A good recipe for magic?

Before we discuss a controversial topic let us just take a moment to look at the immaculate being… David Bowie.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

I stumbled upon a discussion happening online and was drawn to it like moth to flame.

Like Dee-dee wanting to press Dextors buttons in his secret laboratory I could not help myself but contribute. One reason was because I actually feel quite strongly about the topic that was being discussed. And two, because of the sheer number of people who contributed their opinions on the matter. Everyone who contributed appeared quite conflicted. Hence why I felt this would make a good blog topic. Allowing me to play devils advocate and weed out some more viewpoints on the subject.

The question below is also kind of linked to my previous blog post “Because you’re worth it!” about value in the magic world. Valuing ourselves, others and our art!

What is more important in magic?

  1. A magician never reveals their secrets? or
  2. A magician never copies another magician?

The answer is there is no right or wrong answer here and both things are incredibly important in our field.

Everyone had their own personal experiences and feelings to give a real heartfelt answers. However, I believe that I also observed a deep routed problem within our industry. But I am getting ahead of myself here let’s proceed.

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

Speak No Evil

I’m a bit like this. I try really hard to keep secrets but sometimes I get so excited I just spill the beans. I did this when my sister and I were taking my nephew to Legoland the month before we left. Put it this way if looks could kill – with the look my sister gave me – id be a goner. I did manage to worm my way out of the confession thankfully!

When it comes to keeping and withholding magic secrets though I have no problem at all with this thankfully. I understand that magic secrets should be respected and used in a respectful way to the creator.

But does that mean keeping the secret is more important than stealing material? I’m not sure on this.

Sometimes it’s beneficial to share ideas with friends you respect. So many ideas I’ve had have been improved by asking for others help. The saying two heads are better than one comes to mind here.

However the reason most magicians don’t tend to share with others is because of the fear of down right pilfering! And it is usually done without permission.

Ego trip: a journey to nowhere

My thinking it is if a secret is purposefully exposed for another performers ego or gain then that’s not cool. Particularly if they are a magician as they should know better.

I believe secrets are ephemeral in magic. They are here today and forgotten tomorrow by lay people. Why because they are not the one’s spending five years in their bedrooms perfecting a dam pinky count!

If something is revealed in a show we must remember that if not pilfered it should look completely different. And the context is different. I guess this is why so many magicians can get away with performing the gypsy thread so much.

I have seen acts using methods that I clearly know but simply have no idea how they are done.

Magic is such a clever art form. We sometimes forget how smart we all are at coming up with illusions to fool people. Even ourselves.

Most secrets when they are exposed they are forgotten. Particularly if attention is not drawn to them – hence why people have published material in books for so long. Isn’t there a saying… if you want to keep something secret in magic – publish it!

Thou shalt not steal… or kidnap!

A piece of the moon!

I quote the Bible here because somewhere along the line we all have come across this phrase. In school, church, movies. It’s a phrase that we all recognise.

Apparently the actual meaning of this commandment is more accurately rendered as;

“Thou shalt not kidnap.”

as back when the Bible was written kidnapping was a capital offence. (God I love learning stuff!).

The way I was brought up one thing you never EVER do is steal. And that means material too.

When we read or see a trick we like, the first thing we do is find out how it’s done. Then we wish to perform it ourselves. Which is fine if it’s creator magician has passed this on through a lecture or published it.

Let me describe an example of a situation. You are watching something on stage and really like the look of it. So you go home and attempt to recreate it immediately without permission from its creator.

This is a big no no for me. This attitude of seeing then doing is WRONG on all levels. And it’s part of the reason I feel magic does not get the same respect other industries do. I know it’s our intention to cheat as magicians. However to cheat our colleagues in our own industry I just don’t see how that benefits anyone.

Can an effect sometimes only be performed the way it was invented and performed by the inventor?

Apparently lots of people out there believe that once they’ve seen something performed as it was described by the creator, this is THE only way it can ever be performed.

This is an absolute ridiculous notion. I am officially calling bullshit on that viewpoint straight away – yes Nikola just brought profanity into her blog! Of course my boyfriend Tom gave me an example of where

this is the case – with crap magic!

The Why?

“If an effect is great when I seen someone else perform it. If I do it the exact same way I will get the same reactions and success.”

Magician’s have a long history of stealing ideas and I feel laziness plays a massive part.

We are so interested in secrets that when we see an effect it is too easy to imitate than create. It’s a pattern – and a bad one at that! This wheel needs to be broken.

This attitude is relative and it simply does not work – all of the time.

Never Grow Up!

Have we all forgotten how to play?

When we play freely we begin by imitating and then curiosity makes us experiment and try new things. Think of a child and a slide – they always after one of two goes down begin climbing up it!

Some tricks will suit me and others don’t. Some will grow on me and some I just will not like performing. It’s an instinct and a skill that needs developed and challenged. And if I were to simply imitate effects I would not be able to grow as a person and performer. Or develop my own taste and style. All I would be doing is imitating another style and that’s well boring!

Penny for your thoughts…

Anyway this is just a thought provoker for people to think about what truly matters in magic.

Please do let me know your thoughts on the matter. I think it is so so interesting for us to discuss topics like this. I will leave you with this…

If everyone created new performances and new ways of performing effects how creative our industry would be. Our craft would grow and it would elevate out industry to another level. It would go along way to showing the world that what we do is not simply tricks but Art!

Advice on burning the midnight oil!

When I set myself a challenge, failure is never an option but sadly sometimes it is the outcome. It is inevitable when trying new things that some things will work and others will flop.

My July challenge began with a simple goal. Perform ten magic shows for the same group with each show being completely different. Then the challenge became every show had to have a new theme. Finally the theme took over and it has literally become a full production twice a week.

This is an example of a set I put together for just one show

If you know me well you know when I take on a project or make one up I give it everything!

When I work on something I put every bit of energy and thought into it to make it shine. Even if that means not eating and sleeping.

Although it is a positive thing to have a good work ethic and work hard for a living. As a Saturday’s child always does, at times it eventually gets too much! And there is no magical drink to cure you if your bucket empties.

FizzWizzPop’s Unbirthday Party for Mae Murray Foundation July 2020

Have you filled your bucket today?

