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Topic: In what order would you put the strongest/weakest effects in your show?
Message: Posted by: biff_g (Nov 22, 2006 02:45AM)
A friend mentioned this to me the other day, and it kind of got me thinking. Speaking strictly in terms of strength of effect, let me offer a hypothetical situation. Let's say that your show consisted of 10 illusions, and that you had ranked those illusions, from 10 being the strongest to 1 being the weakest. In what order would you present those illusions (based STRICTLY on the strength of the effect)?

Here's what I think that mine would look like:


what do you think?
Message: Posted by: raywitko (Nov 22, 2006 05:48AM)
Just my point of view but if you have a weak illusion it shouldn't be in the show. Open up strong, have a strong middle and blast them at the closing.
Message: Posted by: Majestic12 (Nov 22, 2006 08:56AM)
I agree with Ray, if you feel that material in your show isn't up to par either make it better or cut it out.

I'd rather be able to do a strong 20 minutes from start to finish than a mediocre 45 mins.

I follow Dan Harlan's Triple Trilogy Show format from his pack small play big series. It can be used for any show.
Message: Posted by: Lusion (Nov 22, 2006 09:37AM)
Whats your defintion of a weak illusion? I know people that can take a weak illusion and make it so much with the right presentation. Something to really consider!
Message: Posted by: mrunge (Nov 22, 2006 09:55AM)
I agree...presentation is everything and can make the simplest of effects look totally amazing.

I understand your original question. Assuming they are all strong effects, but you somehow ranked them from 1 - 10, in what order might they be performed? Good question.

IF, they are all strong, I don't think you could go wrong with any order assuming there was a logical flow in your presentation. On the other hand, you can kill them all if they appear to be just a bunch of effects being done with no rhyme or reason in getting from one to the next.

Message: Posted by: Laszlo Csizmadi (Nov 22, 2006 10:22AM)
If I'm right I think there is a misunderstanding. As you know not every illusions are same strong. Biff knows which are his weakest and strongest illusions and he just wanted to know which order he shoult put on his show.

Message: Posted by: Majestic12 (Nov 22, 2006 11:05AM)
I feel you can make each piece stronger in your show even if you think it isn't as strong as other material by placing it into the show format properly.
Message: Posted by: biff_g (Nov 22, 2006 11:49AM)
I'm talking about a purely hypothetical situation here, and this is really just an exercise for interest. I'm not actually asking for advice on how to improve a show, though I do appreciate the suggestions that have been offered. I'm simply curious about your PHILOSOPHY about how you would organize your show BASED ON STRENGTH OF EFFECT.

For example, I think that everyone wants to start strong. But how strong do you start? You want to leave a good impression, but you don't want your opening to overshadow the rest of your show.

You also want to end strong. But do you want your very last effect to have a lot of punch (ie do you want your last few effects before the finale to be among your "average" effects) or would you rather end the show with your four strongest effects?

As a side note, this may help to put things into perspective a little bit. A little while ago, a group of us teachers were asked to do an exercise. We were asked to rank what we considered the most important qualities in a teacher. Some of the things we had to rank were (there were about 10 but I don't remember all of them):

Subject knowledge
Community involvement

Well, of course they are all important. But upon ranking and comparing, there was very little similarity between teachers. This led to a good discussion about philosophy in teaching.

I'm hoping that this will lead to a discussion about philosophy in how you present a show, again BASED PURELY ON STRENGTH OF EFFECT.

Message: Posted by: biff_g (Nov 22, 2006 11:52AM)
Another quick note, I'm not saying that your weakest effect is bad, it's just the weakest of the onces that you've chosen for your show.

Message: Posted by: sethman (Nov 22, 2006 12:04PM)
My opinion is if you do an illusion that is a 1 or a 2, maybe you should look for something a bit stronger to fill that spot up with in the act.
Message: Posted by: gsidhe (Nov 22, 2006 12:18PM)
I think we need to define terms here...
Strength of performance- How well the act is performed including quality of presentation and capability of the performer.
Strength if illusion- the WOW factor of the illusion itself. How big is it.
Strength of impact- the emotional response of the illusion on the audience.

