A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a “pass the prop” video to promote a virtual show that I’m in. I’d never really done one before and there were a couple of things I needed to consider. The big one was was that I was quarantining with another act, so we had to decide whether to embrace being in the same place or try to hide that.
We decided to embrace it and you can see what we put out here:
The show came out a while ago, I had just forgotten about this video until now. The show turned out well and the host really did a great job, hopefully there will be more!
A friend of mine was doing a virtual magic show last night and I bought a ticket and watched it. He’s a great performer and magician, so I was excited. However when the zoom show started it was plagued by technical problems the whole time. His audio kept cutting out and his video was choppy or completely freezing. This is my greatest fear in virtual shows.
When you are doing a live show you know when there’s a problem. If your mic goes out, you can yell. If the lights go out, you could move the audience to the lobby. No matter what the technical problem is, generally you are aware of it.
In a virtual show, you are doing your thing to a screen and it looks OK on your screen as it’s the outgoing screen, however what people are seeing could be totally different.
Unfortunately with zoom the performer is the last one to know that there’s an audio or video problem. So what do you do when there’s a problem, do you end the show, do you plow through hoping it’ll get better? Honestly, I don’t think there’s a “best practice” as to what to do while it’s happening.
I think that right now people are aware of the medium and its quirks, but as we move forward, people are going to get more and more savvy and less tolerant of tech problems in zoom shows.
One of my favorite routines is my Cee-Lo cup and dice routine. When I sat down to put the routine together, I really thought out what I wanted it to be. I didn’t take someone else’s existing routine and alter it, I built the routine from the ground up…and am still adapting it.
It’s nice when other people recognize that you’ve got a good routine. Cee-Lo was just reviewed in Vanish Magazine. I love how Nick mentions that the routine doesn’t feel like there is padding before the two jumbo dice loads.
Honestly, I wish I could bang out creating routines like this. One of the nice things about when I was putting this together is that I was performing on the “fair circuit” and doing 3 shows a day, plus I could do it before the show, after the show, or pretty much anytime I wanted. Having all those opportunities to test out different sequences in a very short amount of time really helped tighten up fast!
Not too long ago I picked up a copy of The Truth in Comedy which is about doing improv. It’s an interesting book, and I’m about a third of the way through the book. One of the main concepts if trying to find the real moments and not shoehorning jokes into a real moment.
A real moment is always more interesting than a prepared joke. I very much agree with this. In the past I’ve been more about getting to the joke and forgotten to play. I try to be good about playing, but it doesn’t always happen.
The hard part is when you have a routine that was built on audience interaction, however the real moments have become so predictable, you are just jumping joke to joke.
For me a good example is my card catch routine. This was built on playing with the audience and for the first about 50 shows it was a lot of playing. Then I noticed the routine became very scripted, people pretty much reacted the same way the whole routine. Once I realized what the routine was becoming, I started working to phase it out of the show for a bit.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the routine regularly in the show. Occasionally I’ll do the routine and it’s playing much better as I’m able to get back into the moment during the trick. It was hard taking the routine out of the show, but it’s made the routine better!
Normally I don’t produce shows, it’s a pain to deal with many acts that aren’t full time pros (and some full time pros as well). During the current “shelter in place” I’m co-producing a variety show that takes place over zoom. There are a lot of approaches to these streaming shows. Our theory is to do them live, and it give it the feeling that anything can happen. Also a live show that is happening while you are watching it has a different energy for the viewer than just watching a youtube video.
Here’s highlights from our last show:
We’re going to a fun, hanging out vibe and I think we’ve gotten that. It’s not just a show it’s a hangout. If you’re doing a streaming show, what separates yours from just a camera on your show?
In this episode of the Moisture Festival Podcast we welcome one of the festival’s favorites Bill Robison into the studio. We discuss Bill’s career performing for 10,000 seat arena’s opening up for people like Willie Nelson and Bill Cosby.
We also hear about his time performing in a comedy duo called the Shneedles, and how they became one of the most popular variety acts in the German spiegaltent circuit. Also, we talk about his time doing mask theatre and how that has influenced his permanence style today. A great chat and a lot of fun to have this hilarious clown on the podcast.
After watching a few virtual magic shows, I made a change to how I record part of mine. I used to have a separate close up camera for when I wanted the focus on my hands. Then it hit me, why not just use the feed from the main camera and crop it down. That was a simple solution and I think looks better than a second camera, unless the second camera was a drastically different angle, like pointing straight down.
You’ll notice in the square that I’m in, in the upper left there’s a smaller full picture of me. Doing this was simple, it’s just using the camera feed twice. The larger picture is cropped down to just my hands and the smaller is the unaltered camera frame.
I’ve always wanted people to see my face while performing and the bigger picture. In my opinion it helps connect with your audience when you are more than just hands.
I’ve been making tricks that I do is to make them more “bullet proof” on camera. One of the things that I’ve done is to use a gimmicked table to avoid going to the pocket to ditch or to steal things. This is changing how I think about a lot of close up magic.
One thing performing for the camera and not live close up is that it’s hard to get your face and table in frame at the same time. That is when you use a traditional table height, which is about weight height. You end up with either a very wide shot and it’s harder to see the action or just the tabletop and your crotch in frame.
Personally I’d rather people see my face open space on the table. In the past I’ve done a couple things, first having a smaller table top that’s slightly higher than normal helped. I also try squat down to physically get my head closer to the table. This is uncomfortable and wouldn’t want to do a whole show this way, but it helps allow me to get my face in the video.
Here’s an example from video of mine:
You’ll see in the video above that the table is at about belly button level, instead of at the bottom of my crotch. What I’ve recently done is raise my table up to a couple of inches below my armpit and shrink the size of the tabletop. That makes it a lot easier to show both my face and the tabletop!
For me when I perform, I want to have my face in frame as much as possible, that’s just as important as the magic. Sure there are times when you want to focus on the trick, but for me the overwhelming majority of the time, I want my face also in frame. Keep in mind, this is for a static one camera video, when you have a moving or multiple cameras, you have more options to show your face and highlight the magic.
One of the things I’ve never really explored much was using a gimmicked table. The main reason is that it doesn’t really work in the venues that I perform in. I rarely have an audience that’s just in front of me, so the stuff hanging off the back of my table would be visible.
Yesterday I 3d printed a dice holder and it worked great. This was to avoid loading from my pocket. Then it got me thinking that I should remove the “two in the hand, one in the pocket” sequence from the routine so that I don’t got to the pocket at all. That would make the routine more deceptive, so I made a servante to ditch the dice into:
I was playing with a new routine and I’m liking it. I’ve come up with an interesting ditch of the one of the dice, that’s built upon something that I saw Tom Stone do at a lecture. It’s a way to get rid of one of the dice without having to put my hand on the table’s edge. It was part of his talk on “crossing the gaze” and something that’s stuck with me for years.
The new routine is starting to figure itself out, but it’ll be a bit before the sequence starts to get finalized. I’m happy I finally built this.