Here is something about me that few people know. In fact, about the only people who would know this are those who have worked with me in a big show. Before all my secular stage shows, in my pre-show music, about seven minutes before the show is to start, I always play the song, “Are You Having Any Fun?” (The version sung by Tony Bennet in duet with Elvis Costello.)
The song is played at the “seven minutes to go” point for two reasons. First of all, it works as an audio clock. Our team knows, when they hear the song, it is time to get into place and be ready for the show to begin. Secondly, the song is a message to me personally that I am supposed to be enjoying what I do. This is the biggest reason why I play the song. It is a necessary reminder!
Are you havin' any fun?, What ya gettin’ out o' livin’?
What good is what you've got, If you're not havin' any fun?
Years ago I discovered my joy in performing was diminishing. I had developed such an intensity about doing things well, and such a “hard work” approach to being a magician, that shows were no longer fun. I found myself happier when shows were over (because I could finally relax) than I was while the shows were going on.
I asked myself, Does this make sense? Do I really want to be saying to myself, “I’m glad it is over?” Would it not be better to enjoy the show all the way through?
The answer to my own question was, It doesn’t make sense that I am feeling this way. I should be enjoying the opportunity to do something so wonderful!
Beyond my own need, I realized audiences need me to be having fun. Essentially, on stage, a performer is a bit of a cheerleader. If not a cheerleader, at least a pace-setter. If spectators are to have a good time, the performer needs have a good time. If the audience is to be taken to a wonderful place, the performer should already be in that place.
This led to determination to recover the pleasure of performing. To accomplish this, one of the first things I did was put that song in place; “Are You Having Any Fun?”
When I hear it I to pause and ask myself, Duane, are you having fun? Are you going to have fun to be on stage tonight? Make sure you do! Make things fun for yourself, fun for your audience, and fun for your team.
When I started doing this, making a concentrated effort to always enjoy my own performances, the quality and effectiveness of my performances jumped up. It seems the more fun I have on stage, the better others rate the show.
The agency we work for says our show gets the highest ratings of any show they sell, and they sell many big name shows. Are we actually better than all the other acts? I don’t think so. The great reviews are not a result of our artistry as much as they are a matter of audiences having a great time. It may be that one of the biggest reasons why audiences enjoy our show like they do…is we enjoy it so much!
I’m not talking about goofing around and doing things selfishly. I am not talking about performing for one’s own benefit rather than the benefit of the audience. I am talking about combining a huge commitment to high-level performance with a equally huge determination to enjoy every minute of the performance. This seems to be one of the secrets to doing a great job on stage.
As well, there are other things I do to maintain happiness in my work.
- I put new things in the show every year. New ideas and new routines keep me from performing on “auto-pilot.” They keep things fresh and exciting.
- I work with people who are fun to be around. It someone is a cause for drama and stress, I quickly let them go. I need to enjoy the people I work with. (In the contracts we have for our assistants there is an actual “no-drama” clause. A person who consistently shows up with a bad attitude and who brings personal negativity into our work environment doesn’t last long.)
- I allow myself to do things that are truly me. During the course of a show I do some silly dance moves that likely look ridiculous, but I really have fun doing them…so I do them anyway. The audience seems to get a kick out of it. The way I move and pose on stage is what I feel and what I want to do. I give myself the freedom to perform the way I really want to perform. Instead of trying to copy how others move and pose, I do my own thing. This obviously can be carried too far. There needs to be experience and sense behind a performance that keeps things from being too crazy, but the bottom line is the need to be genuine. What people see on stage is the real me. When I focus on being true to myself, everyone seems to have more fun.
- I keep doing the things which excited me about magic and performance in the first place. Maybe having fancy costumes isn’t the fad nowadays, but I still wear fancy costumes because it makes me happy. Maybe my music is a bit dated, but it is the music I love. I understand the need for musical choices to be appreciated by modern audiences, but I also know I must like the music myself! I still perform with big illusions. I love doing tricks with silks and flowers. Even if this is the day and age of popularity for street magic and card tricks, I’m still doing stage magic. I am doing the kind of tricks I like. I haven’t sold out to the “it isn’t really what I want to do, but it pays the bills” approach to magic shows. To the contrary, I am still working hard to succeed at doing what I have always wanted to do as a magician.
Enough said on this. The main point is: In context of being a magician/performer, heart, feelings, and passion trump logic and practicality. If we don’t feel what we do, have passion about what we do, and even love what we do, we will not do it well. Our heads must be on straight, but only by following our passion and joy can we excel!