Today's post is from a special guest who happens to be a professional magician.
When I’m on the streets performing magic, a lot goes on in very little time: I have to make myself stand out from the rest of the noise that’s in the city, I have to get them to watch, and I have to get them to pay me. Unlike magicians who walk around with a camera crew, I’m working alone, and I’m not just doing it for the reactions – though I love my art, I am (let’s be honest) also trying to make some money off of what I do.
1. How to tell a good story
First thing’s first: I need to get people to stop. To do that, I need to be telling an intriguing story. That is, really, what most people are interested in – other people’s stories. Before I even open my mouth, my story is pretty clear. Everything from what I wear to the props that I use make me stand out and, I think, make people wonder about who I am and what I do. A friend of mine who saw me perform told me once that I look like a traveling vagabond. The trick after that is to continue telling that same story in the effects that I do and the words that I use. The story is how I pique people’s interest and keep them engaged until the end of the show.
2. How to build relationships
There’s a lot of politics on the street, especially when there’s a limited amount of space and many performers. It’s important to have good relationships, even with your competitors. While there’s a pretty clear-cut legal “first come, first serve” policy in place, it’s important to understand the needs of different types of performers so that you can negotiate with them when you both need something. And, more importantly, it’s nice to be able to help each other out every so often. Building a strong relationship with a more experienced performer also means the opportunity to learn a lot.
3. How to articulate the value that I bring
People generally enjoy watching me perform – but that doesn’t mean that they’ll think it’s worth paying me for it. What I give people is often intangible, and I don’t want them to be handing me money out of some sense of pity. If I’m going to get anything more than a handful of spare change, I need to clearly explain that I am, indeed, giving them something valuable. I’m giving my audiences (whether they be one shopper or an entire family of tourists) fifteen to twenty minutes of live theater. I’m making that particular part of the city a desirable place to visit. I am embedding myself and my art into people’s memories. I think that’s valuable – and I need my audiences to think that too.
4. How to ask for what I want
But I don’t just want applause and an enthusiastic “Thank you” at the end of it all. People might internally recognize that value and want to show appreciation for it, but for the most part, they might not know that the proper way to thank me is with a $5, $10, or $20 dollar bill. Most people don’t know how much to pay a street performer, even if they would be willing to. Explaining what’s expected is important. And as long as you’ve done the last step (convinced them that what you do is valuable), then they’ll be more than willing to pay you for what you’ve given them. After all, that’s what a value transaction is in the end.
5. How to deal with failure
I’ve failed. Oh, I’ve failed so much. I actually was unable to complete my show a couple of times when I just couldn’t escape from a straight jacket. But that’s only one type of failure. There have been so many times when I’ve struggled to build an audience, or I failed at articulating my value, or I just couldn’t get myself to ask people to pay me. Learning how to do all that involves doing it the wrong way many many times. The key isn’t to not fail – the key is to recognize when something doesn’t work and figure out how to do it differently until it finally does work.
Felice is a social scientist and street magician. She has performed magic most of her life but only started to regularly perform on the streets in the spring of 2014, when she began conducting research on Chicago-based street performers for her MA thesis at the University of Chicago. Felice currently lives in Massachusetts, where her day job is all about researching and learning from people – but when she jumps in the phone booth and does the super-fast-spinny thing, you’ll find her sharing her magic with audiences in Harvard Square. To read a little more about her, her research, and her magic, check out Thoughts of an Amateur Magician.
Professional Development and Personal Finance Blog