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colin underwood
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Show Management
Prop Management Part one

The following notes are from my book I have started writing but I have so much to put to paper that I felt it might be useful information for magicians today and not in a yearís time!!
I wanted to pass on some advice from my experience of working long term contracts and my present contract is no exception. I am performing in Mallorca, one of the Balears Islands of Spain every night for 6 months. With such an intense contract I have found you have to develop personal skills that enable you to maintain such a high standard of performance. The odds are increased that something will go wrong within a long term a contract, thatís a fact!! Prop and personal management is vital.
I feel that the following advice can be applied to other fields of performance even if you do not perform as regularly. And in a way it is a success formula for life in general.
Even though I give the advice I still find I am learning all the time and I get annoyed at little things that go missing or there are breakages or I donít get to bed early enough and exhausted the next day. I am still striving for that perfect state!
Performance wise I have a new adage which is, I am now as good as my venue!! There are such variations of venues that sometimes it is quite frustrating. I will discuss those hassles in Part 2.
I also believe your show in general is a direct result of you and your personality. Obviously some of the hassles I have encountered will not mean anything to another performer who does not have the same personality traits but for the record I will pass on what its worth!!
It might be pertinent to explain my personality and performance character if you havenít seen me is one of high energy so I mention energy levels quite often. I perform a routine at a fast pace pertinent to the trick itself and once completed I move quickly onto the next routine and working alone I have to clear away and set new props within the show itself. So prop management is very important for me. This means finding the balance between having a very structured show with props in place and a faster moving show but with chaotic prop management as well as sustaining the speed of performance night after night.
There are other factors which can influence the show and prop management which I will discuss in Part 2 and 3 in forthcoming weeks. These are venue problems, sound equipment problems, untrained animation staff, lighting, difficult audiences, over zealous bar staff and the most insidious of all, your own personal problems. These are things like family connections, depression, burnout, finances, relationships etc

Self discipline.

This is for me the most vital attribute for anybody who is going to sustain a long term contract of such intensity or a career in show business. There is a performance a night with one day off per week and sometimes you are on standby that day as well. The day to day running of your show has to come first and you have to develop a system for everything. My most taxing problem is keeping my energy at peak levels without burning out. Personal discipline and good living habits such as eating and sleep patterns are vital. I perform alone and do not have anybody with me so keeping sane is also a requirement!! A good balance of work and relaxation is necessary. With this present contract my apartment is about 400 metres from the beach so there isnít a problem in that regard but late nights in the pubs is a lot more taxing as the night life here is amazing. Sometimes I want to go to sleep early but the noisy revelers keep me awake!! This is fine for awhile but week after week it starts to take its toll.
In Dubai last year I was not on a fixed time slot and could perform within a certain time frame. This was very demanding as there was nobody to check up on you and you have to be very focused in your work ethics. I have performed with fellow artists not only magicians who have not been able to maintain a high level of discipline. Any personal manager will tell you this is the same in all walks of life. The hiring and firing of job applicants is a worldwide problem. A friend told me he used to hire an applicant simply because he did not smoke; in his opinion a smoker had less self discipline and value for himself. I make no comment in that regard.

I donít have a problem performing and it is my life, but my focus is to maintain my energy levels as the success of my show is directly related to my character and performance level which encompasses such things as timing etc. It is difficult sometimes to be the happy and a high level performer when you are suffering from a chest infection induced from 10 months of living in a shopping mall with air conditioning and you find each day you have less and less energy.
This topic of self discipline is actually much bigger than this and encompasses goals and personal drive and determination which I wonít go into here.

Packing and traveling with props.

