Originally posted 04-16-09 in MBD2
Steve Belliveau is on the road so much as an entertainer he has a vibrating heating pad in his car for his back. Annually he averages between 35- and 45,000 miles.
Based in Bartlett, IL, he has about nine different types of science and magic shows that take him to schools throughout the Midwest. He also entertains for adults as a sleight of hand artist and magician that specialized in close-up performing. In addition, he has magic shows especially for festivals and families. Visit his sites at www.sbmagic.com orwww.getscience.net for info. Or visit him on Sundays at La Villa in Chicago.
Belliveau has been entertaining for over 30 years starting with magic tricks as a teenager and performing for birthday parties. Several years later, he was entertaining at bars and clubs. He earned a college degree in engineering and worked in the telephone industry putting systems together. “I remember I owned one of the first cell phones with the battery in a bag,” he said. During that time, he won a contest sponsored by Nabisco called “Unlocking the Magic of Oreo Cookies”.
His prize included a contract for several months promoting the infamous sandwich cookie four days a week. Since his promotional activities were Thursday through Sunday, he was able to take some time from his telephone company position. Along the way he picked up a restaurant, Carlos Murphy’s in Chicago, which went from a once a week appearance, to four times per week.
By the time the numbers crunched together, and his promotional stint ended, Belliveau was making something of a living doing what he enjoyed, however times were still lean. “I ate a lot of chicken pot pies, bologna and hot dogs,” he said.
In the beginning, he did not have the money to hire teachers, but he was able to ask a lot of questions when he would see other established magicians around. “I learned a lot from the older performers’ stories,” he said. Performers such as Celeste Evans, Jay Marshall and Jim Sommers. In fact, Belliveau had a brief student-mentor relationship with Eugene Berger for a while. They had met at a lecture. “I had a unique opportunity,” he said. One of the important lessons he learned was very tedious then, but paid off later and that was to practice and record yourself, and keep doing that, over and over and over, until you mastered your script and trick.
Despite his hectic schedule, he is a family man with two children and tries to keep his Monday nights as a family night. They all enjoy spending time together doing activities such as biking and camping. If he had the time, he would enjoy doing more gardening and maintaining the bird feeders, and even playing tennis. However, as many with busy lives will attest, sometimes you just have to find the activity wherever you are at the moment. For example, when he’s on the road, he will walk around the old downtown districts and along riverfronts, sometimes even catching a concert in the park.
He has different busy times of the year with the period between Halloween and New Year’s as prime party season and the period between January and April being very busy with school visits. “Even when I’m not working, I’m working,” he said, as there is always practicing, prepping props, marketing or other activities that keep the self-employed entertainer always hopping.
Even though he comes from a technical background, Belliveau does not feel compelled to have the latest toys, gadgets or even satellite radio. He grew up with a very frugal father, he said. And don’t forget his early professional years and all those chicken pot pies. With so many road trips, he does listen to books and music on CDs. “I get hired by many libraries and I support my library by borrowing a lot of CD’s, “ he said. He enjoys historical non-fiction and he listens to different forms of music like folk, bluegrass, and old rock ‘n’ roll.
When you are on the road as much as Belliveau is, your chances get slimmer on never having a vehicle breakdown. “I’ve had to have my cargo van pulled into a show venue more than once,” he said. In fact, he’s had the tow truck drop him off with all his equipment at the venue. The shop then repaired his van, even staying late so they’d have his truck ready for his trip back home. Some of his practical advice for others that are frequently on the road: “You should always have jumper cables, a can of Fix A Flat, and, in the winter, you should have some sort of shovel,” he said.
During shows, there have also been equipment malfunctions. “I work off a headset mic, but always have a corded mic and batteries ready to go. Now I use a headset mic that has separate channels so you can change the frequency because once I was at a show and a nearby Bingo game was coming in over my system,” he said. “For the Science Show I will always bring contingency equipment,” he said. “I’ve dropped and broken things.”
What does the future have in store for Belliveau? “I still see myself doing a variety of shows,” he said. “The economy is up and down. I’ve also had a bunch of competitors come and go, so I have to be on top of that a little bit.” In the long range, Belliveau said, “I could possibly write something. It would also be cool to do lecturing.”
Keeping things fresh is a constant challenge with performers, especially as you gain the repeat clients. A couple years ago, he figured his science show was going great, and his magic show was going great, then he saw some balloon sculptors at a common venue that made a big impression. He had also read some advice from other performers on keeping your edge.
The tip was to go outside your chosen field and learn something new. He really liked that and went and got some balloons, aprons and various bags. Since then he has sculpted balloons professionally for various events and attends jams when he can. He said he also uses YouTube and DVD’s as resources. As far as using balloons in a non-traditional way, he had attended one of Marvin Hardy’s classes at the MBD2 10 Year Bash and learned how to make a balloon bass guitar.
Staying motivated is another challenge. “There are different strategies I use. One is not to blow a ton of time watching TV or doing non-productive things,” he said. He will also scan the week ahead and see where he can work on stuff just for that particular show coming up.
Belliveau does have some advice for newbies:
1) Dress a step higher or better than others. You don’t need a tuxedo, but pay attention to what you look like.
2) Show up early, be on time. “I have no problem with arriving more than an hour before a show.”
3) See as many performers as you can, in your own field and in a variety of fields.
4) Allow yourself playtime and time to work on things. Playtime can turn into serious rehearsal time. Practice things over and over until you get it right.
“It’s about the discipline. It makes all the difference between just doing something and mastering it,” he said.