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Brad Burt
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Hello Magic Café brethren:
What follows is the latest in a series of essays I am sending out to my online list. Hope this is of even minor value to someone getting started out there. It's a first draft, so if something is not understandable and you have questions please let me know.-Brad

How to Get an Act Together
By Brad Burt
Copyright 2006 Productions

In answer to my question on what you think you need to become a better magician in my essay titled, "Just Imagine WHAT?", a reader, Barry, noted that he had a lot of magic and was ready to perform, but wanted help in 'how' to put an act together.

Frankly, this seems to be one of the major concerns of a lot of folks in magic. I used to get it constantly when my shop was open. It's a good question and for many a real problem. How do you organize a ton of material into an ACT?

O.k., let's do this by the numbers!

#1- Decide on the TYPE of show you are putting together. There are three basic performing venues: The Close-up Show or situation, Parlor work and Stage. For the purposes of this essay I'm going to stay away from side venues that take a different philosophy of performance. For instance Table to Table work in restaurants, bar magic, etc. I am also going to assume that each show above will be 30 minutes long. This time frame has served me well for over 30 years and it is easy to add or subtract from the basic framework to make the act longer or shorter.

So, you have to decide WHAT KIND OF SHOW you are putting together. This will determine the types of tricks and routines you will be using.

#1a- Close-up Show: This is the type of show that is now done both seated and standing. Your audience will be in close and usually surrounding you. Some may be seated and some standing, but the show will have your audience in close proximity.

#1b- Parlor Show: This is a Stand-up show in a smaller venue. A home perhaps or a small room in a club. You will generally be working on the floor or maybe a small riser of some kind. This is the show that is most often associated with a performance in a home living room or back yard. Kids shows are probably the most common form of the Parlor Act or show.

#1c- Stage Show: Almost always the stage show will be done ON a stage of some kind, usually a full stage with curtain and wings, etc. This is the 'big' show. Although that same act that many magicians use in a Parlor show can work even on a large stage this performing venue is usually associated with the large Illusion shows of both the past and today.

You can see that the three forms have some crossover. Some Close-up routines work wonderfully in a parlor situation and I know of numbers of magicians who do illusions in their parlor work! But, for now let's assume a fairly pure and unmixed conceptualization.

#2- Make a decision on WHAT routines or tricks you will be using for the type of show you have decided upon. If you have a lot of material you will have to have some way in which to cull down your material to make the decisions on routining manageable.

Although the following will seem obvious in order to keep this essay as complete as possible try the following: Use three pads of paper and label them Close-up, Parlor and Stage. Or, if you are only going to concentrate on one venue and know you have nothing that will work in the others then just use the one. But, let's assume that you have a pretty hefty collection of material.

Next, begin to put down on the appropriate pad the names of the tricks and routines that you believe are correct for that venue. You can place crossover effects on more than one pad. For instance I use the Professor's Nightmare in my close-up, parlor and stage work. But, I use Color Monte ONLY in my close-up work. For Chinese Sticks is both a close-up and Parlor item and though it could be used on Stage I don't use it there. You get the idea.

Now, once you have your tricks listed I want you to go through and using the numbers 1-2-3 rate your routines for their strength. One is the lowest and three the highest. Consider carefully the AFFECT the routines have had on folks over the years of casual performance. What ones REALLY stand out?

#3- Select a Venue to work on first and make a list of ALL THE THREES YOU LISTED. You want at least 10 items. If you don't have enough then move enough two's etc. over to make the list complete.

#4- Now, you are going to perform each routine 3 times in the exact manner that you expect to perform it for real. RELAX. See the audience in front of you! Ask the help of a spectator if needed and wait for them to sign the card if that is part of the routine. In other words, do what ever you would do in a real performance. And, here is the most important part: TIME IT!!! Time each performance for the three times and then get an average of the time. I like to keep this info on 3x5 cards so that I can use the cards to make up an Act Order.

