The 2nd Corporate Zone Magic Day
Sunday 28th January 2007
Report by Ian ‘Mindwriter’ Carpenter
I’ll be honest: you missed out. Events that deal with the Real World of Performance, Fees and well – Work – are as rare in the subculture of magic, as an original Robert Houdin self-tying shoelace. So when one does emerge from the static, attendance for ‘Workers’ is already a must. This particular event however, was better than that. The calibre of content and communication, was way superior to most magic lectures, or for that matter most corporate events. When you see Nick Einhorn sitting a couple of seats away, you realize he’s not giving up his Sunday without very good reason. OK, no, there weren’t many tricks. Or rather, there were: only these were the kind that are more akin to real magic, solving such arcane mysteries as: How’d you get the gig? Where ARE the gigs? What do Clients want? Why should they want YOU? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
The Bonnington hotel is not only a convenient location, but also an unusually pleasant one – and within card scaling distance of the Magic Circle (for Ricky Jay, anyhow. Probably). The legend that is Gary Young chose well, and this continued into the day’s lineup of presenters. First up was Seth Kramer, who rather than talk about what he does – showed us. We all gathered round a small stand, while he did his Tradeshow Pitch. By the end, believe me, you would have been chanting Original Superglue Corporation in your sleep. But what about the tricks? Tell us about the tricks! Well, that’s the thing you see: the effect of Seth’s demonstration is precisely to promote THE COMPANY he is working for. The magic, as he repeatedly reminded us afterward, is secondary. Indeed he went so far as to say that if you remembered that, and not the company, he had failed.
Apparently, Seth fails to fail, on a regular basis. Because companies such as the above regularly pay him top dollar to work their tradeshow stands, and bring qualified leads in to the attendant sales force. And even a simple statement like that hides a whole layer of expertise: how do you explain to these same sales people, why you are invading their stand? Seth makes a point of seeing them early on, and explaining how he is there FOR THEM, to serve their role, thus avoiding the huge potential for hostility and alienated co-workers. For that, and a hundred other good reasons, he is in constant demand.
What will doubtless shock many of you reading the above, is the ego-less nature required by a Trade Show performer. Probably that is why in over fifteen years, apart from a brief Web-co based boom, Seth has seen just the same couple of dozen guys, plying their trade – in a country where there are THOUSANDS of trade shows every year. It requires taking seriously the ability to be first an honorary company employee, and only secondly a magician. In a profession understandably awash with ego, this is rare. If you can do it though, the rewards are considerable.
Sorry? Oh, since you insist: he opened with a surprise four-ace production and proceeded into a whole card-based routine which would have totally floored Joe and Josephine Public – who get extensively involved in al the customary card selections and much good humour. Seth’s routine climaxes with a trick he openly admits is far from his favourite, but brings the greatest response – the good ol’ 3 ½ of Clubs. Once more he skillfully toys with the audience while pressing home again the company message. And then he does it all again, fifteen minutes later. All the livelong day. Frankly, as one of those ego-ridden magicians mentioned a moment ago, it was like being doused in freezing water at the start of the day – and though later on help was at hand, it was much later. And I suffered, so now it’s your turn.
Second up then, was Paul Stone. Now, I had always understood that it was physically impossible for a human to talk for an hour and a half, without breathing. Paul however achieved this, putting us lesser wonder-workers to shame, with our mere pulse-stops and self-levitations. The reason for this breathless delivery rapidly became apparent: Paul has done everything in the world of magic, from an early age, and only had an hour and a half to tell us about it. My pen rarely left my notebook, except for bouts of hilarity brought on by anecdotes about performances of the (slightly less suave) younger Stone, or truly monstrous outrages he had seen, perpetrated by well-known performers who you’d expect to know better. There was also a clear, core message: there is LOTS of work out there. But not for the mediocre, or the deluded. He, like all the presenters there, had clearly worked his designer socks off for many years, grafting, learning through doing. Inspiring, and challenging stuff.
Mark Worgan followed lunch, and brought a change of emphasis, but again with that sense of listening to someone who had been there, done that, and now owned the T-shirt factory. Mark ran Club Magic in Brighton, a regular comedy and magic cabaret; these days, much of his work is performing comedy and magic on cruise ships. However in yet another Other Life, he was a Trainer. Or rather, he became one, and started ‘The Magic Business’, an original and intriguing venture into using our beloved art to teach business people communication and confidence skills. Again he explained that this was not an arena for the fainthearted, being highly challenging and competitive. Nor would it be wise to enter it without first having actually learned the Trainer’s trade. Mark spent a year effectively apprenticed, to some friends who involved him in their training business. As with Seth, that remained the primary focus, not the tricks. Indeed the only tricks Mark mentioned were ones quite carefully selected for their extreme simplicity and ease of learning – because learning was precisely what he used them for. Delegates would be placed into teams and then given the task of learning some effects over the course of the day, and presenting them in the evening as a show. This was a huge success, with companies such as News Corporation. Look for Mark’s book on the subject, later in the year.
Work, work, work: will it never end?!? For those of you who have stayed the course, and made it to these final paragraphs, here is the promised reward: Jon Armstrong. Jon is probably most English people’s idea of the typical friendly and likeable American. He fulfilled a childhood dream early on, by becoming the resident magician at Disneyworld Florida, where he grew up. These days he regularly hangs out somewhere equally divorced from everyday reality, but three thousand miles to the West: at the Magic Castle, Hollywood. Of the many reasons we magicians like Jon, is that on his own admission, he’s lazy. He was quite upfront about not earning a six figure income - and not being bothered. He’d rather work a bit, hang out at the Castle doing card tricks, and collect comics. ( “I think Forbidden Planet is open: let’s go!” being one typical remark overheard during a break).
Like most self-professed slackers though, Jon is also extremely smart. The theme of his talk was Branding, and in his case, this has meant distancing himself from the M-word. Many of us have experienced the often unhelpful and un-lucrative results of labeling ourselves as just A. Magician. It then tends to be assumed that our second initial is N, and our middle name is Other. He has instead found a niche market in the States which he works regularly, and brings him excellent financial rewards. He is highly organized, even cunning, about presenting a professional and distinctive face to his clients, deploying business cards, logo, and website in highly creative ways, all of which position him as a unique commodity.
He can’t be all that lazy either, because he trained as an actor, and still earns a good part of his income that way. Indeed fans of CSI (love it) or Las Vegas (OBSESSED!), will have seen his Hands many times! This because much of his work is hand doubling – not just because of his obvious dexterity, but also expertise in knowing what the camera needs. Overall, Jon very much inspired with the sense that it is possible to make a living with magic, and still have loads of fun. Oh, and he also showed us a trick. One of the best tricks I have ever seen. With a prop and materials I own, yet it totally fooled me. What was it? Well, you had to be there, really.
After a final break, the presenters formed themselves into an orderly Panel (see picture) and answered written questions as well as those from the floor. It formed a useful visual metaphor of the whole Corporate field, with Seth and Mark on one side, Jon at the other. From his central positon, Paul Stone skillfully summarized the theme, underlying the messages from all these disparate contributors; and it is a crucial one to remember, in this age of Marketing. “You can say what you like. But then, you have to DELIVER”.
Me, I’m off to practice. See you next year.
© Ian ‘Mindwriter’ Carpenter, February 2007 www.mindwriter.co.uk
Photo - left to right: Mark Worgan, Seth Kramer, Paul Stone and Jon Armstrong.