Audiences: Remembering and Forgetting

I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of audiences: audiences that come to a show to remember, and audiences that attend a show to forget. It is amazing how different these audiences can be, and how their attention spans differ. An experienced performer can tell the difference between these two audiences and can change their performance style, script and even magic effect selection to best suit the needs and desires of these very different audiences. A performer that is not seasoned enough to respect the differences between these two types of audiences can be in for quite a challenge. Usually one big difference between these two groups is the simple ingredient of alcohol.

First of all, let’s define the difference between them.

“Remembering audiences”
These are the audiences that come to a theatre-style show, and sit in theatre-style seats that face forward, toward the stage. They have come for a specific reason: to see an entertainment or artist that they have bought a ticket to see. They have come with an intention: to witness a piece of theatre. They are often prepared in the proper mind-set to be pre-determined to enjoy this show, and often, they do.

“Forgetting audiences”
These are the type of audiences that go to parties, nightclubs and discos, often sitting at round tables, standing or strolling. Their primary focus is not on the show, but on their friends. Usually, they are drinking alcohol, and this tends to loosen their inhibitions as well as their tongues. They enjoy socializing with friends and may be holding conversations, even during the evening’s entertainments.

Be Aware, Be Prepared
There is nothing wrong with a hard-partying audience. In fact, many of my audiences in Las Vegas and around the world are party-oriented audiences! There is something wrong about a theatrical magician trying to impose theatre-style etiquette on an audience that just wants to forget their cares and have a good time. I have seen experienced performers try to command and demand respect and good behavior from a very well-natured bunch of party-goers and end up having the crowd turn and be disrespectful. Remember to be versatile and to go with the flow of the audience. Just because you have set your intention on delivering a theatre-style magic show, the fact is that you can’t give something to people unless they are willing to receive it.

Eugene’s Epiphany
Once Eugene was hired to perform his award-winning Magic Castle theatre show at a yacht club. When he arrived at the yacht, he was shocked to see that this was not the formal engagement that he thought it was going to be. There was a loud DJ playing rap music; the people were not dressed in formal clothing, like Eugene was. They were in bathing suits; they were sunburned, and they were drunk… very, very drunk. Eugene was silently boiling inside, and could not gain the focus or the attention of the group to even get them to sit down and watch his show. They continued partying, throwing ice cubes and, even worse, making those “Hey, here comes Santa Claus” jokes that Eugene hates. Eugene was having a terrible time trying to force his theatre show on this fun-loving bunch, until he had a realization. In a flash of Zen-like enlightenment, he realized that the only one not having fun on the entire yacht was him! He let go of his agenda, and his formal show, and decided that what these people needed was a friendly strolling magician to amuse them during their party. What they did NOT need was someone to take control of the group and to force them into a formal show. Eugene’s story is a lesson for all of us. Sometimes, the audience’s needs over rules the performer’s personal agenda. Sometimes, the best thing to do is surrender, and be in the moment.

Sizing Up Your Audience
I can tell a lot about an audience as they enter the theatre. Even at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, I often change my show, depending on if it is an “early crowd” or a “late crowd.” The “late crowds” have been drinking longer and harder, and often enter the theatre holding multiple glasses of booze, and sometimes even holding wine bottles that they’re carrying from their tables. I know from experience, that more often than not, these drunks will be very talkative during the show, and my more subtle and artistic pieces will need to be removed from the show, because I personally do not want to handle the interruptions. Instead, I will insert more “night-clubby” comedy-oriented material into the show.

Multiple Scripts
Something I’ve learned from teachers like Eugene, and from my own personal experience, is to have multiple presentations for my effects. For example, I have a cut-and-restored routine that is very theatrical and script-driven, inspired by Eugene’s “Hindu Thread.” If I have an attentive theatre audience, I will offer this scripted version; however, if the audience is loud or the nature of the party doesn’t permit theatrical subtlety, I will perform this very same routine to piece of dynamic music. Even during the course of a show, I can make changes in upcoming material. My friend Lance Burton used a formula like this for his show. He would perform the first half of his show and size up the attention span of the audience, and whether the audience was predominantly English speaking or not. If the audience was comprised mainly of Japanese or foreign audience members, Lance would change the pieces in the second part of the show to be more visual and music-driven. Having this kind of flexibility allowed him to put on the best show possible.

Don’t Forget To Remember!
Different audiences have different needs and expectations. Being able to read your audience and give them what they want will make for a better experience, and hopefully, one that you will want to remember, instead of wanting to forget!

Originally published for Wittus Witt’s “Magische Welt” magazine in Germany.

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