The Weekend Gig Gone Wrong: Ten Avoidable Ways to Botch a Gig

We normally don’t like to share stories of how shows go sideways; but since I have a moment I wanted to talk about my experience this weekend of what I shall call the worst executed gig of the weekend.  In going over what happened I realized that this was a great way about talking about how to not botch a gig.  So the names have been changed to protect both the client and performer. On Tuesday I received a message from a contact if I would be interested in performing ambient entertainment at a medieval themed event for a church.  He asked if I had any LED equipment and I responded “no I do not have any that I can use”.  I mentioned that I had some UV reactive gear and if that was acceptable plus my normal equipment.  He agreed and said he could pack the necessary black lights for this. I asked for a call time and he specified to be at his residence at 330 and that the gig would be scheduled at 430-445 with a show time of 5-6.  He quoted me and said that this was acceptable.  I informed him that I had a gig scheduled earlier that day and that I would be at his place around 245.  So fast forward to this Sunday.


I arrived at his place as per the agreement at 230 to find that I was to provide transportation for all three performers; which meant unloading a full show worth of equipment to make room for three performers plus their gear (#1).


Additionally I discovered that both performers misplaced their primary props which meant we neither of them had equipment that was ready or good to go.  One had misplaced their charging equipment for their hoop and totally misplaced their fans while the other was missing half a set of LED poi (#2) On top of that even though both of them were told that the theme of the performance was “ren faire” neither of them owned any clothing that was even close to ren faire;  the closest either of them came was “burner esque” (#3).  Also the venue we are performing at is 35 minutes away  (#4)

Upon noting he did not have his phone I asked him if he had contacted the customer at which point his response was no he had lost it. He used my phone to get the contacts information and call them at which point I realized he had never notified the customer of any of this (missing phone, equipment, timing issues). (#5) Needless to say we arrived late getting indoors at 5:10.  (#6).  We performed for approximately 40 minutes until I was told by him that we were leaving.  He had spoken with the client who had decided that since we did not arrive on time that she would be docking our check by an appropriate amount based on missed time (which ended up being half of the pay) and that she would “send” a check. (#7).  At which point he grabbed us and said that we were leaving (#8).

We dropped of the female hoop artist and got back to his place where we sort of debriefed. We went over the lack of blacklighting and the information on the sort of venue where this was taken place was way off course (#9).  I had been under the impression it was a church (it was actually a dining hall in a religious based college) and then it was a rave like environment (opening weekend of college).  The customers response after the event was to suggest that the offering of LED equipment had not been strong enough for the venue or with enough variety (#10).

And Of Course There is the follow up (#11)

Now these are pretty much just the facts; I haven’t embellished the story with any information to make interesting because in doing so I would let people know enough detail about the event in question that they could research it.  Since it wasn’t booked under my name I didn’t take the PR hit but I can talk about how the event could have been handled better.


#1 “Always be up front and honest about the conditions required for the gig”

In this case the performer in question was relying upon me to provide transportation to and from the gig and did not make this explicitly stated until arrival at his place.  Asking a performer to offload approximately 750-1000$ worth of equipment to make room for three performers without any control over the storage and locking of said equipment is beyond reasonable and should have been negotiated and agreed upon.

#2 “Always have your equipment ready and a back up in place”.

One of the things that happened here is that both performers were relying upon a single piece of equipment to fulfill the booking. This means that if anything happens to that equipment they are screwed and in full.  Prior to the booking;  you need to make physically sure that you have anything that is necessary (or a backup) to complete this booking.  Normally I make a mental inventory when I take the booking and a day before I go over what I have to make sure I have everything.  The day of is to late to make important decisions and choices because panic gets in the way.  What ended up happening in this case is that we were physically late to the booking because they both had to pick up equipment that was necessary to complete the booking in question (we didn’t get on the “ROAD” till  10 minutes prior to our necessary arrival time (with a 30 minute trip)).  Which is why we were late.

#3 “Professional appearance”.

I don’t think I even need to say anything…………..  if you are still wondering what professional appearance means you should not be taken any bookings…..AT ALL.


