New Year! New Show?

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is Napoleon Ryan. Napoleon is an actor, magician and children’s entertainer based in Los Angeles.

It’s March, 2022! Wherever you are, spring has sprung or fall has fallen! 
After two years performing virtual magic, our live in-person shows are released from hibernation. Due to the hiatus, those shows can feel new to a repeat audience (and to us), even if we are performing the same repertoire from before the pandemic. But, if we constantly perform the same shows to the same people in the same area, or the same market, sooner or later we will be forced to look for new audiences. If we customize and revamp our shows, or design new shows, we can (potentially) play the same audiences forever! 
As the world gradually reopens, we have an opportunity to devise something fresh for the times. Since I tend to see the same audiences again, creating new shows is also a necessity. So, how do we develop a new show? And how can we do it quickly, and with minimal pain? What strategies can help?
Getting our first show together and testing it in front of an audience until it gets to a worthy standard can feel like a difficult ‘trial and error’ process  – and not a short one. In a discussion with Kozmo on the DVD Kiddin’ Around, Chris Capehart commented that many magicians have an excellent primary show, but fewer have an excellent second or third show ready to perform at a moment’s notice. However, with one honed show already in our repertoire, it is possible to replicate its best qualities, and leverage its structure to quickly create another similarly successful, but different show.
Some time ago, Jay Leslie from the House of Enchantment wrote a fascinating online blog post about structuring his performances. He needed to rapidly replicate and devise new shows each year for repeat clients and repeat audiences. The new show would be completely different in terms of theme and individual effects and routines, but the formula or structure underpinning the show would remain the same, improving the efficiency of the show creation process. If we don’t have our own formula already, we can create one, and replicate the show we currently perform. One action that has helped me immensely with this process is writing show reports.

I’ll admit that I don’t always know exactly what I am going to perform before I do a show. A lot of my magic can be a spontaneous and semi-improvised response to the performance environment, and the energy of the audience. I definitely make a plan, but I may depart from it entirely depending on what happens. For example, one of my recent shows started with a cry of “Stop that goat!” Then I had to help a trainer lasso the escaping animal before it fled up the street never to be seen again. (The llama, pony and ten rabbits were more compliant).
After the show I will write a report. The show report can be a fully detailed account of an individual show, or just a simple record of the running order of what routines were performed. Once several show reports or running order lists have been compiled, patterns emerge and the lists quickly become a valuable data resource for what effects work well with particular audiences, as well as a template for future shows for that kind of audience. 
For repeat clients, I can refer back to the lists, and know within a couple of minutes what routines I have already performed. The information helps me devise a new program for the repeat audience from my current repertoire, and even suggests the character of new routines to pursue. Incidentally, when I am away from home, I tend to keep my show reports in a Notes App on my iPhone, so that I can quickly find one by searching for a keyword, name, or event date. That way I can double check something, if I need to, before I start a show.
The great thing about a show report, and especially the running order, is that it becomes a concise bullet point skeleton of our show script. Freed from wading through the entire script, we quickly get an overview of the shape of the show. Analyzing the nature of the routines on the running order, their position in the performance, and their relationship to each other, and the overall theatrical experience becomes a lot easier. The structure of a show that might have evolved organically in performance over many years is clear. 
With this information, when devising new shows, we start to see what items to switch out or substitute on the set list, if we have to customize a script for a particular audience. We notice if we need to add or replace a running gag that helps maintain or hinder the momentum of the show between individual routines. If we are striving to create a particular dramatic effect or magical experience, we begin to recognize opportunities to layer important narrative elements or other information earlier into the show before the big revelation.

If you have never made a show report before, all you need to do is write down a list of what you currently perform in your act. Then, describe and analyze each routine. What does it consist of in terms of effects and props? What is its nature (dramatic or comedic, a demonstration of skill, an evocative storytelling piece, an audience participation routine?) What function does it serve within your overall show (an opportunity to build rapport with the audience, a palate cleanse, a climax of energy?) Once we understand our current shows, we can replicate their structures, but add new repertoires that might be suitable for other acts. 
Making further lists can be very useful. An inventory of our magic props, and especially our gimmicks, noting what they do, is a springboard to working, on and devising new repertoire. Composing lists of effects and routines, and plots and presentations that are similar, and comparing them, can inspire us to turn away and look in more varied directions. I might avoid apparatus that looks or feels from an audience’s perspective too similar to another prop or routine already in my repertoire. 
For example, the ABC Blocks, Cube a Libre and the Strat-O-Sphere might seem too superficially similar to each other for a repeat audience, though the method, routine or presentation of a routine with those props could be markedly different. The same might apply to the Peripatetic Walnuts and the Cups & Balls. However, I am very happy to use a similar method from a routine in one show as the method for a routine with a completely different prop in another show.
Knowing what repertoire to work on next to create new shows all starts with being deeply aware of what we already perform, and what we have performed in the past, and that requires keeping thorough and accessible show records.

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