Here is a great article by Ning that has been published in a few international magic magazines. It is an insightful and modern look at male performers working with female assistants, partners or co-performers from a female’s perspective. It is a worthy read for all performers looking to expand from a solo act to a show that incorporates other female performers. Here is the article in Ning’s own words:
Stage magicians and illusionists will at some point, seriously consider having an assistant or performing partner be part of their show. This could be an effort to increase the scale of the show, making things look bigger and more lavish, or to be able to employ magic methods and techniques that utilize one more person.
Besides my solo show, I also perform in an equal partnership role with a male magician. JC Sum & I work with assistants (male and female) as well as female dancers. In this article, I will be sharing my perspective as both a female stage performer & an objective audience member watching male magicians work with their female partners and dancer/ assistants.
Define the Role of Your Female Partner/ Assistant to the Audience
So how do we first begin? Well, the very first thing to do when working with a female partner is to be extremely clear what role she plays in the show.
Clearly define: Is she your stage equal? Is she a stage assistant or stage hand?
If she is your stage equal, she must hold an equal role and not just be billed as an equal. It is essential that she have an equal time being the protagonist on stage and hold the stage as strong as you would. Her costuming must be as loud or attractive as yours so that both of you shine as brightly as stars, together.
If she is an assistant, however, her principle role is to support the show and not pull focus from the show and you, the magician. Her position on stage should always be a step behind you and her actions must compliment yours. Her costume must not be too loud so that it pulls focus away from you every time she steps on stage, because you are the star.
Now, if her role is that of being your stage hand, she must be invisible to the audience. Ideally, the audience should not even realize that she is on stage, so her movements and dressing must be completely understated so that she performs the role of supporting your show discreetly. Think professional kabuki performers or stealth ninjas *wink*
Recruiting your female partner/ assistant
If you are lucky enough to have a supportive wife/ girlfriend/ sister who is willing to be part of your show – congratulations! You are a very lucky guy :) But FYI, this can be the best thing or worst thing for your show because it has the potential to go both ways.
As your partner off stage, they will be dedicated to your show and want to make you look as awesome as possible. But! It is also important that they know what they are doing and are properly trained to partner or assist you in a professional way.
If they have any kind of onstage role, they must look appropriate for stage, be it physical appearance or dressing. They must know how to move on stage and must physically and theatrically compliment you when performing together. In other words, have them go for lessons to be stage ready. They need not be professional dancers but the ladies should at least know how to stand, pose and move on stage.
In case you aren’t aware, your wife/ girlfriend/ sister may not be completely crazy about what they are doing on stage but are doing it because of you. If this is the case, for the sake of your show and reputation as a magician, it may be better to consider another alternative. Seriously, not only does it not help your show in the long run, it will also ultimately sour your offstage relationship.
If you are looking for a professional female partner/ assistant, I’d suggest working with a trained dancer; someone with performing experience and training will know how to pose, present, move and look their best for you and your show, on stage. With communication and over time, they will also know how to react if something goes wrong on stage and can assist to misdirect as you recover.
Play on Your Female Partner’s/ Assistant’s Strengths
The next important step is working out and identifying your female partner’s/ assistant’s strengths so that you (both) can design specific roles that best suit her strengthens. If your female assistant is not a flexible petite lady, PLEASE do not try to force her in small boxes. Contrary to popular belief we aren’t compressible like doves *shifty eyes*
Now, if your female assistant is good in understanding magic psychology and knows how to perform deceptive moves like loads and steals (believe it some of us have the natural knack for these things), do take advantage of that. If she is a good actor/ dancer, incorporate that into your show or act to give emotive texture to the performance.
On a related note, appropriate dressing an costuming is essential. Don’t make her wear “the usual” stage costumes just because you see other women wearing them on stage. Choose outfits that flatter her figure and dress her to compliment your show and not just like the typical cookie cutter showgirl. Allow what she wears to holler her unique character and personality.
Use your Female Assistant Only As Necessary
Some guys don’t realize this and I’ve noticed this happening more often than it should :( If your lady’s role is not that of your equal stage partner but she is just your assistant, please do not overuse her for every small thing. She is a utility and should be used only as necessary. This is where she can be most effective as a deceptive magic tool. Also, if you use her for every small task, it makes you look like an old school chauvinistic performer and that does not sit well in today’s forward thinking society. Food for thought.
If you perform larger stage acts and illusions, my sincere suggestion would be… Please don’t do that cheesy cliche dance thingy at the end if it is not crucial to your act or adds zero value to the performance. The dancing and posing before and after an illusion is a dated (1980s… That’s like 30 years old) piece of choreography and looks especially unflattering if you don’t know how to dance well or move pose gracefully like a dancer.
Listen to Your Partner/ Assistant
Gramps used to tell me there’s a reason why God gave us two ears and only one mouth. When I just started University (way before I turned professional), I did a one off illusion show with a local aspiring magician (let’s call him Mr X). Two other guy friends, also magicians, helped out as stage hands for this big event. Sadly, it was a tragically unpleasant experience because Mr X would not listen to our suggestions for show content, choreography or the presentation of the acts.
Though Mr X was uncertain (he was watching VCDs of World’s Greatest Magic) and had no prior experience of how certain things should be done or presented, his ego permitted him from listening, discussing or opening himself to potential ideas. His own acts were under-rehearsed and under-researched and the three of us realized Mr X really thought himself as the star instead of team effort as it was supposed to have been. One example of being unprepared was his part of the execution of the classic sword basket illusion. Mr X did not rehearse his part well enough and I was the girl in the basket. When I got into the basket in position, I suddenly felt the cold metal blade of a sword roughly shoved down the back of my pants (and panties). Being nervous, he had been clumsy and just stabbed the blade in against my bare bottom skin!
But that’s not it… Mr X’s show opener, a customized torn & restored act, was also a disaster because the clipped pack of papers with the client’s key messages fell from his jacket the moment he ran up on stage. He had refused my suggestion of getting the words professionally silk-screened on cloth, despite the backing of the other guys. His reason? Cost. So he hand-wrote everything with a marker on cheap sheets of paper. Well it certainly cost him the show because the client never touched base again. It cost him our friendship too, because no one wanted to work with him after this horrible experience, more so when Mr X kept a thousand for himself and everyone else got a few hundred bucks, when the contact wasn’t even directly his. Sigh. For obvious reasons Mr X isn’t doing magic anymore.
Anyway. It’s important that when you work with a partner/ assistant, you should listen to hear their perspectives (be they male or female) unless you have worked out with 100% certainty what is to be done exactly. As the magician, you are the chief executive officer and must provide leadership and direction. If you can’t, you need to be willing to see your partner/ assistant as a collaborator. Quite too often, magicians have tragically let their ego rule their judgment instead of a clear logical head.
Having a stage partner or assistant with the same chemistry as you can add tremendous value and production value to your show. However, you have to work well and seamlessly well with them to maximize their value. Treat her well and you will be rewarded with a team member that ultimately benefits your show. Best of luck with that :)
Wishing you all the best with this exciting journey!