The other day a magician I know texted me asking me if I could put him into one of my virtual shows so he could do 5 or 10 mins. Here’s a little bit of backstory, the magician is a good in person magician, but hadn’t done any virtual performing. It’s the lack of experience on the virtual stage that made me have to say no.
Unfortunately doing virtual shows isn’t as simple as turning on a camera and performing. There’s a lot of things you need to figure out at it’s most basic level where it’s just your laptop cam and some magic. Having a choppy show that kinda bumbled through the zoom was acceptable in March – June of 2020 when everyone was figuring this out and we were converting in person gigs to virtual gigs. We’re now in a world where we’re selling virtual gigs and you need to have a show that’s barely treading water while learning to navigate the virtual stage.
The silver lining to virtual shows it’s that it’s easer than ever to get your flight time on stage. There are virtual open mics you can do and you aren’t limited to what you can drive to, these happen at different times and time zones around the world. You could probably perform 3-5 times (or more) a day! That’s tons of chances to learn how to perform virtually. That’s in addition to just getting some friend to informally hop on zoom and you do a few tricks for them.
Basically what I’m saying is you haven’t performed virtually, you need to bang out a few free shows to figure out how it all works and how your show fits onto the screen.
A trick I’ve been using on Zoom is having someone think of someone’s name in the zoom room and then telling them who they are thinking of. What I like is that it’s “propless mentalism” and it feels impromptu.
Here’s what it looks like:
What I like is that you are changing the texture of your show when you do something like this. You are taking the focus off of a single screen and moving it to the gallery. During a trick like this, you get to watch everyone, and everyone watches waiting to see if they’re the one that the person is thinking of.
Moving the visual focus from you to the audience gives your show some texture. While something like this may not be for everyone, it’s something you should think about.
When you’re doing virtual shows, a lot goes into them. More than just the tricks. Someone recently posted their “promo video” for virtual shows. There are some good elements to this, like the people reacting, then some bad elements, like everything else.
Here’s the video:
The big problem with the video is the guy’s lighting is horrible! Yes, I understand that some of the effects he’s doing require special lighting, but he’s not even doing that right, you can light the effect correctly and make it not look like you’re performing in a closet.
Here’s a screenshot from the above video:
Does that look like something you’d pay money to watch?
Does that mean it’s a bad show?
Right now we all need to learn about lighting, video production, etc and we all need to learn the basics about all of it.
About a month ago I added a new trick to Zoom that’s been doing really well. It’s an interactive trick, where someone thinks of someone in the Zoom room and I tell them who they are thinking of. It’s a pretty good trick because it’s so customized and uses what’s happening now. It’s “propless mentalism” in a zoom room!
What I do is make a progressive anagram for the first names of the people in the Zoom room and have someone think of a person. I then go through the flow chart and tell them who they are thinking of! It can be instantly repeated, and if people join later, you can simply add their names. It’s great!
One of the advantages of doing it people’s first names in a zoom room is the person thinking of the name is looking right at the name. That makes if very difficult for them to misspell it!
One of the most important things you can do right now is watch other performer’s virtual shows. You can learn a ton about doing these shows by watching them. You may see stuff you dislike and it’s a reminder for you not to do it and you may see things you like and you can try to recreate those elements.
The other day I watched a performer’s first public virtual show. One of the things he did was talk about how “weird” watching a show virtually is. From the performer’s view, it’s very strange and not like what we’re used to. From the audience point of view, it’s not that strange as they are used to consuming entertainment through their computers or TV.
Personally I firmly believe in addressing the elephant in the room, however at this point it’s only strange for the performer. Unless you have a joke, trick or point of view, in my opinion, it’s now best to skip it. In March and April I think mentioning it was appropriate, but now we’ve all had zoom meetings, zoom school, we’re all familiar with it.
Also going forward, if you’re a performer and you’re not an expert on using Zoom, you need to be. Kids have been using it for school for three months, PTA meetings have been happening over it for the same amount to time. You can’t be fumbling though it anymore.
Early on in the days of “shelter in place”, bookers who had magic shows scheduled were blindly switching to online shows. They didn’t really know what it would look like, they just needed another option. Now that we’re almost four months into having restrictions on large gatherings, people are starting to look into booking these, and not just converting existing bookings.
Because of the shift from converted shows already scheduled to scheduling new shows, I decided it was time to make a promo video for my virtual magic show. Here’s what the current version looks like:
I’m going to make another version, this was the first so that I have something to show potential bookers right now. As I compile more and more video, I’ll make another promo video.
I’m going to try to put together some sort of a routine with the gimmicked envelope that was in yesterday’s blog post. Essentially this is an envelope that you can load things into while it’s closed. There’s not much to the envelope, basically it has a hidden trapdoor that allows you to load it thru the bottom. This post isn’t really concerned with the mechanics, it’s more concerned with what to do with it.
My first idea was for a trick over Zoom. What happens is you show the envelope and have someone name a card and it’s in the envelope. How I’m doing it is having someone off camera load the card into the envelope what the bottom of the envelope is off screen for a second. I’ve done this a couple of times and it works.
My second idea is to expose the camera edge with a fake explanation. You show a side view of the trick and what happens off camera is a “Rube Goldberg” sort of way to find the card and put it into the envelope. I think this is a fun blow off and gives you more time out of the trick. However the trick needs a kicker of some sort to so that it has an ending instead of just a blow off.
Last night I stayed up a bit later than normal to watch some of Saturday Night Live. This was their first episode that was done over Zoom. It was really interesting how it was done. Basically people in their houses doing bits by themselves. What was interesting was that it wasn’t live in the normal sense. It was all prerecorded.
I will say that I didn’t stay up and watch the whole thing, it was way past my bedtime. The host was Tom Hanks and his opening monologue felt really short compared to how they normally are. He had one camera on him and they gave texture to it by tightening and or widening the frame to accentuate the jokes.
There’s a lot to learn about virtual shows, we’re all trying to figure it out. It’s nice to see a big production like Saturday Night Live also trying to figure it out.