Take The Stage | Preparing For The Stage

By Ian Kendall - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Preparing for the Stage

Hello. My name is Ian Kendall and I’m a magician in Edinburgh. Vanishing Inc. asked me to share a few things with you about developing a stage, or stand up show. It’s no secret that the majority of working magicians stick to close up gigs, and most of them are strolling or table hopping. It’s also no secret that a lot of these magicians would like to be able to add a stand up show to their repertoire, but don’t know where to start.

Ian Kendall - Take The Stage - Preparing For The Stage

Let’s get started.

First off, it’s important to understand that while there are many skills that we can carry over from our close up experience, there are a fair number of close up techniques that won’t work on stage, and have to be rethought and relearned before we can take the step onto stand up magic. We need to have an understanding of basic theatrical techniques – blocking, entrances and exits, and the like – so that the experience for the audience is not ‘some bloke standing on stage’ (or blokette, natch). Since the arbitrarily random value of 1% of all published magic is aimed at the stand up magician, we need to know where and how to find new material (Nate Leipzig aside, there’s not really the market for doing close up card tricks in a 500 seat theatre anymore – projectors notwithstanding…). We need to know how to speak clearly and stand properly. We need to know where to develop this new material. We need to know quite a lot, as it happens.?? Luckily, over the next few weeks I’ll answer many of these questions, and a bunch more. Hopefully, you will find these posts useful, and shave a few years off your learning curve as you take that step onto the stage.

First things first

So, let’s talk about the difference between close up and stand up magic (avoiding the obvious ones, of course). For the purposes of these posts, I’m defining stand up magic as something where the magician is performing in a defined space (either a raised stage, a dance floor in front of the band, or the corner of a living room, for example), standing up and with the audience seated in another defined space. I’m not talking about standing up in a group, where there is no formal designation of ‘the audience’; there should be an obvious separation between the performer and the audience.

The second consideration is that there is a major difference in how the magic is performed. For most people working in close up, it’s usually a series of short effects – maybe lasting a couple of minutes each (and I know there are some exceptions to this rule, but for the majority the point stands). From my own strolling set, I have very few routines that last longer than a couple of minutes. On stage, happily, there is far less chance of the food arriving in the middle of your set, requiring you to cut things short.

On stage, we have much more control over the time, and as a result, performances tend to be longer for each effect. I want you to stop thinking in terms of ‘tricks’ and use ‘routines’ instead. In fact, that’s a good thing to do anyway, but it’s much more important for the subject in hand! A ‘trick’ is one effect presented, often on its own, and over quickly. A routine is the whole package; often several ‘tricks’ woven together to form something much larger than the sum of its parts. You have a script, you know where you will be standing, you have an emotional curve. Try to banish the idea of ‘tricks’ from your mind and concentrate on ‘effects’ and ‘routines’; it won’t be easy at first, but it’s worth the effort!

(A related story; last year I was helping a friend develop his stage show. He had bought a handful of ‘tricks’ from a dealer, and was trying to fit them all together. He listed all his tricks, with their running time – most were two or three minutes – and juggled them around to fill 45 minutes. He had about seventeen different effects. He asked me how many different items are in my main show, and was shocked when I said there were six routines. And that’s the principle difference between a trick and a routine).

Next time, a wee biology lesson. Trust me, it’s important.

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