Something I try to be aware of is the content of my show and how it relates to the current world. An example of this is trying to stay about from politically charged topics, and not gendering people. I’ll be 100% honest that I struggle with not assuming someone’s gender, I’m getting better about it. The thing is I’m not just pretending it’s not a thing, I’m actively trying. Just breaking 40 years of habit is tough.
Right now I’m having a struggle with a line in my show where I say: “…it gives you the illusion of choice…like voting” The original intent with that line was my opinion on the electoral system. However with the political challenges the USA has faced in the last six months I can see how that line now carries very heavy political baggage.
Do I keep it or drop it?
Here’s the thing, it’s not a huge line in the routine or show. So dropping it won’t hurt the show. Also, it’s a probably pretty easy to write something to fit that format, just change “voting” to something else.
It comes down to how bad do I want to defend the punchline if someone gets upset at it? It’s not a joke or bit I would fight really hard for. There are other edgy jokes that I definitely would fight for, this just isn’t one of them.
Moving forward, I’ll probably drop the line, or rewrite it and a few years from now it may make it back into the show…
One thing that I think is never taught to magicians is how to work on your show. Most magicians have no idea how to do this…I didn’t for the longest time. This week 5 years ago I drove from Seattle to Nebraska to do an 8 week school assembly tour.
The pay was garbage, but that’s not why I took the tour. They had me doing three to four shows a day, five days a week, and that’s why I took the gig. I left Seattle with some rough ideas for what the show would be like, but no established routines, just some props.
Let me stop and say that this really isn’t a good way to approach a tour. I took the gig specifically to generate material. For what it paid, I wasn’t going my tried and true material. That’s said, I did have an idea of tricks that I wanted to do, I just hadn’t really done them in a show context before.
For example, this is where I learned to do my multiplying billiard ball routine. It started out using a shell, but due to the wide angles of a school gym, it morphed to a no shell routine. I dropped a lot of material and added a lot on that tour.
OK, so how do you work on a show?
For this tour I recorded at least one show a day. Then I got back to the hotel and watched at least one show’s recording from that day. I took notes and wrote jokes every night. That’s a crap ton of watching yourself, but you get good really quick. Every night I would have several actionable things to not do in my show as well as several new jokes or bits to try the next day.
That’s how you work on a show. Record every shows (or at least one if doing multiple a day) and actually watch it with a critical eye. Write notes for what you like and don’t like. Then watch it again and write new material to add.
However, it’s work and it’s a pain to do. When you’re on the road by yourself it’s much easier to do than when you’re at home with your family, or whatever home based distractions you have.
You need to sit down and actually watch your previous performances. It’s amazing how many shows you thought were amazing are pretty cringy when they are taken out of “the moment”.
One thing that’s been life changing for my show is learning to use a 3D printer. Recently I was part of a panel that was talking about 3D printing for performers and I made a quick video tutorial that took you through the entire design process of making a holder for a thumb tip and dollar bill holder.
Here it is:
Hopefully this took some of the mystery out of 3D printing. Honestly I thought it would be much harder, until I got one and learned to do it!
The reality moving forward whether we like it or not will be shows that are socially distant. What that means is a gap between the performer and the audience and having to have people onstage stay somewhere between six and twenty five feet from you. What that means is people can still manipulate objects, they just need to do it from a distance.
That has me thinking of tricks that can be done with someone onstage, but on the opposite side of the stage and using props that I never touch. One of these tricks is Promystic’s Color Match. I did this trick for years, but it cycled out of the show a couple years ago. This fits the rules, it can be done at a distance and without any contact or sharing of the props.
I went out an bought a collapsible easel and 3D printed some cup holders for the easel.
One the right side (when facing the easel) is the cup full of pens and on the left is the empty cup. I have the cup on the left labeled “used”. The “used” pen bin is something that’s very common right now at stores and restaurants due COVID rules. It’s something 18 months ago would be strange, but something that people see often now. Even if they’ve never seen the two cup system at the store, it’s a very simple concept to grasp.
The cool thing is that this solves the problem with what to do with the pen after they use it during the Color Match trick in a logical manner.
For a while I’ve been dinking around with a coins to glass routine. Here’s an early version of it:
The problem with the early version of the trick is that it needs some specific lighting. That’s not a problem for virtual venues, but I’m hoping this is something that could transition to my in person shows via video projection or in a some specific cabaret settings.
A couple of weeks ago I did it at the Mostly Magicians Virtual Open Mic and got some great feedback that had me start to explore ways to do the trick that relied a lot less on the lighting. I remembered going to a Tom Stone lecture a few years ago and some of the things he talked about helped me solve the problem.
Here’s what I the current version of the trick looks like:
Would this version hold up to repeated viewings as a stand alone social media video?
