did, even though they didn’t.

IF you do get an impossible alpha out to destroy you as much as they can, again, don’t fight it, finish what you are doing and say your thanks you’s and move on.

DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY and don’t highlight the alpha as the issue, the rest of the group will be well aware.

8. You Don't Know What's Going On In People's Lives

Scenario 2

‘Hi’, then moving my gaze to others, ‘how you doing, I’m Steve, I’m a magician’

One person just doesn’t make eye contact, arms folded, not interested.

What I do with this person is leave them alone, I’m not here to fight for attention, it’s about the crowd not me. The person not wanting to engage is as important as anyone, but I let them be.

You don’t know what’s going on in peoples lives, everyone has experienced having a bad day, bad news or you just don’t want to be somewhere.

If at the end, which often happens I’ve won them over then great, but if I haven’t I don’t take it to heart. Im not craving everyone’s adoration, again it’s not about me.

If you do win them over, by giving them space, not pestering them etc, they often make a bee line for you at some point in the evening and I’ve also had them come to me and say ‘you are great you must come and show XXX some magic, come with me’. These people can be your biggest allies at a gig. Imagine if this person is always grumpy, then their friends or work colleagues see them walking with you and they introduce you to the group. Just how awesome must you be to this new crowd having won over this person.


9. The Show 

The choice of magic is also important, unlike a parlour show, you only get a few minutes with each crowd. For me it’s normally around 7 to 10 minutes before I move on the the next. So I have an opening with fire and a story that captures them, I then borrow something of theirs, maybe a ring or coin and I then finish with a strong card trick. I’m showing variety, I’m using their items and it’s easy to understand magic. I’m not doing a 50 phase ambitious cards trick which is basically showing off all the skills you have and internally justifying all the hours you’ve spent practising. 

Learn an invisible deck, something quick, maybe 2 or three other really strong pieces and you have a decent act AS LONG AS you are engaging and as the above.

 It’s not about me, it’s about them! To an audience, the invisible deck is a miracle and easy to follow.

‘I said a card, it was the one turned over, HOW!’

And you can repeat it all night, it takes up little space in your pockets too.

To many magicians, they learn the invisible deck early on and then put it to one side and learn new skills they think will equate to miracles and audience gasps but it’s really not the case. Don’t get me wrong, you need skills and sleights, it’s essential but don’t let method overshadow what you are trying to do, engage and entertain.


10. After You Finish The Show

Finally, the end of the gig is also important, I go to the booker, thank them for the awesome booking and how wonderful everyone has been.

Often the booker is running around and hasn’t actually got to see much magic.

(You normally get a reply ‘thank you, everyone has been coming up to me saying how great you are’ which is what you want, the booker is more keen on the guests having a good time than them personally seeing many magic)

I say ‘Before I go, let me show you one final thing.’

I then perform something super special for them. It’s normally card in chocolate bar by Kieron Johnson, which works for 2 people or 30 people watching and they would have never seen anything like that before. 

So leave them with an effect or presentation that really hits and is memorable.

Sometimes you don’t get that opportunity as the booker is still rushing around, but you have at least taken the time to go to them and thank them.


Summarising it all!

Offer the right package for the gig.
Be courteous and professional .
Be fun, kind and engaging.
Perform magic right for the audience.
Choose magic that is easy to follow.


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