WHAT HAPPENS IN DALLAS, DOESN’T STAY IN DALLAS by Bo Gerard

Over the many years I have lived in Dallas, I have seen many great local acts come up, flower, and then depart our city for hopefully greener pastures.

Dallas is a unique animal.  As many great things as Dallas/Fort Worth has, it has never seemed to be able to sustain some of the other things that other big US cities manage to sustain.  Like the fact that DFW still doesn’t have an upscale gourmet vegan restaurant.  STILL!!!!  And we did finally build a convention center hotel, but we needed it back in 1984.  And then there’s variety entertainers.  Many wonderful artists, that have honed their act here in Texas, have been forced to leave, due to lack of work.  It seems you can make your living as a magician or clown in these parts, but not so much if you are a ventriloquist, whip artist, hypnotist, or grand illusionist.

Now, some of these artists have made a go of it by doing more than one kind of act – like juggler/whip artist, or comedy magician/illusionist, or clown/ventriloquist.  But if you want to do just ONE act, you eventually have to move where the work is – like cruise ships or Las Vegas.

And don’t even get me started on street performing!  Busking opportunities are non-existent in this area.  So, if you’ve developed a great street act, you better go looking for a street in NYC, or Los Angeles.

I’m not saying that Dallas isn’t a world class city.  I’m just pointing out the fact that Dallas audiences have their own unique tastes.  And though it’s a great city to live and grow in, if you want to make some coin, your act may eventually have to go on the road.

AFTER THE APPLAUSE by Bo Gerard

There’s good work to be done, right after the show.

It all started years ago, when I began performing for senior audiences.  After the show, many in the audience just sat there.  It wasn’t because they were tired, it was because they wanted me to come over and say hello.  They wanted to thank me for the performance and tell me something about themselves, like “My son works in New York City”, or I once saw Blackstone perform.  They wanted to connect!  Having come from musical theater, I was of the opinion that once I “gave my all” on stage, I was done.  Meeting the audience, out of costume and character, had nothing to do with the message of the play.  Anyway, I didn’t care to hear a bunch of strangers convey obligatory compliments.  So, I slipped away into the night.  When performing comedy-magic took over my life, I was still in “slip away” mode after the show.

Then, back in the 90’s, while I was performing at a trade show in Las Vegas, I saw Penn & Teller’s show.  After their final bow, the ran down some stairs into the audience and ran up the aisle.  I thought it was just for effect, but it turns out it was because they wanted to beat the audience out to the lobby, so they could greet and chat with them.  It was an epiphany for me.  Even with all their fame and success, Penn & Teller knew that they also had to connect with their audience on a personal level.

Well, ever since then I have made an effort to stick around a while after my show, so I would be available to any audience member that wanted to come up and connect.  When performing at senior facilities I even build extra time in my schedule, so that I don’t have to rush out.  Walking around the room, and thanking each senior that has stayed, behind has enriched me beyond description.  And I have heard some amazing stories and met some folks that have had amazing lives.  After a family show, kids and parents come up to say they enjoyed the show, but sometimes the kids also tell me their dreams. or ask really great questions about magic and performing.

Meeting with the audience after the show is not about ME, it’s about THEM.  It’s about US.  These personal interactions can be as important and enriching as the show itself!

BREAKING NEWS: MAGIC IS NOT REAL. OR IS IT? by Bo Gerard

Every working magician has had a child, or sometimes even an adult, come up after a show and ask “Is magic real?”  And every performer has crafted their own response to that question.  But for me to truly answer the question, I had to ask myself “What is magic?’ and “What is real?’  I know I’m sounding a little like Bill Clinton here, but they’re legitimate questions.  (Also, I did not have magical relations with that woman!)

So, what is Magic?  Mirriam-Webster describes it as “an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source”.  That’s a good start.  Oxford Dictionary calls it, “A quality of being beautiful and delightful in a way that seems remote from daily life.”  The Free Dictionary has, “A mysterious quality of enchantment”.  Now we’re getting somewhere!  Since Enchantment is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure; delight: the state of being under a spell; magic”, it might be said that magic is a facilitating art that helps its audience experience pleasure and delight.

Me at a trade show!

Me at a trade show!

If the public really thought about it, they would know that magicians do not possess supernatural abilities.  If we truly had other-worldly powers, powers that could transform time and space, what would we do with those powers?  Would we lie on a beach in Cabo and have food and liquor float towards our mouths, or would we stand for 7 hours at a trade show booth doing card tricks?  Yeah, you guessed it – Cabo!

