In my last entry, I mentioned that virtually all magicians today are missing a theme to their acts. This time around, I want to talk about something that they all have, but most have it wrong; structure.
Structure of your performance is paramount to the overall effectiveness of said performance, and unfortunately most magicians today simply misunderstand how to structure a performance.
Throwing your favorite effects together, ending with your biggest trick is not structure, it is not a routine or a show. It is a magic demonstration. How many times have you seen a magician simply wheel different boxes on and off the stage?
Structure is inherently intertwined with theme; if you have a strong theme, the structure will almost come automatically.
What exactly is structure? Simply put, it is the order of your show. It is what tricks you do in what order, and why. Structure is there to act as a vehicle for theme, and ultimately deliver the big finish.
The traditional three act story structure (setup, conflict, resolution) is how most magic acts should be organized, but sadly are not.
In ‘Magic & Showmanship for Magicians’ (a book all serious magicians should own), Henning Nelms touches on act structure, and while it is not overtly stated, the structure he encourages readers to follow is indeed Aristotles 3 story act structure.
The whole idea behind the three story act is to introduce an idea, explore various ideas within the idea, and end with a satisfying demonstration or conclusion. You want to be building to something, something relevant to the rest of your show. Each act should build on the idea developed in the previous act, building to the big finish. Not just your biggest illusion, but the best possible illustration for your entire show.
For example, a show about gambling might look like this:
Act 1 – The Setup
Performer introduces the idea of gambling, and how for as long as people have been gambling, others have been cheating. Cards, dice, cups & balls; if people are willing to bet on it, people will try to cheat at it.
(Routines performed would be ‘Guess Which Hand’, ‘Cups & Balls’ or 3 Shells)
Act 2 – The Turn
Performer explains that soon after, gamblers graduated to cards, and card games. And so did the cheats.
(Routines performed would be a standard ‘Gambling Demonstration’, ‘Card Calling’)
Act 3 – The Sting
Performer explains that today, there is no shortage of what people can, and will gamble on. Casinos and lotteries are more popular today than ever before…
(Routines performed would be a ‘Lottery Prediction’)
This is a very sparse and basic example, but hopefully you can see the progression of theme, along the structure, building to the best illustration of the theme possible. The performer is discussing the history of gambling, and cheating. He starts with a simple game of ‘Guess Which Hand’, progresses to more difficult, and impressive, card cheating, and ends with the most logical conclusion for a cheat; to cheat the lottery, by predicting the winning numbers.
One needn’t look any further than Darren Brown to see this structure in action. In ‘An Evening of Wonders’, Brown introduces a banana, stating that before the end of the show, a gorilla will come out on stage, and take the banana, and they won’t see it happen. This is all introduced in the first 5 minutes, and it perfectly frames not only the show, but the conclusion the show comes to. It is brilliant, and I recommend all readers to check it out. He has a similar structure in his show ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, but this time the whole show revolves around influence. Again, I won’t spoil the surprise, but rest assured it too kicks ass.
Do you structure your show? If so, does the structure follow your theme? Does your show naturally build to a logical conclusion? Do you even agree with me?
Let me know in the comments section; let’s talk about this.