Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Pressure To Be Better

I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts that working for tough audiences will teach you the most. I wanted to elaborate on that idea this time around to try and show why.

I’ve lifted weights off and on for more than twenty years now, and one thing you find out from working with weights is that to gain muscle mass you have to overload. Say you’re doing x number of sets every time you go to the gym. If you keep doing the same number of sets without variation nothing changes. All you’ll really be doing is maintaining your current physique. To see some results you have to either do your sets faster or add more weight. Put simply, to get results you have to make it harder on yourself, and the harder you make it the better the results you’ll see.

The same is true of doing magic. Let’s say you do magic only for family and friends. If you continue doing magic only for family and friends you aren’t going to see any significant changes. Your sleights might improve, but you won’t grow as a performer. To make that happen you have to make things harder on yourself. You have to leave your comfort zone and take on new challenges.

I experienced this first hand starting out. Like many new magicians I took the advice given in books and gave free shows at rest homes, hospitals, VFW meetings, etc. Eventually I got pretty good at doing my twenty minute act in these kinds of venues. But after a while I realized I wasn’t really improving any; there was no real pressure to be any better.

The solution was fairly simple. I took out an ad in the paper and started doing birthday parties for a nominal fee. Suddenly I got better simply because I had to get better. The dynamic had been changed when I started charging for my services. To keep getting the work consistently I had to be better than the other guy.

As you can see, if you want to achieve a higher level you have to make things tougher on yourself. It’s not always as easy as charging for your services or charging more than the other guy. It’s much easier to approach a family when working in a restaurant than a group of loud, obviously drunk teens. Which group will test you as a performer? Which group will demand the best of your abilities to entertain?

Seek out challenges that will force you to improve. Take the tough gigs, the ones no one else will touch. Be fearless in this. The rewards aren’t just financial.

Would Malini have been the performer he was if he hadn’t plied his trade as a busker and saloon performer? Would Houdini be the legend he is if he hadn’t spent years working in dime museums and side shows? Leave your comfort zone and put yourself in positions where you have no choice but to be better. Do so and you might just surprise yourself. See you next time.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree - I was just discussing the benefits of performing in the subway with some friends ( ) - we all do comfortable gigs above ground, but performing in the subway pushes us to become even better.

All the best,

'Saw Lady'

Jim Coles said...

I can imagine performing in the subways is a hell of a challenge. I took a look at your blog and found what you do pretty amazing.