023: Getting Your Show Booked in a Theatre with Paul Draper

By December 5, 2016 June 3rd, 2019 One Comment

Paul Draper discusses how to get theatres to book your show. He talks about how to find theatres, the best ways to contact them, what theatres are looking for in an act, the type of promotional tools to send them, and he explains the differences between a corporate show and a theatre show.

Paul is an anthropologist, magician, and mentalist who has traveled the world in search of magic and mysteries to bring you his show, “Mysteries of the Mind”.

Some of his recent TV appearances include: Hell’s Kitchen, Pawn Stars, Ghost Adventures, Mindfreak, and House Hunters. He’s also been featured in articles for Psychology Today, Glamour Magazine, AskMen.com, and has many guest contributions for the AP and AOL News.

Paul has lectured and performed at Yale University, Apple, The World Famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and The Magic Circle in London. As a respected Las Vegas entertainer, Paul has headlined in the 800 seat showroom at the Orleans Casino and is the House Magician for the Venetian Hotel & Casino.



WILLIAM: Today, I talk with Paul Draper who’s an anthropologist, magician and mentalist, who has travelled the world in search of magic and mysteries to bring you his show “Mysteries of the Mind.” Some of his recent TV appearances include Hell’s Kitchen, Pawn Stars, Ghost Adventures, Mind Freak and House Hunters.

He’s also been featured in articles for Psychology Today, Glamour Magazine, AskMen.com and has many guest contributions for the AP and AOL news. Paul has lectured and performed at Yale University, Apple, the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and the Magic Circle in London.

As a respected Las Vegas entertainer, Paul is headlined in the 800-seat showroom at the Orleans Casino and is the house magician for the Venetian Hotel and Casino.

In this episode, Paul discusses how to get theatres to book your act. He talks about how to find theatres, the best ways to contact them, what theatres are looking for in an act, the type of promotional tools to send them and explains the differences between a corporate show and a theatre show.

Let’s get into it.

Hey Paul, thanks for joining us.

PAUL: Hey, thanks for having me.

WILLIAM: To start off, can you tell us about yourself?

PAUL: You know, it’s hard for a performer who decides to put themselves out there to tell you all about themselves, but I’ll try.

So, I am an anthropologist turned mentalist. I was a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and I ran away and joined the circus. My passion for many years was musical theatre and so, you know, song and dance _[00:02:30], that good stuff, but I paid my way through college and graduate school doing magic shows.

Then I was down in Las Vegas teaching and started to find that I made more money doing magic than I ever could being a professor and certainly, than I ever could be in a musical theatre actor.

So, I’ve been very fortunate, I mean, I’ve performed at Yale, at USC. I’ve performed in London at the Magic Circle, in Hollywood at the Magic Castle, been on television a whole bunch, especially in the last few years, been the house magician at the Venetian Hotel and Casino, and in lots of other variety shows in the Las Vegas strip and performed in historic theatres around the country in the last few years.

So, it’s been quite an exciting life to go from someone who was an expert in Cognitive Anthropology in the way humans think and why we believe strange things, I advised on some papers for Scientific American Mind, I published things with the Smithsonian, to being a musical theatre actor in repertory houses and now being a full-time one man, one person show.

WILLIAM: So, this one man, one person show, can you tell us about your business model that’s involved in that?

PAUL: I mean the business model that changed everything for me is that I was trying to find the agent or manager who was going to take care of me, who was going to do the business side of show and I just had to do the show side of business. But after many years of wasting my time and searching, there is no human being out there who is really capable of doing that as well as I am.

I came to realize that there will never be another human being who loves me and my show as much as I do. And as an entrepreneur, I have to be salesman in chief, and really being a one person show is entrepreneurialship.

So, what changed everything was the day I decided that normal people spend eight hours a day selling their product and then they work on their hobbies at night afterwards, and I needed to spend eight hours a day, five days a week. I can choose the days. I can choose the hours in selling my product. And then, I spend time after that engaging in my hobbies.

My show, performing the show is not my job. Performing the show is my reward for all of my hard work in selling the show. That is the joy and the pleasure of my life is getting to go to these places and perform the show that engages audiences.

WILLIAM: So, why did you start performing in theatres?

PAUL: Great question. My background in musical theatre gave me a passion for theatres. That was the dream was to be in these beautiful theatres and so often, as a mentalist in Las Vegas, I was performing in corporate banquet halls on a stage and people were sitting at 10 top tables. Half of them had their face to me and half had their back to me because they are sitting at these round tables and they’re here for a business conference and I am thrust upon them. Here’s your steak dinner. Here’s the Salesman of the Year Award. And now, here’s our mentalist.

