by Black Hart
Natalia and I were setting up the gypsy tent in a room adjacent to the banqueting suite of a large Midlands conference centre. The after dinner entertainment theme was 'fairground'. We were providing Tarot and Palm reading. We were amongst various indoor fairground stalls, such as a duck shoot, a coconut shy etc., and one of those 'try your strength' things where you hit it with a hammer and a peg shoots up and rings a bell.
The plan was that after dinner, the cabaret and speeches, the guests would be able to wander through from the disco and be entertained fairground style. All good clean fun. The organisers were keen young things. Now, here I put the emphasis on young and inexperienced. The thought 'inexperienced' popped into my mind when the fresh-faced youth in charge gathered us together for a briefing and said:
"Dinner will finish at 9.15 (pm), the speeches will go on for 5 minutes until 9.20 and then there is a cabaret (Moulin Rouge) until 9.40 then the disco begins. So, people will start coming through at 9.45."
Hmmmmmm. I thought. This will be the first corporate dinner I've ever worked at that ran to the timetable. Have you ever seen a Chief Executive do a speech as short as 5 minutes?
I could see from the glances exchanged, that the rest of the entertainers were of a similar mind. Oh the confidence of youth in the absence of experience. Well, we were set up by now and prepared for a wait of an hour or so.
Whilst waiting Nalalia and I amused ourselves watching the preparations. A problem had occurred. The 'test your strength' thingy had been placed in the middle of the room. Now this was fine when the room lights were on. However when the lights were turned off and we went onto the atmospheric fairground lighting the 'test your strength' was in a pool of darkness!
"Haven't you got any lighting for this?" Our young friend asked the amusement operator.
"Yes", came the reply. "But you said it was an indoor event and you never asked us to supply lighting." One nil to the operator I should say.
Then came much rushing around and gnashing of young teeth as the 'team' tried to decide what to do. It was clear that in their lives they had not yet met much adversity.
Natalia was watching this from the sidelines.
There were two spotlights on stands in the room. One was projecting the moving gobo of a ferris wheel onto the ceiling. This looked good and was very effective. The other was projecting a stationary gobo of undeterminable design into the roof by the entrance door. This could hardly be seen by anyone and did nothing to enhance the atmosphere. I could tell that Natalia was itching to say something.
Now, we do not normally interfere with someone else's arrangements, but Natalie felt sorry for the bright young things and went over to the young lady who seemed to be in overall charge and proffered her help.
"That spotlight and gobo in the corner aren't doing much. Why don't you take the gobo out and point the spotlight at the 'test your strength' machine?"
The girl looked at Natalia with astonishment in her eyes.
"I can't do that. I've paid for the gobo."
CLANGGGGGGGG, went the sound of the shutters quickly closing in her mind. It was so loud I heard it myself! Natalia could see that further conversation was useless and walked off.
"I can't do that. I've paid for the gobo." Those words are an anthem for the closed minded. She would rather continue to use the gobo to little or no effect, than to ditch it and use the light to good effect. Just because she had paid for it.
No, don't do something just because you have paid for it. Do something because it improves THE SHOW.
When I first began to perform my 'Black Magick Theatre Show', it was done to small groups of 5-10 at our Haunted House. Each show lasted about 15 minutes, and I did several each evening. My opening effect was a favourite of mine and always got a good reaction. Then the show was later extended to about 45 minutes and all the guests attended in one sitting. However I continued to use the same opening effect. The problem was that is was difficult for a larger group to see it. Basically it's a close-up effect But, because I liked the effect, I kept it in the show.
Gordon Astley (our Theatrical Director) told me to drop it from the act.
"It's a good effect", he said, "but if no one can see it then it weakens the act."
But, I liked it. So I kept it in. CLAAAAAAAANG!
Well, the next night I took a little more notice of the audience during this effect and I could see that it was not having the impact it used to. Damn it! He was right. A great effect is only a great effect if the audience can see it.
It was dropped from that show onwards. Yes, the act was a little shorter, but it is a lot stronger.
Now, lets put these two experiences together.
Have you an effect that is in your act, JUST because YOU like it? Have you an effect that is in your act JUST because YOU paid a lot of money for it?
If the answer to either of these questions is YES. Just listen for a moment…………..CLAAAAAAAAANG! Did you hear it? Did you hear the shutters to an open mind slamming down?
Every effect that you have must justify itself in your act. It must justify itself by contributing significantly to the success and impact of your act. If it does not, then DROP IT.
Just think back to the start of this article. If the organiser had taken the static gobo out of the spotlight and turned it onto the 'test your strength' machine, it would have improved the look of the whole event. People would have been able to see what they were doing on the machine. No one would have ever thought 'why isn't there a fuzzy gobo in that corner over there'.
But that would have needed an open mind, and she had a closed one.
Which have you got?
© Keith Hart September 2002