Showmanship: Finer Points on Professionalism for an Entertainer

  • SumoMe

What’s the difference between an amateur and a professional entertainer? One way a professional entertainer stands out is by how they communicate with the audience. 

More specifically, here are some questions to consider: How do you win over an audience? What makes an entertainer endearing to the audience? How does an entertainer bond with the audience? What does it mean to warm up a crowd? What does it mean to work a crowd?

A well rehearsed and skillfully executed performance is a basic requirement, but after that what makes a pro stand out? What do you say that makes an audience remember you instead of another performer who does the same trick?

It’s the concept of showmanship. Here’s a few thoughts and examples that have impacted me.

Michael Skinner

Skinner

My friend Don Driver tells me that Michael Skinner used to say when he left a table where he just performed close-up magic, he would rather the table say “he was really a nice guy” instead of “he was very clever.”

In his videos Skinner says to the audience

“I’m having a wonderful time tonight, and it’s all because of you.”

Michael Skinner was hired directly by Steve Wynn to work at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and he is respected to this day by magicians as being one of the best ever at sleight of hand but he still focused on how he treated his audience and how he wanted them to perceive him. Showmanship.

Steve Wynn, if you don't know who he is you should, google him

Steve Wynn, if you don’t know who he is you should, google him

More recently I was at a magic convention and saw Michael Kent perform. During his performance, he told a story about when he performed for a prominent Korean General, there was an incident with an attractive young woman in the audience, who turned out to be the General’s daughter, which created some tension…

I won’t spoil the story but the point is it was a great story, I don’t remember every trick Michael did but that story has lingered in my mind. I remember thinking that is a heck of a great story and this guy is one charming son of a gun. That’s showmanship.

Michael Kent

Michael Kent

Here’s a couple of extreme examples:

Kreskin: The guy is nonstop full of impressive anecdotes, you would think he should come off as overdoing it, but it works for him.

Kreskin

Kreskin

Liberace: Want to hear a great line?

Liberace

Liberace

“Here’s a song everybody in show business has done, and I don’t want to be left out. I’m gonna do it too, but I’m gonna try and do it a little bit differently. First of all to refresh your memory, I’m going to play it in it’s original form, then as…”

That’s his intro to “Mack the Knife.” I’m not even a fan of Liberace, but there’s something really charming about that intro. By the very act of acknowledging that this a piece lots of people have already done, he distinguishes himself. What if I magician took that line and said

“Here’s a trick that every magician has done, and I don’t want to be left out. I’m gonna do it too, but I’m gonna try and do it a little bit differently.”

Don’t miss the point, I’m not saying adopt Liberace’s effeminate delivery unless that’s your thing, I’m just saying it’s just a great introduction that makes him stand out.

I’m still pretty new at this and still figuring out how to present myself in a memorable way, but I think about it a lot. Lately I’ve been thinking, do I just want to show up at a table do my three tricks wham, bam, thank you mam then onto business at the next table. Or do I form more of a personal, memorable connection with the audience?

These nuances, intros, and anecdotes are the spice of a performance, they are the fills in between the lyrics, and they have the power to be the most memorable part of a performance.

By the way it comes off better if you hear Liberace say it, here’s a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD7dw_BW_UI