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Performing at Magic Conventions

Noel's Dad ?As a cabaret act, as opposed to a close-up specialist or stage manipulator, I am rarely asked to perform at conventions. This is unsurprising. It’s fair to say that performers like me don’t fit in easily to the slightly artificial environment of the magic convention. I don’t have that ‘instant gratification’ of a 10 minute act that is going to wow a bunch of magicians. In the real world I tend to grind down my audience over 45 minutes!

Despite that, if asked, I will perform at conventions. (Not always: I turned down one recently when I was asked to compere a show. I don’t compere anymore, not that I was ever particularly competent at it, but this was a prestigious convention and I didn’t want to let anyone down.) Which made me think why it is that professional magicians do agree to perform at conventions. I came up with the following reasons:

Recognition: to be asked in the first place assumes you are held in certain regard by your peers, and that is rewarding and flattering in itself.

Appreciation: only other magicians will really appreciate the skills or innovation that you have incorporated into your act.

Challenge: you might want to try and fool your colleagues or to test whether your comedy or technique stands up to their scrutiny.

Feedback: comments or criticisms may be useful for improving some aspects of your repertoire.

Social: most magicians enjoy conventions or other magic functions and welcome the opportunity to combine pleasure with business.

Thanks: some see such performances as giving back a little to the magic community.

Money: not normally a lot, but nobody likes to pass up any source of income.

I would love to be able to say that performing for magicians is a totally enjoyable experience. Convention goers are delighted that somebody who has a finely honed act is prepared to perform, for what is often a reduced fee, for their entertainment and pleasure. Whilst you, in return, relish the satisfaction of contributing something positive to the profession you love. Sadly there can be some negative aspects.

Copying: the chances of having your material nicked increases proportionately with the number of magicians in the audience. Personally I have been quite lucky in this respect. I could look upon this in two ways. Positively, that my material is so unique to my own persona that it’s not worth anybody else stealing it. Negatively, that my material is so poor that nobody deems it worth stealing.

Written Criticism: During my time in the comedy clubs I probably got a handful of reviews and previews, mainly in local newspapers: and a couple in other publications such as the London listing magazine Time Out. Unsurprisingly I have never received any reviews of my corporate act,  and yet as soon as you venture forth into the relatively alien territory of a magic convention, reviews suddenly pop up all over the place. Most of the time they are hopefully complimentary but it can be galling to be criticised – particularly when you feel you are not being judged on an even playing field.

Personal Upset: It’s possible to offend somebody in your audience for something that you do or say. Many amateur magicians appear to be ultra sensitive and, if they take offence, they are quick to make it known, and because the magic world is small this eventually makes its way back to you. Now it’s quite possible that you are causing similar offence in the outside world; but because you don’t hang around with your audience afterwards, or associate yourself with people who know those who were in attendance, you don’t get to hear about it. But personally I am sceptical, magicians just like to complain more!

Extremes of Emotions: One of the reasons why magicians might perform at conventions is to ‘test themselves; in front of their peer group. Unfortunately this can work against you. You expected considerable praise but instead received indifference. This might be due to the rather self-inflated opinion you have of yourself. Or it might just be the audience. I’m not one who likes to blame the audience when I go down the pan; but in the case of an audience of magicians I am prepared to make an exception!

Despite my perhaps over emphasis on the negative, I am sure that the positives far outweigh the downsides for the majority of magicians booked at conventions. They certainly do for me. I look forward to seeing you at the next, whether I’m performing or not!

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About the author…Ian Keable is a professional cabaret act who works mainly for lay people and very rarely for magicians.