The London Festival of Magic 2013

11th - 15th November 2013

Reported by Roberto Forzoni

The Magic of Magic Monday 11th November
Street & Alfresco Magic Tuesday 12th November
Mentalism Wednesday 13th November
Card & Coin Magic Thursday 14th November
Characterisation & Stagecraft Friday 15th November


Day Five: Stagecraft & Character Development

Another full house for seven excellent speakers in six sessions, all introduced by the delightful Richard McDougal. Today was really another treat for anyone who attended with a group of first class lecturers offering their views on stagecraft and character development; so much information to help any performer elevate their stage / performance persona.

Session one: Terry Ward

A pleasure to see Terry Ward in the Festival again – and the perfect person to open a Friday morning session. Terry started by suggesting you ask yourself a question “Who Am I?” when you walk on stage. At Walt Disney World Terry was given a role to play, that of a talent agent who wanted to be a magician; he had to develop that character and started with a name (there was an officer called Warren Piece and a detective Willie Catchem) – and came up with the name Jack Diamond; most Disney characters had slogans to go along with their characters. Terry spoke about how you need to consider everything about that character - how the character might walk and talk –considering the cadence of the 40’s in his case, and the language that might be used (‘don’t get stuck behind 8 ball’); Jack Diamond is a ‘kinda wise guy’ who wants to be a magician but knows deep down he never will be.

Most of the Disney characters are larger than life, maybe up in your face, Terry didn’t want that for Jack and worked on four key aspects -fun, funny, likeable and interesting; One thing that helps him get in character is singing a song to himself before starting his day (he sings Sammy Davies song ‘if they could see me now’) and would watch 40s movies to help with character development. Terry suggested asking yourself constantly the ‘who what, why and when’ of your character and he would immerse himself into the role (thinks of his/Jack’s father – in role – his wife haita – ‘eighta’ diamonds – how he got there etc…). To the delight of the audience Terry then went into character to do a routine with an explanation before taking lots of questions from an audience with whom he really engaged. Terry Ward, a pleasure to have seen you this week – a true professional and nice (wise) guy too!

Session Two: Florian Severin

Florian spoke about his early experience with script-writing and how good movies were structured and how, perhaps, this three phase structure could be used to construct your magic act or effect. He compared the structure of some standard magic effects and spoke of how the structure of these effects compared to a theatre or film piece and asked the audience to consider the structure of their performance rather than simply showing a trick. One suggestion was to ensure the ‘second act’ contained a question. Florian spoke of how he structured some of his own routines e.g. the dating game (I want to make money) effect which he had in his previous lecture /demo.

Session Three: James Freedman interviews Andy Nyman

Andy started straight in by saying ‘there are no rules’ – could be some good advice in a book Click Here.

For Andy, whilst passionate about magic, it’s still a hobby yet it’s liberated him as an actor – James reminded Andy of one of his earlier business cards referring to himself as the ‘Table top grafter’ (apologies if I misheard the exact name), a persona that he got from a film he had seen. Andy went on to speak honestly and openly about his own character development and the way he had to get what he called a ‘teflon cover’ because of criticism and comments he had received. He spoke about how difficult it can be putting value on what you do as a magician and made comparisons to the film industry where negotiations that occurred years ago have been replaced with a ‘that’s what’s available’ mentally for many actors today!’ He had developed a ‘F You’ attitude in much of his work and life, trusting himself to make the right choices and those people closest to him for trusted advice - Andy would generally trust his own instinct.

As we know, Andy is obsessed with movies and theatre.. “if I see something I like I might incorporate that into my character. It always felt a cheat to me to do something straight out of the packet with the script as set; I would ask how can I elevate that or simply make it more me? So I would constantly ask myself questions”. Andy spoke about creating from scratch – like a Derren show or his own theatre productions – “it’s a difficult process…terrifying; there’s nothing more naked or exposing than the first time you create something and offer it to someone to see. With a magic effect I might start with what do you want to create? What do you want to do and what do you want the audience to go away with? How can I create a moment or impact that we’ve never seen – you have to take that first step, get ideas down on paper, from basic to really crazy… the start of that process is a terrifying …you’ve gotta kiss a lot of frogs…”. He spoke about the 8 weeks to write Derren’s new stage show… “You have to be fearless and not worry about being embarrassed - throw out any ideas and trust the process and know that retrospectively I’m very proud of trusting that process with the Derren Brown show and at the back of mind is always what is the worst thing that will happen? It flops, no one dies”

