Interview with Magician Quentin Reynolds

April 2008

Quentin-Reynolds2I first met Quentin Reynolds last November, when I went to his marvellous Psychic Game Show, which he was performing for the public in Fallowfield, south Manchester. The group I was with all agreed it was one of the best evenings’ entertainment we’d had in a long time. I was struck by how kind and gentle Quentin was – and how extraordinarily generous. At least half the audience took home a really worthwhile prize and I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Quentin’s fascinating book ‘Intuition, Your Secret Power’, after he’d done an amazing trick with it. I’m very much into self-discovery and psychology and I read this volume in two sittings.

As you might expect from what I’ve already said, Quentin’s magic is understated and extremely clever. To give you an example, he read my friend’s mind over the telephone. How impressive is that? However, the show is even more than the magic. There’s storytelling, there’s psychological reflection and there’s a lot of humour.

Quentin moved to Manchester a few years ago from Dublin. Accomplished in children’s magic, cabaret magic, mentalism and now close-up, Quentin performs at private parties, at corporate events and on stage everywhere from Las Vegas to Fallowfield.

Knowing he would have valuable advice for new magicians, I interviewed Quentin for WeLoveMagic at a café in Manchester one April morning.

Georgie:  Thank you for being interviewed, Quentin. I know you’re busy and it’s very kind of you to fit this in. Please tell us a bit about how you got started in magic and what advice you’d give to people starting out now.

Quentin:  Well, I’ve been a professional magician for over twenty-five years; I’ve never had a proper job. I started off when I was still at school, doing shows. I intended to become a schoolteacher but then I discovered from my careers advisor that I was earning more money in my spare time as a student, doing magic, than I would as a teacher.

I first saw magic when I was six – Albert LeBas, the top Irish magician at the time. Then I had the usual magic sets and I came across a magic shop in England that sold by mail order and, well, here I am.

For somebody starting off in magic, the question they need to ask themselves is what they want from magic.

Magicians can be divided into three sections. There are professional magicians, people who earn money from magic, whether it be full time or part time; there are amateur magicians, people who are keen to learn, who love magic, who work at their magic and develop new ideas and new tricks; and there are hobbyists, who just like to buy a few tricks to show their friends but maybe don’t have time to work at their performance.

If somebody’s thinking of going into magic, they should try to go in at the amateur level, doing magic for the love of it. Don’t just go to a magic shop and buy a few tricks and think you’re a magician because you’re not, you’re just somebody who owns a few tricks.

I think it’s nice to develop a performance piece of at least two or three tricks. It shouldn’t be difficult to do. When we started the Junior Magicians’ Club in Dublin, when I was the president of the magic society there, I urged all the young magicians to learn two or three tricks that could be done with a pack of cards or maybe a few coins, that would not be difficult to do, so if they didn’t do it for a few months they wouldn’t have to go and relearn it. And they’d always have a party piece that they could perform for the rest of their lives.

Georgie:  So you think cards and coins are a good place to start?

Quentin:  They’re a great place to start because they’re cheap and there’s a huge array of effects you can do with them.

Georgie:  What about joining a magic society, is that a useful thing to do?

Quentin:  Well, there are advantages and disadvantages. The greatest advantages are that you get to mix socially with other magicians and you get to see visiting lecturers, some of whom are extremely good.

One of the disadvantages is that many of the members of magic clubs are hobbyists who think they’re professional and they will come and give you advice but they’re not speaking from experience, they’re speaking from opinion. You have to be very careful you don’t pick up other people’s bad habits.

Another disadvantage is that a lot of these hobbyists are more interested in gathering secrets of how tricks are done, rather than performing them.

Georgie:  Did you start with cards and coins?

Quentin:  When I started, it never dawned on me to do close-up shows, in the way people do now. I tended to get people sitting around and I would stand up and they’d watch me doing a show. I did my first paid show at the age of 14, for the local Ladies’ Club’s Hallowe’en party. And then a couple of other people heard about that show and booked me for their Christmas parties and I thought, “Oh, there’s money in this”.

I’ve never done an act. An act would be maybe a 12-minute spot that you might do at a magic convention or a variety show. I’ve hardly ever done a show that lasted less than 40 minutes. I’m not very good at doing an act. I’m good at doing a show. It’s a different discipline.