And as lovely as it is to perform for Hewlett Packard, like I did last week, or an Apple headquarters or all these places, the greatest joy is when we perform in a theatre that has beautiful lighting and beautiful speakers and the audience is all pointed facing you, right? Everyone is in a seat pointed towards you on the stage. You have the proscenium arch. You have the curtains. People come in, sit down for an experience that is life-changing, right?

The magician, Jeff McBride, a great magician, world-class, has a fabulous line where he says, “There are audiences that are here to remember and there are audiences that are here to forget.” And the way you can tell is if they’re heavily drinking and they’re sitting with their backs to you, they’re just here to have fun and forget. If they’re in a theatre, all facing you, they’re here to remember, to have an experience together that they can talk about.

And there’s something so beautiful about returning to the theatre from the corporate world and having that opportunity to create theatrical magic journeys for entire families.

WILLIAM: So, how many theatres would you say that you performed in in any given year?

PAUL: Between 12 and 24 theatres here.

WILLIAM: So you stay quite busy.

PAUL: Yeah. Well I’m still, heavily, a corporate entertainer. I mean, I’m doing a hundred shows a year, but I am putting in between one and two theatres per month at this point.

WILLIAM: So the focus on this episode is how to get theatres to book your act. To start off, how do you find theatres that you want to work with?

PAUL: Right. For me, originally, my primary goal was I wanted to work in historic theatres. I wanted to work in these beautiful old theatres in small towns across America.

I grew up in a small town, in a cattle town, and the idea of returning to my American roots was important to me. To go to these towns that at one point there were a hundred thousand people there during the coal mining or the silver mining or the copper mining or when the railroad used to come through there and now, there are only 7,000 people, but the theatre that holds 1,800 seats still stands and is hungry for the entertainment that used to come.

And I love going to these beautiful theatres, this vaudevillian theatres, and playing the boards in these stunning environments, and going to places where I may be the only magician that they’ve ever seen.

Many of these theatres I found, they don’t have enormous wing space. They don’t have big gorilla doors. They don’t have the chandelier that can drop from the Phantom of the Opera because they were built for vaudevillian shows, Chautauqua circuits, speaking engagements.

And so, there are a lot of acts and shows that they can’t bring in and there are a lot of groups they can’t afford and a lot of groups that won’t go to these little, teeny, small towns. And so it’s been a great joy for me to go and to be that individual who brings magic back to these beautiful historic theatres.

WILLIAM: So is there a way that you’re finding these historic theatres?

PAUL: There are many ways. There are organizations of historic theatres. There are websites that lists them.

We live in such a beautiful age with Google to be able to type in these keywords and to find these theatres. And many of these theatres are quite proud of the fact that they’re historic theatres if you type in “historic theatre” or “75th anniversary theatre.” And it’s hard to differentiate in Google searches between movie theatres and theatrical stage theatres.

We also have a change right now where a lot of these towns, the theatre to survive, became a movie house. But because all the movies are now digital, they’re not using the film reels anymore, these theatres are struggling because they can’t get the newest film and they can’t afford the digital camera.

And so, for many of them, I’m giving them an opportunity to make money, to try and raise awareness, fundraise, in order to update and upgrade those theatres. I’m performing in a lot of fundraisers for historic theatres and a lot of big anniversaries for theatres.

WILLIAM: So, once you find a theatre you want to work with, how do you get in contact with them?

PAUL: I first send them an email. Most of them have emails on their pages if we go look under the Contact Us. Sometimes it’s under About Us. Sometimes it’s under Our Staff or Our Leadership. Sometimes it’s the Board of Directors. Because, the smaller theatres that I’ve been performing in, in repertory houses, they often have a very small staff. They don’t have necessarily an artistic director who is in charge of booking the tour.

So, like one that I recently did, I think this is a great example, was the Saenger Theater in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and I flew in to New Orleans, and they also have a Saenger Theater in New Orleans. That weekend, the Illusionists Tour–big, huge show, a dozen acts–was performing at the Saenger in New Orleans the same weekend I was performing an hour and a half drive away at the Saenger Theater in Hattiesburg, just me.

In truth, I was making more money individually than any of the cast members in the one in New Orleans even though it was a bigger, grander theatre. But my theatre, still, has 600 seats in it and was a wonderful experience in that town and I was able to bring my show to that.

But you call sometimes it’s the board of directors, sometimes it’s the artistic director, sometimes it’s the president, sometimes it’s the CEO, but you grab their email. I grab their email. I grab their phone number. I grab their address.

