How do you write a magic show?

Writing a full, hour-long show is a big task, one which I have never really left enough time for, and leaves me panicking when it gets to a week before the first performance and I’m still trying to make alterations to a prop that isn’t working.

However, it is also fun to produce something all the way from an initial idea, to its eventual performance in front of a live audience.

It can seem a daunting project at first, but during my time spent show writing, I have developed a process that works for me, which I have broken down into 3 stages…

Firstly though, some advice I learnt the hard way…

If you have a deadline, start much sooner than you think you need to; the main reason is this:

If you believe you work better under large amounts of pressure, then you probably haven’t experienced how freely you can create, if you find the motivation to work without this pressure.

When creating a show to a very tight deadline, you are forced to make a lot of compromises.

You will find yourself saying things like:

‘It would be amazing if I could do this… but I don’t have time to make the prop.’

‘That joke isn’t funny enough, but I haven’t got time to work on it because I haven’t finished the remaining script, so it will have to do.’

‘I don’t have time to write new material for that section, so I’ll make it simpler and recycle material from my last show.’

These things are ok to say, and you’ll probably still end up with a good show that audiences will enjoy, but also, you may secretly know that it could be even better if you'd had more time.

By the way, if you’re writing a last-minute show right now…

…don’t panic, you’ve got this, you’ll get through it, you can do it, ignore everything I’ve just said, and stop reading this post!

Adversely, if you allow ample time to experiment with ideas, make changes and edit, you will likely be amazed with what you can produce.

It will almost definitely be a very different show to the one you initially imagined, a more impressive, meaningful show because you allowed yourself to create without time limitations.

Anyway… the 3 stages I go through to write a show:

1. Concept / Structure – what would I like to show?

This is basically what has inspired me to write the show – (see previous blog post) – and what is going to give the show structure.

It may be a set of short stories that I would like to tell using magic.

If this is the case, I will explore how these stories may best be ordered and build a structure around this.

If I simply have an idea I would like to present to my audience, I mind map what represents this idea –

Whatever I have written down may end up forming a story that I would like to tell over the course of the show, and I look at how I could structure this…

… it’s all basically mind mapping as freely as possible –

No idea is a bad idea.

I feverishly write down everything that pops into my head, pour what seem to be random ideas onto paper and then, when I look back at them all, I realise that some ideas can be linked together.

The linked ideas form the structure, and the initial meaning of the show.

This process will likely continue throughout my time writing the show, but once I have an initial structure, I can also start the next part...

2. Magic / Effects – how would I like to show it?

Once I have a basic outline for the show, and I know its basic meaning, I start…

…yes, you guessed it… more mind mapping.

I start to explore what kind of magic may best represent my story or concept.

The way I do this is important, and is the reason my resulting show is creative and unique:

Instead of looking through books, DVDs, or my current material for magic tricks that I would like to perform, I forget about methods to start with.

I instead think about what would look amazing, what would feel magical, and what would best convey what I would like to tell my audience.

So, for example, if I were telling a story about a lonely witch, I might think…

‘Imagine if I could make a life-sized witch puppet that is able to fly onto the stage on her broom and produce real tears from her eyes without me going anywhere near her.’

This may result in a smaller witch puppet, the production of tears while I am holding her strings, and a separate broom that I can cause to fly.

I’ve scaled it back, but it is still magical and impressive to an audience.

I have also got a much better result than I would have if I’d simply searched through lists of potential magic tricks –

If you only look at effects that already exist, then you have immediately limited yourself.

Therefore, I prefer to allow my imagination to run free initially, and to worry about how I can achieve my ideas afterwards.

3. Script / Music – how you are going to entertain your audience.

I will normally start this after I have a basic draft for stages 1 and 2.

The process of drafting a script is just that – writing draft after draft until you are happy with it.

As you do this more and more, you will become better at estimating timing…

For example, I know it takes me on average 10 minutes to say 1500 words. This will be different for every performer based on their delivery style.

However, I won’t word count to start with because:

  • A) It’s better to overwrite and then edit down.

  • B) As I now know my performing style very well, I find it easier to predict my timing just by running through a draft in my head…

…but it’s a useful way to double-check you are on track.

During scriptwriting, I will often change tricks, sections, orders, and even the ideas represented in the show. This is because:

While I draft the script, I will often find more meaning in the show.

It’s when I get those ‘ahhh’ moments – like ‘that’s why that trick is important’, or ‘if I mention and foreshadow that at the beginning, then this will lead the audience to this moment’.

I don’t like things to be pointless or to leave loose ends; these can be frustrating for an audience.

If I can’t find meaning in a section, I will cut it out or replace it – there’s no point trying to shoehorn meaning into something, as this won’t allow the show to flow.

For music, I collect songs in playlists and add any that I may want to use in future shows.

When I’m looking to add music, I therefore have options ready to go.

And of course, you can also add sound effects and voice overs in; these can be very fun to play around with…

So, that is the basic layout for how I write a show.

You may do it differently, and my method may not work well for many other people.

However, if you are reading this because you would like to write a show, but haven’t before, then this could be a good place to start.

This post is a lot more waffly than I wanted, but I have found that trying to describe how I write a show, is a bit like trying to write down instructions for riding a bike…

…without the bike there in front of you, it’s hard to make any sense.

If you could see into my brain, then this would have been a hell of a lot easier.

Maybe that will be the concept behind my next show…

Ava xx

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