Close-up On Stage

By Ian Kendall - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Yes, you read that correctly, and I’m still not talking about Nate Leipzig. There is a growing trend in magicians performing essentially a close up show on a stage, and projecting the table top onto a large projection screen behind them. This is partly because good cameras and projectors are affordable enough for almost anyone to own these days, and partly because it’s a bridge between close up and not having enough material for a full stage show yet.

So, let’s have a closer look at this. First off, let’s talk about doing card routines on stage. Last time I talked about some general card handling tips, but this time I think we should get a bit more precise in our attention. For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume that we have a table, two chairs, two helpers and one magician. Before I go on, how many possible problems can you spot already?

If you are going to do some routines on a table, the most important consideration is your stage, and its venue. If you are on a cabaret type floor, either a flat dance floor or very slight raised stage, you are probably in the best situation, but it’s still far from ideal. If you are on a raised stage of any kind, things get more problematic, especially if there is no rake to the seating. Theatres and showrooms are marginally better, but these too have their foibles.

You’ve probably twigged by now that I’m talking about the table top; for most people, it just won’t be visible. When you get to a venue for the first time (and I know I might be jumping the gun a wee bit here, but it’s something that needs to be kept front of mind), place your table on the stage, and a deck of cards in the centre of the table. Then, move around the room, sitting in different seats, and spot the areas at which the deck is not visible. There will be quite a few. If you are on a flat floor stage, people sitting in the first few rows might have an idea, but after that, other heads get in the way (and if you can persuade a friend to sit in front of you when you are doing the initial sight lines test, so much the better). A gentle rake can be your friend here.

If you are on a raised stage with little or no rake (most corporate shows will be like this, after dinner gigs and the like), then it’s going to be almost impossible for the audience to see the table top. In a theatre, the rake is likely to be more pronounced, but the stage will be higher, there will probably be a pit of some kind in front, and the first five rows will have no clue what’s happening. These are all things that need to be taken into consideration.

So, what can we do to mitigate these problems? The strongest thing we can do is simply be aware of the problem, so that when we are blocking out our shows, we avoid anything where cards are laid out on the table. We can replace some routines with others; for example, if you want to perform one of the seventy three variations on the MacDonald’s Aces, consider John Gustaferro’s Vino Aces, which makes everything far more visible. If you have spectators that are counting or dealing cards, can you ask them to drop the cards singly onto the table? Wherever possible, hold items up off the table to display them.

Again, and I make no apologies for repeating myself, the camera is your friend here (at least, for rehearsals). Set up your table and put the camera at the back of the room. Don’t zoom in, but record your rehearsals from a distance. When you watch it back, write down the times in the routine where you cannot see what is happening, and then work out the best way to make it visible.

Next time I’ll talk about the pros and cons of using video and projection on stage.

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