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JackScratch
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I'm cross-posting this in several other forums but I figured what the heck, I'll get it torn to pieces here. It's been spellchecked BTW.

Scripting and Rehearsal

I personally feel like what I am about to say is fairly obvious, however only a fool neglects to teach something for that reason. On the subject of script writing and rehearsal, I feel that a lot of what you are doing is going to be the product of your imagination, and as such rules and instructions are no appropriate. However, there are certain guidelines which may help the process.

Scripting is perhaps the single most difficult portion of the entertainment process. It requires that you come up with what you are going to say in front of strangers, a difficult thing in and of its self. The first thing you need to do when writing a script for a performance is come up with a rough concept of what you want to present. If your presentation is to be something rudimentary, then so be it, though more complicated plots will give your audience more to concentrate on and enjoy. The idea is to write your performance in such a way that it evokes certain emotions, appropriate to your show; however you don't want to evoke those emotions randomly. An example would be a comedy routine.

Making people laugh is an art and I can not create an all inclusive education on the subject in this brief article. However I can tell you that your comedic performance should lead your audience through a series of ups and downs. Jokes and comedic moments most often begin with something serious, then changing directions into a joke at the last moment. This is an excellent performance tool for any venue. I am writing this article for magicians so I shall use a magic example. Using the cut and restored turban from the Tarbell series, I show the turban, and then cut it in the center, I tell the audience I am going to restore it, and tie the cut ends back together in a knot. They are expecting magic and I did something common, that almost anyone can do. This unexpected direction I have taken makes the audience laugh. For the purposes of magic, I then change directions again by sliding the knot holding the two cut ends together off the end of the turban, revealing that I have, in fact, restored the turban to its undamaged, uncut state. These changes in plot direction are excellent for eliciting surprise, humor, and even terror in an audience.

The story is an age old, tried and true method of pleasing your audience, but doubly so for magic. Taking an effect and wrapping it with a tale lends a wonderful justification for your being in front of an audience in the first place. Eugene Burger does a great “card warp” routine where he talks about the Spanish Inquisition. The card warp then becomes a graphic representation of the tortures used in the inquest. The effect does not have to be a perfect match to the story. Evoking ones imagination you can take the most distant of similarities and apply them to your effect. Likewise, keeping an eye out for effect which lend themselves to a story is also a good idea. Color Monte is an effect where you pass through a series of effects during the course of its performance. The effect comes with a story about a person performing 3 card Monte and the reactions of that person’s audience, but of course that story is a pretty obvious choice, as why else would you show someone a game, yet not let them play?

Once you have come up with a theme/plot for your routine, write it down!!! Do not think for a moment that having the idea is enough. Do not allow that concept that since you developed the idea, that it is sufficiently in your head, and there is not need for actual pen to paper or hand to keyboard. Actual writing has a number of required effects. Writing a script concept down makes it solid, tangible. Only by putting your ideas into a solid form can you leave them behind, get your mind on something else, and then come back to the fresh. When you come back to your writing, be prepared to cut it to pieces. At no point in the scripting, or even the entire performance process should you become emotionally attached to your work. It is all disposable and should be treated as such. Becoming emotionally attached to ones work leads to stagnation and a distinct lack of improvement. You do not want that. Good performances evolve, constantly. Never ever ever hesitate to remove something that seemed like a great idea at the time, but simply fails to produce the reactions it should.

