Magic As Business
Jared Sherlock is under quite a spotlight when he works. Well, it’s more like a lightshow.
The 20-year-old sophomore at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., spends his work nights on a stage doing magic. His multifaceted performances include fire juggling, escaping from traps, making things disappear and interacting with the audience in a manner similar to that of a stand-up comedian. It’s not a career that many think about putting their efforts into.
But magician Jared Sherlock, the winner of the “Clearly Very Talented” group in StartupNation’s 2008 Dorm-Based 20, has focused on that goal. We chose him as tops in this category because, though there’s plenty of hard work involved, all great performers in magic must have that rare and riveting talent to make it to the bigtime. If everything comes together, the payoff can lead to fame and fortune, like it has for celeb magicians like Criss Angel and David Blaine.
To fully leverage his natural gift for performing, Sherlock is studying theater and communications to best prepare him for the creative and business sides of his career aspiration – to become a full time magician.
He has already worked hard at this goal on the illusion end. Though some of his skills come naturally now, Sherlock still spends hours practicing his tricks. He watches tape of other magicians, draws from numerous movies to get inspirational ideas and collaborates with writers to come up with scripts for his shows.
So far his work has paid off.
Sherlock recently completed a four-day run at the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival and has performed around the Midwest for both college and corporate events. This coming school year, he’s looking to do performances on his own campus.
Influenced by family members, including his uncle, to whom one of his bigger tricks is dedicated, Sherlock has done magic since he was eight. He trained with the Society of Young Magicians and soon got work in a variety of local venues.
But Sherlock’s business is more than just magic tricks.
“My job is about 90 percent sitting at a desk promoting myself, and 10 percent is performing,” says Jared Sherlock “I don’t think people look at it as a business, but that’s just what it is.”
Sherlock’s act – and expenses – go way beyond a rabbit, hat and deck of cards. His stage show, which he says is indicative of how magical performances have evolved, involves about 20 people, including stagehands, dancers, actors and comedians. Major light shows are involved. His performances are really more like a variety show than what one might envision as a singular magic performance.
The Indianapolis native assures that these types of productions, which follow the footsteps of such big names as Penn & Teller and David Copperfield, aren’t cheap. They can cost tens of thousands of dollars to put on.
But Sherlock says that he finds many aspiring performers who will donate their time to his act just to have a chance to perform in front of large audiences.
“It’s their passion and their art,” he says.
That passion is obviously what drives Sherlock.
“I do small venues, but my passion is the grand illusion shows,” he says. “The bigger the theater, the more at home I feel. I just love people, and I love their amazement, and I love to see them smile.
Sometimes the hardest part is securing the right venue and date to ensure that tickets will sell. Depending on what type of act he wants to perform, Sherlock has to find the right locale, taking into consideration it’s size and environment. He also needs to be aware of what else is happening on certain days. For example, you don’t want to schedule an event in Indianapolis if the Colts are playing in the Super Bowl – a mistake that he once narrowly avoided.
“It would have been a lonely night in the theater on Super Bowl Sunday,” he points out.
Sherlock says he is confident that his industry will fare well during the current economic downturn, and whatever the future brings financially for consumers.
“People love to laugh, be entertained and have a good time,” he says. “I don’t think that will ever change.”
However, Sherlock concedes that performances for high-paying corporate events could drop off due to shortfalls in firms’ budgets.
Another side of Sherlock’s business is his commitment to philanthropy. Parts of the proceeds from all of his performances go to local charities.
“I consider myself an aspiring social entrepreneur,” he says. “I say ‘aspiring’ because our impact on society currently is very small in the scope of things, but we are only at the beginning, and we are ready to grow.”
He is in the process of setting up a foundation called Arts Now, which will provide funding for aspiring magicians.
So what is Sherlock’s end goal? Billboards in Las Vegas announcing his gig at one of the town’s hottest casino-resorts?
“Any entertainer would be honored to be part of that,” he says. “It a pipe dream, but it would be wonderful.”
For now Sherlock is trying to learn as much as he can in school and apply those skills to his business – a career on which he has a long-term focus.
“I’m hoping to be able to do this from here on out,” he says.
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