Push Your Comfort Zone

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is Elliott Hunter, a long time Magic & Mystery School student. Elliott used his magic and illusion show to put himself through college, and earn his engineering degree. At just 23 years-old, he has performed over four hundred shows in the Palace of Mystery at the world-famous Magic Castle, has represented companies like Sony, TEDx and Starbucks, and has won numerous international titles. Most recently, he was named a top qualifier by FISM North America, which allowed him to represent the United States at the FISM World Championships this past summer in Quebec City, Canada. Currently, he is the resident headlining magician on the Princess Cruises flagship in Illusions, one of the top illusion shows on the seven seas.

Elliott with his first magic directors – Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger

Put to the Test
I have been training and performing magic for over fifteen years. Having been a student of the Magic & Mystery Schoolfor over a decade now, I have constantly been encouraged to advance my goals, forgo my comfort zone, and seek greatness. For me, this admonition has come in many forms, but has never been put to the test like it has this year. In January 2017, the Genii online magazine published an article about me, and I mentioned that my goal was to perform aboard cruise ships. At the time, that goal seemed like a mere pipe dream. However, in July 2022, when I was in Atlanta performing for the I.B.M. annual convention, I got a call that a cruise company was casting for a resident magician in their next production show, and I was at the top of their list. Of course, I said “yes!” 
This year I have embarked on what is probably one of the most challenging endeavors of my career – being the headlining magician for a multi-million dollar production show aboard a brand new cruise ship. However, this comes with a steep learning curve. I was tasked with performing someone else’s show to their standards, while upholding the corporate image of the company. It’s not my job to offer notes, but to take them. My contract clearly states that I am to perform the show as designed by the director. It is my responsibility to film every single show, take notes on myself, then email the files to the director, who will then take notes as well. His job is to be quite particular and ensure that the product remains up to his standards. This was completely foreign to me! There are many habits that I had to learn, and many that I had to break.

All packed for eight months of cruise ship performances.

Working with a Director
I believe it is crucial that you work with a director at some point in your career, someone who has the knowledge of stage production beyond just magic. A director can look at your show through an objective lens, and make changes based on the show itself. This means polishing your blocking onstage, working with you to deliver your lines with the proper vocal inflections, critiquing your costume, your shoes, your applause cues – the list goes on and on. When working in a production show, these aspects are equally, and sometimes, more important than the magic itself. 
It is paramount to never take any notes or direction personally. The director is not there to attack you, but to help you and the show as a whole. I have often found that directors sometimes ask rhetorical questions when offering feedback – statements like “Why are your feet like that? They should be like this.” They usually are not asking for you to respond, they are simply helping you navigate through their thought processes, so you can interpret their notes thoroughly. Sometimes feedback may come across as terse or harsh, but this is normal, and is important for the rapid growth of a show; especially when the rehearsal timeline is so tight! 

Backstage preparing for the show.

Learning to Adapt
I have been blessed with the ability to be a very fast visual learner. In engineering school I could watch the instructor do one demonstration, and immediately repeat the procedure move for move. In professional production environments, rehearsal time is often included in your contract; you are paid for rehearsal time as well as for shows. However, this means that rehearsal time is highly valuable and intentional to the company, and they often only allot one to two weeks for rehearsals prior to opening. I had to learn an entire show’s worth of magic effects and illusions that were not in my current repertoire, as well as the script, blocking, choreography and timecode in less than two weeks!
In this professional market it pays to be able to be able to adapt quickly. There have been several occasions in my own shows where I have needed to add new material last minute. This may mean selecting a new effect in the morning, and presenting it as a fully developed routine by the 7:30 showtime! This would be intimidating to any performer, but one of my cruise ship mentors had a strategy for this. He would always bring his copy of Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic. This way, if the cruise director needed him to do another show at the last minute, or he needed ten extra minutes in his show, he could oblige because he literally had hundreds of relatively easy to do magic effects at his fingertips. All he had to do was add his character to the already printed script. 
Employ this with Jeff McBride’s concept for “hammocking” your routines, and you have set yourself up for success. This strategy is invaluable, because if there is a last minute cancellation of a scheduled act, the cruise director will need someone else to fill in. If you tell them “no,” there are literally hundreds of other entertainers more than happy to take your place!

Manipulation act performance in preparation for FISM.

Push Your Comfort Zone
I always encourage everyone to push their comfort zone. For you, this may mean competing in a magic competition, four-walling a venue for the first time, or something as simple as trying out a new effect on an audience. The only way we can grow is if we are constantly willing to push our comfort zone. Some of the best advice I ever received is “if doors won’t open, kick them down!” Be willing to take the leap. It is rare that someone will come along and hand you success on a silver platter. The people you see posting online about how much they are working are not showing the blood, sweat, and tears that it took for them to reach where they are. There will always be work for entertainers; it’s just a matter of working hard to get it. Remember, no one came knocking on David Copperfield’s door.

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