One of the biggest challenges in planning a large scale show is the calculation of time involved in prop movement, scenery arrangement, and costume changes.
A great show is one that has no unnecessary delays. The pace is such that it seems entertainment never stops.
The reality is that there must be “stops” during the course of a show. Props that are already used must be taken from the stage and new props must be put in place. It simply is not possible to move from one illusion to another without there ever being some kind of pause or delay.
How do we handle this?
Here are some of the things we have done to keep the show moving along, in spite of working with massive props and having a variety of costume and scenery changes.
- We use the standard “Bandana Banana” trick to cover a comparatively long period of time in which the curtain is closed.
The show opens with eight minutes of illusions happening one right after the other. Prop use is orchestrated so the curtain does not need to close as we move from one big thing to the next.
At the end of the eight minute set, we have a pile up of illusions and set pieces that must be moved if other things are to be brought to the stage later on.
Therefore, at the end of the eight minute set, our young magician steps in front of the curtain and does the “Bandana Banana” trick. Although it is simple and comes with built in audio patter, the trick is strong and audiences love it.
A special advantage of the trick is that it takes about four minutes. Normally I do not like small tricks that are that long, but this one keeps the audience interested all the way through. It also gives us four minutes back stage in which we can move things around.
During that four minutes we are able to move the Flash Appearance, Phantom Cage, Kub Zag, and Stretcher out of the way. We also are able to put away four big columns, used as stage decorations. Believe it or not, six of us do costume changes as well.
When the “Bandana/Banana” trick is complete, we are ready to perform more illusions.
Note I highly recommend the “Bandana/ Banana” trick as a way to cover time on stage. I recommend it because the audience loves it. It is easy, great entertainment, and a super way to provide four minutes of reset time.
- We use audio narration to give us extra seconds.
This is an overlooked technique that should be used sparingly. When used properly it is very helpful.
At the end of our Dekolta Chair/ Blammo routine we need to clear the stage of the chair and blammo. We also need to lower a sign used as a set-piece for the silk act. Then the table for the silk act needs to go in place and I must change costumes as well.
We get all of this done in under sixty seconds. While the seconds tick by, there is a voice-over playing through the sound system telling the audience about the nature of the silk act. (Words such as “It is not something you can do because you saw it on the internet, or read about it in a book. It is only possible by way of practice, practice, and more practice.” Etc.)
The sixty seconds of audio is the tool that gives us needed time. Audience members do not see it as our way of buying time, even though it is. They see it as interesting information that helps them appreciate the silk act even more.
We use a thirty second narration, before the curtain opens, to provide time for the girls to get in place for the levitation. Once again, the audience does not see it as a wait or delay. To them, it is part of the entertainment.
The critical thing about audio narration is it must not be long. My opinion is that sixty seconds is a maximum length and such narration should not be used more than three times during the course of a show.
If video accompanies the narration, it makes things even more interesting and entertaining. Even with video, it is rarely wise to go more than one minute before getting back to live action.
You do not need to have a big stage show to use narration to give you time. Even in a smaller show, as long as its brief, a voice coming through the speakers can fill some time while you set something back stage, put a rabbit into a load chamber, change a coat, etc. Those who do church programs and kid shows will find that an audio voice is a simple way to grab some moments to step out of sight without stopping the show.
- We use a variety act to give us a backstage break in the pacing.
Our second half opens with a sequence we call “Viva Las Vegas”. It involves lots of tricks, gorgeous costumes, and a giant prop used to produce “Elvis”. When this sequence is finished, there is a lot that needs to be moved around backstage and, since one of the tricks uses ducks, we also need time to get the ducks out of apparatus and put away.
We cannot stop the show to accomplish the backstage work. The show does not stop. Instead our juggler steps out and shows his skills in an upbeat way for three minutes. The audience thinks the juggling bit is marvelous. We are out of sight, working like crazy, to get new tricks in place.
Magicians are wise to think about the double value of a ventriloquist, juggler, clown, or dancer that is happy to do just a short part in a show. The short act really does bring fun variety to a show. As well, it is a way for the magician to step off stage and give attention to something that requires “out of sight” preparation.
Final thoughts about logistical challenges:
– Not all costume changes need to happen in a dressing room. We have hooks in a number of places on both sides of the backstage area. Dresses and coats are placed on these hooks to save precious seconds. The concept is simple: Plan ahead and have things in place for quick action!
– When planning a show, careful estimations must be made about how long it takes to move props and make changes. This is an area where it is easy to make mistakes. If an assistant is to put on a different costume or set a special prop, time must be available for this to be accomplished.
– I often find myself thinking that what our crew does backstage is just as amazing as what they do onstage. Their speed and disciplined movement is fantastic.
- A trick with an audio-script like “Bandana/Banana” is a good way to cover time. (We have also used Big Time Root Beer for this purpose.)
- Pre-recorded narrations played through the sound system can cover time required for setup and changes.
- A variety act is a good way to get a break in pacing so the magician can get ready for other things.