Weirdly I learnt this phrase from my sister and her son, Matthew. It’s a way for children to understand their emotions and feelings. Each of us have a bucket. If you allow that bucket to empty, you feel exhausted, drained and unable to cope with things.

The bucket is a metaphor to help us to visualise how we feel inside.

Let’s imagine this bucket represents our bodies and mindset.

The goal is to begin each day with a full bucket. To do this we need,

  1. Rest
  2. Good Food
  3. Happy thoughts
  4. Air
  5. Space
  6. Time to think

For whatever reason if you go through a period of time that is busy or you live in a stressful environment. Or people are demanding too much of you and you don’t look after yourself – daily life begins to unravel.

Please can I have some more?

Being the very giving person that I am I absolutely hate letting people down. So much so I am going to say it again, I hate letting people down! I find it so hard to say no. But in saying yes to everything I have very little time for myself. I enjoy helping everyone immensely! However I must also remind myself to stop and just take some time out for me – to refill my bucket!

What being a magician full time means to me?

Lot’s of people, friends, family and magicians message me daily and I love keeping in touch with everyone.

Please don’t stop messaging me! But understand that if I do not message you back right away, or miss meetings or generally am quiet, it’s not because I don’t have time for you or care. I care too much!

It’s because I am completely and utterly exhausted.

I do know you all know this. Just sometimes my brain convinces me that I am letting you all down.

Magic is my life!

I love my job so much! I spend every waking moment, reading, making, creating, watching and developing my performances in my room right now.

Right now this is my sole focus and it is keeping me going during this incredibly difficult year.

I promise when my bucket is full I will respond to you. I’ll be ready to chat, laugh and inspire. Most importantly I’ll be the Nikola you all love and want to spend some time with again. As I do you.

I am so lucky to have you all. My friends, family and magic companions – much love to you wherever you all are. May we all hug again soon!

Blog Bonus

I thought it might be worthwhile popping this up here. Lots of people have seen me creating shows online for my July Challenge. One show in particular inspired this blog post because after I performed it I felt rubbish. Embarrassed and annoyed at myself because a lot of things went wrong. Or rather not the way I had planned them too. Mostly due to exhaustion. I bit off more than I could chew that particular week!

I have found making two brand new shows a week there is a reoccurring pattern in the creative process. One show is really planned tight and scripted and goes to plan. The other is chaotic and anything goes.

A side note…

Though I did manage to break the pattern this week. As I made two wonderfully flowing performances with my Alice and Mystical East shows.

When I watched the Paris show material back I realised that it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. My sister also told me that my nephew (who has autism and has a very hard time sitting watching anything apart from YouTube for very long) sat the full time engaged. It’s funny how the way we feel about something sometimes does not coincide with the actual reality of what happened. A little reminder to keep my brain in check.

As one cannot give a hug or cake in 2020…

I thought I’d share some snippets from my Parisian show for your delight and delectation. Hopefully it will at least make you all smile and laugh at my bad jokes – which I love!

Big thank you goes out to Rafael! For the easel effect from his Ali Bongo lecture at Blackpool. I made that prop with my dads drill, a Dremel and my bare hands!

To Hanna for the beautiful idea of creating an image for finale production of my newspaper trick.

Lastly to Tom – for his amazing description of his Benson Burner trick in Vortex. Which I read, practiced and performed live within 24 hours. This I am of course biased about, but Tom is just the best at explaining things – even to this simple Belfast girl who used to think she couldn’t understand anything in magic. Enjoy!

I cannot wait to develop my version of the routine. And when it’s complete I look forward to performing it fully one day on stage, live for real people!

Vive le FizzWizzPop!

One final note. Look for inspiration everywhere you never know when you will need it and find a good use for it!

5 easy steps to create a themed show!

Creating new material to perform can be hard work. This process is made easier by adapting a strong theme or character. Some of the strongest material that I’ve ever made was born out of creating seasonal shows for Halloween and Christmas events.

One reason behind this is that shops are filled with seasonal junk. Or as I like to call it, performers lore. Inspiration for decorating, creating and theming parties is in excess. Perfect for us magi to get ideas for themed shows.

The fundamental motifs found in seasons like Halloween and Christmas have just the right amount of characterisation built in. They’re traditional! Colours are specific to these opposing seasons. There are songs, well-known figures, items and a treasure trove of stories to borrow from.

The simplest way for us to begin developing a themed show is to…

1. Find a powerful and recognisable theme.

Pirate Show Arrrrrrr!

When you are create for family shows the more visual your theme is, the better!

Bringing to life a cliche figure and trivial theme that all audience’s can recognise is a great foundation.

If by observing your costume, make up and set alone the audience can guess what your show is about, you have created a very strong theme.

Here are some theme suggestions. Some I have tried and others I intend to have a go with in the future.

  1. Pirate / Sea show
  2. Egyptian
  3. Superhero
  4. Safari
  5. Chocolate Factory
  6. The Tooth fairy
  7. Vikings
  8. Silent film – Buster Keaton theme
  9. Traditional Eastern Delights
  10. Murder Mystery / inspector gadget.

Once you establish a solid theme the next step is to,

2. Explore and adapt material

Walk like an Egyptian

Familiar tricks are a great platform to use in creating new material for themed shows. There are two reasons for this.

  1. You are already used to performing them and feel completely comfortable improvising and changing their presentation.
  2. As you have the moves down, you can focus all your attention on the script, the props and creating the story.

In my pirate show, I took the very old mathematical effect, “The Tail of 9” and turned it into a treasure hunt on an island.

My Adaptation of the The Tail of 9.

Being FizzWizzPop I have added little touches to complete the theme. Making the effect unique for each performance.

Themes can on occasion elevate effects and provide logical emotional links. Give it a go. Remember there are no rules in creating good magic!

3. Set your scene and imaginary world

Making the effort to get a good appearance when theming shows is vital. What I mean by this is that your appearance, the set and props all need to come together. If you manage to do this correctly it will make sense of the content, character and ultimately the entire performance.

It just takes a little effort to create different worlds for an audience to believe it. If you were performing a Shakespearean show, you would use a quill and ink to write on a scroll rather than a pen and A4 paper.

Take time to add in props or alter magic effects your already have to suit the theme. Your audience will notice and be grateful you did.

