It’s story time. I recently told this story to someone and I thought it would be appropriate to share it on this blog too.
This happened roughly 3 to 4 years ago, and it is a 100% true story that happened to me.
It was summer. I was sitting in the outdoors seating area of a restaurant enjoying lunch with a friend. It was sunny and nice out, and I had the day off. The food came and we started eating. As we are about halfway through our meal, I hear someone calling my name. “Allan! Allan! Allan Hagen!”
I look around and I spot a man standing on the sidewalk, shouting across a couple of tables in my direction. There is a fence surrounding the restaurant area and instead of discreetly walking into the area and approaching me, he tries to get my attention from afar. I spot the man and I give him a polite wave and a smile and I turn back to my friend, because we were in the middle of a conversation. The man keeps trying to get my attention and when I look back at him he waves for me to come over to him. I tell my friend “I guess it has to be important. I’m so sorry, I’ll be back in 30 seconds, I just have to find out what’s going on.”
I excuse myself, get up, walk by some tables over to the fence and I approach the man that tried to get my attention. I said “Hi, how are you?” and he says “I’m fine. My family is around the corner, and you have to come show them some magic!”
Now, clearly this man had seen me perform before. In fact I recognize him. I know he’s been at a show, or seen me do a private gig, or something along those lines. I’ll leave it vague as to not identify him further - but suffice to say that I know exactly where and how he’d seen me perform and that’s how he knew who I am and what I do.
I say “Oh, I’m sorry but it’s my day off and I’m having lunch! Thanks for asking though, I have to get back to my friend now.”
Of course this ties in to what I talked about in my previous blog post. I don’t perform outside of formal shows.
As I am about to walk back to my table, the man says “No, wait! Come on… My family hasn’t seen you perform before! You have to do something! Please.”
I say “No, I don’t have to do anything. It’s my day off. I’m sorry but I don’t perform outside of shows.”
The man goes “Come on…Don’t be like that. Just do something quick and simple. Just come with me, they’re right around the corner!”
It goes back and forth like this for another minute or so. He keeps insisting, making the same arguments. His family haven’t seen me before. He keeps telling me, I don’t have to do anything big, just something quick and simple!
I eventually reach the conclusion that he just doesn’t get it and probably never will. So I decide to play a little thought experiment. I ask him; “So let me get this straight. If you saw a musician that you recognize because you’ve been to a gig they played.. You see this musician eating lunch, engaged in conversation and food with a friend. Would you ask this musician to leave their friend, interrupt his conversation, leave his lunch to get cold, to come play a couple of songs for your family, for free, on his day off?”
He thinks for a few seconds. Almost looks offended. Then he says “No, of course not, that would be rude. But it’s different with you!”
I ask “How is it different?”
He doesn’t answer. I ask again. “How is it different? Why is it okay to ask me, but not the musician version of me?”
He says “I don’t know it’s different… you can do magic anywhere.”
I look at him and ask “How do you know that? Can’t you just ask the musician to play something quick and simple? Just a quick and simple song. Surely he can play music anywhere.”
He doesn’t say anything. Maybe he gets it now.
From my mannerisms, the way I talked to him, and the look I gave him I made it abundantly clear that he crossed a line and that what he was asking for was absolutely ridiculous. I get it if I was sitting shuffling cards in a bar, all alone, by myself. That’s practically asking for it. But in this situation, to demand that someone leaves their lunch and company, to do their craft, their job, their living for free, just because you want them to, is ridiculous.
When I got back to my friend I made sure to say “Unbelievable” just loud enough for the man on the street to hear it.
In retrospect, years later, I still think it’s ridiculous. He was definitely out of line and he shouldn’t have kept persisting after I said no initially. That’s just disrespectful. But really, I think it’s largely our fault as magicians, too. I think street magic/TV magic has a lot to do with it. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I absolutely love some of those shows. It’s fantastic entertainment and it’s so much fun to see a little magic brought into peoples’ lives in everyday settings.
But unfortunately it perpetuates this idea that magic is an impromptu thing that can be done anywhere, anytime. And in a way it can, but I don’t think it should. I choose not to perform outside formal shows for reasons stated previously, and it becomes a problem when people neither understand nor respect that choice. Luckily it’s the only time I’ve experienced that someone is that out of line and that disrespectful.
I’ve heard people express their disappointment that I don’t want to perform for them at their request several times. I’ve heard anything from “That’s disappointing” to accusations that I think I’m too good to perform for them. I’ve heard it all. And what frustrates me more than anything is that they don’t understand that I’m doing my for my audience.
I’m doing it to ensure that when I do perform, I have control of my surroundings so that I can make sure the audience can focus and really get immersed in the magic.
As always, comments below are highly encouraged. Do you have a similar story? Another story worth sharing? Please do. I'm always eager to hear from my readers.
Thanks for reading.