Stan Kramien – The "nitty Gritty" (part 1)

Columnist:
Stan Kramien

So you want to have a Big Illusion Show? So you want to be recognized by your peers? You want more than anything else in the world to be in show business? So you want to eat, sleep and breathe the Magic Show biz? Read on, I’ll show you how it’s done.

How much do you know about Creative Visualization? It is important that you visualize yourself working on your own big show/visualize yourself very successful, driving from town to town in a new luxury car. The audiences love you; you can do no wrong. Meditate, thinking only of your show, and how good it’s going to be. DON’T ALLOW ANY NEGATIVITY TO SLOP INTO YOUR THOUGHTS. Remember, you can do anything you set your mind to.

NOW, before you go any farther in this article, read that last paragraph over at least 10 times.

I guess this is the point in this course where you rush out to the jewelry store and buy a small gold pin that says “ATTITUDE,” pin it on and you are ready for some serious action.

ARE YOU REALLY A MAGICIAN?

Perhaps you should ask yourself this question before you go much farther in this project. I don’t mean can you do the double middle faro, quick change turn, middle, super move. I mean, are you a real stand up talking (“talking” being the operant word) MAGICIAN. Can you cut a rope in two and restore it, can you entertain a crowd with an egg bag, some linking rings and maybe a coffee can with some coins. If the answer is “no”, well don’t give up, it is not too late to learn.

I love the old classics, and always include at least two of them in my full show. In the words of my dear friend, Jack Barker (“DINON”), the classics are true works of art, that have been handed down to us, as part of our art form. In the hands of a competent performer, they reach down and touch something in the mind of the beholder that NEVER fails to bring amazement and laughter. They have a built-in entertainment factor. They must be developed, and mastered as a stepping stone to becoming a magician. They should never be in the hands of an incompetent. They are our heritage. They are always new in the proper hands. LEARN, ENJOY AND TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT.

I can, in all honesty, say that I could take a set of rings, a coin pail, a die box and an egg bag, and go out with nothing more and make a living. Can you say the same thing?

I ALWAYS, include the die box in my performances, even when I work the Magic Castle, in front of that highly sophisticated audience. One night after my show at the Castle, Siegfried was in the audience, I heard him say to Bill Larsen at the bar, “That Kramien is a nice man, but he is awfully old-fashioned.” So be it. My die box was and is made by Mel Babcock of Cashmere, Washington; a GREAT craftsman, who makes lots of fine magic. Ask him for his catalog.

Joe Stevens, (Stevens Magic Emporium, Wichita, Kansas), has all the videos you will ever need to teach you the classics of magic. Please do these great tricks, and do think of me when you do them, and have an audience full of happy smiling faces. You will love it the first time a kid comes up to you and says, “I have a set of these rings, but mine are different than your; one of mine has a hole in it.” Or the look on the kid’s face when he reaches in the egg bag, and pulls out an egg; or the looks on their faces as they keep their eyes WIDE open, and don’t blink, to see the die pass from the box into the hat.

Sounds so good, I think I’ll pack up my little case, and go out and do a free show somewhere for a bunch of beautiful people.

Now, let’s work on putting your show together, one step at a time…

THE BACKDROPS

You will need backdrops and frames for your show, so we will start with that issue. Many auditoriums you will play may have a stage, but little in the glamour department, when it comes to scenery or backdrops. Remember, you are selling a SHOW. The backdrop provides the setting in front of which your miracles will be performed. Portable frames will also allow you to play gymnasiums, where you can seat a lot more people. I worked the National Armory in Washington D.C. with the frame setup I am showing you. We played to 18,000 people.

When building the frames, do not use flimsy material. Use only the best. Steel is heavy, but it will last forever and will not blow down, as will aluminum, or PVC plastic.

For the basic setup on a stage, (24 foot of backdrop and two wings, you will need the following:


This setup will get you started. The nice thing about this system is that you can add units as you go, to meet any situation. Your show will look professional, and you will never again be forced to work in front of an old dirty, torn curtain. Use your backdrops always, leave them plain. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DECORATE THEM WITH YOUR INITIALS IN SEQUINS. (The sure mark of an amateur.)

(audience)

Although this backdrop system will cost you some money, it will last as long as you are in show business, and then you can sell it to someone else who wants to play show biz.

I just talked to Ray Grant, the genius who does all the costumes on our show, he gave me current prices on what VELVET drops would cost. You will need two panels for each frame, make them nice and full so they will hang nice. You will have a hem at the top for the crossbar to slide through, and a hem at the bottom for light weight change. At today’s prices (2000), the velvet should cost you $40.00 per panel and $10.00 per panel to have them made. So, you cost for the basic setup cloth is $500.00.

Your frames should cost about $40.00 for a plate and upright and $15.00 for a crossbar for a total of $395.00. So far a total of about $895.00 you are off and running with a CLASS set of backdrops. I have never found a backdrop from a magic shop that is suitable for our type of work, the only exception being Abbot’s JET SET, this is a fabulous frame, and we always carry a couple with us.

IMPORTANT: Have a crate made to hold the backdrops…take care of them and they will look like new for many years.

Well, now I have you thinking like a real, live showman.

LIGHTING

Almost all auditoriums will have some kind of lighting, and usually someone to run them for you. Most buildings are short on, or have no front lighting; and of course for the gym appearances, you are on your own. For years we carried two light trees, placed in front on the floor-one on each side of the stage. Hang eight lights on these cross bars, and you should get by anywhere, even doing a color change or two.

