July 2009 Vol 1, Issue 6

Creativity For Entertainers Trilogy

Creativity For Entertainers

Welcome to the sixth issue of my Creativity For Entertainers newsletter.  
I know that a large percentage of the subscribers to this newsletter are magicians.  I also know that some of the other subscribers don't perform any magic.  Some subscribers are clowns and jugglers. 
I am going to try to meet the needs of each of you.  This issue has less of a magic emphasis than some of the earlier issues, although magic is included.  Magic is a major part of my performances so that is where I will draw many of my examples
I am trying to also focus more on the creative process which is more directly applicable to everyone.
My goal with this newsletter is to try to meet your needs.  Let me know which articles are the most helpful and I will try to include more like that in the future.

In This Issue
It's Nothing
The Method Isn't Important
HaHa -- Aha at the Library
Stagecoach Revisited
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It's Nothing
One of my favorite jokes is to ask somebody to look into a change bag and tell everybody else that there is nothing in the bag.  (Creativity For Entertainers Volume Three pages 211 and 216-217.)  They will usually do what I say, but it is obvious by their tone of voice that it is not true.  They can see that there is an object in the bag.  Then I say, "They are telling you the truth."  I reach into the bag and pull out the word "NOTHING."  Then I turn the bag inside out showing that it is now empty.
I originally performed this with poster board letters hinged using paper fasteners.  I got the letters at a party supply store.  However, the letters sometimes got tangled while pulling them out and they were not very durable.  In the early 1990's magic dealers sold words cut out of sponge.  These worked better but I have not seen them for a while.
Now you can easily make this and other words out of craft foam, also called foamies.  You can purchase precut self-adhesive letters to stick to a background sheet or cut letters out of foam yourself.  Another option is to use a permanent marker to draw the letters on the foam and then cut out just the outer edge of the word leaving the letters connected to each other.
You will find more ideas for visual gags using cut out words on pages 58 and 60 of Creativity For Entertainers Volume One.
I use a large cut out number four in my juggling act.  (After doing a juggling routine with three balls I ask if the audience would like to see me juggle with four.  Then I pull out the number four and juggle it with two balls.)  Sometimes I get challenged to juggle with five.  I keep a large number five in my prop trunk to pull out in that situation.  My numbers for juggling are cut from plywood because the weight makes them easier to manipulate.  When I perform at a birthday party I pose for a group photo with the kids just before I depart.  If the birthday child is turning four or five years old, I get out the appropriate number to hold in the photo.  As a result of this I did a party for every child in one family when they turned five years old.  Now I am going to make a large cut out craft foam number to hold in every birthday party.
How would you use cut out words or numbers as a visual gag?  What other use can you think of for them?

The Method Isn't Important
I was recently doing strolling entertainment at a large event.  Several kids of different ages had gathered around me.  One of the boys was at that pre-teen age of not believing.  I usually try to gain the respect of somebody that age by demonstrating some type of skill.  That day I began with a sleight of hand coin routine that includes some technically difficult moves.  He was not very impressed.  I did some card effects that really impressed the younger children but I got very little response from him.  Then I decided to use my drawstring change bag (Creativity For Entertainers Volume Three page 162).  I pulled a red scarf, a blue scarf, and a white scarf out of the bag.  I handed each scarf to a different young child.  On impulse I handed my magic wand to the older boy.  I had the younger children put their scarves in the bag.  Then I had the older boy tap the bag with the wand.  When I directed him to reach into the bag, he pulled out an American flag.  He opened his eyes as wide as they would go and exclaimed, "How did that happen?"
I got his respect by performing the technically easiest routine I did that day.  I am not sure why it had such an impact upon him.  It might have been because I involved him in performing the effect.  It might have been that it is a simple effect that is easy to understand.  It might have been that he assumed the things I did in my hands could be explained as "sleight of hand" but something that happened to props in a normal looking bag held at my finger tips didn't have an explanation.
It was an important reminder to me that the audience does not understand the technical difficulty of what we do.  He was not impressed by difficult skill, but by something that caused a sense of wonder.
Sometimes we get caught up in trying to impress other entertainers with our skill, but that really is not our job.  There is a juggling trick called Mill's Mess.  Other jugglers will sometimes ask me if I can perform it because mastering it is considered a "badge of honor."  I can't do Mill's Mess.  I can do something that looks very similar but is easier.  Only another juggler can tell the difference between the two tricks.  I have never had a lay person ask me if I can perform Mill's Mess.  Actually I don't perform my easier version in my shows because my experience with it was audiences didn't seem to respond to it.  Mill's Mess is a difficult trick that only impresses other jugglers.
Are you willing to use simple methods to produce the reaction you want from the audience?  Do you focus on impressing lay people or impressing other performers?  How effective are your routines?  How does your audience respond to them?
HaHa - Aha at the Library

