As mentioned previously, Ning & I will be staging two original mega stunts at the end of August. One of them is an underwater escape by Ning, check out photos and details here.
Just thought that readers might like to know that ‘Magic Babe’ Ning & I will close our country’s largest festival, The Singapore Night Festival, with two mega stunts over two nights on 30 & 31 Aug 2013 at 10pm each night.
The stunts will be presented in front of one of Singapore’s most iconic historical buildings, the National Museum.
On 30 Aug 2013, Ning will attempt to escape from “The Water Vault” – a stainless steel safe filled with water and wrapped in chains and padlocked.
On 31 Aug 2013, J C & Ning will attempt the world’s first ever upside down tandem strait jacket escape from a single burning rope, 50ft up in the air!
Read more details here.
The event industry is likely the first industry that a budding magician or illusionist will find work in. Unless born into an entertainer’s family, it is unlikely that your first show experiences will come from theatre shows, cruises or casino showrooms. Probably, your first one hundred shows will come from events. For 80% of the professional and semi-professional magicians in the world, all of their work is from special events of all kinds.
Just like any working professional, I have worked every event imaginable, in the best and worst of conditions. At this point in my career, most off my event work is for high end corporate& special events where I present an event illusion show.
The Purpose of Events
As an event entertainer, the first thing you must be well aware of and understand is that when you are booked to perform at an event, your sole purpose is to entertain and add value to the event.
The event is not being held because of you and the event does not revolve around your show. You are there to support the event program by performing the highest quality show for the guests and making the overall event experience memorable for the guests. Even if your show is the highlight of the event, you have to be conscious of the fact that you are not the (sole) reason why guests are attending the event. Naturally, this does not apply for celebrity entertainers whom an event might be organized especially for.
Besides your show, most event programs will be full of different activities ranging from formalities like speeches, award presentations, video presentations and lucky draws to special items like other entertainers, performances by the company staff or games by the show host.
If you are performing for a corporate launch celebration dinner, the focus is on the successful launch of the company and the interaction of the new corporate team. If you are performing for a wedding banquet, the focus is on the union of the bride and groom. If you are performing for a family event, the focus is on creating activity and an event for families to spend time together and bond.
The implications of the above are that for event performances, you will not always get your preferred performing conditions or the ‘star’ treatment that you might expect if performing your own show in a theatre.
If you are one entertainer of several, you will have to share the stage and backstage with other entertainers. Technical resources (for e.g. lighting arrangements, staging configurations etc.) will also be shared and maximized to cater to the general needs of all the different entertainment performances.
Specific staging such as stage position, backdrop design, props and banquet seating arrangement will generally be given priority over your preferred setting.
At times, you will have to be your own ‘problem-solver’ as the client may not have time (or desire) to tend to your every need as he/ she has a dozen things to attend to.
Performing Conditions for the Event Magician
Presenting a magic show at an event is vastly different from staging a show in a theatre or casino showroom. Each event offers different challenges to the Event Magician due to the dynamic and fluid nature of the event environment.
Performing conditions for the Event Magician are generally less than ideal. In fact, if you can present a good magic show consistently for events, you would have no problem staging shows for theater, cruises or showrooms. There are much more limitations in staging a show in an event setting than an entertainment or performance venue, since the latter is designed to accommodate shows & performances.
Event venues cover any establishment that opens up their place for private bookings. In most cases, the venue will be closed to the public if a private booking is made. Event venues include hotels, convention halls, clubs, pubs, restaurants, tourist attractions, museums, art galleries and boats. As mentioned most events are not centered and designed around your magic show.
The exception is, of course, if you are a highly celebrated magician who has been invited to perform for an event. In which case, to a certain extent, the entire event will be crafted to your performance needs. If your typical performance booking is of the nature just described, most of the material in this section will not apply to you.