#5- You now have exactly what you need to put together an ACT! You have selected your tricks and routines. You have timed them out so you know how long they go, etc. Now, you just have to select the effects you want to use and put them into a logical order of performance and then rehearse THAT performance.

#6- O.k., you've made it this far. Let's lay down some rules for selecting tricks for our act and see what we come up with.

#6a- I personally try to look at my act pretty much the same way I look at a story. It will have a Beginning. This is the Opening of your show and should ALWAYS be a trick that you could do even if you were dead drunk or worse off. This trick must also be one that reeks of magic. You want your opening effect to tell the audience that YOU are a serious magician and not some hack who spent $50 at the local magic shop a couple of days ago and now calls himself a magician. This opening effect will set the tone for your entire act and although it doesn't need, nor should it be, the best of your act it MUST be a routine that fools and entertains the audience. I hate to put any pressure on you, but this is the trick you CAN NOT mess up. It just plain has to work or YOU will lose confidence, etc. Note: Do not use a routine that needs a spectator for help, etc. This slows the pace of your opening too much and distracts from YOU. For me I use either a Rope Routine I have been teaching and doing for 30 years or I do the 6 Card Repeat. YOU will have a similar effect that you do Place that 3x5 card first in line.

Note: Examples are from my Stand-up Parlor act.

#6b- The Last Trick or the Finale of the show should be some routine that plays BIG and that is easily remembered and STRONG. I love to use the 8 ring Linking Ring Routine that is on my Linking Ring DVD. It's flashy, magical, plays big, uses folks from the audience in a nifty manner and ends with a sure place to get mega applause. Can't get better than that! You need to find that trick or routine in your repertoire. It's there and if it's not now, it will be. For now, select the very best routine YOU think fits the above criteria. Place that card down at the end of our imaginary act.

#6c- Now, we are going to fill up the center or Middle of your act. For the next routine I want you to pick something that is strong and USES a spectator assistant if you have a routine like that. If not, select a good solid LONGER trick. This is the place to put the longest routine on your list. Generally, they are long BECAUSE they do use an assistant from the audience. Place that routine in the middle of your queue of 'act' cards.

#7- You are almost finished. You have the Opening, the Middle and the Finale of your new act. Now, you need to do some filling. By the way if the three routines you selected come to 30 minutes …. You are done! If not, you now have to select the routines that will fit BEFORE and AFTER your middle trick. Go for it. Use common sense and place effects that seem right to YOU. When you are done you will HAVE an act.

#8- Let me warn you about something. DON'T over think this. When you have your act: STOP! Stop worrying at it and give it a try. Remember the process of developing an act is exactly that A PROCESS! Go with what you have and over time you can delete and insert one trick at a time to try for improvement. Never if possible change more than one effect in you act at a time unless you are just going to come up with an entirely new act. Take it slow. You now have a good solid template with which to work with.

Final Thoughts: I have an odd little rule that I use and I'm going to share it with you now. It's not one of those rules that are hard and fast, but I have found that it has helped me in putting an act together. Here's the rule: Always have an odd number of routine in an act. For instance, I HAVE to have at least three routines in an act. That's the Opening, Middle and Closing of the show. I WILL go this far: If you do not have at least three routines in my estimation you do NOT have an act! I realize and admit this is MY arbitrary definition, but I have found that it works for me and for hundreds of others I have taught over the years. Here's feedback from a former student on the, "Reading the Audience" essay:

Hey Brad!
Love this one. Think it's great!
Wanted to mention the possibility of you writing an essay on
how to properly structure your act. The advice you gave me
has proven to be a winner. Sticking to an odd number of effects as
opposed to an even number. Thank you for that advice.
Take care, Bro!

