Creating a Show

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ChristopherT, Mar 8, 2018.

  1. I'm in the process of writing a new show. In another forum I frequent, we often put this process up for members to see/chat about. It's one of my favorite parts of that group, and I thought I'd try it out here.

    Some notes -
    This will be long. If it gets a decent response, I'll continue posting as I develop the show.

    This is not "The Way" to make shows. This is my way. I pretty much follow this process every time I write a new show. If it helps any of you, great. If it doesn't, oh well.

    This is the process I go through to create parlor/stage shows I intend to perform for money. That is my ultimate goal - to create a parlor/stage show that I use to make money. The process can be applied to any show, but that's my specific motivation and that will influence some of my choices.

    I will not be detailing presentations. There will be references to commercial routines, but I assure you, I don't use them as taught when purchased. My presentations are very personal to me, and I am not keen to share them at this time.

    That being said, I will otherwise be as detailed as possible in the process. Putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

    THAT being said - please don't steal my material. Some of the scripting is in images and such - this is out of my professional repertoire. I'm sharing it because I think it will help. Don't make me regret that decision.

    So! First step: Concept.
    I always start with the concept - the over arching theme of the whole show. This one is: Abraxas. Abraxas is the name of a Mesopotamian god of creation. It's theorized that this could be the origin of the word "Abracadabra", which translates (by some theories) to "I create as I speak". I like this concept. I have wanted to create a show based around words and speech for years due to reading this tidbit.

    So I know what my concept is. Words, symbols. What can we do with that concept?

    Second step: Time.
    This is meant to be a cabaret show, mainly. Which means 45-60 minutes (mostly 45). A 60 minute show works well on its own, a 45 minute show works well as the headline to a variety night. Many bars and similar venues want to book 45 minute shows. So I'm aiming to make this a show I can do for either 45 minutes, or 60. Preferably without changing the material.

    How do I do that? Optional interval. Something I learned when performing at bars is that while I can easily keep people's attention for 60 minutes, people who have drinking have a 30 minute bladder. Offer an interval (intermission) at 30 minutes in, and your 45 minute show becomes 60 minutes.

    Third step: Material.
    This is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.
    I am a bizarre performer, with a strong mentalist flavor. So the first thing I do, is brain dump routines that even vaguely fit the concept above. I am very loosey goosey with this. Whatever pops in my head generally ends up on paper. I then go through and narrow it down from that initial list. It looks like this:
  2. You can see routines listed, crossed out, put back in, etc. It's a mess, I know. You'll notice on the right, I've listed out the routines again, more organized. The squiggly line is where I would put the optional interval.

    Third Step: Refining selection

    This is where I decide what material is going into the show and start to kind of story board things. You'll notice, I'm still making edits here. I was going to take the Animal Trap out, but after thinking about it, I put it back in. My PK Touches routine has been in every show I've done for easily 7 years - I took it out and replaced it with a different one. That was a hard decision, but it will play better this way, I think.

    Let's take a moment to explore the choices I've made, and why I made them.
    1) Blockhead - If you don't know this routine, it's a sideshow stunt where the performer puts a nail into their nose.
    Why is this first? Because the audience probably doesn't know me, and much of my show is very cerebral. This routine is presented with little to no script - just some music while I do the work, and a single line at the end. It's weird, it's kind of shocking, and it allows me to set the mood very quickly. I will have their attention when this routine is done
    Approx 2-3 min.

    2) Introduction
    This is a spoken piece. I will introduce myself, explain the premise of the show, and throw out the hook. This is roughly a minute or two of speech that will give them the reasons to pay attention to the rest of the show, and also endear them to me.

    3) S&S Game.
    This is a Smash and Stab routine. Why is this here? Because I've done something weird that's entirely focused on me. Then I talked for a bit. Now I am going to involve the audience -without- bringing anyone on stage. This is important - they don't trust me yet. They aren't sure whether going up on stage with me is going to be awesome, or awful. This routine is specifically scripted to make them trust me. The presentation basically tells them, "We're in this together. I'm trusting you, so you can trust me."
    Approx 7 min.

