Comedy Acting Techniques for Character Performers, by Colin Underwood. Surprise is vital for character entertainers and…
It’s not What you do— but How you do it!
Over the next few articles, Colin Underwood, Corporate Magician, will pass on real-life experience tips as a full-time performer – his career has spanned over 35 years, and these tips are tried and tested!
The following are for kids magic parties but you can adapt and apply the same principles for all ages.
THE SURPRISE ELEMENT—IS IT THERE?
This is vital for children’s entertainers, and increases the magical entertainment experience. The interest span of children these days is short—as a result of overexposure to video games and cartoon content.
If you study a current cartoon you will see there is a vast amount of sensory exposure. The colours are bright, with characters always doing something. The dialogue is kept to basics—and in kids’ style of talking. The characters are often magical—or have superunhuman powers. The music is upbeat—with massive sound effects sprinkled liberally in between. All of this hyper-stimulates the senses of the children.
How does this relate to you as a children’s entertainer and your magic show?
Well, if you do not engage the audience—and by that I mean all of the audience, including the parents—right from the beginning, you will have an uphill battle. By adding large doses of surprise situations in the show you will be off to a good start.
Most children’s performers place way too much emphasis on the main ending—e.g. the production of the bunny! The routine should be structured to engage and keep interest.
Sometimes, due to the use of familiar props, many children are way ahead of you, and will shout out that they have seen this or that trick before. Of course, this is both a good thing and a bad! To counter this you might consider performing a routine with a different ending—this makes you different, and a more interesting entertainer. I call this ‘a reversal-surprise technique’.
You can do a ‘Baking the Cake’ routine, and—rather than produce a cake—you produce a rubber chicken (BTW: It’s so much easier than a cake); or reverse this, and say you are knitting a jersey (jumper) for your granny. The kids can see you are baking a cake, and will tell you so. Your surprise ending in this case is to actually produce a jersey.
The surprise might be at the end of a routine; but I recommend having smaller sub-endings or surprises throughout the routine.
These can be silly misdemeanours that set your character; or in routines such as the ‘Washing Machine’ type, you keep reaching a false climax. The basic plot being ‘dirty gloves need washing’ and must come out clean at some point. But what can really happen is they are mutilated, change colour, and undergo any other surprising sub-ending. But be careful that the plot is maintained, and the audience know what you are trying to achieve. However, the final production of clean socks after so much mayhem, may actually be a let-down.
The silly misdemeanours are e.g. using a glue stick on your lips instead of Lip Ice (or Chap Stick as it is known in the US). You can look surprised at this, and then look again (a ‘double-take’ technique), noticing that the glue stick is now a proper Lip Ice. This gives you an additional surprise with strong magic content.
Colin considers sleight-of-hand as a great way to produce props or to vanish an item. The magic is strong in these situations and enhances the surprise. Cigarette sleight-of-hand from the old books is a great place to start, and these moves can be ideally adapted to similarly shaped items of sweets or, in this case, a Lip Ice.
The various wands on the market are prime example of incidentals that play a vital part of any children’s show. The reaction to a broken wand is a valuable bonus, and increases the entertainment value in your show.
It is recommended that you buy up any of the gag items in magic stores and scour toy shops and cheap one-dollar stores for interesting items that—with a little creative thought—can be used in your show. Of course, how you react to these happenings will determine how entertaining you will be . . .
Please look out for our next blog wherein we explore the vital element of ‘Enhancing Suspense’ in your show.
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