I have more experience than a lot of people when it comes to being a volunteer from the audience. I’m a woman who loves magic, and that makes it very hard to just blend into the crowd at a magician meeting or event. Over the years, the experience of being called on to stand on stage as a magician’s volunteer has become something I dread, and I don’t think I’m the only one.
At every magic show I have been to, I notice there are some women who make it a point to sit in a seat that will make them less likely to be called to volunteer. These are the women who will look down at the floor or suddenly find an urgent need to locate something at the bottom of their purse when the magician searches for volunteers. When the magician throws a ball into the audience as a way to pick a “random helper,” they let the crumpled ball of paper drop next to their feet or they punt it to someone else.
My hatred for volunteering started with several occasions when I was given long, multi-step strings of instructions about what I should do on stage. Instructions that might sound easy when I was sitting in the audience turned into something with more steps than the Hokey-Pokey once on stage. Sometimes I would mess up, and the magician would need to repeat the instructions. Sometimes when I messed up, a magician would repeat instructions and add a funny joke more appropriate for use to manage someone who was heckling his show. “Oh, no need to apologize” this magician might say to me later. “Yeah, right” I would think to myself, noticing that the magician might have just said those words through clenched teeth.
One magician did an effect where he used magical abilities to reveal that a serial number on a dollar bill I was holding matched numbers he had written down. Each individual number was called off one by one, and I had to affirm each time that the number called matched the information on the bill. The information ALMOST matched, but was off by one or two numbers at the end. When the entire string of numbers didn’t match, I was honest and said so. I got a response of irritation from the magician later. I don’t remember what exactly was said, but I got the message that I should have known better and been more supportive by just agreeing that all of the numbers matched my bill.
Another time I was called on to help a magician faking a mistake, only to reveal a bigger, more amazing finale at the end. My heart sank when the card I was holding was not the card the magician had revealed as my selection. I tried to cover for the mistake by lying. “Yes!” I said, “it IS the King of Diamonds!” I found out later that I had just squashed a great ending. Oops, my mistake again! I was left with a feeling that no matter WHAT I did, chances were very good that I would be doing something wrong. I have always tried hard to not look stupid, and to not do anything that would make a magician look bad when I was on stage. I can laugh about my failures as a volunteer now, but at the time, failing was no fun.
I still get called to volunteer from time to time, and I do my best to smile and be a good sport when I can’t avoid it. At the same time, I have let most of my magician friends know that I don’t like being a volunteer. I have become one of those women who avoids eye contact with the magician — the woman who lets crumpled balls of paper drop to the floor ignored — and I always try to sit in places that I think will make it harder for a magician to call on me.
Katherine Rettke is a social worker and magic enthusiast who lives in the Washington D.C. area. Although not a performer, Katherine is proud of her assistance behind the scenes at past magic events and conferences.