The structure of my sales pitch is they receive a postcard, then they receive an email asking if they received the postcard, then they receive a phone call, then they receive another post card followed by another email. And the second post card is different than the first and both postcards, the cover of them are posters that they could use in the theatre.

The next email after the second postcard has a press release in it of “If you bring me to your theatre, this is the press release that you can use to promote the show and bring people in,” and then, they receive a second phone call. After that, I leave them alone for six months. But that’s enough for them to realize that I’m real, I’m a real business, I have lasting staying power. We have to hit somebody five or six times before they really recognize us as somebody that they might want to work with.

WILLIAM: So with that in mind, someone that they want to work with, what are theatres really looking for when they bring in an act?

PAUL: Someone who’s easy to work with, someone who is going to bring in their audience, someone who is not going to offend their audience, and that’s serious. I mean, there are a lot of guys that offend these audiences, someone who can work within their budget, someone that can work within the technical capabilities of that theatre, isn’t asking for them to go beyond what they’re capable of doing, someone that’s willing to partner with them in many ways so that both you and the theatre have success rather than just saying that they have to take care of everything.

For me, I found that a lot of these theatres that I worked with are bringing me in on grant money and so, they can’t find a grant for just a magic show. So I’ve created a show that incorporates storytelling. I play instruments. I sing songs. It has Broadway musical theatre elements in it. I teach some anthropological history of magic. I teach the audience how to have a super memory.

So, it has all these other pieces that they can incorporate to receive grant money from art grants, from national grants, from theatrical sponsorships, from local sponsors, because it’s more than just a magic show. It is a one-person theatrical experience that has magic within it.

WILLIAM: So, with that in mind, what kind of deal do you normally work out with them. Is this a ticket split or are they just paying you up front?

PAUL: So far, though I have heard many friends and even people on your podcast who have talked about the benefit of a ticket split, for me, what I found works is I have a straight price that I ask them to come up with. For larger theatres, it’s $3,000, airfare and hotel. For smaller theatres, I have negotiated, in small communities, $2,000 and hotel, not airfare. I’ve covered that on my own.

But the smaller theatres that have that, I have asked them to try and help me find another corporate gig in town or a university show or a co-sponsor with a charity or school that can help subsidize my flight and make all these things happen because I’m willing to go to Anaconda, Montana. I’m willing to go to Butte, Montana.

I’m willing to go to these very small but strong, rich communities around the country and perform in these places. And then, it can be a fundraiser for them that way because then, everything beyond my few thousand dollars that they bring in, they get to keep for the theatre and to use it to raise money.

I’ve also found that when I ask for a split, they often aren’t as engaged at making the money as when I ask for a number right up front. Then, I’m more than happy to show up if we go to a larger theatre. That’s $3,000, airfare and hotel and rental car. If we do that, I’m more than happy to go to all the local elementary schools and do a free show, go to the local high school and do a free show during lunch, go to the local television and radio stations and newspaper to create buzz about the show and to bring people in.

I have add-ons like teaching a magic class, teaching a juggling class, so that people gather and come to the theatre before the show for these extra classes and these extra experiences with me to help the theatre out. And so, it’s been better for me that way to have a straight fee and then, whatever they make on top of that, they get to keep.

WILLIAM: And what did your tickets normally sell for?

PAUL: It’s very variable, depending upon the area. I found that it changes based on what the movie ticket prices are in the town. So, I’ve had some towns where my tickets sells for $45, some where it’s $35, some where it’s $24, and where some a child’s ticket is $7, right? I mean, I’ve had a full gamut.

And because I have a straight fee, I allow the theatre to choose what the best price is for their theatre. It’s easier to have a lower priced ticket if you have a very large house and you’re able to fill it with as many people as possible. For example, I love if I can do multiple shows in the same city and the first show is absolutely free. We do the first show for free for anybody who wants to come.

But then, the second show is going to be completely different. I have three completely different shows. We have a magic show, a mind reading show and a hypnosis show and they can come back to the second show for half price if they came to the first, and they can come to the third show for half price if they came to the second. And to bring them back three nights in a row, to bring the same audience back or have them to come to a séance show, rather late night séance show as an add-on.

And so, sometimes it’s two shows in one day and they’re completely different, but come back, come back, come back because, really, what these theatres need, the need, I think, I’m fulfilling is bringing in new audiences to the theatre, reminding them that the theatre is there, exciting and energizing a younger crowd to the theatre.

