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Topic: Developing a character/persona
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Jul 6, 2004 11:50AM)
This is a post I originally posted in the Time After Time Forum, but thought it might edify those who frequent this forum as well.

The post is in answer to Steven Barney's question about how to develop personality. The thread eventually came down to character. Here is my reply...

Actually developing a character or performance persona is really not as difficult as you think. But it is a lot of [b]work[/b]. (I know a lot of you just tuned out...)

In a nutshell, you must make a conscious decision about who you are going to be on
stage and commit to it. I call this "Creating a Character." [list=1][*]You must figure out who [b]you[/b] are first. "But BDC I know who I am, I live my life everyday don't I?" Nope, sorry. Most people never give thought one to who they are as people. So you need to do a self inventory and learn stuff about yourself. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but I have developed a worksheet for my students if anyone is interested. [*]After you've done that, you must decide which [b]three[/b] traits you will emphasis. This will be the basis of your character. For me it was a love of jazz and swing music, comic books and 1940s pop culture. Again, I have a great essay by Ryan Pilling on this step. E-mail me for a copy. [*]Make a choice. Will my character now be an amplified version of myself or a separate
persona built upon those traits? [*]Make another choice. Will I be the Killer, The Victim and the Witness? In other words will your character create the magic, be a victim of the magic or be a witness to the magic? Think about that and let that hang on the clothesline of your mind... [*]What presentational style will you chose? Storyteller? Educator? Mad Scientist?
Gambler? There are almost limitless offshoots and combinations. For example once you've decided that you are going to be the killer, are you going to be a gambling killer who exposes his cons to educate? Lots of fun possibilities here. Big Daddy Cool is an entertainer who kills. [*]Write your character's bio. The character's history. Including who his parents were, where he went to school (if at all), how he became an entertainer, or gambler, or mad scientist. And if you are playing an amplified version of yourself, write your bio, your history. Make it as long or as short as need be.

Now, that you've done that it's time to really go to work...[*]What is your character's time, space and weight. Boy, this is complex, but it deals with specifically how your character moves. Largely this will be determined by what you've done so far, but there is still a lot of discovery to be done here. Every part of your character's body has a specific speed (time), space (size) and weight (light or heavy). Start with the head, move to the arms and then the feet. Experiment. Walk around with these attributes. Think about how this character should be physically. Once, you've figured out the head, arms and feet, move to the waist, knees, thighs, finger tips and so on, until every part of your body has a specific time, space & weight. [b]This is not easy and will take hours and hours of work[/b]. [*]Decide how your character will speak. Slowly, quickly, with an accent? Not at all? And why? Go back to the bio and figure it out. [*]Clothes. You've heard it said that clothes make the man? It's true. Although the costume is near the end it is one of the most important elements. The audience must know what you are about from the second they lay eyes on you. Part of that is your time space and weight, but a BIG part is your costume. For Big Daddy Cool I needed to create an image that was the flashy showman and entertainer but conveyed ties to the Mafia circa 1940s. By combining styles associated (by the general public) with the time period I've done just that. Before I open my mouth or bob my head, they already have an idea of what I'm all about. [*]Now, the hardest part. Examine your repertoire. Does every thing you perform fit the character you've created? If not throw it out. Your character dictates your repeater, not the other way around. This will be the hardest part, because more than likely you've been performing routines that you shouldn't. [*]Write a script. First write a script for each routine you've kept so far. Then decide what story you want to tell the audience. It could be a true theatrical narrative (in the case of BDC) or the story could just be, "Hey I came here tonight to show you some really amazing things." But whatever it is write it out from beginning to end. Write stage directions, prop placements most important, segues! Write a script. Just do it. [*]More than likely you are going to run into a snag in step 11. Some of the magic that you kept, doesn't move your story along. It may fit the character, but it doesn't fit the script. Lose it. [*]Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! And do it with a director. Or if you have the resources
with a theatrical director, a magical director and a choreographer working in tandem. [/list]If you follow these principles I promise you will see the results from the lay audience that you desire.

[b]And[/b] I didn't even mention that if you work with an assistant or larger cast, every person in the cast must follow these steps through the time, space and weight stage as well.

[b]And[/b], as you are examining your repertoire you are also going to eliminate any magic that isn't commercial and appealing to a lay audience. Screw the magic guys and the judges. Think about the audience.

Gosh, I hope this helps. There are a lot of other resources available as well. One good source is Rich Tenance's column at http://www.Online-Visions.com and this is a regular topic on the Kevin James Forum at [url=http://www.kjmagic.com]www.kjmagic.com[/url].
Message: Posted by: Richard Allen (Jul 6, 2004 01:47PM)
Great post! I'll take some of these things into consideration.
Message: Posted by: Dennis Michael (Jul 6, 2004 06:55PM)
What you write is really brief in understanding the complexity of self and the character you protray.

