Breaking in New Material – Blog 2
One advantage close-up performers have over stage performers, is the opportunity to break in new material. Many close-up effects can be carried around and performed virtually anytime, anyplace and for anyone with little or no risk. For example: performing a new coin sleight for the waitress when she returns with your change, executing a bill switch for the ticket agent at the airport, or giving your new card routine a run for your spouse, friend or co-worker. Nieces and nephews are always willing and able to act as a test audience at family events (actually, they can be more honest and truthful than the adults).
In the are of stage magic, one can’t exactly sit around the coffee table “jamming” with fellow magi and say “Hey, let me show you my new variation on that Dekolta chair vanish I’ve been working on.” Carrying doves to family gatherings to test a new steal or production over dessert would probably be frowned upon. And trying out a brand new knife through jacket routine with the CEO at a high paying corporate gig wouldn’t be such a good idea either.
Another advantage the close-up performer has is the opportunity for repetition. Roving restaurant entertainers, for example, can perform a routine dozens of times in one night. Therefore, they can experiment with different handlings and deliveries and get immediate feedback as to what works and what doesn’t . . . and, if the restaurant has a diverse clientele, they can compare reactions from people of different ages, personalities and backgrounds. A great deal of information can be gathered in a very short period of time. As a stage performer, you tend to work the routine once. You have to wait for the next show to do it again. Depending on how frequently you work, that could be in a couple of hours or a couple of months.
Yet, the only way to be confident a routine will work is to present it to a live audience. To hone a routine to perfection, to raise it from just a clever trick to an entertaining miracle, you need to perform it to many audiences over and over and over again. Stand up comedians share this same predicament. They can write what they think is funny, but won’t know if it is until they deliver it to an audience and get a laugh. Often it takes just a slight change in delivery, timing or wording to go from a blank stare, to a chuckle, to a roaring belly laugh.
So, how do we solve the conundrum of breaking in new stage routines? (Please note that what I’m referring to is the next step in developing your material AFTER it has been well scripted, routined, blocked and rehearsed as much as possible BEFORE presenting it to an audience.)
Here are some suggestions (some of which I have used when prepping for competition and still use). Find low risk venues where it matters little if the routine doesn’t go as planned. Some examples are an open mike night at a comedy club, a coffee house or the local theatre group; a fund raiser for your favorite charity (we all get calls for these); and with the popularity of “America’s Got Talent” and similar shows, there’s been a resurgence in community talent shows. Perhaps the best resource of all is your local magic assembly. The monthly meetings are a perfect place to test your new material and get some great feedback as well. Also, most clubs will usually have a banquet show at least once a year providing a friendly and mixed audience of compeers and laymen.
So where do YOU go to break in new material? I’d love to hear from you!