Magic in Theater Plays

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Tom Smith
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Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Tom Smith » April 10th, 2021, 1:50 pm

If anyone could help by naming plays that contain elements of theatrical magic, or could, it would be appreciated. I know Teller's work in this area with Shakespeare classics. Is there anything more modern? Thanks!

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Q. Kumber
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Q. Kumber » April 10th, 2021, 2:52 pm

I was called in to help with two plays, neither of which can I recall the name.

The first was a play about a salesman in a remote island where the islanders had a dark secret. The magic had something to do with a lid and a jar. Ali Bongo had helped with a previous production and as this one was in a Manchester university, he passed it on to me along with what he had done.

The second was in Dublin about 35 years ago for the Focus theatre group. A gun had to vanish in mid air. They showed me the stage lay out. The obvious and easiest answer was to put a piece of backdrop matching black cloth on the back of a table and have the gun vanish in the typical dove vanish as you toss it in the air. However as far as the director was concerned that wasn't acceptable as the text said that the gun vanished in the air. I asked what directions were given in the text. None. I pointed out that it only had to appear that the gun vanished in mid air, just like actors only appear to die. However that didn't wash so I left them to it.

David Ben
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby David Ben » April 10th, 2021, 5:23 pm

Not counting the six or so productions such as The Conjuror which I co-wrote for the theatre, I have consulted or created magic for the following plays or musicals:

Sisters (2018), Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead (2015), Of Human Bondage (2014), Travesties (2009), School for Scandal (2002); The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2016), Possible Words (2015), The Scarlet Pimpernel (2002); Ragtime (2012) and One Touch of Venus (2010). Other productions include The Wizard of Oz (2011) and Merlin (2002).

And Charles Reynolds, Jim Steinmeyer and Paul Kieve have worked on more plays and musicals than I ever will.

Hope this is some help.
Last edited by David Ben on April 10th, 2021, 5:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

David Ben
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby David Ben » April 10th, 2021, 5:25 pm

Sorry, the dates are for the year of the specific production, not when the works were written.

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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Edward Pungot » April 11th, 2021, 1:21 am

Regarding Jim Steinmeyer and Paul Kieve, although I've never seen the plays/musicals, I've heard the magic effects on the Invisible Man and Ghost were super cool.

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Q. Kumber
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Q. Kumber » April 11th, 2021, 5:09 am

I was at the world premiere of Ghost in Manchester back in April 2011. Here's the review I wrote for Duncan Trillo's magicweek.co.uk (updated every Saturday). Unfortunately later productions left out many of Paul's effects and from what others have told me the show suffered for it.

When director Matthew Warchus took the stage before the opening of GHOST, The Musical, he basically apologised in advance should there be any hiccups with the performance. Apparently there had been technical hitches right up to dress rehearsal. He needn't have worried. If there were any, none of us noticed and really I don't think we would have minded.

GHOST is part comedy, musical, and mystery thriller with a supernatural theme. But above all it is a love story.

During the week I rewatched the original film starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoppi Goldberg.

The stage version follows the movie very closely except for the pottery scene which happens while the character Sam is still alive in the film, but after his death in the stage version. It's the only scene that didn't work in the stage show.

As we're magicians you'll be wondering about the special effects, all devised by Paul Kieve. In a word, superb. Many of them received audible gasps from the audience, especially when Sam, played by Richard Fleeshman, walks through the door. Other major highspots are when the two evildoers are sucked off to hell. Far more spectacular and sinister than in the movie. And serves them right! Another scene worth mentioning is the passengers on the subway train suddenly floating up and down. All the special effects fitted the plot perfectly and show why Paul is at the top of his game.

The story moves at a good pace with Sharon D Clarke as Oda Mae Brown, the spiritualist, playing the role for which Whoppi Goldberg won an Oscar and playing it with gusto and passion. She almost stole the show.

Regardless of how good the music, the singing, the special effects, the scenery changes (which also were top notch using a semi-transparent screen with thousands of LED lights allowing for endless background changes), this is above all a love story.

So does the love story work? The chemistry between Sam and Molly (Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy) worked better than with any live show I've seen. There were many times during the evening when my eyes welled with tears and from the sobs around me, so too with the rest of the audience.

The audience responded with a spontaneous standing ovation. Though the cast need to take better bows. The audience definitely wanted them to take more than just one curtain call.

The show runs for another six weeks in Manchester before moving to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End. I highly recommend this show. It is better than the movie.

Tom Smith
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Tom Smith » April 11th, 2021, 10:24 am

Thank you so much for input! I should have been a bit more clear... I am looking for plays that could incorporate magic effects for use by a high school or community theater as I direct, not professionally, in those areas. I know that "A Christmas Carol" can have magical moments, and I've read "The Floating Lightbulb" by Woody Allen, and that there could be a vanishing cane to flowers / silks in "Godspell" but there my well runs dry. Any further suggestions would be appreciated!

Tom Moore
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Tom Moore » April 11th, 2021, 11:02 am

One that i get called in for fairly regularly (if you're looking for a proper, serious theatrical text) is Master & Margarita; It's the Russian variation of the western Dr Faustus plot, both have lots of supernatural themes running through them (sudden appearance, levitation and transformation) and iconic scenes where a main character turns invisible and interact with visible characters and objects. I've done everything from basic black art right up to hugely complicated thread rigs for the invisibility scenes and both texts offer the scope to do anything from the lightest theatrical "magic" through to some seriously hardcore effects depending on your budget and directorial direction.

Possibly not appropriate texts for community theatre but if you can make the case for them then there's a lot to get your teeth in to magically.
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Q. Kumber
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Q. Kumber » April 11th, 2021, 2:21 pm

The play I referred to in the second post above would be ideal as the production I was involved in was done by university students.
From memory they didn't have much scenery either.