The easiest way to have a system is to have a place for each prop and every night you pack the prop in the same place. You are then able to see if you have everything. On occasions I have left a shirt or a plug or whatever at a hotel. One prop can serve as a bag for others, my change bag which holds balloons in the show now carries my silks and small gimmicks. My vanishing bottle of tomato sauce is kept in a water bottle with the end cut off. (Or preferably keep the container it arrives in). I use mouth coils so the used mouth coil is stuffed into the bottle to retain its shape. Just by the way I do so many shows I have found I wear out those bottles and they tear and lose there shine so I order a new one each season. You receive a plastic label which has no adhesive with the bottles. I recommend a small amount of contact glue applied to the label to keep in place as the standard water method doesnít work and you donít want a label half falling off during a show. I do carry spare labels and stick them on as required.

I will pack one routine after the next and vice versa with unpacking that way I methodically prepare the show. With everything in its place I can easily see whatís missing.
A quick mental recap after everything is in place is also vital, there will be a time you forget something.
Pack small play big is also useful when choosing your show. Your props somehow become heavier after each months performances. The less loose props the better as there is less chance of something going missing. And sometimes the car park and the performance venue are far apart. A good set of casters on your prop trunk will help. When choosing a size, larger is better to get over little bumps and loose carpets in the hotel foyer. There is nothing worse than your prop box jamming the entrance to a five star hotel with guests trying to leave. It happened to me in a lift once; I pulled the box in from the front and then tried to push the box out. Because the lift did not align properly there was a small lip to get over but I was trapped behind my own box and had to go down to lower level and try again.
Be aware your prop box if seen by the audience before and after the show reflects you so no tatty boxes.

The Replacement and Repair of props.

You must keep adequate stocks of replacement items and have an extra set with you at the show. Extra batteries for your head set, mouth coils etc.
My odd box as I call it is a small little wooden suitcase containing extra supply of things needed. I leave nothing to chance and even have extra silks for a particular routine packed in there. You just need one show where you lose your system and find that special silk is in the wash in your other show pants!!
Be aware that props break unexpectedly and wear out if there are moving parts so maintenance is required and if you make your lively hood from one show type such as a specialty act on cruise ships or a Vegas type venue I would buy two sets of the same prop. Imagine you are off the coast of Northern Africa and have just docked in a hell hole of a town called Djibouti, and your Kevin James snow storm illusion packs up, there goes your ending. I have spent a few days in the dark depths of cruise ships trying to repair something. Glue guns are great but not long term as the nylon glue will melt in extreme temperatures.

I have an adage if you can imagine something going wrong, chances are it will happen. Continuous performances night after night are a different ball game to the once a month type show or the occasional show at a magic meeting.
I am fortunate the company I work for at present has a well equipped workshop and a permanent handy man operating it. This is the exception rather than the rule. Some venues do not have adequate maintenance departments. I recall a time in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East many years ago trying to find a person who first speaks English and then is able to help with your problem.
Another thing, if something breaks do not leave the problem until the last minute, there is nothing worse for stress levels than banging away just before a show trying to fix your cutting in half illusion. Also glue and spray paint need time to dry and in subtropical conditions it can take longer.

Do not expect local suppliers especially for modeling balloons to be of the same standard as the well known Qualitex brand. When it comes to liquid fuels to use in fire torches or fire eating or illusion effects there are different brand names for fuels and adequate time is needed prior to your show to source such fuels. I have two bottles of liquids here at present that although they say flammable, they do not light!!
Travel nowadays with all the safety and security restrictions has made it difficult to carry such fuels on board cruises and aircraft. I do remember on a recent contract in Dubai I had to fly out from London and they had such high security as there was the recent bomb scare there and in my suitcase was 20 sheets of flash paper, 3 or 4 lighters and a can of lighter fuel all in one packet and I managed to get it through!! (NOT A GOOD IDEA!!)

Many years ago I declared a lighter that looked like a hand grenade. Although it was declared and was meant to go in the hold the Germen Captain refused it onto the plane. Another time also many years ago I made a joke about carrying a few bombs in my bag, not a good joke and was told as much by the check in lady. And then there are the South African security forces at our airports where one magic trick for their buddies gets you through with a lot of stuff that should have had duty paid or a false pass as I pretend to ditch the leather man in the bucket suffices. I was lucky once I completely forget I had my starter pistol in my hand luggage and was able to come out alive!

