Today is the final day of the school assembly tour, and after 5 weeks I’ve learned a lot!
The big change was the last time I did this tour, I disliked when the kids sat on the bleacher and I was in the basketball court. I was used to having my back against a wall and the kids sitting on the floor, which is how most school assemblies in the Northwest seat the kids. The advantage of having the kids in the bleachers is that they can see more. The disadvantage is that I don’t have a backdrop, so smaller props can be harder to see. Luckily this year’s show doesn’t really use any small props that the audience needs to see.
I’m much more comfortable with using a handheld mic, and use it most of the time during the show, except a few spots where I need both hands. Using a handheld mic I think is visually superior to a headset as you can use the mic as a prop. I use it to accentuate a spot where I laugh, or cue the audience to a spot where they are supposed to respond.
Using a handheld mic also helps create a certain image, it makes me look more like a stand up comic than “magician”. My warm up is doing “crowd work” where I talk to people and try to find jokes with what they say. It’s a lot of fun, but not easy, especially for kids. How I frame is while we’re waiting for the last class that’s 5 mins late to arrive, I tell them we won’t have time for questions, so they can ask them now while we’re waiting to start. Really the show has started, and I do the questions started at the show’s scheduled start time. Usually one of the early questions I’ll get asked is if I’m a comedian. That means the image I’m trying to portray is working. When I get asked that, part my response is that doing stand up come for kids isn’t a thing. What cracks me up is I then do 5-8 minutes of stand up for the kids!
I’ll probably have more reflections on things that I’ve learned on the 20+ hour drive home over the next couple of days…
A question I recently got asked about my Take Up Reelfor the vanishing bird cage is how much can you move around with it on. My answers is that it gives you pretty much full range of motion.
For the last month I’ve been performing 2-3 shows a day and my 45 minutes show ends with the vanishing birdcage. I’m pretty physical in the show, and in the middle of the show I do some trick roping with the take up reel on my left wrist with the pull set to the long position.
Right after the trick roping routine, I could reach over, grab the cage and vanish it. I don’t as the cage is about 15 mins later in the show, but in that picture the working end of the take up reel is in my right sleeve.
For me and how I perform, using a take up reel allows me to do the vanishing birdcage. It’d be impossible using just a wrist to wrist pull.
One trick that I’m doing in the school assembly is based on Jim Steinmeyer’s Apples and Oranges routine in his book Conjuring. Jim’s trick is the Piano Card Trick, but using apples and oranges, which makes it play on stage. Essentially the trick is an orange disappears from one side of the stage and reappears on the other.
I took Jim’s idea and rewrote the script and changed the props so that it works for the show I was doing. In the first few weeks of doing the show, I felt like the kids holding the nets of fruit were really only there as human props and I needed to give them opportunities to shine. I started by asking them some questions, then giving one of them a line and creating an impossible challenge for the other kid. This made the routine soo much more engaging that it was before.
Also I should add that the trick is good! When the orange ends up on the other side of the stage, the teachers seem more amazed than the kids! That’s an important point about this show and all kids shows, the magic needs to be good. There were (and still are) soo many magic tricks that from an effect standpoint aren’t good that are marketed to children’s performers. This is part of what creates the stereotype that kids magic is cheesy. If you up your game with good tricks, it’s helps take you out of that cheesy magician box.
When I was putting together my tennis ball routine for this school assembly tour, I started using Sponge Tennis Balls by Daba Magic. I like these more than the Alan Wong Sponge Tennis Balls as the Daba ones pop open much faster.
After using them for 2-3 shows a day on this tour, I found one thing that I don’t like about the Daba Sponge Tennis Balls. The white line on them is tape or something like that, where on all the other sponge tennis balls I’ve tried, they are painted on. After about a week the tape lines started getting loose, and this week they started falling off.
Here’s what the lines should look like:
And here’s what they looked like this week:
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised that this would happen to them. I didn’t think that tape was good way to make the lines. I went to the store and bought some paint and redid the lines:
It only took a few minutes to paint the lines onto the sponge tennis balls, and this should hold up for a lot longer than the tape lines.
Yesterday was the end of the third week on the road performing my new school assembly show. This week I was really focusing on getting more out of the people who help me onstage in the show and letting them “shine” more.
