18 Apr Five Real Secrets I Learned at the Magic Castle
As I write this article, I’m on an airplane from Los Angeles to Toronto. I was there to perform a week of shows at The Magic Castle in Hollywood. The Magic Castle is the clubhouse of the Academy of Magical Arts and is the most prestigious magic performance venue in the world.
Housed in a stunning 1910 mansion, the private nightclub has a 4-star restaurant, 5 bars, one of the most respected libraries of magic books in the world and 5 formal showrooms. Each week, 10 of the best magicians from around the world are invited to perform their act 4 times a night. There’s no place on earth like the Magic Castle. It’s one of my favourite places on the planet.
I first performed at the Magic Castle back in 2005 and have been invited back an additional seven times. But even with seven weeks of Castle experience under my belt, I still take the opportunity very seriously. It’s a huge honour to be invited to perform at this private nightclub for my fellow magicians and their guests. So, when I got this most recent invitation to perform, I knew I wanted to bring my A game.
Here’s what I learned through this experience. I hope that you find these lessons useful for you in your own life, be it at work or at home. Read all the way to the end and you can watch the show I performed at the Magic Castle.
1.You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but push yourself to grow
Between presenting at two national conferences, facilitating many teamwork and communication workshops, and completing a certificate program in Positive Psychology, I’ve had a lot on my plate these past few months. When I got the invitation to perform at the Magic Castle, I knew I wouldn’t have time to create a show full of brand new material.
Early on, decided to only include pieces of magic in which I am already competent and confident – the material that I’ve done a thousand times. The Magic Castle isn’t the place to test out new material!
But I also didn’t want to do the same old same old. I thought it would be boring if I did the exact same show I performed the last time. So I decided to create a new show full of the material I already felt good about, framed in a new presentation.
I love magic that not only looks cool but conveys a message. For this show, I chose the theme of “challenge your assumptions.” That allowed me to rely on my experience and expertise as a keynote speaker, but also push myself to come up with a new presentation for a crowd who was expecting to be entertained.
I was really pleased with the result and so were the audiences. By focusing on my strengths, but not resting on my laurels, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and grew.
2. Collaboration Creates Quality
I tend to work better in collaboration than all by myself, so as I was creating this act I reached out to my magician friends to brainstorm and bounce ideas. While I knew the theme of the show and the general message I wanted to communicate, I got a lot of input on trick selection, presentational angles, and the overall structure of the show.
For example, I was scheduled to appear during the “Cocktail” time slot. As such, I would be the first magician that guests would experience. My good friend and fellow speaker/magician Andrew Bennett pointed out that that was a big responsibility. I would be responsible for setting the tone for my audiences’ entire experience. It was that realization that lead me to adding the message of ‘being open to wonder’ to my theme of challenging assumptions.
I threaded that message throughout the show and finished with a trick that allowed me to invite the audience to embrace wonder and take that open mind with them, not only at the Magic Castle but out into the world.
Without Andrew’s (and many others’) thoughtful input and collaboration, I’m sure I would have presented an inferior show. Plus, working with these friends was really fun and rewarding!
3. Challenge Assumptions and Break the Mold
The Closeup Gallery is tiny. With only 18 seats, it’s the Magic Castle’s most intimate showroom. Three rows of tiered seats overlook a green felt covered card table, on which the magician performs his miracles. In nearly every show I’ve seen in that venue (and I’ve seen a LOT), the magician always stands or sits behind that table. Inspired by my friend (and the Magic Castle’s librarian) Bill Goodwin, I decided to perform my show without the fancy table, choosing instead to perform most of the show’s magic at chest level.
When I first saw Bill Goodwin perform without the table in the Closeup Gallery, my mind was blown. It had never dawned on me that a closeup show could be performed without a big working surface. I had made the limiting assumption that since the table was in the room, I had to use it.
While the table is handy for some routines, it pushes the performer back and creates a physical barrier between him and the audience. By getting rid of that table, I was able to be closer to the audience and forge a closer bond with them.
It took a bit of courage to buck convention and move that table out of the room, but by challenging my own assumptions of what I was ‘supposed to do’, I created a positive outcome for everyone involved.
4. Critical Feedback Uncovers Weaknesses and Improves Strengths
Magic is a complex discipline. The magician needs to be a master of many skills to create and present a compelling show. Sleight of hand skills must be flawless. Body language and stage presence must be polished and professional. Psychological techniques must manipulate the audience’s sense of reality, without belittling them.
I’ve spent nearly 20 years studying the craft and art of magic, but I’m certainly not perfect. As much as I practice my skills, I still value the feedback and critical input of my fellow magicians. After one of my shows early in the week, my friend Ron Bell quietly came to me with a piece of painful feedback. He had noticed that one of my ‘secret maneuvers’ wasn’t as secret as it could have been.
As much as I didn’t like to hear that my technique was imperfect, I was very happy that he had come to me with the input. That criticism (delivered in a most positive and well intentioned manner) helped me fix a problem that I didn’t even know existed.
5. Practice Makes Awesome
I spent about 2 months creating, honing and rehearsing this show. I practiced the tricks, wrote (and rewrote, and rewrote) the script, and visualized the act countless times. By the time I headed to Hollywood, I felt confident that I’d present a great act.
As much as I’d practiced at home, it’s an all together different experience performing at the world’s most prestigious venue in front of my peers.
My first show went well, but I knew there was room for improvement. Each time I presented the show, I made little tweaks and adjustments. Over the course of 4 nights, I performed my show 10 times. As you might expect, each show was better than the last and I was thrilled with all the shows on my last night.
Taking the effort to practice, hone, and present the show over and over lead to great results. Sadly, just as I was really hitting my stride and excited to jump into more shows, the week was over. It wasn’t perfect (perfection is over-rated and boring), but practice made awesome!
Good For You Dan, But So What?
I’d love for you to gain from my experience in attaining this goal. While I hesitate to offer unsolicited advice, you’ve read this far, so I’ll risk it.
When faced with a big goal, my natural tendency is to be impatient. I try to get it done perfectly on the first try, all by myself. This never ends well. Fortunately, I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as perfection and I can’t do it on my own.
As you go through your life, you’ll work towards lots of goals. As you do so, look for opportunities to collaborate with good people and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Seek out honest feedback and criticism to refine your early efforts, then practice, practice, practice. You’ll earn a deep feeling of accomplishment and your efforts will be richly rewarded.