#4 “Be honest with the client”                

We have all had emergencies in our lives that we have dealt with.  And while it may not make us happy to look at a client and tell them we cannot be there on time we have to bite the bullet because a client who knows that we are lying or believes we are is going to be far, far, far, more upset than a client who understands that an emergency came up with our equipment and we had to replace some botched gear.  Yes they will be unhappy but given everything else that happened the client probably knows that there were “OTHER” issues.

#5 “Have a clear method of communication with client”.               

We are a service industry; you should always have communication with the client as a top priority.  My normal standard is that for clients who I do not know prior to an event they are informed of my status when I am on my way through text message.  If you are not able to be in communication with a client (because you do not have a smart phone with Facebook access or your phone is damaged and nonfunctioning) the client should be made aware of these things at the very least.  The experience the client has starts when they look to book you and ends after you have received payment and acknowledge that.  IT IS NOT SOLEY THE SHOW ITSELF.  If you do not have a clear method of communication with your client their experience will suffer as will your reputation.


#6 “Discussions with client”

If you are scheduled to perform; unless absolutely necessary during the time in which you are performing you should be avoiding having discussions with the client as you only have a limited time to perform. This is the reason why when you negotiate ambient style or long-winded performances you also negotiate for breaks so that the client understands that asking performers to go the distance can cause issue and they require breaks.  The TIME YOU ARE BOOKED IS NOT THE TIME TO HAVE BUSINESS DISCUSSIONS  WITH THE CLIENT.  Those discussions need to happen either before or after because they are not paying to stand around and talk the specifics of the job.

#7 “Arguments Over Payment”/”Don’t Pass The Buck”

In this instance you can see that there were several rookie mistakes made during the booking/scheduling/performance that caused friction between the entertainment and the booker. Whenever anything like this happens to me and the client does not want to pay me in full or anything else related to money occurs my first question is; did I do anything to make this happen.  It doesn’t matter if it happened by chance or circumstance but did I make a mistake that caused the client to feel they were owed or didn’t get what they deserved.  If the answer is “yes”; that’s it your done.  At that point you pretty much have to swallow whatever they are willing to give you because you did not live up to your contractually agreed terms. Likewise if you are dealing with another performer and the nature of their ability to perform changes or their performance was not up to the standard and caused a financial issue once again ask yourself;  is there anything that I did wrong that caused this to happen.  If this is the case then you are going to pay the performer; because it is not their fault.

In Short don’t argue over payment with the client when you screw up and don’t pass the buck to the people you booked because you screwed up.

#8 “The Booking is The Booking”

If you have a contract that says you will be there until 330 then you are there until 330,  if it says you are there until 5:30 you are there until 5:30.  Unless the client explicitly tells you to leave then you don’t leave until the time you are contractually obligated to leave.  One this covers you as per the terms of your contract.  If the client has expressed comfort with the level of performance then you are golden.


Now with this being said the other reason that I say that the booking is the booking. Is because it is also vital that you separate your emotional self from the booking so you do not make rash or stupid decisions such as deciding that since the client is not paying in full then you should just leave now.

#9 “Taking Notes”

In this instance much would have been changed if during the course of the booking my friend had taken notes and investigated the location via the internet. During the course of a booking process you should be asking the client every question that is necessary to get a complete understanding of what is going on so you can be properly prepared for the booking in question.  If that means spending some time googling then Google.

#10 The Importance of not Simply Saying Yes To Everything The Client Wants

This is rather important because while the client may have an image of what they actually want; often enough what they want is not easily possible in the circumstances they are creating.   For instance in this case wanting LED props/glow props in a fully lit dining room establishment during the day time.    In no way could this have been done without changing the circumstances of the ambience.  LED props just do not have the “glow” power to combat overhead lighting.  If the lighting had been turned down then it would have been wonderful rather than a whole bunch of people just playing with toys.  The client has come to you because you are the subject matter expert in this regard;  if you can tell them that it is not feasible to do and provide justification most clients will understand and be okay with substitutes.

In this instance the client could have perceived the problem as not being the circumstances she asked for; but rather that the performers did not have the proper equipment for the request. That point; it falls on you.