Backdrops can be changed easily and added too with coloured ribbons, balloons, playing cards, cobwebs and fairy lights. You would be surprised how little you need to do to alter your backdrop. Here are a few pictures below as an example.

  1. Pirate: I covered the stage with nautical themed Balloons hung from the ceiling.
  2. Close up show for Chicago Magic Lounge: My goal here was to imitate the Magic Castle Close up Gallery. This setting is luxurious, grown up and clean.
  3. Egyptian: I found some gold playing cards I bought in Vegas and made some hanging garlands and some mason jars. (Don’t worry they were empty ones – no brains in sight I promise).

4. MUSIC

This idea for creating themes you might notice I capitalise on in all my shows. I cannot emphasise how important music choice is for me. I spend hours every day listening to songs.

Music adds so much to performance!

It is responsible for setting the scene, the tone and rhythm. If you take time in choosing suitable music alongside a theme, it can elevate your performance. Even make an audience like you and the show more – particularly if they recognise the tune. Music connects people in a strange magical way.

So do take some time to make good music choices.

Speaking of song choices…

I wanted to tell the tale of the oldest magic trick in the world to kids through one of my shows.

And I ended up writing this song. I knew that if my audience didn’t know the lyrics they mightn’t follow along. Then an idea struck…

If I sang the song to a recognisable tune, like Justin Bieber’s ‘Despacito, there might be a high chance my audience will listen and like the song.

Even if it’s a rap… and FizzWizzPop has never rapped in her life!

And now you want to hear it correct?

I warn you all what you are about to hear is crazy – but the most fun I’ve had in a long time. And I’m delighted that I am not the only one as an adult to have found rap as a way to relive my teenage obsession with Eminem! (Yes Damien I’m speaking directly to you and I love you for telling me this).

If you want to hear it click the link below to go to my directly to my Soundcloud page.

Oh mummy!

Dedi Rap by FizzWizzPop

5. Scripting and language use

Doing some research into the stories and worlds of these characters and plots you wish to bring to life you will naturally find common words and phrases to use.

Referring to an audience in a pirate themed show you might say,

Land Lubbers,” “Mateys” or even “Sea dogs.”

Perhaps choose just one term of endearment for the audience always referring to them as that to prevent confusion.

Props can take on titles too.

Your magic wand could be called the ‘Sceptre of Doom.’

Dramatic titles can become comical parodies. Particularly when you produce a ridiculous item in the end; a feather duster.

Imagine revealing you have a pet called ‘Jaws,’ and produce a tiny Goldfish in a bowl. Giving items terms and names linked to themes helps us to bring stories to life.

Themed language and scripting can add to the hilarity and sheer madness of the imaginary world you are attempting to bring to life.

Book by Nikola Arkane

For me creating believable worlds for my audience is part of FizzWizzPop’s niche. And is part of the reason I feel children and parents connect so strongly with what I do.

If you wish to find out more about creating a magical world for children after reading this post, my first book Becoming FizzWizzPop is available to purchase HERE.

We are the COVID children…

When celebrating New Years eve on the 31st of December 2019 I did not envisage the apocalyptic year ahead. In fact after the amazing 2019 I had I was ready to hit the ground running and continue kicking ass.

Little did I know, 2020 would reign fire and brimstone upon us all in epic fashion. So much has happened whilst we have all been preoccupied fighting a global pandemic. I thought it might be nice to recap the madness. So that future me can hopefully remember the world survived this.

The Alarming Arkane Almanac of 2020

Between Australian bush fires and Trump almost leading the U.S into a Third World War. Harry and Meg(xit), a failed presidential impeachment and Brexit officially gets the go ahead. A guilty verdict for Harvey Weinstein (there is some justice in this year after all!).

Tiger-King becomes the perfect lockdown accompaniment for the world and their mother in isolation (if you haven’t, you really should). We all thought Kim-Jong-Un had died. Thankfully he is alive and well (2020 is really the year that keeps on giving). This one seriously took the biscuit – possible UFO’s sighted by non other than the Pentagon (THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE). Murder hornets which people can actually die from (why do you think they’re called murder hornets PEOPLE). George Floyd prompted global protests. Forcing society to have deep and meaningful debates on solving worldwide racial issues.

Finally, (I say finally, but who knows what will happen next – please be Power Rangers, please be Power Rangers). We are only in July and the Eastern World appears to be fighting the entire world – with words.

I don’t know about you but some days I just think, is it time to get off this ride yet? Whoever wished for some excitement in the world needs to be taken out and given a serious talking to.

For every Ying there is some good

For all the bad in this world, 2020 has showered upon us some real positive things too. The world has been given time to heal! (Albeit three months). In that time we have witnessed reduced pollution in both the air and sea. We have been given the opportunity to spend time with family. Children and parents that rarely see each other are not spending quality time together. And children have been encouraged when they can to get outdoors and play.

The pandemic has been devastating in more ways than we can quantify right now. But it is also responsible for a biggest reset. One that our world has been crying out for.

The New Normal

As we continue this ride in 2020 it appears that the pandemic is not defeated yet nor will it be. It’s here to stay whether we like it or not.

Rules are relaxing and even though everyday I am worried about contracting this virus, being asthmatic worries me about my chances with a respiratory illness, I am glad to see things get back to some form of normal. We all desperately need it too for both our mental and physical wellbeing.

Speaking of normal, I was asked the first weekend in July to perform at a 6th birthday party. I was petrified of saying yes to the enquiry when it came in. And I didn’t know what to do. But here are some of the things that I discovered, upon taking and performing at the event. You might find some of this useful.

Before the party

I realised that if I were to attend an event where the customer was not a responsible person. I.e I was told that the party would unfold one way and then upon arrival it wasn’t anything like the original agreement.

If this occured then my safety and their safety would be at risk. So it was quiet clear that I had to have a conversation with the customer on the phone.

This is a weird realisation. For the last three years all my bookings have mostly been done over email or my FizzWizzPop Facebook page.

I realised that I cannot gauge the seriousness of the customer through text alone. So I think right now, a phone call is necessary for you to reassure the customer and vice versa. Also this gives you a verbal contract. For example…

If both parties agree that the show will take place outside, with group numbers below 10 and they will be monitored by adults to make sure social distancing is in practice.