    4) The Solution
    This is my version of a Michael Murray routine. The product is excellent, and I highly recommend it. The gist is, a volunteer comes on stage and solves a Rubik's Cube behind their back with their eyes closed.
    Why is this here? Because I've shown the audience I'm strange, I've set the mood that this is going to be an unusual show that will display really crazy talents both on their side and mine. I've given them a taste of themselves being able to do crazy stuff, now I show it outright. It's a trust building piece.
    This routine is the bridge between what they didn't realize that they can do, and what I can guide them to doing. It's shifting the focus of the show from the safety of staying in the audience, to the glory of coming on stage.
    In short - this routine shows them that when I bring them on stage, they are going to look and feel awesome when the routine is done.
    Approx 7 min

    5) L/D
    This is a living/dead test.
    I've just brought someone on stage to take a big risk. This routine lets the audience stay seated again, but still puts the focus on them. Again, trust building. Furthermore, it introduces an aspect of personal revelation - the pictures I use during this routine have stories that largely relate to my own life. In doing this routine, I'm showing the audience a little bit of my own story. So this is a routine where the audience feels connected to me, as well as being shown an innate ability they didn't know they have.
    Approx 5 min.

    6) Occultatum
    Menny Lindenfeld came up with a great method for locating a hidden object. I took it and mixed it with another method from Bill Montana to create a routine that shows off both my own abilities, and abilities the volunteer didn't realize they had.
    This is a new routine, so the script is very likely to change once or twice as I work on it. In short, I explore the idea that words can create belief, and belief creates truth. I show this by telling them I can read their minds, then displaying it twice, then telling them they can read my mind, and displaying that.
    Approx 7 min.

    Optional Interval here - 10-15 min (tell them 10 min, and they'll be back in the seats at 15 min)
  3. 7) Animal Trap
    Side show stunt again. If I've done an interval, this will insure everyone is invested in watching the show again. The inverval can cause a disconnect, this breaks up that disconnect. My routine is scripted around mind over matter and is pretty straight forward.
    If I haven't done an interval, this provides texture after multiple 'heavy' routines.
    This routine may get changed before the final version of the show. Why? Because the Smash and Stab routine risks danger to my hand, and this one does too. There's a chance this will feel repetitive, but I'm thinking the different tone and nature of the stunt will be enough to over come it. I may also include a pulse stop (which is how I originally did this routine, then eventually dropped in favor a more straight forward script) in order to further separate it from the S&S routine.
    5 Min

    8) Atlas Obscura
    This is a book test, using the Atlas Obscura - which is a book detailing weird facts about the world. I love the site, bought the book, finally found a way to work it into a show. The idea was to have a psychic demonstration that revolved around images and words. Again, a lot of this is texture - Having just done a weird, physical routine, I shift to a purely mental one. This one is more intimate than previous routines, as it involves really getting into someone's head.
    I will explain more about my reasoning on this routine later, if there is interest in this thread.
    Approx 5-7 min

    9) Voodoo Doll
    This is not Okito. This is my own creation, originally inspired by Derren Brown and taken in my own direction. In it, the volunteer feels what's done to a voodoo doll, and eventually is "possessed" by the doll to a certain degree.
    The purpose of this routine is display the power of symbols, and how symbols can be warped and manipulated. It's a moment where the tone of the show shifts a bit - up to now, everything I've done has been very benign and comfortable. I've taken great care to constantly show how awesome my audience is - now I use that trust I've built to explore a more vulnerable side of things. I do not abuse this trust. I am careful not to push boundaries too much here. But it is a slightly scary routine if they think about the implications.
    7 min

    10) Dupometry
    A routine inspired by Zabrecky. 4 volunteers draw pictures, I divine which volunteer drew each of the first 3, then duplicate the final drawing. While the basic mechanics are basically the same used by Zabrecky (Which is a published routine), my presentation is mine and center around energy, connection, and suggestion/hypnosis. This is the culmination of all concepts I've displayed throughout the show, taking symbolism, words, energy, and so on and putting it all together.
    This is the climax routine of the show.
    Approx 10 min.

    11) The Box/Wrap Up
    Mechanically, this is a routine I learned from David London three years ago. In it's most basic description, a drink is produced from a box which is shown to be empty. The script revolves around the idea that instead of worrying about how I did what they saw during the show, it's much more fun to relax, not worry about it, and tell the story to their friends and family. My motivation here is a bit odd, I know. I want to create a slight disconnect, but not. They've just seen 45 minutes or so of impossible things, things that to some of them will seem like real demonstrations. I then tell them it doesn't matter if it was real or not, that the experience is all that matters, and now they have a cool story to tell people. It's a way of both slightly easing the tension before they go into the real world, while also anchoring it, so they think of it more later. Also, by planting the idea of them being able to tell this story to friends and family, I get free word of mouth advertising.


