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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Notes from a Designer's Logbook - by George Ledo » » Connecting the dots, or, what magic means to me (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

George Ledo
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Profile of George Ledo
I don't know about you, but sometimes when I have trouble sleeping, I find that about twenty different things go thru my head at the same time: projects at work, projects at home, writing this column, going on vacation, books I'm trying to write (like the one on crates), books I'm trying to finish reading, and so on and on. It's enough to put anyone to sleep just from exhaustion, but even that doesn't work.

Anyway, that happened a couple of nights ago, and one of the things that came up was a comment by Whit Haydn in a recent post, to the effect that when he was in the seminary, his bishop told him that if he could find something he liked more than being a minister, he should go for it. And he did. And this got me thinking about a whole bunch of related and semi-related stuff that finally – finally – put me to sleep.

So of course when I woke up I was in a funny mood.

As I was getting ready for work, my old dream, back when I was a teenager, of taking an illusion show on the road kept going thru my head. And then my sleep-deprived brain (probably not helped by the caffeine) immediately went in two different directions: what would the show be (and why), and how much would it cost. And that's what this column is about.

Just for fun, I'm going to go into the budget first. It's a shorter read than the rest of this column.

My first wild guess, out of the blue, was $3.2 mil. Later in the day I did a preliminary spreadsheet and discovered that my budget would be more like $2.4 mil, which was the good news, except for the tiny little fact (the bad news) that my investments aren't worth that much. Gotta hate it when reality kicks in. So I started thinking about who I knew that might want to invest some money... Smile which is a whole different subject.

By the way, only about $250K of that $2.4 mil is earmarked for magic equipment. The rest is for hiring a producer, production manager, director, choreographer, composer, stage manager, a cast of six and a crew of four, several designers, and a few others. I decided I would hire someone else to design the set, instead of doing it myself, so I could concentrate on my own job. The budget also includes office and rehearsal space, legal and accounting, R&D (I had this idea of inviting a few top magic thinkers and builders to a week on Catalina or in the Bahamas), sets, lights, costumes, sound equipment, makeup, insurance, transportation, publicity, renting a theater for the opening, and various other line items, including a contingency factor. No wonder I want a producer and an accountant.

Okay, so much for the budget.

What would the show be? At the risk of having many of you stop reading this, and possibly even PM'ing me some NastyGrams, I'm going to say that the show would be about me, and not about the magic. I have this innate talent for making a clam look like Mr. Congeniality, and making Grumpy look like the late Mr. Rogers, but, if I were to bite the bullet and get back into performing, I'd start by accepting the fact that people – the people I want to buy tickets to my show – are more interested in other people than they are in things. So I'd bite a second bullet and become what we call a celebrity: an interesting public figure with an interesting job and an interesting way of looking at things.

Just last night, while Donna was at a kitchen equipment party spending money, I was doing The Guy Thing, sitting on the couch pushing buttons on the clicker, when this... I guess it was a show... starring “Tila Tequila” came on. Something about love, and getting with her, and being bisexual, and whatever else. In a word, yechhh. But that show had sponsors who paid good money to put their commercials on it. Obviously, enough people are interested in her to watch this show and its commercials.

BTW, I Googled her this morning and learned she had been discovered by a Playboy scout at a mall, and that it all went on from there. It also turns out Time Magazine did an article on her a couple of years ago and said she was “some sort of a cross” between a singer, blogger, actress, and other stuff.

Which goes to prove you can make money doing anything... if you're a celebrity.

But I'm not about to pose for Playboy (or Playgirl... is that mag still around?) to start a career as a performer. Not with my legs.

So I guess that would leave magic. Smile

What got me thinking about “my show” was several recent threads here, which got me going on my mantra about connecting the dots: realizing that things that apparently have nothing to do with each other are very often connected. One thread was about how a magician should respond to questions about whether he has real magic powers; another was about relating to the audience; another had to do with what we're really doing; and there were a few others. But they all had to do with how we want people to perceive our performances, and, by extension, to perceive magic.

For me, magic started out the same way it starts out for a lot of people: I thought it was cool to fool my friends. Later, when I got serious about it and developed my cards-and-doves act, I discovered that the audience really enjoyed the back-and-forth with me (in a silent act) and that, after a few effects, they liked me and were sort of rooting for me to go on. I discussed this in my column about creating a stage persona, and I still think it's ironically funny that this was a good chunk of the reason I traded performing for designing.

But then I started connecting the dots again, and thinking of the great magicians during the late 1800's and early 1900's – Herrmann, Kellar, Houdini, Thurston, and so on, and I remembered seeing their posters in old magic magazines. And a very interesting detail jumped out at me: their names were the biggest thing on those posters. There was usually also a picture of the guy, either doing an illusion or just posing. And then there was everything else, and it was smaller. These posters (lithographs) weren't do-it-yourself projects; they were designed by specialized artists using the graphic styles in vogue at the time, and many of them were, and still are, gorgeous.