However when you turn up they want it indoors, there are 30 kids and no adults are present, then you have the right to refuse to do the show because of safety. And it’s not what was agreed originally.

Not every customer will do this, but it’s nice in these times to get to know who you will be working with.

Announce your arrival

Upon arrival, I messaged the customer. Lettting them know I was outside so that she could open the garden gate and prepare the space for my arrival. I think with the current situation it’s good practice, rather than just prancing on in.

Personal Protection also protects others

I decided to wear both a viser and surgical gloves (I got red ones for FizzWizzPop). The viser I picked is put on like a pair of glasses I thought that the elastic band ones might

  1. Hurt after long periods of wear.
  2. Potentially the elastic might spring off, snap or indeed might be too tight and have little or no movement.

When I originally thought about protecting myself, I knew that a mouth mask was not an option. Speaking is a big part of my show so anything that would muffle my speech was a no no.

Science has clarified that the virus spreads by liquid droplets that hang in the air. That’s when I began to investigate a full face cover. Allowing me to both see and talk. Hence the viser was purchased.

Here is a little video after performing my very first show and how glad I was to be wearing P.P.E.

The Aftermath

I realised as soon as I got home even though the show was done my day was not finished. To keep protecting myself and equipment I would have to put in place a cleaning regime for costume and props.

  1. When I got to my car I had plastic bags in my boot. One for my gloves and one for the viser. The gloves were disposed off and the viser steeped in hot soapy water when I got back home.
  2. I left my magic show case and it’s contents in my boot for 72 hours. Making sure that if any surface was touched by the virus it would be gone. After this time I brought the case in and wiped down everything with alcohol wipes. Cleaned the sponge balls with hot water and some gentle soap. The brand Pear soap is great for soft washing items like brushes etc. And it has an antibacterial product in it – thank you Kathryn Craig for this excellent advice).
  3. Immediately I took off my costume and popped it into an empty wash basket. I realised that I would have to wash it myself because my mum is immune compromised. For that reason I didn’t want her or my dad to make any contact with it. So I waited until the machine was clean and I put it on a high temp wash.

Some thoughts and ideas to make cleaning for shows streamlined.

After performing this show, which was amazing. I realised now there are so many more processes to complete for safety with COVID. Doing more than one show in a day simply may not be able to happen for a long time.

There are things to consider making the job easier and your own conscious lighter. Just knowing you are actively trying to make your job and the environment safe for your audience will help.

  1. Having a secondary case so you are not using the same props in the next show you perform.
  2. If you have two shows a day. (Though personally I will not be doing this for some time). Think about timing shows so you can wash and change into a secondary costume before the next event. Everything then, including yourself is squeaky clean.
  3. Nothing is guaranteed so only take on work if you feel you are safe to do so. Think of contact. Keep numbers small, family groups are best (the home bubbles). If anything were to happen everyone in the group is contactable. We should not rely on governments and apps for this, but take responsibility ourselves.
  4. Contact your insurers to see what they actually insure you to do at this time. I am currently with Equity. So far they have confirmed we can perform outside for up to 30 people max socially distanced. I am actively only doing shows now for numbers much lower than this. It is what I feel is comfortable and can manage.
  5. Have a hand sanitiser pump somewhere you can see when you are performing. Visually if you see it you will use it. Try to do this before and after each trick, effect, working with a child. I think it’s more important that you as the performer does this, rather than insisting the kids do. We want them to enjoy the show, and adding little processes like this is not fun. If they wash their hands prior to the show, that will be enough. I feel it’s up to me then to sanitise throughout and my kit/costume after the show.

I wish you all the best in getting your businesses up and running again safely!

Because You’re Worth it!

Are we though? Is the arts worth saving? Over the last ten to twelve years in the U.K, our society has been nurtured continuously to devalue a creative purpose. From governments to funding it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a living wage as an artist. Even though I believe we continue to deliver so much to communities, culture, the economy and individual lives.

Not everyone feels this way but it is compounding at times as an artist when you know that the work that goes into bringing your creativity to life is worth so much more than it’s valued at.

Magic is invisible

There is no one singular reason why society might have a whimsical view of the arts. Perhaps it’s because we as artists sing and shout about our performances which clearly demonstrate professionalism and is enjoyed by all who witness it. However, the journey that we take to get to a finished product is never really discussed or displayed. I suppose that in itself is the real magic of creation.

Developing a skill and love for an art form takes time and we are all at different levels offering different activities. Yet, as artists; bookers and funders seem to want to bunch us all into the same category even if what we are offering is completely different in style, material and level. For example you wouldn’t expect as a manager of a big company, to be asked to do the same amount of work you do on an entry level salary? Yet this happens in our industry all the time. We are constantly expected to take the same fee as others because well, this is what companies have been told to pay artists as a whole. No matter what you’re doing, how long you are there for, the time travelled to get there – nothing else matters. We are all the same to them.

But I choose to believe that value matters and it really needs to be brought to the fore in our industry and discussed.

Let’s get one thing straight…

We as artists are not the same. (I’m sorry if I burst a few proverbial bubbles here). Yes we share a love for theatre, magic, drama etc but we are all individuals and are entitled to set our fees at what we think we as individuals are worth. And, this estimation should be respected, not questioned.

And, we should not be made to feel guilt for asking for a living wage. For wanting to do what we love for what it is worth. How can art be valued?

Calculating the value of art

Over my years working and touring theatre shows I have a small grasp on what we can base our fee estimation on.

Here are just some ideas below for you to browse. (I’m also happy to add to them if you know of any more let me know).

  1. Experience
  2. Skill
  3. Time
  4. Travel / Fuel
  5. Audience size
  6. Effort
  7. Admin
  8. Materials / Sundries
  9. Insurance
  10. Yearly billing

When you take a look at these ten things only one of them really can be observed by a booker and used as evidence of what they actually pay for. And that is the live performance itself.

This is where it becomes really hard for us as artists to quantify our fees. Yes customers know what we offer is the best, that’s why they’ve chosen to hire us. But sometimes they do not have the funds to pay for it or feel that this artistic endeavour for their event deserves it from their budget.

In my experience it is always us, the artists who must compromise to be hired. Even though we do the same amount of work for less pay What’s the option? To work or not to work?

