Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How I became the Amazing Jaybird

Written by Jonathan

How I became the Amazing Jaybird
I had not really performed any magic tricks for about 8 years. Every once in a while I would make a quarter disappear for the nephews, or do a card trick for a friend, but it was few and far between. 

But then I had a daughter, and I found myself performing magic tricks more often for her and her friends. I also began making balloon animals, juggling, and playing the guitar because it entertained Macy and her friends when they were at our house, and Laura usually needed a break. I discovered which magic tricks work well for 3 year olds, and realized that I enjoyed performing for children - they actually believe the magic is real!

One day at church, I found myself substituting a Primary class with my friend, Jeff Wood, without any notice. After about 10 minutes, my partner and I had finished the ad hoc activity of coloring pictures, and we had about 25 minutes to kill with a dozen 4 year olds. So I borrowed a coin, and entertained the children by making the coin vanish and reappear from their ears, their shoes, and their elbows. I had a lot of fun.

Later that year, the Ward had an auction to raise money for the summer youth events. Sister Corey had always done auctions to raise money back in La Canada, so she wanted to bring that to Northern Virginia. Not many people in the area were familiar with how a Ward auction worked, so I was recruited to help explain the details and recruit people to donate items or services for bidding. While I was in front of the Elders Quorum, I was sharing examples of what could be donated, and randomly threw out the idea that I would be donating a magic show. It wasn't planned - it was a spur of the moment idea that I threw out there to show people I was committed to the idea of an auction.

When the auction was over, I learned that my magic show was bought by Mary Carol Stevens. She said that instead of performing a magic show for her family, she would love to have me do a show for her 4 year old's preschool class - Perfect! I prepared a routine the night before the show, and headed off to the preschool.

Fortunately, a few months before, I purchased some more kid friendly magic tricks from a magic shop in Busch Gardens. So I brought those along and performed for about 30 minutes. I had a great time and the children really seemed to enjoy it.

When I arrived home, I mentioned to Laura that performing for children was the best! In the past I had had bad experiences performing magic shows, and performing for adults wasn't any fun (it's kind of like dressing up as Santa Claus for adults - they know it's fake). But children weren't concerned about how the trick was performed - they just wanted to have fun. So I could be goofy and funny and perform the kind of magic tricks that I like to perform.

A few weeks later, I was encouraged by Laura and some friends to perform for children's birthday parties. They told me that they had seen the Great Zucchini perform for kids events, and that I was better than he was. I dismissed the idea at first, but several people said that I would be great at children's shows, so I started looking into it. 

I didn't actually think one could make money performing kids magic shows, but I was curious. So I did a Google search for The Great Zucchini who just goofs around for 35 minutes to see what he charged and how much he made a year. I found out that he charged about $300 for a 35 minute show (I later learned that he charges closer to $350 per show), and that he did around 10 shows a week.

Ten shows a week, about 50 weeks a year equals 500 shows a year. Five hundred shows at about $300 per show equals a pretty decent amount of money. So I started taking the magic show idea a little more seriously and began asking around to see whether parents would pay for a magician at their kids birthday parties. I learned that parents would happily pay for an entertainer (they want to one-up their neighbors), and that they would pay over $100 for one.

I asked how I could get exposure, and a mother told me about something called Certifikid - a Groupon specific to parents with young children. So I emailed Certifikid and asked how I could get promoted. The CEO, Jaime Ratner, told me the steps and before I knew it I had a website and was ready to start booking shows. Laura and I thought about a name for me, and The Amazing Jaybird is what came out of it. I'm not sure if it's the best name, but it's what we chose for now.

I did a few practice shows in the summer for friends and off of cold calling. After three shows I felt I was prepared for more business, so I had Certifikid send out the promotion and the phone started ringing. I was not prepared for the response. I was booking shows at horrible times all over Northern Virginia and Maryland - but it was a lot of fun and parents were willing to hire a magician they had never heard of or ever met for $89.

The deal got me 22 shows. Certifikid only took a percentage of sales, so it really didn't cost me anything. 

I learned so much during those shows. I performed in restaurants, in people's homes, in backyards, in front yards, at parks, in frozen yogurt shops, and on a stage. I had children who didn't like me, children who were chanting my name, audiences of 4 and audiences of 40. I showed up late to shows, early to shows, got lost going to shows. I had tricks not work properly, tricks work fantastically, and I had to stop a show in the middle because the children just weren't interested (there were two bounce houses behind me - how do I compete with that?). 

I had children run after me when I was done with a show, asking if I could perform at their birthday party. I had parents tell me that they enjoyed the show more than the children probably did. I learned that I love performing magic shows for children, and when adults view a show with children in the audience, the adults enjoy the show much more.

My show consisted of magic, juggling, and sometimes balloon animals and playing the guitar. I learned that I don't like doing balloon animals because they pop and kids come running back asking for another (or the balloon comes apart and I have to fix it). I also discovered that kids don't care about me playing the guitar when I can do magic tricks - children LOVE magic tricks. In the end, I had a show that just had magic and juggling.

I'm thinking about doing a few more shows in the Spring so we can raise money for our move out of Virginia, and I plan on doing magic shows on the side to raise money to pay for our house (wherever that might be). I don't do it for the money - I love doing it for free. But it's a great way to do what I love and get paid for it. If somebody asked me what I'd do if I had a million dollars, I would buy a house, and then do a magic show.

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