As Covid-19 hit the events and live entertainment scene all over the world, artistes and performers such as myself have had to find new ways of reaching our audience, staying relevant and of course make a living. Some forms of entertainment such as music, may transfer more easily to an online environment.
However if your performance , like mine, needs to be seen as well as it needs to be heard and also be interactive, then the transition online would pose a bit more of a challenge. I perform on stage as a comedy magic duo, along with my puppet partner Stefano, whom I animate through ventriloquism.
When I decided to create my live streaming online show “Virtual Magic Entertainment”, I did my utmost to figure out how to translate what I do onstage (comedy magic & ventriloquism) to an online audience, without losing any of the appeal or uniqueness of my act.
The challenges I faced when transitioning online were:
- Making the magic interactive and visually appealing on a screen
- Trying to incorporate ventriloquism into the show
Here are the 3 key things I considered when I created my online show “Virtual Magic Entertainment”.
In my opinion, the key to a good show is effective communication. Every action needs to be visually communicated clearly. Every word and joke needs to be heard clearly. Any other subtleties that add to the performance need to be considered and implemented to achieve the maximum entertainment effect.
In fact the question of how best communicate my show, was the main guiding principle to the development of the show. Due to space constraints, I decided to do a close-up magic show where I would be seated at a table and the magic would be presented in front of me.
I could have easily performed my show by using my computer’s inbuilt camera and mic. However unlike a live show where everything is in full view and heard over loud speakers, on a screen there would be times when I would need to shift the camera to show a better view of what’s going on on the table. Also considering the occasional lag when meeting online, having to shift the camera would further break up the flow and momentum of the show.
Another thing I considered was the view from my audience’s perspective. I didn’t want them to only see a flat straight on angle for the entire show. So I decided on a 2 camera setup using GoPros since they’re small and easy to setup. Camera 1 would be a straight on shot where I can look straight at the my audience and interact with them. Camera 2 would be a top down shot right onto the table where the magic happens. This allows me to visually communicate to my audience what I, as the performer, feels they should pay attention to. In this way I would not lose any of their attention as I built up each magic effect.
I also had a microphone set up to pick up not only my voice, but also the ambient sounds (cards being shuffled, the opening of an envelope, etc). These are the subtleties which add to the “live”feel of the show. And to seamlessly change the view from camera 1 to camera 2 instantly, I hooked up a switcher.
Considering the fact that my audience would be watching the show from home, where there are many possible distractions, I would have minimized that on my part by focusing my audience’s attention to what they need to see and hear.
Most online meeting platforms were built for video chats and meetings. Appearing on these platforms to perform a show without any added production value would make the audience feel like they were attending yet another daily briefing, especially if it was just a flat straight angle for the duration of the show.
At a live show, the performer has the advantage of using stage lights, music, backdrops and even the stage itself to enhance the experience of the show.
To give the show the vibe of a performance rather than a meeting, I used lighting to properly lit up the frame on camera 1 and also the frame on camera 2 where the magic happens. I also used a softbox to difffuse the lights and an LED strip light below my backdrop to add to the mood and atmosphere.
It might not be crucial to the execution of the show, but as a professional entertainer, I feel it is necessary to give the audience the best possible experience.
Adapting the “Source Material”
The final challenge for me was translating what I do onstage (comedy magic & ventriloquism) to screen.
Onstage I perform with Stefano while an off stage assistant sets up and strikes the show. When performing on line, I don’t have an assistant, since the entire reason for creating the show was to be able to perform it socially distant. This was the main reason I chose to do a show focused on close-up magic. However as Stefano is part of my act and also one of the things that makes my show unique, I knew I had to integrate him in some way.
I toyed with the idea of bringing him up on screen for short interspersed ventriloquist segments, however I felt that would diminish how “alive” he was to the audience and therefore disrupt their suspension of disbelief.
I settled on pre-recording Stefano’s segments where he would deliver the premise and patter for an effect. But crucially, the moment of magic would be performed live by me.
This keeps the integrity of the live aspect of the show, while also staying true to my onstage persona.
If you’re an entertainer thinking of producing your own online show, or are facing challenges producing a show for your clients, consider your material, nature of performance and stage persona first. Only then will you be able to use all available technical resources to take your show to the next level.
Special thanks to my friends from BCube Pte Ltd for consulting on the technical aspects of “Virtual Magic Entertainment”.