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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The March 2003 entrée: Randy Wakeman » » Scripting » » TOPIC IS LOCKED (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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RandyWakeman
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Performance scripting vs. improv or semi-improv: what is best suited to
what conditions, and what performing styles?
cmwalden
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Most of my magical life I winged it. It would evolve as I went and I would
end up winging it the same way consistently. Now I am a believer in
writing.

My greatest inspiration for this is the Marx Brothers. I read a Biography
about Groucho, and discovered the lengths that the Marx Brothers went to
get their crazy spontaneous comedy. Most of their films were toured as
live stage shows, doing two performances a day with extra matinees on the
weekend. They worked from a script, and would try different ways of saying
a joke in several shows to find out which was the funniest delivery.
People backstage with stopwatches timed the laughs to get benchmarks.
Since they could, and would stray from the script, they also incorporated
stenographers who took down every line of the show so they wouldn't lose a
good ad lib.

Wow! And this was from people who had no problem doing things on the spot.
I've never viewed a Marx Brothers film the same way again.

Eugene Burger once pointed out that before you can ad lib, you must have
something to ad lib from. I now have learned enough about myself and my
magic that I can sit down at keyboard and write my vision. It is
imperative to be able to do this if you ever want to expand to more than
one actor or do interesting stage-technical things.

Sometimes I still wing it. Smile
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our reality."

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RandyWakeman
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Stage magic vs. close-up behind the bar are vastly different . . . it is often difficult to attempt to employ heavily scripted material to an off-the-cuff environment, if not completely impractical.

If you are in the role of "magical bartender," for example . . . thinking that you can "do as some books suggest" while properly tending bar can be found frustrating in a big hurry.
Geoff Weber
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I am big believer in tight scripting no matter what. Doing a little ad lib from a tightly scripted foundation is fine. Like cmwalden said: even people who think they can wing it, will eventually start winging it the same way. This becomes a script, albeit a rather clumsy way to arrive at one, because you are subjecting your audience to all the "rough drafts". I would much rather work it all out ahead of time, and use that solid script as my starting point.
HarrisonCarroll
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Neither:
Hey Randy: Responding to your question... It seems that neither a completely canned script nor a totally improv approach can be continually successful. If a guy is doing a few tricks at a bar, he can get away with "Jazz Magic", but do do a full 45 or 60 minute "Show", there needs to be some organization and planning. Just as a ship charts its course across the seas, so too do we need to have a clear indication of where we are going, and where we want to take the audience.
If one has done a show a thousand times, things kind of settle into their own space, and a performer develops a tight, polished presentation while maintaining confidence that he can take off in some unexpected direction (depending on what the audience gives) and be able to return to where he needs to be to achieve the big climax.
Otherwise there is no discipline and without discipline growth and learning become stiffled. No?
RandyWakeman
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There are exceptions that prove the rule.

Harry, you watched Frank Garcia on David Susskind - - and know the facts and circumstance behind that show.

Where was the script there? The planning? The discipline?

Yet, Frank pulled it off beautifully, under some of the most difficult and happenstance conditions imaginable.
Jeff Hinchliffe
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I personally feel that scripting is very important, as it helps develop a presentational structure. Also, by scripting effects or presentations, it assists you in creating a character or persona in which you will take on in your performance. However, I also think it is vital that you are able to stray from your script should the need arise. The world is an unpredictable place (despite what mentalists tell you...hehe) and I feel that it is necessary to be able to perform "on the fly" so to speak, should you find yourself in a situation where your script is not usable. It is quite unprofessional to be blundering through effects with no proper script or presentation. It is however, equally unprofessional to have long awkward pauses during a performance as you try and figure out how to make your script fit in unusual circumstances. "Be prepared for the worst but expect the best," you might say.

Jeff
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JimMaloney
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Quote:
On 2003-03-03 01:20, cmwalden wrote:

My greatest inspiration for this is the Marx Brothers. I read a Biography
about Groucho, and discovered the lengths that the Marx Brothers went to
get their crazy spontaneous comedy. Most of their films were toured as
live stage shows, doing two performances a day with extra matinees on the
weekend.