Depending on the scale of the event you are booked for, typical performing conditions for the Event Magician can include:
- Limited Stage Size
- Limited Backstage Area
- Small Set-Up Area
- Varying Degrees of Technical Support
- Little Control Over the Position & Distance of the Audience
- Difficult Access to the Performance Area from the Loading Bay
As an event entertainer, you are also expected to set-up and clear off stage as quickly as possible. As mentioned before, your show will seldom be the only activity in the event program. The event organizers will want the program to run as smoothly as possible with as little disruption and ‘dead-time’.
The key to staging a successful event magic show is to be as self contained and professional as possible. The other is to ensure that you have a clear and comprehensive technical rider (list of technical requirements) that are met by the client or event organizer.
The Event Audience
In a theatre show, paid admission or not, the audience is expecting to be entertained and is in the mood to be entertained. They would also be aware of the starring performer(s), even if they do not know anything about him/ her.
For an event audience, as far as they are concerned, they are there to attend an event, either at will or obligation. The entertainment is generally incidental and the audience would likely not know who you are unless you are a name act. If you are doing a public show in a shopping mall, you will not even have a ready audience and will have to stop, draw and hold ‘traffic’ for your show.
For corporate events, the demographics of the audience can also be tremendously varied. In a large corporation, you can have a mix of production-level workers with a few tables of top executives. For international events, you may have an audience comprising of 20 nationalities with a significant percentage not being able to speak or understand English well.
For family events, you will have a mix of kids and adults. Skill and experience as an entertainer will be necessary to effectively entertain across the age group.
The nature of event audiences is that your show has to be designed to continually capture and retain the interest of the audience, more so than a theatre show audience.
Your show and material must be designed with the event audience in mind. If you are a general events performer, your show must be able to adapt to any audience or you must have different acts that cater to different audiences.
If you are an event magician or illusionist, you might want to check out my two-volume “The Event Magician” book available at magic shops worldwide or direct from me here.
Buy my books/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014” upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.
The vanishing of a national monument, escaping from a locked box in a river, predicting newspaper headlines and being buried alive are all mega stunts that several successful magicians around the world have staged and benefited from. These mega stunts managed to capture the imagination and interest of the public, media and industry, resulting in media buzz and publicity.
I use the term mega stunt to describe any large-scale magic effect or escape stunt. It can also be used to describe some kind of physical endurance stunt since the likes of David Blaine and Criss Angel have established such feats as part of the modern day magician’s repertoire.
In the past half a decade, my partner, Ning, & myself have staged ten mega stunts in Asia. Each of our stunts have garnered quantifiable media coverage and I suspect (hope may be a better word) many readers know our names because of some of our mega stunts. Our stunts have ranged from original mega-scale illusions, innovative mentalism acts and escapes.
In this article, we hope to share some of our experience in creating successful mega stunts.
There are a couple of things you need to be aware of before embarking on staging a mega stunt.
First, you must understand the objectives of staging the stunt. In most cases, the purpose of a mega stunt is to create publicity and garner media coverage that in turn leads to brand building. If you are lucky, you can even get paid for your efforts.
Next, you need to have the technical expertise and experience to stage a mega stunt well and most importantly, safely. The mega stunt as a project is quite a big undertaking and besides the technical aspects of the stunt you are doing, you need to understand and be able to manage the event logistics which encompasses the staging, audio, visual, lighting, security, licensing, permits, crowd control, media management and other event related components that have nothing got to do with magic. It is impossible for you to do this alone and you will need a team to work with you. The average size of the production team for our stunts is around 20 – 25 people each time.
If you think you are ready to stage a mega stunt, the next most important step is to actually create the stunt. Here are three hallmarks of a successful mega stunt:
This may seem obvious but the stunt must have a wow factor that appeals to the general public and media, not just to magicians. For example, being able to back palm two decks of cards may seem like a big “wow” to magicians but is unlikely to evoke the same response from laymen.
The wow factor can be created by doing something so impossible that it baffles the mind, using an iconic location or person or item, be incredulously dangerous or just massive in scale.
David Copperfield’s “Walking through the Great Wall of China” and “Vanishing the Statue of Liberty” had the wow factor due to the size and significance of the iconic objects used.
While not a visual illusion, predicting the national lottery has a wow factor because it appeals to the greed of humans and due to the implications of having the ability to predict the lottery.
