This week is challenging with performing outdoors in a noisy environment for people who are far from the stage and masked. I can’t hear them, or if someone says something I can’t tell who is saying it. I can also have no one on stage. I’ve been working on no contact material for a while, but the not being able to hear people is really throwing me for a loop.
I’ve been leaning heavily on jokes to add length to my show. The nice thing is that they require no props and that I can do and tell them without needed to hear anyone. It’s almost like telling jokes on a zoom show…but you can’t see people laughing.
I’m remembering reading in Wise Guy, Harry Anderson‘s book about performing band breaks at concerts and not being able to use the audience onstage. That’s where he developed his mismash card, and the monarch monte.
I’ve got a couple more days of stage shows before I shift back to doing just roving. It’s fun trying to figure out how to work these shows…hopefully I won’t have to deal with this ever again.
This week I’m performing at a fair and it’s a fairly challenging experience. The crowd is fairly far from the stage and the seating is socially distant. It’s challenging to get them to unite as a crowd. Hopefully I’ll have it figured out by the end of the run.
The other challenge is that I can’t use people on stage. It’s a no contact show. This is fine, but has some problems. The big one being the audience is masked, so talking to them is difficult. It’s hard to tell who says something, and it’s hard to understand what they are saying. Indoors in a theater where there is less ambient noise, it’s much easier. This is something I didn’t anticipate (I should have).
I’m working out how make my show more successful this week, hopefully I’ll only need it this week. It looks like most COVID restrictions on the west coast are going to be lifted in about a week. Too late for this fair…
When I perform at fairs outdoors, I don’t wear pants, I wear shorts. They are part of my “costume” and look that I’m going for. The shorts that I wear are actually pants that I’ve cut into shorts. There are a couple reasons I do this, the main one is that they fit differently and hang on my body differently than most shorts do.
In the past I’ve always taken them to my local tailor and had them do the conversion. However their shop closed about six month ago, so I couldn’t take them to my normal person. I decided to try to remember what I learned in 8th grade home economics class and do it myself. I spent about 45 mins cutting and hemming two pairs of pants and they turned out pretty well, but hemming pants isn’t a very difficult project.
Many magicians are surprised when they hear I wear shorts in my show. They think it’s not part of a costume, or what a magician should look like. They are entitled to their opinion, but they are part of a coordinated look, I’m not just throwing on shorts. They may not like that look, but it fits with what I want the audience to see when they see me onstage.
When I was first starting out performing and I had a gig, that would literally eat up my whole day. From packing for it, to travel and performing, even for a local gig. Then as I got more confident in my show, it got much faster, I knew everything was in my case, and didn’t need to double check anything. I was also a lot more confident and had more experience as a performer, so that if a prop was missing or whatever, I could still make it happen.
I’m heading out to my first fair contract in about 18 months and it’s an out of town 10 day contract. Another challenge on top of not having performed at a fair in a year and a half is the scope of work I’m doing. I’m pretty much doing whatever they want me to do. I know I’m doing some stage shows, stage MCing and some roving. Once again, this wouldn’t have been an issue in 2019, but it’s a lot of stuff to figure out how to pack.
So why not do it how I did it a couple of summers ago?
Well, every summer I work on a lot of new material at fairs, so the packing of the show will be different than it was before. Also I’m not sure the level of contact, or social distancing that people will be comfortable with. One of my routines a couple summers ago was an 8 minute bit where someone fed me marshmallows, and that’s something I probably can’t do for a little while. Sure I could get someone on stage and ask them to do it, and they probably would…but I’m worried it would be “cringy” for people watching it. I don’t want that.
I’m going to spend a day stressing out on how I’m going to pack the show, then hopefully the next contract will be much easier!!!
I love how people can look at the COVID restrictions and figure things out. A while ago I did a birthday party magic show in a small theater. The thing about this is that at the time, the show would have been against COVID restrictions to do in the family’s backyard. But if they did it indoors, in a theater, we could do the show. It doesn’t really make sense why this was OK, but outdoors wasn’t. I’m not going to get into that debate. When COVID first hit, I said I was going to follow whatever the local health code said, and this was allowed.
One switch I’ve made is I’m trying to have more props onstage at the beginning of the show. Normally it’s just my prop case and table. In 2019 I added the bowl on a stand to hold a ball of yarn and now in 2021 I’ve brought back my Applause Please trick (applause sign).
Visually that puts some stuff on the stage. While my show is still primarily hand held magic props, having something onstage for the audience to look at before the show makes it feel like something more. David Hira talks about this in his penguin magic lecture, I and really agree with him. Having something for the audience to look at and wonder what it does helps build excitement (in most instances).
Last weekend I was in Raleigh, NC and went for a walk. One of the things that I came across was a little street festival. It was a little bit of a return to getting back to normal. There was a street performer, and she was signer ad had a pretty decent sized crowd (also her PA was crazy loud!).
One of the interesting thing was how the crowd with now instructions, socially distanced themselves by group. This is a good sign for my summer performing at fairs. One of the things that I was worried about was how I was going to handle the crowds, and keep them socially distant. I was curious how much of that would be on me to do. It’s looking good that the audience will do it themselves. However, I think a lot of this will have to do with the local culture.
