“Advancing” Your Shows
“Advancing” is the process of gathering your requirements and speaking with the client to make sure they’re handling all necessary arrangements with regard to your requirements. If you think that you don’t need to advance your gigs, this article may change your mind!
Even part-time, close-up magicians can borrow a few pages from the contracts the big boys use. You see, large-scale performer contracts include what are called “technical riders”. Where a “hospitality rider” covers things like food & drink, hotels, transportation, and “no brown Smarties”, the “technical rider” will make sure equipment & venue-related matters are satisfied. Rider items are often viewed as; a) things that will help make sure every facet of show day is arranged such that way that the day runs smoothly, and, b) things that help to make sure the artist, and his/her support staff, are in a the best possible frame of mind so that they can provide their best possible performance. While this might seem a little grandiose for you to use yourself, remember that your own list will represent your own act, and is intended to be functional, as opposed to frivolous. If you require contracts or letters on confirmation, consult a lawyer. If however, you decide to work without signed agreements, advancing your show will help to make sure everyone’s happy at the end of the show.
By the way, if you think your act doesn’t warrant the use of signed contracts & riders, I think you’re wrong! A good contract offers clarity to the foreseeable, and protects both parties. Even if you decide to forego written contracts, though, the employer and the venue should also get a copy of your stage plot and input list.
Let’s look at four of examples.
- You arrive at a local theatre, only to discover that the house policy, in line with local fire regulations, will not allow you to use your smoke machine, flash pots, or even finger flashers! Since this has cut your 40-minute show to 15 minutes, you’re in trouble. It would have been great to know this in advance.
Advancing the show would have included mention of the fact that show included smoke & fire effects, and everyone would have been saved a lot of stress & embarrassment. You may even have been able to secure another venue in the same market.
- Let’s say a local restaurant owner is a huge magic fan, has filled a small room to capacity, and you’re being well paid for an up-close & personal table act. What a great opportunity! The problem is, so many people wanted to see the show, that he sold every seat. That’s right, there will be people sitting right at your elbows, and even behind you, so you’ll be flashing half your act! He’s not gonna have any of his patrons move, because every one of them is worth about $200 including their ticket, food & drink, and all of the other seats are filled.
By advancing the show, you could have told the restaurant owner about “sight lines”, and you could have suggested his using stools for seating behind the second row of chairs so that more people could see the show without jeopardizing your “angles”.
- A well-meaning hospital board member has hired you to do your mentalism act at a hospital. Sounds harmless enough, right? What about if, when you arrive, you see that it’s in the hospital’s psychiatric wing? Now I am most certainly not making fun here, but dong a mind-reading act for a room full of people with psychiatric conditions could be hurtful and even dangerous.
Had you advanced the show by asking for a description of your audience, and stating that your show includes the illusions of mind-reading and spirit-summoning, the board member may have been able to schedule you for another wing.
- Finally, you tell the promoter that you need “a wireless mic”, and you show up to find there’s a handheld mic (without a floor stand), and like every other two-handed magician in the world, you use both hands throughout your entire act. @$%&!
Had you specified that you need a “wireless lav mic”, or a “wireless headset mic”, you’d have been covered.
How To Advance A Show
Advancing doesn’t have to be overly involved, but it does need to cover all the bases. Experience will tell you what you need to cover, and it should change as you live through more “horror stories”. Just make sure that every horror story results in an update of your “advance list”.
Here are a few ideas that you might consider for your own advance list. Remember, don’t be a control freak, but make sure you include everything necessary to help ensure a great show for you, for your audience, and for your employer. Consider that to ask for unnecessary items is disrespectful and wasteful, and will likely be taken as such by your employer, so, don’t be greedy … Be professional. Also keep in mind that the best way to ensure some of these things might be to handle them yourself. Maybe you should arrive with your own power cords & PA system … Maybe not. It’s your call.
- Seating – It’s entirely possible that your employer doesn’t know that your type of magic is best viewed up close and seated, or that it can be seen very well from as far away as 100 metres/yards, or that you’ll personally move from table to table.
- Electrical Power – Do you need wall power for your PA or lights, or for your onstage “show controller” or fog machine? Exactly where do you require this power to be? Stage left/right? Centre stage? Will the fuse/breaker panel be locked? Who has the key?
- Follow Spot – Do you need a follow spot? Do you need someone to operate it?
- Dressing Room – Do you need a place to change? Does it need to lock? Who can have access to unlock it? Do you need a place right next to the stage for quick costume changes?
- Lights – What stage lights do you require? Keep your requirements as easy-to-satisfy as possible. If you specify fancy lighting instruments, you’ll just be met with disappointment at lots of gigs. If you require the client to provide lighting equipment, stick to items which are readily available in every locale. If you’re going into a theatre, ask the employer if it’s okay for you to contact their production staff. If you don’t know your stuff, don’t try to bluff theatre professionals! Tell them what your show consists of (in layman’s terms), and ask what’s available for your show. Make sure someone will be available to operate the lights, even if they just need to be turned on at the beginning of your show, and turned off at the end. Always provide a cue sheet, even if they just need to be turned on at the beginning of your show, and turned off at the end, because there is no other way to help ensure this happens according to plan.