    Ok! So! I've got the concept, I've got the routines I want to use (this could change). What next?

    Well, I've kind of already shown what's next, as the next step is "stage notes".

    In the Stage Notes I generally detail enough of the script to have the feeling of each routine (Much like I've explained above), and that way I can scan through and get the idea of the ebb and flow of the whole show. Each routine has ups and downs, I want the audience to take that ride with me.

    You'll notice in the last picture, I've got my script written out for the first routine. This is not ground breaking or absolutely unique. But it should achieve my goals, regardless.

    My next tasks are to write out the scripts for routines I haven't fully scripted yet. Then I begin practice/rehearsal, to time every routine more exactly - during this phase I will also adjust scripting as I feel is needed. Then I start rehearsing the entire show, and again, adjust scripting as needed, and rehearse more.

    Once I'm at that phase, the show doesn't really change until I put it on a stage. There will always, always, always be something (or things) that need to change after the first performance. Be aware of that, and be ready to make those changes. There's just no way to fully anticipate how something will play in real time, regardless of experience. Even Derren Brown, who's won multiple awards for his stage shows and has a brilliant creative team, has ditched entire routines after a test performance almost every time he does a new show. It happens. Anticipate it.

    Any questions so far? Does this make sense to you?
  4. This is great, I've had many friends doing shows for this year's fringe festival and they are pushing me to get into one as well. I've done guest spots in other shows but I'd love to do my own.

    While our styles do seem very different, I also do quite a lot of sideshow stuff. Working out where to put each act is definitely a thing I put a lot of thought into.

    With guest spots it's much less stress, I can pick any of my routines, like my russian roulette style things and that's it. But I know I can't put them all together in a solo show as it would be way too draining on the audience.
    Brett Hurley likes this.
  5. I don't have any input to give, honestly. I'm just loving the fact that you shared this process with us. Sincerely, thank you for that. I like that there is a reason for every effect you've chosen and that everything builds up to get the audience on your side.

    Are you going to be doing close up before the show, to get a feel for the room?
  6. I've applied for the local fringe festival. It's the first year they're doing it and I want to get in good with the organizers. I have no idea how it will go with this region, but I did well in Fresno's fringe festival, called Rogue, so I'm giving it a go here.

    Also, and I'll get into this later, I always figure out which bits I can use to slot into variety shows as well as doing my full solo show. That way I'm always presenting a consistent brand/image whenever I perform. In general I used to do my PK Touches, but I'm trying to move away from that as I don't want it to seem like a gimmick.

    No. I don't need to do that. For a variety of reasons, really.

    For one, I'm not a "magician". I don't present anything I do as "magic". I don't care so much if someone calls me a magician, but I never use that title myself. Therefore, I take pains not to act like a magician. I think of it more like a lecture (which, technically, I have done lectures as well)

    The other big reason is that I get anxious before shows. I have a ritual of sorts that I do before every performance, and if I don't do that, it really throws me off.

    And lastly - I want the audience to feel like what happens on the stage is exclusive. It's something I have put great pains into learning and I am letting them into my world for a little while. If I were to do little bits and bobs before hand, it would dilute that goal.

    Make sense?
  7. Let's dive into the logic of routine selection.

    The common advice for openers is to do something fast and visual that will hook the audience and display your skill, right?

    Well, that's one way to do it, and if that works for you, great.

    I don't do anything that's super visual, and I don't do much that's fast. My style is slower and more cerebral, not flashy.

    My goals for an opener are:
    1) Grab their attention.
    2) Set the mood of the show.
    3) Show a little bit of myself.

    For my first solo show, I opened by reciting The 7 Ages of Man, using Tarot cards as visuals (No tricks, at the end of it, I just put the cards away in my jacket). This worked really well, but this does not scale up. I could use a projector screen, but then I lose the connection aspect.

    So, what could I do that would scale up to a larger audience, grab attention immediately, and set a tone of "Weird"?

    Side show! Specifically, blockhead. This routine requires no talking to convey what's happening. It catches people attention quickly, and has a nice bonus of having a separate sense to intrigue - sound. How to do it so it's not just a carbon copy of everyone else out there, as well as make it memorable?

