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Regular user
Portsmouth, VA
151 Posts

Profile of tank5030
This summer I will be heading to Sri Lanka with a mission team and doing some magic while I am there. I will have to work through a translator because I do not know the language and most will not know english. Many of the performances will not have access to a sound system so I cannot perform to music. Does anyone have experience working through a translator and have any advice on some things to look out for, or how it affects the show. This will be a stage/parlour type show to kids mostly (10-15 years old) and some adults. Let me know if anyone has expereicne in this type of thing and might have some advice. Thanks.
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New user
58 Posts

Profile of magic-upclose
Rope magic is universal...
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Inner circle
Kalamazoo, Mi.
2537 Posts

Profile of Jaxon
I have experience in this type of thing just about every time I perform for a large audience because of my deafness. Here are a few suggestions.

-Obviously visual magic will be visual to anyone who can see it.

-Communicate as much as you can with gestures and miming. I don't know what style you perform but let's imagine you do a pick a card trick. Spread the deck and tell them you want them to pick one with your facial expressions and body language. Maybe fan the cards and with your other hand mime taking a card and hold up one finger (Take one). Want them to shuffle then mime that. Like I said you may not do card magic but the same can apply to just about anything. Basically just try to communicate as visually as you can.

-Always smile. It speaks louder then words and it'll be hard for them not to enjoy you even if they don't understand everything you say. That may seem obvious but when performing for people you don't understand that can be frustrating and it might show on your face. So stay happy. Smile

When you do have to talk just let the interpreter do their job. Pause when you need to to let them repeat it but honestly this won't have as much of an effect on your performance as it might seem. Just keep going and use the same jokes or bits you always use. That'll keep you in your zone. Just little pauses when needed is all that's different.

Well I hope this is helpful in some way. Have fun and let us know how it goes. I'm sure it'll take some getting use to but I'm also sure they'll know you don't speak their language so they'll understand your situation.

Make them laugh! Smile

Ron Jaxon


After regaining my ability to hear after 20 years of deafness. I learned that there is magic all around you. The simplest sounds that amazed me you probably ignore. Look and listen around you right now. You'll find something you didn't notice before.
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Inner circle
The Holy City of East Orange, NJ
6438 Posts

Profile of Spellbinder
You can talk to kids anywhere in the world using laugh language. It is a made up language consisting of giggles and guffaws that kids everywhere relate to and find hystericvally funny. Ask any clown!
Professor Spellbinder

Professor Emeritus at the Turkey Buzzard Academy of Magik, Witchcraft and Wizardry

Publisher of The Wizards' Journals
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Elite user
Central Japan
498 Posts

Profile of Billgussen
I am a translator, so I have a peculiar perspective on this.

The biggest thing you have to remember is to stop after just about each sentence so that the translator can put it in the target language. It will feel unnatural, and you will want to keep talking, but you really have to stop talking. If your sentence is long and convoluted, stop between phrases. The best thing to do is to get into a rhythm with your translator where you say a sentence and he/she says a sentence. If you can get into such a rhythm, your audience will also get into the rhythm, and things will go much more smoothly.

Remember that the audience doesn't understand anything you're saying until it's translated, so don't get ahead of yourself (or too far ahead of your translator). Also remember that your patter will take at least twice as long as it normally does, so plan your timing accordingly. (It usually takes more words in the target language to say the same thing than it does in the source language, so it will probably take even longer than twice as long.)

Stay away from cultural jokes -- even when they seem like they should be universal. Maybe the people of Sri Lanka have heard of Captain Kirk, but it isn't in the national consciousness like it is with English speaking folks. As an example, at a lecture here in Japan, the American magician pulled out a king from his deck and did an Elvis impression. The joke bombed. Sure, the Japanese have heard of Elvis, but most don't know his nickname is the king, and even those who do won't make the immediate connection between the card and Elvis.

You will have a stronger performance if you can rehearse once with your translator. If the translator knows what's coming and how the drama of your performance flows, he/she can better fit the words to the occasion. Giving the translator a written script of your patter would be even better (but if you do, warn the translator about how much you improvise or change the script while on stage).

That's about all I can think of at the moment. No doubt more will occur to me as time goes on.

Best of luck!
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Inner circle
South African in Taiwan
1081 Posts

Profile of abc
Having done this quite a few times here in Taiwan prior to learning Chinese I will suggest the following.
Make it 15 minutes of pure entertainment without the translator. Just play background music. Have the translator ready for the odd sentence or two but try to avoid it. It is tedious to listen to a lecture in another language and you do not want to create that kind of atmosphere in a magic show for kids. Actions speak louder than words.
As for working with the translator, there are people who can translate as you speak and you do not need to stop but they are either expensive or you are going to have a really hard time finding one. Bill gave some very good advice. Do not make English jokes, they will not get it.
Vaughn Ver Steegt
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New user
Janesville, Iowa
56 Posts

Profile of Vaughn Ver Steegt
Hi Tank,
I agree with Bill about trying to rehearse with your translator and having a written script for them. In fact everything he said is correct. I've used translators while in India and found it very interesting and challenging to get used to speaking with one.

Are you going to be the the same area while you are there or traveling around to other locations? If you are in different locations will you have the same translator all the time or will you get someone new at every event? If you will have different translators keep a written script with you and at least let them read through it before the performance. In my experience some translators were better than others. If there is a problem area in your script you don't want the translator pausing to think about how to translate what you just said or did. Or worse yet if they just can't come up with the words to say or misunderstand what you said. So if there is a problem area that they will have a hard time translating during the performance it will help them to be prepared and you won't get that I don't know what to say problem. If they can keep the flow of your patter going it will help you get your timing down. Also ask them to make notes on how they interpreted any problem areas of the script in order to help the next translator if needed. I wish you the best and don't let the translation part get to you. You'll get the hang of it and the children or who ever is watching will enjoy it. I hope you get a chance to get out and experince the country and it's culture. Don't be afraid to try something new and make some new friends while you are there.
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Inner circle
Essex, UK
1381 Posts

Profile of themagiciansapprentice
Here in Kuwait we have over sixty languages spoken. We often have a Gospel Magic presentation for lots of languages. Monthly we have a sermon translated into English or Cantonese. We've found that magic generally speaks for itself, just translating the key points ie the rainbow hanky is the Jesus, change bag is the tomb, empty tomb etc.

At big events (Christmas Praise was 1750 speaking 20 languages) with lots of languages we rely on English and let the magic be interpreted. This means carefully selecting the tricks used. And repeating key phrases ie Jesus, Birth, miracle that most people recognise. We've found friends will interpret for them.

Lots of my friuends here are Sri Lankan and say English is taught in lots of schools. It's also the language of tourism, soccer and cricket so lots listen/watch English language programmes.
Have wand will travel! Performing children's magic in the UK for Winter 2014 and Spring 2015.
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