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After my post Walking Away from a Gig went online, my friend and passionate magician Anthony Co dropped me a line on my Facebook account: “Hi Leodini, great read as always… one of the few blogs I follow. But I thought this was an essay about walking in the middle of a gig.“
Anthony’s message was one of those idea creators I wait sometimes for days on end to fall on my lap. I find writing a blog regularly drains my brain. A good idea suggestion is always welcome.
Here is my answer to Anthony:
“Anthony, you reminded me of those episodes when I got off the stage and stopped performing. Three times because of technical snafus. The iPod didn’t play my music, and the sound system didn’t give out its sound. Twice, I walked off the stage in the middle of the program, because the waiters distributed ice cream to the children. There was a commotion. I looked silly standing center stage with no one paying attention to me. I didn’t actually walked away. I just stopped the show momentarily, collected my wits and regrouped. It was an uphill battle getting back the audience into the show. I wanted to lynch the sound man and the waiter, but I didn’t because doing so, I was told, is a mortal sin.”
Today, let me amplify what I have written. Since I last wrote it, I suffered some more snafus that necessitated my stopping the show.
Other performers may disagree with my decision to stop the show in mid-course. We magician have this technique we call “outs”. They are strategies for wriggling out of problems during a live show. Though these outs look spontaneous, most of them are not. They are planned ahead of time in anticipation of problems that may arise during the performance.
The idea is not to let the audience know that something wrong is happening to the performance. In most cases a magician can pull off an invisible “escape act” by covering, masking, disguising his mistakes. The audience then is not aware something is amiss.
The magician can break out substitute routines. Or he can end the act in another way, since the audience doesn’t know anyway how it would end.
Or the magician wings it until the difficulties like a skipping disc, a mute microphone, or a squealing sound system are addressed.
I can wing it, too, up to a certain point, but not indefinitely. When I reach the point when I blank out, I usually stride off the stage and wait for the backstage people to address the technical problems.
I have a few lines reserved for such technical emergencies. I drop them to get a laugh and to prevent boredom from setting in. One instant, I was in the middle of a strait jacket escape in front of 700 surgeons during their national convention. Suddenly the electrical circuit tripped. The house lights remained on, but the power gave out. I couldn’t use music. The microphone went dead.
At the top of my voice, I bantered with the audience while the technicians troubleshooted their equipment. When I ran out of prepared lines and the power was still not restored, I went down to the front tables wanting to do card tricks to kill the time.
What was I thinking? The truth is, I panicked. How could I do card tricks when I was already strapped inside the straitjacket?
That was the time I stopped the show—not by choice, but because there was no way I could go on successfully with it.
It seemed I was marooned in Purgatory, standing onstage all by my lonesome, inside a straitjacket, while 700 surgeons were looking at me with bated breath, not knowing what I was going to do next.
I didn’t have anything to do next, let alone knew what to do next—except stew under their watchful eyes.
To think about it, the most frequent reason that has forced me to stop my show is technical difficulties. Just two weeks ago, I marched toward the stage after the party host introduced me. Halfway there, the music faded out. I stopped in my tracks and then went backstage. The sound man fiddled with his equipment. After a few moments, he gave the thumbs up and the party host introduced me all over again. I marched again toward the stage. Again, the music faded out, and I stopped in my tracks.
This happened three times like a deja vu in a loop. It looked funny if it were not exasperating. The thought of hanging the sound man on the pinata crossed my mind. Well, the show went on to a good start after my assistant quickly assembled our own sound system.
In reflecting about those instances when I stopped a show, the top reason was usually technical problems. The second most frequent reason is when somebody (usually the waiters) distribute ice cream to the children in the middle of an act, or a well-meaning grandma makes a fuss over the birthday grandchild just before the rabbit appears.
To solve these problems, I bring my sound system (Fender 250 Passport), and I stipulate the “no food and gift distribution during the show” on the contract that I send to the birthday parents.