Eight months ago, I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me that in only a few months I would have a Zoom magic show to entertain audiences around the world. But as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” As everything changed in warp speed for every person on the planet on a macro scale, one (very, very, very) small part of that was that a magician could no longer share their magic.
Similarly, magic audiences were left high and dry. That experience of piling into an enthusiastic hall to watch a magic show or having someone at a party perform jaw-dropping close up magic for you could be no more. So suddenly it seemed everybody in my field was calling themselves a ‘Zoom magician.’ But I wondered: do I really want to adapt the same magic routines as before onto Zoom and call it a day? My gut told me no.
Whether it was magic or theatre or dance that I suddenly had to watch on a computer screen, it all left me with this feeling of it not being enough. It wasn’t the same as being there. But then the penny dropped. What if I made an online experience for Zoom that was all new and was designed to be something you could ONLY experience online? Then nothing would be missing. That became my plan.
Debut Shows for Charity
So that idea was already knocking around in my head. Then I got an email from someone at a charity that I’ve supported for the past seven years. It’s the inspirational Breathe Magic programme that teaches magic as occupational therapy to children that have hemiplegia. (Here’s a post about my experiences there). The email was a call-out for ideas for a big fundraiser. They were setting it up to celebrate Breathe Magic’s 10th birthday.
I immediately knew what to do! I would create a new Zoom magic show. It would debut as part of a 10-show fundraiser for the Breathe fundraising challenge. It would be a great goal to get my act together for (literally) and in the meantime I’d become an official Zoom magician. Best of all, it would raise money for this wonderful cause. (If you read this post before 7 November, 2020, you can still catch one of the public Zoom shows to raise money for Breathe Magic. Visit the Eventbrite page for full details.)
My Zoom Magic Show: The Making Of
As always, to have an idea is one thing. To make it happen is another. I went for the Zoom platform because it’s the one that most people use. But there is a very steep learning curve to find out how to make this exchange effective on software designed for business meetings! The biggest shock is that everyone watching needs to be on mute. That means the usual feedback of laughter and applause becomes only visual. (It translates into ‘sign language’ applause, in case you wondered). As a performer, this is a huge shift in ‘feeling’. You do not have that immediate audience feedback to gauge how you’re doing. The same as with in-person shows, a Zoom magician needs valuable audience feedback to hone their craft.
To get up to speed with all the ins-and-outs, I took a course taught by a magician who had done hundreds of Zoom magic shows already. Learning from his experience saved me – and my first audiences – a lot of unnecessary grief. I also transformed my Old Street magic studio into a broadcasting studio and tested the best ways to video what I had in mind. And running parallel to all this, I dove into six weeks of research and development for material that would be completely interactive for all participants. Then I tested it all on ten Zoom audiences. They gave feedback on the material so I could continue to hone it to make it ready for opening night. (Remember what I said about a good magician needing audience feedback?)
Anyone will admit: the idea of attending a Zoom magic show sounds strange at first. But as the public shows have hit cyberspace over the past month, I’ve had lots of unexpected pleasures from it as well. First, the experience of having people all over the world join together in a shared encounter has been pretty wild. The scattered audience truly does come together in each show.
for a triumphant moment in 2020,
really is obliterated in every show.
I tried to craft ways in the show of making it feel we are all together. I wanted to help audiences forget about social distancing, even if for a little while. To see it working as audiences connect with ‘new friends’ is a thrill. Of course that connectedness happens naturally between family members and friends who are watching the same show. But the surprise has been when audience members have commented about the ‘chemistry’ in the group of people they’ve never met.
The feedback has been encouraging. Someone said it’s the most fun they’ve ever had on Zoom. Another person wrote me after the show to say: “this is one of the very few positive things that have come out of Coronavirus!” So, while the show is growing and changing very quickly, it’s already exciting to see early signs of it helping bring some unexpected joy and wonder to the pandemic. Find out how to book my online magic show. I hope to share it with you soon!
Thanks for coming along. Say hello and drop me a note in the comments below. I hope to see you again after a few more turns in the trail.