So what if you want to have more than three routines? Then the next number is five and after that seven. Consider that five is a very nice number. It gives you two routines to bracket the Middle of your show. Seven adds two one each side. My performance style is very fast using short pithy routines and moving on. It is not unusual for me to have 9 or 11 routines in a 30 minute act! Most performers though tend to a more relaxed pace with longer routines using multiple effects within each routine. Thus five is a very workable number. Again, for better or worse, this odd little rule has allowed me to structure my act in a consistent and workable manner. Note also that the routines in the act can be all over the place time wise. My stand-up Opener is about 2 ˝ minutes. My first Middle trick might be one minute long and the next one five minutes long. It is NOT the length of the tricks that determine the placement, it is the rules stated above. Generally, yes, the longer tricks WILL be in Middle placement, but not of absolute necessity. Personally, I always do put them in the middle, but this placement has worked for me for 33+ years. I know many performers who like to have the longest routine as the Closer.

Is this helpful? I hope that it is. It is probably the most common question I get and one of the hardest to answer, because there is no short way do so. So this essay is my attempt to finally get all of this on paper. Understand that when I taught this the notes were bare outline and students got all the above in live lecture form! They were expected to take notes or to remember what was said. I am very relieved to have this all written out where it can eventually go into my long promised book. You folks are just getting to see the chapters as they are written!

Another final thought: There is great value in sitting down and putting an actual act together. One that you will practice and rehearse. There is a kind of comfort as a performer in knowing that even as a hobbyist, that if you get asked to do a performance that you in fact have something in fact to perform. Not just an assemblage of tricks with no rhyme or reason in the way they are placed together, but that YOU thought about what you were going to do in an attempt to do it better. I have this guarantee for you: Even the smallest effort in this area WILL pay dividends. You will feel much, much more confident in what you are doing, because putting an act together FORCES YOU TO WORK ON THOSE TRICKS SPECIFICALLY! No more puttering about with this trick and that trick without ever really nailing them down. An act give you focus. It even give you a renewed focus in what you will buy!!! Think about it. Now, you can look at new tricks, books, dvds, etc. from the view point of WHAT you might want to insert into your new act. Will it help or hinder?

Having an act, even one that you may not do that often if you are not working professionally, is a way to take what you do seriously and yet have MORE fun with it! Another side benefit of putting an act together. And, don't think that you have to just have one! Routine together 2, 3 or 4 different acts that can be used when and if you get a return gig.

I have used the system above for years and it works. It's simple and direct and it is elastic enough to work with virtually any type of routine or act you want to develop. Hope it helps. All best,
Brad Burt
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Thanks for your time and efforts Brad.
I'm sure this essay will be helpful to a lot of people.
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Thank you Brad...very helpful.

Brad Burt
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Glad that it's helpful! Sometimes when I'm finished they just seem long.... Any questions let me know. Best,
Brad Burt
Sam Griffin
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Brad that was good information, nicely done man!
Didn't really find what I was looking for though Smile

My problem is, umm..The Linkage..
The Reason for performing..know what I mean man?
The story..begining middle and end, you know.
I don't understand.
"When we are on stage, we are in the here and now."
"The eye is the window of your soul."

"The PERFORMER must BELIEVE in everything that takes place on the stage, only then will the AUDIENCE BELIEVE!
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Thanks, Mr. Burt.

Mr. Griffin, I'd ask you to reflect on what got you started? Can you do the first trick that amazed you?

I've written before that I like to open with the "Years ago I saw a guy take a coin like this..." method. Because it's true, it allows me to share my original fascination, and gives me viable "outs" in the event the trick bombs.

It also spawns my basic outline for tying things together logically as I drift from the first, true anecdote into tales with greater um... artistic license:

"Years ago I saw..." (Effect 1)
"...and I was so fascinated that I travelled to _______ to study under a monk/hindu priest/shaman who showed me this..." (Effect 2)
"I can see you're impressed/not impressed. Neither/So was this old man I showed that to in Bangkok/New Delhi/Milwaukee. I remember he reached into his pocket and pulled out a..." (Effect 3)

You get the idea.


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Nice Job! I like it. It feels like: how to put an Act together for Dummies.

Complex stuff made easy. to do.

