Archive for May, 2009

REALITY TELEVISION

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Now and then, opportunities come along in this business that you really have to think about.  Television is such an important medium in our society and many performers view appearing on television as the “ultimate” success. Personally, I don’t think all “exposure” is necessarily “good” exposure.  I believe each situation has to be given serious consideration.  We have appeared on several television programs but none of them without a great deal of thought.  Recently, we were asked to make a television decision again – and it was not an easy one by any stretch of the imagination.

For more than 3 years, I’ve been exploring the possibility of a reality show for television, something along the line of Survivorman. If you’ve watched any of our YouTube shorts or the ASIA dvd, you know what I mean.  I’ve been working with two dedicated and wonderful producers for more than a year to finalize some of the aspects of this project. They were able to put together a very funny and interesting Pitch Video to sell that show – and we had some positive/strong interest from reputable networks.

But, after all that time, energy, and effort, Cindy and I came to realize that reality television could be more damaging than beneficial to our relationship and our business.  Two very good friends who have worked in television for many years helped us see that truth.  And on more than one occasion, friends who work in television have said, “Only crazy people do reality shows!”

Hollywood is all about making money, whatever the cost.  Case in point – TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8.  This is a show about a normal family raising eight kids including their sextuplets.  In the last two weeks, every gossip and entertainment show on television (including a few on CNN) has been trashing the couple because of an alleged affair between Jon and some other woman. Rumors and speculation are running rampant.  Entertainment tonight actually referred to them as “blood sport!”  There is absolutely no concern for the couple or their family – only what kind of ratings can theses shows get as a result of this frenzy.  Everyone in the media is willing to destroy this family for just a few more viewers, a little more press, to expose a “secret,” and to make a buck.  Profit at the expense of the suffering of others.  How debase is that?  Just last night, entertainment news shows once again commented that the world is watching the destruction of a family.

On more than one occasion, television has been willing to sacrifice the good on the altar of the dollar.  The carnage is undeniable and it has fed a socially demoralizing “15 minutes of fame” attitude that causes people to do stupid and embarrassing things on YouTube.

You just can’t trust Hollywood.  It boasts of tolerance while outing people on the cover of entertainment magazines so they can sell a few more. It collectively cries fowl about the weight requirements of women on television and in film while mocking celebrities who have developed a more “curvy” figure.  Hollywood is the height of intolerance while preaching tolerance to the rest of the world.  And I’m supposed to trust them with our career?

We have worked very hard for more than 20 years to build a show, a business, a reputation, and relationships with people around the world.  These people trust us to provide them with a first-class production and 110% effort to make their experience the best we possibly can. A reality show puts a lot of things on the line, there’s a lot at stake – and I’m talking about much more than just our privacy.

Every part of who we are, what we do, and how we do it would be on display for everyone to see.  And Reality Television has a way of distorting the facts to CREATE ”stories” that are more interesting for the viewer without regard to the truth or the eventual fallout.

Do we really want to be turned into television characters, nicely packaged and labeled so the general public can “relate” to what we do?

Jesse Thorn wrote a great blog on this very subject.   A friend of his (Tyler Macniven) was the winner on The Amazing Race, another one of my favorite shows.  He knows Tyler well. He commented that the first episode of the show sliced and shaved Tyler into a man he barely recognized – a fictionalized characterization defined by the producers of the show.

He summarized the Reality Television paradox  this way (you can read his entire blog HERE.):

The first hundred years or so of real-life film was held to non-fiction standards. Certainly some documentary films have been accused of say fudging timelines, but I think the very fact that I can use the verb “accused” demonstrates that that sort of behavior wasn’t kosher. Essentially, when we watched non-fiction film, be it on the news or on a nature show or on a documentary special or a documentary feature, we had the expectation that the editing involved was an attempt to best represent the truth of the people and situations depicted. Sometimes they succeeded, and sometimes they failed, but at the heart of the matter was an attempt to accurately and interestingly represent real events.

It’s that expectation, that legacy, hanging out in the back of our mind, that gives reality TV it’s punch. The implied promise that they may be editing, but they’re doing so to give us the most compelling representation of reality.  That’s not how reality TV works, though. Situations are fabricated from whole cloth. Performers are given scenarios and even dialogue. Producers massage storylines into the shows as they shoot. Then producers pull them out of shows as they edit. Even shows that don’t do deceptive things in pre-production spend post-production not looking for the most compelling representation of what occurred, but rather looking for the most compelling TV they can create — whether or not it fairly represents reality.

As we talked about our involvement in a reality show, we decided we’re just not willing to throw away everything to become characters on television – to create compelling TV that doesn’t truthfully reflect who we are, what we do, or the dedication it takes to make it all happen.  And we are definitely not willing to toss aside all the relationships we’ve made with people – those with whom we work in cities around the world and, most importantly, those with whom we share our lives on the road.

I’m sure several of our competitors will seek out this opportunity and try to capitalize on what we’ve decided wasn’t right for us.  That practice is something we’ve gotten used to long ago.  But we know we’ve made the best decision for us and other, more appropriate, opportunities will come along.  So, for now, THE SPENCER’S ROAD SHOW can only be seen “for real” – touring from city to city, not on television.

LYNCHBURG, VA

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Home – it’s always good to come home.  These last few months of the tour have been exciting and exhausting.  And it seems the work is never done.

We unloaded the truck today into the warehouse to begin the process of repairing and fine-tuning the illusions and technical equipment before leaving again on June 5 for Arkansas (our “official” last show of the season).

And I’m working on lots of projects including the final stages of the Hocus Focus program.  I’m hoping to have the curriculum complete by early August as well as an At-Home Kit for parents and their children.

