For almost nine years, Erick and Kim Olson have been running Wizardz Magic Theater, a magic show held every Monday at the Seralago Hotel & Suites in Kissimmee, Florida. That nine-year anniversary is something to be proud of; few magic shows (or any show, for that matter) survive that long, and after almost a decade, Wizardz is doing more than surviving—it’s thriving.
Their May 28th show was no exception: the 50-seat theater was sold out, with locals and tourists, magicians and laypeople alike, packed close together to enjoy an hour of magic. Erick and Kim have learned much over the years on how to run a successful show, and their insights are invaluable for anyone interested in starting a recurring magic or variety show of their own—here are a few of their tips for getting started.
Running a show on your own is difficult, if not impossible. One of the keys to Kim and Erick’s success is that they run the theater as a team, with their different backgrounds (Erick is a professional magician and his wife, Kim, is a layperson with experience in sales) helping them better manage all aspects of the show. Partners having different perspectives can be helpful but can also create conflict.
Conflict, however, isn’t a bad thing if both partners are committed to working through their differences in opinion. As Erick explains, “Kim’s got a view of the business end, and I have more of an entertainer’s view, and sometimes those views can clash…but we talk it through. Each one of us says, ‘Let me have a chance to do it this way this week, and we’ll see how it goes.’”
So whoever you choose to work with—whether it’s a performer, a business colleague or a family member—make sure you both agree on how you want to communicate or work through points of disagreement.
Consistency is crucial for building a recurring magic show, especially in the first year. The Olsons hold shows every Monday and rarely cancel. Even monthly shows should happen at the same time (for example, on the third Tuesday of each month). It should be something that regular patrons can rely on, something that they can look forward to, something that becomes a part of their lives.
At Wizardz, the split between magicians and laypeople is roughly 50/50, and Erick makes sure to welcome every person who comes, no matter how familiar they are with magic. “We try to make every new person feel like they’ve been there before,” Erick explains. “Our goal is to make everybody feel that they’ve been part of [the local magic community] for a long time even though it’s their first time at Wizardz.”
Wizardz does well on this front. “It’s really intimate,” says Heather, a California resident who was in Florida on vacation when she attended the May 28th show. “It’s like a throwback to vaudeville in a town full of franchises, overstimulation and commercialism. I loved the ‘insider’ feel of the show; it was like I was part of an exclusive underground club!” Rachel, another tourist from California who also attended the May 28th show, agreed. “Everyone is so welcoming, and it’s a show for everyone—young and old!”
The heart of Wizardz, however, is its core group of regulars who come not only to see magic, but also to catch up with others in the community. “I’ve met, and become friends with, several magicians via Wizardz,” says Robert Benedict, a dedicated magic hobbyist who does a few paid shows a year and has attended almost every Wizardz performance. “Wizardz is a means of keeping in touch with friends—magician or otherwise—with whom I enjoy a common interest.”
But regardless of the mix of your patrons, the important thing is to welcome them and talk to them, not only to make them feel welcome, but to get their feedback so you can continuously provide a show that exceeds their expectations.
Finding a venue that is willing to host a show on the same day each week or month for at least a year is crucial. When looking for the right space, it’s important to consider how it fits into your budget and if it’s in a safe and easy to find area.
In their initial search for space, Erick and Kim made sure to frame their show as something in the Seralago’s interest. “When I pitched my idea to the General Manager [of the Seralago], he said, ‘What is this going to cost me?’”, Erick recounts. “I said it wasn’t going to cost him anything, and he said, ‘Oh, can you start next week?’”
The Olsons’ relationship with the hotel continues to this day, with the Seralago benefiting from an influx of people buying food and drinks, and the Olsons benefiting from having a space that takes little time to set up and also offers on-site storage for the show’s set up materials.
“I learned a lot about marketing. It’s not just open the doors and people will come,” Erick says. “My biggest tip would be to Google what to do in the area your venue is in and see what comes up,” Erick says. “Then make sure your venue is listed on every single thing there is to do. 90% of it is free.” And while specific strategies vary, both Kim and Erick also agree that social media is important in getting people to come to a show. “We’ve had good luck with Facebook ads,” Kim says. These ads are useful because you can target people in your area who might have ‘Liked’ pages that relate to magic.
Equally important to having consistent shows is having a rotating cast of performers. Erick initially wanted to perform each week, but soon realized he needed to take a different approach. “I was getting locals coming back every week,” he explains, “and I didn’t have enough new material for them. Nobody does, really.”
Erick and Kim solved this problem by inviting other magicians to perform, which brought enough variety to the show that people kept coming back. “You should at least have some different acts that locally can rotate so it can be fresh as often as possible,” Erick says. “That keeps your base coming back instead of saying ‘Oh, I’ve seen that guy before.’” The expectation of different acts and performers has been a boon for Wizardz. As Erick explains, regulars “know they can come back and they’re not going to see the same thing for at least six months.”
The quality of the acts is also essential, of course. “Seeing good magic makes me feel like a kid again,” long-time regular Robert explains. “I still get great joy and entertainment when I see magic performed well, and Wizardz has provided me with seeing well-performed magic via some of the top-notch performers they’ve brought in over the last nine years.”
These tips, combined with the willingness to work hard, are crucial to the success of a show. But each show in each town faces unique challenges. To help troubleshoot these challenges, the Olsons offer one-on-one consulting support to help others navigate the specific nuances, variables and challenges that inevitably arise when one builds a show from the ground-up.
The Olsons also point out that hard work is necessary but not sufficient; another requirement for a successful show is that the producers have a passion and love for the art. “We truly believe that if you are in it for the money, your chances of being sustainable are slim,” explains Kim. “If you are doing it for the love of magic and to bring a magical experience to people’s lives, you will have much success.”
And there’s no doubt the Olsons have a deep love of magic—visit the Seralago on any Monday night to see their passion and enthusiasm firsthand. And if you share their love of magic and want to build your local magic community, get in touch with the Olsons—they can help you start a show of your own.