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Great advice, Brad. I've been receiving your e-mailed advice for a while, and I usually find something useful in all of them.

It's very helpful for some people to be given a "formula" for such things. Others will no doubt ridicule the formulaic approach.

This part is really key, and there doesn't seem to be any shortcut for this:

"Now, once you have your tricks listed I want you to go through and using the numbers 1-2-3 rate your routines for their strength. One is the lowest and three the highest. Consider carefully the AFFECT the routines have had on folks over the years of casual performance. What ones REALLY stand out?"

I think many of us try to skip the "years of casual performance" step - we want to put on a show right away, and make it effective. This is one of the dangers of reading too much magic literature, and watching too many Eugene Burger videos!
Brad Burt
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Dear Sam:
I think that Jgravelle hit what you were asking about. Hopefully to clarify what my essay was lacking...which is really cool, because I also have a PATTER essay that does not really address what you were asking.

In my essay I assume that you can make an introductory statement and 'get into' the act, but I have been doing it for so long that it never occured to me that this might not be the easiest OR the most obvious thing to know how to do! You question is a good one.

Consider for a moment that anytime you do one trick you have in essence performed the opening. How did you get into it? What did you say? It's much the same in a formal 'act' setting if you will. Some folks just say something like, "Thank you! I am happy to be here this evening and I'd like to start with...." and just go into their first effect.

Some like jgravelle above and myself by the way use an opening effect in which I talk about how I got into magic. I use the Six Card Repeat, but you could use anything really. Just say it's the first trick that you watched or that really caught your attention, etc.

If you are looking to LINK tricks throughout your act, one leading to the other in some logical fashion, I would avoid this. It is almost always artifial looking. The guys that do it brilliantly like Johnny Ace Palmer spent years and years working it out. Do an effect, take a bow, thank your audience for the applause and go into your next mystery.

If the above does not cover what you are asking about...PLEASE clarify and let's see what we can do. It's a good question and I'll have to rewrite my Patter essay to include something about it. Best,
Brad Burt
Brad Burt
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For those who have inquired...I am working at tuning up the How to Patter essay, but expect to post it soon. I am waiting to see what happens with the server move,etc. Thanks to all for the kind comments above. All best,
Brad Burt
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Brad, this was exactly what I was looking for. I was having trouble trying to link my tricks together. I've done parlor work but I never knew which order I should perform my material. I would just carry a bag of my props and just grab something out of it for my next trick after every trick. I would try to do some card work in the middle so it didn't seem like I had to keep preparing myself. (I could go on for a while with cards). Nobody ever complained that I spend too much time in my bag, even though I always thought I did. People liked the show overall. I think they paid more attention to the tricks than me digging thru my stuff.
Chad C.
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I too have done the "linking" the tricks together so they "flow." But you don't have to do anything too difficult. Now, during b-day parties, I start out with an introduction to music, then I introduce myself, ask them if they would like to see some more magic (I have them yell it louder and louder), and then show them the next trick. Between each trick, I simply ask, "Are you ready to quit yet?!?" to which they always reply, "NO!" I then say, "Are you sure?" and they say, "Yeah". And boom, you are on to the next trick. I do that b/n most tricks and it is a nice transition that the kids get to participate in.

Hope that helps or gives you some ideas.

Well well, this is post number 201, now everyone may call me "Chad, The Loyal User, Crews"...or not.
Brad Burt
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Watch other types of performance and you will almost never see any kind of 'true' linking going on. Watch comics jump from one subject to the next without any seeming rhyme or reason. That's because their acts come in segments also.