Whatever your personal beliefs on masks or social distancing, the reality is that if you want to work, you are going to have to follow whatever procedures the venue imposes. That may be nothing, or that may me a lot. Sure, as a magician whose job it is to entertain a crowd, you can’t force anyone to follow and rules or regulations. Just thinking about how you would manage a crowd now, will help you in the future if you ever need to.
There’s a lot of misinformation around about the Vanishing Birdcage. I have never really considered myself an expert about that trick, but recently it’s become clear that I know a lot more than most people, but still don’t consider myself an expert. It’s a trick I’ve been fascinated with for a long time, I’ve used off and on since I was a teenager and tried different styles, at one point I even did the Tommy Wonder vanish with the sleeves rolled up.
In a facebook group someone posted a link to a reel that was being sold as a door closer. Then this conversation happened:
You really can’t beat a wrist to wrist pull for the actual vanish of the birdcage. The power needed for the vanish happens before the vanish happens and there’s no way a reel or elastic can reasonably come close to the power your arms can. For the flash vanish, right before you are going to put tension on the pull’s cord by pushing the cage away from the body as hard as you can. This is going to start building up energy and when you let go of the cage you are releasing all of that energy and that explosion of power is what sends the cage up your sleeve. Once you let go of the string the pull doesn’t really do anything…except at the very end, it may help keep it high up your sleeve so it doesn’t peek out.
Most magicians think it’s pull dragging the cage up your sleeve, and not the cage shooting up your sleeve. Yes, you can vanish the cage by pulling it up your sleeve, however it’s an inefficient use of energy and you need a lot of arm movement to accomplish this. Having the cage shoot up your sleeve requires very little arm movement. The exception to this is Billy McComb’s Slow Motion Vanishing Birdcage, however it’s still a situation where a reel or elastic would be inferior as you lack control of the vanish.
When using a reel or elastic for the vanish (this is different from how a Take Up Reel is used) you are going to have constant tension on the corner of the cage that’s attached to the elastic. That means you are going to be fighting that tension to keep the cage upright. It would virtually rule out using an Abbott’s / Blackstone style Vanishing Birdcage, and make using a semi-rigid card really difficult. From the audience’s perspective your arms are going to be tense the whole time you’re holding the birdcage. You’ll be holding it like it’s 20 pounds, not less than a pound. This is the huge advantage of a wrist to wrist pull, you can instantly add the tension to the line whenever you want. In the case of the vanishing birdcage, you can do it a fraction of a second before the vanish.
For the actual power of the vanish, to get a reel strong enough to match the tension you can put on the cord with a wrist to wrist pull, the reel would have to be massive. Same with an elastic cord, it would be very thick.
Something else to consider is that with elastic or a reel is if there is any clean up, or to keep the cage up your sleeve. If the arm that it’s anchored on moves away, the cord will stretch. That will cause you to have to make exaggerated motions to compensate for the stretch to move the cage in your sleeve. Also after the vanish and the cage is in your sleeve, the cage’s weight will be pulling on the line, so you’ll be fighting it wanting to crawl back out of your sleeve. Sure you could have the elastic super short, but then there will be constant tension on your arms after the vanish.
I think people want to complicate the vanishing birdcage by adding things to it because a wrist to wrist pull is too simple to be what’s connected to the complex cage. Yes, a Take Up Reel is something that an addition to the trick, but something that helps with everything except the trick. The Take Up Reel has done it’s job before the vanish happens. When the actual vanish happens the Take Up Reel is functioning like a wrist to wrist pull.
If you’re going to do the Vanishing Birdcage, learn to do it with a wrist to wrist pull before you start playing with elastic, or whatever. That will give you a baseline for how the vanish should look.
Last week I helped out a friend out at a drive thru zoo. It’s a lot of fun, I end up writing a stand up comedy set for each animal that’s about 3 minutes. It also forces me to be creative and write jokes for something that I don’t normally do.
One day it hit me to treat it like a magic trick. I need to let them take in what they are seeing before I start talking. They see animal and I get them some time to process what they are seeing…then I start talking. It’s just like performing magic, you have to let the effect rattle around their brain for a little bit, then you can start talking.
Once I started giving people more time to experience the animal before I started telling them my dopy jokes, people laughed more as their brains weren’t torn between doing two things.
Recently I did a virtual lecture for a magic club in Wisconsin and one of my favorite parts of the lectures is at the end when I do stuff that’s not normally in the lecture. One of the things I did was my Coins To Glass:
It is my great platform for me to talk about fixing tricks you like, but are broken. What I mean by that is the original Copentro trick. It’s a great trick, but that base doesn’t really work with modern standards of what magic props look like. Sure you could come up with a reason to justify the base, but it still looks strange. My method was used to completely eliminate the need for a the thick base, as the coins don’t move vertically.
What’s great about show and teaching this routine to magicians is it really illustrates how I think. How I won’t stop at the original idea (usually), and will keep pushing it until I figure it out. Also that I’m open to suggestions from other performers.