The most important strength in considering an illusion for a show is Performance. If a routine is weak because of these reasons, it should not be included until it's performance and presentation is up to par.
After that, it would have to be impact.
This is what I will assume Biff was referring to.
Any show is going to have moments which are less strong (Or have less impact) than the others, and in reality, that is a good thing.
In any theater performance (Which is what any good act is), you have levels. Levels of energy, levels of emotion, levels of anticipation. If you start a show with a really strong piece, something that takes their breath away, then follow it with another really strong piece that takes their breath away, then follow that with five more Huge spectacle pieces, you will not have as strong an act as you might.
There is no contrast, no place for the act to go.
The principle of levels crosses all forms of stage and musical arts. The audience needs a chance to catch their breath every now and then in order to really appreciate how high the high points are.
This is why so many of the greats will start with something spectacular, and the very next routine is silly with teleporting ducks. The first act starts the audience off being amazed, while the second gives them a chance to just sit back and relax for a bit.
The last routine should always be the strongest impacting trick in the show, it will give the audience something to mull over and talk about if presented properly, with a good solid contrasting lower impact routine placed right before it.
That is the way I structure my shows, it is the way most of the great shows do it, and it works.
Message: Posted by: docmagik (Nov 23, 2006 10:17AM)
I think everyone was confused with the 1-10 above. They thought that represented how good each trick was on a scale of 1-10, not how good they were in relation to each other. Of course Biff wouldn't put a "1" in his show, if that was the quality of the effect!

Okay, this is going to sound really odd, but I noticed recently that the second song on any Weird Al album is ALWAYS the least funny.

But it took a lot of repeat viewings to notice that. I think second is a good place for a good, but less "powerful" effect, because the audience is still kind of excited about your awesome opening and is giving you a lot of benefit of the doubt because of it.

What I've generally done, though, is start of with something really visual and really strong that is about the magic. Give them that sense of wow, great things are going to happen. Then, I go into something that involves a lot of humor and maybe a volunteer and some banter. To me, it's a step beyond just giving the audience a chance to relax. It gives the audience, who--let's be honest--has never heard of me, a chance to get to know my personality. Hopefully, the first trick won them over to the magic, and this second trick wins them over to me.

So the effect in the second trick might be weaker, but the handling, the comedy, or even my "stage persona" is being established and winning them over at that point.

I might bump the first effect up to 7, and then make the second maybe 1 or 2, but it would probably be my 10 for building rapport.

Kind of like an Indiana Jones movie. They start out with a big action scene, and then slow down and spend some time helping us see who this archeology professor is, so we care about him. Then they get back into ever-escalating action.
Message: Posted by: leapinglizards (Nov 24, 2006 02:00PM)
This is an interesting thread.... I think it brings up a lot of GREAT points about pacing and structuring a show.

Let's invent an imaginary scale that runs from 10 to negative 10. 10 are WOW miracles! (what those are is totally subjective.) -10 are things that would not fool or entertain a blind, dead bovine. Assumine that you probably don't want to put ANY of the negatuve number effects in the show.....

Next, let's say there is ANOTHER scale for PACE.... A B anc C with A being the FASTEST effect in pace and/or duration, and C being the slowest most drawn out.

I would then propose the order should be something along the lines of:

9A, 7B, 8C, 5B, 2A, 5C, 7B, 9A, 10C So there is a combination of both Pace and potency. I really don't think everything can be a Miracle... if it is, your audience is "UP" the entire time. There need to be peaks and valleys- just like most dramas or horror films have a touch of humor, a moment to breath,
Message: Posted by: Fornby (Nov 25, 2006 04:00AM)

Supposing the 1-10 tricks/illusions are measured in *relation to eachother* and also that your audience agree with the "points", I would start out with a 4 to get the audience "in the mood", then simply go from 1 to 10. I would not start "too heavy" (7ish) beacuse the "drop" to 1 would be too much. And I wouldn't use the 1 any later because I think the audience will feel that the show is "dropping"...

But no show should be without a script, and a script is a (kind of) continous story making it possible to show the tricks in a "natural" order. If your tricks/illusions are of such a kind that you can group them and find the "natural" order that is a lot better than simply show them in a 4-1-2-3-5-6-7-8-9-10 order.

And, of course, even better would be if the script ("natural" order) makes it possible to group the illusions and then use the proposed order, both w/i the groups *and* for the order of the groups themselves.

In any case, it is my rule to *finish* with the very strongest effect as the impact is heavier if there's nothing afterwords. And if the greatest impact is the last thing to remember, it *will* be remembered. And talked about.