WILLIAM: So, once you get booked, for your show, how many nights do you normally perform?

PAUL: Again, very variable. Some theatres just bring me in for one night with either one show or two shows. Some bring me in for a weekend. I am very rarely brought in for two weekends in a row because my corporate business is so heavy it would be hard for me to stick around a town for two weeks.

WILLIAM: I see. So you prefer maybe a three-day, three show weekend or something on those lines.

PAUL: Right, right. That thing, unless someone wants, I did one show in Boise, Idaho where they booked me for an entire month, but it was a very small black box theatre. And so, they were able to use this college town and fill that show for a month. And the show came with dinner and the ticket price, I think, was $75 a person for dinner and a show. And they made it work for a month, right? They made it work. But most of the time for me, it’s a special event in a town.

WILLIAM: So, what tools do you give the theatre to help them promote your show when you’re coming into town?

PAUL: Right. Wonderful. I give them a television commercial if they want to run it. I give them a radio commercial if they want to run it. I can give them scripts for those things as well, options of things that I can perform live on the radio in their town with their drive time radio DJ, options of things that I can perform on the morning television shows in the town, poster art and multiple options of poster art that they can display within their community, press releases that are ready to go that are exciting and fun with quotes and everything so that they can just be printed if they need, flyers and opportunities for me to go and showcase the show. Like I said, during lunch breaks at local schools to get kids to bring their families in, tickets for kids for teachers to send home with kids to their parents to bring them all to the theatre, offering that they’d get a free magic trick so that they can come to these lessons, the classes that I teach.

So, it’s a pretty deep wellspring of tools that I offer theatres if they want them. Very often, theatres don’t want them and they have their own marketing list and they’re ready to go. But, I am very happy, delighted really, to partner with theatres and help to make all of this happen.

WILLIAM: So, kind of to look at this as an overview, you search for the theatres. You find a theatre you want to work with. You contact them. You send them postcards. If they’re interested, they contact you, they book your act, you send them the press material and all of those tools that they need to push the show. What kind of timeframe are you looking at from the beginning of this to the very end when you are there in the theatre performing?

PAUL: I really don’t think about it that way because there are some theatres, like there’s a theatre I’m performing in next month in upstate New York and also have one next month in southern Arizona, and both of these theatres were very quick to book. It was we had a phone conversation, they booked, we set the date, I asked for a deposit–cash deposit. We’re good to go within 60 days on there.

But some theatres are booked throughout this entire season because it’s easier to sell me if I’m part of their subscription season, right? If I’m not, “Oh, surprise, we have a show on the stage,” but it’s this week we have “My Fair Lady” and this weekend we have “Guys and Dolls” and this weekend we have “Mysteries of the Mind” starring Paul Draper direct from Las Vegas.

And that’s a much easier sell for theatres and for me to be part of their subscription series, sometimes it’s a year and a half away, right? Sometimes they’re booking that far ahead if we’re looking at a repertory theatre that books things in rep, right, and/or summer stock theatre that is just using the space for three shows a year and I’m trying to come in on a dark weekend when they’re rehearsing some other show, be as I can play on the thrust of any set that they have.

Or, I also have set designs where end lighting plots, those are other tools I give them if they want. They can build a complete set and lighting design for me and it enhances the show, enhances the focus of the audience, enhances the experience. Or, they can shut the main drape–the grand–in front of whatever their current set is and I can play on the thrust with a very minimal stage, so being flexible that way.

So, some of these bookings are, from start to finish, 30 days, 60 days. Some of them are a year and a half away. So I don’t have a timeframe beyond “let’s fill up that calendar.”

WILLIAM: So, let’s talk about your show for a few minutes now.

PAUL: Sure.

WILLIAM: What is the real difference between doing a corporate show like you mentioned earlier and then your theatre show?

PAUL: Great question. The purpose of a corporate show is to energize the audience, to engage them, to bring them together, to help them to celebrate together and make them proud and excited about the company that they work for. So that show needs to be fast-paced, funny, high-energy the entire time, and needs to be 30 to 45 minutes long, because they’ve had dinner, they’ve had the awards. They want the show and they want to go back to bed because they’re coming back to the office or to the conference tomorrow at 7 AM, right? And so, that’s a very tight, focused, clean show.

The nice thing about a theatrical show is I can come out and play a Navajo flute. I can play a guitar. I can sing a musical theatre song, tell a story, have deeper emotional moments, have deeper connections with the audience, create an hour and a half long–in Vegas, it’s a 75-minute long.