Put your money where your mouth is…

Maybe this is not the case around the world, but it’s what I have found in the U.K so I’m asking you all this very serious question.

Why do artists dislike talking about fee’s? It has somehow became a taboo subject in our industry. And it doesn’t need to be. Imagine if we could all sit down in groups and talk money honestly and openly. How much our industry would gain a proper understanding of our own value in it.

One of the problems preventing us from fixing this issue is that I feel there is no set bottom level to pricing art.

If we the professionals set an opening fee level in each art-form and stick to it as an individuals together in the same industry (rather than customers dictating our fees) I believe this will help move the industry and business a step in the right direction to be taken more seriously.

We should actively aim to implement value where there is none. Or there are too many options. It’s extremely important that we mustn’t undercut one another. There is so much work out there for everyone. The more you share it the more will come back your way. I truly believe that and always have. In undermining each other eventually we cut off our own heads to spite our faces.

Think about it if a customer is hunting for the cheapest fee and everyone they call is charging the same base fee what does that make them do?

It means that they must begin to search for a entertainer not on a money level but an artistic one. Just some food for thought. And on that note…

I think this is amazing and incredibly disgusting!

An amplified situation

The result of the Arts industry breaking down due to the current pandemic is that I have felt obligated to say yes to work for a fraction of the fee I normally charge. Why? Because I have no work on at all. And when you are struggling to survive and continue doing what you love, you would do absolutely anything! Well, I would.

Sadly, some people know that this is currently a bad situation for performers and use this to their advantage.

My sister suggested that I maybe try find a way to show the effort that goes into creating my work and why it’s unique from others. Showcasing the process of making the magic happen in real time.

So in true Nikola fashion I spent this week putting together a short video for potential people questioning why something I valued at what it is. So they can actually see the work live, that they don’t when I am live. (Wow what a sentence).

I want people to see the effort that I put in, the professionalism, the years I’ve trained and know that I do this because I really love what I do. I want my work to the best in the business because it’s mine. It’s my full time job. In taking what I do seriously, I want others to treat me and my business seriously too. What that means is paying me a fee that I deserve and have worked really hard for.

It hasn’t as of yet but I realised this week that if it ever came to a stage where I was not valued for what I create and I am made to feel guilty in every enquiry I get for what I charge, I would simply have to stop performing. No matter how sad that thought makes me.

I feel value and its impact on the arts is such an important thing in arts business that needs to be dealt with asap! And, I feel that it will play a major part in saving the arts and keeping theatre alive long after 2020!

P.s…

I also wanted to say I have learnt during this time that sometimes providing work for a lower fee can provide you with an outlet to try new things. It gives you the freedom to experiment with equipment, materials and new effects knowing that it’s not at the standard/level yet you would normally expect to provide for your full fee. If you begin thinking about it in this way, during this tough period, as long as you are learning and developing as an artist and you are in control of your time then it is worth it. (If only for a limited period).

Good things come in small boxes… and so does poison!

I sometimes ponder where the term ”to think outside the box came from?

Without any research my answer is this… what the hell was inside the box in the first place? I mean for the person who invented this phrase. What exactly was it that they did not wish to see or think about?

I am now envisaging people of a certain generation thinking, it must be Gwyneth Paltrow’s head!

We use the phrase to think ‘out of the box’ quite frequently when we are trying to generate new ideas and sometimes referencing this phrase makes us do the complete opposite.

I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking inside of it?

Terry Pratchett

Pratchett is indeed correct here. In order to think outside the box we must first think in it.

A box is where the possible can easily become impossible if we allow it too. Living breathing things should never be placed in a box.

No good comes from it. Do not place yourself in a box ever – unless it’s to get a party started and gatecrash out of it in style.

Now for a small memory that intrigues me greatly.

This was me as a child… god help my parents!

When my nephew Matthew was just 4 years old, he did something naughty in his preschool nursery group. It must have been bad because it required his teacher to evict him from the room, giving him some time to think upon his bold behaviour and cool off.

After less than ten minutes the assistant nursery leader came into the hallway finding Matthew acting very peculiarly. He wasn’t upset, far from it. It was as if he was in another world. He very soon demanded that she be completely silent and still. Breaking the spell she finally managed to get Matthew’s attention and asked him what on earth was going on? My nephew then informed her that there was quicksand everywhere around them and that if she moved even a millimetre they would both get sucked in. They were, in his mind – in Egypt!

So in less than ten minutes, Matthew had managed to process the upset from inside the classroom and fly in his mind (and body) to Cairo. Now if that’s not thinking outside the box quickly I don’t know what is!

I’ve been quite aloof so far on what this blog post is really about – and we still haven’t discovered exactly what is in the box?

The honest answer is, whatever we want to put in it.

Each of us pack boxes metaphorically and physically every day. Some gather dust. Some hide our emotions and sometimes we just put stuff away in the hope that it’s forgotten.

The voices inside my head may not be real, but they have some really good ideas!

A box can also be extremely versatile and if you have a good imagination you can turn a box into anything. Even a Magic case.

I am reminded briefly here of a story from my good friend Say Jay. On her birthday a gift was delivered in a very large, sturdy cardboard box. I’m sorry to say she was more excited about the box than the present inside for the simple reason that – she fit inside it! Don’t worry readers I won’t get her in trouble as in true Say Jay style she also declared her love of the box to this said friend.

Since the beginning of my career in magic I’ve always needed a carry case to cart my magic up and down the country safely. The most affordable one I found when I began performing was this metal tool case from B & Q (think Bauhaus or Home Depot) .

The Original case

Being artistic it wasn’t an option to perform my show with a case looking like this. So just before my very first booking I bought some spray paint, made a FizzWizzPop stencil and give the case a makeover. Across the 13 years I have been performing, my case has had many makeovers to keep it looking magical.

Remember: Your props and staging are a big part of your act too. If you look smart in a new suit or dress and your props look old and haggard the overall image doesn’t quite match up. So take a bit of time throughout a year reassessing, fixing up and making everything look tip top. It will pay off and you will feel and look more professional. Customers do notice the difference.

This weeks post and project became all about a box. Sadly I never met Terry Pratchett but I’m positive if he met me the phrase above would simply not apply to Nikola Arkane.

