Last week I did a run of school assemblies that were sponsored by a library system to promote their summer reading programs. The show I was doing my my Incredible Idioms school assembly show, which I wrote for a 6 week school assembly tour in January/February of this year.
The challenge remembering the show as the last time I did the show was mid February, so about 3 months ago. What works for me to relearn a show is to listen to audio recordings of the show. This is also why it’s important to record your shows. It’s not hard to do, simply use the voice recorder on your phone.
The week before I had these shows I listened to the audio of the show while I drove in the car or on headphones as I worked around the house. For me passively listening really helps my brain bring back the “mental muscle memory” of the show. This is something that also helps for learning a new show or routine. I record myself doing the script and listen to it over and over while doing other things.
Hope you remember this tip when you need to relearn a show!
One of the routines that I really liked that I was doing on the school assembly tour was my tennis ball routine. It opens with a production of a single tennis ball from my Take Out Production Box, then it goes into mulitplying balls style routine and ends with a tennis ball turning into confetti.
Here’s the routine:
At about the 1:50 mark you’ll notice one of the kids in the middle showing the kid next to her that she thinks the balls are coming out of my sleeve. When I reviewed video of the show I noticed that, I added a bit where I show my sleeves empty. It’s a little thing, but it makes the routine stronger.
I really like this routine and would like to use it elsewhere, however the challenge is that I need the book to ditch the final tennis ball. I’ll need to figure out another way to ditch the final palmed ball.
The show I did last month for school assemblies opened with a flash opener, that’s not really a trick, but something visual and exciting. Then the first actual magic trick in the show is the Prestige trick. This is a mentalism trick where you have 5 numbered cards with different things written on them and someone picks one and what’s written on the back of that number is your force.
Here’s what the trick looks like:
How I’m making the trick work for kids is that I’m building a pattern of the same thing on all of the cards, then shattering the pattern with the revelation of something different. This is basically how a joke is structured, you build an assumption (set up) and then you change that assumption (punchline). This is a structure that kids can understand and that’s why it works.
Another thing that makes this effective is how direct it is for the selection of the item, because the number is a free choice. There’s nothing complicated like with the PATEO force or that feels strange like with the hotrod force. The effect how I do it would lose impact if I had a process heavy force, and it definitely wouldn’t work in the opening spot in the show if I had to use a lot of procedure.
I really dig this trick, it works out great for me.
One of the huge lesson I learned last month on the school assembly tour that I was on was how to get more our of the people who helped me onstage. Basically I just asked a lot of questions. The questions aren’t random, and I have preplanned joke responses for some answers, but I’m looking for thing that I can use to create a real live moment.
The other thing I learned is not to jump in too quickly with my response, especially if I already have a joke answer to what the kid says. You need to let the kid’s answer land with the audience, then hit your response. If you reply too quickly, the audience doesn’t have time to process, but I think it also feels less real and in the moment.
Magic has a long history of appropriating Asian culture, from people performing in yellow face to props having random Chinese characters put on them to make them look exotic.
I have a prop that has Chinese on it that actually makes sense. A couple of years ago I made a production box out of a take out box from a Chinese restaurant. This idea had been in a notebook years earlier, but I finally got around to it in 2020.
This box is the first trick in the school assembly show and gets a huge reaction! In the show I use it to produce a tennis ball, while saying producing a tennis ball from a take out box doesn’t really make sense, in the routine it does make sense.
In the school assembly show that I’m working on, I have a need to steal a FS2 gimmick (modified Sanada Gimmick). The challenge is that it’s going to be loaded, so it can’t open. The solution that I came up with is to put magnets on the bottom of it, and have it stick to other magnets inside of the opened lid of my case.
The magnets in the gimmick and the magnets in the case will hold the gimmick closed so that nothing will fall out of it.
I marked my case so that I know exactly where to put the gimmick when setting up the show. This is more to make setting up easier, as I can visually see the gimmick sticking out of the case when I need to steal it.
In the actual routine the gimmick will be stolen when I pick up a book that I had previously set on top of the case.
The book serves a double purpose. It facilitates the steal of the FS2 gimmick and when it put the book back, it allows me to ditch a palmed ball.
