My Switch to Virtual Programming

I started 2020 with a great year. Jan & February were better than they had been in years. When The WHO classified the COVID-19 health crisis a “Global Pandemic,” my industry was one of the very first to be affected. In just 3 days, an entire full calendar of performances were gone. Who knew I’d be weathering the storm by completely switching my business to a Virtual Programming model?!

I’m at a point where I’m now regularly performing AWESOME virtual programming, but the beginning of the switch didn’t go smoothly. I was riddled with anxiety and fear, mostly wondering how I was going to pay my bills, taxes and debts. When most of your income comes from large gatherings of people, you become pretty freaked out when the government bans large gatherings of people.

Then a university Student Affairs Professional and regular client of mine asked me if I could do a virtual show. That changed everything. I detailed the process of converting my college magic show to a virtual performance in an article I wrote for the National Association for Campus Activities “NACA Blog” in an article called “Lessons Learned in Adapting to Virtual Programming.”

Fortunately, I soon found a way to turn the situation into an opportunity. Deanna Wagner, a forward-thinking student affairs professional at Capital University (OH), asked me to consider doing a “virtual” magic show via their campus-wide Zoom account. The idea made my heart race, and that made me love it.   

As my agent frantically fielded calls to cancel and reschedule shows, I wondered, “Is this something people would want?” “What would this look like?” We knew higher education institutions were used to offering online content, both pre-recorded and interactive, so the infrastructure was already there. And students are already used to the concept. I quickly distributed an email offering a virtual magic show. Online magic shows are not new, as there are many well-known magicians on YouTube. But not much of it happens in real time with live chat. That was the part I needed to figure out.

Lessons Learned in Virtual Programming,” NACA Blog, 3/23/20

Now, nearly a month later, the result of this has been an amazing journey. Long nights of learning the latest in livestreaming technology, phone calls with friends, test videos with colleagues, and sharing the knowledge with other entertainers. I’m normally really protective with my business practices when it comes to other entertainers, but the crisis we’re in calls for a spirit of camaraderie. No one has seen anything like this before and we’re all scrambling just to keep our heads above water. I want my fellow entertainers to keep performing and keep putting food on the table for their families. I’ve been happy to answer the (literally) daily calls I’ve been getting asking “what the *** do I do?” I’m sharing knowledge that I’ve compiled over something like 14 days. Hardly expert status.

One of the things I feel like I’m learning the most about is how to present a show for a livestream audience. Despite all the technology, platforms, cameras, Internet speeds, adapters, dongles and cables, there’s still a show to do. The content is really important. And I quickly figured out the content can’t be the same as my stage show. I talked about that in detail on a live-remote with popular Internet hero Brian Brushwood on his Scam Nation (formerly Scam School) show:

I’m now to the point where I’m predicting I’ll be doing all of my shows virtually for at least another 4 months. I’m fine with it, because every week the livestream show gets better and better. The live chat interaction is absolutely amazing to watch and and I’m getting really great feedback about the show! Student Activities groups are happy, my agent is happy, the audiences are happy, and I’m getting paid and staying home. I miss live audiences, but I’m happy. Here’s something someone recently said about the livestream:

A recent review of Michael's Virtual Programming

Here is a video of me talking about the Virtual Program!