If we live in a world where we are only limited by our imaginations, why then does it have to be a box shape?

Don’t ever try to contain your thoughts. Especially within 4 walls, a bottom and a lid. Open it up and let it soar…

A whole new world

I’m finally getting used to the New World I’ve created in my bedroom making videos and now the only limit appears to be my imagination. How cool is that?

“Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Disney’s Aladdin

Is imagination more important than knowledge? Or is knowledge the result of imagination? This week I was slightly more introverted and reflective than normal. Not in a bad way but in terms of creation.

Last Friday I had to create a show for the Belfast Children’s Hospice to help celebrate Children’s Hospice week 2020. Over the last ten years I have worked quite a lot in these environments where children need so much more that just magic. And it’s not just about the kids but the families and staff there with the children are just as important.

Can we use magic to help our audiences imagine and believe in real magic?

The illnesses which these wonderfully brave children and families face daily we could never imagine fully what they go through. In order for it to be an engaging performance the magic must provide a sensorial, stimulating experience. The reason for this is because with a lot of these kids, the illnesses they face ultimately diminish some senses and intensify others. So when I create shows specifically for this audience every routine I make must include these four elements.

  1. A magic effect
  2. Music (live singing, playing an instrument or music from a device).
  3. Story telling and making use of stories they already know
  4. An explosion of colour!

Usually when performing live with these audiences I would also use tactile objects in routines.

Can we still achieve sensory shows on Zoom?

My short answer to this, is yes. Particularly if you integrate all the above elements into your shows. Here is a little example of one idea and routine I made up two hours before my show. It’s a variation on a classic.

Just a wee side note: I’ve been performing sponge balls for years and simply the reaction when I pulled a star from another star was so surprising – even over the Zoom platform. And when you look at my performance all this routine is, is Mark Wilsons sponge balls with a FizzWizzPop twist.

Hopefully you’ll notice that I really take my time performing the effect. I have a gentle pace in my speech and movements.

This is vital for performing not only over Zoom but for this type of audience. I believe that if we take the time to feel the magic happening as it does, they will too.

FizzWizzPop performing Star Sponges

As I know songs work quite well with these audiences. I was trying to think of a song these children would know. Using a song that people recognise is an amazing tool and hook. When we hear songs on stage or on the radio that we like we automatically sing along, dance even. Thinking about music and song is important when creating theatrical magic in all settings.

The song “Twinkle Twinkle little star” became the song I experimented with. From this song I tore open my sponge ball collection (yes I have a collection) and found some star sponges I had hiding away.

All I did was put the song and a small section of my normal sponge routine together and very quickly it became something brand new.

I integrated terms like ‘it’s a shooting star,’ and ‘what happens when two stars collide’ and suddenly a routine from scratch becomes something I think children can relate to. Finally and it’s not perfect, I hunted out two d’lites and made the stars light up and although you cannot see them very clearly in the video, this idea of the stars becoming magical and lighting up before their eyes I think will eventually elevate the routine even more. (I also in the live show sang the song to the children). This is only the beginning.

It’s all about layers

Developing routines for me is like being a builder. You put down the foundation and then you build up the layers. Sometimes they fit and sometimes you have to knock a layer off and start again. Over time you become a master builder and this process gets easier.

So how about a little challenge?

A story in a magic trick that depicts the true beauty of something within?

I challenge you all to take a simple song, story or well known nursery rhyme, a simple magic trick you enjoy performing and put them together to see what you can come up with. All over the world we all have traditional tales and stories that perhaps others do not know. Maybe there’s a movie that you enjoy that you might like to turn into a trick.

Give yourself a set time frame to come up with it too. If you give yourself a week it won’t get it done. So how about I outline the challenge below.

  1. Choose one day this week and spend an afternoon on this project. (3 hours max).
  2. Pick a story.
  3. Pick a trick.
  4. Allow yourself to play and at the end of the allotted time record it and send it to me at nikola@arkanemagic.com so I can see what you came up with.

You can incorporate music, songs any of the above techniques I’ve discussed. But try to make it sensory minded.

Challenges are good for the soul!

I find that challenging yourself in this way is really good for your head. I am constantly looking out for ideas in the world. Here is one I came up with this week, thanks to an idea on my friend Oliver Meech’s blog Wide Open Magic. His blog is one of ideas or as I like to call them – grenades ( you can take the girl out of Belfast…). A simple idea can blow your imagination wide open to the wonderful world of play. And I found myself playing for a full day to create this. Not just the trick, but finding the music, researching the story from the film and using photoshop to make the front cover. It was beyond fun. Hopefully if you decide to do the challenge I set above, you will find this too. I give you my little homage to Quentin Tarantino, reservoir Jacks.

reservoir jacks by Nikola Arkane inspired by Oliver Meech’s blog post.

Follow my journey…

If you want to keep up with my journey and continue seeing mad video creations each week like these in this blog. Follow me on Instagram, Vimeo and Youtube by clicking the links below.

Instagram

@nikolaarkane

YouTube

FizzWizzPop

Vimeo

Nikola Arkane on Vimeo

Studio Arkane

It’s been 13 weeks since lockdown and finally it looks like things are cautiously beginning to open up again. For me, as a children’s entertainer I’m hanging on a little while longer before I get back to work. Right now, there are still too many variables that I can’t control. So for the time being, I will continue to develop my skills and work online where I can.

Part of this process for me has been creating a magical sanctuary in my home. A place I feel safe, continuing to learn, push myself and create. If you remember, I call it my Isolation Creation Station.

Time to level up!

Since my ICS’s creation, I have upgraded equipment thanks to a successful funding application. Granted to me by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. This funding allowed me to develop my ad-hock bedroom studio. Beginning in March using tablecloths as a backdrop, my phone camera and some spotlights to set the scene. Now I have two professionally made backdrops for both FizzWizzPop and Nikola Arkane work. I have a huge 18″ ring light, and two L.E.D par cans that can change colours. I got a lapel microphone and an HD webcam. Finally I was also able to purchase cables and software for my computer and phone.

It’s great getting all this technical stuff to have at hand. However the learning curve for using this stuff is extremely steep. I have found it incredibly hard. Once you have good equipment you want to be able to use it properly. A lot of the time in the beginning you don’t really know why something looks good or bad. It’s so much guessing and I’m still stuck in this learning interval really.

