When Mary and I work in the dealer room at magic conventions, a question we often hear is, “What color is best?” When purchasing sponge balls people might say, “You have so many colors, what color would be best for me?” When considering the purchase of a backdrop they say, “What would you recommend? Royal blue or navy blue? Black or maroon?” When buying a trick such as Knots Off Silk” they query, “Should I get the yellow one or the red one or the turquoise one?”
How do we answer? How can we know what color is best for another person? We cannot know what is best for someone. It will always be a personal decision. However, we can give some guidelines to use when making a choice.
When considering color, think in terms of contrast.
What color backdrop should you use? The answer depends on the color of your props and the costumes that you wear. If you wear a black suit, and stand in front of a black backdrop, a “black art” effect might be created that makes it hard for you to be seen.
For years Mary and I used a Royal Blue Backdrop because my tuxedo was black and Mary’s dress was black. Black in front of blue made us stand out.
In more recent years we have been experimenting with new costuming. When we wear colors other than black, or use stones and sequins on our costumes that make them stand out even when in front of black, then a black backdrop can be a good choice.
Performers who wear blues and reds may want a black backdrop. Obviously, performers who wear blue probably should avoid a blue backdrop, and performers who wear red should avoid a red backdrop.
The concern is: What makes you most easily seen and what makes your other props look best!
This concern applies to performers other than magicians. I think clowns who wear bright colors usually look best in front of black or navy blue. The strange thing is, when they are purchasing backdrops, clowns often want bright colors. They are thinking, “I’m a clown so everything in my show should be bright and colorful”. That is faulty thinking. The setting of the show should be whatever makes the clown himself (or herself) and the things they do look best. (It is true that sometimes a bright color backdrop will work for a clown, as long as the color contrasts and compliments the colors in the clown costume…such as a clown that wears turquoise and pink might look good in front of a burgundy backdrop).
The concept also applies to props. What color silk is best? The answer is found by asking, “What color will contrast your costume?” A black Knots Off Silk will not look good in front of a black suit. A red Knots Off Silk will not look good in front of a red shirt. I use bright yellow for my Knots Off Silk because I do not wear any yellow costumes. Therefore yellow should look good no matter what I am wearing.
On the matter of sponge balls; think in terms of the table top or close-up pad that you use. I cannot figure out why so many magicians who have red close-up pads use red sponge balls. It would look much better if the balls were blue or yellow or if the closeup pad was green or black.
Back to the matter of backdrops. Occasionally I see someone who has chosen to use a silver or Mylar type backdrop. This person makes the choice because he or she believes the shimmering aspect of the backdrop is extra impressive. That may be so, but it also may be a distraction. Usually a shimmering backdrop makes it harder for the audience to concentrate on things the magician holds in his hands. (Example: A white billiard ball or playing card is often hard to see in front of a shimmering silver backdrop. A silver Zombie ball is really hard to see in front of a silver backdrop!) Remember that what is important is the performer. You don’t want to be remembered as the person who had the “really great backdrop.” You want to be remembered as the person who did “really great things.” The backdrop and other stage settings are not the show, they are there to showcase you.
There is a time and place for the shimmering backdrop. When doing thread effects and tricks such as the Asrah levitation they are most valuable. However, when they are used, careful thinking should be put into the color of costumes and other props to make sure everything can be viewed in a distinct manner. (That is everything but the gimmick.)
After you have dealt with the matter of contrast, it is also wise to consider how colors can compliment one-another.
Once I understood the matter of using props that contrast a costume, such as a yellow silk in front of a blue coat, I began to use a variety of distinct colors with no particular color scheme in mind.
Jack Hart, a wonderful magician who for many years was the art director for the PRICE IS RIGHT television show, kindly advised me that the colors in my show were not as pleasing as they could be because there was no “rhyme or reason to them.”
He suggested that I select a few main colors and be careful that other colors used look well with them. I changed my silk act so that I started with pink and yellow silks. During the course of the act I eventually produced some purple silks. It was not until the climax of the act, by way of silk fountain, that a burst of many colors came into view.
Many magicians have a basic complimentary color scheme for their act or show such as: Black & Silver or Purple & Yellow or Blue & Gold. A way to get ideas about complimentary colors is to look at the uniforms of pro sports teams. Smart and well-educated people spend a lot of time choosing those colors. From them, we can learn about color combinations that are appealing to the public.
The issue with color is not “What looks great?” It is, “What makes you look great?” Do not choose a color because you like it, or because it is your favorite. Choose it on the basis of how it enhances the overall picture of what the audience will see as you perform on stage.