Dictionary.com defines a stage wait as “an unintentional pause during a performance, usually caused by a performer’s or stagehand’s missing a cue.”
You guessed it. A stage wait, when long and numerous, can bore the audience. It also causes them to lose the thread of the show and consequently their interest in the performance.
In a magic show, a stage wait usually happens as a result of poor routining. Transitions between routines or acts, if not well thought of, can result in stage waits.
Learn your segues as diligently as you would your tricks. A segue refers to the smooth, uninterrupted transition from one trick to another. Notice the word smooth. A segue should be so smooth that it is unnoticeable. If after a dove act the magician wants to proceed to a rabbit production, his segue is not smooth if he rummages his roll-on table to find where the rabbit production box is located.
To prevent this from happening, a magician must rehearse his segues as well as his magic routines. He must make sure where the props for the next tricks are located, so he will not call 911 for help in finding them.
Script your patter when your routine requires a volunteer from the audience.
Getting volunteers from the audience sometimes can take forever. An audience member may not leave his seat quickly enough when you call him on stage. Sometimes he hesitates. Sometimes he needs coaxing and encouragement before he musters courage to go up the stage and help in the show. When this happens, a stage wait inadvertently happens.
To prevent a stage wait while the volunteer makes up his mind, you must know in advance what to say during those awkward, indecisive moments. Keep talking. Drop laugh lines. Regale the audience with wit and other bits and business while waiting for the volunteer to arrive onstage.
Keep the audience focused on the show even when nothing interesting is happening.
Prepare “outs” in case of technical snafus. What will you do if somebody trips on the electrical cord and suddenly the microphone goes dead?
If you just stand on stage while the technicians scramble to restore power, the stage wait could make the audience restless.
Many people in the audience may understand that it’s not your fault that the electricity went dead. Just the same, the stage wait can be agonizing.
Not long ago, I did a show before an audience of over 700 surgeons from all over the country. Right after I had been buckled in a straitjacket, the lights went out. The entire ballroom would have descended into total darkness were it not for a few emergency lights on the stage.
Since I could not proceed with the escape, I told the audience jokes. With the microphone also dead, I actually shouted the jokes to them.
“YOU DON’T NEED A MAGICIAN. YOU NEED AN ELECTRICIAN!”
To my surprise, the audience broke into a spontaneous laughter.
“THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR TOLD ME SOMEBODY STEPPED ON THE ELECTRICAL WIRE. DON’T WORRY, FOLKS. HE’S NOW IN THE HOSPITAL! THE DOCTORS COULD NOT TREAT HIM THERE. HE ALSO TRIPPED THEIR ELECTRICAL POWER.”
I then started humming a tuneless melody, mocking impatience over the slow work in restoring the power.
To my surprise, even this bit was rewarded by a ripple of laughter by the audience.
The moral of the story (if it has one) is this: have something ready, whether jokes, funny bits, or other acts, to fill the void of a stage wait.
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