There are as many different ways to think about your show as there are shows to do. Many shows follow the same structure and rhythms and many are composed from the same tricks. A majority of comedy juggling shows look same on paper: straight white male tells jokes while juggling. Sometimes it’s two straight white males. Sometimes you trade in straight white males until you settle on a gay Danish woman. What tends to separate shows are unique personalities/presentations and unique tricks. Maybe you are dry and sardonic and are just one head injury from changing political parties or maybe you catch flipping toy dogs on a platform balanced on your chin. This idea (S1:E1 for short) is a way to think about your show that highlights the unique things you bring to the generic form.
You can usually tell everything you need to know about a show from it’s opening credits. Some opening credits are super overt and have a theme song and the occasionally freeze frame while other’s take a more subtle approach. Either way the opening credits usually serve to establish the characters, themes, and motifs of the show. So if you are going to build your show around the premise that it is Season One Episode One you need to make sure that the first two minutes or so of your show do the same things.
Take some time to think about the first couple of minutes of your show. How do your costume and prop stand help establish your character and the themes/motifs of your show. Do your opening lines tell the audience everything they need to know about what they are about to see? Watch the opening credits of your favorite shows and write down the things that you like/dislike about them and see how you can incorporate that into your opening. Look for anything that you are doing that might be taking away from the show you are trying to create.
In my show, for example, I am pretty low energy. I do a lot of standing and telling jokes. In fact, it takes me almost 20 minutes to even use a prop. My show wasn’t always like that but slowly everything in the show changed to that style except the opening. I was still running out on stage to peppy music with props in my hand. When I tried thinking of my opening as the opening credits of a t.v show I realized my entrance wasn’t communicating my “character” and it was telling the audience they were about to see a different show than they actually were.
Now that you’ve worked on your opening credits it’s time to get the audience involved. Make them want to watch your show and then the rest of the season. This is S1:E1 so you have to find something to catch their attention. Sara Felder does it by getting deeply personally. Some jugglers do it by promising world class tricks and danger. You need to give them a reason to watch you. Find the thing that separates you from other comedy jugglers and make that the focus of your show: maybe you are able to juggle at a really high level, or maybe you have a crazy amount of energy, or are part of a dysfunctional green card marriage. Audiences don’t really care about juggling. The same way they don’t care about the day to day dealings of a mid-range paper company or a local bar. What people want is a story.
One of the things a great pilot episode does is foreshadow the rest of the season. A great live show can do the same thing. Don’t answer every question. Have some props but don’t use them. Hint at your having more skills, jokes, whatever. Think about the ways that your show can be a part of something larger. People love to interact so give them a chance to do so. Inspire them to look online for more of your work. Talk about things you did in the past or will do in the future. This can be an expectionally satisfying expereince for an audience.
You should also be looking for ways to foreshadow within the show. The most common way that juggler’s foreshadow is with their prop stands. The audience can see some (or all) of the props and know that they will be used at some point. Creating mild intrigue and interest. Here are three more ways to foreshadow in your show:
- “Accidently” reveal a prop earlier than you intend to use it. Reach into your prop case to grab three juggling clubs but pull out three axes. Put them back and grab the clubs. This one (I think) is in wide usage. You can also “accidently” announce a trick and describe it earlier than you “mean” to.
- Practice a trick behind the curtain or out of sight of the audience (but within earshot) before the show starts but while everyone is seated. Make sure the noises are loud and memorable. It’s important that the sound clearly belong to a specific item. Make it sound like you are messing it up. I will sometimes break a bottle or two backstage or pop some balloons to foreshadow the balloon/bottle/mouthstick trick I do.
- Have some kind of stage dressing that alludes to a trick that you’re going to do. If you have a trick that’s messy, have the stage hands tape some plastic sheeting over the monitors or tape off the front row of seats if you are planning something dangerous.
To be continued…