A couple weeks ago we were hired to do a dueling piano show in front of a convention of 2,000 people in Washington DC. Sharing the stage with us was a Comedy Magician by the name of Dennis Watkins, who also served as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening. The event planners wanted us to alternate every 30 minutes between the magic show and the dueling piano show. Luckily for them and the audience, no one asked my opinion about how well this would work, because I would have told them it was doomed to failure. I thought for sure that breaking up both of our shows and bouncing back and forth between acts was a formula for audience ADD, and that we would both have to work twice as hard to regain the audience after each switchover. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We began the show with dueling pianos. It was a slow start as everyone was moving to their tables and wondering what type of fish would be served. But by the end of the first 30 minutes, we had at least grabbed their attention with the music and a bit of interaction. Then the Comedy Magician took the stage, and seamlessly built upon the rapport that we had created with the audience. Aside from matching and exceeding our energy level, he forced the audience to focus visually on the stage as he began his magic show.
When we came back on stage, we found an audience that was more focused and engaged. We built upon that energy, and were able to get even more crowd interaction than we had our first set. And so it went throughout the night. Each time one of us handed over the show to the other, we had taken the audience to an even higher level of engagement. We each also created excitement for the other act as we would finish by introducing the each other back onto the stage with a great deal of fanfare. Each subsequent set was performed with a higher level of energy than the one before, so that by the end of the show we all received an enthusiastic ovation from a crowd that had started the night as mildly curious, or slightly skeptical (I’m not sure which).
Why did it work so well? First, I think that the both of our inherent show philosophies were identical: actively engage the crowd with interaction, comedy and energy. Neither of us would settle for being background noise. And the second reason it worked was that both of us were willing to not only support the other act but more importantly, build upon it. Finally, between the magic and the music and the comedy, we complimented the senses of sight and sound. There was no sense of competition between the dueling piano show and the comedy magician, only support because we all knew we were on the same team.
At the end of the event, the chief event planner gathered the Dennis, the magician, and my dueling partner and I together and enthused that it was the best event she’s ever done for this client, and it was because of the entertainment.
Dennis Watkin’s website: http://www.denniswatkins.net/