A few weeks ago I put together a show for a new venue. I was to present an hour of magical entertainment to guests at a resort. In preparing the show I sat down, as I usually do, and wrote out a possible running order. Based on things I have done in the past, while guided by the desire to try a few new things, I put together a plan that looked good to me.
I stepped away from my intended plan for a couple of hours, then came back to it to see if there were refinements to be made. I usually do this. I have discovered, if I prepare something I think is good, then stop looking at it for a while, often, when I come back to it, I usually see something to change for the better.
Small improvements were made and I was satisfied. It appeared it would be a good show.
The next step in preparation was to create a playlist for the show music on my laptop. I did this, then did a quick listen to the songs. I did not listen to each song all the way through, but did listen briefly to how each song began and how each song sounded in relation to the music before and after it.
During the process of listening to the music, I realized several things about the running order needed to be changed. Some tricks/routines were not in the right spots after all. Guided by the music, I made changes and ended up with a show order that seemed better.
When I actually did the show, the show order was right. The person who booked me was pleased with the show and the audience was enthusiastic in expressing their appreciation. Everything went well. The occasion was a magical success.
I think it important to notice that the music of the show essentially had the final say in how the show would go. I never doubt this concept: If the music doesn’t feel right, something about the show is not right.
Here is why I believe the music must have the final say in relation to the running order of a show: Hearing the music of the show is the best way to sense the structure and pace of a show before it actually happens.
How a show is paced is critical to a successful performance. There must be variety and novelty. There must be particular strong points in a presentation. The music one intends to use with a show mirrors the emotional character of the show itself.
When listening to the music in order to evaluate the structure of a show I pay attention to the following…
- Do too many songs sound the same? Even though they may be different songs, if the tempo and length of the songs are similar to one-another they will seem the same to an audience. I do not want three songs in a row, actually I do not even want two songs in a row, that seem alike. Relating to an entire show, my hope is each routine will have a unique personality of its own. For each routine to have a unique personality, each song used must have a unique personality or “feel” as well.
- Does listening to the soundtrack hold my attention? If I cannot stay focused on my own soundtrack, and if I am not personally entertained by it, the show will not be strong to hold the attention of the audience. I’ve learned this by experience. If the show is going to be great the soundtrack must be great. If a soundtrack bores me, the show will bore others.
- Are there songs which suggest humor? There needs to be music in several key places that indicates the audience will be smiling, maybe even laughing.
- Is there, somewhere near the end of the show, a song that seems especially beautiful? As the end of a show nears, I want to have a place in the performance where I know hearts are likely to be touched by what is happening. A beautiful song is key to this occurring.
- Do I like my opening music? This is an obvious matter, but sometimes it gets compromised. Because it can be a challenge to find a terrific opening song, there are occasions where one settles for ‘this will do’ when it should be ‘this is great.’ There are times when, after listing to my opening music, I realize I need get back to the research process and work harder at finding ideal music to get a particular show started.
- Does my closing music offer an “exclamation point” kind of feeling to the performance? Does it provide a punch and level of excitement that signifies a full and complete experience has been provided?
On the one hand this is a simple thing: Listen to the music of your show before actually doing the show to evaluate the strength of the show.
On the other hand it can be a challenge. If the show is to be an hour long, this means you need to give nearly an hour to listening to the soundtrack. It may be difficult to find time to do this.
I suggest putting a potential soundtrack into your phone, iPod, MP3 player or even on a CD. Listen to it while you drive or workout. Let it play in the background while doing chores around the house. If you hear things you do not like, make changes. If you do like what you hear, it will lead to being more familiar with the show itself (by way of ongoing mental review as the music is heard) and thereby prepare you for better performance.
Final thought: For a show of major importance (such as a theatrical illusion show) I always review the soundtrack multiple times while preparing for the performance. For some shows, I have done this repeatedly over the course of many months.
For a show where less is at stake, such as doing something simple for a local venue, I probably will not listen all the way through every song on the planned soundtrack (especially when I already know the songs well). Nevertheless, I will listen to at least the beginning and end of each song in relation to the songs before and after. This helps me be sure the flow of the show is what it should be.