But, funnily enough, recently I’ve started doing a lot of close-up magic professionally. Most of my shows in Ireland were children’s shows. I learnt Punch & Judy and ventriloquism as well… Since I moved to Manchester, a lot of close-up work has come my way and so I’ve really had to look at that seriously. It’s very different – but it’s still theatre, it still needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. You still need to find hooks to engage the audience: you’re not just going off and doing tricks, you’re giving a performance. I’ve been doing that now for about a year and I still don’t feel I’ve fully got the structure right. I’m nearly there and I’m constantly working on that.

Georgie:  You’re one of the most eclectic magicians I’ve come across. You do children’s shows, you do mentalism, you do close-up, you do magical storytelling. I really enjoyed that story about Houdini that you told at the Psychic Game Show.

Quentin:  Oh yes, the final Houdini séance. That’s actually a true story. Yes, if I’m doing a full evening show – like the Psychic Game Show – I like to make it a mix of fun and mystery. I like to give people a look at the more serious side but do it in a lighthearted, non-threatening way. I don’t want to be interfering with anybody’s belief system. If somebody comes to my show and they believe in the psychic, they won’t find anything against their beliefs in my show. Equally, if somebody is a hardened sceptic and thinks the whole thing is the greatest load of waffle ever, I don’t think they’d find a single thing in my show to object to.

Georgie:  I agree with that. It’s a fantastic show. Are you going to be doing it again?

Quentin:  I do it quite a lot at private parties and I hope to do it at a public venue again soon.

Georgie:  Please let me know when you do because a) I’d love to come to it and b) I’m sure We Love Magic readers would too.

Now, what can you tell us about creating a persona? Is it important to develop a magician character that you become when you perform magic?

Quentin:  Well, it’s quite hard when you’re starting out and wanting to practise on your friends. It’s more difficult with your friends because they know you. So don’t worry about adopting a persona at the beginning, just concentrate on the techniques.

Later on, one of the main things is, when you approach an audience, if you can get them to laugh. It’s not about fooling them, it’s about entertaining them and if they’re laughing they’ll be more interested in what’s going on because they know it’s going to be fun. Get people to relax, get people to laugh, let them know it’s not going to be threatening. Don’t make fools of them, don’t make it look like “I’m superior to you” because that will only put people against you. They may laugh but they won’t like you and they probably won’t ever want to see another magician again.

I remember some years ago at a magicians’ conference sitting in the hotel lobby and this magician was going around. He had some sponge balls, which is quite a common trick, but the finish of the trick was that a sponge version of male genitalia appeared in the spectator’s hands. Now, to me, the only place that you can use that is at a hen party. But this guy was going up to different women and performing this trick and he approached the hotel manageress. She had obviously seen him before and she said, “Am I going to be humiliated?”. That guy wasn’t doing himself – or any other magician – any favours.

Georgie:  Absolutely, he’ll just put people off magic.

Quentin:  Everyone will have their guard up and it just won’t be fun.

Quentin-Reynolds3Apart from making people laugh, another way to engage an audience is to ask them questions. For example, if you’re going to do a gambling trick, start off by asking, “Have you ever been to Vegas?”.

Also, if you look in any way unusual – particularly tall, overweight, a bit nerdy – address that straight away. Otherwise, the audience will be thinking about that while they’re watching you. If you let them know with your opening, joking remarks that you’re aware that you look a bit nerdy (let’s say), they’ll accept you and stop thinking about it. A bit of self-deprecation also helps the audience to relax.

It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you look like and go with a persona that reflects that. If you’re short and round – and there’s nothing wrong with that – don’t present yourself as a tall, suave magician because you won’t be able to carry it off.

But, as I say, at the very beginning, you’ll have enough to worry about without thinking about a persona. Your audiences will help you to develop a character over the months and years, by the ways they react and the things they say to you.

If you know somebody in the group, you could ask him or her for feedback afterwards, ask what people were saying about you and your performance. If the comments are terrible, you need to know. Take negative feedback into account but don’t take it too personally, don’t be disheartened. No matter how wonderful you are, there will always be people who don’t like you.

Georgie:  Do you think, then, for somebody who is very shy and insecure, it can be useful to have a very strong, fixed persona, a character to hide behind, so that performing magic is like acting?

Quentin:  It’s better if your persona can be an extension of yourself. And not everybody is a dynamic, outgoing, extrovert performer. Some of the best performers have been very introverted.

Many people get into magic because they have some kind of inferiority complex. For me, I was no good at sports at school, I can’t sing, I can’t dance… Magic was something I could be good at.