He reinforced the often said adage of asking magicians what they are about personally and also being brave enough to ask fearless questions. He spoke about Dynamo, Blaine and Derren being who they are in performance reflecting who they are in real life and that is what makes them. “Who am I ,..what do I want to achieve and can I do it a better - video yourself is almost essential when it comes to working on shows or effects" he suggested “you can frame anything for anything’ - you can frame any effect for any character – (even as far as dove act followed by mentalism, followed by cards etc..) but don’t do shoddy work, no ‘that’ll do’ attitude – eradicate that from your work – and don’t do anything where there’s a ‘I hate this moment’ – life’s too short”. Andy then demonstrated his new effect The Code which brought a mad rush to his limited supplies after the show (I’d ordered mine last week on line or I would have been first in the queue) - another gem from Andy Nyman, and as always, a privilege to share in his ideas, creativity and experience.

Session Four: Magic as Theatre Morgan & West

M&W started talking about comedy and what people’s pre-conceived ideas might be of ‘comedy’ yet, they went on to explain with samples, there could be so many strands and it could be theatrical. They spoke of the roles of people in theatre – from performers through to writers, directors, sound, lighting and set designers, stage managers and costume designers, and looked at what these would mean in context of a magic show. They went through each role, explaining how each component worked in their own world and how you perhaps could do many of these things yourself.

Stage management was about organising props and personnel; Lighting - from village hall to theatre – can you use lighting in a creative way even basic spots? Learn a little on technical theatre – its worth doing – working in a theatre ask the lighting guy how he does it!; Set designer – can be extravagant or basic as a table and chairs set on stage (how/why/setting tone) – they spoke of flexibility within their own stage set that can fit small and play on different stage sizes; Costume Design – could be intricate or basic again – but the message was think about it. Learn to sew was another bit of advice that got a chuckle (check; Sound design – more portable than lighting design – everything from walk on to walk off music – even with sound based gags – can make up for limited lighting, scenery and costume; Writer – difference between writing something and saying something in front of someone; Director- working with a director changed their act and changed everything!. Who can direct your show? Anyone including plenty of fringe theatre directors – a friend – preferably not a magician – yet you can do it yourself by recording it – listen to the audio first. They spoke about movement, stage placement. Facial expressions and emotions, freshness and feeling in your stage performance – invest yourself into the performance and be willing to expose yourself on stage (not literally obviously – unless your Tim Sutton). An absolutely first class lecture…again…well done lads.

Session Five on the subject of character: Charlie Frye

Charlie used many video clips through the presentation to demonstrate the characters and spoke informatively (and very emotionally) on the subject of character development. He started his lecture with some hilarious video clips of arguably the worlds funniest clown George Carl (who had started of as an acrobat) and used George as the basis of his talk; a second clip from 1958 on Ed Sullivan show and then Chas Chase clip (check out You Tube clips) showed exactly what he wanted to express during the lecture. Charlie spoke of people like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Fatty Arbuckle and how they were great in their own characterisations in silent film comedy. Their characters grew out of who they were – it was part of them – even many great magicians were reflections of themselves – from material and experience – e.g David Williams was quiet before finding his character, Bill Malone was not a funny magician before he found his persona etc. He spoke of considering how you look, how you move, how you develop (where ? - ‘every performance is a rehearsal for the next one’), work with who you are. (“That which you love you come to resemble” St Bernard of Clairvau quote) ,
An inspired lecture from a really genuine guy

Session Six The Alphabet Talk: Rob Zabrecky

Rob gave an insightful talk on his ideas of creating magic as theatre; he started with a little personal background and spoke of his career as a singer with an American group, Possum Dixon; he loved performing and playing live and told of his having a distinct point of view as a performer. He found a magic store by accident and purchased a trick that he ended up doing on stage whilst during the groups act (first time was when a guitar string broke from his colleague); it went down a storm and a green light went on – he visited the magic castle and was bitten by the magic bug. He has been in magic 15 years and appeared at the Magic Castle in countless shows.
Ron then delivered his ‘A-Z of theatre and magic’ talk: Acting, balance, collaboration, directors, evaluate, failure, growth, honesty, ideas, job, knowledge, longevity, magic-effects, nurture, open-mindedness, producing, questioning, risk, story, tommi (no people), understand your material, vision, write, X-factor, yes and Zabrecky.
A welcome lecture to end this year’s Festival of Magic.


© Roberto Forzoni, November 2013