Hello Fellow ArtisticPreneur!
When performing with the Magic Neighbors Troop I sometimes get asked “How did the group start?” And aside from my desire for making a difference in the community through entertainment I was also heavily influenced by my idol Harry Houdini. One of the most important aspects of what Houdini achieved in his short lifetime (he died at age 52) was his ability to market himself.
Houdini is Back
About a year ago we did a newsletter on magician/escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) regarding his uncanny ability with advertising/publicity and ultimately as an ArtisticPreneur. As we described in a past edition he was a master at getting publicity by doing publicity stunts like hanging upside down in a straight jacket in the middle of a town square (possibly his best known stunt).
We are revisiting that topic, this time to look at the approach to promotion that Houdini used later in his life after shedding his more physically challenging routines. Instead we going to look at Harry Houdini the Ghost Buster. The difference between Houdini and the Ghost Busters of cinema fame is that he busted not the ghosts by the fraudulent mediums/psychics who falsely claimed they could cause spirits to rise from the dead.
It All Started with an Idea
Houdini made the claim that he could imitate with trickery any effect that those with so called sixth sense could do. This was a brilliant move on his part because he was able to join up with scientific organizations and even offer a reward for any medium or psychic who could do with her or his “powers” something Houdini couldn’t replicate using magic tricks from his conjurer’s toolbox.
This approach won for him being constantly in the papers, as well as intrigued the general public. Plus, as a tie-in he was able to offer demonstrations of ghostly effects for his audiences of his live shows. Why do I bring this up? Because the topic is still relevant today. As I type this on my mini laptop I am currently sitting on the floor outside of my hotel room at a family resort while our room is being cleaned..
Earlier today along with my wife and our 10 year old daughter I was watching television in our hotel room and discovered that much of the content as we flipped through the channels was about people trying to catch apparitions on camera. These so called “reality shows” consisted of bad acting and the no light camera setting that makes everything look greenish and strange.
What is the Point I am Making?
Nobody ever seemed to catch the ghost on camera unless it was really hard to see or was through testimonials of supposed witnesses. But incredibly these shows are successful because there is interest in them.
So am I saying that magicians should try to make a name for themselves through revealing mediums’ tricks of the psychic’s trade? Not at all.
In fact, recently at a meeting of the Society of American Magician’s PA1 (the chapter that Houdini was once the president of) I overheard a conversation between two magicians discussing the downside of revealing the secrets of fake psychics, both because it broke the conjurer’s code but also because there have been lawsuits by mediums/psychics against magicians for taking away their bread and butter.
No, I do not mean one should “out” psychics and other paranormal fakers. Rather, I am challenging all of us (myself included) to think of compelling stories that we can tell that will excite audiences and build visibility. This is an important concept that my brother Mark and I have been utilizing for years. Think of it this way, Harry Houdini told stories decades ago that still have a tremendous impact and he didn’t even have social media!