The London Festival of Magic 2013
11th - 15th November 2013
Reported by Roberto Forzoni
The Magic of Magic Monday 11th November
Street & Alfresco Magic Tuesday 12th November
Mentalism Wednesday 13th November
Card & Coin Magic Thursday 14th November
Characterisation & Stagecraft Friday 15th November
Day Two: Street & Alfresco Magic
A terrific day with six very different magicians discussing their approach to performing ‘on the street’. Their expertise and experiences extended from straight street performing to a variety of working environments including trade shows, theme parks, TV street magic and other similar working situations. Some great advice to any worker from these real experienced performers.
Session One: Paul Zenon ‘From then to Now’
Paul discussed with Noel Britten how his career had developed doing his brand of street magic, working festivals and being one of the pioneers of TV street magic. His talk discussed three areas of performing in the street - getting the crowd, keeping the crowd and getting the money!
Paul opened the lecture speaking about his early days working street magic whilst abroad, including some work he had done outside tavernas and passing the hat around. Material wise it was standard stuff, there were lots of British tourist but because many people did not speak English he had to combine his standard effects with many ‘visual effects’ like fire eating! There were lots of tips on trying to get the crowd and Paul recalled one guy putting weird objects on the ground like putting rope down and lighting a candle (small objects that could be easily carried) to appeal to peoples curiosity or nosiness as he called it. It was harder then, Paul recounts, these days people stand and watch more readily they will stand and simply look at a man acting like a statue. Paul referred to the impact of street workers of Australians, who would often lead the way in their performances – get height was one piece of advice – not simply using a uni-cycle – which would work, but anything to draw attention from afar. Blowing a flame was his great draw.
Noel asked if there was a point where Paul decided not to do the show of the crowd was too low – “if you took 20 mins to set up and had 3 people u might carry on” was his reply. A space at the side of a café is good because you get a reaction – noise is another benefit to the street performer – asking them to shout. So it was a combination of height, noise and curiosity. Spoken lines and material used spread around the globe – a lot of the terminology had come from Australian - such as sprooking, meaning drawing a crowd. Paul also tried his hand at some fortune telling and palm reading. He had read a book on conmen and observed that both street acts and conmen had many similarities and travelled the globe under the radar! Always having been intrigued by Victorian freak-show type of theatre Paul replicated the model for a show in Edinburgh (including scams like cherry coloured cat). He purchased a 20’ diameter fair tent and would squeeze in 65 people for 15 minute shows with contortionists, balancers and magic, giving an old world theatre atmosphere.
Generally the shows were short and a minimal charge of £3 was taken for the crowd of around 40 people; once finished he would tell people he thought the show was well worth the money, in fact a little more than the £3 they had paid, and place a tip jar by the exit where he collected another £2 a head on average! He shipped the show over to Australia for the Adelaide Festival where he did up to 13 solo shows in one evening – after paying ground rent and expenses there was some money left and a lot of fun. The15 minute shows worked really well because they filled a gap in the market when people were between major shows they even cut a 45 min show to 30 mins and sold more tickets!
Paul then spoke about much of his TV work including specials in the UK and Prague, Sweden Lapland, street magic and little stings – no one had done TV magic at that point. The learning curve told him it was all about reactions –close up and personal. Paul briefly spoke about some of the current TV magic and the potential downside with the use of camera tricks and stooges – the too impossible theory could make people just turn off.
Another terrific contribution from Paul Zenon.
