#79 - JUGGLING & THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LEARNING by Bo Gerard

Sometimes the key to learning is figuring out how to get out of your own way.

In honor of World Juggling Day, this week’s blog is about, what else! – juggling.  When I learned to juggle, I took to it quite easily – for two reasons.:  1) I had grown up playing all sorts of games that involved throwing and catching a ball, so my eye-hand coordination was pretty good.  And 2)  I had never really attempted or even thought about juggling up to that point, so I didn’t have any preconceived notions as to how it was done.  Since then, I have taught hundreds of people to juggle and I can say with some assuredness that the biggest hurdle to learning juggling, and probably many other skills, is overcoming any previously held ideas or fears about it.

Learning to juggle can be difficult because the process is actually upside down from what a person’s intuition about learning the skill would be.  It’s natural to think that throwing one ball is easy, two balls is harder, and three is the hardest.  But the reverse is true.  (I love when the reverse is true!)  Learning to throw and catch the first ball in a cascade juggling pattern is the most difficult and ultimately the most important part.  It is the foundation upon which you build your cascade.  Once you’ve mastered it, adding the second ball is challenging, but not terribly difficult.  And once you’ve mastered two-ball move, adding the third is a piece of cake.  This is because you are just doing the two-ball move, but now you don’t have to stop throwing and catching.

When I teach juggling, I make a announcement - “I will teach you how to juggle in 5 minutes, or I will pay you $10!”  I have NEVER had to pay that $10.  Once I explain the “upside-down process” to the student, and help them release their preconceptions and fears about juggling, they quickly understand how it all works.  Now, I CAN’T teach someone how to catch a ball.  That is a function of prior experience and practice.  But I can teach them how to throw, and how to understand the cascade pattern, so they can go and practice on their own.

And juggling is really great for you.  Juggling enhances your brainpower.  A new study published in the journal “Nature” finds that learning to juggle may cause certain areas of your brain to grow.  It’s also great for stress relief, focus retention, and it boosts your coordination.  It can also be used as a form of meditation.

So, start juggling today – your brain and body will thank you for it!

#78 - HOW TO MEMORIZE IMPROMPTU LINES by Bo Gerard

When I first started out in show business, I was terrible at memorizing lines.  (No, I didn’t study my script by candlelight, we had electricity back then.)  In the 1970’s I was in a band in in NYC that played club gigs and we even got signed to a label.  But since there was no internet, I couldn’t google the lyrics of the cover songs we played.  So, being blessed with a very musical ear, I would sing the lyrics exactly as I heard them on the records.  (Even if I didn’t even know what some of the lyrics were.) 

When I segued to theater, my memorization skills were so poor I had to keep a script backstage, so I could glance at it whenever I was off the stage for a moment.  Then I was cast in “Talley’s Folly”, and I had an 8-minute monologue that open the play.  So, I had to get this memorizing thing down.  Luckily, my wonderful wife and performing partner, Gretchen, who had great skill at memorizing lines, passed on to me the single most important tool for remembering lines.  And here it is - “Read the lines out loud, and slowly work your way through the page; memorizing one line, then adding another, etc.”  This “reading-out-loud thing is amazing, because when you speak the words you are not only thinking them, you are also hearing them.  And you are also forming the words with your vocalization muscles, and this repetition of the lines is retained through muscle memory as well.

This tool served me well when I performed a 12-minute monologue as Paul in “A Chorus Line”.  and I most definitely could not have made it in the Trade Show world without it.  For years I was hired to perform magic at Trade Shows, while simultaneously spewing off a litany of product facts and details that would make your head spin.

This is the hardest kind of material to memorize, because there is no emotional context to hang the lines on.  Also. you are not in a conversation with another actor, so you can’t be “cued”.  Of course, the next step in speaking lines is making them sound like they are your own thoughts, and that you just that moment thought of them.  This serves us well when we “Variety Performers”, (magicians, comedians, jugglers, and even musicians) speak lines that we have spoken 3000 times before.  We can’t just rattle the lines off.  We have to remember that this audience is hearing them for the first time, so we need to find some fresh, engaging way to do our “patter”.

