This week, Jonah sits down with Ray Anderson to discuss putting on a show, developing a character, and keeping your material fresh. Ray has been a featured performer with the long-running variety show, Esther’s Follies, for 20+ years. By mixing parody with grand stage illusions in an intimate setting, Ray brings a unique approach to magic.
Ray’s journey into magic began like most; he received a magic kit for Christmas when he was in the third grade. Growing up, his access to magic was primarily the books in his local library as, growing up where he was in Texas, there weren’t a lot of magicians around to learn from. The idea that he could be a professional magician didn’t even cross his mind until he saw Mark Wilson performing on television.
From an early age, he knew that he wanted to be a magician. There was no fallback plan or even the idea that he could fail. Throughout his early years, Ray performed closeup magic in restaurants and stand up material for kids shows. Eventually, he moved into the corporate world which gave him the chance to perform the grand stage illusions he wanted to.
Ray came across Esther’s Follies while pursuing his BFA in Theatre at the University of Texas. His friend, Mario Lorenz, was the variety performer in Esther’s, and invited Ray out to come see the show. Immediately, Ray knew he wanted to be apart of the show and Mario invited him to join.
So what exactly is Esther’s Follies?
Esther’s is a variety show that has been running in Austin, Texas for the past 40 years. Each week, the show features political satire, comedy sketches, magic and musical numbers put on by talented musicians, actors, dancers and writers. Ray explains that magic is the spine of the show and incorporates the other performers into it to create a more cohesive experience for the audience.
Putting on a Show
Putting on a show like Esther’s requires a team of dedicated individuals. Every Sunday, the team sits down to pitch ideas, discuss current events, and start the bare bones structure of that week’s show. On Monday, a group of five core writers sit down to decide which ideas are worth pursuing and begin to write the show. Tuesday they rehearse and choreograph the show. Wednesday they polish everything off. Thursday, just before the show, they rehearse. Friday, they take what they learned from the previous show and add another layer of polish.
And then they do it all over again.
But the effort is worth it as the show is often sold out and constantly sees returning audience members. Esther’s also does very little if any advertising, relying on word of mouth to continue forward. It is a happening place in Austin, and if you know about it, you know about it.
Keeping it Fresh
How do you keep a show running for 40 years? According to Ray, it’s about keeping up to date with and noticing the trends. Thankfully, the very nature of Esther’s material makes it easy for them to adapt to what will entertain their audience. However, Ray explains that the magic still needs to be on point and developing a strong magic act can take time, but you have to be willing to let go of old tricks.
In terms of content, Ray explains that you need to be willing to let go of old jokes and material that don’t get the same reactions they use to. While you may get a chuckle still with a joke you’ve been telling for years, you could probably write stronger, current material.
What do you like about current magic? What do you dislike?
Ray likes that people, especially the younger generation, are doing and trying more stand up type magic.
In terms of what he dislikes, Ray feels that magic could still be little more open to change and welcoming in different views.
Take Home Point
Jonah loves the amount of effort that goes into keeping the show fresh.
Ray explains that even if something isn’t polished and still near the beginning stages, you should still put it out to the audience. It can be a huge benefit for the development of the trick.