Building the show – Part 8 – Enter the Dragon
“To entertain for the purpose of temporarily taking someone from their cares and worries in the world is noble…but to recognize an entertainer’s ability to REACH an audience and UTILIZE that gift for an educational purpose…holds FAR greater value” Jimmy Leo
No, it’s not a Bruce Lee classic….well, it is, but not in the context that we will be referring to it in the next article.
I have sat back for a few years now and watched the popularity of the Balloon Artists travelling to China. It’s gained such notoriety that even some who don’t end up going, look to take any opportunity abroad and spin the appearance that they have been hired by other countries to work their balloon artistry. The point is, the trips abroad are now seen as a huge selling point for those who are a part of them, as well as those who aren’t.
With this level of interest in mind, wouldn’t it make sense to theme a show around the specific cultures being entertained? It does to me.
I could easily take the time to do the research and find out a great deal more about a specific culture, their history and their way of life. All that would succeed in doing is giving you only a poultry amount of information about one specific culture and the information coming from whatever LIMITED sources I have used, while simultaneously demonstrating it through the vision of one man – myself. That sounds a lot like giving a man a fish and letting him eat for a day. It is FAR more important, as you remember, to TEACH a man to fish and let him eat for a lifetime! So with that, I will try to demonstrate the process without selecting any ONE specific culture. I WILL choose to utilize, instead, a creature who ties into different cultures for the purpose of showing how it can be used and where…and what educational purpose it can serve as it is themed from one culture to another. Enter the Dragon.
The dragon is known for it’s place within eastern culture – China holds a tremendous place for it in history as well as culturally, and stories pertaining to the dragon are already created, which eases the burden of the performer needing to create such tales. The Chinese new year is often blessed with the traditional Chinese dragon costume being worn by multiple people and dancing out in the streets. Can such a feat be designed with balloons? It can, and already has. does it need to be limited to ONLY balloons? I think it would be shameful to create a giant dragon costume to be worn without accommodating the opportunities it presents in other areas of interest.
If such a costume were designed, it would be greatly beneficial if a small microphone/audio system were incorporated into the front of the beast for the purpose of adding sound effects. It also becomes possible to add fog to the front section of the dragon allowing for the possibility of blowing smoke from it’s nose and or mouth. Whereas fire could be worked into the design as well, it probably would not be conducive to the safety of those all around this kind of costume. However, if small fans were placed in the right locations with red lights also positioned, strips of white cloth could be attached to the mouth; and upon the glow of the red/orange lights and the wind, it would hold the impression of breathing fire, while still maintaining a level of safety.
Some questions to ponder when coming up with ideas for a prop of this magnitude;
- AS a whole, is it safe?
- Is it going to be an appreciated interactive element?
- Will there be difficulty in assembling enough people to fulfill the positions within such a prop?
- How will such a prop benefit the overall performance?
- Will the reward be worth all of the work that goes into it?
- Just how many different directions can one go with such a prop?
- How could the prop be specifically themed towards the overall presentation?
- How does this prop present itself in a manner that is DIFFERENT?
- Am I sure the audience can RELATE to the prop being used?
- Does the prop actually LOOK like what it’s supposed to?
- What kind of EMOTION is this prop going to evoke form my audience
- Is it the kind of emotion I’m looking to evoke from my audience?
- What is the best point in the presentation to bring out the prop?
- What ELSE can be done with the prop to create for a better performance?
- SAFETY – We have already discussed safety. The truth is, safety needs to be the number one concern and it doesn’t matter how grand, over the top, or AMAZING a prop is, if the safety of the performers, audience, or the show itself becomes compromised, then it is no longer worth having in the presentation. The next step from there would be to continue working the prop until it, in fact, DOES reach a point of safety or place the idea on the back-burner. I know some people who come up with good ideas, but because it doesn’t work in the manner they want it to, they scrap the entire concept. I’m not a believer in that theory. i firmly believe that just because an idea isn’t right at the moment doesn’t mean the time has come to give up on it. it’s quite possible that, like a fine wine, it needs more time to develop into something that can be fully developed. I have a list of ideas that remain stored away in filing cabinets full of ideas. I fall to them when my current idea tank runs dry. The beauty, too, is knowing that down the road (due to technological advances) more new concepts can be added to ideas that haven’t developed yet as well as successful ideas that breathe new life into them.
- The appreciated interactive element – I’ve performed quite a few shows that involved some large scale elements. In one particular performance, the bookers wanted me to focus the school performance around the history of the town. A bunch of large balloons were inflates and scattered across the stage to represent the houses in this development that were “under construction”. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and a way to tap into the theme of the performance. As I reached that part of the show , though, there seemed to be a distinct disconnect between the audience and what was on stage. They lived in this town known for it’s housing type, price range, and neighborhood structure. Most of all, this town became a famous little town on long island for providing economic housing and neighborhoods to G.I.s returning from W.W.2. It was a pivotal period in their own cultural history…but despite the request from the administration, the truth is that the elementary school kids were too young to KNOW their own town’s history, much less appreciate it. Although, it was an interactive element in the show that they were allowed to come up and touch and gain more information on at the shows closing, it wasn’t appreciated by this audience…and proved to be a poor fit with the rest of the performance.
- Level of difficulty in getting enough people to fulfill the prop’s needs. – This question also falls under the category of – “Getting the right volunteers!”. Large Props require a crew in advance that will be wearing the prop or …and this can prove to be an even greater challenge….the ability to get the right volunteers in the right amount on a whim. The immediate question that comes to mind when trying to answer the initial situation is very simply, “What kind of venue is this prop being presented in?” Let’s be honest,, this prop could make for some great stories and REALLY be impressive to the posh upscale crowd…but it’s NOT going to play well in a living room Birthday circuit…no matter HOW big the living room is. Clearly this is a stage item. It would play best in a stage show. Eliminate the desire to showboat the amazing prop and be sure to use it ONLY where it fits the audience as well as the size of the venue.
- How will such a prop benefit the overall performance? – The prop in and of itself serves as a great feature. In the right venue, such as a theme park, it would be a great stand-alone. Imagine the looks on the faces of spectators as it comes trolling down a theme park’s main path or rolling in and out of floats in a main street parade. Of course, considering the number of parades that play out throughout various towns and small cities for various holidays, a great deal of mileage can be achieved in this alone.
coming soon……Theming your Performance; Part 8 (Enter the Dragon – continued)
All inquiries, questions and comments are always welcome. As always, it’s a pleasure to share my knowledge with others – Thank you for the opportunity!
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Jimmy Leo – Cloud 9 Balloons