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Before I do that, though, let me first take care of the preambles…
I wrote a few months back an article titled How Long Should a Trick Be?. The article proposes answers to the riddle of how long a trick’s running time should be. Unfortunately, it comes short of its goal and instead merely overflows with waffling.
In short it does not give a definitive answer to the conundrum. Still, I urge you to read it, because it covers a lot of thinking and philosophizing, some of them eye-openers for those who don’t do a lot of thinking or philosophizing.
Today, I write about a similar topic, prompted by a perplexing behavior of a birthday mom. It happened last year, but I still remember how she complained strenuously about the length of my show. She was upset it ran only for 45 minutes.
Before she booked my show, I advised her that my program runs for 45 minutes to one hour. I should have anticipated trouble when she wanted me to stretch it to one-hour-and-a-half. I told her I’d bore the audience if I perform that long. My program would be an exercise in futility, when the children would start running around at the one-hour mark. I suggested she find another performer who can entertain children for one-hour-and-a-half of magic.
In the end, she still hired me. On the date of her child’s birthday, I performed at the party for 58 minutes. I thought she’d be happy with a close to one-hour show, but after my performance she was upset. She said my program was very short. She claimed it ran only for 3o minutes.
I know that time warping comes into play when watching an entertaining show (which was how I explained to her the time perception discrepancy). As diplomatically as I could, and without sounding conceited, I told her that an entertaining one-hour show can feel like 30 minutes, while a boring one-hour show can feel like eternity.
She didn’t buy the explanation. She thought I shortchanged her.
Which led me to muse over the issue of running time: how long should a birthday party magic show be?
First let me tell you the philosophy behind the 45-minutes-to-one-hour running time of my show. I have read somewhere that the attention span of children is 30 minutes. That explains why most cartoon shows and TV programs made for children run only for 30 minutes.
I make my birthday shows 45 minutes for the benefit of the adults in the audience who have a longer attention span than children. My 45 minutes would sometimes stretch to one hour depending on the size of the audience and how quickly or intensely it responds to the show.
I have stuck to this running-time rule for years. I refer shows to other performers when the booker insists on a program in excess of one hour. Given the props and tricks I have in my current program, I feel that I am not capable of holding the attention of an audience, let alone entertaining children, for over one hour.
Except for this lone birthday mom I mentioned above, my 45-minutes-to-one-hour program has served me in good stead over the years.
Now the philosophy that dictates this running-time traces its roots to a rule in short story writing.
You see, besides being a magician in the Philippines, I am also a published short story writer. In college, I augmented my allowance by writing short stories and selling them to a widely circulated vernacular magazine. When performing a magic trick, or a birthday party show, or even a full evening show, I apply this rule, which I learned from my college professor.
Here it is. Memorize it. Apply it in your performances, and you will greatly improve your program’s level of likability in this era of MTV, razzle-dazzle, fast food and instant gratification.
There. Just change “short story” to “magic show”, and you have a rule to guide you in building your program to an ideal length.