There’s also all the work to get ready for the Fall tour!  We have a few new illusions coming our way this summer, including a couple that are completely new to magic audiences.  We are looking forward to bringing them to the stage next season.  So, still lots of stuff to do.

THE PALACE THEATRE – CORSICANA, TX

Friday, May 8th, 2009

We wrapped up our time in Corsicana with two performances at The Palace Theatre.  This beautifully restored 1930′s vaudeville theatre has amazing acoustics, incredible lighting, and a typical vaudeville stage.

The theatre tech students from the high school came over to help us load in our gear.  And they stayed around for a couple of hours to help get the lighting into place and our scenery in the air.  Once they left, our crew concentrated and getting things as ready as possible.

We were back around 11am on Thursday to finish things up.  We still needed to focus lighting, set the moving lights, and several other things.  Cindy and Ethan spent a good part of both days trying to figure out how to make all flow during the show.  These performances would be a very carefully choreographed “dance” backstage to move one illusion off stage while getting the next one into place.

While working on the lights, we needed to replace one of the bulbs. Lloyd, the technical director, directed us to a file cabinet where the bulbs were located.  We started exploring the drawers to find the right size and Ethan stumbled on an “interesting” box.  Now, this is either (1) scary or (2) someone has a GREAT sense of humor (I’m going with the second one).

Our first show at 6pm was filled with a wonderful audience of all ages.  We had a quick turn around between shows before the doors opened to let in the crowd for the 8pm show.  Both shows were great fun! We had wonderful volunteers on the stage with us and the guys at the Palace Theatre were so gracious and hospitable to use for our entire stay in Corsicana.

We have now officially wrapped the Spring 2009 tour.  Today, Cindy and Keith will fly from DFW Airport back to Virginia.  Ethan and I will start driving the rig back home.

CORSICANA, TX – DAYS 1&2

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

We pulled into Corsicana from Waco on Sunday afternoon – short drive.  The next few days will be extremely busy.  We are set to load into one theatre on  Monday for two shows on Tuesday and two shows on Wednesday.  Then we will pack it all up, move it to the Palace Theatre for two performances on Thursday night.  Whew, I’m tired just thinking about it!

We loaded into the theatre with the help of a group of students who have worked very hard these last two days.  We worked a long day on Monday hanging our light plot, getting the fly system in the theatre properly weighted, and hanging some of our soft goods and intelligent lighting.

The first show was Tuesday morning at 9am with another to follow at 1:15pm.  Today, we have a show at 9am, then we’ll tear the show down and move it to the Palace Theatre in downtown Corsicana.  We have two shows on Thursday night – matinee at 6pm with the full show to follow at 8pm.  More on that later….

WACO HIPPODROME – TEXAS

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

One of the shows I’ve been excited about this season was our performance at the Waco Hippodrome on Saturday, May 2.  I met Scott Baker, the executive director, a couple of years ago and we started planning this event.

Texas has been battling the media frenzy surrounding the N1H1/Swine Flu virus these past few days so lots of things have ben up in the air.  Scott and I realized that there would be some people who would not come out to a public gathering.  We also knew there would be lots of people who would – and they did!

We drove down from Grand Prairie, hit a bit of road construction along the way, and pulled into the loading area slightly late but the crew was ready to go.

We loaded in as quickly as possible – tight stage space so Cindy has some fast thinking to do to get it all in AND make it work!  As usual, she met the challenge head on and figured it all out.  That’s what years of road experience will teach you!

Everyone kicked into their day with the help of a very friendly, professional, and easy-to-work-with crew under the direction of Brandon Burns.  And the show went up quickly.  Ethan assembled illusions.  Cindy worked on stage audio, stage magic, and wardrobe.  I worked on the lighting while Keith set up the boards and house sound.

David and Kylie drove down from Dallas to spend the afternoon with us and to catch the show again.  It’s always good to see them.  And they were there to enjoy a very special dinner with us organized by Scott – food from Taco Cabana!

The audience started rolling in around 6:30pm for the 7pm show.  Scott had promised a warm and enthusiastic audience – and Waco proved to be just that!  The audience was everything you hope for and gave us a standing ovation at the end of the night.  We never take those for granted and it was a great way to end our time in Waco.

We left Waco this morning and arrived in Corsicana, TX just a few miles down the road.  We have a very full week here of 6 shows in 3 days!  Time to get some rest….

UPTOWN THEATRE – GRAND PRAIRIE, TX

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

We rolled into Grand Prairie this morning to the loading dock of the Uptown Theatre.  It was recently built/restored and put on the Historic Landmarks for the city.  It’s a very cool place!

The backstage area is a little tight so Cindy had a challenge getting the show in a position where it would “flow” during the performance.  She did a fantastic job – and Ethan really came through as well.  They did amazing and “magical” things backstage!

The audience was INCREDIBLE!!  We had a packed house – sold out in fact (though a few decided to stay away because of the H1N1 virus).  They were a very responsive crowd – laughed, applauded, cheered, screamed, whistled!  And the ended the show on their feet – a standing ovation from an appreciate audience (to very appreciative performers).

Several of the area magicians were also at the show including Rick Walker and members of our former touring team, David and Kylie Knight.  It was great to see them!  Another friend-from-the-past also came to the show, Brendan Bagnell.  We first met Brendan in Melbourne, FL in the late 80′s.  He attended Florida Tech University where we performed almost 10 years in a row when we were touring college campuses. He’s now a Fort Worth police officer – looks great!  A fun night to visit with friends.

Tomorrow we head to Waco, TX – Hippodrome Theatre at 7pm!