In volume one I talk about the HaHa - Aha Connection which is using humor as a mental warm up for learning and creativity.  (Page 106 - 109)
I firmly believe in the value of libraries as a resource.  You can read more about that on my web site.  Insert link to library tribute.
My computer was down in May so I used the computers at my local library to do some work.  While there I realized there is an easy way to find some humor, browsing titles in the mystery section.  Mystery publishers like to use puns as book titles.  (Perhaps publishers figure PUNishment fits the crime category.  Sorry, I couldn't resist.  That is a line I just came up with.)  For example, Donna Andrews writes mysteries often featuring birds.  In one of her books a croquet mallet is used to commit murder during a croquet tournament.  The title of the book is No Nest For The Wicket.
In addition to being a humor warm up, the titles can also serve as inspiration.  When I was young a TV program I enjoyed was the Bullwinkle and Rocky Show.  They often used double morals to stories.  I can imagine a juggler performing a routine with croquet balls and mallets proclaiming, "and the moral of that story is in croquet It's Your Move, or There's No Rest For The Wicket."  That is another idea I came up with while selecting mystery titles to use as examples.  It really does work as a creative tool.
Here are some other titles.
            We'll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews
            Hocus Croakus by Mary Daheim
            Gruel and Unusual Punishment by Tamar Myers
The next time you are working in a library, browse through the mystery section.  What ideas do you come up with?  Where else can you find humor in the library?  How else can you use humor as a mental warm up?
To read more about libraries and how they can be a creativity aid go to
Stagecoach Revisited
In volume two pages 149-157 I discuss using comic strips as a source of inspiration.  I frequently cut out comic strips that appeal to me.  For example, the Mother Goose & Grimm strip by Mike Peters on September 3, 2007 showed an Indian facing a group of cavalry officers saying, "I'm a cavalry scout... stop calling me a 'search injun'!"
I cut that out and have had it on my desk ever since then because I thought there must be a way to use that in a clown act.  I look at it frequently to keep reminding my subconscious that I want an idea involving that comic strip.
In volume two I describe a clown skit called Stagecoach.  (page 11-12)  In that volume I use the skit as an example of Switching which is changing an existing joke to up date it or to make it fit a particular theme.  (See volume two pages 111, 112, 113, 168, 218, 386, and 392 )    I comment that some people do not like Stagecoach because it includes the concept of shooting somebody.  In my region it could not be performed in public schools because there is a zero tolerance of guns in any form.  Children have been suspended for bringing water guns onto campus.
I recently realized that the Mike Peters cartoon can be used for a Stagecoach Switch.  Here is the bare skeleton for how that might work.
Driver:  Now since you are riding shotgun I want you to keep an eye on things around us looking for potential problems.
Shotgun:  (Looking over shoulder)  I think there might be somebody following us.
Driver:  Can you tell who it is?
Shotgun:  No, they are too far back.
Driver:  We don't need to worry yet then.
Shotgun: (Looking back)  They are getting closer.  I think it is an Indian.
Driver:  We might be in trouble because we are still at war with some of the tribes in this territory.  These horses are getting pretty tired.  I don't think we can go much faster.  If it is an Injun, his pony will be able to out run us.
Shotgun: (Looking back)  He's getting closer.  It definitely is an Indian.  I think he might be wearing the uniform of a cavalry scout.
Driver:  (Looking back)  Oh, there's no danger.  I know him.  That's Little Big Bear.  He's my Search Injun.
That is an untested idea.  The next step in the creative process would be to try it out in front of an audience to see what kind of response you get.  Creativity For Entertainers Newsletter readers are welcome to develop the idea further and use it in a performance.  If you do, please let me know what kind of reaction you get.
If you perform it in competition, I predict you will get extra points for originality unless the judges also read this newsletter.  One flaw in competitions is that the originality mark on the score sheet reflects the knowledge of the judge rather than the creativity of the competitor.  I know of two cases where competitors won because they received the maximum possible points for originality although they performed a skit exactly as published in a skit book.  Those points were responsible for their margin of victory.  The only creative thing those competitors did was find skit books that the judges hadn't read yet.  I know of another case where an original skit was quickly and widely plagiarized so that by the time the person who created it performed it in competition the judges had seen somebody else perform it so the originator got no credit for originality.

"True creativity is characterized by a succession of acts each dependant on the one before and suggesting the one after."  - Edwin H. Land, Inventor and founder of the Polaroid Corp.

I have tried using the above quotation in my Thought For The Week newsletter.  I believe in what Land said, and have used the concept in my life and career.  However, I was not satisfied with the articles I tried to pair with the quotation. Only about 2/3 of the articles that I begin actually make it into my newseltter.  Every thing that you create does not have to be useable as long as you create enough to have plenty of useable things to choose from.  That is what Bruce Vaugh calls the Goldilocks Principle, you have to create enough things to compare with each other so you know what is just right.
So, I decide to share the quotation with my Creativity For Entertainers subscribers.
What does the quotation mean to you?  How can you apply it in your life?  How can you apply it in your career?
That's it for this sixth issue.  I am always interested in your questions, comments, and how you have been able to apply the information from my books.  Often readers come up with ideas that I would not have.  Their ideas then inspire me to create additional related ideas.  This newsletter is an attempt to keep two-way communication with readers of my books flowing.
Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy