To show or to ‘over show,’ that is the question.
I thought I would write a column about the very simple and important topic of ‘showing things’ during a magic show, because it is really rather an important area. It is also a thing that needs to be done right, if they can’t see it then they won’t like it. However as the article progresses we will look at what exactly is too much when it comes to this topic.
One of the ground rules of a successful magic show is everybody getting to see what is happening and when it has happened. The key part here is to make sure that there is enough light that the item you are displaying can be seen. This sounds obvious but does need a little pre-thought. Displaying something in the dark doesn’t count.
When you are exhibiting something in a cabaret style setting or at an after dinner show, there are often strangely placed shafts of light from above that can really assist you in your goal. Those beams of light (which don’t turn off) that do so little to add atmosphere in a show, can be invaluable if you want to let the audience really see something clearly. Make sure you use them.
Other important factors in clearly displaying an item to your audience is how high in the air you hold it, what color is behind it and whether you really concentrate on the object as you display it. Always remember that the audience’s eyes follow what the performer is looking at. If you are in a position where your viewers might not be able to clearly make out what is being displayed then feel free to describe exactly what they should be seeing. The old McComb theory of—“Tell them what you are going to do, when you are doing it and when it is done.”
That was a few words about ‘showing’ something, and for me the dead easy definition of showing something is ‘making sure it is seen.’ Let’s move on to another aspect of this same topic—‘over showing.’
I have seen many performers (including some rather famous ones) get so caught up in the physical process of showing an object, that the action of displaying it becomes a major part of the routine. Sometimes this is at the expense of taking the focus from the object that is involved in the action. Once a performer gets happy with his actions then he tends not to change them—even if they are wrong.
The correct way to display something for your viewer’s attention is to do it simply and clearly with the very minimum of unnecessary movements and actions. Your goal is to show something and not to draw attention to yourself showing it. Ken Brooke used to insist that I ‘got’ the weight and feel of every object I performed with and if at all possible to toss in smartly in the air and catch it. Nothing makes a glass look empty like spinning it hand-to-hand in mid-air.
With manipulative magic, the too slow set up of an effect is often due to the performers consideration of his ‘character’ and how he might react. Hmm, maybe a short magic act needs to be equally driven by impact and character. Could you tighten up the preamble and add an extra trick to the show? Wouldn’t that be just as effective in making your character an integral part of the show?
Illusionists often seem to me to spend a great deal too much time displaying items whose significance has already been grasped by their viewers. There is a certain amount of ‘prop rapping’ and ‘blade banging’ that needs to be done when presenting an illusion, however I have seen the process of displaying the props take up so much time that they actually weaken the effect by making the running time longer than it truly needs to be. With illusionists there is also the more subtle business of choreography to consider. Now I have no problem with an elegant choreography that keeps things moving at a brisk pace, but I certainly see plenty of half-assed choreography that just detracts from the show by slowing it down.
Maybe you don’t need that bit of business when you pick up each sword individually, run your finger down the blade, throw it in the air, catch it, twist and turn before thrusting it into the box. A lot depends on how many damn swords there are!
The journey between artistic and boring can be a mighty small one to lay audiences.