Choosing your first stage illusion

Starting You Illusion Show

Let me say before I write this article that these aren’t entirely my original thoughts. I was listening to an interview with J.C. Sum not long ago where he expressed his thoughts on choosing your first illusion. I’m passing this on, along with some of my own thoughts in case you missed this interview. Let me say first of all that I think J.C.’s thoughts on performing and presenting illusions is brilliant. He’s a real world worker and brilliant thinker. His answers always come from a point of a working pro- someone who has spent a lot of time on stage in many different situations. I would recommend that you get your hands on anything he has written.

When you’re choosing your first illusion.

There are lots of factors to keep in mind. When you build your first illusion show it will probably be built slowly over a period of time. That means you probably won’t be playing theaters immediately. This doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally play great stages, but more than likely you’ll be playing a lot of smaller venues working on platforms and corporate events that won’t have wing space. The lack of wing space and storage during the program creates three distinct challenges.

The first challenge is how to load and offload an illusion onto a small stage or platform? Usually, there are no ramps to help you do this.  Chances are you’re just one part of a complete program so you’ll need to load and unload your props from the stage or platform during the event. You need to be able to pick up your illusions and props by yourself or with the help of your assistant.  This means you definitely need to keep weight and size of the illusion in mind. There may be stagehands or technicians there to help you, but I wouldn’t count on it. You are usually on your own.

The next thing to consider is appearance tricks where you need to preload your assistant before the show. Making assistants appear is a great way to introduce the show and establish yourself as an illusionist. However, if you have no wing space or main curtain, there really is no place to preload an assistant. This is an oversight many of us in the illusion world missed when we were first starting, but it’s so easy to overlook the fact that if you don’t have a curtain or wings to get behind and pre-set the trick, there’s no way to pull it off. And preloading your assistant into the base of the trick then having a group of people pick up the illusion and place it onto a platform is extremely dangerous. I’ve watched magicians do this and it’s scary. Your assistant is in a very vulnerable position and can be seriously injured if dropped. Also, keep this in mind if you’ve promised to make the CEO appear for the big corporate event. Ask a lot of questions about the stage before you oversell this idea.

Okay, we’ve performed it now where do we put it? The third challenge where to put your props once you’ve performed an illusion.  If you don’t have wing space or curtains to place it behind, the prop needs to stay on stage for the rest of your performance. Keep this in mind when designing your first illusion show. Also, keep in mind- the bigger the illusion the more stage space it takes up, and the longer the audience has to examine the trick in their minds.

Choosing that first illusion

How dedicated is your assistant? The go-to illusion for a lot of beginning illusionists seems to be the sub trunk. I get it. I’ve owned one, or maybe two. It’s a classic- one of the first tricks we think of. It’s big. It’s showy. It’s fast, and you can throw all your stuff in and travel with it. However, the sub trunk is a physically demanding illusion and takes a lot of practice to time it out. If you want to be fast with a sub trunk you’ll need an assistant who’s truly dedicated to your performance and is willing to sacrifice a lot of time to get the illusion right. I would definitely not recommend this trick for one of your first illusions. Most beginning illusionists don’t have enough work to keep an assistant working steadily. You usually burn through many assistance before you establish yourself as an illusionist.

So what would my recommendations be for your first illusion? I would strongly consider building either a Modern Art by Jim Steinmeyer or a Zig Zag. These are perfect for a new illusionist. There not very heavy and can easily be broken down and transported. These effects can essentially be performed surrounded. Although you probably won’t be doing many shows in the round during corporate events it is very common to have audiences three-quarters of the way around you. Both of these illusions don’t require a lot of practice by an assistant and can be introduced at any point during the show. You’ll find that most audiences are amazed by these illusions.

Once you’ve established yourself and have an assistant who is dedicated to your program, some of the other effects like a sub trunk could be approached. Another great effect to consider at this point would be a broom suspension. It’s a great way to work levitation into your show and can be performed in most conditions. Combine an effect like this along with a Zig Zag or Modern Art and a good dove act will put you well on your way to producing a great corporate illusion show.

Good luck

Rodney Rash

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