Two nights ago I was a Star…
Following on from the last blog and the interest shown by the comments I received on Twitter and Facebook, I thought you might be further interested by a deeper look into the life of an itinerant conjurer.
A couple of months ago I was asked to do a tribute show to the Great Lafayette. If you are from outside the world of magic then simply do a Google search and you will find a fascinating story of a man whose show was sold out 10 years in advance and who, if you convert the money of 1911 into today’s currency, was earning somewhere between 3 and 4 million pounds a year. Remember this was before sales of DVDs or arenas!
Of course, for a one night stand, it was completely uneconomical to recreate his show, complete with horse and full grown lion as well as a lot of assistants. No, this just had to be a doffing of the hat to his memory, informing the audience, and entertaining them with illusions that, where possible, would give the feeling of what he got up to in his show. Transpositions and quick changes had to be included. His friend was Harry Houdini, so there should be something from that great escape artist in there too.
Studying the show I found that some of his magical sketches would last 25 minutes, far too slow for today’s high speed audiences.
I decided on a range of illusions and asked Scott Penrose, vice President of the Magic Circle, to help with the show as well as to appear in it. Scott has a large collection of illusions and great knowledge of their use in West End shows.
Debbie was seconded to sort out costumes and I asked Paul Moran, who is part of the Van Morrison set up, and Keith Maxon my ex Musical Director for help with the creation of special bits of music.
One of the problems was that I was to do a show in the upside down cow on the South Bank in London, the Udderbelly, two nights before the Lafayette show and logistically it was not easy.
Slowly stuff was building up in my sheds and garage and on the morning of the Udderbelly show Scott came with a van and we loaded it up for him to get on the road. Sophie Wilkins (my daughter in the pantomime) was going to travel up with him to be an assistant in the show and they got on the road on time. Good. Then I packed the Isuzu Trooper with the stuff I needed for the Udderbelly and went into London. Thankfully Les Williams turned out to help unload and fit up (I am still not allowed to lift stuff).
That show was great fun to do even though it had different elements in it from my normal shows, and the audience even gave me a standing ovation…. rare from the British, but gratefully appreciated. There is a review at http://t.co/7Vt6zCO which is Steve Stubbs great site http://www.backstagepass.biz if that link didn’t work.
Packed the Isuzu, went home, but had to be up at 4.30a.m to pack a few bits from that show that I needed in Edinburgh for the Lafayette show before heading to the airport.
We got to Edinburgh late morning and the unpacking of the truck began. The Festival Theatre, built on the site of the theatre that burnt down, is HUGE. The stage is ENORMOUS. I closed it down a lot by using black curtains and the theatre had made a PowerPoint presentation of the Lafayette story. By teatime we had put most of the stuff together and placed it in the wings in what we thought would be the best places for ease of access. Scott and Sophie were great at helping and never stopped working for the whole of the two days we were there. I cannot thank them enough.
The staff and the crew of theatre couldn’t do enough for us. That night we had dinner and had no trouble sleeping at all….. until I remembered I hadn’t worked out the maths for one of the tricks!
We were early into the theatre the next morning to carry on with the fit up and also to train Sophie and the two local girls who were going to assist. Neither of them were professional dancers and it was tough for them to learn. I am sure they must have been very confused by some of what was going on.
Chris Davis turned up from our management and he was going to control the show from the Stage Manager’s desk by the side of the stage. We ran through all the cues, audio and lighting, and made adjustments. Regular readers know I do not listen to music so I kept my fingers crossed on the audio CD I had put together, but it seemed fine.
The theatre had found a fabulous front cloth which was a reproduction of a scene in the Lafayette show and with about an hour and a half to go, we started to put the props back in order….
In the next blog I’ll tell you about the show…