Those posters were selling the magician – the person, the celebrity – and not the magic. Which may also have to do with why so many of these guys billed themselves as “The Great So-and-so” instead of as “The Magic of So-and-so.”

So my show would be about me and how I see magic, and about what I want people to experience when they pay their money. My whole point would be to chill out and smell the roses – forget about your mortgage, and paying for your kids' college, and the high price of gas, and all that stuff, for a couple of hours and go back to the days when you were a kid and discovered your first firefly or Orion's Belt. I just realized this sounds a bit like Doug Henning's approach, but I would take it in a whole different direction.

I would want people to walk out of my show with the same feeling they have when they watch one of the Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies: “Wow, that was fun!” And, connecting the dots again, I want this reaction for a very specific reason.

People who go watch these movies, and similar ones, know, for instance, that Yoda used to be a puppet but is now CG. They know about C3PO and R2-D2 having guys inside. They know that Indy was the same actor who played Han Solo and Dr. Jack Ryan in other movies. And they know a lot of other stuff. But it doesn't make any difference: they enjoy the movies anyway because the point isn't to live in denial for a couple of hours, but just to chill out and have a good time.

So, in the case of my show, I would present the magic in such a way that it really doesn't matter “what the secret is,” because that's not the point. The point would be to go on a two-hour ride (with me) through the type of experiences we used to have and dream of as kids, but have forgotten since then. There would be no “message,” just like there is no “message” in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. But, just like in these movies, there would be an implied command: “Check your brains at the door and come in and chill out.”

I know that sounds cool and all. However, my specific reason for this -- my ulterior motive – is that I would want to set up the audience's mindset in such a way that if some schmoe came along and said, “Here's how he made that elephant float over the audience,” people in the audience would go, “Well, I figured it had to be something like that... but man... it looked so real! That was fun. I gotta go see it again.”

Just like they do with Star Wars. Come back and buy another ticket.

I can be a sneaky, Machiavellian so-and-so when I want to.

Okay, I know some of you want to know what this show would be, and wondering if I'll even get there before the end of the column. Obviously, I don't have a script, but I do have some ideas that have been percolating for years. So here goes.

As I said above, this would be a touring show, geared for an adult audience but certainly open to family audiences. I'd start off with a full-cast, Broadway-type production number, sort of an overture, to get everyone in the right mood. Then I'd do a short comic monologue based on that day's local newspaper. This is where I “take over” and introduce myself and set the mood for the show.

Then I would pace the show along the lines of a good action movie, with points of high excitement followed by a breather. But I would also do split-second switches between high mystery, comedy, drama, inside jokes, and other types of material, the idea being to keep the audience actively involved by making them change their response at a moment's notice. This is a technique used in some old horror and thriller movies, where a bit of comic relief is followed by the monster pouncing or something similar. That was “interactive entertainment” long before computers.

I can think of a number of effects I'd do in the show, some of which are from my old notebooks and some more recent. Some of these would integrate production numbers by the dancers. Here's a sample:

A dance number, along the lines of Fred and Ginger, which goes right into a levitation, vanish, and re-appearance. Not an Asrah: think more along the general lines of “Flying” with a bit of Busby Berkeley thrown into the pot.

An effect (sort of) combining the Mummy Case with the Sub Trunk. Full mummy wrap here and of course a costume change.

My old cards-and-doves act. I loved Lance's bit in the Monte Carlo show, when he did his old act and said “This act paid my rent for years.” I would do it on a small night-club stage set that rolls on.

A “sawing” effect using a table saw (with the circular blade coming up from below). No box here, just a tiny little cardboard cover so you don't actually “see the blade cutting into the skin.”

A version of the turbine illusion, but with the willing participant going thru it horizontally. No large cover, just a little Spandex-covered hoop.

A Zombie routine involving a historical event and a short movie. Donna loves this one and really wants me to do it, so I guess it would have to go in the show.

The routine I was working on in the late 80's, combining sleight of hand with tap dance and a very talented cane.

And so forth... I know you get the idea. But every one of these would be about me (this interesting character with an interesting way of looking at things) and how I see magic, and, even more, about chilling out and imagining what it would be like if this were real.

Because, like I said above, I would really really want people, if they somehow found out how one of these effects worked, to come up to me and say, “I know how you did that, but I still don't believe it and I don't care. That was great. I can't wait to come see you again.”

Okay, now that I've gotten this out of my system, it's time to go back to re-painting the guest room.
That's Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
www.georgefledo.net

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