One thing that a lot of children’s performers neglect is making the magic technique solid. Sure I could ditch the palmed ball in my pocket, but it’s really not deceptive to do it that way. With kids performers there’s a myth that “it’s about the journey, not the destination” and I totally disagree with that. If you have an awesome trip to disneyland, but turn around when you get to the gate and go home, there’s some disappointment. With magic, you need the journey and destination to be great!
One of the routines I’m working on for my school assembly tour next month is a ball manipulation sequence. It’s going to use sponge tennis balls. I’m choosing these because them fit the theme I’m going for AND they play very big. For the routine I need to steal two balls, one at a time. I don’t want to do pocket steals, and they look bad on stage, the work better close up.
Years ago when I used to do a multiplying balls, my routine had a body steal and I used this holder:
This one is great and it lays flat after you steal the ball. However stealing a sponge ball is a little different that stealing a ball that is solid. So to experiment, I bought several different styles of ball droppers to play with:
After trying them, I think the winner is the Sponge Ball Dropper!
This has a couple advantages over the other ball droppers, mainly that it’s designed to hold sponge, and not a solid ball. I like the release action being a squeeze and not a pulling motion. Also it completely hides the sponge ball when it’s in my coat, so if my coat opens, you don’t see a bunch of colorful balls pinned to the inside.
My worry about things that have moving parts is that if it breaks and needs repair while I’m on the road, it might not be easy to fix or get another one. I’ll probably travel with a couple of normal billiard ball droppers as back ups and hope I won’t need them.
One of the ways to add a bonus trick to a routine, is to introduce the prop you’re going to use for the routine as part of a prediction. In the school assembly show that I’m working on, I’m doing a routine with a tennis ball and will be using it as the reveal of a prediction, then going into the tennis ball routine.
The way I’m going to be doing this is using a trick called Prestige. This prop is visually similar to Tom Stone’s routine Of Dice and Men. It has 5 numbered options on cards and someone from the audience names one of the numbers and on the back of that is your force item.
I picked up the dry erase version of Prestige, I’m not sure this was the right version as I have a feeling I’m going to have to keep redrawing the pictures on the cards. I guess I could draw them in Sharpie and it won’t be an issue.
The trick comes with numbers that stick to the cards with magnets.
The magnet numbers are used for a bonus trick where all the numbers disappear except for the chosen number. I’m not doing that and having the numbers removable add bulk to the folded up packet and makes setting up a little bit harder.
I took some vinyl numbers and stuck them to the outside of the sleeves.
This has less stuff for me to break, or lose while I’m on the road and a good solution for the routine that I’ll be doing. We’ll see how this trick goes next month…
In less than a month I’ll be debuting a new school/library show. I’ll be on a school assembly tour for five weeks. The show is called “Incredible Idioms” and is themed on idioms.
The great thing about breaking in shows by doing three a day for over a month is that the show gets really good, really quick…Or you realize by the end of the 5 weeks you don’t like the show and never do it again.
The key to these is actually putting in the work. I’ll be doing a lot of reviewing video and writing every night and the first week or two the show will be rough, but then it’ll be super tight for the rest of the tour. Oh, by rough, I mean just good, and not great. I’ve done school shows for a long time, and have a good general sense of what kids like (but the do surprise me sometimes).
Right now I have a ton of half built props and half written routines. It feels like the show won’t be ready in less than a month, but once one routine gets completed, they’ll all domino into being built.
Sometimes I end up watching magic videos on the internet and I’m not quite sure how I ended up on a video. I found of video of someone dressed as Elmo doing a magic show at a school:
I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea. Was it the school that wanted Elmo or the performer that pitched it? You get the initial reaction when Elmo walks in, but then it quickly turns into kids crying. Just because a booker wants something, it doesn’t mean you need to give it to them.
Based on the props set up in the video, it looks like they were doing a show, not just a short bit. I’m very curious how the perform kept any sort of control?
Also besides what looks like some copyright infringement, the Elmo character has a “character” associated with it, and I don’t think it’s pulling chickens out of a bag. Once again, just because there’s a paycheck, it doesn’t mean you need to do the gig! -Louie
P.S. the video posted above is something that is publicly available on YouTube with sharing enabled. It’s being used to promote a show, so it’s fair game for me to comment on. I didn’t secretly record this, someone thought it was a good way to show what they do for potential buyers.