Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Salvage Your Soul

You've just walked offstage and you feel like garbage. Your spidey sense is acting up and telling you that the crowd didn't buy into you, your magic, and were waiting for you to leave the stage about 44 minutes ago so they could get on with their lives. The one routine that usually kills, even fell flat with this bunch of suits. And that new piece you'd been dying to try, carefully book-ended in the middle of your time-tested veteran effects...what were you thinking!? The euphoria and adrenalin that usually accompanies the walk to your car has been replaced with complete emotional and physical exhaustion. Humiliation too, maybe? It was that crowd. Could they have been more comatose? Cardiac defibrillation couldn't have aroused these humorless zombies. And didn't anyone read your tech rider? Not only were you forced to perform on the smallest platform riser known to human civilization, but did they have to find the one Churchill stood on when he delivered his 'Never Give In' speech. Every time you stood in the middle of it, you were doing the Michael Jackson 'lean' from Smooth Criminal. The moment you KNEW you sucked though, was when you had to walk past everyone after the show. You could tell most of them wouldn't look you in the eye. And the people that did say, "great show" and "nice job" and "thanks a lot" were really thinking, "he must have a real job, this can't be all he does."


What do you do after a bad show? I blame myself. I blame the venue. I blame the audience. I blame the organizer. I blame my choice of material. I blame the material. I could have. I should have. They could have. They should have. etc. etc.

But, once that human knee-jerk reaction has fizzled and you're on your way home, what do you do? For the past while, I have attempted to compartmentalize the negative experience as best I can, and look at the show as objectively as I can. We can never connect with every audience we perform for. It's not only impossible, it's not conducive to growth. Growth as a performer and artist. The growth of your act and your routines. And growth as a human adult in this world.
It is a conscious choice to use this experience to wallow in self-pity, or use it to improve.

Let's imagine that we want to make the right choice. It's healthy to go back over all of the things we blamed, while the wounds are still fresh, and see if any of the negative aspects could be turned into positives in a future performance or engagement. What possible conditions or deliberate actions could have been changed to make a better connection with THAT audience.

If the staging, lighting, sound or other technical aspects contributed to the problem how can we ensure that we don't have to live through the issue in future shows. Does your technical rider
need to be changed (or created?) so that your clients are given ample information and time to prepare the venue for your show? Do you need to get there earlier to make sure everything is ready and set?

If it was a routine line-up problem, where did the dilemma stem from? Were there too many pieces? Were there too few? Was it the order of the pieces that could be rearranged for the better? Is there something that needs to be cut from the show?

The hardest question to ask (and answer honestly) is why you felt you didn't connect with your audience? Maybe it was your treatment of an audience volunteer that threw off the show. You might not of connected with the audience due to nervousness and as a result you rushed your lines and routines. Maybe you arrived too late to prepare for your performance, before you took the stage. It's possible that something in your personal life altered your attitude towards this audience (even on a subconscious level) and subsequently tainted your performance. Sometimes it IS the audience. There are circumstances that can be beyond your control. Acknowledging that will also help in the growth process.

The strange and terrible beauty of live performance is that it lives and breathes and is not something that can be completely bottled, organized and sold. Every show is different. Every audience is different. Every routine will play and be received differently from performance to performance. Every venue offers up new challenges and hurdles. And it is for these reasons that it is such a wonderful and terrifying experience all at once. Every time.

How we handle and process the seemingly negative experiences for us, as performers, can change the way we reflect upon the less than desirable performances. Are we acknowledging our weaknesses? Are we changing what we have the power to change? Are we accepting the things that we have no power to change? Are we growing?

Until next time, think nice thoughts.


  1. Great post Bill. Thanks for sharing. I'd suggest (and I'm sure you already do this) that we also use that same process after a great or mostly great show. What did we do that worked so well? How did we take advantage of that specific situation that popped up that time? This same process of self-evaluation can not only prevent future train-wrecks, it can also improve an already solid show.
    Thanks again,
    Dan Trommater

  2. I can't believe Bill has had a bad night performing before. This is one of the questions I have always wanted to ask one of the 'Celebrity Magicians' such as Bill Abbot or Jeff Hobson. Are there nights you just didn't connect to the audience or didn't get much of a reaction?