Message: Posted by: diamond (Nov 25, 2006 10:33PM)
I will skip the 1-2-3 or A-B-C thing in my post now. I think this varies from show to show. I was experimenting with the sequencing my bigger and smaller shows in different way. Sometimes I would do a very non standard opening - a long and strong trick involving audience participation. Having in mind that the most common show sequencing formula would involve a quick visual and strong effect, I just wanted to try something different, so I would open my show with an effect that was like 3 minutes long and that would not fall into a category of extremely visual effect. It is more an effect that causes an emotion (in this case fear and the element of danger). The effect was not some giga mega dangerous illusion, it was simply a razor blade swallowing trick (a version that involves audience participation from the very begining as an audience member is brought to stage to check on the razor blades and cut the paper). There was another reason why I did this - it was a very interactive show, there were lots of routines and illusions involving audience members, so the premise was to create an atmosphere of interactiveness right from the start.

The music would start, the curtains would open and there's me standing. They expect an opening effect. Instead I quickly go to the audience and shake hands with a spectator doing a handshake pull (you go to an audience member, shake hands with him, say "Hello" and while shaking hands pull him up). So the atmosphere of interactiveness is already there and the audience is all into the routine now. Instead of having a very visual effect, I have an effect that causes lots of aughs and ughhhhhhhs - so there's an immediate reaction. This formula worked perfectly for this type of a show.

Then I have another atypical begining of an act. My Transformation act (quick change act) was, like most of my acts, directed by a professional theatrical director. And he wanted no effects at the very begining! This was in function of getting the audience into the story - like a little prologue. So in first minute of this 10 minute act - there's no magic effects nor any costume changes. This was also done on purpose having another thing in mind - relaxing the audience and then striking them with a quick and an unexpected costume change effect in the moment when they least expect it. So the whole minute of a 10 minute act is "waisted" into introducing the characters of my assistant and myself and only then the magic starts happening - very visual and split second changes take place one after another. You can't imagine how big applause we get every time after the first effect.

Another example I would take out from this act is a kind of effect that isn't really so special. The magic consultant for most of our shows is an 80 years old magician who has performed thousands of shows in hundreds of various elite places around the world (and has shared stage with many famous names and has learned a lot from them over the years). He told us a very important secret detail when it comes to structuring a show and I'm now sharing it with you. He said (literally): "At one point or even at several points of a good show with fantastic visual effects and effects that create emotions you have to do something STUPID!!!". Stupid here does not mean a bad effect that would make everyone discover the method... He used the word "stupid" for an effect that is still magical but does not leave a big impact on the audience. As an example he said that back in the 60s and 70s even the greatest names in magic would do such an effect and particularly one of such effects that were fashionable at that time was the Color Changing Records. Even the biggest illusionists at that time would do the Records or some trick like that (indeed, I have never heard of anyone getting a standing ovation for this effect but still it was one of the most popular effects of the 60s and 70s). The purpose of this is - you do many great tricks and illusions some of them being highly visual, some of them being highly mystical and some of them create a flood of different emotions in the mind of an average spectator. The show has its length and simply after some time it becomes too much for the brain of a spectator to accept all this information and emotions. That is why at a psychologically calculated moment you do have to perform something "stupid" to bring the graph of the show impact down a little bit and allow the spectators' brains to rest for a moment. The trick should be magical and it should be something that a spectator can't find out how it's done just to keep the magic alive even at that moment, but it should be something that won't cause so much of a reaction. Just after this effect is accomplished, you strike them with a super stunning illusion or effect and the reaction is fantastic. So in our transformation act there is introduction of the characters that lasts over 1 minute and no magic happens. Then, in an unexpected moment I strike them with a superquick and unexpected costume change. The reaction and the shock is always big after this first effect so I immediately follow with a much lower impact quick effect which is - my cane turns into a parasol and it is an effect which is more in a function of the whole plot of the act. Then there is an unexpected and very quick costume change of my assistant and by this time they've already had a lot of shock. That's why it is already a time for something "stupid" which in my case is an 8 color changing fan (there is not too much of a reaction but it is still magical and in the function of the plot).

Later on I have learned that the "something stupid" formula is used by many famous illusionists and magicians. It is something that we the magicians can't view as normal audience. But how many times did it happen that you see a good magician performing one good and strong illusion after another and then at one point he does something much milder and you as a magician keep wondering "why on earth did he do this stupid trick in this fantastic show?". Later on I discovered that many books that cover the topic of structuring the show tell you to do exactly that (although they don't really formulate it as a "stupid trick"). Also when our senior consultant said the thing about the "stupid trick" the director that has directed our act agreed and said that they do something like this in theatrical plays (in their own way of course).

