(Part 1 of this series is here.)
As I was honoured to be on the Jury at FISM 2003, I'll use the FISM 2006 competition as a guide. At FISM the judges will look at six specific aspects of your act and give you points for each category:
· Technical Skill/Handling.
· Entertainment value
· Artistic Impression/Routining
· Magic Atmosphere
Go here to see the complete FISM competition rules.
Let's take a moment to look at each category.
TECHNICAL SKILL/HANDLING: This is one category where you have no excuse not to get maximum points. No matter what type of routine you are attempting, it is almost unforgivable if you are not technically proficient at it. If you fumble for a dove loop, or a palmed card is exposed, or a billiard ball flashes, you need to be back in the rehearsal studio and not on the stage. Some might think I'm being a little harsh here, we all fumble when we're nervous, I certainly understand that, but there is a difference between a perform who is suffering from nerves and one who simply is under-rehearsed. Even so, one mistake because of nerves can be overlooked, but two and you will start to lose points. But if you walk out on stage and when you fan your cards they have more gaps in them than a bad set of dentures then you are going to score very low in this category.
SHOWMANSHIP/PRESENTATION: This is the category where you must overcome your nerves. You need to be confident, in control, but not arrogant or full of yourself. You need to look good, speak or act with assurance, and grab our attention instantly and never let us go. If you want to perform a classic dove act, go ahead, but you need to project something about yourself and the way you perform that is like a magnet. Videotape your audiences as well as yourself; are they glued to your every move or are they looking around, distracted by each other and looking at their watches? What's the difference between say 'Catwoman' and 'Batman Begins'? Both movies featured interesting looking characters, action-packed plots, and lots of pretty scenery... but there is something about the Batman movie's story, scting and direction that just makes it far more interesting and exciting to watch. That is what we need in your act: An interesting character, lots of surprises, and tight well edited magic.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Many people argue that this is the most important of all categories. It is if you enter a regular talent contest. But then... how many magic acts win regular talent contests when pitted against singers and comedians? Many magic acts are entertaining to magicians, and you might coast by if you pitch your act at magicians - and to be honest, if you are doing a corporate show for lawyers, you throw in some lawyer material, golfers in the audience, use your golf material, so for a crowd of magicians, you can throw in some magic references. This does add to the entertainment value, but beware, some judges are inexperienced and will penalise you because they will think "That's good for a magic comp, but it wouldn't play well in the "real" world." So you can acknowledge the magicians with a wink and a nod, but steer clear of "in jokes" and references to technique. Having said that, we all know when we see a magic act devoid of entertainment value, we see them all the time. Entertainment value is tied in with presentation and showmanship, however it is as equally connected with the selection of the material as it is the performance of it. You can't be standing on stage, withdrawn and focused on your technique, nor can your material be uninteresting. Unless you really want to set yourself up with a challenge, try to avoid long, drawn out effects with a long card selection process or the adding up of numbers. Confusing plots and set ups should be replaced with multiple effects. It's extremely difficult to keep the audience engaged and entertained if you give the spectator the deck and wait for him to complete shuffling it. It may be better to avoid such potentially dull moments when you're designing your act.
ARTISTIC IMPRESSION/ROUTINING: This category, again, is as much about the tricks and effects as it is the performer. If you were to present three completely unrelated effects: A dove production, a book test and a sliding die box, you most likely would score very badly here - unless, of course, you created some amazing presentation that linked the three effects and made them flow. Again, relating this to movies, a good movie well tell a story, throwing out various elements that go together and maybe waiting until the very end to bring them all together into a satisfying climax. It is possible to create an act of three entirely different routines (something like the 'Trilogy of Terror' movies that featured three separate tales) but even those movie stories, though unrelated, had Terror as a common theme. Many people have pointed to my routine 'Runaround Sue' as a good example of routining. The individual effects all share a common theme, common elements, and flow together to build the story to a satisfying climax. (I'd recommend getting the DVD to study, but it would probably look like a blatant plug! *g*) There are many ways to make routine an act artistically, but try to avoid the somewhat cliched 'theme' act where you simply do a standard manipulation act but replace all of the elements with your theme item of choice. If you would like to do a linking ring routine with donuts, then build the rest of your act around that so that it will support the use of donuts logically. Do not simply add a multiplying donut routine and a jumbo donut climax and expect to be considered artistic.
ORIGINALITY: The most challenging and yet the simplest category of all. First, watch as many magic acts as you can. Look at what they do, and then eliminate those from your list of potential tricks and presentations. It's much easier to start off with limitations than a completely blank page. You might be saying: "Right, I won't do a zombie, an origami, a linking ring routine, a newspaper tear.... what WILL I do?!" For the answer, you need to look in the mirror, and if you - like most performers - have a mirror that lies to you, ask an honest friend. You may be shocked to discover that you are actually NOT Lance Burton, David Blaine or Criss Angel. You may discover that you have quite a unique view of magic and the way it should be performed - but you simply assumed it must be wrong and went with the safe flow of the magic crowd. You may discover you love a particular style of music, or movies, or dress - and that may form the impetus of creating your unique and original character. It is from that CHARACTER that your original magic will flow, once you know who you are, you will know what magic suits you, and what doesn't. This is an area we'll explore in more depth later, but in a nutshell the judges want originality not only in effects, but in presentation and personality as well.
MAGIC ATMOSPHERE: This is what separates an entertaining act from a magical one. Naturally, you need to strive to be as entertaining as possible, but it can't be just a comedy act, nor can it just be a romantic vignette, it needs to be a MAGIC ACT. We return to the movie analogies: If you see an action film, you want to feel your pulse racing and your adrenalin pumping as you watch it. If you see a romance, you want to be moved, maybe even to shed a tear in sympathy with the characters on screen. If you see a magic act, you want to feel the tingles of anticipation through your body, you want to feel excited as you see the impossible happen on stage right in front of you. Any style of magic act, properly constructed, can give you that feeling: Manipulation, the excitement of Lee Eun-Gyeol as objects dissolved into smoke at his fingertips. Comedy, the moment in Scott & Muriel's act where we realise Muriel wasn't in the stairs after all. Mentalism, any number of effects performed by Derren Brown as all logical explanation flies out the window and you conclude that it must be magic! Think about how "real magic" would look, then try to create that live on stage.
The exciting thing about creating an act for a competition is that you are also creating an original piece of magic that people will have to hire you to see. You are developing your 'USP' (Unique Selling Proposition). Spend the time creating your act. Use the competition as a short-term goal. Whether you win or lose the real payoff will come later in the 'real world'.
Part 3 is HERE