Alexa’s Card Trick…

Recently I started doing a trick over Zoom where I trigger the Amazon Echo / Alexa at the spectator’s house. It’s got a fun feel, because the trick happens at everyone’s house how has an Alexa that can hear it respond.

It started out with me figuring out you could get Alexa to reveal a specific playing card by asking, “Alexa, what’s your favorite playing card?” and it will say “Ace of Spades“. Most magicians know you can get a random playing card by asking it to “pick a card“, but being able to get a consistent card is helpful for a reveal.

That going me thinking about what else might be Alexa’s favorites. I started asking all sorts of questions starting with “Alexa, what’s your favorite…” and have a little bit of a list going. There’s a list on Reddit from about 3 years ago, and some of the answers have changed since then, but it will give you an idea of some of the things to ask. Something to remember it to test your results on other people’s Alexa’s before you roll out the trick. There are somethings that have variables, like when I ask, “Alexa, what’s your favorite season?” I get one answer and other people get a different answer.

OK, now that I had the reveal for the trick, I needed to come up with the trick. I’ll write about that tomorrow…

Virtual Show Pricing…

Ugh, so my laptop has been working less and less well with virtual shows. It’s doing a strange things where my screen freezes, then speeds up to get caught up to real time. Luckily it’s not as bad on the audience’s screen as it is on mine, but it’s still there. It’s doable, but not a great experience for the audience.

If this was happening six months or a year ago, it wouldn’t have been a big deal as we were in the middle of the COVID pandemic and there was a long tunnel of virtual shows ahead. Right now I’ve got about 10 virtual shows on the books, but most places are booking me for in person shows. That makes it a hard decision to go out and buy a new computer. Do I just struggle through the last of the shows?

I decided to get a new computer to run my virtual shows on. This got me thinking about why virtual shows should cost at least as much as your in person magic shows cost. The main reason is that I am providing the venue, before the booker did that. Because of that I have “venue costs” associated with the show. That’s things like keeping my tech up to date and in working order, in addition to the maintenance of the performing space (backdrop etc).

At this point in the evolution of virtual magic shows, if you are charging less than you were 18 months ago, in my opinion you are charging too less. Keep in mind I don’t count other people’s money, you charge what you need to charge to survive and I won’t judge you on why you are charging what you are.

Virtual Road Gig…

A couple days ago I got to do my first virtual gig while performing on the road from a hotel. I was in Lincoln City, OR performing at a festival. Here’s the set up I was using:

There’s not much to it, and I think I could eliminate using the ATEM mini to simplify it. I did over pack, I brought more stands than I needed.

Here’s what I’m using:

White: laptop running OBS

Green: Soft box light:

Yellow: Sony FDR-AX33 (could pretty much be any camera

Orange: Yeti Blue snowball:

Red: ATEM mini:

Blue: Stream Deck:

Purple: Old iphone running camera vision app, attached via HDMI with:

There’s probably a better/more efficient way to set this up. some of my gear and gear choices have been selected due to what I already had on hand a year ago

Figure It Out First…

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.

Adding People…

When I do virtual shows the format I’ve been using is fairly similar to the structure of my in person shows. I usually alternate a trick where I’m solo on stage, followed by a trick where I use someone from the audience onstage, then repeat that. It’s a nice break from a constant stream of people coming up from the audience.

Last night at a virtual show I started using more people on screen than I normally would. In the solo tricks, I just talking to the people and joking with them.

It played out really well and it made the show a lot more fun for me. For a virtual show it really helped bring up the energy and forced me to be more present in the show during my solo tricks.

Working Around Video Lag…

Well I think I jinxed myself yesterday. I was chatting on the phone with a magician friend of mine and mentioned that I’m just getting to the point where virtual shows aren’t stressing me out all day. I think I would have reached that point a lot sooner if I had a dedicated space to perform virtual shows in. I’m having to build and take down the virtual theater each show. I’m just now getting comfortable with the show and doing all of that.

Yesterday right before showtime I was running some new cues with my daughter who runs the production end of my show and we noticed my video was lagging. My video would freeze, then speed up to get caught up to real time. I then spend an hour stressed out trying to diagnose what what going on.

I never did figure it out. If you have any ideas of what may have been causing it, let me know!

However being aware of the problem really helped. We found out that my audio was constant, it was just an issue with video, so every one could hear me the whole time. I ended up having to time the magic moments around the freezes. How I did this was go fairly slow and almost wait for the lag before the magic happened. Once the video froze, then sped up I have at least 15 seconds of good video, so I would make the trick happen then. It worked and the booker was happy with the show. I also made them aware of the problem during the check in before the show.

This is a good example of why being comfortable with the material in your show really pays off. My brain was working overtime working around the tech issue, that if I had to think much about my show, it would have been a really tough show to do. I’m not saying doing “easy” or “self working” magic tricks is the way to go, I’m saying being comfortable with your material. I do a couple of technical things in the show, and I’ve practiced and done them a ton, I don’t need to devote brain power to them if I don’t need to.

Removing Visual Clutter..

I’m trying to free up floor space and visual clutter in my performing space for my virtual shows. One of the ways I’m doing this is switching from using camera tripods to using mic stands. I found some mic stand camera mounts and using them to attach the camera.

The mic stand in the picture is a tripod style, but also using the pedestal style. Visually there’s a lot less clutter that I have to see while performing. Also these pack down much smaller than a traditional cameral tripod.

I’ve done one gig using these and I like it. I really like having to see less clutter while I perform. Got another gig tonight and hopefully I’ll still like using them.

More Table Modifications…

In a continuing effort to use my virtual performing space wisely, I added a little bit more to the shelf below my working surface.

The four ball holders on the left are new, along with the coil holder. This also eliminates a couple of body loads that would have been in my in person show. There are still a few prop holders that need to be added, however it’s just a matter of time to design and print them.

Hybrid Shows…

Last night I performed at a hybrid in person / virtual show. The in person aspect of it was interesting as it was a socially distant, outdoor event in tents…oh, the show took place at the tail end of a snowstorm, so it was cold out! I was performing indoors with a an open roll up door in front of me. I could see one table, the rest were in tents watching on a projection screen which was showing what was on the zoom feed.

It was a very interesting experience. The camera was over my left shoulder and the audience in front of me. The challenge was where to play to. I chose to mostly play to the camera as that’s where the majority of the audience’s viewpoint was from. It’s very strange to no play to the only group of humans you can see. I didn’t ignore the one table I could see, but did most of my talking to the camera.

Going forward, I think ticketed, in person shows are going to have to do this hybrid approach to make any money if they physical audience has to be socially distant. How you will approach this scenario is something to start thinking about now…

All or Nothing…

A few day ago I ordered Jon Allen’s download All or Nothing. It’s fantastic! For about $20 usd you many methods for going a very cool routine / concept.

I tried it last night and it got a great response and I’m using it as a lead in to another trick. For the price it’s a steal, hit up Jon and order it!