Putting Together A Programme

One question that comes up again and again is how to put a programme together. There are enough tricks, but how do you choose the right ones and how do you put them in an effective order?

Experienced magicians intuitively know how to arrange tricks correctly, i.e. how to put together a programme. The inexperienced magician is usually faced with a big problem. Some kind of framework or system can help. As a rule, one is faced with two possibilities: a theme programme or a “free” programme.

The Themed Programme
It is much easier to put together a programme if you have a theme. The theme and the tricks that go with it give the programme a structure that is coherent. Tricks are shown that also fit the theme or fit into the theme.

To illustrate my approach, let’s assume that the next magic show is to be a “cooking show”. The performer will be dressed in a classic cooking outfit, which, by the way, is a very useful costume for magicians, as it can accommodate many pockets and hidden tools. In terms of the stage set, the whole thing takes place in a kind of kitchen, or at least in a setting that is recognisable to a theatre audience as a kitchen.

The Props
Once the theme is clear, I think about what props can be found in a kitchen and first make a list of the categories:

Crockery (plates, cups, glasses)
Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons)
Cookware (pans, pots, containers, kitchen boards)
Cooking accessories (spices, towels, rags, sponges, egg timer, scales)
Clothing (chef’s hat, apron, scarf)
Ingredients (vegetables, meat, fruit, fish, bread, ice cubes, fire)

Now I go into detail with the individual categories. Most of the time, ideas for tricks come to me while I’m putting together the “ingredients”. Or I realise while compiling the list that some well-known tricks could also be performed with other objects:

Beer newspaper
Milk Pitcher
Salt trick
Short-medium-long (with yellow ropes as spaghetti from a cooking pot)
Pigeon cassarole
Sponge ball routine ( rice dumplings)
Banana trick
Tricks with eggs (egg bag, egg production)
Confetti trick with peas
Beancounter
Money note in vegetable, lemon or whatever
Knife through kitchen towel
Tricks with water, milk and other liquids
Tricks with flour, icing sugar, salt, pepper, spices
Cup tricks with soup cups and olives
Dish tricks with oversized dough scraper

The magic props also come about by themselves due to the given theme: cooking spoon as magic wand, magic salt, “Maggi”, etc. Shelves and tables are of course designed in kitchen style: The main table is a modified cooker, the side tables can be rolling carving tables, the shelf is of course a bin.

The Vaudeville System
It’s a tried and tested scheme that helps you put a programme in a halfway sensible order and was the way programmes used to be put together in variety theatres. This applies to full-length programmes as well as short show interludes.

Over the years I have worked out a (greatly simplified!) form of this scheme. Of course, I had our needs as magicians in mind. A programme structured according to the Vaudeville system consists of five parts:

Opening
Humour
Middle section
Feature
End

I have used this system many times and it works very well. For full-length programmes with an interval, I have structured both parts of the programme according to this scheme.

Opening
In the opening, the style of the performer is presented. Interesting tricks are shown here to highlight the performer’s skills so that the audience realises that they are dealing with a performer who has mastered his craft.

The opening must make the audience curious to see more and, of course, impress them. Often, short manipulations to music are also a good way of giving the audience the opportunity to become familiar with the performer.

Humour
Next, incorporate a routine with humour. These are tricks with a funny delivery, visual gags, etc. The audience should see that they will have fun because the performer has and shows humour.

Middle Section
Here longer routines are built in. Tricks that involve the audience belong here. Mental routines could also have their place here. In short, anything that takes a little longer and perhaps requires more concentration from the audience.

Feature
This is the place for the strongest trick of the programme. The place for the absolute superhuman, the miracle that leaves people speechless. In Vaudeville, it was always the star artist that people came to the theatre to see, the headliner. For example, if you have announced a little “sensation” on your advertising posters, this is the right place for it.

End
At this point I deliberately do not place the strongest trick. In Vaudeville, they didn’t do it that way either, because in the last place there has to be a number or a trick that people can applaud. It’s all about the final applause, after all, and when the audience’s jaw drops from a phenomenal effect, they forget to clap because they’re so amazed.

What I pretty much always do is to connect the individual parts with a little intermediate trick or transition. It could be that after the opening I have a white cloth left over, which I then turn into an egg, with which a humorous trick is then performed.

The Menu
A good comparison is also a menu. If you put together a multi-course menu, you will also stick to certain rules and not serve the main course after the dessert. Also, in a good menu there is always enough time between the individual courses, and sometimes there are also little things that lead over and prepare you for the new course. You can see it in a similar way when putting together a magic programme.

Piano Method
If you don’t get on with the Vaudeville system, I can offer you another interesting approach. I came up with it many years ago and it has something. It is especially good for putting together a commercial performance, usually called a “number”, which usually lasts forty to fifty minutes. These are the commercial performances, usually spoken magic or mixed with music, that many perform at weddings, or corporate parties. At least this approach gives you a framework and orientation to work within.

Just imagine the keys of a piano, one octave. So that’s seven white keys and five black keys, the semitones. Each of the white keys represents a trick. The black keys represent the transitions, they lead—as in music—from one tone to another. So here come the “in-between tricks” or other little things that create a connection. These can be visual gags, humorous performance splinters or short tricks with a transitional character.

Once this is not so, namely between the E and the F. But that doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t make the sequence boring. This method works well and I have had good experiences. So it “produces” a programme of seven tricks and the transitions. I have found that programmes structured according to this scheme usually seem very harmonious and balanced (in the truest sense of the word).