One bit in the show where I draw a picture of a kid. I have the kid face the audience and do different emotions. I was using and older kid in the 3rd to 6th grade range and they weren’t really doing much interesting. My reasoning for an older kid was they are standing on stage by themself, so I was worried a kid that a younger kid would be uncomfortable onstage alone. Turns out I think that was the issue with an older kid, they feel a bit self conscious.
This week I switched a kindergarten or first grade kid and the difference is HUGE! Every kid I’ve used was great, and really played up the emotions that I was asking them to do. Also there’s something that all ages love is seeing a little kid have fun. Their joy is infectious!
It’s little things like this that make a good show great! My show still has a lot of these little things to be fixed.
One huge thing with this school assembly tour is efficiency. Honestly, I’m not getting paid a ton, so wasting time loading in and out isn’t a good use of my time. The show loads in and out in one trip.
My road case has wheels on the bottom of it and I have handle that attaches to the front of it that I use to pull it.
One trip without a dolly or hand truck makes this a quick load in and out.
Out here on this tour, sometimes the travel time between shows is very tight and I don’t have very much time to set or strike the show. I provide everything except electricity. Knowing that some shows I may not have much time to set, need to pack out quickly, or both, I have two set ups for the show.
The normal set up takes about 20-25 minutes to set up and I use this when I have plenty of time to set up and strike.
Here’s the normal set up:
The quick set up/strike takes about 10-15 mins and I use it when I have tight travel time.
Here’s what it looks like:
The big difference is that I don’t have the banner. It also doesn’t use a speaker stand for the PA. A difference you can’t see is that the quick set up doesn’t use a wireless headset mic. Those few things make a huge difference in set up/strike time.
I use the handheld mic with a stand or a mic hanger for when I need to use my hands. I’m really glad that about a year and half ago I decided to learn to use a handheld microphone. Having practiced with a handheld really makes me a lot more versatile!
Today is the beginning of week three of this school assembly tour. One of the metric’s for figuring out how well you are doing is laughs per minute (LPM). My first show of the tour and first time doing the whole show for an audience I got 1.57 LPM’s. That’s an OK number, as this show has a lot of content in it, and isn’t a “just for fun” show.
I listened back to my last show on friday and it had 105 laughs in 45 minutes, giving me 2.3 LPM’s. that’s a huge improvement over the the first show. I added about 50% more laughs to the show!
If you don’t know how to calculate LPM’s, it’s super easy. Record your show, then listen back to it and count the laughs. I used a counter app on my iPhone. Then dived the laughs by the length of your show.
The question I always get asked is what qualifies as a laugh? That’s really up to you to decide.
Another metric is reactions per minute. In that you could count applause, or people going, “wow”. The thing I wouldn’t count are call and response, so anytime you ask the audience to do something and they do it.
Yesterday I posted about writing a line to try to solve a problem where I had a spot in the show where a kid would frequently shout something. I needed to add a line to tell the audience that the fruit I was using wasn’t real. The line I wrote was, “they’re not real, I got them from Ikea…So they’re made of particle board and Swedish meatballs”. That line didn’t get huge laughs, but seems to have solved the problem.
I tweaked the line a little bit to be, “they’re not real, I got them from Ikea…So they’re made of swedish meatballs and sawdust”. This new line is getting a laugh from the adults AND the kids. I think both particle board and swedish meatballs is too much for the kids here to understand. However they do know what sawdust is!
A little tweak like that upped my laughs per minute and solved the problem of how to address the fruit not being real.
In the new school assembly show I do a trick with apples and oranges. It’s based on Jim Steinmeyer’s Apples and Oranges trick from his book Conjuring. The concept is the same, the the routine is completely different.
I’ve notice that about every 2-3 shows I have kid in the audience when I introduce the apples and oranges that will yell out, “they’re fake” and the kid is correct, they’re plastic. What puzzles me is that kid will fixate on the fact that they aren’t real and keep yelling out “they’re fake“, even after I agree with the kid that they aren’t real fruit.
I’ve tried different ways to deal with this, and yesterday I wrote the line, “they’re not real, I got them from Ikea…So they’re made of particle board and Swedish meatballs”. The goal is to address the issue before the kids says anything. I’ve done it at 2 shows and so far I haven’t had anyone yell out anything.
One challenge with this line is that I’m in North Dakota and there isn’t a Ikea for about 700 miles! The line gets a small laugh from the adults, and not much from the kids. this is better than nothing, however I think I need to write a better line…