When the coronavirus pandemic made Commack magician Thomas Joseph Tana's bookings disappear, he was forced to learn a new trick: how to dazzle "invisible" audiences with virtual shows.
Tana, who is 27 and goes by the stage name TJ Tana, has been performing at paid gigs in front of LI crowds since he was 12 years old. At 16, he paid for his first car with cash he earned doing magic shows at private parties and corporate events.
Tana has since traveled the world — performing at venues from Australia to Dubai — and joined The CW Network's "Masters of Illusion" television series as part of its live touring show.
Determined not to let the outbreak do away with his career and business, Tana worked to keep the magic alive by recreating his performance for an online crowd.
TJ Tana spoke with Newsday about the changes. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Your show is more than sleight of hand. You sometimes guess who a person first kissed or their cellphone pass code. What was the hardest part of going virtual?
I've always prided myself on how interactive my magic and illusion shows are. The hardest part for me was taking all that magic knowledge and all of my energy and excitement for performing and tweaking it to a completely new platform, while making sure all the tricks and illusions that I incorporated in the new show translated to that virtual world.
How do you use technology?
I invested in new specialized equipment, some lights, some special effects, played with the camera angles and, of course, had to learn how to use all the different [videoconferencing] platforms — Zoom, Google Meet, Webex — and think of ways to deliver a show that could draw people [in], from behind the screen … to shock them, entertain them, and make them laugh. .
How did you drum up business? I had clients who had paid deposits. I called these customers back and let them know I could refund their money or issue a credit to a virtual show. A lot of them were intrigued and enthusiastic. Many decided on the credit.
What about finding new clients?
For new bookings, I cut my rates in half — shows regularly range from $500 to $5,000. Thanks to word-of-mouth and social media posts, soon I was getting hired to do a range of virtual shows — some disguised as "Zoom bombings," or pop-up interferences during corporate Zoom meetings, that employers were looking to gift their workers as a "thank you" — to birthday parties and other types of celebrations.
Have you found that your virtual performances are as successful as your live shows in terms of profit?
It's a bit of a give and take. Like I said earlier, I did slash my prices in order to make the shows more affordable, which I think has been very important in securing bookings. But on the up side, these virtual performances have come with a lot of pros. There's no traveling to and from shows, so I've seen savings on transportation costs, and it's also more cost effective for clients because there's no renting of a physical space or venue required. It's also allowed me to host "public shows" where I can sell virtual tickets and have people from all around the globe join in to watch via Zoom.
How does business now compare to pre-COVID?
It's been a slow build to get to that point, so I wouldn't say that I'm 100% back to where I was before the pandemic, but I'm consistently working, I'm paying my bills … so I count myself very fortunate.
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