"We're all here, because we're not all there!" - Al

"We're all here, because we're not all there!" - Al

But we do indeed have very special “abilities’ and I will even say “powers”.  We are a gateway, a portal, through which our audience can glimpse the enchantment of the world.  And we use our hard-won abilities to make our audience feel delight, and reconnect with the mysterious.  Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”  So, magic is not something we “DO”, it’s the way we make people “FEEL”.

So, when a kid comes up after a show and asks “Is Magic real?”, I say “Magic is that feeling you have when you see something mysterious and amazing.  Did you feel that feeling during the show?  Well then magic is DEFINITELY REAL.”  I will close with a quote from the great Maya Angelou, “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

THE FAMILY SHOW – AN ENDANGERED SPECIES? by Bo Gerard

Is there room in this crazy, fast-paced world for a good old family show?

I grew up watching family entertainment.  To me that means entertainment that is equally entertaining for both adults and children.  Entertainment that doesn’t pander to either end of the age spectrum, but finds a middle ground (and also includes moments just for the adults and moments just for the kids).  I have since observed that many magical performers have begun to specialize, or they may have one show for kids and another for adults.  That makes sense since aside from festivals, Bar Mitzvahs and some birthday parties, it’s getting harder to find audiences that are made up of both adults and children.  However, when you are presented with a true “Family” audience, playing just to one age group might not cut it.

Although it’s a real challenge to develop an act that plays well to both demographics, it can be a very rewarding endeavor.  Because I was so influenced by the TV of the 60's, I have spent my life in the business trying to find material that is truly entertaining to all ages.  Yes, I do alter my patter and presentation when the situation calls for it, but more often than not I am doing the same show I do at Blue and Gold Banquets that I do at Corporate Awards Banquets; and it KILLS at both!  Why?  Because there is common ground in both groups that a performer can tap into.  If you find a way to engage the audiences’ inner child, the part of them that is open, curious, wanting to laugh, and looking for a shared experience, then you are golden!

There are many wonderful performers that are on this quest with me.  I feel personally blessed to be able to facilitate an audience’s transformation from a collection of individual, separate people, into a dynamic and unified group; one that is working with me to make a great show.  An audience that feels comfortable reacting to the show, both verbally and physically.  Their participation not only affects the other members of the audience, but greatly affects me as well; as I STEER THE MAGICAL SHIP INTO WACKY WATERS.

So, let’s hear it for the good old “Family” show, and let’s keep it alive for generations to come.

PERSONA NON GRATIN - Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

Is developing a “stage persona” old-hat?

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Every generation naturally thinks the generation that preceded it is corny and out of date.  Even the word corny has been changed by this new generation into the word “cheesy”. (Which used to mean cheaply made or flimsy, but now is substituted for corny)

And many of the new generation of magicians have decided to depart from the style of their elders, and choose to perform on stage in a very relaxed and unscripted manner.  This is fine for the new generation of audience, and that’s who it’s aimed at.

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But in the past, performers would spend years perfecting not only their on-stage patter, but their on-stage personas as well; honing both until it was a thing so unique unto themselves that few could even copy it.  This was achieved by spending “time on the boards”, performing for live audiences.  They added some new material along the way, yes, but more importantly slowly and diligently perfected the material and persona they already had.

Actually, many of the top magicians working today do indeed have unique stage personas.  And even though they might not be household names, they make a very good living indeed.  So, the stage persona is not quite dead yet.  It is just making a slow transition, sparked by young performers, into something new and vital.

ATTACK OF THE GIGZILLA SITES – Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

In days of old, you just made sure you had a great website, got it indexed by Google, and you were all set.  But now Gigzilla has been born, and many magicians and variety performers are having to decide between running towards it or away from it.

I can only speak with authority on the scene here in North Texas, but I imagine the same thing is happening in every city of a certain size and population.  One day, some clever web savvy business people realized that they could create a great looking site,  promote the heck out of it, and offer customers in dozens of markets around the country a choice of local performers for their event.  One stop shopping, right?

Good news is – end customers can choose from a number of “local” performers and book them through the Gigzilla site. 
Bad news is - although it is implied that these are the “best” entertainers available, most of these sites don’t spend time vetting their performers.  That means there's everything from seasoned professionals to rank amateurs listed, side by side.  What the Gigzilla sites do spend time, and money on is getting their sites listed on the first page Google results.  Some even make sure their Google Ad is the very first thing you see when you search for a performer.  They employ every tool at their disposal to grab the top result positions, and some use tools that are not “Google Approved”, and yet they usually still work.

