There is a lot to be said when it comes to character. Some performers get really lost with who ‘they are’ and who ‘they should be’. The truth, I believe is, it is an evolution through time and career. When I first started out, my first paid gig when I was about 14, I was doing a basic ambitious card, sandwich routine, pen through anything, coin in bottle and a few other standard pieces. All brilliant in their own right but nothing about those effects informed the audience of who I was or what I was about. There was no continuity.
A 14 year old Jamie Daws performing coin in bottle and
wearing the signature, totally cool playing card tie!
That is the interesting thing, we associate certain singers with a type of music. For example, I couldn’t imagine Frank Sinatra singing a Taylor Swift song or Adele singing a Slipknot song. No doubt, if Adele were to do this, she would have to change the style of the piece of music in order for it to be synonymous with her and her brand. Equally, she would be playing to her strengths more.
I feel like we should also be using this thought process as magicians and performers to help create our characters. The interesting thing is, generally, the audience decide what they want to see from you and what they expect from you. Just listen to what THEY are saying and act upon it. Equally, listen to what your bookers are looking for. If they have come to you directly, there must be something about YOU they like in particular.
If you were a fan of family friendly observational comedy like that of Michael McIntyre, you would probably not like to visit the darker tones of Jimmy Carr for example. An audience is attracted to what they like.
For me, my character has been formed firstly by what I enjoyed doing. As I gigged more, I realised my love was for mentalism and bizarre pieces more, so I began performing more of those pieces. The issue here was, some tables would be scared of me as I approached, wondering what it was I was going to do and believing I was peddling some kind of occult agenda on them. Especially the who were religious. So, I realised my character needed to be warm and inviting but, I needed to be able to switch my persona when I wanted to. This meant I could approach tables without any rejection but also meant, when I wanted to, I could change the narrative and add a little darkness to my performance.
The issue then was, I would regularly get spectators ask me to do something ‘weird’ or ‘scary’ again. Often referencing a particular effect like PK Touches or reading a spectators mind. So, my audience were quite literally telling me what they liked, why they liked it and what tricks I should be doing. It also meant that I was accidentally carving a niche for myself. No one in my immediate area (and possibly for quite some miles) performs with my persona and they don’t perform effects suited for their character like I do. Everything I do now comes from a place of character continuity. Whilst sometimes I might pull out Charming Chinese Challenge or load a coin under a watch strap (if I know the audience member well and it is more of a relaxed environment) the vast majority of new tricks I purchase or create have to fit what I know my audience are expecting of me and that wouldn’t feel out of place in my act.
To make sure my choices aren’t too slim, most mentalism pieces will fit nicely with a slight reframe and I can add some kid friendly pieces as I can either become serious and dark or friendly and light. It’s about keeping my audience on their feet. I want them to have as many questions about me than what I am doing. About 6 years ago, I started to have spectators asked if I gave tarot readings. At first I thought nothing of it but then, it happened on a weekly basis. My audience were once again informing me what they wanted to see from me. So, I picked up a deck of tarot and started giving mini readings.
Now, I get most of my booking via word of mouth and usually because they have heard about the weird and spooky things I do and when their friends talk to them about what I’ve done, they know they haven’t experienced anything like it before. I certainly don’t scream ‘magician’ in the traditional sense of the word.
Let your audience inform you who they would like you to be and let your material evolve to suit your character.