Five things theater can learn from The Magic Castle.
My inner “Magic Nerd” was resurrected last night when I paid a visit to the hallowed halls of The Magic Castle in Los Angeles. (Yep, it’s true, I was one of those kids who walked around with a deck of a cards and a Magician’s Insurance Policy – and I wondered why Tracy Simpson didn’t want to “go out” with me in sixth grade.)
But even if you don’t know what a Chinese Linking Ring is and therefore had a normal pre-teen social existence, you’d still have a blast at The Magic Castle.
The coolio Castle is also home to The Academy of Magical Arts (Neil Patrick Harris is its current President), and is a private club (restaurant and hotel) where some of the best magicians in the world hang out, trade secrets, and perform for you.
Admit it, your inner Magic Nerd just got a little tingly too.
Of course, while there, I couldn’t help but pick up a few tips that the theater world could learn from this fine and prestadigalicious establishment.
1. YOU GOTTA KNOW SOMEONE
The Magic Castle is exactly what I said above. It’s a private club. Members only. You can’t roll up off the street and walk in the doors. You have to know a member to get in (Thanks, Robert L!). Of course, that kind of exclusivity makes you want to get in even more, and makes you feel more special when you’re inside. While there aren’t many theaters in the world that could operate on a “members or guests of members” only policy, there could be “inner circle” audiences that are provided special privileges that could be member-only. Or discount clubs. Or what if . . . could a super small, Off Broadway or Off Off Broadway show try to only allow people in that were invited? How cool would that be. I want to go and I don’t even know what the show is!
2. DRESS FOR SUCCESS
The Magic Castle has a strict dress code: jackets and ties for the men and “evening wear” for the ladies (even the ones who are getting cut in half). Of course, all theater used to be this way, and it wasn’t even demanded. It was just done. While too many shows are too desperate for any butt in their seat to insist that the butt be draped in a certain way, walking around the castle in my suit and seeing others in similar dress did make me long for the days when the theater was given that respect. Having to dress up makes the experience seem more high end, more luxurious, and more important . . . and therefore worth the ticket price. I’d love to see a fancy play (the next superstar-driven Pinter, for example) insist on a dress code.
3. MAGIC CAN BE FUNNY TOO
Every magician we saw could have been a stand-up comedian working at Carolines. They knew, like we should too, that audiences want to laugh at some point in the evening no matter what type of entertainment experience they sign up for. Comic relief is even more important in the serious dramas (what would Les Miz be without the Thernardiers?) as it provides a release for the audience and allows them to work up those big emotions again. If you don’t have fun(ny) in your show somewhere, then find it and quick. Or it just might disappear.
4. PEOPLE WANT TO SIT CLOSE
You know what the most popular room in the castle is? The Close-Up Room. You know, where people are inches away from the performer and their skills. And they don’t need super spectacles. They just need master performers working their craft right in front of your eyes. And they want to watch them work. Same is true in our biz. Location could be even more important than price to our consumers. Everyone knows our tickets are expensive. They don’t like it, but they know it. And they also know they want to sit close. Maybe that exclusive club I talked about in #1 is a “close-up” club?
5. HOW DID THEY DO THAT?
Everyone who watches magicians wants to know how they did it! Used to be that “a magician never revealed his or her secrets,” right? Not so true anymore. I saw a couple of magicians who were happy to show me just a sample of how to do one of their tricks. It’s as if they are saying, “I’ll show you this secret, because I’ve got a ton more.” And it just got me more excited, and made me feel like I was smarter than the person next to me, which made me want to tell people all about it (hello, word-of-mouth). Giving people a glimpse backstage, behind our curtain and into our magic world is a sure-fire way to do the same.
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