Choosing Routines and Show Production

The backbone of any show is choosing the routines that are right for the performer and putting the routines in the right order in the show. In this entry, I will talk about the former.

After thinking of the structure of this entry, I realized that this applies to all performing artists including musicians, jugglers and any performer looking to produce a live show.

The most common way that performerss choose routines is to choose routines they like. While it is important that you enjoy the material you perform, it is often not the best way to select your routines. There are many reasons why you may like a routine. You might have seen a performer do it on TV, you read good reviews on it, the effect appealed to you, the method is devious and cool or you think it is within your capabilities. But, not all the reasons are good reasons why you should perform a certain routine.

The next most common way is to go about choosing routines for a show is by props. That is, routines are chosen so that a variety of props are seen in the show. Card, ropes, money, silks, magic boxes etc. This is a good superficial criteria and fairly important in creating variety for your show. After all, even if you have 10 fantastic card effects, it may not be a good idea to put all 10 in the same show.

Another popular method is to list by effect. This is probably the method that sounds the best on paper. Personally, I feel this method, while a good rough guide, is too narrow-minded because most routines include multiple effects, not just a singular effect. Illusions might be the exception to the rule as most illusion routines are a singular effect.

Here are a few other techniques you can use when choosing routines and developing a show.

Organize routines by the type of routines; specifically, whether they are Visual, Interactive, Audience Participation or Talking Monologue-style routines. A good show will have a mix of both and depending on the target audience, venue and your personal style, your emphasis might be on different types of routines.

List your routines based on Duration. While there is no fixed perfect duration for a routine, through my personal experience as well as observation, I do have strict guidelines when it comes to duration of routines for mainstream audiences in today’s cutlural environment, especially for event shows.

  • Short – 1 to 2min
  • Normal – 3 to 5min
  • Long – 6min or more.

I’m always dubious when I hear performers say they perform just two routines in a 20min or 30min show. I have seen performers who think their long routines are entertaining but they are just too long overdrawn.

In a show, I recommend a majority of your routines be short or normal duration ones. In every 25min of show, you can have one long routine. And even so, if you are a new performer, I do not recommend tackling long routines until you have at least 20 – 30 shows of experience under your belt. This goes for close-up, stage or illusion shows.

For example, in our 30min show, we generally would have 2- 3 short routines + 2 – 3 regular routine and 1 long routine.

Another more sophisticated but difficult way of choosing and creating routines is based on the emotions a routine it creates in the audience. E.g. Excitment, Sadness, Happiness, Laughter, Tenderness, Heart warming, Suspense, Thought Provoking etc. This is a great approach to choosing routines and presentations as if done well, a very dramatically textured performance is created.

The final and possibly hardest method is to choose routines that advance your brand, image and personality. One reason why it is so difficult is because before you can choose routines of this nature, you must have a defined brand. These routines will help define your show and yourself to the audience in a way that no one else can replicate. Just think of the top magicians or musicians in the world, no copycat or cover band can be the same, no matter how close or good.

At the most advanced level, you should cross reference the different methods together (think in terms of overlaying them on top of each other). We use all the above methods to produce a show, whether for ourselves or for other talents. See if you can apply it to your show.

Here are a couple of familiar examples from our own show:

“360 Sawing”is one of our audience’s favourite illusions as it is different from traditional illusions with a sawing theme. This helps set us apart in the innovation department. The illusion design, music and movement are urban and contemporary which fit with our image and brand.

“Human Light Tunnel” is also a great illusion that advances our show’s image. Now, coupled with the new version of our “UV Magic Act” and a “Light Saber” Illusion, this entire trio of small illusions creates a very strong visual large act.

Our talking pieces convey our distinct personalities and the dynamics between us. Even standard routines have a complete rework and presentation treatment that makes them unique.


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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