Using Kaizen to Create a Virtual Magic Show

Okay this all happened to us right on or about March 15 2020. But for me, I was on a world tour and Covid was chasing me around the Planet! I was in China in November then on a Cruise Ship in December and January when I heard China was building 1500 bed hospitals in a couple weeks all over the country. My thought was this is going to be really bad. Well by mid-March my world tour had taken me to LA at the Magic Castle. I was the last performer in the Palace and the last lecturer. The manager literally said it’s time to go, during my lecture! The rest of the day was terrifying. LA was closing and we were worried the airport and rental car companies would close and we would be stranded. Thankfully that was not the case. By the time our plane landed in Detroit my wife and I looked at each other and our phones had blown up. Every date I had booked for the foreseeable future was gone! I spent the rest of March nail biting and wondering what to do.

You know the feeling you get right before you toss in the towel? Something gives. That give was my local theater The Croswell Opera House asking me to come up with some kind of an online show. At first I thought about a live broadcast of my act but after I did some digging, that wouldn’t work. I asked for a week to come up with something. What I did was a Kaizen event of my own. I’m the act! Let’s call in my department heads, writer (me), technical director (me), magician (me), researcher (me) and together we should be able to crack the nut of how to do a live streaming show.

I broke it down into Streaming Technology, Gear, Magic Effects and Story. Each one of these topics was a full day of digging around and seeing what worked and what didn’t in the online world of entertainment. The streaming side had Zoom at the top. Gear I had 3 cameras and I found a cheap switcher and a sound mixer. Next up and this was the hardest was the magic. How can you do magic online? I bought books and they provided some help. Then I watched hours of magicians. I was seeing the exact same show over and over. I guy sitting at a table doing tricks with his or her laptop camera. It was great research. We made a do’s and don’t list for the magic to work. Do half of the show interactive where the magic happens in the audience’s hands or in their minds. Do tricks that have a story attached. Do a high degree of dexterity and amazing magic that is visually exciting. Don’t do just card magic. Don’t do boxes or magic looking props, they are always suspicious.

The final component in the Kaizen was story. The way we did that was simple but very hard to pull off. We started by looking for a story behind every trick. When that was exhausted we started looking at the atmosphere. What would that look like? I started practicing and filming in my living room and low and behold it’s mid-century modern. That was the set. Now we needed to figure out how to do the show standing up so I conveyed energy and depth. I built a table on wheels so it could go in and out of the scene to create more room and give a dynamic feel to the environment. Now we had mountains of material to work with but no character to “fit” within this world.

Kaizen of story concept continued into day 3 with props, set dressings and debate over what year these furnishings were. Clearly, we were sliding into a Mad Men feeling after we dressed the bookcase and fireplace. 1962 was literally pulled out of the sky. Don’t ask me how or why but that was THE pivotal point in our country. We were in a nuclear stand-off, space race, racial tension, Viet Nam, and the era of Kennedy. It was the perfect year for this show to take place. But who is going to pull off this Zoom show? I had always thought it would be cool to have a toupee on and glasses for my show just so I would be wild and “not me” on stage. That’s when it hit me, play to your strengths! I’m an actor! Let’s find a toupee and go from there.

The toupee was found, black glasses and I already had the correct era suit for the character. Okay, we have the time, place, character type but no story to fit him in. Day 4 we bring in our producer John MacNaughton and have a long day of discussion about who this guy is and how crazy can we make this story line and not have the audience NOT get it. After a long jam session we settled on Richard Preston for the name and the show title was Cocktail Capers. Richard’s story is as crazy as it gets but the audiences LOVE IT. He was a war hero and later became THE BEST ENTERTAINER / MAGICIAN the world had ever known. Richard was as beloved as any person in living history. Because of his popularity, Richard volunteered cryogenically frozen in 1962 to be unfrozen and perform for the first colony on Mars in 2062. Unfortunately, Richard was unfrozen in 2020 because the world needs him now more than ever to bring us all back together.

Once the data (ideas and methods) of the Kaizen was collected we got to work on creating a very bad show. Horrible is more like it. No one got it. The references to the 60’s were lost in translation and some of the magic took way, way too long. We had 60 days to fix it so we did a major LEAN and CI approach to fix all the bugs. By the middle of our run we went from a show no one would recommend to a friend to rave reviews from the top brass at the Magic Castle as well as the best magicians in magic.

So what does it mean to do LEAN and CI or Kaizen in reverse? Well usually you use these tools to FIX a problem not create one. Our “problem” to solve was we had nothing to fit into the live streaming Zoom platform, nothing, nada, zip, zilch! The only thing to fix was understanding the situation we found ourselves in. We were lost and had no direction. The only thing we could do was examine what was out there in streaming land, scoop it up and comb through it with the mind of a scientist. We did that and because of the Kaizen to find a problem that we didn’t understand we were able to create one! That’s the thing that I feel holds people in check. They fear the creation of a problem.

Problem creation, done safely is the only way we can learn and go or LEAN and Continuously improve…same thing. As a creator I’m constantly creating problems to solve. That’s how it’s done, you make something really bad…the first computer Steve Jobs made did not look like the IPHONE. You must make something sloppy and unworthy yet somehow new enough to create a spark to continue down that vein of inspiration. Eventually you will create something fantastic but remember you must create a piece of you know to inspire you to move further.

© August 2020 Stuart MacDonald. All rights reserved.


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