Pleasantly Surprised

Life is full of unpleasant surprises. While this is obviously a sad thing, it does make it even more wonderful when you get the occasional pleasant one.

Back in July one of the things I was doing to prepare for the world magic championships was putting on two shows at the Melbourne Magic Festival for rehearsal purposes. Live rehearsal in front of an audience is good, and producing a couple of shows was a good way to make that happen.

Now, selling tickets to live shows can tough. Really tough. Unless you’re U2 and can fill a stadium in a few hours with a couple of tweets, getting people in to see a live ticketed show can be an incredibly challenging, time consuming, and sometimes soul destroying process.

I got back from the USA late in the day on Thursday June 28th. The shows were set for the following Tuesday and Wednesday. My brain clicked into “prepare for the festival” mode. I went online and checked the ticket sales.

Six tickets sold. Total; between the two shows. Each in a 120-seat theatre.


Oh well, I’ve done worse. Six sales at this point means we’re probably going to hit at least 20 or 30 by the day of the show. Of course, that’s split between two performances, which gives us just 10 or 15 people in each. In a 120-seat room that’s not a lot of fun.

Still, I figured that if we cluster the audience towards the front, say hi before the show and acknowledge the emptiness of the room we could at least still do a decent show. And after all, the main purpose for this was to get some more live-audience FISM rehearsal in.

Now, let me pause here and talk about online software for a second. I don’t know if you’ve ever used the SeatAdvisor ticket sales software, but it is has monstrously confusing piece-of-shit of a user interface. I care about user interfaces a lot, and it’s always frustrating to see a badly designed one in action.

Even checking ticket sales at all is an annoying process on SeatAdvisor. But sometimes, as in this case, you’re not even checking the right ones. A couple of days later I went back to check again, and both shows were showing more than half full.


Turns out that the first time I checked the system, there had been a tiny ambiguously worded menu item selected that was causing the system to just show how many tickets were sold that day. Not in total. The six tickets I’d seen were just the ones purchased that Friday.

By the night of the first show, the house was packed. Thanks to the Magic Festival’s impressive marketing, plus a remarkably good feature article in The Age (which also came as a pleasant surprise) the show was almost completely sold out. Working to a full room is a great experience, and the show only got better because of it.

And then, to top it all off, Cameron Woodhead turned up on the night and gave the show a spectacularly good review a couple of days later.

The thing that makes it all the sweeter is that I have done plenty of shows to near-empty rooms. Every experienced performer has. If you’ve worked Edinburgh or nearly any other festival, you’ve done at least a couple of shows to a mostly empty room. It’s not fun, but you learn to handle it. And you become a better performer in the process.

This time though, I instead ended up with two kick-ass shows, a great review, and a general sense of joy and well-being.

It was a far cry from “oh well, six tickets – that’ll do.”



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