Prop storage

I work at different hotels each night so I need to pack up after each show and store my props for the next night. I leave my props in my vehicle which is in a locked car park and my windows of the car are covered, it isnít ideal but saying that I wouldnít do this in South Africa! The problem is do you take out all your props and store within your apartment every night an extra time consuming and exhausting exercise one which I couldnít do as I donít have the energy and I stay on the third floor !!. The problem with this is the van is affected by extreme heat variations that you experience here and will affect the life span of certain props mainly balloon and plastic items. These types of props I take inside with me.
My props are packed into my vehicle in a certain order to facilitate easy loading and unloading. I have one large prop trunk on wheels with three other items on top of the trunk. I have to make an extra trip for my unicycle and costumes. I pack these items from the trunk into the vehicle the same way each night with each bag placed in the same position each night again so I know if I have left something behind.

I have made my prop box deliberately thinner but longer so as to facilitate easy entrance through doorways and back alleys. I highly recommend that any large trunk or illusion be made to either dismantle or to fit through a standard doorway. On an early cruise which was a barter to enable to me to carry my large illusion show to London I found that my sub trunk did not fit through the doors and had to stay out on the back deck under a tarpaulin. I donít know if you know that salty air is highly corrosive and I had to repaint the box on arrival as the enamel was stripped away and all the hinges rusted beyond repair.
I also learnt that trip that although large illusions can carry a lot of extra equipment within them they also increase in weight and I had a nightmare trying to find somebody to help carry my large illusions off the ship. Last thing if disembarking and have to clear customs it is vital to have a concise list of every item within your trunks right down to the extra shoelaces. This allows the customs to see exactly what you are carrying and wont ask you to open your boxes on the key side .Also declaring equipment when you leave the country is vital otherwise you pay duty on the items when you return. I declared a TV I bought in the UK and had a license inspector turn up at my door demanding my TV license.

I am aware that a lot of magicians will never perform a long term contract of such nature but you can apply this technique to other types of performances where a regular system is required. Kid parties and restaurants performed regularly come to mind and in fact a contract for a week in one place has the same requirements.

I hope this will get somebody thinking and take heed.
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Profile of Sealegs
Hi Colin,

Your last two posts before this didn't go past 2 lines and here you are bursting forth with a veritable treatise. Thanks for taking the time to make a contribution. I'm not sure if you've just finished the Summer season or if you're just starting the Winter season out there in Mallorca?.... so either, 'have a good one' or, 'hope you had a good one', depending on which applies.

My introduction to working in entertainment involved a 6 month contract in Portinax in Ibiza. I subsequently went back to the Balearic Islands in the early 90's when Thomsons started their Sun Hotel program in Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca, Benidorm, and several of the Greek Islands. The Balearics Islands featured again in my career when, in 96 and 97, Thomsons launched their Gold Hotels program. Flying between and traveling across the islands working a '6 night a week' or '13 night every 2 weeks' circuit. While I was out there I got to know the acts that were working the hotel/show bar circuit too so all in all I know the market and venues out there pretty well.

With that in mind there's one phrase that you used that I'm not sure was as inspiring as perhaps you meant it to be.

"I am now as good as my venue!!"
If you're working some of those hotel bars out there in Ibiza, being 'as good as the venue' would be something to start getting concerned about.

There's a few other points you made that I thought worth commenting on.

"...finding the balance between having a very structured show with props in place and a faster moving show but with chaotic prop management...."
It's quite possible to have a one man fast, if not manic paced show with seamless links getting out from one routine and into the next. That's what good planning and prop management can achieve. In truth it's one of the most important and easily overlooked aspects of the physical performance of this kind of show. Any chaotic look should come from a well thought out and organised act. A chaotic act that isn't well organised is more likely to look a mess and come across as unrehearsed.

