Killing the Mystery?

Participant amazingly accurate with psychometry exercise

Participant amazingly accurate with psychometry exercise

A little over a week ago, I made the pilgrimage to Tamworth to join in at the monthly ‘Evening of Mystery’ curated by Mssrs. Anthony Black and Christopher Gould. This evening that takes place at a small bar in Tamworth has been host to some exciting, unusual and high quality acts, so I thought it was time to lower the bar!
Seriously, though, what makes this evening almost unique in the UK, is that it is night dedicated to magic in all it’s forms. This particular evening of mystery featured mentalism, comedy/ bizarre magic and even some classic stage illusion and do you know what? The audience loved it.
I realise that there are a few other nights like this one, I know that Morgan and West run an evening in Oxford, however, it is an uphill struggle despite the favour it garners with an audience.
Why then? If there is an appetite, has this corner of variety not been exploited? Well, it has- in a way- by the same folk who exploit musicians at local gigs. Venues. Not all venues and those who run them follow this model, I myself, worked for years for the Mean Fiddler organisation in Harlesden and Clapham and have worked small independent and brewery-tied pubs and in the majority of those venues musicians and performers got paid. Sometimes it wasn’t a lot and sometimes it was payment in kind, a rider, some food and the promise of some filthy Luca if the word spread and the night became popular. But there is a sub-set of publicans, promoters and event organisers who like to get their artists for free and to this I take exception. I’m not talking about the ‘you rub my back’ scenarios, nor charity, because these models offer different rewards. I talk on the fairly common development where a owner or promoter of a venue operates what musicians call a ‘pay to play’ system. The received wisdom here is that you should be thankful for the exposure, that it is free publicity and a stepping stone to other, greater opportunities.
But the carrot of opportunity is a sweet and alluring vegetable, it sways above our heads wafting beta-carotene goodness and we admire its healthy glow.
I stopped doing these gigs as an actor years ago, because they almost never led on to anything. I turned down an ‘opportunity’ a while back to perform for free even though ‘who knew where this might go, we’re looking ahead’. Chris and Anthony work hard and get nothing in return, they rely on the goodwill of their peers and we support them because a) we stick together b) we recognise the importance of keeping profile on the mystery arts and c) there’s a curry house in Tamworth that needs our patronage. Yes, it’s a good place to try out new untested material, yes, it’s good to perform something to keep you metaphorically on your toes, and yes, we enjoy it. Fundamentally, it’s a fantastic night. However, wouldn’t it be nicer if the venue stepped up and ran a tab/ provided food for performers who have travelled in some cases many miles to be there?

One of the curious conundrums of modern living that I have found to be true across the globe is that if you get something for nothing, you simply don’t value it however, giving it a value results in people drawing an alternative conclusion. I directed a play once and didn’t charge for entrance and guess what, half-full houses and folk reserving tickets and not bothering to turn up. The following year, I directed another play but this time charged significantly for tickets -above what would be deemed as reasonable- and hey presto! With some solid advertising, we sold out.
So, if the venue doesn’t care, doesn’t really promote the event, doesn’t talk it up, tweet, push or share it out, is it any wonder that the audience becomes indifferent or occasional?

There was a guy in the audience last week, who was incredible, he was stunned at every turn, he was a vocal chap who voiced expletives, wows! and incredulous ‘what!’s.
I saw him after the bar had closed and he was talking animatedly to his partner and this was an hour after the last performer. He was stating how he’d be back for the next one. He was great. A walking advert for a great evening and I thought to myself, ‘I bet he’d pay a fiver to come and see the next show’ and I reckon he would, and he’d bring some friends.
Anthony and Chris have got something special happening in Tamworth, It’s the first Thursday of the month. I suggest you see this why you can, it’s a ‘happening’ and it deserves your support and attention. If you do go, step up to the bar and make some noise about how much fun it is and how can this survive. Because it won’t you know, unless people start to value it.

“Life without industry is guilt; industry without art is brutality.”

–John Rushkin