Big theatres usually want an hour and a half. Small towns sometimes want a 2-hour show. But, to create a richer, deeper experience, we’re engaged in a theatrical story of a character that grows and changes over time, of an audience who grows and changes over time, where they walk away with new lessons, new insights and things that help them in their day-to-day life, things they can reflect on and relate to.

The comedy isn’t just about, “Isn’t so and so wearing a funny tie,” like you do in a corporate environment. The comedy is deeper than that. It’s societal. It’s political without offending. It’s about what’s going on in today’s world and it’s about this city here and now. I deeply research every city that I’m performing in and bring in context from their particular experience and environment.

WILLIAM: So, what I’m hearing is that a theatre show really lets you be as creative as you want to be.

PAUL: And allows the audience to be as creative as they want to be as they go on that journey.

WILLIAM: That’s awesome. So, to wrap this up, this is a question I always ask all of my guests, what’s one technique that event producers can start doing today to increase their revenue?

PAUL: It’s hard because the biggest problem facing theatres today is that people no longer gather. They’re not gathering. It used to be that you could put something fun in the display window, right? You could put a Sherlock Holmes deer hunter hat, a dictionary that have the word “wonder” circled, with a magnifying glass pointing at the word “wonder” and next to it a picture of “Mysteries of the Mind” and a sign that says, “There are more places to find wonder than just the dictionary,” right?

And people would walk through the town and they would see this in the display window, “Oh, we were looking for somewhere to gather,” right, “We were looking for something to do.” That’s how it used to be. But today, people are on their phones, they’re in front of their television sets, they’re on their computer, they’re on Facebook, they’re gathering electronically by the firelight of the screen rather than the firelight of the theatre.

And so, the biggest problem theatres are facing is how to get these people to gather and the truth for me is, as I found, I have to find people that are naturally gathering and convince them to have their gathering place at the theatre, convince them to have their shared experience at the theatre.

By partnering with charities and giving some of the revenue to the charity or asking and telling people that they can receive a discount on the ticket if they bring a can of food, and in exchange for that, the local food shelter gives me their list of donors to come to the theatre or to sell blocked tickets. Go to the largest company, business in town and say, “This show is happening. Would you like at a discount to buy a block of tickets for your employees as a gift to them to come?”

And so, instead of selling tickets one at a time, sell 50 or 100 to the local military base, to the local student union at the university, to sell a block of them to the local technology company or hospital and have them come, to have the charity come, to have groups like the Red Hat Society or meet-up groups or paranormal groups or theatrical casts or like I said, have kids come to learn to juggle, have them learn magic tricks, and then stay for the show.

So I try and find where are people gathering in this religious organization, in this Elks Club, where they’re gathering and how can I convince them to have their shared experience tonight, gathering with us at the theatre.

WILLIAM: So Paul, I want to say thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us here today.

PAUL: Yeah.

WILLIAM: How do we keep up with you?

PAUL: I have a newsletter that goes out to 15,000 people. It doesn’t sound like many, but they’re my friends and they’re all over the world. So you can sign up for my newsletter by going to mentalmysteries.com or by sending me an email Paul@mentalmysteries.com.

If that sounds too hard to spell, you can go to another website called PaulWDraper.com P-A-U-L-W-D-R-A-P-E-R.com and that will link you to my speaking sites and my magic show and my mentalism show and all of these wonderful things.

People can also call me. I have a fan page on Facebook. I have a Twitter account under PaulDraper and PaulWDraper, Instagram, everywhere, LinkedIn, everywhere that social media is sold, I am there.

WILLIAM: And if a theatre wants to bring you in and have your show in their theatre, what’s the best way for them to contact you?

PAUL: The best thing for them to know is I want to work with them and I want to help them succeed. Whatever is in their budget, whatever they can do, we can negotiate and we can find a way to make it happen, even if it’s finding someone on the board who can donate me to the organization or someone in the local community that can donate my show to the town. We can find a way to work together and make it work.

So, just give me a call at my phone number. It’s listed on my website. I’m not going to list it off, in case it changes at some point in the future, but will always be correct on my website. Go to Mentalmysteries.com or PaulWDraper.com. Call me directly, personally. I’ll call you back within 24 hours and we’ll make a deal that’s good for everybody.

WILLIAM: Thanks a lot, Paul, for joining us today.

PAUL: Thank you.

Show Notes:

Website – http://www.MentalMysteries.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MentalMysteries/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/paulwdraper/
Demo video – https://vimeo.com/pauldraper/pauldraper2017
TV Shows – https://youtu.be/BK4RuRq61lk
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_W_Draper

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