Matt Tarrant did not enter magic via obsession or by dogged practice. His first foray into it was almost an accident.

“I didn’t have the magic kit when I was a kid or anything like that,” he says.

“When I saw my very first magician, it was actually at a Fringe show, this guy called Rudy Coby… my Dad took me to the show and I loved it. But I didn’t realise I could learn what this guy was doing.

“I just had some sort of assumption that he had, like, mystical powers.”

Tarrant didn’t think much further about the world of magic until he was in his late teens, working an entirely non-mystical banking job. Back at the Adelaide Fringe for a night out, he paused on the street to watch a busker performing magic, before eventually realising he was being entertained by a colleague from the bank.

Thanks to this chance encounter and the generosity of his co-worker-turned-Fringe artist, who was happy to share knowledge with an enthusiastic novice, Tarrant learned his first tricks.

“Then it just kind of blew up from there,” says Tarrant, in an understatement that neatly eclipses the years of hard work and learning that took place on his annual testing ground at the Fringe.

In his first year, Tarrant was part of a variety show he dubs “the biggest disaster you can ever imagine”, which – before he desperately went spruiking on the streets – had only sold three tickets. All of those had been bought by Matt’s family members.

The second year was much more successful. He and another magician were ecstatically received by crowds in the Garden of Unearthly Delights, until it emerged that they weren’t actually part of the program there and shouldn’t have been performing at all.

After that, Tarrant began to put as much effort into planning what was happening in the lead-up to the performance as he put into planning what would happen on stage.

“I think… I just realised back in 2012, that no one had a single clue who I was,” says Tarrant.

“So, if I was to try to sell this show, there was a huge risk that it would absolutely flop and I would lose all this money and I would probably never want to do it again.

“So, I put a bit of risk in using up my time instead, and went back to just starting to build a brand.”

Tarrant pursued this strategy with an uncanny and cheerful determination. He arranged to turn up in venues and perform quick sets to the punters awaiting entry to ticketed shows, slowly building his social media following. He and his regular co-performer Vinh Giang would also cold-call businesses – turning up unannounced and explaining that they had an upcoming show.

“They recognised the name of the Fringe… it was a huge help. If we rocked up and said, ‘hey, I’m doing a magic show at the pub’, that wouldn’t have worked as well,” says Tarrant.

Taking a similar approach to publicity, by hand-delivering media releases to newsrooms with a side of magical demonstration (and appearing on a timely season of Survivor), Tarrant found his name recognition quickly growing.

His shows, too, were critically and popularly well-received. Steadily, his ticket sales in Adelaide rose to the point of sustainability and opportunities from further afield began to present themselves.

“The focus originally was Adelaide,” says Tarrant. “Then we eventually started to add a city every year. Basically we added Perth, then Brisbane the next year, and Melbourne the year after.

“At Adelaide Fringe, they have this really good system called Honey Pot. Every year, all these venues from around the world come out and see all these acts… and they book them from there.

“We’ve definitely done a lot of touring through that program. I did my first international tour through there.”

From knowing literally no magic a little more than a decade ago, Tarrant now regularly sells 10,000 tickets to his shows and has performed for six weeks straight in Cape Town.

For 2022, he contemplated a break from the performance schedule, but instead has opted for a tightly held two-night run at next year’s Adelaide Fringe.

Building to the point where limited performances feels feasible has been a long road full of throat-tightening cold calling and public spruiking, but for Tarrant this has always seemed a fair price to pay.

It was what he needed to do so that he could do what he wanted to do – stand in front of people and use his skills to summon a few moments of unadulterated wonder.

The Business of Art is an InReview series about the development of performing arts careers and opportunities from Adelaide. The series has been produced with the support of Adelaide Fringe.

Read more of the series here.

 

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