Session Two: Andy Reay 'Secrets of the Svengali'
Andy sells magic for a living, having spent the last five years with Marvins magic, managing in Harrods and Hamleys and working in such places as far as Kuwait. Andy gave a highly infectious and enthusiastic talk on his work and specifically drawing a crowd and selling magic. The talk was on how he does his job and he stressed that the same philosophy would work whether you were selling product or simply performing- in terms of getting an audience and fully engaging with them. He explained that a demonstration consists of three parts, the build, the show and the close, with the close being the important bit as it’s the sale! Andy gave a demonstration of his actual performance using a hanky, Svengali and coins. Very lively, enthusiastic and loud and I believe he even ended up selling Svengali Decks to the magicians, so infectious was his sales pitch! He spoke about using lots of volume and energy and gave examples of the many lines he uses to engage…. ‘step up a yard sir and you’ll see better’
There was an almost scientific approach to the sell using classic sales techniques (which could be used to sell anything). Andy kept emphasising the importance of keeping energy levels high; there was also the ABC of closing (Always Be Closing); always engaging with people especially those at the back of the crowd and answer as many questions as possible; tell them about the product, what it does, how easy it is to do (“You’ll be doing magic on the train home – amazing friends tomorrow!”); pre-empt the questions and offer solutions. A fine tip in selling in these circumstances was to always ask mum as she holds the purse and makes the decision! And remember - they’re not buying the product they are buying the demo. Andy then spoke of the recognised sales technique known as AIDCA – a technique developed in advertising industry which stands for attention, interest desire, conviction and action. He also mentioned the ‘Light Housing technique’ whereby you imagine you’re wearing a torch on your head and scan the crowd – look at least four rows back if you see someone new invite them in – imagine touching everyone with your light. His tone and manner and bright dress (not literal) was welcoming, almost he said, like an old showman. Use signalling and a rhythm Iambic pentameter (look it up!) and don’t simply emphasise the features of the products but the benefits - his book on selling is out soon.
Session Three: Duncan Trillo 'Silent Magic on the Streets'
Another fascinating look into a different take on magic on the street was offered by Duncan Trillo, in conversation with Noel Britten, who explained that at the age of 22, after spending a year on a cruise ship, doing two 10 minute sets a week, was ready for a change and after watching a BBC documentary on street performers decided to ‘unglamour his act’ (taking out the doves was one part) and go and perform in Covent Garden. He explained “All the other performers were big theatrical performers with an acting background – I came from a magic background and had an act of 10 minutes and wore all black, and simply used music as a backdrop”.
It was the summer of 1982 and he would not say a word during the performance not even before the performance started whilst taking out a plinth and setting up. In the early 80s Covent Garden had just started to be known as a street performing venue. Duncan would come out with his table and switch on music, using the theme music to Raiders of the Lost Arc as his 'warm-up', since it had a wonderful draw to it! 2-3 mins would perk ears up and pull people in, whilst he genuinely set up with his act – it was his crowd building method. Then a quick burst of the 20th Century Fox theme music [again something that instantly says 'showtime') and the act would start, with a spinning cane, then card fanning and card productions followed which was great live because people don’t normally see this stuff live. A rope and ring routine followed, then a professors nightmare effect, Zombie ball (fantastic on the street) ending on a linking ring routine based on the published Richard Ross ring routine. He would start the show regardless of how many people were there; and even worked in the snow. Between 1982-87 all he did was street performing . Nine minutes very tight and short. He would target £100 a day in summer, but earn much less in the winter! Duncan spoke about connecting and communicating with an audience when you’re silent and trying to make eye contact with everyone. “I’m a guy doing magic tricks that I hope you enjoy” was his attitude – no intimidation, no threat – no one getting called up.
On ships he did 2 shows a week compared to the 2 - 10 shows a day on the street; it was a great way to learn. There no other silent magician at the time in London until Leo Ward also started in Covent Garden a year or so later. The two 'rivals' became great friends.
Duncan spoke about the importance of music (he would dash to Tower Records between shows and hunt through the latest imports. After being spotted working by a Japanese production company he was invited to go and perform in Japan. Duncan, as with many of the other street performers who spoke, wanted control of life and that is what street performing gave him. It allowed him to travel to Japan, Germany and all over Europe.
An interesting point raised by Noel was that Duncan had received some criticism for back palming cards and performing the Zombie ball on the street from fellow magicians (many believed it actually did magic a service on the street by showing how difficult it was to do). Duncan reflected “I was busking because that’s what I had and what I did [for a living] – I didn’t want to pull silks out of a hat, I wanted to do good magic including card manipulation – Paul Daniels was strong at the time but there was very little work in UK. There was no video or mobile phones at time so the exposure was not as bad as perhaps doing that sort of magic now. I felt guilty because I did not and still do not like exposure – but that was my working environment”. Then a wonderful thing happened – a member of the lecture audience, from Kong Kong, asked to speak – he had seen Duncan perform in Covent Garden in the 80s, had seen the card manipulation and kept watching and was inspired to take up magic that day. He now teaches magic in Hong Kong!
Finally, Duncan gave a very brief three-stage demonstration of 'timing' and 'focus' as it applies to silent (and patter) magic, using a one-handed fan to illustrate his point.
A very high quality talk. Thank you Duncan.