Now that you have an idea, start acting it out. Use a mirror, form an audience from your associates, or just stand in the middle of your room, but do it, and commit to it. When you rehearse a performance, you must have in your mind that it is real. I am not discounting stopping and editing, but it should be like a light switch. You are “on” or “off”; at no time should you be acting out your script half heartedly. Now I know I make this sound extreme, but what you do in rehearsal translates into performance, and focus is required. A most important part of the rehearsal process is “blocking”. It is during your rehearsal, the initial one in particular, that you will begin to discover some very important placement issues. Where is your audience? Where are you? Where are the other actors in your performance? Where are your props? How does the entire performance look to your audience and how can you reposition everything to present a better overall picture for your audience to view. Some of the things to consider in the picture are depth, action, and natural feel. You need to keep all of your performance directed at your audience whenever possible. In the round performances can be a bit difficult with this, and often you won’t actually be in the round, rather performing to an audience in a circle, of which you are a part, there is a difference. You want everyone who is speaking to be at the very least speaking between perpendicular to and directly every audience member’s line of sight. Never have a line spoken away from your audience at all. Backs are not entertaining and sound is directional. As magicians, often time we have audience members on stage. This presents some challenges, but wonderful ones. Some things to keep in mind about audience members is that you have to script and block for them as well. Now I know what you are thinking. How do I write a script for someone who will not have the chance to read or memorize it? Easy, you ask questions, there will be certain obvious responses, so you want the questions you ask and the statements you make to elicit certain responses. Often times a question can have multiple responses, avoid those questions, ask only yes or no questions or questions which will have mostly similar answers. In other words, “What is your name?” The response to this question will always be different, but the various replies can easily be scripted for using plug in scripts. “What is your name?”, “I'm -------.”, Very well ------- step over here stand still, face the audience and smile real pretty for them, they like that.” Names aren't the only possibilities and even yes and no questions should have scripts which can be alternated depending on which answer is given. Do not neglect this process, it is important and must be rehearsed until it comes naturally. Likewise make certain to work your positioning directions to you audience participant into your script. This will help your show to flow smoothly and not give it a broken and disjointed feel. Never speak to a participant in a way that the audience can not hear you. They want to know what is going on, and those private moments will send them in a stampede for the door

Finally we have repetition. No amount of practice is too much. Rehearse your show till you utter your lines in your sleep. Only when it is second nature to perform your show is it ready for a live audience. All the time you are rehearsing, remember to cut lines that break up the flow of the show, and lines that simply don't seem to work the way you thought they would. Never be emotionally attached to your work. Things you keep, just because you like them will drag you down to a second or third rate performance which is unprofessional and not entertaining.

So now you are done, right? Nein!!! You are never done. This process is a living one. Every time you perform watch for new ideas to add. Watch for things that just are not eliciting the reaction they should from your audience. Not every audience will laugh in the right places or emit that wonderful gasp when they are surprised, but there will be trends. Watch for those trends and edit as fits. Also, if you have learned your script as thoroughly as I have described you will have the freedom and flexibility to respond to a particular audiences needs at a moments notice. Improvisation is a myth. Even the people you see who seem to be able to make up the most wonderful performances on the fly have undergone the process described above. They have done it so many times, and in so many ways, that they now have a nigh unlimited series of scripts at their disposal.

I hope this lesson is helpful, and that you are able to gain from my experiences. Given time and dedication, there is no reason that anyone can reach the stage of seasoned performer, but you need to understand that this is how it is done. This is the process that all of the greats have undergone.
BarryFernelius
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Drew,

I think that you've expressed some good ideas. Let me add a few of my own.

1. The mirror provides useful feedback when you're PRACTICING sleight of hand. In my opinion, the mirror should NOT be used during the process that you're describing -- REHEARSAL.

2. It is extremely useful to RECORD your rehearsals, using a video camera if possible. This will show you what the effect looks like from the audience's point of view. It will also bring all of your performing sins into sharp focus.

3. Finally, during the development of the routine, you will typically write scripts that are too long and too complex. During the rehearsal process, you should EDIT your script; cut out the extraneous material that detracts from your performance.
"To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time."

