I learned a very valuable lesson a long time ago when I was a young, budding magician. And I think it applies to not only performers, but to anyone who interacts with others for sales or other types of business. It has to do with one of the best magic tricks I ever bought.
I was in my teens and I already had a magic act that I was quite proud of. I didn’t have a huge budget, so a lot of my tricks used either common, easy-to-find items, or something I had made myself. One of my most popular bits was my cut-and-restored rope routine. I had some clever jokes I used that combined with hours of practice resulted in a trick that always got a large amount of applause and was a highlight of my show. AND it only cost a few dollars! Great.
But my eyes were elsewhere. Besides practicing I also spent hours poring over magic catalogs, and dreaming what tricks I was going to buy that would propel me into the big-time. One of my favorite catalog items was a trick called Grant’s Potato Box. Imagine this: You show an empty box and place a potato inside, along with a coil of ribbon. You borrow someone’s diamond ring – and make it vanish. When you open the box again the ribbon has magically threaded itself through the potato! Volunteers hold the ribbon ends as you cut open the potato, and there is the missing ring – threaded on the ribbon!!!
The whole affair seemed quite magical to me. What a stunner! And with that lime-green and yellow paint job with the little devils, this prop would just scream that I was a talented professional ready for Las Vegas. I could hardly sleep at night, dreaming of all the thunderous applause I’d get.
Well, it took many afternoons of cutting lawns and paper route delivery before I finally saved up enough to buy the Potato Box. And then the day arrived where I finally purchased it. Need I tell you, I could hardly contain myself the following weeks as I practiced my fingers off, perfecting all the tricky moves and clever lines. This was going to be AMAZING!
One day I felt comfortable enough to put it in my show. It would be done along with all my usual material like the rope trick and others. I don’t remember exactly which group I was performing for, but I do remember the result.
The rope trick came near the beginning, and again it received a very strong response… people loved it. A few more tricks, and then the big moment: the world premiere of the Potato Box! I went through the entire routine smoothly and got to the big climax: I cut open the potato and revealed the woman’s jewel-encrusted ring on the ribbon. TA-DAAA!!! I braced myself for the earth-shattering applause.
Instead: medium, polite applause. And I think one person said, “Oh!” That was it. Nice, but very average response. WHAAAT?!?!? After the show I thought about it all the way home. What was wrong with that audience? Didn’t they feel the excitement that I did, all those months of dreaming, and the final moment of actually performing it? Did I miss something?
I don’t know when it dawned on me, but one day the simple truth became apparent: The AUDIENCE will always let me know what tricks are fantastic, not a catalog or my own personal opinion. And more money won’t necessarily buy more amazement. Paying attention to your audience is truly one of the most valuable and ongoing lessons a performer can learn. And I use it to this day.
I still have the Potato Box. I take it out every once in awhile, dust it off and look at it. It truly is one of the best magic tricks I ever bought… but for a reason totally different then I thought it would be.