As I read each line, one could write a chapter (maybe a small book) on the topic (13 chapters or books).

Thanks, it is put together well and requires a lot of DEEP thought!
Message: Posted by: Paul Romhany (Jul 6, 2004 07:03PM)
Check out Marvyn Roy's (Mr. Electric) lecture notes on developing a character and that type of act. Worth searching for.
Message: Posted by: ColinB (Jul 6, 2004 09:10PM)
BDC, this is one of the most excellent, pertinent and useful posts I've seen regarding magic—stuff so often overlooked or simply not considered, worth so much more than simply chasing the next "killer" trick in the hope that it will finally make one a magician.
Message: Posted by: Mike Wild (Jul 6, 2004 09:18PM)
I hate to be a drag Big Daddy, but sometimes character and persona are just that, your personality and your presence. I didn't spend anytime figuring myself out, or what parts I wanted emphasis put on. I just started doing magic at about 10 years old... poorly scripted, under rehearsed, and typical for a 10-year-old. Over time my personality matured, my performance abilities matured, and one day I found myself bartending and prestidigitating for pay.

I've tried to put a game face together, but just being myself seems to suffice. May not pull it together for a stage act though... In that situation getting "into character" is part of the gig. No one wants to sit in a chair 30 feet away and try to watch me being me, however, put them in a bar stool, three feet away, and I'm a big big hit. ;)

Best to the Cool One from the Wild One,
Mike
Message: Posted by: watchdog (Jul 7, 2004 01:24AM)
There is a wonderful piece in the new [i]MAGIC[/i] about characters.
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Jul 7, 2004 09:40AM)
[quote]
On 2004-07-06 19:55, DenDowhy wrote:
What you write is really brief in understanding the complexity of self and the character you protray.

As I read each line, one could write a chapter (maybe a small book) on the topic (13 chapters or books).

[/quote]
Exactly! But we don't have that kind of room or time here, do we? :)

[quote]
On 2004-07-06 22:18, WildStone wrote:
I hate to be a drag Big Daddy, but sometimes character and persona are just that, your personality and your presence. I didn't spend anytime figuring myself out, or what parts I wanted emphasis put on. I just started doing magic at about 10 years old... poorly scripted, under rehearsed, and typical for a 10-year-old. Over time my personality matured, my performance abilities matured, and one day I found myself bartending and prestidigitating for pay.
[/quote]

Mike,

Part of what I wrote addressed just being yourself. That is actually an intentional character choice. What I recommend here is that even if one is just being themselves, that they make all of the choices intentional and not random.

You've done well to this point, but I can guarantee you that if you actually put this process to work, that you will go even further!
Message: Posted by: Mike Wild (Jul 7, 2004 01:29PM)
I'm never "intentionally" me... When I am me, it's usually as a result of some horrible mistake! ;)

I hear ya B.D., just having some fun, and being me... whoops! There it goes again.

Best,
Anyone but Mike
:hysteric:
Message: Posted by: prettylady1990 (Jul 16, 2004 04:38AM)
Bravo Bravo big Daddy Cool
I think this post is FANTASTIC. I'll use this advise.
And once again I think that this post is one of the best I have read
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Oct 11, 2004 10:27AM)
Hey thanks for all of the great feedack. This is the stuff I really get into. For those who have requested the essays and additional info I mentioned... Sorry to take so long getting it out. I've not been able to locate the disc with all of my archives on it. I have everyone's info and promise that as soon as I locate it I'll send it out.
Message: Posted by: Neale Bacon (Oct 11, 2004 12:36PM)
BDC, thanks for the great ideas and thoughts on charcter.

Murray (Sawchuck) was at our recent magic weekend and in his lecture also talked about not only a charcter but a "look"

I am refining my charcter and am now in search of costuming.

The character is sort of a cartoon me or exagerated me (who can spell!). When I started in magic many years ago, I tried to be the Copperfield-style performer and it just wasn't me.

With my look now (shaved head etc) I have become that funny Uncle who tells funny stories and shows tricks and does ventriloquism (I do kids shows) and it works, but costuming is my biggest puzzle.

I guess costuming should be another thread tho...
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Oct 11, 2004 01:18PM)
No, costuming is an intregal part of character development.

Here is how you determine what your costume should be...

Write a character bio - Step # 6

Once you figure out who this character is, where he has been, and what he's done, and when he lives, costuming will become more clear.