Session Four: Pete Wardell ‘The corporate showman - coming in from the cold’
Pete gave a masterclass on the art of being a trade show magician
Pete was a street performer performing at Covent Garden and now does many trade shows. He spoke about how trade show magicians have changed over the years. He started by speaking about street performers and the obvious link between street performers and trade show performers. He began with this quote from The Experience Economy Pine & Gilmore “Engage and manipulate foreign space and thereby turn it into a stage on which to enact their selling performance”
Trade show performer is a street performer in a suit! Trade shows are market places with high real estate value – the pitches are like a market. His role was to try and engage with people and pass on information. Trade shows are diminishing in size now, yet are still a valuable place for magicians to work and sit along wide product launches and re-branding events, encompassing an area Pete referred to as ‘Live Marketing’ where the magician adds that extra A to bring the event ALIVE! As performers we need to stop it being an event and turn it into experiences because people will take something away with them. Experiences change people so the challenge is trying to link the experience with the company’s message. The sole objective is to improve business; there is a need to understand the company objective and then the client objectives. Your objective as a trade show magician is to create opportunities for your client to align what they want to what their client wants. Main objectives as a trade show magician are to make a difference to people, (emotionally, physically), attract attention (not easy – getting attention is easy – keeping it is difficult), generate leads (quality ore-qualified leads not merely numbers). Pete emphasised the importance to help enhance enthusiasm and energy on stand with staff on stand; inform and entertain (magicians have this wonderful ability to engage with people an make them smile- they become more relaxed) , create opportunities for your clients and visitors to the show.
Regarding performing at the trade show timings is important – you could do a scheduled presentation e.g. every hour do a 15 minute set – an issue would occur if there was no audience then. The problem with illusion type magic was that there was little engagement and little opportunity to achieve objective so a rolling show was Pete’s preferred approach.
How do you go about creating your set? Missed opportunity if you just do your standard close up repertoire; Pete spoke about white label magic – a fixed set whereby a clients name could be added to a routine (e.g. with ambitious card – slotting in the clients name); using the product as a prop – where you are working with a company that has a physical product that can be used.
Brand driven - can use brand values to incorporate into presentation, e.g. Harley Davidson’s brand although bikes was about freedom
What effects do I do? Ask yourself what do I need to say then decide what effects to use.
Scripting the set- Pete spoke about white space between specific parts of an effect (e.g. between taking and card and replacing it in a deck) - -there is also ‘white space’ physically on cards, for example. Tell a great story when doing an effect. – a story takes information and turns it into an emotion
Pete then demonstrated two effects he might use - Smiling Mule by Roy Walton – using branded magic and the Hunters Knot routine and associated message that could be used to bespoke the effect for the client
Pete also writes scripts for trade show magicians.
A masterclass lecture for any aspiring trade show magician.
For more information check out www.peterwardell.com and www.magicstateofmind.com
Session Five: Noel Britten
Introduced by James Freedman, Noel spoke about his Comedy Walk in Bath, which having started in 1991 has remarkably run for 23 years, now doing seven days a week for seven months of the year. Noel started in magic at the age of seven and went on to study Business at university. He spent much of his time on London’s South Bank and Covent Garden watching street performers (Duncan Trillo being one of them); he then started busking (making £18.73 on first show). Noel enjoyed the concept of street performing and in particular the independence it offered; he could do a show whenever and wherever he wanted, and the money he received was in direct relation to the quality of the magic. After finishing university 6-7 years Noels would travel the UK in summer and then go to Australia in winter
The first quality Noel suggests a successful street performer needs is the commitment to graft to do shows – some performers only did shows when they were skint, got the money and didn’t perform again until they were skint again! He explained that a good street type act could be taken anywhere much like a good close-up set, working theme parks, festivals trade shows, road shows, firework displays etc. True street performers (unlike the trade show magician or theme park magician has no boss so you have ‘the freedom of the open road’. Noel took opposite view about height being important to the street performer and worked low down close to the ground doing an escapology effect – which worked better for him as the felt the crowd came in closer and paid more
Noel then went on to discuss some of the disadvantages that were starting with street performing; whatever style of magic you do there become downsides of street performers. More performers were coming out whereby he ended up having to get up at 5am to try and get a pitch, only to see when his time came it might have started to rain and the performance was cancelled! Because of the number of performers now performing a good hat (money collected0 wasn’t reflected by quality of show.