    Let's see - we've got some props to think about. Nail, hammer, block of wood maybe, table.

    What kind of nail? Most people just use a big fat nail from Home Depot or wherever. What if I could make my own nails? I could make them really shiny so it would show up under the lights really well. I could make the head of the nail pretty big, too - maybe put my logo on there? Luckily, I have a forge. I can make my own nails and touch mark them.

    What kind of hammer? I've seen people use a tiny hammer that makes a sharp "TINK!" sound. I've seen a guy use a huge sledge hammer, which makes it a strength display as well. I've seen people use a microphone - lots of sound there. Or a pint glass - again, sound. But I don't want to use a mic or a glass - this takes away from the visceral reaction of seeing a nail hammered into one's face. But I want the sound - what kind of hammer makes the most ring? Wait, what if I design a hammer to ring? You may notice in the pictures above, on the one with "Blok" at the top, on the right there's a funky looking "drawing". Looks kind of like a plant in a pot. That's a hammer. This hammer doesn't have to function in any capacity other than putting nails into my face - so I can make it specifically to ring, like a dinner triangle.

    Ok, so I've got the nail and I've got the hammer planned out.

    How do I actually perform it, so it has the best effect on the audience?

    Imagine this - you're at a show, it's about to start. Lights go down, come back up. A man in a dark outfit walks out, downstage center. He sets a bundle on the table there. Some odd music begins to play as he, wordlessly, unrolls the bundle. He sets a block of wood aside. Picks up an oddly shaped nail, inspects it briefly, sets it aside. He picks up a weird hammer, and pauses. He looks over the crowd for a moment, picks up the nail, and places it to his nose. Then he takes the hammer, in time with the music, and "TINK!", pause, "TINK!", pause - he hammers it into his face.
    Pause. He gazes over the audience. He turns his head, so you see him in profile, and brings the claw of the hammer up to the nail, slowly, purposefully, pulling the nail free. He takes the nail and hammers it firmly into the block of wood, then wipes it off with an alcohol swab. With a gesture, he indicates you, in the front row, to step up. He hands you the block and gestures for you to return to your seat. As you sit, you notice the nail has a bird's skull logo hammered into it, and the block reads, "<3 Christopher Strange, Witch Doctor". (That's a heart, I wouldn't actually write <3).
    The music fades. He then says, "Do I have your attention?"

    This routine should be about 2 minutes long. Maybe 2.5.
    DominusDolorum and Justin.Morris like this.
  8. Why did you pick an opener that has no talking besides one line if your concept is about Abraxas/Words & Speech? It fits what I would think to match your style and personality, but seems disconnected from your concept.

    Something I would have done as an opener with that concept could be something with priming, where you're able to train a person's brain using words. Such as the, "What word spells S-H-O-P? What do you do at a green light?" thing. Then script something that seems like you are influencing an audience member's decisions through your patter when you're performing smash and stab.

    Obviously that isn't your style, but my point was more about why you chose not to open with something involving words or speech, and instead opted for something completely silent that contradicts your concept?
  9. Texture, for one. The overall theme is creating through words and symbols - hinting at magick-with-a-k as well. Not every routine has to hammer that point home, though - that would be repetitive.

    Kind of like when you do the dirty work for a routine "before" the routine begins in the minds of an audience. Like Gemini Twins - Once you take the two cards from the deck, that trick is almost done methodologically. Even before you even really start talking with the volunteers. But to their mind, the trick doesn't start until they are dealing cards down.

    When I open the show like this, that's like picking up a fork and tapping the wine glass to call everyone's attention at a wedding. It's getting everyone's attention. Then I do the intro to the show, and in the audience's mind, that's when "the show" starts.

    The opening routine, for me, serves to create a barrier between what -was- happening, and what is -now- happening. They were sitting in their seats, chatting about their day, etc. Now they're paying attention to me and we can begin. The introduction gives the premise/theme to the show, and then I move into what they were perceive is the first routine - whereas it's actually the 2nd or third depending on how you're counting.

    As for using the introduction to set up the S&S - That routine is already fully scripted and tight, and it has its own presentation that serves its own purpose in the show. It basically centers around the concept that myself and the audience will be cooperating throughout the evening to do something amazing. It's an outright display of me putting my trust into the audience, and showing that they can trust me as well.

