“Eric Mead is a variety artist that defies categorization. He refers to himself a magician, and his performances are full of fantastic and magical happenings. But magic and mind reading are only the beginning of his interactive show where imagination is king, laughter erupts at every turn, and everything you know about the world is called into question.
What separates Eric from his contemporaries are the larger ideas he brings into his performances. Eric insists that entertainment is the most powerful tool available for effective and meaningful communication. His magic, his humor, his play with the audience are all aimed at sharing his unique point of view, and making deep emotional connections. “Magic, and the feelings of mystery and wonder it evokes, are rare and precious things. Mystery is great when used to amuse, to amaze and simply entertain. But I’m always trying to push it further, to see how magic can touch people, enlighten people, make them question their most basic assumptions, and feel something that changes them–that they will remember and talk about forever.”
Eric admits these are lofty goals for a variety artist, but his obvious passion combined with a laid-back and witty performing style are making fans all over the world. Eric’s television credits include shows for Comedy Central, MTV, and two appearances on Fox Family’s “Masters of Illusion.” Critics praised his scene stealing turn in the film “The Aristocrats” with Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, John Stewart and the Smothers Brothers. Eric is also a highly sought after keynote speaker, having presented 8 times at TEDMED, 6 times at The Entertainment Gathering, and last year addressed an audience of 10,000 scientists about the psychology of deception at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.”
Describe yourself in 3 words: I don’t like these kinds of questions. Still, in the spirit of the questionnaire: “Joyous. Thoughtful. Storyteller.” Or maybe just, “Lover of life.” How’s that?
What is your life motto? Does everyone else have a “bumper sticker” life motto? I suppose I should think of one. Hmm.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I became interested in magic when I was six years old. By the time I was eight it was an obsession, and I gave my first paid show when I was nine years old.
By any measuring stick that matters to me, I was a success from the beginning. I only started making what others might think of as respectable money in my late twenties and early thirties, so it’s a lot of years as a struggling artist financially. But I’ve never measured my own success in terms of dollars or recognition. I was experiencing a lot of success even when I wasn’t making any money.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? Countless. I mean, truly, thousands upon thousands of hours. Someone who does what they love works much harder than the person who has a job they do just for the money but don’t really care about. So the time spent practicing, studying, writing, performing, researching and learning is inestimable. And I loved every second of it. It hasn’t stopped, by the way, I still devote hours upon hours to the art. I can’t think of a better use of my time actually.
Describe how difficult the business really is? Making a living as a performer is difficult no matter what kind of performer you are. Frankly, “magician” is even more challenging, because of the negative stereotypes and preconceived notion the general public has of the magician. That aside, being a professional entertainer means running a small business, and all that implies. For me then the biggest difficulty is that I wear all the hats in running my business. I create the show–I write it, stage it and I perform it. I also do all the marketing, which includes graphic design work, video and photo editing, copywriting, advertising campaigns, public relations, etc. I’m also the booking agent and road manager. I handle negotiations and I draw up the contracts. I’m the accountant who does expense reports, invoicing, tracking the books, receipts and taxes. Every one of these things is critical—crucial—if you want to be a full time working performer, so I have spent enormous amounts of time learning to do each of these things to some reasonable level of competency. I’m better at the creative and performance side, but I understand that it all falls apart if I don’t also manage the details of day-to-day business.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? It’s funny, but the mistake that taught me the most is one I didn’t just make once. I made this mistake repeatedly in my early career. I was so eager to please, so grateful for anyone who wanted to hire me that I would let others dictate terms of my performance that I knew would disadvantage me, making it hard (or in some cases impossible) to succeed. In other words, I had to learn to say no to offers that I knew were not right for me regardless of the money involved. I’ve reached a point where I turn down a lot of good offers because I know it’s going to result in substandard performance for one reason or another. But only after putting myself in bad situations over and over again.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? I’ve gotten so much great advice that it’s hard to single one out. Business advice? Or life advice? Or artistic guidance? Or cooking tips?
Maybe in this career/business context a good piece of advice is “Charge what you believe you’re worth, and deliver more than they are expecting.”
In your mind, is formal training essential? There is no such thing as “formal training” for magicians. Well that’s not quite true, there are classes and teachers around, and a few are pretty good. As I think about my own training though, and what I know of most of the magicians I admire, they are all largely self-taught. Not that there isn’t help in many forms, and another common trait of magicians I admire is that they are all extremely well read and have studied deeply the magic literature. So I think that is absolutely essential. But “formal training?” I had, and still have, teachers, mentors, directors and coaches–and maybe that is a kind of formal training. No, I have to say it isn’t essential in my field. (And in fact, the dearth of good teachers and artistic role models makes me think it’s more desirable than ever to find your own way.)
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? For me it has been the MOST important component of my development and education, and is ongoing. Right now I travel to Spain several times a year to spend time with an important mentor. So it’s not something I did when I was starting out and don’t need anymore. I need good mentoring as much, or maybe more than ever.
How to find a good mentor? I suppose it’s as simple as seeking out those that inspire you and asking interesting questions.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? There is simply no substitute for experience. Your performance is your product, and there is nothing to sell until you have a show with an original point of view, that works for a variety of audiences, in many different contexts. My advice to those starting out is not to worry about the money. Find venues and audiences and perform as much as you can, anywhere you can, until your own voice and style emerge. Until you have developed a distinctive show that works on every level you don’t need a business card.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? I’ve never felt like giving up. Seriously. I’ve had plenty of difficult times, but being a magician is not just what I do, it’s who I am. There is no giving up.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? There is always an element of luck in getting breaks in showbiz, sure. But I believe that if you do great work, you’ll get breaks, and audiences will find you. It begins and ends with doing the work, and doing it well. Remember that line from Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” I think it’s something like that–a kind of magic really, where being dedicated, pursuing your own vision, and doing your best work will somehow be rewarded.
Check out Eric at his website:
TedMed http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_mead_the_magic_of_the_placebo.html where we discovered this amazing magician.
and here: Talk at the Entertainment Gathering http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg0AoCXxwBs