This is an unspoken rule and one that I am currently deciding if I will enforce. When you work as an entertainer you are judged by the company you keep.  If you are working with someone and they make you look bad by being unprofessional and incompetent then you yourself will also look unprofessional and incompetent unless you go to great lengths to show case how amazing you are.  If you run into a friend like this then you need to think long and hard about whether or not you will continue to work with him.

In this online world it only takes one REALLY bad review to botch your reputation.

Keeping Yourself Above Water: Entertainers Avoiding Bankruptcy

It is hard to talk about this topic because it is a rather personal one that combines elements of professionalism and my personal life.

There are a few things that I am sure of every year; that I will hear about fushigi and that I will hear about another entertainer who has lost everything and is going bankrupt/belly up.  It is also a position that I have found myself in as well.

There was a period of time that I was unable to find work; every interview carried with it the question about the fact that I was a part time entertainer.  In looking back I lost several job opportunities because potential employers thought that hiring a part time entertainer was a liability.

During that time I only was able to get through it by the skin of my teeth and the help of loved ones and I learned a few things.   Entertainment professional need to learn  financial planning and how/when to reinvest in the show.

#1 Separate the hobby from the job.


Of the props and tools that I own; I only use half of them regularly.  I use another quarter of those props semi-infrequently.  This leaves about 15-25% of my collection as a wasted collection.  What I learned from my experiences is that I need to treat my purchases as investments rather than impulse purchases for my hobby.  This will save you a lot of wasted money down the line.

Playing with magic is fine, but when your living is based on the amount of money you spend on it treating it a bit differently goes a long way.  It is very easy to delude yourself into justifying a bad purchase in the name of a business expense.

#2 Know What You Need


Plan your life; a lot of the performers I know live from double incomes with a spouse or significant other and can plan around the lean times.  Other performers live out of country during their dry season.

The basics are this; we live on an indeterminate amount of money where we have amazing months and terrible months.  We need to be able to save money during the amazing months so we can get through the terrible months.

Most events who book entertainers such as ren faires/ convention circuits/ etc normally plan their entertainment around six months prior to the date in question.  When I ran the numbers I realized that I needed enough money to make it through six months in order to have enough time to start booking large scale gigs and make it onto the convention circuit/ ren faire circuit.

More importantly you need to have the connections required to do so.

#3 Do not live on the well wishes of others.

I want to ask a question; What is holding you in place?  What is keeping you afloat?

I have a full time job that pays my bills,  I have a legal agreement with a landlord that keeps me in my home,  I have a legal agreement that provides me with a vehicle, and I have the ability to maintain it and keep on the road.  My ability to be a performer and live life is not at the kindness or courtesy of someone else.  Just think about it.

6 Highly Recommended Books For Magicians And Entertainers


This is a part of a series that I will begin writing about various books and materials.  There are a lot of materials and videos that are available on the internet, bookstores, and from performers about being a better performer.  So I wanted to start by writing a couple of quick reviews of some of the books that I have read that have helped me out a lot.


There are a lot of paid webinars and pdf files that cover being a better entertainer that are essentially rehashes of other people’s books and materials.  There are also a lot of books that have promises of making you a better entertainer that are collections of tricks and material.  So here are six books that have helped me be a better magician.


Creative Magic:Ellusionist (


To be honest,  this book is one that I had to seriously think about adding to this list and it it is sort of like “Mentalism Incorporated”.  It is primarily a collection of magical effects with a small selection of essays.  The essays are a group of magicians personal thoughts on how to be thoughtful and creative when creating new magical effects and routines.  To go beyond simply recreating the “Ambitious Card Routine” or the “Misers Dream Routine”.  The thoughts range from how to brain storm new routines to thoughts on using meditation as a regular practice to encourage “thinking outside the boss”.


Rating: 3 Out Of 5


Absolute Magic: Derren Brown



Out of all the books on the list, this is one of the books that I consider a requirement for any performer.  Sadly though this book is currently out of print as well (with no intention of the author to make a reprint as he never intended it to see use on a massive scale) but it is definitely worth it’s weight in gold.  If you ever find a copy of it for sale or that you can borrow it is highly recommended that you do so.

