After several weeks of working with Russ Stevens (which you can read about here), we finally had the show ready. The next step was that it had to be performed in front of an audience, so the cruise ship agency could see both the show and what I was like on stage.
So, with that in mind, I jumped onto Google to find a venue where I could perform it. To be honest, I would have loved to hire the incredible Liverpool Empire, but the 2,350-strong capacity might have been slightly too adventurous for my first solo show - so I opted for the 400-seater Epstein Theatre instead.
That said, the Epstein Theatre is an absolutely stunning theatre and has a real Victorian style interior, so it turned out to be the perfect choice for the night.
The show was to be on the 30th January 2015. This gave me time to get Christmas out of the way and have a few solid weeks of promotion and rehearsals, from the moment the new year hit. Nailing this show was my total focus, so I created a social media and online marketing strategy and spent the rest of my time practicing each section of the show, to ensure I knew every move perfectly.
Finally, the day came. My dad and I got to the theatre around noon to set up the props and meet with the various members of the tech crew and outside production company.
An hour or so later, Russ, blasé as anything, walked through the theatre doors, whilst taking a bite out of his Subway sandwich. “Wow!” he said, mouth still full of Meatball Marinara. “What an amazing little theatre!”
I chose to ignore the use of little, considering the fact I was still delighted I’d been able to sell the 400-odd seats. I mean, yes, the tickets were indeed only £5, but nevertheless…
“Stephen,” he said, “what the fuck is that?!” He pointed towards the stage, where a large projector screen had been erected.
“Well, it’s a large projector screen that has been erected,” I replied.
“It looks absolutely fucking awful!” he said. There was a pregnant pause. “It needs to go.”
“Erm, right. The thing is Russ, I paid 800 quid for that to be here! There’s a cameraman coming later and everything!” I reasoned, thinking the cost might sway him.
“I’m going to leave the decision up to you, but we can either make this show look shit by leaving that here, or we can get rid of it and make it look brilliant. As I say, though, I’ll leave the decision up to you, but it currently looks fucking dreadful!” It should be said, Russ constantly speaks like he’s in a David Mamet play!
I looked at the screen on stage, then back at Russ. “Did I mention it was 800 quid?” He never replied. I pulled out my phone and called the cameraman, “Yeah, don’t worry about coming tonight, John....”
The next two hours or so were spent marking the stage, whilst Russ designed the lighting, sans screen. We had a quick rehearsal followed by a bite to eat, and it was time for the auditorium doors to open for the audience to shuffle in.
I’d asked a friend of mine, Paul Dabek, to come along on the night to open the show. Paul does a great hand shadow routine to the ‘Circle of Life’, so I thought that would be a cool way to start.
I’d arranged for Paul to have his own dressing room, but I’ve known him for years, so he just ended up waiting in mine before the show. At the time, I remember thinking that I’d really rather just be alone to ease my nerves - but looking back, having Russ and him there as a distraction definitely helped take my mind off things. There’s nothing quite like a pre-show gossip about other magicians!
15 minutes later, the alarm on my phone rang. It was time to start the show. Subtly rubbing my sweaty palms on my trousers, I asked if Paul was ready. He was.
We made our way to the wings of the stage. Although we were entirely hidden from the audience, we could hear the chatter. We could feel the anticipation.
I turned to one of the tech team and gave him the signal. The theatre faded into complete darkness. The pre-show music stopped and a hush fell upon the audience.
I was given a microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show! I will be coming on stage shortly, but first, please welcome a friend of mine who I know you’re going to love: Paul Dabek!”
Paul took to the stage and I suddenly realised I had exactly three minutes before I would be standing there too. I’d take his place, then the remainder of the hour would be entirely mine.
There were over 400 people sitting in the audience waiting to see me, yet for those three minutes I felt completely alone.
Truthfully, I felt an enormous weight on my shoulders about just how this show would go. In my mind, there was only one night to impress unreasonable expectations. If it didn’t go as planned, not only would it completely put the kibosh on my goal of securing a cruise ship agent, but more importantly, I’d feel like I’d lose all credibility with the people who had come to watch me - the friends and family who came to see my first ever solo theatre show. It was beyond daunting.
Paul finished his act and left the stage to a thunderous applause. A blackout fell, before the audience heard: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome: Stephen Williams Jr!”
With that, I was on stage! What’s interesting (although I should really leave that decision up to you), is that the moment I stepped on stage, I didn’t have a hint of nerves. I was completely relaxed. Comfortable, even. I guess at that point there was nothing I could do, other than commit to making it the best show I could.
And... I loved it! I really loved it! Although it does make for a slightly less interesting story, I’m delighted to say the audience seemed to love it too.
My time on stage seemed to fly by, and with that, it was over. Everything I’d spent months working on was finished in a heartbeat.
We packed everything away and I drove home later that night, overjoyed. Relieved. Excited about what the success of the show could bring.
I brought the equipment into the house and decided to make a cup of tea before going to bed. While the kettle was boiling, I whipped out my phone and anxiously checked my emails. Who knows, I thought, maybe I’ve already had some cruise ship offers!
The top email came through with the subject line: “Tonight." I couldn’t have clicked it fast enough! This could only have been something good! Something exciting!
'Hey Stephen,' the email read. ‘Good job with the show tonight! I’ve attached the £800 invoice for the projector screen. Best, John.’
The kettle finished boiling. Maybe the offers will come through tomorrow, I thought.