Take for instance the show of David Copperfield. The show starts, there's his (not so popular among the magicians) famous video and loud music. This is his way of introducing his character - very direct and very high tech (as the show itself is very direct and very much high tech). Then there is the very short introduction of the big box (the choreography is kept to the minimum) and bam - he appears on a motorbike. The way the shadow appears and the whole thing with the motorbike is a shocking introduction that tells us - something really huge is about to happen in this show. So he has built the shock and a sort of a culmination only after his appearance. When you add the fact that the most of the audience is already excited when they see him on a motorbike - "wow here's the supercelebrity millionaire entertainer that we have seen only on TV" (when most of illusionists make their first appearance they unfortunately don't have the privillege of having such an emotion created even though they might have even better aparatus or more creative first appearance - he is simply a mega star and seing HIM appear is a shock per se).

After his first appearance the brain of an average audience member already had too much of a shock and information. And that's why it's now time for "something stupid" - the thumb trick. This effect is by its nature something that already looks like a yoga lesson and is perfectly appropriate for relaxing audiences brains. Another psychological impact of this is that with this gag/trick he introduces himself as a down to earth guy. The contrast is wonderful - a powerfull untouchable wizard appears on his motorbike and becomes a kool funny neighbourhood type guy that gives you some relaxation and a yoga lesson after a big shock.

The show then builds up still having in mind that the contrast has to be created by having a "something stupid" moment. When it comes to big illusions in his show, the "something stupid" moment would be the Squezebox. It is not a stupid illusion at all in fact it is a very good illusion, but in comparison with his other big effects, it looks ridicullous. How often did you hear magicians saying: "why on earth does he do this, he has so many illusions that are a thousand times better?". He does it with a purpose - to relax the brains of the audience and prepare them for bugger mirracles to come. The scorpio trick can also fall into this category (it is a good trick but still he has many better tricks on his repertoire, plus it does happen very often that this trick does not work). In his show in Belgrade, Serbia he even performed a Pip Card trick after a Lottery Prediction/Car Appearance(I saw his show several times and for the first time I saw him do the Pip Card trick). As a matter of fact it was good that he did it as I used to own a little magic shop in Belgrade and we had Tenyo Pip Cards in stock (he also used the Tenyo Pip Card), so in the days after his show when an aspiring youngster magician would come to the shop I would say "Do you want to buy a trick that you saw DC perform live a couple of days ago?". We sold like 50 Pip Cards or so in a couple of days (thank you DC) and this is another example that "something stupid" does not have to be stupid at all.

Another thing I want to speak about is an alternative way of doing the finale of your show. This is also something that big names often do. When an average illusionist wants to create a final effect in his show, this will often be the strongest effect (10C effect as someone has mentioned). Some big names do an alternative thing which works fantastic. They perform a superhuge illusion (often a vanish/reappearance from the audience type of illusion or so) but then after that for a final effect they chose something very small that creates a superhuge mystifying impact. Take Lance Burton for instance. He used to do a very big illusion near the end of his show but then he would do a Vanishing Birdcage at the very end as a colsing effect (I don't know if he still ends his shows this way). A small canary bird Vanishing Birdcage is one of the most amazing effects ever invented in magic (when done properly). It is very small but yet it leaves a very big impact and it bares 2 important aspects of an impact onto the audience. The first one is being a sort of an encore after a huge and strong impact illusion, and another one is "always make them want more" thing. As there are several points in every good show when something smaller is performed to bring the culmination down a little bit and postpone it ("something stupid" moments), the audience expects another big and shocking or a very visual effect after such a moment. But for the finale there is something small followed only with a final bow and that makes the audience want more. I'm sure that when someone does something like this in his show - the show is going to be remembered for a long long time.

Anyway, whenever you want to structure your show, it is good to watch several shows live or on tape and ****yze their structure to the very details. Sometimes you will want to imitate the structure of the show (which isn't such a bad thing to do, as long as you don't imitate the very effects, music and personallity of the celebrity magician whose show you ****yze). Something you might want to try something that oposes the rules of a well structured show stereotype and experimenting is quite a good thing to do as you can watch the reactions of your audience, keep the good things and change the bad things in the structure of the show.

Another important thing - if you ever get that chance get a professional theatrical director to put your show together, they will have all the clues when it comes to sequencing your show and you will end up with a very well structured show.

As far as the literature is concerned, the alpha and omega book in this area is "Showmanship for Magicians" by Henning Nelms. It is interesting that most of the best books on structuring your shows were not written for illusionists but rather for magicians that perform smaller stage magic and even close up magic. The same rules apply to illusion shows. Anything written by Eugene Berger for instance is extremelu valluable although he explains most of the things on the close up examples (but he is still a consultant for many famous illusion shows though).

