Backstage: Long Range Planning

Have you ever thought about the time involved in bringing a great movie into existence?

I read a book that was basically a combination of biography and history about Walt Disney.  A lesson learned from the book was Disney planned his projects way ahead. The decision to produce “Cinderella” was made long before the movie came out.

Once the decision was made, work started on the project. Brainstorming sessions took place. Ideas were crafted. Research was done. Drawings were made, modified, and redone many times.

When the film was released, the 74 minutes of motion picture seen by the public was the result of literally years of effort.

It is a simple reality that when we give ourselves plenty of time to do something, and then we use the time wisely, wonderful things can be accomplished.

I remember a time when a famous preacher was the subject of a rumor. The preacher was a gifted speaker who’s sermons always contained fascinating quotes and powerful illustrations. The rumor was that this preacher had a team of people who did research for him to help in the preparation his sermons. This was offered as the explanation as to why he had such good messages. It also was used as an excuse by other preachers who did not do such a good job with their sermons. They would say, “If I had a research team like he does, I could preach that way too!”

The rumor was false. The preacher had no extra help with his messages. The reason his presentations were so rich with content was his long term planning. He would decide, a year or more in advance, what he would be talking about at a particular time. Then he would constantly watch for material that related to the subject. By the time it was necessary to prepare a sermon for the occasion, he had a large collection of stories, quotes, and information on hand that he could use.

I have heard that David Copperfield takes a similar approach to his work. When he was doing television specials on a regular basis, he would work far ahead on them. He did not wait until one special was over to start thinking about the next one. Illusions and presentation ideas were developed years in advance and then typically crafted right up until it was time to introduce them to a nationwide audience.

Why can we not do the same thing? One does not have to do television specials to take advantage of what can be achieved by way of long range plans.

I remember a time when we visited Dave and Denise Hamner in Branson, Missouri. Dave showed me his sketchbook and talked about an illusion that he planned to have built for use in his own theater. This was before he had his own theater. Several years later he did have his own theater and, when the new show opened, that drawing from his sketchbook was a reality on the stage.

Even before one year of our Grand Magic show was over, I was already working on the next year’s show. I have a computer file of ideas I hope to employ and illusions I would like to have.

This is beneficial in several ways…

  1. Financially

Even before the 2013 show started, I knew I would like to have an Origami illusion in the 2014 show. This illusion is expensive. I could not afford a new one and even the used ones on were too much for my budget. Because I did not have to go out and purchase one immediately, I could watch for a good deal. I had time to shop around.

I discovered an Origami in good condition that was priced $1,000 lower than the best price I had previously seen for a used one. It came available at a time when I had some money saved for the purchase. I now have the prop. It wasn’t going to be in the Grand Magic show until the next year, but it took a plan that started the year before, to bring it into my possession.

When we are looking ahead, we give ourselves the opportunity to watch for bargains. We also allow ourselves to accumulate such things as lights, costumes, scenery, etc., on a “now and then” basis. This is much better than having to make a huge investment all at once. As well, it means we do not always have to pay top dollar for things. We can look around and make worthwhile price comparisons.

  1. Artistically

A question we are commonly asked about our show is, “How do you find your music?” It seems some are impressed by our music to the degree that it is hard for them to conceive of how we have been able to discover it.

The answer to the question is, “We searched for it for years.” When we know that, in a year or two, we hope to be doing certain things on stage, we start looking for music right away. Sometimes it takes many months before we come across exactly what we need.

More than that, I have a playlist of songs I like, that I hope to use with illusions some day, but, so far, have not found illusions to go with them.

Once again, because we give ourselves time to make discoveries, and use the time to search and analyze, the discoveries get made.

One of my ideas for our 2014 show was to have a segment of circus themed tricks. That means I had begun putting together a playlist of songs that might work for the segment. I will listen to them numerous times and make many edits before the next year arrives.

  1. Proficiency

If we waited until a new season to try out ideas and work on routines, it would be very difficult to do them well. Nothing looks as good the first time it is done as it does the one-hundredth time it is done.

As we make decisions about what we want to do in a year to come, we test the decisions. Small parts of a coming show will be used in present shows to see how they work. This allows us to craft material on a piece by piece basis. New moves will be used time and time again in smaller shows, to make sure they are ready for the coming big show. Many of the “new” things in our theater show next season will have already been seen in other places around the country. You might call this a “secret” to having good new shows year after year.

  1. Costuming

Another thing we are often asked is, “Where do you find your costumes?”

Mary does sew many of them, but it is true as well that we are always looking ahead with costuming in mind. There is no one good place we have found to buy great costumes. However, we have found wonderful costumes here and there, because we keep our eyes open, and we have a list of things we are looking for.

A challenge

I have written about this in context of an illusion show, but it applies to any kind of show.

If you do gospel magic; think about how you would like your show to be different next year. Will it be time for you to have a new gospel illustration? If so, the time to search for it and work on it is now.

If you are a kid-show performer; start writing out next year’s show order now. What would you like to do differently? What can you replace and thereby make the performance better?

Those who perform for schools and libraries certainly should know the value and necessity of long term planning. The time to find material to fit next year’s themes is now. If you start now, you can put some wonderful things together. If you wait till the last minute, you will either have to copy what others have done, or quickly put something together on your own that will not be the quality it should be.

I ask readers to consider developing a computer file or notebook for future tricks and performances. Check this file or book on a weekly basis and try to add to it as often as possible. Make it a discipline to work ahead. Write new scripts. Gather new jokes. Make a list of props that might be wise to acquire.

Beyond the fact that it is practical to do this, it is also fun. I especially enjoy dreaming and scheming. I love looking at the next year’s Grand Magic file and imagining what the next show will be!


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