Don’t worry. Im not about to give you a brief history of the troubles according to my ma. What I wish to talk about is the art of dying onstage.
David Acer has a wonderful article on this topic in his book ‘Random Acts of Magic’ on Bombing.
When you bomb at something in performance it means that it was a complete and utter failure. A fiasco of a show.
Performers who want to become better sadly must bomb. It is a necessary evil that everyone must face when new material is being developed. You have to try out the good, the bad and the ugly in front of an audience to see if it works or not. More importantly we must find out what can be done to make material work.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Coming up with new material is tricky.
We become so used to material that we enjoy performing and of course the material we are familiar with. Forgetting that it has taken some time to get it working. We let slip the bad performances and savour the good ones.
It is no wonder it becomes quite difficult encouraging ourselves to mentally and physically develop new material. It is far easier to keep performing the same old material, feeling the comfort in knowing it works.
Aim to do at least one brave thing everyday!
I crave new material. So this last year I have challenged myself – or rather forced myself to get out of my comfort zone. Performing all kinds of magic that’s new to me and that I have always wished to perform. And it brings challenges that sometimes even I am not prepared for.
This month I got quite excited about an idea. I envisioned building a snowman on stage and ending the piece by making a huge snowstorm surge from the palm of my hands. Sounds magical right? Memorable even.
It was memorable. But for all the wrong reasons and I was reminded that new material can go horribly, brutally wrong.
My desire to create wonder turned to dust.
My wish to create a snowy heaven on stage fell apart before my eyes and it scared me. I was upset. So much so that I felt I might not be able to try out new material again. I haven’t felt this bad since I performed my very first magic show. Which you can read about in my book Becoming Magic. Or at least that’s how my brain saw it.
The reality was, it wasn’t that bad. And the feeling of sheer terror lasted for around 24 hours. Inside my head, it felt like an age. Upon reflection, this pain and angst was a very fleeting feeling.
If you ever find yourself feeling this way too, the disappointment will pass. The real lesson comes in how you deal with the failure after it. Your response to bombing on stage will hopefully shape you as a performer for the better.
Oh epic big hole, swallow me up please…
No matter your experience, knowledge and the sheer amount of practice put in – you will continue to bomb throughout your career.
Nothing could have prevented me from bombing that night and looking back at the horror, I needed it. It was a reminder that as a performer, I am not invincible.
So some advice for me and others…
Be Kind: learn not to be too hard on yourself. It is way too easy to tear chunks out of your self esteem and performance after something bad happens. Try putting it into perspective. This is one show out of many and that effect will never be that bad again – let’s hope!
Release the shame: If you need to cry, weep. It is ok to be sad and if you are, really go for it. Only when the sadness is fully out of your system can you move on to the steps below.
Reflect: Go through the routine when you are ready to and access it constructively. Ask yourself, ‘why did things go wrong?’ In most cases there is normally a good reason for it. Consider that sometimes it is also out of your control when it does.
Push on: After my disaster of a performance last week, I immediately had to go and perform walk around magic for families for a full hour. Professionalism dies hard and I did it, even though every fibre in my body did not want me to. Upon returning home and doing all of the steps above, I was then able to properly move on. After a full day of moping first.
“It’s not the end of the world if a trick goes wrong.”– Nikola Arkane 2019
I have to remind myself that performing magic should be fun, lighthearted and above all not taken too seriously – apart from practicing it! You might feel like your world has tumbled down when it happens, but really, only you know what you intended that particular performance to be.
So to be a successful performer we have to take the good with the bad and get good at dusting ourselves off and moving on.
You can read more stories and advice like this in my book, Becoming FizzWizzPop! A companion I have created for performers and magicians.