I've trawled back through my emails and found this:

Hello, I am writing to you on behalf of the MMU Capitol Theatre in
Manchester. We are currently rehearsing a play in which a difficult magic
trick is performed. I was wondering if you are available to come and teach
this trick to the actor? I obtained your email address through Ali Bongo who
was the magic adviser on the original performance. Here is an extract of the
script which involves the trick:-

Extract from 'Further than the furthest thing' by Zinnie Harris

'Mr Hansen: Let me show you something

He eats the egg quickly putting several mouthfuls into his mouth. Mr Hansen
holds up his empty eggshell to show them. He swallows.

Mr Hansen: See, nothing there.

He places the egg on the table and smashes it into fragments with his fist.
He then takes out a handkerchief and puts the egg fragments into it. He
blows on the bundle. Then he opens up the handkerchief again and produces a
glass jar.

Mill: Where is the H'egg shell gone?

Mr Hansen: Vanished

He shows her the handkerchief which is empty. He also shows her his two
hands and shows that there is nothing up his shirt sleeves.'

He then repeats the trick.

'Mr Hansen picks up the jar and wraps it in the handkerchief. He bangs the
whole lot down on the table. He blows on it. He opens the handkerchief to
reveal a new, differently coloured intact egg'

He then repeats the trick a third time.

'Once again he puts the egg in the handkerchief, bangs it on the table, then
blows on it. He pauses, holding the effect. He opens the handkerchief to
reveal a handful of coins.'

Unfortunately the actor has no magic skills and so the simpler you can make
the trick the better.

Ted M
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Ted M » April 11th, 2021, 9:36 pm

What were the effects in the Stoppard plays, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties?

Jeffrey Korst
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Jeffrey Korst » April 12th, 2021, 2:30 am

There are a lot of opportunities for magic in "Pippin"

David Ben
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby David Ben » April 12th, 2021, 5:45 am

Pippin is an excellent choice. Peter Samelson was the magic consultant for it, I believe, both on Broadway and on Tour.

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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby David Ben » April 12th, 2021, 6:43 am

Stoppard, like many playwrights, has dreamt up magic-related sequences, and added them into a play as a line of text without any instructions or methodology in the notes.

In Rosencrantz, there is a scene where the main characters are betting repeatedly on the flip of a coin. Eventually the coin vanishes completely.

Given the time period of the play, and the fact that the production was staged “in the round”, I had one of the actors wear a small gibiciere, and I taught him Ross Bertram’s “Texas Topit” action, to ditch the coin.

Travesties was much more involved. Near the end of the first act, the James Joyce character gets into a heated argument with the Tristan Tzara character over, among other things, the meaning of art, and he illustrates the argument by borrowing Tzara’a hat and pulling out a large quantity of objects from it, objects which Stoppard specifies. If memory serves me right, it was hankies, followed by a long streamer of flags, finishing with a rabbit.)

Apparently most directors who leave this sequence in, that is the production items as directed, use a fake rabbit. Our director really wanted the bunny to be a live one. (He had never seen a production of the play with one.)

It turned out to be a superb decision, one that got a huge response every night.

The hat was easy to alter given the period of the play to allow for the production of the silks and streamer of flags. Very effective as the hat was “borrowed” from the adversary, and great actors can sell surprise and astonishment that permeates the theatre.

The bunny was a lovely challenge, not just for me but for the actor every night who basically had the bunny in a toppit-like pouch inside his jacket the entire time he was on-stage, which was significant. (I forget the exact time, but it was probably 15 minutes or so.)

So we choreographed movement with the actor whereby the hang of his jacket would remain open so that there would never be an unnatural bulge at the side of his jacket. So this meant figuring out lots of different stances and leans that would accomplish this, and gesticulations during the heated argument - choreographed to conceal the load.

Then, right out of Tarbell, after the objects have come out of the hat - a couple of beats and the cap to the argument- the hat is titled for a nanosecond as the actor steals the bunny from the pouch and makes it appear as though it is coming from the hat. The actor cradling the bunny gently, close to chest, pivoted around to face upstage, with the bunny peering back at the audience over the actor’s shoulder. (Beat) The audience realized the bunny was real by the way it twitched its features - the actor and bunny storm off stage center exit. Great applause.

I admired the actor’s courage and conviction enormously, particularly as it became increasingly more difficult to perform during the course of the run.

It became more difficult as the run continued because the bunny gained a lot of weight! Julie Eng is, in addition to her many other well-known talents, an expert bunny wrangler and, in fact, once had an entire show around her bunny “Poof”. So Julie created what we called a bunny condo that housed the rabbit, named Brigitte, backstage during the run. Well everyone was so in love with Brigitte that they kept slipping her treats. Hence the weight gain. At the end of the run, one of the stage crew adopted Brigitte.

One of the best reviews I ever received related to my work was by a critic who compared this Toronto-based Soulpepper production of Travesties with the original London production. The rabbit in Toronto, he wrote, was “definitive.”

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Richard Kaufman » April 12th, 2021, 11:54 am

Great! Thanks David.
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Bill Mullins
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Bill Mullins » April 12th, 2021, 6:14 pm

A local high school staged Steve Martin's play "Zig Zag Woman". It went very well.

Ted M
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Ted M » April 12th, 2021, 7:00 pm

That's fantastic! Thank you for the details, David!

Tom Smith
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Tom Smith » April 13th, 2021, 7:01 pm

Thanks so much, everyone! I will check these out!

Jim Martin
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Re: Magic in Theater Plays

Postby Jim Martin » April 14th, 2021, 11:46 am

Roy Benson was the magical advisor for the 1961 musical Carnival (David Merrick - producer, Gower Champion - director, featuring Anna Maria Alberghetti and Jerry Orbach).
Jim Martin
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