At first glance I would guess that loud, mismatched, oversized clothes may be a suitable choice. Or if the "uncle" is more of a Mister Rogers type, then a shirt tie and cardigan sweater may be the way to go. There is no right or wrong way to go, but you must decide how the character would dress!
Message: Posted by: PinkGlove (Oct 11, 2004 01:51PM)
Thanks, this has been an excellent help to me, helping my get my feet on the ground.
Message: Posted by: Doug Higley (Oct 11, 2004 02:05PM)
Ok...BD...I did the above and came up with a real bummer. My character is homeless and works out of a shopping cart.

Wait a minute...I put number 9 first. Hmmm
back to the drawing board.



Doug
Message: Posted by: JimMaloney (Oct 11, 2004 02:25PM)
Actually, that sounds like a perfectly viable character! Didn't Tina Lenert have a cleaning lady act?

-Jim
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Oct 11, 2004 07:04PM)
One of the best acts I've ever seen.

And think about the emotional, social, and psychological issues that could be addressed by such a character. Whoopi Goldberg's "Fantima" character was a homeless crack addict that was really impactful.
Message: Posted by: JimMaloney (Oct 12, 2004 10:34AM)
BDC -- Going back to the crime scene analogy: Do you think that a person can be a killer in one effect and a victim in another? Or do you think it's better to consistently be one of the three for each effect in the act?

Or perhaps you're a killer most of the time, but maybe once during the course of the act you'll witness some of the magic?

-Jim
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Apr 25, 2005 09:25AM)
Jim, don't know why I didn't respond earlier - But great question. You could do either actually. However, I would never recommend switch hitting to a new performer. An experienced one could do it though. But, personally, I think that it is better to maintain consistency.
Message: Posted by: Danny T. (Apr 25, 2005 03:20PM)
"Mastering the Art of Magic" Eugene Burger
"Maximum Entertainment" Ken Werber
"Showmanship for Magicians" Dariel Fitskee
"Strong Magic" Darwin Ortiz
"Magic in Theory" Peter Lamont and Richard Wiseman
"Magic by Misdirection" Dariel Fitskee
"The Books of Wonder" Tommy Wonder and Steven Minch
"Theatrical Magic" Eugene Goyle

Read this and that will be the end of this post and 90% of the posts in the entire Café. By the way this is probably my last post. good luck everyone.
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Apr 26, 2005 09:51AM)
Probably true, Danny. As it happens I developed this process working as a professional ACTOR. I have read some of the material that you list, but not all. Plus, this was never meant to replace any of those texts, rather this is a brief synopsis of what one would learn by reading ALL of those texts. Sorry to have offended you by answering a legit question...
Message: Posted by: Vick (Apr 26, 2005 10:24AM)
BDC - much thanks for the post, your thoughts and inspiring new thoughts

I'm going through working out 2 new characters as have started working with my fiancée in a new illusion show

She plays the part of the impish assistant who gets over on me, the crotchety old mentor. Sometimes I may have been coming across a little to harsh to her so it has the possibility of turing part of the audience really against me.

We're working on finding a realistic/happy medium while maintaining the roles and overall feel and direction
Message: Posted by: Dr_Stephen_Midnight (Apr 26, 2005 08:26PM)
My approach employed a similar system. I specifically used a series of questions:

Who are you?
What are you?
Why are you?
What do you wish to achieve?
Why do you perform before the public?

Steve
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (Apr 27, 2005 10:41AM)
[quote]

She plays the part of the impish assistant who gets over on me, the crotchety old mentor. Sometimes I may have been coming across a little to harsh to her so it has the possibility of turing part of the audience really against me.

[/quote]
Vick,
There is a fine balance here. If you can get your hands on it, take a look at some video of Tomsoni & Company. Johnny & Pam have that kind of relationship on stage and they do it very well.

On the otherhand, there is a prominent illusionist in the Smokey Moutains region that tries to create this situation, but fails miserably. He ends up looking like a real jerk.
Message: Posted by: Vick (Apr 27, 2005 02:21PM)
Much thanks BDC!!

I'll try to find some work by Tomsoni & Company
Message: Posted by: EllisJames52 (May 4, 2018 11:08PM)
More than a decade later, this thread is still helping people. Thanks!
Message: Posted by: Ray Pierce (May 8, 2018 12:17AM)
Yes, these are great tools. Johnny Thompson has an act, Marvyn Roy has an act... BDC has an act. I always had a slightly different approach. An act has a character... a star has personality. You can admire character but you PULL for personality. Lance started out with a character, but when he transitioned to a star role, he had to break apart his original character for personality which took him to a top tier star performer. Star performers might do "characters" in the course of their show, but it is their personality that makes them transcend their characters.