We managed to create a wow factor with our “The Mind Heist” stunt, which saw us set a world magic record of reading 100 minds in 60 minutes, due to the large number of people participating in the stunt. It was also staged as a world record attempt with officials adjudicating the stunt which made it even more intriguing.
Any stunt that is suspended high above the ground is generally quite a spectacle as it scales the effect upwards over a great height. Our “The Aerial Exit” mega illusion saw us vanish 5 spectators 24 feet in the air while surrounded by people. The fact that the mega illusion was so high up made it a mega stunt.
Never Been Done Before
This is the biggest selling point for a large number of stunts. The value to sponsors, clients, media and your own branding is to attempt something that has never been done before.
As all artistes know, nothing is 100% original and everything new is the old reinvented. So “never been done before” is a term that has to be contextualized to have value.
It could be a “never been done before” stunt in your country or city. Or you could be the youngest or oldest person to attempt the stunt.
For example, performing the Houdini Water Torture Cell is not something that has not been done before, but if it is with a tankful of piranhas or it is performed at the top of the tallest skyscraper in the world, it would be “new”.
The key is to find a stunt and a context to make your mega stunt unique in the world.
David Blaine drew inspiration for his buried alive stunt from Houdini but what made his version new was the fact that he was underground for a week in a see-through coffin and people could stop by and visit him.
All our mega stunts have some element of “newness”. In “The Impossible Teleportation”, it was the world’s first real time teleportation of a person from the street to a 50-storey skyscraper rooftop, performed completely surrounded in front of over 9000 people.
In our national lottery prediction, the “new” element was the fact that we claimed we had an actual bought lottery ticket sealed in with our printed prediction. While the lottery prediction is by no means original with us, no one had a genuine lottery ticket sealed in with the prediction before.
As most stunts are staged for publicity and media coverage, the nature of the stunt must be newsworthy. While a stunt that has “never been done before” can be a newsworthy point, it may not necessarily be enough for media to be interested. For example, you may be the first person in the world to escape from 500 ft of chain and 100 padlocks, but the media might not find this newsworthy enough to cover. Again, the key is to contextualize the stunt to make it newsworthy.
The classic sawing in half illusion is almost clichéd and one would never think it could be a mega stunt that would be of interest to the media. But what if, the person you were sawing in half is the President of your country and you were performing it on your national or independence day at city hall? I guarantee that if you were able to do this, you would make every news outlet in your country. It is the person, event and venue that gives the stunt context and makes it newsworthy.
Read PR books on how to develop angles that media likes and look out for. There are some tricks and tips to ensure your stunt is contextualized in the right direction and is designed to interest the media.
In June 2012, Ning, became the first woman in the world to successfully perform a double strait jacket escape while suspended upside down from a burning rope 35ft high above the ground. In this case, no female (to our knowledge and research) had ever performed an inverted escape from TWO straight jackets high above the ground from a burning rope. So, there were a combination of three factors that made it newsworthy.
One, Ning being a female. Two, her escaping from two jackets, which is uncommon. And three, it is a dangerous escape high above the ground. The media loves the angle of the “underdog”, “unlikely hero” or in this case, the non-traditional women-empowering babe putting her life at risk attempting a typically male-oriented dangerous stunt.
Plan your mega stunt with these three elements in mind and you might just make news headlines that is worth tens of thousands of dollars in PR value! Best of luck and most importantly, be safe!
Here is an interview with Ning (originally published in “Vanish” magazine) regarding her “Extreme Inversion” mega stunt.
Why this particular stunt and how did you come up with it?
I’ve been performing a strait jacket escape in my stage shows for years, done the ‘Magic Babe’ way as a cheeky sexy striptease. But earlier this year, I wanted to evolve the routine and make even more interesting so I started doing a double strait jacket escape, which is rather uncommon. I debuted this in Saint Vincent, Italy during the “Masters of Magic” convention and it got great responses. Since then, it’s been a featured highlight in my show all around the world.
