Jonah is joined by Jon Armstrong where they share an honest discussion on the difficulty of being a performer in 2020, learning how to embrace virtual shows, and how to plan for the eventual return to in-person performances.
Jon Armstrong is a performer, creator, and lecturer and you might recognize his name from any of his lectures, from his appearances at the Magic Castle, from Penn & Teller: Fool Us, or perhaps you recognize him for his very tiny plunger.
From Theme Parks to Parlours
Growing up in Orlando meant working in theme parks for Jon Armstrong. He fell in love with the magicians performing at Disney and at the age of 14 was brought on to be mentored under another magician and since then magic is all he’s cared about. By age 20 he was working at Disney’s Epcot and taking every job available to perform. After five years of theme parks he moved to vegas to chase his dream and arrived to find no work at all.
Starting back at the bottom it was by the grace of friends he had made along the way that he was able to perform up and down the aisles of theatres before shows would begin. A random happenstance would land his demo video on the top of the pile to be selected to fill in for a show at the Cesar’s Magical Empire’s close up room, The Secret Pagoda. Riding on the success he found in Vegas he left for LA to start all over again at the bottom just to be close to Magic Castle and build his client base.
From Cruise Ships to Virtual Shows
This year was going to be a banner year for Jon, performing on an extended contract with Disney Cruise, but the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed all those plans. With a newborn on the way and opportunities disappearing Jon is honest about how hard this year has been both for his career and his mental health.
Now, like every other magician, it’s all about the world of virtual performances and he’s learned the new skills necessary to thrive in this environment. He’s rebuilding his shows to work in the unique spaces of interactive video performances and finding new ways to deliver old tricks in a fresh light.
Planning Beyond Virtual
Beyond his advice to upgrade your computer, Jon’s advice to magicians performing and developing virtual shows is to look to the future and think about how this new arrangement might inform stage shows, when they eventually return. If you’re developing a new trick for virtual shows try to imagine how you can also develop it for stage shows and in-person performances. Having a new repertoire of tricks when you return to stage performances is the light at the end of the tunnel for Jon.
One Big Tiny Plunger
But what about that tiny plunger? Jon breaks down his experience with Penn & Teller: Fool Us, his development of the tiny plunger that has become his signature piece and how a small variation on a theme has blossomed into a major magic business venture with tiny plungers being sold around the world and requested at every show he performs.
What do you like about modern magic? What do you not like?
Jon likes how we have shown that we can be adaptable. That’s something to be proud of that we can adapt to this weirdness.
But what Jon doesn’t like is the opposite, that there are still people who are so unwilling to adapt anything into the virtual space and continue to look down on those who are adapting to grow in the virtual space.
Take home point
Really think about how you and the audience feels when performing magic. The best way to understand an audience is to understand how you feel from their reactions as well as how they’re feeling from what you’re doing.