-Leonard Bernstein
JackScratch
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Good stuff Barry, I don't disagree with any of that. You are right, the mirror is a distraction. I was actually going for a "do it anywhere, but do it" feel, but if reconsideration, you are right, the mirror would cause more trouble than it's worth. I also agree with your last statement about editing, I wasn't clear enough on that and in fact I would like to alter what you said by one word. Replace "edit" with "cut" I think it expresses what you are trying to say even better. "Rehearse, then cut, rehearse some more, then cut, rehearses more still, and cut."
wardia
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Drew:
Good help. I will certainly use.
Why would the mirror cause more trouble?
JackScratch
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The mirror would hurt because you shouldn't be concentrating on perceptions of what you are doing, you should be concentrating on perfecting what you are doing. At least while you are actually doing it. Thus the camera isn't a bad option but the mirror would be. Your focus should be on execution, not critique while you rehearse.
BarryFernelius
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During practice, the mirror gives useful feedback.

During rehearsal, the mirror has the potential to keep you from focusing on your imaginary audience. You should be looking into the audience member's eyes, not glancing down at the mirror to check out your moves.

FWIW, I'd suggest one more item that could be added to the list of rehearsal tips:

HIRE A DIRECTOR!
"To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time."

-Leonard Bernstein
JackScratch
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I could go either way on that one Barry. Certainly if you feel you need direction, hire one, however I don't believe it's one of those things everyone must always do. It's not even one of those things everyone can always afford. A good director, who knows how to work with you can make your show. If he doesn't it'll destroy it. Also this was ment to be for every variety of performance, I don't think a director would be useful for perfecting walkaround, but I could be wrong. I personaly direct myself, with assistance from my wife, it works fine for me and I'm a big fan of in house production. On the other hand I run a "mom and pop" kind of entertainment, no mikes, no lights, just me and my few props. I don't even need a stage crew to do my stage show, worked it out that way intentionaly because it was designed for Historical Festival style performances.
BarryFernelius
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Drew,

Over the part ten years, I've done a very large number of walk around shows. Just like you, I used to be ambivalent about the need for a director.

After having the chance to work with a good director, I changed my mind. The effectiveness of my show was increased by an amount that surprised (and delighted) me.

As always, your mileage may vary, etc.
"To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time."

-Leonard Bernstein
JackScratch
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Well, I've worked with directors, both good and bad. Don't get me wrong I know exactly where your coming from on this. My issue isn't with a director being a good or bad idea, it's a great one. My issue is with weighing the costs of a director against the benefits. I know that a director would have been a use of money that I did not have early in my career. Now, much much later, I don't realy have to pay for one, I just network favors.
Marqus
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Jack & Drew,

Great advice! Thank you!
I am in the process of shifting from doing 20 years of kids' shows to wanting to perform a psychic show for the paying public. I have the show scripted but, after always playing to children, I seem to lack the confidence I crave to do this psychic show. I also want to have good stage presence.

I looked locally to possibly take an acting class to maybe gain confidence but I am coming up dry. I am also coming up dry looking for an "acting techniques" DVD (although I actually don't think I need to learn to act - I just need confidence & stage presence).

I also thought about maybe joining a local theatre group but lack the confidence to do that. Sort of a Catch-22 thing.

Maybe I don't need any of the above, only your lesson plan from above. It DOES seem to make very much sense.

Do you have any more advice or avenues/suggestions that would be helpful. I am truly grateful for the above advice.

Thanks again,
Marqus
JackScratch
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Only this. The more time you spend in front of a live audience of strangers, the easier it will be to spend time in front of a live audience of strangers. The same goes for creativity. Listen to your audience, they will honestly tell you everything you need to know. They will tell you what works the way you want it to, and they will tell you what doesn't work the way you want it to. Be warned, however, I am not speaking of suggestions. Do not ask audience members what they think. Listen to, and watch them during the performance. Watch carefully enough and you will see what they like and dislike.
ralphdean
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This is a case of noticing what is important to you, I guess, so this is a great topic for me now.

I am reading Maximum Entertainment right now, a great book by the way.

My question is "Where do you find a director?" At a local play house? The local university? How do you know they are good? Is a directory who does plays any good with working with a magician?