In 2009, I did a upside down single straight jacket escape above a bed of spikes but without a burning rope. So, it was only natural to want to try an upside down double strait jacket escape since no female magician has performed it before. When the opportunity arose to present a spectacular stunt in Genting, this was the first idea that we proposed and the show producer and management at Resorts World Genting loved it. The rest is history.
Were you nervous trying something like this?
Honestly, no, even though I only got to rehearse the escape once 35ft up in the air, without the rope on fire, on the morning of the escape. We were actually scheduled to rehearse the evening before but the coupling and cable from the crane provided was not in good condition and had to be replaced. However, the engineering company could only get the parts the next day so J C would not risk suspending me more than 1ft off the ground.
But, as you know, I’m an adrenaline junkie and I had faith in our equipment, my team and my ability to execute the escape so come the actual LIVE stunt, I was all zen and confident at performance execution time!
Can you share any technical aspects of the escape?
The strait jackets used are completely ungimmicked. The sleeves and straps are completely sewn down and spectators can thoroughly examine them. The jackets are custom made to fit me so I’m not swimming in them (small-boned Asian girl here) and the inner jacket actually does not have any arm straps. It’s a unique combination of jackets as most double straight jackets used a regular jacket with an outer sleeveless “transport” jacket. While the traditional set is a more legitimate and effective restraint, the escape as a performance is not as dramatic or visual for the audience, if you think about it. That’s the reason I opted with my combination set.
J C is the brains behind the upside down rigging system since he’s the genius designer behind all our mega stunts. His upside down escape rigging system is very safe (as safe as such an escape can be) and is very stable. It has multiple connection points to ensure weight is evenly distributed and in the unlikely event that one connection breaks, there are multiple back-ups. In reality, any one point is actually enough to sustain my weight and the weight of the rigging. All components are marine-grade equipment and tested to hold certain weights. We have a safety factor of 5 for each component. Another feature of J C’s rigging is that after I’m lowered down, it allows me to unhook and dismount myself gracefully on stage after the escape. The last point is an important aspect of the rigging design that many do not take into account.
So you can probably guess, one thing I’m not crazy about is the ending finish of a lot of upside down straight jacket escapes. Due to the rigging systems, after the dramatic escape, the performer has to be lowered to the ground, often flat on their back and the crew has to untie his/ her legs before he/ she can stand up and receive applause. This can take some time and is very anticlimactic when it comes to presenting the escape as a smooth, dramatic performance. The best dismount I’ve seen is by Kristen Johnson who performs a single jacket escape but also unhooks herself gracefully up in the air and literally absails down with a self contained belay system. It is ingenious and beautiful! Kudos to her 🙂 Luis de Matos also has a great rigging system that allows for a graceful ending. Of course, David Copperfield had a dramatic last-minute escape in his “Fires of Passion” special. Robert Gallup has a “kicker” ending that is unexpected and thrilling.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring escape artists?
Safety before ego, and er, don’t die.
Seriously, when attempting any kind of escape, please make sure you have trained and experienced professionals supporting your stunt. I’ve heard, in horror, stories where eager but tragically uninformed performers do an upside down escape by simply wrapping chain around their ankles. Not only is this incredibly dangerous (and stupid) as a rigging system, the chain can cut off blood circulation to your feet and cause severe injury.
So please do proper research and talk to real professionals for advice before risking life and limb (literally)!!
If you enjoyed this article, you can check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014” upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.
Before an illusion makes it to the stage in front of a live audience, there is a process of producing the performance so that it gets to the point of being stage ready.
Every illusionist has his/ her own approach to producing an illusion performance. While I cannot speak for anyone else except for myself, this article explores the process that Ning & I adopt. It has been refined over years of professional performing and maybe you might find something of value that you can apply to your own illusion production process.
We have three stages of our process:
Pre-production is done before we physically fabricate or order the illusion.
We create the conceptual storyboard and think how we can make the performance and presentation of the illusion “ours”. Specifically, we try to design elements or sequences that are original and make the performance unique. We never intentionally perform an illusion similar to anyone else in the world.