There's no such thing as a universal 1-2-3 or A-B-C formula. It varies from magician to magician or from show to show.
Message: Posted by: diamond (Nov 25, 2006 10:36PM)
Omg, why do I always end up with a superhuge post... Sorryyyyyyy.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Nov 25, 2006 10:46PM)
First thing -- biff needs to define his terms, so we know exactly what he means. Two different performers with different styles can get totally different reactions out of the same illusion. For example, the Zig-Zag can be "sold" or it can be thrown away. The thin sawing can be "sold" or it can be thrown away.

In the hands of Tom Palmer, the Thin Sawing was one of the funniest things you have ever seen. In the hands of Donny and Marie Osmond, it was a throwaway.

So, let's have biff redefine what he means. Then we can jump in on it.
Message: Posted by: biff_g (Nov 26, 2006 12:45PM)
I've re-read the original posts that I made, and while I can see that they may be a little bit confusing, I think that part of the problem is that we naturally always seem to go a certain direction on this board. For example, it is quite common to see things like "in the hands of the right performer, this can be a very strong piece," or "it's better to do one thing very well than 10 things sort of ok," etc.

Don't get me wrong, all of those types of things are incredibly valuable, I completely agree with them, and I am in no way attacking/slagging anyone that has contributed to this post. I was simply looking for something slightly different. I will do my best to clarify what I can, and I apologize if I am still a little bit confusing.

There are numerous reasons why you would include some things in your show, and why you would not include others. There are numerous reasons why you would structure/organize your show the way that you do, and many of those reasons have been offered throughout this thread.

I'm just saying that one factor that should be considered when structuring your show, is overall strength of effect (ie, if you performed origami, interlude, and a sword basket, then had a spectator rank them from 1 to 3 based on which one they liked the best overall. This could be for wow factor, comedy, emotional connection, etc.).

So what I'm trying to do is OVER simplify it down to this one and only factor. Keep in mind that this is purely hypothetical, because of course you would never do this to organize/structure your show! I think that this is useful because as I said earlier, it gets down to differing philosophies about putting together a show.

Ok, so let's assume that you have chosen 10 routines to put in your show. You have made the routines the strongest that you feel they can be, and you are happy with all of them. You have ranked the 10 in relation to each other. Based solely on this ranking and no other factors (again, hypothetical situation), in what order would you present them?

I hope this clears some things up. Thanks!
Message: Posted by: sb (Nov 26, 2006 05:49PM)
Lets try this, instead of talking vaguely, lets all put these 10 of these 12 effects into an order for a theoretical show. And any reasons why you may choose this or that...

Our theoretical performer has the following routines in his repitoire and has to put a show together (10 routines, you can add one other effect into the mix if there is good reason -but only add one, show time is getting close and he does not have time too much time to rehearse too much new stuff):

Metamorphisis (standard presentation, audience inspects everything, you have a pretty fast switch, upbeat music. Overall pretty strong reactions. 3 minute routine)

Shadow box (Romantic vignette, performer produces a rose, puts the rose in a shadow box, and brings the shadow to life. Slower paced routine. 3 minutes long)

Modern cabinet (music starts slowly and the performer is produced. Music speeds up, and performer produce 2 female assistants. 3 minutes)

Sawing in half OR sword basket OR Zig zag. all pretty standard presentations. 3 minutes)

Broom suspension (this routine is another vignette. Performer does a torn and restored newspaper - standard presention - and then he throws the paper on the stage. The "cleaning woman" comes out and starts to sweep up the stage. She is upset with the magician for making a mess, the magician does some other little bits of magic to "impress her", she does not respond well and he proceeds to perform the broom suspension. routine is sorta funny and lighthearted. the whole thing with the newspaper tear and little "bits" is 5 minutes)

Prediciton effect. performer predicts something (vacation, menu, football score, whatever... uses a woman from the audience. Funny routine, 4 minutes)

Bird or card routine, you know the one, magician produces lots of cards, or birds...or both. Due to how this routine is set up, this routine can be inserted anywhere in the show, it does NOT need to be in the begining of the show. upbeat music, 4 minutes.)

Linking rings. uses a kid from the audience. funny presentation (at least the magician thinks its funny ;) gets pretty good reaction. 4 minutes.

Cardiograph, (sketch pad card rise) uses audience member on stage 5 minutes.

egg bag, empty bag...egg in the bag. empty bag...egg in the bag. uses spectator. Funny routine. 4 minutes

Rope routine, magician does something with ropes. Not funny, but pretty good magic. 3 minutes

burned bill routine. magician burns some money, it appears in imposible place (box, lemon, peanut, etc...) 4 minutes.