The final question is how much would you expect to pay?
JackScratch
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You find directors in the places you listed. You know they are good if you like their work. Yes if they direct plays well, it is likely they will direct you well. I recomend trying to get the chance to watch their directorial process if possible. See if you can get in to a few early rehersals for a production and watch how they work. You will also want to interview them. Humorously, a realy good way to interview a director, who does community theatre is to audition for a few of his productions. Take part in one or two of his productions and you will know how well you work with him.

As for price, the range is limitless. Make a good friend out of one, you might even get it for free.
ralphdean
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Thanks Drew, some good ideas. Especially watching some early rehersals. I knew the answer to the last part but, I thought I would ask anyway.
JackScratch
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Good to make it available in the forum. Thanks for asking.

Should have mentioned "Networking" as well. Nothing like a few referals from critics and performers who have worked with a director.
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Marcus, I'll post this out here as well:

I have a similar problem, the only difference is that unlike you I only have two years of doing kids' birhtday parties. Our shows consist of a two clowns; one (me) does magic and the other clown (my wife) acts as my assisant- but like you I would like to do more adult shows and hopefully one day have the courage of doing a show by myself - like maybe one day have a musical routine together- a more serious type of magic with a real magician's outfit.

My problem is I don't know where to start. I have 3 doves and two rabbits, can back palm card pretty well but never use this in my shows as I do the more simple, almost-never-fail types of effects. I only use one bird and one rabbit in my current show. Another problem is that in the kids parties part of the show includes my wife doing a trick while I load the bird and bunny- how would I do that by myself? Also how do I start a more professional show ?

I'm 28 and I know maybe 2 years is too little experience to want to get to stage- but how do I get rid of this performing-by-myself anxiety and as a real magician for an older crowd?

Any help from anyone would be appreciated.

Jaime
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JackScratch
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Come up with some ideas. Write them down. Block and script them. Edit them. Rehearse them when you like the finished product. It isn't that simple, and yet it is. You won't do all of this in a week. It is a slow process of creation. Begin by looking at things you like to see in a magic performance. A stage show doesn't have to be big, complicated, or flashy. All it must be is entertaining. By the time you have a completed product ready to present to an audience, you will be anxious, but not nearly like you are now. Your anxiety will be well tempered with confidence. Come up with your show concept, then find effects to go into it. Decide ahead of time the criteria you want this performance to meet.
Daniel Faith
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Often one doesn't see some of their problems and a good director will catch things that you have overlooked. Perhaps changing your blocking or any number of things.
I think it's a good step in achieving a totally polished show.
Daniel Faith
bclay
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Wow, Now that was very educational! Thank you for taking the time to help those of us that are trying to get our "act" together.
Brian
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There's some other useful professionals for your show, apart from directors. These are what the pro's use:

  • Costume designer- it's a horrible thing to clash with your assistant. May have some insights into your professional character's appearance that hadn't occurred to you.
  • Choreographer/music director- They are a must if you include any dancing; directors often can't arrange dance numbers. A general music director can provide focus, too.
  • Set and/or prop designer- you probably won't need one, unless you're doing a stage illusion show. Then they're a must.
  • Lighting designer- see above. Essential to make sure you can be seen on stage. Even if you don't tour with your own lighting equipment, they might be able to assist with a general scheme you can have the venue set up.
  • Scriptwriter/editor- similiar to a director, they can help you polish your patter. If you're not a comedian by nature, but want to inject some humor into your act, they can help.
  • Makeup artist- Unless you're Jeff McBride or someone else who uses elaborate face makeup, then this one's fairly simple, and any college theater student can help. In fact, if you did take theater classes, you probably already know what to do. But if you don't know how to apply stage makeup, be absolutely certain to learn how from one of these before you appear in front of lights and/or cameras. Trust me on this one.

Again, like I mentioned, not all of these will be useful to everyone; but if there's a part of your show you feel doesn't quite "gel", you might want to look into getting advice from the professionals listed above.
Self-proclaimed Jack-of-all-trades and google expert*.

* = Take any advice from this person with a grain of salt.
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