If you're doing an act which is mono dimensional... yes, develop a "character for it. If you want to transcend the act... create a star personality.
Message: Posted by: Big Daddy Cool (May 23, 2018 02:05PM)
[quote]On May 4, 2018, EllisJames52 wrote:
More than a decade later, this thread is still helping people. Thanks! [/quote]

You are welcome.
Message: Posted by: magicianbrady (Aug 21, 2018 05:43PM)
[quote]On May 4, 2018, EllisJames52 wrote:
More than a decade later, this thread is still helping people. Thanks! [/quote]

Haha yeah. I just noticed the original date. What a great post. Gave me some nice points which I need to think about moving forward in magic :)
Message: Posted by: bdungey (Apr 8, 2019 07:51PM)
I really like this post - it gives me some critical points to think on in developing my character and the routine I'll perform. I've had this post open in a tab for two days and keep coming back. I might copy it out to my Google Drive just for the sake of reflection.
Message: Posted by: Nem (Apr 11, 2019 04:25PM)
I would suggest you watch some videos of other performers and look closely at what character they are trying to portray, the clothes, manners etc. Developing a character can be an extension of yourself but not always you. Can also be something entirely different. What are you trying to portray to your audience. Similar to actors playing characters in movies or on stage.
Message: Posted by: bdungey (Apr 11, 2019 04:51PM)
I found this site in my search for inspiration; http://gmpresentation.blogspot.com/2010/10/questions-for-better-magic.html#

I've found is asks some really great questions to build character on. Not only for the creative exercise, I really enjoy this process.
Message: Posted by: FlightRisk (Apr 20, 2019 01:24PM)
What would really be great is a breakdown of examples of performer's we know,Copperfield, Daryl,Bill Malone, Pop Haydn, Michael Ammar, David Roth. Where are they with their character?
Message: Posted by: Ray Pierce (Apr 23, 2019 03:03PM)
With the exception of Pop Haydn who is a character driven act, the others are all personality driven.
Message: Posted by: FlightRisk (Apr 23, 2019 04:50PM)
Despite not taking on a "character" like Pop does, don't each of those decide on whether they are comedic, theatrical, manic, storyteller, etc.? I know they each have their own personality, but they still exaggerate their own personality, change it a bit, or find a method that works for them. I'm trying to see the subtle differences. I guess I can watch some back to back videos of more than one or two effects and get a feel if they stick to a style. I think there are times when certain tricks wouldn't fit a chosen style and as much as you might like the effect, if it can't be adapted, you should drop it in favor of something else.
Message: Posted by: landmark (Apr 23, 2019 10:53PM)
[quote]On May 8, 2018, Ray Pierce wrote:
Yes, these are great tools. Johnny Thompson has an act, Marvyn Roy has an act... BDC has an act. I always had a slightly different approach. An act has a character... a star has personality. You can admire character but you PULL for personality. Lance started out with a character, but when he transitioned to a star role, he had to break apart his original character for personality which took him to a top tier star performer. Star performers might do "characters" in the course of their show, but it is their personality that makes them transcend their characters.

If you're doing an act which is mono dimensional... yes, develop a "character for it. If you want to transcend the act... create a star personality. [/quote]

Very interesting, Ray. Could you expand on this? How does one concretely make this transition?
Message: Posted by: FlightRisk (Apr 24, 2019 10:32AM)
That is a great quote to ponder from Ray. Pop also said something interesting in another thread that I took to mean that at a minimum, find out "where the magic comes from". Are you imbued with magical powers? Do you channel them? Are the props magical? Are you as surprised as the audience by what happens sometimes? Is it a con?

I really enjoy Kyle Eschen's character. Droll, socially awkward... as if Marvin the Paranoid Android from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" decided to do magic ;) And he is a sympathetic character that you root for.
Message: Posted by: Ray Pierce (Apr 30, 2019 08:34AM)
Character acts are great, I worked as an actor for many years and enjoy the theatricality of them. It's just that so few character acts could be sustained for a full length show. Yes, I know there are exceptions but by and large, the personality oriented performers allow a great range and more audience appeals. Yes, I did a Charlie Chaplin routine, A Pirate scene, a Mission: Impossible segment, etc, but all were based on the audience knowing me first as a performer and then as a real person to allow me to make those jumps into character segments with them. Lance Burton's original act was character driven, yet as he transitioned into a longer form show, he needed to establish a personality driven act that would allow him to sustain the show and connect more with the audience. I've directed both types of performers for many years and they are both important in their own way. They just fill two very different needs in magic.