Most cities have several lighting companies who will be glad to sell you what you need in lighting. Be sure you buy heavy floor plates for your light trees. We don’t want the little children to knock them over, do we? Carry plenty of colored gels with you; they don’t last too long. Magenta and Straw are both good colors, and should make you look healthy and at least halfway alive.

Allow about $1,500.00 to the light poles and lights. Radio Shack now sells some highly portable light stands, and systems. I have not used them, but they do look good. Whatever you do, KEEP IT SIMPLE.

You find in builder’s supply stores now, halogen portable lights very cheap, and oh so handy, for load out, work lights and in a pinch, front lights.

SOUND

AGAIN, KEEP IT SIMPLE. Many of you who read this will be “sound freaks”, and you will love the excuse to go out and buy all sorts of exotic sound equipment. FORGET IT. Buy a good, reliable 100 watt set. While you can get more powerful systems, remember, we’re only trying to amplify a voice (and some incidental music) in an average-sized auditorium. For years, I used a 100 watt amplifier and it gave us more than enough sound anywhere we played. Stay away from elaborate “mixing boards” and other equipment meant for mobile DJs home stereos.

Don’t forget, you will probably have a three or four person show for starters and the most attention your sound set will get is someone running past with a prop in hand, changing a cassette.

I have used only wireless mikes for years. I just went out for lunch and stopped by the local Radio Shack and found a sure brand wireless mike with a great light-weight head gear, putting the mike right in front of your mouth for $40.00.

Here is basically what you need:

100 watt PA Amplifier w/ Mike Mixer$249.00
2 Tripod Speaker Stands$159.98
2 Speakers $398.00
8 Channel Wireless Port$ 79.95
Wireless Sure Mike$ 49.00
Backstage Mike w/ Stand$ 90.00
Dual Cassette Player $120.00
Total: $1,146.92

(These prices are taken from the current Radio Shack Catalog for the year 2000)

Let’s add this up along with the backdrops, and see if you still want to be in the Magic Show Business, or if it’s just better to keep drawing your social security, and watch the Pendragons on television.

It comes to a total of $3.541.92

Pretty cheap. Well, what are you waiting for? Call the welder, get a seamstress, go to the fabric store, hit Radio Shack and LET’S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD!

IMPORTANT: WHEN LOADING THE SHOW OUT, LOAD THE BACKDROPS LAST, THEN THEY CAN BE FIRST OUT AT THE NEW SITE AND FIRST UP.

Now that you have read this far, many of you are saying, “I don’t need all this equipment. I’ll rent a school auditorium and just go for it.” WRONG, you do need the equipment. From now on, you don’t do an act. From now on, you are a SHOW OWNER, and you are selling a complete show.

If this is not something that you want to do, then don’t waste anymore time reading. Be happy that you have been privileged to read about my weird life.

Now that we have this beautiful brand new setup, let’s put a show together.

LENGTH OF SHOW

In the old days the magicians used to do over two hours. Today, 90 minutes is plenty. Open with 45 minutes, then a 10 minute intermission, with time to sell the Magic Coloring Books (more about this later on). DO NOT exceed 90 minutes. I can hear you now, saying, “BUT GEE WHILLIKERS STAN, MY REALLY GREAT ROUTINE WITH THE BILL IN THE WALLET TAKES 20 MINUTES.” Forget it…the last thing you need in an illusion show is a 20 minutes routine of anything. Keep the show moving…keep the show moving…keep the show moving!

No matter how talented you think you are, or how funny, do not exceed the above time limits. Do yourself a favor, listen to an old pro, one who has done this for many years.

You probably already have a 90 minute show; maybe all your show needs is four or five major illusions to put you over into the full show category. Remember in the beginning, I told you to make a list of your eight favorites. This could well be your nucleus.

My son, who has a great sense of humor, and who is a fine showman, said a few years ago when we were booking all over America and Canada: “Dad, I’ve got a great idea… we buy a dozen 16-foot trailers from Wells Cargo; we put in the backdrops, PA. etc. Then we go to ABBOTTS and buy a dozen identical illusion shows…Temple of Benares, Giant Head Chopper, Canvas Covered Box, Levitation (Astro) and Thin Sawing. Our agents will book tours in 12 areas of the U.S., we will run an ad in Genii, and franchise the units out to 12 magis.” WE DIDN’T DO IT. (Although we still might!)

WHAT’S IN A NAME?
What are you going to call your show? Shall we call it, “Stan Kramien the Magician”? Well, unless your name is Stan Kramien, that doesn’t make much sense, and even if your name is Stan Kramien, it doesn’t make any sense if you want to draw people, and spark their imagination.

When Kathleen and I started building the big show, we from the beginning used a show name, first one was WONDERFUL WORLD OF MAGIC, then when that one became old hat we switched to MAD WORLD OF MAGIC. One day at the far, I asked Kathleen to think of the name of a well attended, well thought-of show that had played to sell out houses for years…right…ICE CAPADES. SOOOO, why not “MAGIC CAPADES.”

Bingo! What a great idea. We toured with that name for years, until in 1976, we sold the title, and the show to Dennis Loomis. Our next show, I entitled “MAGICAZAM.” I sold this title and show to a young man, Gunther Nash, from Colorado. “THE MAD WORLD OF MAGIC” title and transportation I sold to Mark Evans, of Salt Lake City, Utah. Our present show is called “SHAZAM!”

I guess what I’m really trying to tell you is that unless your name is David Copperfield, perhaps you would be better to lure folks in with a fun sounding show name. Now think about that. But then of course, there are those of you to whom ego is more important than money. Now really think about that one.