I am now discovering that memorizing is a “use-it-or-lose-it” kinda thing.  So, my advice to all you performers out there is to continue learning new lines and lyrics, and performing them in front of an audience.  At the very least it might stave off Alzheimer’s!

HOW DID THE SHOW GO LAST NIGHT? by Bo Gerard

Your answer to this question can say a lot about the relationship you have with your audience.  Which one of these are you?

THE OPPONENT:  He responds with the traditional, yet violent, images, like “I killed last night”, or “I murdered ‘em”, or “I was on fire!!!”  And if it went badly, “I died!” or “I bombed”.  These phrases suggest an adversarial relationship with the audience.

THE MARKETER:  To this performer, every show went fabulously well.  They use the word GREAT a lot, and aren’t shy about telling you if they got a standing ovation.  Also, thy are happy to tell you about all their GREAT upcoming shows.  They are always selling!

THE EGOIST: (Not to be confused with egotist”.)  He responds by describing the event in terms of how it went for them, like “It was a good show”, or “I did alright” or “it went off without a hitch”.

THE COMPLAINER:  He responds by pointing out deficiencies, like “The lighting/sound/intro/seating arrangement could have been better.”  Maybe this is an attempt to commiserating with the questioner, rather than discuss their success (or lack thereof).

THE APPRECIATOR:   He invariably responds with praise for the audience, like “The audience was really having fun”, or “They were a great group”.  I have noticed that I usually respond in this way.  And I think I FINALLY get why.   Since I perform so often, and have been performing for so long, I am really confident about my material and presentation.  And I work hard to arrange, or provide, the best AV possible, so the audience can see and hear me really well.  I know I am always going to give them 100% of myself, so I know I am going to offer them a great show.  The only variant is THE AUDIENCE.

I usually attribute a successful show to the willingness of that particular audience to engage with the show, and embrace the idea that we are all in it together. This quality in an audience is what gives performers like me the courage and strength to offer ourselves up to the altar of “The Stage”.

THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PAY FOR by Bo Gerard

Back in the old days, we used to actually get unsolicited letters, IN THE MAIL, thanking us for the “wonderful show!”  Then came the digital age, and even though we still got unsolicited emails from customers with glowing reviews, they slowly tapered off.  Not because the quality of our shows had changed, but more because there were more distractions pulling our clients away from such niceties.  A” Thank You” email sent their way after the show was usually enough to goose them into responding with a glowing review.

Nowadays, people are overwhelmed with emails and texts, and don’t seem to have the time to respond to ANY communication; let alone to take the time to compose and send a review.  And what would you do with that glowing review if you got it anyway?  Put it on your site?  Yeah, but that’s not where prospective clients are looking anymore.  They are looking at Google and Yelp reviews.  So, now we have to somehow get clients to log on to Google and post a review.  Same problem – they don’t find the time to do it, even if they absolutely LOVED your show.  So, if you really want reviews, you have to either pester them (which might hurt you more than help you), or incentivize them.

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So, what enticing incentive would make a client take the time to log on, create an account, write a review and post it.  What else?  Money!!!  You could offer a discount on a future show, or something like a $10 Starbucks Gift Card.  Might work.  But, there are still a few things left that I will not pay for. One of them is getting someone to tell me what they think of my show.  (The others I will leave to your imagination.)  You can also hire online companies that promise to get you Google review galore!  But I’m guessing they either pester your clients for you, or engage in grey hat practices.

And don’t even bother asking customers to post a review on Yelp.  Yelp only wants Yelpers to post, and instructs businesses NOT to solicit reviews from clients.  If their software determines the poster is not a habitual Yelper, they will take the review DOWN.

So, there you have it.  If you are not cool with bothering or even bribing your satisfied customers to post a review, you will remain under-reviewed.  Well, at least we still have word of mouth!

CUSTOMER ASSISTANTS - PLEASE HOLD by Bo Gerard

Not a misspelling, but a reminder - followed by an ardent plea.  The audience members you bring up on stage are not only your guests, but also your CUSTOMERS – and so you should HOLD them closely to your heart and treat them with respect.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fun with them while they’re up there, or even push them out of their comfort zone a bit, but I have seen assistants truly embarrassed on stage by some performers, and even I myself once became the butt of another performers humiliating humor.