When Noel wanted to finish street performing he considered doing a ghost walk, but after attending a comedy walk he was inspired to try something similar
He explained he had never liked or done close-up magic (a rejection thing!) and much preferred performing to a large crowd (preferably paying to come and see him). He decided to do a double act ‘walk’ with Jay Jay, and together they worked six nights a week for six months; on the walk they would take it in turns to go on ahead during the walk and set things up for the next part. The starting point for the walk is a pub - which paid dividends in a number of ways – people could wait inside, props could be stored there, and there was a reciprocal benefit between the walk and the pub and there was an added benefit when no one turned up for the walk. They had a vow that even if only one person turned up and wanted to do the walk they done it. Some nights no one turned up but the beauty was that It also didn’t matter how many people turned up – whether it was 18 or -180 people, as it worked equally well with any number (unlike 50 people turning up to a 500 seater theatre!). Problems included inclement weather (rain was a spoiler)
The material on walk should be environmentally based and includes a blindfold walk by Noel to lead a phase of the walk, vanishing objects to impossible locations (you need to see this one), a ‘just chance’ routine and a river stunt. The magic becomes more apparent during the walk. Marketing started with A4 flyers and the name ‘Bizzare Bath’ was offered by a pub landlord in dramatic fashion
So to summarise the pros included being your own boss, working on your doorstep, low start up costs, no waiting for cheques and no waiting for phone to ring; it is cheap to run with a spectacular venue (great backdrops). The cons include the weather, external influences (drunks, stag nights etc) and the fact you cannot please all the people all the time. A pro and con is that if an experience is more unique its more challenging to sell
To work and get booked as a street type performer Noel’s three bits of advice were - be the best, do something different and be cheap (preferably a combination of the first two); choose your material a specific to your environment and stay in touch with your own value. A final great piece of advice was to work out when you have down time - e.g. if you’re working on a show and don’t tend to work much on a Tuesday - book a local arts centre on a Tuesday night and put the show on!
After 23 years of walking the walk, this was the first time Noel had talked the talk. And we were privileged to be there. Thank Noel.
Session Six: Terry Ward 'Making the Street Legit'
Terry followed up his show performance last night with a delightful and informative lecture. His experience of working at MGM studios for the past 24 years shone through. Terry’s father was in military and as a consequence he spent his formative years travelling a lot; during this time, his interest in magic helped make new friends and interact with people o different nationalities – skills that would hold him in good stead years later. He decided to study theatre and it was whilst at University he gained his first experience working as a street performer at a theme park; he would go to Church Street, Orlando and busk to earn extra money and it was a chance encounter with Gazzo, who started working at the same place, when Terry’s education in street magic real took a step up. Terry explained, “ Wow that’s street performer! I watched him for a week, every performance; he got a crowd three times bigger than mine and I watched how he worked the crowd”. Terry then got a job at Walt Disney World playing a 1940 wise guy talent agent called Jack who wants to be a magician; he worked for six years on a stage show with all the benefits of being directed and stage presence and has been doing five shows a day five days a week for 25 years.
Terry then went on to show an extraordinary demonstration (and explanation) of two effects (1) the three shell game, which he started doing some 15 years ago and it became a favourite of his and (2) the Chicago opener, which he used so well in his show last night with a delightful kicker
A really enjoyable lecture and a real nice guy to boot – check out his web sites or see him later this week at the Festival www.performerterryward.com or www.terrywardmagic.com
Compared by Noel Britten
Another fantastic evening show at the Brides Theatre.
Edward Hilsum opened the
show with his ‘walking through the wall of china routine’, followed by an
amusing smash and stab. He finished and brought the house down (definitely the
biggest cheer of the week thus far) with an effect he called ‘Silver”.
Entertaining as always and a big name for the future.
Chris Cox followed with some (not real) mind-reading. He started with a card trick and followed with a crazy piece of (not real) mind reading of a spectators word which he made a member of the audience determine. He finished with a clever chair routine and then an amusing final routine that ended with a ferret down a leotard – you need to see it! Great entertainment as always.
Young & Strange completed the evening with a show for second half. They were funny, entertaining, magical and were a great act to finish another brilliant day at the International Magic Festival of Magic. If you haven’t seen these guys live check out their web site and book tickets now.
All in all another great day. If you’ve been unable to attend I hope these notes give you a flavour of the event. Hope to see you later this week or definitely at the weekend sometime.
© Roberto Forzoni, November 2013