Magic is a VERY segmented craft. You have a card trick and then maybe the linking rings followed by something with a mental flavor. You don't have to justify why one routine comes after another any more than a singer has to justify singing an upbeat song and follow it with something that is downbeat. The biggest problem is making sure that YOUR act is paced evenly and has no dead spots, stage waits, etc. Do a routine and GET your applause. Make sure you give the audience time to applaud. It is amazing how many performers starting off will work so fast out of nervousness that they move from one effect to the next so quickly that the audience has no time to react, to FEEL what the show is providing. REMEMBER APPLAUSE IS HOW THE AUDIENCE BECOMES PART OF THE SHOW!!! This is vitally important to know and to use as part of what you do on stage whether close-up or platform. Best,
Brad Burt
Chad C.
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Good point Brad. I just did several daycares, and, if you are relaxed, they will applaud for a variety of things-not just the end of the trick. Show them a dream bag routine. When they see the bag is empty, they will applaud, when you produce the flowers, they applaud, when you show the bag empty the next time, they will oooh and aaahhh and applaud-you get the idea.

Lots of times and shows, the parents will also educate the kids when to applause-as some kids have never seen a live show and don't know what to do. We magicians can also let them know that applause is appropriate at the end of a trick or when a volunteer does something cool-they are learning how to show that they are enjoying themselves during a live performance.
Matt Malinas
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I have found mr. burt's essay very useful. I have been working on different acts for a long time now. the information provided is very useful. I already started on restructuring my acts. thank you for your effort mr. burt.

jgravelle , I like the patter you described. very interesting. keep it up.

all the best ,

Your One Stop Booze Abusing Comedy Magic Show!
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Some great words here . Thanks a lot Brad.

peace, love and kindness.. no terms and conditions

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Thanks Brad. I think this subject is a great dialogue opportunity to all, not just beginners. Learning how to perform is perplexing too. I think so many of us learn tricks that are not good choices for the audience groups we choose to perform for. So creating a "set" that flows and is not a list of tricks that we just happen to know or like, can be perplexing. Musicians performances are consist of a series of a careful selection of music that has high points and low points. Music is all about creating tension and the release. On very important point is to make sure you "leave them wanting more".

Thank you for the opportunity
Brad Burt
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You are all very welcome. Thanks for the kind comments. Putting an act together is a process. If you have a structure, a plan within which to work it actually makes selecting the best possible routines easier. Why? Because, it you find that a routine is just not right you extract it from the matrix and place another one in! You need not mess up the entire rest of the act to do so. Note also that the structure I gave at the beginning allows you to shift effects and routines around in a patterned manner that again allows great flexibility.

Let's say you have an effect in a 7 routine act. It just is not working. So you toss it out and in it's place you put something new you have been working on. But, as you insert the new trick you realize that it would probably work better in spot 3 instead of spot 4. So you place it in spot 3 and shift another effect over to four. See what I mean? The beauty of the method IS it's flexibility.

Want every trick or routine to lead logically into the next with some type of hook? No problem just insert the hooks, etc. This really is an important subject because so many beginners or even folks who have been doing magic for awhile have no real idea why they are putting things in their act in the order that they are. And, once they get an act set many magicians do NOT want to mess around with it. Talk to the greats and I guarantee you they spent a lot of time messing about with what they were doing. Yes, at some point the act coalesces into it's more or less final form, but even then...look at how much Lance Burton's act has changed over the years. Thanks again for your participation in this post and all the very best,
Brad Burt
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Thanks Brad, Nice essay. I would omit the following I marked with {} and add the things I put in (). Hope this helps:

{For} Chinese Sticks is both a close-up and Parlor item and though it could be used on Stage(,) I don't use it there.

{For the next routine I want you to} pick something that is strong and USES a spectator assistant(,) if you have a routine like that. <--Why is USES in caps?-Josh

Here's the rule: Always have an odd number of routine(s) in an act.

{Lee's entire endorsement}<-- Didn't add any credibility/value for me -Josh
What do you want in a site? "Honesty, integrity and decency." -Mike Doogan
"I hate it, I hate my ironic lovechild. I didn't even have anything to do with it" Josh #2
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Thanks for your time and energy Brad. A lot of good advice here.
BTW this is the first day I've visited this area of the Café and I'll definately be coming back!!
Never forget to dream!

Nathan Smith
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