This embarrassing behavior is not limited to small time acts.  I once witnessed a national juggling/unicycling act that not only ridiculed his assistant’s appearance and personality, but physical abused him for about 7 minutes, while attempting to mount his giraffe unicycle.  It was not the usual, mild mistreatment we’ve all seen from some performers, but a strategically planned attack!  It was so brutal that I thought the assistant had to be a plant.  But that was not the case.   This poor schlemiel will NEVER agree to go up a stage with anyone, EVER AGAIN. 

One time I was attending Monday Night Magic audience in NYC, and the magician, who will remain un-named, chose ME as an assistant.  We had never met, and I am sure he did not know I was a performer.  He decided to do some verbal "comedy" that involved making me look and sound like idiot.  I know, you’re saying “that couldn’t have been very hard”.   But still!!!  So, why did I play along and let him embarrass me?  It's because the audience came to see HIS show, not an exchange of insulting retorts.  I put the audience’s enjoyment before my own desire to put this guy in his place.

In the corporate-show world, the audience is always more alert and attentive if someone from their group is on stage, so it’s our job not to betray that trust.  Feel out your assistant’s personality, get them laughing and reacting with amazement, make sure you don’t push them TOO FAR out of their comfort zone, and make sure that the audience shows their appreciation for them.  Once you bring an assistant up on stage, they are no longer just an individual; they are now the audiences onstage delegate.  Make sure that their memory of the experience is a great one.  How you make them feel will stay with them long after they have forgotten the tricks you did.

WHY MAGICIANS DON’T REVEAL THEIR SECRETS by Bo Gerard

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me “How did you do that?”, I’d have enough money to run for President!  Some magicians just give a pat answer “It’s Magic” or “It’s a secret”, leaving it up the audience to reply, in unison, “And magicians never tell their secrets”.  Then there are the clever responses like, “You promise not to tell?  So, did I”, or “If I told you I’d have to kill you”.  (FYI - no actual killings have ever been reported.)  Of course, one must wonder that if magician’s never reveal their secrets, where do new magicians come from (Ask the Shakers)

But why DON’T we tell our secrets?  Is it a secret pledge that every magician takes, before they are sold their first Dove Pan?  Is magic a secret society, with elaborate secret handshakes and rituals, where, in a candle lit cavern, we swear not to ever discuss the workings of an Egg Bag?  Well, actually most magicians would say it’s simply ethics.  One does not break the implicit covenant with other magicians not to reveal the secret workings of the trade.  Some say it is because knowing the secret would ruin it for the audience, destroying their sense of amazement and wonder.

I say both of these are true.  But another reason, one that is harder to grasp, and therefore harder to describe, must be brought forward.  The reason I don’t reveal magical secrets is not because the secret is so valuable, but rather because it is so worthless.  To explain, I must first define what I mean as the “secret”.  Most lay people, and even some magicians, think the secret-not-to-be-revealed is the physical working of the trick – the pass, the gaff, the holdout, the load.  And I have to admit that if a lay person was shown some of these tools they might be satisfied that they know how the trick is done.  BUT THEY DON’T!  They only know a small, easily shown part of the secret.

What can’t be revealed is the other 80% of the work that goes into making an audience feel it has witnessed “Magic”.  The set-up, the story, the persona, the psychology, and all of the theatrical arts (sightlines, lighting, focus, etc.) that must be considered and mastered before one attempts to transport the audience into the world of magic.  All of these are the skeleton upon which we build our tricks and our show.

None of this would be even mildly interesting to the person who says, “How did you do that?”  They would slowly back away before you reached the part about how you can misdirect with your voice.  And even if you revealed the move, or gaff, or load, they would still never be able to duplicate the effect.  Because aside from the hours of practicing and preparation, they wouldn’t have the theatrical skill to present it in an effective and convincing way.

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So, the “secret” is actually worthless to them.  They would merely get an incomplete idea of how you fooled them.  The audience is not equipped to understand what it takes to make a trick “magical”.  However, they ARE well equipped to experience the amazing feeling that something magical has just taken place.  And for this reason, we adore and cherish them.