Sorry to burst your bubble, but this isn't entirely true. In fact, only two of their movie were worked out in this manner: "A Night at the Opera" and "A Day at the Races." These were their first two moves with MGM (sixth and seventh movies of their career -- the first five were with Paramount). Granted, these two were their most successful in terms of box office figures. This was due largely to the influence of Irving Thalberg, who basically took their declining career and brought it back to life. While Thalberg appreciated their earlier movies, what they lacked was a good plot/storyline. In ANATO and ADATR, Thalberg attempted to take the Brothers and put them in a context, instead of running around like raving lunatics and only following the plot when it suited them.

As for their earlier pictures with Paramount (when Zeppo was still a part of the group), only two of them had been done on stage. "Coconuts" and "Animal Crackers" were both hugely successful Broadway shows before they were made into movies. In fact, while they were filming "Coconuts" in Paramount's Astoria studios, they were performing "Animal Crackers" live on Broadway. Talk about a crazy schedule! Three more movies followed with Paramount(Horsefeathers, Monkey Business, and Duck Soup), with Duck Soup being their biggest box office flop -- despite the fact that it is today considered the best movie of their career.

Irving Thalberg died early on in the production of A Day at the Races and although there were several movies after it (Room Service, At the Circus, Go West, The Big Store, A Night in Casablanca, and Love Happy), the quality quickly went downhill as a result.

-Jim
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JimMaloney
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Now to the actual topic at hand...

Personally I feel that scripting is essential to magic. However, due to the fact that magic (especially in the close-up arena) is a largely interactive performance, the scripts need to be open and allow for that interaction. Any actor knows that the script is followed unless some situation arises where you need to depart from it. Only those who have really learned that script are able to depart from it and pick it up again as needed without it being obvious to the audience. If you haven't learned your script, you're not able to "be in the moment" and react to what's happening around you. You'll be thinking about what you're supposed to say next instead of listening to your fellow actor (or audience member, in the case of magic). Listening is very important.

-Jim
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RandyWakeman
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Thanks for the posts Jim - - you taught me things about the Marx brothers I never knew!

Eddie Fechter, Heba Haba, Jim Ryan, Frank Everhart, even Don Alan performed often without anything approaching "heavily scripted" acts.

It seems the level of scripting has more to do with the precise performing venue than anything else. A hospitality suite? No, no scripting here. A TV spot? Very much so.
cmwalden
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Quote:
On 2003-03-04 14:53, JimMaloney wrote:
Sorry to burst your bubble, but this isn't entirely true. In fact, only two of their movie were worked out in this manner: "A Night at the Opera" and "A Day at the Races." These were their first two moves with MGM (sixth and seventh movies of their career -- the first five were with Paramount).


No buble burst here. I like facts when I can get them.

But even if that is an isolated example of their efforts, it is an amazing story, and far beyond what most of us would even think about. I still find it inspiring. Your account demonstrates the value.
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our reality."

- William Shakespeare
Bradley Morgan
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Hello Mr. Randy

It has been delightful to have you here at the Café.
I have been reading all the posts but not have had time to write much. So i thought I would add something here. I really like your magic and stile.

Performance scripting vs. improve or semi-improve:

For me I practice to make it look like I am doing the magic improve, but I do script it so that I can adlib if i have to. For me i script my routine to the point where i can have fun with the audience, and go with the flow. I do my routine in a way where i can do my tricks in a different order, but it is still scripted and each trick is its own. One thing i love doing is ad-libbing and making my audience laugh. So i have to have a routine that is flexible and enjoyable. I think scripting is very important for a magician, so he can concentrate on entertaining more than the technical stuff.

Thank you Mr. Randy for being here.


Best Wishes always,
Bradley Howard-Browne
"I do not know with what weapons World War 3 will be fought, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones." - Einstein
RandyWakeman
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Hi Bradley,

I think you have hit the nail on the head . . . whether scripting, rehearsal, adding emotion to your own magic:

If it improves our magic, it is a good thing.
That's what we all want!
HarrisonCarroll
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Randy:
Regards Frank on Susskind, in a sense there was a script. Each effect, Frank had done a thousand times. He knew what he would say and how he would say it. Although prepared for 6 minutes, his arsenal was stocked with knowledge and experience to enable him to do the whole show.
As you know, Frank said certain things, at ceertain times, during certain tricks. Without an outline of some sort for each effect, he would have never been able to pull it off. Who would?
Also, I don't want to confuse scripting to merely the verbiage used. Each move and gesture is also part of the script.
So, despite the challenges Frank had to deal with, he was, in a sense scripted by virtue of his vast experience with each thing he did.
Fun Fun Fun!
Danny Hustle
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As a bartender who did magic for 15 years and a street performer I have a template for every trick I do. I also have at least 1001 lines committed to memory that serve me most graciously when things go south.

