with interest and enjoy I read your thoughts about winning a competition. Since a few (about six) years, I came up with some ideas, I thought to be good as competition acts. Sometimes it have been just small fragments or ideas, sometimes there have been complete plots. But I never managed to put it into practice.
My idea was to create an act by writing down a plot first. Having a character and to know why he is on stage and does magic are the most important questions for me. After that I have to think about a beginning, a problem and a solution of the problem.
Now, let’s do like we would have all that. What now???? My biggest problem was always the question of where to begin. I don’t think that it can be to buy props or design (new) effects. Or perhaps it is? My problem was always that I got stuck somewhere in the theoretic thinking-process or in bringing it to practice. Is it perhaps a way to just work on one single part of the act? Perhaps a simple effect or a small scene?
I would be very happy, if you could share your ideas about that.
Best wishes from Germany also to Sue-Anne,
The idea of creating a magic act starting with a character is excellent. It's a device used by many authors, film makers and playwrights. Many television shows and movies you see each day are plot-driven, but it's those with memorable or interesting characters that really succeed. Look at CSI and compare it with CSI:NY. Both shows have essentially the same plot, but the character of Grissom is far more interesting and well-developed than that of his New York counterpart.
Apply this to magic acts. Watch the audience reaction that a piece of brilliant magic will received when executed by a superb technician, when compared to a piece of average magic performed by an engaging character. Blaine's magic is certainly not mind-blowing, but when performed by his character, the audience really buys it.
As far as purpose goes, we do a lot a trade shows where companies want us to incorporate their message or their product into our magic. These shows are often far more effective than a simple after-dinner presentation.
So often when we are introduced to perform after the main course plates have been cleared away, you can sense the audience thinking "Magicians? Why are we going to watch a magic show? Isn't that for kids?" It can take quite a few minutes to get over that initial hurdle of "Why?" and have the audience actually participating in and enjoying the show.
On the other hand, when we walk out at a trade launch and start our presentation the audience is thinking "Aha, these are the people who are going to tell us all about this product." They are open and receptive to us, and genuinely surprised and delighted when the magic happens as we are demonstrating the features of the product.
If you have the luxury of a theatre and an audience who has come specifically to see you perform magic, then you will overcome a lot of the initial "Why?" associated with the standard after dinner show.
That leaves us with the "Why?" within the act. Why do any tricks at all? You could be solving problems with magic, showing off, causing problems, or any number of things. If you have a defined character, your character will often answer the "Why?" for you as you explore various ideas. If you simply play "the magician" and you get up on stage and produce a dove, tear up a newspaper and restore it, float a silver ball... don't expect the audience to be interested in you. All you are doing is demonstrating a series of tricks. You aren't telling them anything about yourself, or even your motivation for being on stage let alone why you're doing the tricks.
A movie analogy would be an abstract film. A collection of unrelated scenes that run for an hour and then suddenly stop, leaving the viewer to try to figure out what it all meant.
However, an abstract movie is intentionally abstract, most magic acts are simply displays of skill.
As Ingo said though, where to begin. You have a character, and you have a rough story (as he describes it "a beginning, a problem and a solution of the problem."
The best thing I have found is to tackle the act one effect at a time. Look at the smallest and easiest effect. Come up with your method and note it, and all of it's restrictions, down in a book. You may need to wear sleeves and have a large table on stage. You now have a starting point. As you solve each effect one by one they will impact on the solution you came up for the smallest effect. (A little like solving a rubik cube). You may find that one effect in the middle of your act requires you to hide something in your sleeve, but an earlier effect in the routine means you need your sleeves empty. Now you need to find a way to load your sleeves during the act, or change the method for the middle effect.
Ingo asks if the place to begin is not "to buy props or design (new) effects. Or perhaps it is?" If a certain prop is crucial to the story and the character, then you definitely need to buy it and work around it. The main reason people get stuck, is they can't begin because they have too many options and no boundaries. Set yourself limitations by developing on small part of the scene or even just one move. I'm currently working on a card act and I have mastered 5 seconds of it. That's all there is so far. And that 5 second piece requires a certain table surface and special cards. This immediately creates limitations which can guide me in the development of the next 9 minutes and 55 seconds of the act.
Another thought that might be helpful is that this one move, after it had been created, looked so good we couldn't decide if it should be at the beginning or the end of the act. But as we played with it, it suggested an otherwordly quality that lead to the idea of how to present it. The presentation would be couched in a 4 minute song. This meant I have to come up with other effects that are relevant to the words in the song then, for the other 6 minutes of the act, I need to create magic that will naturally lead up to the song.
In essence I think that the path Ingo is choosing, creating a character and a plot first, is an excellent ne. If more magicians chose that path magic would be a much more varied and interesting art form. But yes, if you decide that your character is a frog who has to try to cross a busy street, then tackle the creation of this act one effect at a time.
You can even put your effects into your standard act, be it on stage or close up, and "road test" them on audiences out of character. If they get a good reaction, and you can iron out any technical bugs along the way, then by the time you put them into context in your main act you'll be way ahead of the game.
Two quick final thoughts:
Teller suggests that when budgeting for an illusion (and the same would apply for any act) multiply your realistic budget by 4. The first thing you make won't work properly, the second you make will be good but you'll want to make a sleeker and better version. The third will be perfect. The fourth will be your spare.
With story acts, try to incorporate applause points within the act. With Sue-Anne's original 'Haunted Mansion' act we left no breaks at the end of effects, so the audience watched it as they would a play. But because it was magic, and they didn't hear their fellow audience members applauding, they felt it mustn't have been fooling the others. As soon as we were able to add applause points, the act as a whole got a better reaction and the audience actually recognised more tricks. It's the same as if a comedian tells jokes so fast that people don't laugh because they don't want to miss his next line. You'll see it in comedy plays and on sitcoms, the actors will pause and react, giving the audience a chance to laugh without breaking character and acknowledging the existence of the audience.
I've enjoyed exploring your question and I hope this has helped you in some way Ingo.