Article 4: Expert at the Lounge Table
Expert at the Lounge Table
Jan Rose - Round Table Member Since 2018
Periodically, Jan Rose will be sitting “close-up and personal” with one of the tablesidemagicians from the Chicago Magic Lounge. You’ll learn their strategies for success doing tableside magic and maybe some performance surprises as well. This month, she interviews Benjamin Barnes, professional magician and Director of Entertainment at The Chicago Magic Lounge.
Interview with Benjamin Barnes
JAN ROSE: I’m here at the Chicago Magic Lounge, interviewing Benjamin Barnes, a Chicago close-up magician and the Lounge’s Director of Entertainment. Ben, thank you so much for chatting with me! How many years have you been a professional magician?
BEN BARNES: About eight. My focus has been close-up magic, mostly in a strolling format at corporate events.
JAN ROSE: Does your experience of performing table-side magic at the Chicago Magic Lounge differ from when you work at corporate events, a private party, or a restaurant?
BEN BARNES: Yes. The biggest difference is that at the Lounge, the guests enter wanting and expecting to experience magic, so I don’t have to hard sell them. They want to see magic, from the moment they walk in the secret door. It’s my job to provide it. At any other venue, I need to use any number of strategies to ingratiate myself with a group before I begin to perform. But here —well, this is a very welcoming and much easier performing environment.
JAN ROSE: What’s your favorite close-up trick to perform here?
BEN BARNES: My favorite trick to perform is one that I made up. It doesn’t have a name. Actually, it happened the first time by accident and then I spent a long time trying to figure out how it happened. Once I figured that out, I do it all the time now.
JAN ROSE: Great, I’d like to see it! Why do you think this particular routine works so well at the lounge? Describe the orchestration of the routine. What do you think makes it a hit?
BEN BARNES: Everyone at the table gets to participate. I tell them, at the beginning, what is about to take place. However, the premise seems so impossible that it really makes them pay attention, because they just can’t believe the claim I’m making. So when the effect happens, it’s really an amazing moment! And everyone, on some level, has directly participated in it!
JAN ROSE: Now you find yourself in a position where you are the Entertainment Director. You are seeking out other magicians so you can hire them to work at the Chicago Magic Lounge and place them in the Performance Bar, the Blackstone Cabaret, or the 654 Club. For table performers specifically, what are you looking for? In your opinion, what traits make a good table-side magician?
BEN BARNES: The number-one thing I look for is someone who can relate to other people in a way that is friendly, professional, and fun. That’s much more important than any magic trick or any sleight-of-hand technique. If you are an entertaining and sincere person and you communicate genuinely with our customers, presenting yourself well — that’s number one by me! Of course, along with that, you obviously need skill as a magician. But when I think of magic skills, I don’t think of skills in the way most magicians might. Magicians, as we know, are in love with moves and secrets and techniques. As far as our audiences are concerned, which are 99 percent laypeople, you can do very simple magic and appeal to our guests!
JAN ROSE: What process do you use to transition from your daytime responsibilities as Entertainment Director to a table-side magician? From personal experience, because I’ve had the opportunity to work with you, I see that transition physically.You separate from us for a while and then all of a sudden you appear in your suit, ready to go. What happens mentally as you leave the contracts, phone work, and problem solving behind?
BEN BARNES: It’s a big transition. All the day-to-day responsibilities that go into making sure we have the right performers and the right shows with the right content — I just have to forget about that when I’m performing. Truthfully, it’s easy, because when I walk up to that table of people who are coming here for the first time, and they’re excited — that enthusiasm, curiosity, and anticipation is contagious! I absorb that excitement and become excited myself. I not only want to share everything I can with them in terms of my magic performance, but I also want to share information about our venue. They always have lots of questions and are thrilled to be here. And you know what? So am I!