Also, a lot of people get into magic because they feel they don’t quite fit in socially. The danger is then, if they buy some self-working trick and they can start fooling people, that they will feel they are superior. It’s the trick that’s fooling people and not the man doing the trick – it’s easy to forget that. That’s why it’s important to develop your personality and make that more interesting than the tricks.

Georgie:  That’s salutary advice. As people are developing their personas, then, what should they do in terms of getting gigs?

Quentin:  A great way to start off and to get some experience is the family restaurant. Go in and do a couple of hours on Sunday lunchtime or Saturday lunchtime.

Georgie:  Volunteer, you mean?

Quentin:  Yes, volunteer. Go in and have a chat with the manager or owner of the restaurant and explain the benefits of having a magician working there – build up loyal clientele, it’s something a bit different, and so on. You have to be good enough, of course, and, yes, you should do it free, I’d suggest, the first time you go in. You may not make much money out of it at all but it’s great experience.

If it’s a family restaurant and it’s Sunday lunchtime, you’ll have adults and children. The adults will watch through the eyes of their children. Children can be less inhibiting than adults and a good way in for new magicians, even those who don’t want specifically to be children’s entertainers.

You’ll also learn the etiquette of performing at table, you’ll learn how to deal with the waiting staff – and it’s a great way to try out new routines because some of those people will come back and you’ll need to have some new material. They’re easy people to try things out on because they already think you’re good, having seen you before.

In a family restaurant, you should always carry a few balloons with you. It’s not difficult to learn basic balloon modelling. I can only make five animals and they all look like dogs, but the children enjoy it.

The parents will be delighted if you come and introduce yourself when they arrive and say something like, “Hello, I’m the magician and I’ll be happy to come and show you some magic when you’ve finished your meal,” and then you say to the children, “And if I see clean plates, I’ll give you each a balloon animal”.

Take some of your business cards as well because you might get some bookings out of your little table performance.

I’d also suggest getting a couple of photographs of yourself up on the walls of the restaurant, with the times and dates you’re appearing there. You could even print up yourself some little table-tent cards to put on each table, which will be there during the week, saying “On Sunday lunchtime we have Mr Marvo, the great magician, who will entertain you at your table, compliments of the management,” to let them know that there’s no charge for you being there.

If it’s a busy restaurant with a bar area, you can entertain people at the bar while they’re waiting for their tables. It’ll keep them happy and involved, pass the time quickly and stop them from going elsewhere.

Georgie:  You’re red-hot at marketing! Loads of fantastic ideas. Marketing is so important, isn’t it? Just being an amazing magician isn’t enough. If nobody knows you’re there, you won’t have a career. Have you got any other advice for people about how to get started and get known?

Quentin:  Well, the first step for beginners is to get experience in front of audiences. Another thing you might like to do is, if there’s some charity event in the local shopping centre, you could offer your services there for a few hours. People will come and watch you and maybe make a donation to the charity. You won’t get paid for doing it but it’s a way of raising your profile – you can get into the newspapers or be interviewed on the radio. And your newspaper cuttings you can keep and send to bookers.

Georgie:  All this is very inspiring. It makes me want to rush out and do it now! There’s certainly a lot to think about.

Quentin:  Don’t worry if you can’t do everything all at once. Have faith in what you’re doing and don’t be put off if you’re ridiculed by your friends the first time you try showing them magic. One of the best sleight-of-hand workers I know I met when I was 16. He showed me some tricks that were awful, I mean he was very bad at doing them. He told me he wanted to become a professional magician and I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing. But he dedicated himself to magic and practised for five hours every day and now he is exceptionally skilled and works full time as a magician. Some people pick it up quickly and others take months to master one move but there’s no skill that can’t be learnt. Magical technique is a skill. Transforming it into theatre is more of an art. That’s an extra layer that can also be learnt but perhaps not so easily.

So, if you want to succeed in magic, polish your tricks, show them to your friends, then find somewhere where you can perform for people you don’t know. You’ll probably be very nervous the first few times. If you have a 15-minute performance piece, you may get through it in five minutes the very first time you do it because you’ll be talking so quickly because of nerves. That’s OK. Don’t worry about it. It’s part of the learning experience. Act confident and learn from any mistakes you make. Next time, it’ll be better and your confidence will start to grow in leaps and bounds. Just enjoy it.