Last weekend I went to the Wedding Expo in Marlborough, MA. You’re probably wondering how things went. The only way to get my head around this is to deal with it like two separate events: The Booth and The Show.
The Booth: Wonderful. I made a lot of great impressions on people, and got a lot of information out there. The fork-bending giveaways were a stroke of genius. 95% of the time I opened with the fork trick, and that sucked them right in. I didn’t explain that I was a magician, just asked if I could show them something different. I would proceed to do the trick and afterwards say something to the effect of “My name is Scott Dezrah Blinn, and I’m a magician. You’re going to have your ceremony, and go off for your pictures. Meanwhile, you’ll have a reception hall full of people waiting around for the next event. That’s where I come in, yadda, yadda, yadda…” By the end of the trick, I they realized a) I was a professional entertainer and b) they had a problem that I could solve. It was amazing the amount of “lightbulb” moments I saw. Overall it was good for me, and I think I did a little reputation rehab for magicians in general.
(On the downside, there were about a half-dozen people who didn’t stop because they thought I was selling silverware. 😉
The Show: Total failure, burning humiliation. There’s nothing quite like screwing up 2 out of 3 magic effects on stage, with full lights and mic in front of 300-odd people who came to see a fashion show.
So, what exactly happened? My stage show is almost entirely mentalism. I started with the Head-Shrinker, on the excellent advice of my friends, Jason Kallio and Frank Damelio. That was a success, I got audible, ooh’s and ah’s and everything was groovy if subdued. Next, the tossed-out-deck, a standard of mine that I have NAILED down. Total fail. Guess the card, got it wrong, tried again, got it wrong, tried the original card again, got it right, but it was too late. After that? Contimental (a direct mind-reading demo) Total Fail, no possiblity of recovery. Turned around to realize that the MC was on his way out to pull me off stage:
So what happened? As soon as I got out on stage, I realized a few things.
1) I was on a fashion show runway, not a traditional stage. This meant a) I was surrounded on 3 sides b) the stage was at the audience’s eye-line or higher and c) there was no way I could have a volunteer join me on stage.
2) The stage area was on the trade show floor, there was no physical separation or divider of any kind. Also, the Best Western Royal Plaza Trade Center has bare concrete floors and a 40-ft high metal roof which meant that:
3) The audio was TERRIBLE. . Even though I had a mic, all I could hear was the chatter from the trade show floor echoing around the room. More importantly THE AUDIENCE COULDN’T HEAR ME! Without getting into methods, both of the effects require feedback and conversation between performer and audience, and very specific instructions. Realizing this, I wanted to have my volunteers join me on stage, but couldn’t because of #1Also, it meant my self-deprecating attempts to humorously defuse my failure fell on deaf ears. No magic, no funny, no entertainment.
4) The audience had no real interest in seeing any performer. I realize that as a professional, it’s my job to make them care, but the fact is, they were there to see a fashion show. That audience is not exactly primed for magic.
5) I had not rehearsed my effects while holding a mic. In the few times I’ve been mic’d I either had a lapel mic or a stand. This is entirely my fault, and will be addressed.
After the show was over, I hid backstage, crouched down, fiddling with my briefcase. I was so frakking humiliated. Yes, the situation was bad, but I was to blame. A better, more prepared performer would have been able to deal with it. I was not, it was my failure. It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools, no? There was no way I could walk back to my booth and sell for another 2 hours.
But thankfully, Glen (a friend from the 99, and now my hero) gave me the pep talk I needed to get back out there and keep selling. It was good too, I got back into the swing of things once I did the fork routine a few times, and it kept my mind off of the show. I got a few more great contacts, and before I knew it, it was time to pack up and go.
At first, I thought I would just pack it up. I kept telling myself that it was a sign, I’m not cut out for magic, or any other entertainment. It was time to pack up the props and put them up on ebay.
Thankfully, I cooled down and thought about it. The show was miserable, but if I gave up and refused to learn anything from my mistakes, then I would be the failure. So, what did we learn?
1) Know your enviorment! Ask lots of questions about the venue, if possible, see it in advance. If I had known about the stage set-up, I would have thought twice about it.
2) Get a tech rehersal! Give the mics, audio, lights, everything a test-drive. I need to get a lot more familiar with audio/lighting if I intend to continue stage work.
3) It’s okay to say “No”. Looking back, I never should have accepted the stage show. The fact that the venue was all wrong contributed to my failure, which certainly impacted my image. I’m sure there are people who liked me in the booth that saw the stage failure, and changed their mind about me.
4) Be prepared! I was given a tool (Wireless Hand-held mic) that I was not used to. In reality, there was no reason I should have had a problem with it. All 3 effects are easily done with one hand, but my nervousness with the mic only added to the list of problems that created the disaster.
5) Go to your strengths. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m much better/more comfortable in smaller, more intimate settings. I need to be able to see the audience’s faces and hear them talking. Close up and parlor are my arenas. Even though the show was failing, I could have rescued some of it if I was close enough to them to read them and improvise. But the stage distance and poor audio just didn’t let that happen.
It should also be said that I don’t blame the Wedding Expo people AT ALL. They were cordial, incredibly professional and helpful. The organizer came directly to my booth to check in and see if I needed anything and the backstage crew were amazing. It was a bunch of great people in a bad situation. In fact, I’ve since heard that everyone had issues with the audio that day, during the fasion show, the audience couldn’t even hear the names of the designers/stores that carried the dresses and such. So they had a bad day too.
Lastly I want to say a huge thanks to Glen, who came and helped me man the booth (and gave me my “show must go on pep-talk) and my magic friends who helped prepare me for the show. Last, but not least, thanks to all of you who helped me choose my look in the last post. The suit/tie combo really helped. In fact, I actually overheard, “We should have him, look how he’s dressed! He’s not a clown or anything.” Fashion mission accomplished.
Some final thoughts on failure:
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed –I well know. For it is a sign that he has tried to surpass himself.” – Georges Clemanceau
“If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error” – John Kenneth Galbraith