You create the content for your show. It’s solid. The material is commercial. You know you’ll get good reactions from your audiences. But is there production value?
Production value is the combined technical qualities of the methods, materials, or stagecraft skills used in the production of an artistic performance. It matters not whether you’re a musician, juggler, magician, clown or comedian. Successful entertainers set the stage for their performances by applying a solid set of production values into their act.
So…what exactly are production values?
Production values encompass creating the look and sound of your show, turning your content into a full scale production instead of a bland showing of what might be some very good material. You always want to ask yourself, “How can I take this to the next level?” Probably the greatest example of production value is the rock band, Kiss. In the early days when monies were not abundant, nor was equipment, the members quickly realized it was about the show; the presentation. A wall of stacked Marshalls served as the backdrop on stage. Only two of cabinets actually contained speakers that worked. Man! What a statement that made! Without hearing anything you knew these guys would rock and it would be good! When the curtains open, this is the first impression your audience sees.
Even in the smallest venues such as dinner theaters, banquet rooms, beer halls and the like, you have to create the show, the scenery, the visuals that compliment or even enhance what you do. Everything doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands of dollars, either. Keeping an open mind will allow your creativity to take over and accomplish some pretty amazing things on a tight budget.
While I am a musician and have played out in many venues in another life, I’ll focus mostly on creating your magic show since this forum is all about the magic. Quite often, large venues such as theaters and clubs will provide a stage, curtains, audio and video equipment. There will also be lighting and sound persons at your disposal and usually one or two backstage hands. Most entertainers work the smaller circuits which will be the focus of this article.
Let’s talk first about the backdrop or background of your show. There are expensive portable backdrop systems that set up in a few seconds. They usually start at about $750 and work their way up to several thousands of dollars. For many on a budget, the first place I would look is a camera shop. Most of the more advanced photo/video stores like B&H in NYC stock simple lightweight background packages that are mostly used for photographers and videographers. A quick google search will offer you many choices. Expect to spend between $250 and $500 for an adequate system. They usually consist of 1-4 panels and 2 tripod stands along with carry case. If you or a spouse or friend can sew, you can pick up just the tripods and purchase your choice of fabric in bulk from a fabric supplier and create your own panels or drapes.
There have been many venues where a stage and curtains are simply not part of the package. How boring, or dare I say low rent, for an entertainer to perform his show in front of an exit sign or ugly paneling left over from the 70’s or walls that haven’t been painted in at least a dozen years! It doesn’t set the stage and create excitement for your performance. More often than not, this is the case for many entertainers. Creating your stage and atmosphere will have you stand apart from most of your competitors not to mention have you looking quite professional. As a magician who used to perform kids shows for quite some time, I always turned the room into a 3 ring circus so to speak. A side table to my left, main table centered and another side table to my right. A small portable backdrop system and the room magically turned into a small temporary theater!
Having a backdrop also allows for behind the curtain storage of cases, props, or even for you to hide for a moment before your grand entrance. If props need to be set, you now have a place to do so without the audience watching with a curious eye.
Part 2 of Production Values will cover music and microphones which is one of the most important aspects of your production.