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So how does a local performer compete with this SEO onslaught?  Some don’t even try.  Over the years, I have developed and maintained many local and regional relationships with booking agents and party planners, so most of my work continues to come from them.  I do everything I can, that is "Google Approved", to beef up my SEO, and I manage to get pretty good search results. (I usually appear just below the Gigzilla Sites.)  Given the competition for Google's first page results, and the time and money it takes to compete, many performers have decided to subscribe to these booking sites.  I have heard both good and bad things about their experiences with these out-of state companies.  

And customers that don’t want to spend a lot of time vetting their choice for a performer, probably are attracted to the Gigzilla sites. But they might be rolling the dice if they don’t ask a lot of questions about their potential performer's experience, and maybe even ask to see some video clips.

HOW MOVIES CHANGED THE PARTY PERFORMING SCENE- Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

I will now point out two things you constantly see in films that, if you haven’t noticed already, will stand out to you from this day hence.

1)   Every nighttime street scene, especially New York streets, will have a freshly wet-down street and sidewalk – whether it has been raining in the movie or not.  I guess one day some cinematographer noticed how good the shot looked when the streets were wet.  It hides the dirt and irregularities, and gives the shot a crisper look.  So, ever since then almost every nighttime shot of a city street has wet pavement.  Look for it!

2)  Every moving shot of a street fair, marketplace or large outdoor party will move past a fire eater or juggler.  They are static and the camera moves past them, and although they are surrounded by extras, hardly anyone is standing and watching them.  Their time in the shot is so short that they could never to do their “act”.  They are simply displaying one or two seconds of the most visually exciting portion of their act.  This works great for filmmaking.  It livens up your moving shot and gives your viewer some eye-candy as the main characters move through the scene.

However, this has effected what gets booked at corporate parties and outdoor festivals.  Party planners started wanting a more cinematic look to their events and they thought, “Hey if it works in the movies, it will work for my live event”.  So, about 15 years ago, jugglers, stilt walkers, and other variety performers started getting hired to stand in specific locations at an event and demonstrate their skill.  This was “ideal” because it didn’t “interfere” with the guests and their partying.

I was actually asked by and agent once if I could perform strolling magic without “bothering or interacting with the guests in any way”.  (I told him that my strolling act involves hilarious interaction with my audience, and that I was probably the wrong performer for his client.)  These performers that were hired actually had an full act, but they couldn’t really do it at these parties, because their audience was constantly coming and going.  So, they just stood and demonstrated their individual skills.  This was well tolerated by the party-goers and thus it pleased the party planners, who continued booking these performers.  As the years went by performers with great skill, but no act, started getting hired instead.  And why not.

So now, fewer variety artists are encouraged to develop and act - one with a beginning, middle and end.  One that has a theatrical arc, and reveals the unique personality of the performer.

Now this is neither good nor bad.  I am simply documenting what I think are the reasons for the shift to the less audience-interactive entertainment that is in vogue at this time at large parties.  I promise to notify you immediately if any more changes occur ;-)

HOW TO MAKE A GREAT LIVING EARNING $.50/hr – Letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

Here’s something every creative artist already knows, so I’m probably preaching to the choir.

Truth is - I earn less per hour than an amusement ride attendant; and yet I make a nice living.  The reason the income and hourly wage have such a strange relationship is because most creative artists put an inordinate amount of work in on every project theywork on.  So much so, that the ultimate fee we earn for the work, after being divided by the number of hours actually worked on the project, probably comes to less than 50 cents/hour.

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The general public is mostly unaware of this fact and probably imagines that our art magically appears to us, fully formed, and ready to present.  Oh, if it were only true!  For example, every year Gretchen and I create a new Summer Reading Program for libraries, and we put in 6 to 10 months of work on it.  That’s 10 months of talking, writing, rewriting, composing, recording, prop building, music track editing and reediting.  Then we rehearse the Dickens out of the show, and sometimes even do a couple of free performances at schools, to tune the show up in front of a live audience before when we do our first paid performance.  And this is just one of the many projects we work on every year.

Like I said, any creative artists reading this are probably nodding their heads in agreement.  So why, then, do we continue putting ourselves through this long, grueling work, when the hourly pay rate works out to be a fraction of what of a part-time bag packer at Kroger’s makes?  It’s because art is not a thing… it is a way.  Art is when you hear a knocking from your soul — and you answer.

And we happen to make a nice living, too