    In a way, the meat of the show doesn't start until The Solution.

    Blok, the Intro, and S&S are kind of all one unit of introduction to the show. From there we get into the nitty gritty of exploring the theme.
    ChrisJGJ and DominusDolorum like this.
  10. Wow... love the idea of a spooky magic show
  11. Of course. This isn't even one of my spookier shows, this one is designed to be more mainstream. My previous show was pretty dark, really.
  12. @ChristopherT
    Thank you for writing the process.
    I'm a beginner when it comes to performances, and I am now creating my own show. I did a process similar to yours and have a good idea of how it is going to be.
    But! I built the show around two different subjects: 25 minutes about one subject, 10 minute break, another 25 minutes about a different subject.
    Do you think it is important to focus the whole routine about one subject, or is two okay as well?
  13. Christopher let me know if you ever perform in NorCal because your show sounds pretty damn cool haha
  14. Same for Israel
  15. As long as it makes sense, I don't think there's a problem with that. I know some folks who have done a "light/dark" kind of thing, where half the show was light hearted/happy topics, and half was darker, creepier topics.

    I am actually planning to do some performances in the Central Valley with a friend, but that would be in the Fresno area. I'd have to have a solid venue option to afford the travel to NorCal.

    Can't see that happening soon, but I would definitely make a fuss of it if I were doing international shows.
    Brett Hurley and Antonio Diavolo like this.
  16. My idea was to do the first part about truth and lies, as a kind of lecture and the second part about games of chance, to loosen up a bit after the first part.
    You think that could work?
  17. Christopher:

    This is a great thread. Thank you for posting your thought process. My process is similar, but more of an evolution. I typically don't have a theme for a show -- I find that it is too difficult. Instead, the routines are tied together by my character and my style.

    The one thing I like that you focus on is texture. With my shows, I try to vary the texture in a number of different ways. One is the emotional feeling the audience gets. Some routines are light and funny, others are a little darker and edgy; Some are silly; others are irreverent; Some are heartwarming, some are inspirational and some are just fun. The other is the use of props. I use a variety of props from standard props like linking rings and an egg bag, to an empty gin bottle, to two letters in envelopes, to a fruit jar and apple baskets. There also is a level of texture to the effect - everything isn't pick-a-card / find-a-card or "something vanishes and then reappears."
  18. Thanks David.

    Admittedly, I have a slight advantage in that my minor degree of OCD makes it so I can't stand feeling repetitive. Originally this motivated me to simply exclude anything that felt like something else in the routine/act/show. As I studied more theory I realized that I could actually do that on purpose instead of retroactively. So when I started writing full shows I tried to mentally see the show from the audiences point of view as I was selecting routines, and would consider what kind of feeling could be placed where. Where did I need humor to break the tension? Where did I want there to be a visceral reaction that brought their focus to their own bodies? Where did I want to go philosophical in nature? By shifting my thinking process that way, I was able to build the show along a common theme with little branches out to related topics to create a range of emotional reactions instead of just one, "Aha!" after another.

    I'm actually hitting a road block here with this show. It's feeling a bit repetitive for me. I need to change up Occultatum or Atlas Obscura, and probably that means removing one or the other at this point and putting something else in. The premise for L/D, Occultatum, and Atlas Obscura are all picking up on feelings and thoughts and that is feeling repetitive to me. I will probably drop Occultatum and replace it with something else. Quite possibly a routine by Francis Menotti, if I can come up with a way to adjust it to suit my needs.

    Side note - This has been unofficially booked for a fringe festival here in York in August.
    Antonio Diavolo and RealityOne like this.
  19. That leads to another part of "texture." Having "texture" without "flow" leads to a disjointed show. I agree with what you've been saying about the first pieces - they serve as an introduction, a demonstration of ability and a building of trust. From there you need to have a flow of sensations / emotions / reactions. You can't go from whimsical to serious to silly to dangerous - that would be like a bad roller coaster that jerks you around just because it can. Rather, you have to build attention, tension, emotion and then have appropriate releases. What comes next should not feel noticeably different that what preceded it - the audience should be unaware of the changes in tempo, tension, emotion, seriousness. It isn't like Rocky and Bullwinkle - "and now for something completely different." Rather, the pieces form a cohesive whole -- like a good move that combines adventure, character, humor and suspense.
    Antonio Diavolo likes this.

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