The “Chemistry of a Show

ShowmanshipBy Duane Laflin

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Grand Magic Magazine

Buy the entire issue here

During our show season this summer something came up that made me realize how important and how challenging it is to control the chemistry of a show.

Over the span of June through July, several magician friends, and a tremendously skilled juggler, came to visit us. (I suspect to have performers as company in August as well.) All of them, when letting us know they would be with us for a while, mentioned that if we needed them to help with the show they would be glad to do so.

It would have been fun to put my magician (and juggler) friends on our stage, but it was not possible. The reason was the need to maintain the integrity of the show design.

These performers certainly could have entertained the audience, but the problem was fitting them into the pacing and context of what we already had in place. There is no spot in our running order where we can change the time or energy of things.

This is true because the show is designed to be one entity composed of parts, rather than a collection of this and that.

Magicians often perform in variety shows. The typical show seen at a magic convention is a variety show heavily slanted toward magic. It is not important that each performer fits and/or meshes with what other performers do. Rather, people are there to see the individuality and creativity of different artists.

Variety shows are wonderful. I enjoy them very much. However, our Grand Magic show is not a variety show. It is a magic show with distinct character developed around the personality of one magician and his assistants. In planning the show, much thought goes into how each part of the show connects with all other parts.

A unique aspect of our Grand Magic show is the longest single segment in the show is eight minutes and that segment is our opening sequence which consists of four major illusions and several smaller tricks. Essentially it is a combination of four presentations that are each around two minutes in length. The other extended routines are audience participation tricks. Including the time it takes to go into the audience and find a volunteer, I still never go more than seven minutes with a such a trick.

When the longer routines end, we immediately get back to the big stage with something that happens fast.

Typically a guest performer hopes to have a slot that is at least eight minutes in length. Many would like fifteen or twenty minutes. Our show has no slots of such length.

Upon learning that friends were coming with a willingness to perform, I would immediately think about our show and how I might fit them in. Again and again I realized, it could not be done without hurting the program. The problem was not their acts. It was the nature of the show.

The lesson in this is that it takes more than great pieces to make a great show. There is much more to show design than lining up skillful people who do wonderful things (or having a collection of great tricks). Serious attention must be given to how each part of a program (and each person) fits with the other things that must also be there.

Hollywood has learned this. There have been times when great actors have been gathered together with the expectation of making one great movie. The movie then bombs. Why? Because the great actors did not really work together well. The word “chemistry” is often used. Some acting teams have great chemistry, some do not.

It is not enough that people have great skills. Their skills and personalities must properly combine

I think the magic world has learned this by way of experiments in places like Las Vegas that have failed. Several great magicians, along with wonderful variety artists, have been put together with intention of creating a super successful production.

The success was not realized. In spite of having some of the best in the business all in one place, it did not go well. The public was not impressed.

The equation H2O means hydrogen and oxygen are perfectly combined to make water. These elements work together in just the right way. If, instead of hydrogen and oxygen, it is hydrogen and nitrogen, you get ammonia. (Not nearly so pleasant to experience as is water.)

In a similar way, the wrong combination of strong tricks or individuals can hurt a performance. On the level of props, an obvious example of this is trying to use a Zig Zag and a Kub Zag in the same show. It is better for them to be used in separate venues. Are they great illusions? Yes. Do they belong together? No.

A great show is a matter of getting the right combination of performing elements. Timing, tricks, emotion, energy, and even the size of what is seen must all mix well. When you finally do get an ideal combination, it is difficult to change it without weakening the presentation.

The “takeaway” in this is: As you develop your show, do not just look for great tricks and ideas. (Better than having two hammers is to have one hammer and some nails.) Look for things that compliment one another. Make your show a wonderful marriage of magical concepts that belong together.

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