Thursday, September 23, 2010

Star Tradeshow Act by Docc Hilford

Hey Everybody, Cris Johnson here with more magic and fun!

I'm writing this week's blog in a hotel in NJ. Earlier today, I was performing in Shoreham, NY. Well, to get to my hotel in NJ in preparation for tomorrow's shows, my Garmin GPS took me straight through New York City, right down 34th Street.


I am NOT a big city guy. People who live and succeed in those big towns really have my respect, which sort of influenced my decision on what to review this week. But first, some housekkeeping...

Thank you for those of you who have supported my product releases. In fact, I was just told a few days ago that Paul Gross will be putting an ad for my new Clear-View Airborne in one of the big magic magazines!! The lead time for those publications is at least a couple of months, but as soon as I find out what issue, I will let you know.

In fact, Paul recently had a new photo taken for the ad. Check it out under "new releases." Right now it's #2 on page 1.

The next issue of my free ezine, "Cause & Effects" will feature a very simple booking strategy that I know for a fact not many magicians are using. If you are using it, that's great - this little tip has nabbed me some big shows. It's very simple yet very effective. The new issue comes out the first week of October.

If you're not on the list yet, send an email to:

On to this week's review...

It's The Star Tradeshow Act by Docc Hilford. It's available for $19.95 from Hocus Pocus and the ad copy can be read here:

EFFECT: Docc explains his own tradeshow act that he's used for years. The act consists of a fire wallet, a few card effects and some good psychology with money, albeit a weak money effect.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: A stapled 36 page booklet.

DIFFICULTY: First, let's get one thing out of the way. The effects Docc uses in his tradeshow act are not difficult from a sleight of hand point of view...The most complex effect is maybe a 2 or 3, depending on your skill level.

The REAL difficulty comes from the show environment. Therefore, the majority of this review will focus on the tradeshow environment.

I do want to look at the act itself and offer thoughts on some of the effects, at least the ones I tried. Throughout, I will weave my thoughts on tradeshows (from my beginner's standpoint) throughout.

EFFECTS OVERVIEW: I've performed at a few tradeshows, so I'm no expert, but it does allow me to make some general observations regarding Docc's act.

The opening effect is a fire wallet, which Docc uses as he claims he will be giving away a $100 bill. I don't care what Docc claims in his book - if you use a fire wallet in a trade show, you'll be in DEEP TROUBLE. Docc claims he sidestepped fire marshals by claiming it was just "trick fire." It may have worked for him (although I have my doubts) but after I tried it, I almost got thrown out by the fire marshal.

So much for the opening.

The next effect is Docc's work on the old 52-on-1 card gag, which he uses to increase the size of the crowd. It reads as very charming and the psychology is good.

The problem here is you truly must have a magnetic personality and really need to hook people for this to work. I believe Docc used this successfully. I really do. For me, it was just "eh." When I finished using the 52-on-1 gag as Docc outlines to increase the size of my crowd, I had roughly the same size group...only a few people had left and others joined it.

Again, I'm sure it worked for Docc. For the 6 or 7 performances I tried, not so much. I blame myself, and that's the problem with an act like this - it's designed for probably the most demanding type of magic out there.

Think about this - at a birthday party, the kids are usually very much looking forward to your show. A school assembly program" Even more, because it gets kids out of class. A corporate holiday party? A little tougher, but yes...providing you engage them.

With tradeshows, you're dealing with people who are VERY busy and really don't want to stop. Most are there because they have to be and are searching out a specific product or booth.

If it sounds like tradeshows are tough (from my point of view) it's because they are. Even tradeshow masters talk freely about how tough it is. I'm NOT saying don't do them, only that it's good to know your strengths.

Back to Docc's act.

It gets better with Docc's handling of the Brainwave Deck, which he uses to finish up the 52-on-1 gag and bring that routine to a close. Docc's psychology and handling of this classic effect is quite good.

From there, he moves on to a spelling effect with cards. He talks a lot about blocking, good theatre and more during this routine. It reads quite good and listening (reading) Docc's thoughts on the psychology of performing is breathtakingly awesome. He thinks a lot about his craft. as to the effectiveness of this routine, I cannot say, as I never tried it.

I didn't care for it for a number of being that I don't like spelling tricks. I know there are great ones out there - I just don't like them. Plus, the effect read as though it would drag in less competent hands - mine, from a tradeshow standpoint.

It's very weird to be captivated by the psychology of an effect yet dislike the idea of performing an effect!

Docc's closer for his tradeshow act (the act runs about 15 minutes) is a variation on the old "3 and a half of Clubs" gag prediction. Again, Docc uses good psychology, especially in regards to his handling of the $100 bill he promises to give away to spectators if he gets the next effect wrong. I've tried it and it does play, but my big problem is that adult audiences, as a whole, see the 3 and a half of Clubs at the end of a routine and groan. It's like filling your show with puns - it's not truly funny...rather the laughs are more of a series of groans.

This is the one effect I pulled from the booklet and ran it through a series of family shws in preparation for an upcoming tradeshow I had a couple of years back. Viewing it as Docc's closer, I really wanted my handling and script to be polished. After a few dozen performances, I abandoned it as too corny for my liking.

Also included in the booklet is a mention of "turning a stack of $100 bills into a deck of cards that are shuffling." It's a pitch for a $15 product sold by Docc. I ordered it...and really wanted to ask Docc for my money back.

After a couple of weeks, I gave up on this. Besides the fact that it really does not work as smoothly as Docc promises, the set up is a pain in the butt, a big no-no in tradeshow work.

A brief interlude: Of the 6 or so tradeshows at which I've performed, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that when a crowd gathers, your client will expect you to perform - that's what you're being paid to do. Experienced tradeshow workers have told me they have scheduled performances, such as every 30 minutes, or once an hour, etc.

If you can work that kind of a deal with your client, that's great. I know I had a heck of a time trying to convince my clients of this during the booking process. This gets back to knowing yourself as a performer - I can sell myself to an elementary school for fantastic fees - much higher than what some experts tell me they get. I'm not bragging or knocking them, it's just I have a knack for schools.

Here's where tradeshow work is best for people who are truly passionate, have the right personality, etc. The booking process is tough, which, to get back to Docc's dreadful "$100 Bills to deck of cards trick," is only going to work if you have A) a place to re-set in private - not gonna happen at most booth tradeshows, and B) the time to re-set.

So out of the act, for my experience, 3 of the 5 effects got a good response...the fire wallet, the Brainwave Deck, and the 3 and a half of clubs (groans meant it got a good response, not a great response.) Of those 3 effects, I could continue to use only two effects...the fire wallet CANNOT be used in a tradeshow! TRUST ME on this!

THE REST OF THE BOOKLET: Docc is one of those infuriating writers in magic. I LOVE his deep thinking in magic, yet I find most of his stuff either unworkable or, the majority of the time, simply not suited for my personality.

That being said, Docc's understanding of tradeshows appears to be good. He offers some basic advice on getting the gig, but for 20 bucks it's not realistic to expect much more than the few paragraphs he offers.

Nevertheless, despite the apparent negative review thus far, I did find Docc's book helpful to me in understanding tradeshows so I had a good idea of what to do (and what not to do) once I got the gigs.

I took a lot of his advice and psychology and developed my own act which served me well. Tradeshows are NOT a venue I would ever pursue full-time myself, but you may feel differently.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I'm going to give this booklet a 5 out of 10. Fantastic psychology and deep thinking of his act, but for me, most of the actual routines just did not pan out. Your experience may be better than mine.

Until next time...


Cris Johnson

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