The big reason why this book has made the list is because it goes into developing a stage persona and how one sells a performance or magical effect.  When you use an effect that was created by someone else there has to be something that justifies how or why you are creating that particular form of magic.  It justifies it in the mind of the audience and connects you to your audience..

But how you sell an effect is also dependent on your persona.  And this question, is one of the ones that this book answers along with others.  So when you are developing your persona and the types of effects that you use this would be my first resource to study from.


Rating: 5 Out Of 5


Comedy Bible:



This is probably the hardest book to talk about.  Comedy is something that we all talk about and we experience.  We an entire channel devoted to it on standard cable.  But it is difficult to learn how to create it.  Even the most serious shows need moments of levity in order to keep the energy of the show going.  There are classes available for people who want to learn how to develop improv skills and there are open mic nights where you can practice.

The Comedy Bible is a sort of lesson book and guide to creating and developing comedy on your own.  Out of the three different books that I have read on the topic, this one is the easiest and most comprehensive on developing and creating your own humor.  Definitely a must-read.


Rating: 5 Out Of 5


Mentalism Incorporated: Chuck Hickok



This book was purchased after having a conversation that I had with a magician at Tannens Magic Shop in New York City.  I asked for a book on mentalism for a larger audience and I was handed this. I have not regretted this decision at all since then (you know this because the dust cover is well torn).

While the book is mostly a collection of effects and script for a large corporate audience it does go into how to develop an impactful show for a corporate audience.  If you can develop a show for a large audience it becomes easier to develop one for a smaller one as well.  By taking the lessons to heart and seeing how the effects in the rest of the book are developed we change the presentation of our own effects so that they play to a larger audience.

The book also goes into the business side of things (such as invoices, when to show up,  how to handle your business relationship).


Rating: 3 Out Of 5


Sleight of Mind:Stephen Macknik & Susana Martinez-Conde



Understanding how magic interacts with the our brain works goes a long way towards developing the presentation that takes advantage of our brain functionality.  This book itself is the journey of a neurologist as they learn about both the performance of magic and how our magic interprets magic to create the experience of a coin disappearing in a retention vanish.

For us understanding how magic interacts with our mind goes a long way to creating more effective visual magic.


Rating:4 Out Of 5


Confidence Game: Maria Konnikova



Regardless of what you say or how you present yourself on a stage; you are challenging/interacting with other people’s beliefs.  While you are not a con artist, understanding how a con artist gets others to act against their normal self interest is in your benefit to understanding how to bring to bring the audience onto the stage and into the act.

It also useful for when we create and develop personas such a mentalist or hypnotist when we need to convince an audience of a reality that might not actually be the case.  While it is not as necessary depending on your persona this is still a solid read.
Rating:2 Out Of 5 (4 Out Of 5 For Mentalists)

Five Thoughts on learning how to use comedy as a juggler/illusionist.

