Barry Mitchell’s Show Formula from the Kidabra Yearbook 2010 Article
I don’t want to say this is a formula for ALL shows, but it’s definitely a great line-up for children’s and educational shows. I have made a few subtle changes over the years, but the basic formula is still the same. Here’s one more disclaimer before I get into the points - I don’t follow this for my adult audience where I’ll be doing a motivational speech. Otherwise, this is it.
Illusionists know to open a show with a rapid fire of “bubble gum for the eyes” – one or more strong illusions to establish to the audience they will be blown away. Since I’m not an illusionist and I haven’t looked good in spandex since college, I look for something that grabs attention quickly and plays as big as possible. For some, this might be a silk routine set to music with a big production. Or maybe it might be a production box with a Toyota Prius production. “Green” is hot now. Since I’m not a silk guy or a tree hugger, I strive for something like my CAN Opener effect, which is simple and yet big energy for the audience. Brian South of Creative Magic also has some beautiful pack flat/play big effects if you use an assistant in your show.
The goal of the big opening is to “establish the beginning of a great show.”
This is my hello and personality opener. For years I used the “What’s Next,” also called “Dot’s Next,” spot card effect as my warm up. I love it. Legend says, which means who really knows, David Copperfield whooped one out to fill time when an illusion broke in a show. Okay, he probably didn’t “whoop” it out, but you get the idea. I also use silk switch effects with palmos, dye tubes, and thumb tips. Presently my favorites are my “Hand & Eye” silks. However, any color changing silk effect is a great warm up. Billy McCombs “Half Dyed” is another great example.
The goal is to “establish your personality with a small and memorable effect.”
The majority of my shows are children’s church events. If you don’t do churches, you won’t need this piece of the formula and you can move ahead.
Ah, you stuck around didn’t you? At church events, I follow my warm up with a few brief lines explaining that all my magic is just for fun and there are no special powers, witchcraft, or Harry Potter. I use the Harry Potter name because it gets a laugh and there are some people really nervous about children being influenced toward witchcraft due to the characters. That’s not my concern during a show. My only concern is to set at ease the minds of those potentially concerned in the back of the room.
I use as many people on stage as possible in my shows, so I start early. I’ve found that my audiences really love my style of storytelling using volunteers. If storytelling magic isn’t your thing, just insert an audience involvement piece here.
My absolute favorite story to perform is my “Magic Box.” It’s a very simple light and heavy box, which uses four helpers on stage. It’s very funny based on how the helpers respond, and how I work with them. It’s very little magic, but six great minutes of entertainment. See for yourself on my You-Tube site. You can see the CAN Opener, Hand & Eye, and the Magic Box that were all taken from a live show. www.youtube.com/barrym2008
I have other story pieces that accomplish the same goal of bringing people on stage and helping them shine. Tim Sonefelt uses this same method in his stories as well as Jim Austin. I’ve seen other performers do this too. They are just two of the best.
The goal of audience involvement is to “establish a rapport with the audience.”
Audiences love to laugh, participate, and be blown away. But a great show must include a skill trick and a heart tug. My best skill trick is the cut and restored rope. My second best is, okay I don’t have a second best. When the rope trick doesn’t fit the theme of my show, I insert a puppet. I guess I think talking with my hand is a skill. It’s been working for me for years in children’s shows. I’m not a vent, so I either use a taped script or the puppet forces me to move my lips so he won’t be the only one talking.
The goal is to “establish your ability.”
MORE AUDIENCE INVOLVEMENT
At this point, I’ve done everything necessary to entertain and reveal my skill and winning charm. If you don’t have winning charm, I suggest you visit your local magic shop. Most have it available on one of their dusty shelves.
Since most of my shows are heavy with audience involvement, I do more in this section. If you prefer solo effects, you can use them here as well. This is also a great opportunity to focus on educational effects in your show. The time used in your big opening, warm up, audience involvement effect, and skill trick will determine how much time you have in this section. I usually only have time for one effect here because most of my audience involvement effects run six to eight minutes.
The goal is to “keep the fun moving.”
This part of my formula will require some explanation based on my different audiences. For schools, the heart tug moments are built into the morals of the stories. These moments, in many ways, are more for the teachers than the students. For family audiences, I sometimes use an effect with a motivational story. One of my favorites is a trick with a peanut and the story of George Washington Carver. It’s motivational and challenging. For church shows, I use this section to lead into a gospel presentation. My gospel presentation includes a solo effect to help me illustrate my points. There are many effects on the market to accomplish this.
Many Kidabra members have attended the annual convention in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and seen the Terry Evanswood show. If you haven’t, it’s worth the trip just to see Terry. His show is an example of a perfect show formula. Terry is the only illusionist I have ever seen use the heart tug effectively. Most illusionists spin box after box ending with a big animal finish. Nothing in their show is memorable other than big boxes. However, Terry understands the power of emotionally touching an audience’s heart. I could write volumes on this subject, so I’ll be brief in this context. People will not remember what you say, they will not remember what you do, but they will always remember the way you make them feel.
The goal of the heart tug is to “establish a friendship and unforgettable emotional connection with the audience.”
In the past, I would have called this my big finish but I really don’t finish big in my shows. I focus on finishing with something fun and hopefully memorable. I sometimes end with an effect that I have hyped throughout the entire show. For example, if I plan to end with the growing head optical illusion, I will ask the kids after each part of the show if they are ready to see someone’s head grow. Naturally they will scream they are. I simply say, “Not yet.” By the time the end of the show rolls around, they can’t wait to see the growing head.
In many of my family night church shows, I have back of the room products to sell. My fun finish is the product pitch using an audience helper and rewarding the child with one of everything. This is great fun, at least for the one kid. For motivational speaking programs, I also end with a product pitch, but it is very brief and preferably after a pause following the heart tug.
The goal is to “finish fun.”