Today we’re at sea. Actually, we will arrive at Glacier Bay National Park for “scenic cruising”. This means we don’t get off the ship, which just pull up close to the glaciers to view them. This is quite breath-taking, but happens at about 7 am. That’s a little early for me, so instead I’m up at 10 am and decided to write to all of you. I want to talk to you about performing illusions on cruise ships. A mere two or three decades ago the only illusions magicians were performing on ships on ships involved vanishing themselves when asked to host activities. Box magic on cruise ships was pretty much unheard of. Lounge seating, low ceilings, bad angles and lack of storage space made anything beyond a roll-on table, a headache. Props had to fit cabaret space requirements. Oh, a few brave souls trucked out sub trunks, broom suspensions and zig-zags. Some even performed them – usually on dance floors. But, sure as God’s sunrise, you’d never see things like a Disembodied Princesses or an Asrah Levitation.
The grand class vessels of present day come equipped large stages, sporting state of the art lighting instruments, full production crews to meet your show’s every requirement and sound systems that would even rival some of Las Vegas showrooms. Some stages even have ice rinks! This month I’m performing aboard the beautiful Diamond Princess, cruising the Alaska. It’s funny but her stage is bigger than the posh-as-posh-can-get Sporting Club in Monte Carlo, today’s port of call where so many magic greats have performed – Salvano, Norm Nielsen, Channing Pollock and Finn Jon to name a few. Much of this is going to be shot through my ‘illusion prism,’ but I think you’ll find that if one stomachs what an illusionist has to(lighting, cases, assistants, costumes, rehearsals and storage), a stand-up show is a piece of cake on ships.
I was last on this 180,000 foot vessel two years ago doing the Mexican Riviera. Channing Pollock once told me, “We magicians must furnish glamour”. Nowhere is that adage more true than in performing illusions on the high seas. Most of you already know something about performing on cruise ships. Some, I’m sure even make their living doing so. I’ll take a leap and assume that most who do present a “parlor act;” or as I call it, forty-five minutes out of a brief case. I’ll tell you right up front that I’m not one of you. I learned a lot assisting Chuck Jones, and if you’re going to call yourself an illusionist, you need to actually roll those turkeys out and perform illusions. Due to some sado-masochistic love I have for illusions which only Lanny Kibby understands, I much prefer doing a full illusion show on to a stand-up show on ships. You parlor guys get the same money I do and don’t even have to hire an assistant. This probably sounds very appealing, and many of you will call me stubborn, but there’s just something so much more fulfilling to me with he whole illusion thing. You see, now you’re competing with the ship’s production shows – and they have a cast of 18! Can you imagine how good it would feel to equal or surpass the energy and/or reaction of those shows with your little boxes? That’s a worthwhile goal if you ask me, and one that makes me bound out of bed in the morning. I just get a charge out of presenting large illusions to an audience, and what better place to break in a new illusion than on a ship? Expenses are low or non-existent. You’re guaranteed an audience(and a captive one). You’ve several days before the next show to “tweak,” and perhaps the most attractive factor nowadays – little or no expenses. Yes Sir, free rent, free food and you don’t have to buy gasoline. Come to think of it, just that last one might be reason enough to do ships.
Your typical ship schedule requires you to do two completely different 45 minute performances. These performances take place whenever and wherever the cruise director wants them. That’s about it though, the rest of the time is yours to do whatever your little heat desires. It’s important to be seaworthy. Your illusionary choices should meet these five requirements. They should be: entertaining, performable in rough seas, workable with one assistant, repairable with basic tools and packable into flat cases. These points are pretty self-explanatory. What I really want to talk about is love. – Yes love.
Suppose some newcomer came to me and wanted to know the single most important thing he could ever learn about this noble pursuit of performing magic on cruise ships.
Is there a single principle that’s that critical? A stand alone consideration which is truly supreme above all others? You bet there is. And, I can communicate it to you in just two words:
Listen to me, I have a degree in marketing from USC. To quote the all-time marketing guru, Gary Halbert:
“No One Can Ever Be A Success Who Sells Something Of Which He Is Not Proud!”
I know you know plenty of people who make plenty of money selling crap. So what? Money is only one (and truly not the most important) of all the ingredients that make someone a success. And… making money (even millions) while losing your self-respect leads to a dry rot of the psyche and a constant patina of despair that dulls the fabric of your life.
I remember something David Copperfield once said at a lecture he gave to The Magic Castle Junior Magicians, of which I belonged. A youngster asked him about the tribulations of making ends meet with magic. David paused only for a second, looked at the kid and quipped, “Do you want to do magic or do you have to do magic?” And so it is. David HAD to do magic. It was an obsession far exceeding the bounds of a hobby. Those who have it in their heart will find a way. Period. A lot of times it’s just a matter of asking the right questions. How can I make this work? How can I get a stool made for the suspension using the resources on a cruise ship? How can I get show costumes made in Turkey?, etc. I like these kinds of challenges. Illusion road warriors like Peter Gossamer call it “Macgyvering”
A genuine love for your art will not only come through in your show, but in your evermore important ‘off stage persona’. Yup, sorry to break it to you, but if you want to get invited back and actually make a living working ships, you have to be a nice person. Cruise ship entertainment directors do not care how slick or original your show is. One blip of an attitude problem and you’re toast. There’s too big a pool of decent human beings for them to pick from to put up with primadonnas. And we all know a few, don’t we?. Ever notice how seldom they work cruise ships? Hmmm.
And I know, yo u’ve got the fastest sub trunk of the 21st century, and your goth illusion show really rocks. You can be “totally original” till the cows come home. But as long as your market is for people who vacation on cruises; they don’t really care all that much if you invented everything you perform. Remember, it’s a ship not a magic convention. That’s not to say that you should do boring magic – but simply that, above all, cruise lines want to work with people whom they like. Speaking of people I like, our vivacious Princess cruise staff, just stopped in to check email too and invited me for lunch in the Santa Fe dining room. So, I’m going to close for now. I guess sometimes it is all glamour.