Comedy is a tricky topic in the context of being a variety  entertainer with juggling illusions.  Almost all of the shows that I have ever seen have some element of comedy or humor in them.  But even though we have all had moments where we said or did something hysterical, doing theatrical comedy is a little different.  There are plenty of websites and books on the topic of being comedic.  This list was written for those of us who juggle or simply want to include comedic moments in their shows and the extra steps that are required to do so.  My shows tend to be “family-friendly” so the style of comedy that I use is less Stephen Lynch/Daniel Tosh and what I am writing reflects
#1 Drop all your props at the door.
There is an old maxim about you must walk before you run, this is just as true with being funny as it is with going from point A to point B.  I made the mistake in a college stand-up comedy (your tax dollars hard at work) of trying to do both juggling and comedy at the same time when I just learning comedy.  I found myself so overwhelmed by attempting to do both at the same time that I almost failed the class outright.
The professor would almost always groan when It was my turn to present material for the week. I ended not using props after a while and I found that it was actually easier to be funny without something in my hand in terms of how I interacted and told jokes.  There are so many things that really go into learning how to be funny in front of a crowd.  Timing, persona, crowd interaction, etc are all hard enough to learn already; when your brain is occupied by whatever is in your hands it just makes it that much more difficult to learn and develop the talent.
#2 Study Young Padawon.
We normally only see the “end” product of a show where the
performer does something amazing or hysterical, we don’t see the countless hours of training, practice, and rehearsal that go into the process.  It’s that way with comedians as well, people aren’t normally “born” funny.  Those that are usually have serious mental health issues.
Performers often refer to their “stage persona”.  A stage persona is a sort of personality that an entertainer/performer develops on stage that is normally different from their own persona for the purposes of working with the audience.  The only people who normally have these are people with multiple personality disorder and that’s a whole different sort of
How do you “let go”?
Seriously how do you let go of reservations and simply “talk” without
having to think if what your saying is “too much”.   Once again some of the people who are born like this have Tourette syndrome and don’t normally make talented entertainers (though some might think it’s entertaining to listen to). These are things are learned behaviors that have to be studied in order to effectively use them.  There are schools and classes that you can go and learn.  There are also many clubs that you can go and practice at.  In other words you can find teachers and places to develop not only a style but also technique.   A lot of magic stores sell canned magic acts including comedic magic.  But the persona and the style of comedy may not match with what you can (or should do). In retrospect this may be why so many performers come off as more “Crazy Uncle” and less “Funny Man”.
Take classes and spend time watching comedians of all sorts and types, not just the ones like Amazing Jonathan or Penn & Teller to learn what can be done and what you can do the easiest.
#3 Find something that’s easy to be funny with.
You will find that there are some props that it is just easier to be funny with or get an emotional reaction out of the audience with.   A lot of jugglers have had the experience of juggling clubs and then pulling out the knives and watching everyone take about two steps back.  You can take advantage if you know this is coming and turn it into a huge laugh. On the other hand it is really hard to swallow a giant pink inflated animal balloon without a few people in the audience cracking up.  Throw in some random gagging noises and references to the taste of latex and you can get most of an audience cracking up without the kids ever knowing.
Just as in illusion you can practice the art of cold-reading/suggestion by using something that you know will always work to “figure” out the details of using these techniques, by using a prop or an act that has some inherent quality of being humorous you can figure out what kind of humor you are better suited for doing without an audience really realizing it.
#4 Learn to use innuendo and “references”.
Innuendo is the art of saying one thing while meaning another.  Having a “family-friendly” show doesn’t necessarily mean that all your jokes are “kid friendly”.  It can also mean that most children aren’t going to get your jokes.  I mentioned earlier about the inflated pink balloon.
If you describe it as a demonstration of sword swallowing technique and
throw in a couple off-beat references to the taste of latex and make coughing noises occasionally, the kids think you are being comical while the parents “know” your being comical and are blushing while they laugh.
A lot of entertainers (especially children entertainers) have mentioned how they end becoming glorified babysitters at parties.  I make my shows in such a way that everyone, both parents and kids, are entertained by what I am doing so I never have that moment where I am getting swarmed by  children (and trust me you never, EVER, want that moment).
The other half is that if you don’t cover your adult jokes well enough; parents will feel that you are too much for their children (even
though the kids might think you are being hysterical)
#5 Discover how much comedy you want to/need to use.
“It is better to have 5 minutes of amazing material then ten
minutes of ok material” ~ My comedy professor in college.
When you are scripting and creating your show, the last thing you need to do is discover how much comedy material you actually need to use.  I have two different shows; a primarily family-friendly show in which I use comedy as a way of keeping the adults involved in the material that is there for the children and a adult show in which the comedy is used both as misdirection and as a way of getting the audience to relax a little bit and settle down into the show. Both are very different shows that use comedy in very different ways.  In my adult mentalism show doing comedy all the time turns me from a mentalist into a “mental-case” (which might not be a bad idea for a show mind you) and since my persona is that of a psychology expert it doesn’t work in the same way.  My family-friendly show allows me to get the family involved with the act; not just the kids (which makes for a great act that everyone will remember : Adults get bored as well)


One the funniest moments that I remember in illusion was an act by Penn and Teller in which Teller escaped from a trash bag filled with nothing but Helium.  One of the aspects of Tellers character is that he never speaks,  so hearing his voice, high pitched from the helium) from inside of the bag was a golden moment of comedy.
Combining elements of persona, technique, timing, and effects opens up a lot of memorable doors for an entertainer.