On Stage! Introduction
The following excerpt is from Samuel Patrick Smith's book, ON STAGE: BRINGING OUT THE BETTER PERFORMER IN YOU.
This book explains simple techniques used by leading professional magicians to get the best response from their audiences. Some of these methods were passed along to me by two long-time professionals whose careers have had a significant impact on my own: Burling Hull and Fetaque Sanders.
Meeting a Mentor
Every kid needs a hero. When I was 13, my heroes came from books—the two leading contenders were Thomas Edison and Houdini. Then I met Burling Hull, who had known Houdini and performed for Edison, and who seemed to be a genius himself. For the next eight-and-a-half years, I worked with Burling on many projects. I visited him often in his home in DeLand, Florida and listened for hundreds of hours as he talked about magic, magicians, and show business.
He told me about virtually every routine he performed during his career. He analyzed the material, expounding his methods of presentation and showman ship.
He also watched me perform and compli-mented my routines for their originality. But he suggested that I had room to improve my delivery. His main concern was that I learn to pause before delivering my punch lines. For instance, instead of saying, “Before I came to the show tonight, the kitchen sink fell on my head and that would be a drain on anyone,” Burling recommended a three-second hesitation.
“Before I came to the show tonight, the kitchen sink fell on my head [one-two-three]. That would be a drain on anyone!” This advice has been invaluable through the years, though I am still reluctant to fix a leaky pipe.
Burling was a grand performer from the old school and could play a strictly dramatic part with great results. Because of my admiration for Burling, I tried—unsuccessfully—to imitate his style. I didn’t copy him exactly, but I struggled to be a dynamic, masterful performer. I later found that I made a very second-rate Burling Hull. He played the part much better himself. So I decided to quit trying to be that powerful, dynamic type and just go out and be myself. I had read that you should always “be yourself,” but I never understood what it meant. Finally, I realized this advice meant exactly what it said. Go out on stage and talk to the audience as though you were talking to a good friend. Do it without pomp and artificial glamour. Just do your act as you and people will like it much better.
There are people—Burling Hull for one—who can play a role perfectly. But for me—and I suspect this is true for most people—it’s better to let my persona on stage be an extension of my personality off stage. Of course, you still must have a carefully planned and scripted act. Being yourself does not mean winging it!
The other performer who contributed to the philosophy of this book was Fetaque Sanders. When I met Fetaque (pronounced FEE-take) in 1985, I had almost three years of experience as a full-time magician under my belt, and I considered myself an established professional. In reality, I still had a lot to learn. Fetaque took great interest in my career. Interestingly, Burling Hull was one of his early mentors (through his books). Fetaque, like Burling, was a real show business trouper. He had many years of experience working schools and colleges throughout the country. I began taking Fetaque to my shows in the Nashville area, and during a seven-year period, he saw more of my performances than any other person has ever dared!
Fetaque also told me of his shows and described his routines. I discovered that our performing styles were very similar. Because he worked comedy magic for children’s audiences, he was very helpful in analyzing my routines and making suggestions. His main suggestion was—guess what!—to slow down my delivery and pause before the punch line! “You have a tendency to rush your lines,” he said.
I remembered what Burling Hull had told me, and I began making a greater effort to pause long enough for the audience to get the joke. I was recently delighted to hear another performer tell me, “I am amazed at how long you can pause before and after your punch lines. I thought one of your lines had bombed, but you waited until they laughed—and it worked!” Maybe I’m beginning to learn what Burling and Fetaque were trying to teach me. I’ll keep trying!
In addition to the advice of Burling Hull and Fetaque Sanders, this book contains observations of many other excellent performers I have been privileged to see during the past 25 years.
I’ve talked with scores of fine performers and asked for their best advice on being a good entertainer. Sometimes they have been unable to identify their own secrets of success, but a keen observer can see common threads in the techniques of such differing performers as Vito Lupo and Harry Blackstone.
Like every other performer who wants to do his best, I have always tried to apply the principles of showmanship to my material. I’ve learned that I can’t be a Dai Vernon or a Lance Burton, but it’s my responsiblity to be the best me I can be. That’s why I researched the topic of Bringing Out the Better Performer In You—I’ve been trying to bring out the better performer in me for many years! After more than 10 years full-time, doing thousands of shows for all types of audiences, I can attest that these principles work when you work them. The trick is to make them so much a part of you that you use them automatically. These concepts aren’t “laws of showmanship,” they are ideas and observations which have worked for others. To find out if they’ll work for you, give them a try the next time you’re on stage!