"Have a place for each prop and every night you pack the prop in the same place. You are then able to see if you have everything."
This is great advice for any act. I'd also add that any spaces that are left when your prop container has all it's props in place should be filled in with something. Foam for example. This stops things moving around in transit and again helps you see that everything is where it's supposed to be.

"Be aware your prop box, if seen by the audience before and after the show, reflects you so no tatty boxes."
Again great advice. I'd go further and suggest that anything associated with you is going to reflect on you. So think of; your car, your clothes, your manner and attitude, everything in fact.

"I have an adage if you can imagine something going wrong, chances are it will happen."
This is another good piece of advice. If NASA and the Large Hadron Collider with all the checks and balances that they have in place can make mistakes and have unexpected things happen then you can bet your last cent that you can mess up too. Again I'd go way further on this and suggest that; 'Anything that CAN go wrong will go wrong if you do enough shows.' And that includes things that, until they happen, you cant even imagine or conceive of.

"Travel nowadays with all the safety and security restrictions has made it difficult to carry such fuels on board cruises and aircraft."
This advice I think you underplay way to much. Traveling with fuels on an aircraft isn't difficult.... it's illegal and completely irresponsible. I think that might be what you were trying to say in that section but it came across as being bit, 'hey, look what I got away with' clever. In respect of this performers should rethink their act in the light of not being able to travel with lighters, fuels, flash paper etc. Work out before hand where and if you can get these items locally. The alternative is, change your act to exclude them.

"I leave my props in my vehicle which is in a locked car park"
Obviously that's your choice but I think it's a bad one. The same as setting up and packing away is part of the deal of doing a show so is making sure your act is secured away at the end of the night. If that means a hike up 3 flights of stairs then that ought to become part of the routine. If you think carrying your props up 3 flights every night is a tiresome inconvenience try having one night with all your props being stolen and see how tiresome and inconvenient that is.

"I highly recommend that any large trunk or illusion be made to [ ] fit through a standard doorway." This again is great advice that can easily be overlooked by anyone starting out. Any prop or trunk you have that doesn't fit through a standard size door is going to be a pain in the backside getting in and out from venues. If you're in a different venue every night you'll find there's a joy to be had from simoly passing effortlessly through every doorway.

"Have a concise list of every item within your trunks right down to the extra shoelaces. This allows the customs to see exactly what you are carrying and wont ask you to open your boxes on the key [quay] side."
This is also a good idea but my experience is that if Customs decide they want to see what's inside... they're going to look even if you have a 1-1 scale technical drawing of the contents to hand. Generally though, unless travelling through the US or Middle East, plain black trunks don't arouse too much interest from Customs and even less once you explain that they contain your act.

Thanks again for the post Colin.

Cheers Neal.
Neal Austin

"The golden rule is that there are no golden rules." G.B. Shaw
colin underwood
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Hi Neal
Thanks for the reply. I wrote that up while in Mallorca this summer.I had the time during this contract to write and think so was able to put this all together, normally too busy for the non essentail work projects .
I am now in Bahrain. I appreciate your comments and advice and I can detect you have had the same hassles.
My quote about being as good as my venue is probably not as I wanted it.I found the venue would effect my show in terms of technical requirements which I had no control over. I strived to give my best at each venue, be it a lesser type one or a more classy cruise type spot. Such things as lighting and sound to name a few.The nature of the contract was that I was placed in the venues and had to really pull out all the stops to acheive max success.

Leaving the props in the car was a decision I had to make and you are correct it was a gamble , one which in the long run would probably backfire on me if I where to heed my own words!!
Your other comments are well taken and thanks.
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Wow that is a lot to read.
Danny Doyle
<BR>Semper Occultus
<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
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Profile of DavidLynn
Thanks for the info guys,

insightful for me.
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