JAN ROSE: Absolutely! At most events where you’re performing magic, if you’re doing a private party, restaurant work, or a special event, you’re probably the only magician there. But at the Lounge, there’s a lot going on. There are servers running about, serving food and drinks. Sometimes people get up and give themselves a tour or they’re on their way to the restrooms. And, of course, there are several other magicians performing table-side magic, too. Do you have a certain strategy or approach that considers the dynamics of the room? How do you handle that kind of activity level?
BEN BARNES: Thursday through Saturday are our busiest days. The room is almost always sold out with 115 guests packing the place. As you know, our Magic Host does a lot of that thinking for us. She assigns us to areas where there is not another magician performing. So generally I don’t have to be concerned about working a table where a magician has just finished, or performing in another magician’s “space.” What I pay attention to most is when another magician in the room gets really strong reactions that can’t be ignored. I am mindful of who that is and how close the action is to me. One of the nice things about our working format at the Lounge is that we can set each other up with our audiences. So if there’s a really big reaction somewhere and my spectators notice it, I’ll point out who that magician is and I’ll say “That’s Jan Rose. She’s incredible and she’ll be at your table soon.” I encourage our team of magicians to build each other up. It creates a synergistic effect, and all the magicians and the guests benefit from it.
JAN ROSE: Yes, we do! That’s a great explanation of the magicians’ unified energy!Now, what’s the craziest thing that has ever happened to you here? Is there something worth sharing with our readers that they could learn from?
BEN BARNES: Yes! On a fairly regular basis, we host women who have come here to attend a bachelorette party. Bachelorettes are probably the rowdiest people we host, aside from people who are obviously intoxicated. But bachelorettes are not only rowdy, they also tend to be provocative in how they speak and relate to me as a performer. I think this point is an interesting thing to bring up now, because it’s important for magicians to consider. Just how far do you go with those people in terms of responding to their outrageous behavior?
JAN ROSE: It sounds like you were put in a tough situation.
BEN BARNES: Well, there was this bachelorette party here once, and just to be completely honest about it, the bride-to-be was very sexual in her humor and in the way she related to me. It was a joke, of course. And the entire time, I knew that it was a joke. But I also had to be mindful of my response to it. So, as magicians working in that “nightclub atmosphere,” we have to remain appropriate and professional but we also have to acknowledge that these people are here to have a good time. I realized that I was performing two acts at her table — a magic act and a verbal balancing act — as the comments and innuendos flew.
JAN ROSE: Not an easy line to walk.
BEN BARNES: So true. As a matter of fact, tonight I avoided what could have been a “situation.” This man’s wife complimented me with a little lilt in her voice, saying, “I love your suit.” I looked at her and said, “You have lovely jewelry and I like your blouse.” Then her husband jokingly — I think he was joking — said, “Hey, that’s my wife!” I sensed that the conversation was at a tipping point. He appeared to be joking, but a man’s attitude can change quickly, especially when his wife is paying attention to another man. So I deflated the tension by saying, “I know, I know. And she’s way out of my league. You’re a lucky man.” That did the trick. We all had a big laugh.
JAN ROSE: Situation averted! Wow, magic in the real world! You’ve been doing close-up magic at private parties and events for a long time in Chicago. When you’re performing for a table, do you encourage others sitting nearby to join in? Do you like performing to larger groups or do you prefer working for couples and four-tops?
BEN BARNES: I prefer to do smaller groups, but I will do larger groups, especially when the hour ticks down. It’s very important that each group experiences more than one table-side magician. So if there’s a table in close proximity to where I’m doing magic, and I can see folks nearby bending over backwards to see me, I’ll adjust by resituating myself slightly so everyone can see and I incorporate them into the performance. A big part of how I prefer to do close-up magic is to really build a sense of intimacy; however, it’s harder to do that with a large group of people.
JAN ROSE: Benjamin, thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into what goes on in your mind after the secret door opens and the guests pour into The Chicago Magic Lounge! I know our readers will find it fascinating. Thank you!
BEN BARNES: Thank you, Jan!