Last night's show was in Hobart, Tasmania, for Cadbury Schweppes, and it went down exceptionally well. Part of the reason was the set-up of the room. They'd organised a stage, lit it well, made sure all the tables could see well, and they had a good sound set up. They waited until the main courses were cleared and all the attention was focussed on the stage and from the moment Sue-Anne levitated on the microphone stand to the unscheduled encore, we had the entire room's full attention. (I even finally figured out a presentation for the ladder from briefcase that actually worked!)
Tonight though... there's a legendary story about a Melbourne magician who was hired to work one of the toughest discos, the Bombay Rock, and when it came time to perform he got the management to turn all the lights on, the musioc off, and sit the audience down on the dance floor before he began his show.
As soon as I walked in I felt like I was about to experience that myself...
It was a football club's gala night and, to give them full credit, they had a stage, sound system, some lights, and the even put four rows of chairs out on the dancefloor. But they were up against it from the beginning. The room was a cavernous, L-shaped, concrete band room filled with about 400 people. All standing.
Not just standing, drinking and talking, but crammed together like sardines as well.
So, when it came time for me to perform, the compere got up on stage and tried to get everyone's attention. I was standing beside the stage and I couldn't hear him through the PA over the general hubbub of conversation.
Some people came forward and sat in the chairs, obviously aware the show was about to begin and eager to see it (thank goodness!) But it wasn't until the compere started shouting into the microphone that he was able to get the attention of even a small part of the crowd.
You see, aside from the 30 or so on the chairs, and the people standing around the chairs, no-one else could see the stage because there were people standing in front of them. When people can't see what's going on, they talk. When they talk, that makes it hard for those who can see the stage, to hear what the performer is saying.
So I just had to grit my teeth and go on almost as though it was a street show in the middle of a busy intersection.
Every piece of non-essential patter was dropped, and I put extra emphasis of the visual effects. Things like the appearing candle and the $5 bill changing into the $10 bill got great reactions, but most of the gags that went down a treat last night couldn't really be heard clearly even by the front row.
The key for me was to have an audience volunteer on stage with me at all times. That was I was able to keep an immediate connection with the group. I really needed that. I relied on the reactions of the volunteer to know how I was going because I couldn't hear the seated audience above the chatter of the standing audience.
In the end, I got a lot of people coming up to me saying they loved it and commenting on specific effects. I was very surprised they'd even been able to follow the tricks given the nature of the room.
The client was pleased, which is the most important thing, but I can't help thinking strolling magic would have been much more suitable for a set up like that.
Why book a show when you know at least 60% of your audience won't possibly be able to see it?
On the other hand, Sue-Anne was doing a show for a much more sedate group at a 40th birthday event tonight. They were all seated at tables but they arranged them so every table had an unobstructed view.