- By the way, will someone be on hand at the house (audience) lighting controls to bring the lights up/down at your request when you enter the audience, or when you ask for a volunteer?
- Sound System – Is your host providing audio equipment, or are you expected to? What audio equipment do you require? Do you need to plug in your laptop or other media player? If so, will you operate it from on stage, or will you need the audio person to run it? Make sure someone will be available to operate the audio stuff. Always provide a cue sheet, because there is no other way to help ensure this happens according to plan, no matter how simple your show is. The sound person and the employer should also get a copy of your stage plot and your input list, and you should also take copies of these to the gig with you.
- Load-In – What is the “load-in” like? Are stairs involved? Ramps? Long hallways?
- Parking – Do you need parking for your car/truck?
- Access to venue – When are you expected to load in? Is there a time during which you need the performance area to be void of spectators? Remember that, in a bar or restaurant, this may be impossible.
- Directions – Make sure you are given exact directions, and a map, including the exact location of your “loading” door.
- Venue Staff – Who should you speak to when you arrive? When will they arrive?
- Stagehands – Do you need anyone to help load your equipment in/out of the venue? How many people? At what times?
- Stage – How much stage area do you need? Do you need offstage space to store props? Again, make sure the sound person gets a copy of your stage plot in advance, and take anther copy with you to the gig.
- Merchandise Seller – Do you need someone to sell your merchandise in the lobby? If so, make sure they’re there early enough so that you can both agree on what merchandise you’ve provided so that you’re both clear on what he/she is responsible for.
- On-Stage Intro – Will someone introduce you as you enter the stage? If so, write your own intro, and ask the MC to read it as written! Professional MCs are few and far between, and there’s no telling what your introduction will sound like if you don’t call the shots.
- Sight Lines – Do you require the maintainance of certain sightlines in order to protect your “angles”? You might be able to control these with the use of “theatrical flats” (free-standing 4’x8’ set pieces), or with “rod & drape” (portable curtains).
- Audio, Video, Photo Recording – Will public photography or videotaping be allowed during your performance? If not, make sure signs are posted, make sure mention is made in your intro, and make sure the host is prepared to monitor and enforce this.
- Outdoor Events – If you’re scheduled to perform outdoors, make sure an alternate inside location will be provided in case of inclement weather. Make it clear that you’ll only set up once, and will not move the equipment to a second location for any reason.
- Fire & Smoke – If you use fire, smoke or pyrotechnics in your act, consult an experienced lawyer for advice on liability agreements. Not barring the preceding sentence, always make sure you make the venue and your employer aware of your use of such items. By the way, a “heat sensitive” system will likely not be bothered by stage smoke, but a “particle sensitive” system might.
Illusionist Ryan Joyce sent in this story, and it very clearly illustrates a couple of points on advancing.
At this town, we had a television crew coming to the show beforehand to promote that evening’s performance. We had one hour to unload 5 tonnes of equipment, get the barebones audio, full lighting (we run with six intelligent lights), and two illusions setup and ready for taping. The taping lasted about an hour, but caused us to rush the rest of our setup in order to be ready for the performance. Unfortunately, in our haste, we overlooked how much power we were drawing and the location of the fuse box (which BTW is quite often NOT located on stage). Needless to say right in the middle of an illusion, we blew a fuse and we no longer had power to any of our equipment. We were just left with the in-house lighting system. As an entertainer, I was prepared, and was able to not only recover, but really connect with my audience. My stage manager was able to get the power up and running, but not without a few stumbling blocks of his own. The next day, while eating at a restaurant, one of the waitresses came up to us and commented how she loved the show. When I mentioned losing power, she replied, “Oh, I thought that was part of the show!”
What did Ryan learn from this?
- You need to be aware of kind of power you are drawing and take into consideration older buildings.
- You need to know the exact location of the fuse panels.
- Always be prepared for any situation that arrives.
Jim Snack, of Magic Success Seminars, offered up some excellent ideas specifically about doing shows in schools.
“Once I arrived at a school to find the teachers sitting at tables set onstage enjoying their lunch. I could not set-up until they finished.”
“Another time, I discovered the school copy machine in the wings. Several times during the show, a teacher would enter backstage and begin using the copy machine!”
Jim also brings up the fact that you can’t assume you’ll have unrestricted access to things like the school’s lighting controller unless you make the necessary arrangements ahead of time. “It is typically the music teacher who has the key and who normally would not be present the night of the show to set up the dimmer board.”
Jim’s point also applies to dressing rooms, sound booths, and anything else that might get locked up in a school, or in any other venue. You can’t know who has what keys unless you do a thorough job of advancing.
Your gig can go well, and there’s certainly a great deal you can do to help yourself, your audience, and your employer see that happen. Taking advantage of the info I’ve offered here, and consistently & completely advancing every show, the quality of your performances will soar, as will your reputation!
Now, get out there and advance your next gig!