A few things that are extremely important when filming are exposure, frame rate and resolution.

Exposing Exposure

I have found this is the single most difficult thing to judge as a newbie when making videos. It’s so complicated. If you don’t know what exposure is (I didn’t) it’s how light or dark you and objects appear on camera. There apparently is a sweet spot for filming. Where things are lit with the right exposure to make an image look natural. Not pixelated or in my case turn my skin green. Good for halloween, not so all year round.

Be warned. If you are like me, developing a sense of what looks good on camera takes a lot of practice. And it’s dam well frustrating at times. But play with it as your sense of what is a good exposure setting will gradually improve. At least this is what I am hoping will happen.

Frame rate

To understand this technical term I had to find something I could relate to. Perhaps this image might help you to understand as I did.

Think of a flip book where you have an image on every page. When you flip through the pages quickly, the image comes to life. Kind of like the trick deck “Cardtoon.”

Video, is a series of still images when viewed in order at a certain speed that moves. The frame rate is the speed at which those images are shown. In other words, frames per second.

Let’s take this example. If you have captured a video at 24fps, that means each second in that video shows 24 distinct still images. And the speed that we see them tricks your brain into thinking it is all in one smooth motion.

It’s important when you make videos that the frame rate is the same in each take. E.g. If you film a few videos and want to connect them up, it makes sense to film them with the same exposure and frame rate settings. This will guaranteethey look the same when edited together. Achieving consistency in film sadly, I have found is much easier said than done.

One thing that I have learned with frame rate is that it must be half of what your exposure is. For example if your exposure is 60 then your frame rate should be 30. The reason for this I believe is because it helps regulate natural movement. You don’t want to look like a robot in stop motion when you film yourself. You want it to move at a natural speed. This ratio when filming with exposure to frame rate allows movement to look real.

Resolution

The better your video resolution is the cleaner the image your viewers will watch your video in. The best quality I have found is HD 1080p.

Though the only drawback is when saving and uploading (if you wish to share a video on a platform say like Youtube) it takes forever to upload. The higher the res, the longer the wait. But it is worth it. The difference is noticeable and you will get a cleaner, more realistic image.

I’m no expert. But so far, these are some of the things I have been playing with.

Creating videos to share is like being a one person production company

I have so much respect for people who work in the film industry. So much effort goes into bringing a video to life on screen. Particularly if you want to aim for good quality. Here is a full day when I’m filming (just one video) in my bedroom…

  1. Clean area
  2. Studio set up: Backdrop, curtains, blacks, table, props.
  3. Set up laptop, lights, microphone and test
  4. Get into costume including make up and hair.
  5. Re-jig all set up equipment.
  6. Get tricks prepped and set.
  7. Film umpteen times until satisfied. Though trust me it gets quicker because you know what you are looking for.
  8. Edit videos.
  9. Upload.
  10. Clean area.

These ten steps don’t seem a lot. However, it takes me an entire day to do all this just to make one film.

Hopefully after a few more weeks setting this up, things will become easier and more streamlined for me. Whichever way you look at it, making good quality videos is hard work. And at times very frustrating. You really have to keep on pushing through.

One of the things I am enjoying learning is editing process.

I am having so much fun playing with footage by adding music, cutting clips, recording vocals. This for me has been the most entertaining area of my technical learning curve. I get so many ideas for funny moments whilst editing. I’m literally giggling the whole time I’m making videos on my laptop.

Here is a snippet of a clip I edited this week. It is a promo for my FizzWizzPop lecture.

The reason this post came together, was because my good friend Nigel Quinn. He was curious to see and hear how the Arkane studio has developed since creation in March.

So this blog is to update you all on that journey. I hope it’s been fun.

I’ve also made this little video. Hopefully you can see some improvements I have made from my first update weeks ago.

This project has been all about me continuing to develop as a performer.

Creating this studio is giving me daily opportunities to learn skills I never thought I ever would need to or want to. I still have a long way to go, but remember what I said last week… little and often.

I’ll get there eventually, and so will you!

P.s If you haven’t already, Dave Loosley very kindly asked me to contribute to his Loosley Speaking Podcast and the episode I feature in went live last Friday. This was so much fun to make. Check it out here!

5 ways to keep your magical mind switched on

As I now enter my third month in isolation I find that even though so much has changed, I still have the urge to keep creating magic. Even though currently I have very small outlet for it.

I’m not going to lie, I feel extremely apprehensive about my future and career on a daily basis however, I choose to remain positive and have hope that eventually some form of normality in my life will return.

I miss more than anything performing live, travelling, seeing my boyfriend, friends and family. However, I do feel lucky we have the internet – how on earth would we have survived Corona without it?

“Keep on moving on anyway”

I’m really showing my age with that title from a 5ive song!

During my journey as a performer in isolation, I have seen many things and different attitudes to magic, creation and performance. Some choose to wait until lockdown is over to get back to normal, others are getting on with it online, and then there are some people who have already began performing again in public. I’m not here to preach what I think is right or wrong for now. No one knows, not even scientists. We all have to do what we believe is right for us and others.

From the beginning of lockdown I decided that I was going to make use of this very strange time I have been gifted with and weirdly I have learnt so much about magic, myself, tech and survival, which I want to share with you now.

Some days I don’t feel like doing anything but somehow I’ve found a way to keep on keeping on.

For people who follow my journey you probably think I don’t sleep with the amount of stuff I get up to in a day or weekly basis. And those of you who think that would be absolutely correct – particularly when I take down Karl Fulves Self Working Coin Magic from my shelf to read (again!).

I hope that these five tips that have helped me to survive the pandemic as a performer will help you to keep moving, creating and loving magic. Don’t let this dampen your joy of all things wondrous. Magic needs you!

Numero uno… Little and often

I have found myself telling my brain this on days when I simply want to lie in bed and forget the world we live in. I find that when I say to myself, sure I’ll just write a paragraph, or watch a video or tidy something small, my enthusiasm for the activity in the moment grows instantly. If you get your brain used to thinking in a way that it knows that you are only aiming to do a little, when you end up doing so much more, the feeling of accomplishment daily builds. And over a week you can achieve quite a lot by doing very little each day.

