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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » F/X » » Live Theatre Special Effects - Maybe a New Forum? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

CamelotFX
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Minnesota
596 Posts

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We're sort of the forgotten legion. Magicians don't consider us brothers since our illusions are always sublimated into the script and are never the main attraction. Directors usually forget to call us until the set is up, rehearsals are almost complete and the opening night is a week away, then they notice in the script that "The witch rises into the air" or "Bilbo disappears" or "The telephone rings." We work under last-minute pressure as a rule, fight set designers ("You can't chop a hole in my beautiful castle wall!") and spend midnight hours re-editing sound and lighting cues with people who want to argue with us. We're the Live Theatre Special Effects designers and we are stage illusionists. Our effects, which we call "gags," are almost always "one-offs," custom designed for a given play in a given venue at a given budget (usually low) and we are master scroungers, innovators, highly trained and specialized in electrical, mechanical, electronic, chemical, optical, audio and lighting technology. If we get a credit in the program, it's usually under "Thanks to." But without us: guns don't fire, ghosts don't appear, props don't levitate, phones don't ring, buildings don't burst into flame and chairs don't walk.

I'd like to see a place for us in the Magic Café where we can meet and talk about shows and ways of approaching various "gags" in the hundreds of shows we've worked in and their adaptations to various venues and budgets; which suppliers have the stuff we need; which productions need the stuff we produce. Are there any Live Theatre (not movies!) F/X folks out there who would be interested?
Andy Leviss
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Inner circle
NYC
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I've done a bit of consulting on that sort of thing here and there, and would love to get into it more. The trouble, I think, is that it's not really magic, and it's not really theatre. It's a combination of magic, scenic design, lighting design, and other tangential arts, so it's a very specialized beast, and doesn't entirely fit in here, nor does it entirely fit in a stagecraft forum.

The biggest drawback to having such a forum here is that odds are none of the people who approach it from a theatre (rather than an illusion) background won't find it, because this is normally a forum they wouldn't know about and frequent. I do like the idea of a forum for them, though.

Also, if you're not already on it, check out the Stagecraft Mailing List, http://stagecraft.theprices.net

--Andy, a theatre sound designer/engineer when he's not doing mentalism, and occasional theatre FX consultant/designer
Note: I have PMs turned off; if you want to reach me, please e-mail [email]Andy.MagicCafe@DucksEcho.com[/email]!
CamelotFX
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Minnesota
596 Posts

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Thanks for your insight, Andy, and please stay in touch. Yes, we're the "forgotten legion" as I mentioned, although occasionally a show comes along that cries out for magic effects. At this moment, I'm equipping a community production of "Once Upon A Mattress" which has, as one of the characters, a magician! Thanks to my magic background and my subscription to Magic Magazine, I was able to expand his performance with a Fantasio Cane to Ball-to-Egg sleight and wrap the whole thing up into a lovely flower bouquet. A non-magician couldn't do that so yes, a special effects designer needs a magic background as well as a stagecraft background.
George Ledo
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SF Bay Area
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This is a great idea, although I agree with Andy that this may not be the best place for such a forum. Maybe we can do some brainstorming and see what we come up with.

I'm sorry you've had such last-minute problems, and especially that you've had to "fight" with set designers. I'm one of those, and I can tell you that in my experience we've always discussed F/X during the very early production meetings, which gives everyone lots of time to get to know each other and sort out the details. This has included flying three people in Peter Pan, doing lots of smoke-and-mirrors in Knights of the Round Table, and others. It's really a shame that things get put off this way.

Until a forum exists, please feel free to PM or e-mail me to stay in touch. Best.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
www.georgefledo.net

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CamelotFX
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Minnesota
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George, you sound like a joy to work with! Hope we get a chance to some day.
Occasionally I do get to work with directors who actually read the scripts with production in mind instead of just dialogue and character development. Most call in "the usual suspects" (set design, costume, lighting and music/vocal) for the pre-pro meeting and unless the show is built on special effects (Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" was one, as was Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit")we usually get pulled in late in the game. I think what scares most directors off in the nonprofit theatres (there are thousands in the US alone) is the Hollywood and Trade Show concept of special effects: expensive materials and high-cost personnel. So they don't call until they're desperate, or, in many cases, they call the wrong outfit. You're not going to get Industrial Light & Magic on a $500 budget but in several cases, I've been able to get innovative and come up with a better version of a gag using more recent technology once I'm under budgetary constraints... sometimes just because I've been waiting for an opportunity to try something and waiting for a reason to build it.
"Anderson's Ghost" came out of such a situation: we had the equipment in stock, we'd already researched it and to be honest, we did it for nothing more than the experience.
Andy Leviss
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Inner circle
NYC
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Hehe, I'm remembering my senior year of high school, when I rigged a sweet vanish for the witch for under $20. Those were the days :o)

(Short version: a vertical Asrah with Fireline black fishing line and a form made from pieces of drop ceiling wire, and it looked *** good when the girls got the choreography right. When they didn't....[shudder])
Note: I have PMs turned off; if you want to reach me, please e-mail [email]Andy.MagicCafe@DucksEcho.com[/email]!
CamelotFX
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Minnesota
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Shudder indeed, Andy! The "Actor Factor" is something that pure magicians never have the joy of experiencing... or do they? Is there an "Assistant Factor" that hoses up carefully-designed stage illusions?
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