How to break into that conversation
The fastest growing area of magical entertainment in Australia is close-up, or more specifically, strolling magic. The performer is invited to entertain the guests as they mingle, enjoying drinks and finger foods, before dinner or at a stand up cocktail party.
The main purpose of these type of corporate functions is for the host to network with the guests, or sometimes for the guests to network with each other. The role of the magician is to stimulate the conversation and to help bring guests together. The first half hour can be very easy if the guests don’t know each other as they are dying for someone to come and talk to them, but it can be extremely difficult if everyone knows each other as they are too busy watching out for friends or networking to concentrate on your magic.
I had to come up with an opening gambit that would get the attention of people in both situations. Rather than offering them a choice “Would you like to see some magic?” which they could refuse, or interrupting their conversation and forcing the magic on them, I looked very carefully at the etiquette of the cocktail parties.
The host can break in to any group at any time, but only because he or she is recognised by the guests. However, the waiters butt in constantly giving people food and drink…
I got an idea. I would give them something, not food or drink, something odd and unexpected. Something to stop them in their tracks and make them want to speak to me.
I can now walk up to any group, at any time, just like the waiters do, and start handing out… rubber bands. I do this with a very detached, waiter-like attitude, reaching across people, never looking them in the eye, just offering each of them a rubber band as though I couldn’t care less. 99% of them reach out blindly and accept it. After I’ve handed out three or four the conversation within the group starts to subside as curiousity gets the better of everyone. Eventually someone will ask:
“What’s this for?”
The show begins.
Little do they realise they have just delivered the opening line of my beautifully written little play.
I look surprised.
“Oh… didn’t they tell you? They were supposed to tell you when you came in….”
Everyone starts looking at each other wondering if they’re the only person who didn’t get told. Blank looks all around. However, because I have referred to the mysterious higher authority known as “they”, the group silently awaits their instructions:
“I’d better show you. Can I borrow one of those rubber bands? Don’t worry, you’ll get it back.”
And from there I go into any of a number of rubber band effects. The awkward moment of who am I, what do I do, am I worth watching, is over. It gradually dawns on the audience that they are now watching a magic show and, on many occasions, members of the group have actually complimented me on the way I got everyone involved before they even knew what was going on.
Now the give-away ploy is my idea, and as I’ve been doing it for years it has become my “trademark” in the close-up arena. I hope you don’t simply take it and use it, but instead you analyse as to why it works. Look at the situations you work in. What would work even better for you?
Most professional close up magicians have their own unique ways of introducing themselves to their potential audiences in a strolling situation. Here are some other openings:
Many people prefer the simple approach of introducing yourself with words along the line of
“Hi, my name is [your name] and I’ve been hired to provide entertainment while you wait for your dinner! Would you like to see some magic?”
Be sure to mention that it’s “on the house”, or they might think you are just wandering around hustling for tips. This approach introduces who you are, states your purpose, and seeks permission to entertain. It does leave the door open for them to say “No thanks.”
While this is the spectator’s right, in Australia I believe you’ll get a lot more negative responses than positives.
Dai Vernon once worked as a table hopper and approached a couple seated in a restaurant. Dai walked up and spread his deck on the table and enquired if the couple wanted to see some magic. Without saying a word, the man picked up his drink and poured it over Dai’s cards.
One problem with the “Hello” approach is that you’re asking them if they’d like to see something they, most likely, have never seen before. So how can they decide if they want to see close-up magic or not? One good idea is to perform a quick “preview” before you give them an “out”, or the opportunity to say “No thanks”.
Make your opening effect short, punchy, and one that lets you decide if you like the group while they decide if they like you! If they were just being polite when they let you start, and would rather socialise than watch your magic, you can do a short closing trick and then move on to the next group. If they really like what they see, party on!
The “Uncanny Scot”, Ron Wilson used to approach a group with a colour changing knife and say,
“Excuse me, did anyone here lose this red knife? No? How about (the knife changes colour) this white knife?”
…at which point he would introduce himself and go from there.
It obviously worked for him, but my feeling is that you are inviting a spectator to say “No” at the very start of your show. Of course, if they say “Yes it’s mine” and grab the knife, where do you go from there?
THEY WANT YOU
Prior to the rubber band approach, I came up with a simple way to get the spectators to initiate the show. I would stroll throughout the group, not speaking, but doing the Miser’s Dream intent only on collecting coins. People would then ask me what I was doing? I’d show them, by going into another trick. Much more “organic” and seemingly spontaneous than “May I do some magic for you pleeeeez…?” It also gives the magician a much higher status than he gets with the “Hello” approach because they are approaching you.
THE NAME TAG
Another tip is to wear a name tag that has your name on top and the word “Magician” in smaller letters underneath. Almost everyone at these functions wears nametags, and people reading yours will immediately ask you about the word “Magician” and then you can begin. This also keeps your name in full view and, hopefully, future bookers will ask for you by name instead of “Let’s get a magician.”
There are literally hundreds of opening gambits; some will work for you but not for me. But I hope this inspires you to create your own unique entrance. Write in and tell us about your opening gambit!