I think these two performing arenas provide the largest challenges for a magical performer because of the physical closeness with the audience, the party atmosphere, and the inclusion of alcohol.

As a bartender my primary job was to get the cash into the draw and the drinks on the mahogany. It would not be unusual for me to have a customer pick a card, I would go settle a bill, and draw a draft, before I got back to him. A simple pick a card trick would often last 20 minutes on a busy night.

Because of this if I did not have a template I was working from I would forget where I was and begin to stumble verbally. So while I may not have had a script per se I had to have an outline to follow or I would have been hosed.

Also if I didn’t have scripted ad-libs for when things went south behind the bar like a spilled drink, stuck cards, sponge bunnies in the ashtray, etc. I would have found myself in quite a quandary.

This being said, I think my show was scripted but to my audience it was imperative that it didn’t seem so.

I was never a big fan of huge involved story type scripts. There was a bartending magician who has now retired to Florida that seemed like every trick he did was a huge involved story. To me it was like watching paint dry. The material was also very inappropriate even for a bar and my ex-wife could not stand the sight of the guy and from what I’ve heard she was not alone.

Although, a funny thing is my ex saw a bartender do the paper pants trick (a Heba-Haba classic) and thought it was the funniest thing she ever saw. My ex-wife had also seen the other guy do the same exact routine and thought it was disgusting. When I asked her what made the difference she said, “This guy is funny, the other guy was just a letch.” So I think if a person does use a script it is important that it should be appropriate to their personality and not just an interesting story.

That’s my two cents anyway.

Best,

Dan-
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Tom Gaddis
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I'm surprised in a thread about scripting, to see no reference to the only professional performance scripts available to magicians (The Ron Bauer Private Studies Series). I asked RB what the definition of scripting is and he said "Writing it down."

Tom
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RandyWakeman
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Tom,

I certainly think highly of the Ron Bauer Private Studies releases. However, they are far more valuable than just for the "scripting."

Ron's books certainly include performance scripts- but they are in no way the first writings to do so. The quality of the magic, and the quality of the overall instruction is what sets them apart, a "Stars of Magic" for today.
Wesley James
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There seems, in some of the posts of this thread, to be a sense that scripting and improvisation are mutually exclusive ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having a well crafted script is the tool and license that gives one the freedom to improvise yet still be regarded as polished and professional. The best improvisational comics, Robin Williams or Jonathan Winters as examples, have characters with scripts that serve as the core of their work. From those foundations they are free to depart, ad libitum, confident that they can make their bits work. Jazz musicians likewise have a core melody or progression that defines the piece they're playing. From this root they are free to improvise as the spirit moves them. What is it that would cause anyone to think they could do any better than this proven formula? I suspect that it is not the desire for freedom that motivates those who decline to script their work but laziness or false confidence. Either failing is grossly disrespectful to ones audiences and should be understood as lame rationale.

Wesley James
RandyWakeman
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I fall into that category. I view a script in terms of a screenplay, something that is crafted with the intent that it is not deviated from a great deal-- like an actor "knowing their lines." My naive "take" is there is no full-fledged "scripting" unless the "script" is placed into a fixed form, a form that can be reviewed, edited, and compared.

An understanding of character and role allows for far more freedom to move around inside that character than a "script" would seem to allow for. "Total" improvisation is something I've never seen close to actually happening successfully, not at Second City, not at any level.
Matt Graves
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I've tried scripting over and over, but I can never stick to any one script. So I just write a script for an effect over and over and try to make it sound better, and I hope that the better lines will stick in my head. When I'm practicing, I'll repeat what I'd probably say to the audience. So I'm not totally improvising, but I don't have a memorized script, either. What finally did it for me was when I read Dai Vernon's Cups & Balls Routine; they wouldn't give his "patter" in the book, because they said he tailored it to suit his audience each time. I figured if it worked for him, it'll probably work for me; he was a master. But I can't help admiring someone like Eugene Burger who can actually be happy enough with a script to memorize it word for word and then recite it at every performance. That must truly be a gift . . .
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