Second the best… it’s tea-break time!

Make sure you actually schedule in downtime and tell yourself its ok to have an afternoon off. I am one of the hardest working people and am quite hard on myself particularly when I want to have ‘a rest day.’ I guilt myself into thinking that I’m bad for taking time out. If I had continued to think that way in lockdown I literally would have driven myself crazy as we all need down time.

So I actively schedule it in. My mum bought me a calendar and I have it beside my bed where I sleep and its the first thing I see when I wake up. I make sure I write in some random fun stuff like – eat custard today, today is a gaming day or open my Ninja Rings present from Tom and get learning. If you build something fun into your diary alongside the activities you ‘must’ do I think you will find balance and feel mentally better.

Third times a charm -Just breathe

Although I don’t feel like it every day, it’s good to get outside and breathe proper fresh air. I try to take my dog Teddy for a walk once a day at least to get outside. It’s so easy to literally go full hermit right now. Make an effort to get out of the house daily even if it’s for just ten minutes.

Four of a kind! Give yourself options.

Challenge yourself every now and again. When reading an effect or learning a new trick – why not try to come up with four unique ways to perform it other than the method that has been given. This allows your brain to openly create something new from something old. It challenges you to think outside the box and perhaps you just might create something good. There will be crap too but we must revel in the crap for us to ever progress and achieve the goodies in magic.

High Five – you made it well done!

Remember to smile and be kind to yourself. When living with oneself particularly in lockdown pressure builds up and it’s very easy to make an enemy of yourself. You should train yourself to be your own cheerleader. Look at yourself in the mirror and say I am enough because you really are. There is no-one like me, you or anyone else on the planet. So celebrate being unique and learn to love yourself more. It means when lockdown ends you really will be ready in mind, body and soul to attack life to it’s fullest!

The Annihilation of Creation

This week has been another challenging week in the Arkane house of wonder for many reasons – particularly because I had a 48 hour deadline – which I managed to complete. This particular deadline began with an idea I said out loud at the start of this year which became a goal.

Let me rewind a bit and get you all in the loop.

At the end of January 2020 this year I got extremely down. A combination of little work on and worrying about my future. (Little did I know a pandemic was around the corner). A visit to the doctor later I was sorted out with meds and therapy. And right now in the thick of lockdown I’m really delighted I had the insight to speak and ask for help.

I remember my sister picking me up from the airport and I stayed with her for a full week. At the end of that week she presented me with a gift. A beautifully hand decorated notebook to be filled with things that have inspired me and will do.

There was a section to write down my achievements, my goals and ideas for self care. Little did I know that filling in this book became a lifeline. By writing things down I realised how much I achieved in 2019. I set some goals for 2020 and even though I only put two of them down before lockdown I am pleased to say I have actually achieved both. One of them I achieved this week.

It is amazing once you set a goal and have a target what you can make happen in a very short period of time. One of the reasons I achieved my goal, aside from the deadline was because I was open to trying everything to make my routine work. I listened, and I played. If something didn’t work one way, I ripped it apart, built and tried a new way. The goal was clear, I had to make it work and fast!

Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.

Albert Einstein once said that “Play is the highest form of research.” Play is an opportunity to practice what we need to learn and when most of us become adults we forget that. Play is important for us all to experiment, learn and grow.

In challenging myself to complete one of my yearly goals last week, I had to work at ludicrous speed. Immediately I was reminded of one of my favourite moments in the Mel Brooks movie “Spaceballs.”

I realised quite soon that if I wasn’t open to playing, I simply would not get the piece done in time. Remembering my no rule policy that I discussed in my Rebel Rebel post a few weeks ago, I used every trick in the book (and outside of it) at my disposal. It turned out though that one of the hardest things I had to accept in the end was change. And you know what, change is hard.

(Turn and face the strange) Ch-Ch-changes!

The many faces of David Bowie

We become so easily used to things. Sometimes comfort makes us stagnant and we don’t really want to accept change, even if it’s for the best.

I had been struggling for around two weeks with the magic routine I’ve been working on. Mostly because the music (which I had fallen head over heels in love with) was just way too fast. Not wanting to give up the dream of performing magic to that piece I had convinced myself that I’ll just get used to the speed. I would force it to work.

In doing that I had completely forgot that if I perform at a speed that I cant control I don’t have any time to flesh out the performance with my personality. Or allow my audience to react to the wonderful magic that was happening. If there was barely anytime for me to complete the sleights how on earth was I going to perform them alongside showing the story? Which you all know by now is very important to the magic I create.

It took someone else to point out the problem with the music to me in order for me to actively make the change happen. Even though instinctively I knew it wasn’t working, it took a voice outside myself to push me over the edge and act. In the end the music got the chop.

A Requiem for ideas we feel passionate about.

I realised when I gave up this music that I was left quite bereft, not for very long, but I did feel like something had died. I know this sounds dramatic but it made me think more about what happens when we develop an idea.

Creation is so personal. When we put so much effort into making a dream become reality it is difficult to accept when it doesn’t quite work. To the point you will force it too instead of listening to your gut instinct and doing what is right. This might also be the reason why giving feedback and receiving feedback is a delicate subject.

It’s easy to think you’re being personally attacked by feedback that someone else has a better idea, or doesn’t particularly like your idea. And I know feedback is subjective and based on taste, but when you have an idea and it’s questioned we instinctively respond in one of two ways.

Ignorance is bliss

or

Acceptance

Understanding is the first step to acceptence

Acceptance is by no means saying that you will give up on your idea and take on board the new one. It’s being open to listening to it and seeing if it applies to what you are doing. And, if you are willing to give it a go it could have potential. You don’t have to agree with the feedback or act on it but it’s always good to listen to it and if you’re open to it, and it applies why not give a go.

Sometimes feedback needs to be ignored too because it’s based on a persons taste rather than actually pushing the routine forward. Bringing it back to learning through play, we should at least hear all the ideas others have, you never know, it might spark or develop something you have already been thinking off. Or it could be completely of the wall bonkers. But it will be interesting regardless and if feedback is given in the correct format I do believe it has a positive impact on you as a performer. Learning how to respond to feedback helps us accept change.

With change we grow. Nothing is set in stone. Find the courage daily to play!