Recently I finished a road trip around the USA and I stumbled upon two live music concerts. This really surprised me as I didn’t think live, public performances are something that would be happening right now. One was in Arizona and the other was in California. Since I wasn’t seeking out live entertainment and came across two shows, I’m assuming a lot more is happening.
The first one was in Arizona and it was in the corner of a restaurant’s outdoor patio. The band wasn’t wearing masks, but they were “socially distant” from the audience. There was no seating within about 12 feet of their performance area. This one felt like it was within the area’s health district’s guidelines.
The second was in California at a “pop up art installation“. This one all of the band except the singer had face masks, however there was no real distance to the audience and the audience’s seating had no space between the chairs. This one felt like it was done with no regard to what their local health department is recommending (I could be wrong).
In addition to these two concerts, I ran across about half a dozen street performers. This tells me that people are ready and want live, in person entertainment. Is the time right to go out and start doing shows?
I don’t know.
Personally I’m following what the health department says. If they say I can do a show for less than 10 people with them all 6 feet apart, then I’m good with that. If they say I can do 30 people in a small room or 500 people outdoors, then that works for me.
Is this the right way to do it?
For me it is, it may not be for you. I’m trusting my the health department and in theory they’re more informed than me. This may or may not be true. They also may have an agenda or be directed by someone who does.
A few days ago I finally finished volume one of the book Scripting Magic by Pete McCabe. I’ll admit it took me a lot longer to read it that a book normally takes, that’s because I had a lot of projects I was working on, not because it was a hard read. I was really glad I read this book and it’s something that I think more magicians should read.
For me the main take away was the importance of writing what you say down. You can learn a lot from writing it, but it also makes you review it. You can more easily spot places for jokes and just looking at the words makes it easier to write jokes.
I really liked the interviews and while the book goes a bit into the author’s process for writing scripts, I really wish it had more activities to do, more like a workbook. I get that that’s a hard thing to do because everyone has a different process and style. I would have liked a bit more “hands on” type activities.
Frequently something cool will happen to me and my wife will say, “how do things like that always happen to you?” The answer is simple, I’m present in life. I look at things, I talk to people and an generally aware of what’s happening around me.
Here’s an example of being present, I was at a history museum in New Mexico and saw this medical display. Can you spot the juggler’s prop that was put in there?
Here’s a closer loot at it:
It’s a diabolo! It even says it on the edge of it. How did it end up there? I’m guessing it belonged to a doctor and whoever was putting the display together just assumed it was medical.
Noticing this wasn’t a huge life changing thing, but it’s being aware of the things around you. When you are creating magic, or performing being aware of the situations around you can lead to some great discoveries!
With my state finally starting to reopen, I got to do my first in person magic session with a friend of mine! He sent me a text to hop on Skype and I suggested we go to a brewery. Jamming in person is much more fun and productive that over the internet.
The one drawback of meeting up in person is that you don’t have your whole house of supplies to pull from if an idea comes up. For example, let’s say one of us came up with an idea that needed glue, we can talk about the idea, but we can’t try the idea. Over Skype you have more options for things like that.
The BIG advantage of doing a magic jam in person is that you can try things out on people around you. We did some magic for people at tables next to ours. It was from a distance of at least 6 feet, but it worked! People were really into it and I learned a few things I thought were great were just OK.
With the conversion to virtual shows, I’ve been tweaking routines that I already do to make them stronger in a streaming show. I recently wrote about how I’ve switched the loads of my Cee-Lo dice trick from using my pockets, to not going to the pocket at all.
One thing that I noticed was that depending on the angle, my dice cup which was black would sometimes disappear on the black table top. This isn’t desirable, so this morning I recovered it in natural tan leather. This makes the cup more visible and the whole routine easier to watch. An unexpected bonus to this is that the large dice actually appear a smidge bigger next to the tan dice up than the black dice up.
If you’re starting to do some virtual shows, look at your props and see what disappears to the background, then take steps to make it more visible. Changing the color of the outside of a cup was something really simple and took less than 5 minutes to do.
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!
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.