WE HAVE OFFICIALLY RUN OUT OF NAMES! by Bo Gerard

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Coming up with a name for your performing business is not as easy as some might think.  But It seems to be even harder out there in the non-showbusiness world.  Naming new things has always been a process of weighing tradition, clarity and uniqueness.  But, as is evidenced by the blog below, it appears that the world has finally run out of names and everyone is grasping at nomenclatural straws.

ALL NAMES ARE VERY REAL!!!

I recently performed at event in Dallas at a venue called “7 for Partying”.  Yep, the number “7” and then “for Partying”.  Did the first 6 attempts fail?  Oh, and for you golfers out there, we have the “Waste Management Open”.  I don’t even want to think what is in the sand trap.  Then, for a concert, you can head over to the “Ashley Home Furniture HomeStore Pavilion”, the “Jobing.com Arena”, or my personal favorite “The MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre” (formerly the “1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre”).  If it weren’t true, it would be funny.

City Planners are not immune to the worldwide name deficit either.  There is a street in Plano that I drive by a lot called “USA”.  That’s it!  Not USA Ave. or USA Lane or USA Court.  Just “USA”.  So, someone’s address is 47 USA, Plano, TX 75093, USA.  There are scores of other meaning-deficient street names across the country.  A Wahington suburb gives us “Frying Pan Road”.  Killingworth, Connecticut has a “Roast Meat Hill Road”.  In California’s Mojave Desert, there’s a “Zzyzx Road”.  Cincinnati has an “Error Place”.  And in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the appropriately named “Duh Drive”.

And from a survey of 400,000 parents, who shared their baby's name with researchers in 2016, comes these charming new baby names:  For girls - Adore, Alaska, Elspeth, Honesti, Nimrat, and Zyra.  For boys - Daxten, Ebenezer, Hyatt, Kruze, Perseus, and Zyron.  I am hoping Zyra and Zyron are not in the same family.  And who would name their sweet little girl NIMRAT?

Chalk it up to branding, individualism or just a lack of foresight, but I think the problem is truly that we have just plum run out of dang names!  Well, I’m just going to jump in my car (an Opel Grandland X), and head over to the drug store to get some Oscillococcinum for the flu-like symptoms brought on by thinking about these crazy names.

A DO-IT-YOURSELFERS CONFESSION by Bo Gerard

I MARRIED A DO-IT-YOURSELFER; AND SO DID MY WIFE!

We may have been naïve, but Gretchen and I thought that we should be able to do it all when it came to presenting a show.  Sometimes naiveté can make you do things that seem impossible to others.

We started writing our first two-person show in 1979 - 3 months after we moved in together.  We researched material, wrote the script, composed the songs and wrote the lyrics, built the props, and built a set that could break down and be transported on the NY Subway.  We did that show all over NYC the next year, and it cost us around $100 to produce.  Since then we have written and performed over 20 shows and just we can’t stop trying to do all of it ourselves (whenever we can).  When we need to make something, like a mask, or puppet, or set piece, or whatever, we find a way to learn what we need to make it happen.

No area is safe from our DIY skills.  We have sculpted, sewed, painted, hammered, recorded, invented; whatever it took to get the show up.  It took ALL of our time, to research, educate ourselves, and to do the work; but it was great!  It not only saved us an enormous amount of money, but it kept our brains and bodies firing on all cylinders.  Even when we did purchase a prop or trick, we usually made it over to suit our individual needs.  That meant taking it apart to understand how it worked and then finding a way to improve it or make it better.

I highly recommend this approach to all performers, and it’s so much easier now with all of the YouTube tutorials out there.  And there are many cross-training, DIYing performers out there.  Like James Munton, who is continually honing his skills in writing, photography and leather crafting. 

Of course, when you “do-it-yourself”, you have to have a lot of materials at hand.  That means saving every little bit of plastic or foam or wire that has promise.  And also, collecting and archiving every intriguing or funny idea you’ve ever had, in case it might come in handy one day.

You know you’re a DIYer when you are sitting on the floor, carefully deciding which bits of foam you should save and which you should reluctantly throw away.