Personally, we can’t see why magicians will spend so much money, time and effort just to perform the Fire Cage/ Fire Spiker/ Suspended Animation like Hans Klok or the Wakeling Sawing like Mark Kalin & Jinger or the Sub Trunk like the Pendragons did or Snowing like Kevin James.
While it is impossible to create exact refinements and performance twists without the physical prop, we are experienced enough to know what will generally work and often come up with several “outs” in the event things don’t work out. There have been times that we had to do complete reworks because the mechanics of the illusion did not allow us to perform it the way we wanted. But, this is rare.
The point is, we plan out the entire performance of the illusion from the starting pose to the finale pose, choreography, movement, design, lighting, special effects, modifications and extra props before we even get the illusion. This is written down and even drawn out as a storyboard most of the time.
Pre-production also includes music selection and design. Music selection alone can take weeks. If I’m lucky, I find a piece after 12 hours of searching. Thank god for the Internet! Traditionally, I would have to spend hours a day at Borders or HMV sampling music. And later, when I shifted to licensed music, it would be a game of hit or miss with production music libraries.
After selecting the piece of music we want to use for the illusion, I lay out the track and edit it with a music editing software. I design the music based on our conceptual choreography of the illusion and design specific moments in the performance which must change or build up. It is during this time that I also get a gauge of the duration of the performance.
Pre-production generally takes between one to two months.
Besides making practice and rehearsals more productive and efficient because we do so much work in pre-production, it also ensures we are making a good investment as we have mapped everything out.
In fact, we have not followed through with illusions because our pre-production work did not convince us the illusion was worth the while or was different or good enough to add to the show.
The practice sessions refer to the learning and practicing of the illusion method, handling and technical movements of the illusion. This is akin to learning sleights required for a card routine. Repetition, review and fine-tuning is emphasized during this period.
Practice for illusions also includes blocking through the choreography of the illusion, stage movement, stage set-up, economizing actions and timing the performance to music (that is edited and fine-tuned as necessary).
All bad habits are eliminated in this early stage so they do not set in later when they are harder to break.
This part of the process requires a structured approach and is generally broken down over several days or two weeks, depending on the complexity of the illusion and assuming we are practicing at least 4 days a week.
We set milestones and generally break down the performance into three parts. On the first day(s), our goal is only to learn and practice the first part of the illusion. Subsequently, we reach the other milestones.
We also set aside time for individual practice sessions for specific parts of the illusion before coming together as a team to practice.
Practicing is done in front of wall length mirrors in our studio, similar to mirrors in a dance studio.
So, the learning and practicing of the illusion is progressive and not rushed. We found this to be the most productive and effective way to practice an illusion.
Rehearsals start only when practice sessions are completed. By this time, the technical handling and choreography must be mastered and everyone must be familiar with their individual roles.
The goal of rehearsals is to perfect the performance of the illusion and make it artistic/ entertaining. The choreography is also tightened so that there is no wasted action. Music is edited as necessary to reflect the changes. Sound effects and sound beds are also added in to enhance the performance.
If stage crew members are needed in the performance of the illusion, they are involved in the rehearsals.
Rehearsals are no longer performed in front of the mirror. This is so that we do not become mirror dependent. Many times, performers who only rehearse in front of a mirror develop a dependency or comfortable zone with the mirror. As such, when they perform in front of a live crowd for the first time, they freeze up or get lost because they cannot see themselves. Instead, rehearsals are filmed for review so that adjustments can be made.
Depending on the complexity of the illusion, rehearsals take between 2 – 4 weeks.
Our typical entire production period for an illusion is about 3 – 6 months, not counting the build time or delivery of an illusion, if purchased from a builder.
However, an illusion can also take years to get from plan to stage. For example, we have a completely original theatrical illusion act, different from anything we have done before, but it will take maybe three years to complete. I came up with the first design in 2011 and it went through at least a dozen changes and redesign. We have finally settled on the final design (in 2013) but due to our busy schedule, will likely only be able to build it next year. I’ll keep you updated in the progress of that illusion so check back with this website from time to time.