How to… incorporate magic into a stage production

Peter Clifford. Photo: Zoe Mack
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1. Know the craft

Not just magic in all its forms (close up, illusions, parlour, stage and outdoor), but also the craft of storytelling in the theatre. Go on an acting/directing course, find out about the technical side of theatre. Know the environment you are going to be working in, all its components and how they contribute to telling the story.

2. What’s the story?

For me, in theatre and in magic, the telling of the story is paramount. The magic effect should help to move the narrative forward and not stop it for the sake of a trick; much as a stage fight should also be a part of, and continue, the story in physical action and not be a hiatus. Blend the practicalities of the magician’s method (the necessary sneakiness) into the action. Find narrative-driven motivations for what needs to happen. This not only keeps the story moving, but can also be very useful for hiding the methodology in the movement and action on the stage.

3. Get in early

The earlier you can be in on the production (ideally pre-production) the better; especially, but not only, with larger effects that will need to be considered and incorporated in the design and writing of the show. Be flexible and open within the creative process. Be clear about what is needed in terms of time to rehearse, practise (with cast and lighting etc) to make the magic work. (To directors, writers and producers: do consult with magical/effects advisers early.) When you see someone vanish on stage, they are really hiding... you just didn’t see them hide (Shhhhhhh. By reading this you have signed an NDA). Sometimes the actual method behind a trick can seem mundane so, if you can, show, or, at the very least, explain, how the effect will look before sharing the method... if you just tell everyone that the person is hiding it makes it harder for them to see the person vanish. The real magic is in the story that is told.

Peter Clifford (@carogmatic) is the magic consultant on the stage adaptation of La Strada, which runs at the Other Palace, London, until July 8. Clifford has worked with Derren Brown and David Blaine. He was talking to John Byrne