Probably not, but that’s not the intention. It’s for live performances, whether it’s in person or virtual and I think it fits the bill. The nice thing is that now I’m working on a trick that has a bigger life than just a virtual show!
In a continuing effort to use my virtual performing space wisely, I added a little bit more to the shelf below my working surface.
The four ball holders on the left are new, along with the coil holder. This also eliminates a couple of body loads that would have been in my in person show. There are still a few prop holders that need to be added, however it’s just a matter of time to design and print them.
The in person show went well, and it’s good to have a full show under my belt! It was sold out at just over 200 people and it was a fundraiser for a venue that had been closed due to the pandemic.
I’m glad I spent the time working on my show and relearning it at home, versus on stage. There were a few moments where I hadn’t foreseen how things would play out socially distant and needed the brain power freed up by having some muscle memory of the show.
Everyone says “it’s like riding a bicycle” and it sort of is, but I was still remember bits each time I practiced!
It’s kinda strange getting back to work. I’ve been practicing all week and got into the city I’m performing in last night and spent the night practicing. Today’s agenda is more practicing. Luckily this hotel has some space to set up the show.
Running the show as much as I have the last week is really helping my lines come back to me more automatically.
I think that’s one of the things that separates more seasoned performers from newer ones is that they know their show soo well they don’t need to think. That frees up brain computing space to deal with ad libs, paying attention to what’s happening in the room or fixing any problems that arise.
People love to crowd source information on the internet. The problem is that you don’t know the quality of the information you are getting back. Recently someone posted a picture of a prop they had acquired, but didn’t know what it did. It was a dice cup with a hole in the back, four dice and a jumbo die.
The misinformation starts when people don’t know what they are talking about start it tell the person what the cup is for. Here’s the first couple of responses:
Then a couple of people took the dice stacking suggesting a bit further and said you could look through the hole to see the number on the top die. Let’s start with that idea of using it to see the number on the top of the top die. Learning to stack the dice is hard…once you can do that, knowing what number is on top of the stack without a gimmicked cup is VERY EASY. It makes no sense to make the stacking aspect harder without make knowing the number uppermost easier.
Now let’s look at the props. You have regular game dice, where any marketed dice stacking set would come with casino dice which are the standard for people who stack dice. In the picture below, the casino die is on the right.
Yes, I’m aware you can stack game dice, however it’s much harder than on casino dice due to their size, rounded edges, and lack of consistent 90 degree angles. I learned to dice stack with a drinking glass and game dice, so I know it can be done, I also know who much easier it got when I had proper tools.
Next if you look at the cup, it tapers and is not straight sided. Some people stack with dice like this, however most people use straight sided dice cups. On it’s own the tapered cup wouldn’t say it’s not for dice stacking, but then you look at the height of the cup in relation to the dice. Once you get them in the up and ready to stack, they have a long way to fall, which is where you will give you trouble.
Looking at the whole picture, the style of dice and style of cup, I’m 99% sure it’s not for dice stacking. I’m leaving 1% as it’s some strange homemade prop that was never marketed.
I made a quick replica of the props shown and here’s the style of routine that I think the props are for:
The internet is a great way to crowd source answers, but the problem is that it’s hard know the quality of those answers.
Now that my state is opening up for live entertainment, it looks like Andy Gross will be performing in my area. If you don’t remember who he is, a couple of years ago he was performing at a college and was accused of sexually harassing a student on stage. At the time it made huge national news.
He crossed the line in my opinion when he said, “…I got a free feel out of it“. Well, he crossed the line before that with the routine he did. He basically stole the routine David Copperfield who did it in the 1990’s with the Cardiographic trick on one of his TV specials. Also if you look at his promo pic in the ad for the show, it’s not the only trick he’s swiped from DavidCopperfield.
Why was it OK for Copperfield to do it and not Andy Gross? The main thing is where the world is/was when it was done. Copperfield did it in the mid 1990’s about 25 years ago. The world was a very different place back then. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it socially acceptable. Just like 25 years ago you could smoke in a park on a bench while your kids are playing at the playground. It wasn’t right 25 years ago, but it was socially acceptable. I remember when I was in high school in the mid 1990’s there were schools with their proms being cancelled because an interracial couple or a gay couple was going to attend and rather than let them go, they simply cancelled the whole thing…and the community supported them. It wasn’t right then, however it was socially acceptable. This is also part of the plot of the Netflix Movie The Prom.
You have to be able to change with the times. Unfortunately most performers don’t reassess their shows to look for things that have hit their expiration date…which Andy Gross clearly hadn’t done.
Here’s my conundrum. I’m curious what he does in his show…but I also don’t want to support him. I don’t want to support people who swipe material.