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Shift Perspective

Quick question for you to ponder:

“There is an older lady who has lived a happy and prosperous life. There is also a man in his mid 40’s who drinks far too much and seems to have little direction. And finally, there is a young man in his early teens who hasn’t had the stability that a child of his age should have but he is happy and healthy”

Here is the question… Two of them must be killed off in our story. Only 1 can survive. Who would you choose to survive? Post it into the comments below now before reading on. Tell me why you want this person to survive.

Now, onto the blog…

When you’re putting a show together but you wish to include some kind of link or narrative, one of the most interesting idea’s I’ve come across is ‘changing perspective’.

In a moment, I’ll give you a few examples including a joke, one from a magic show and an example I’ve personally written. But first, I want to explore the concept a little bit. Our main aim when creating a show is eliciting a meaningful idea that will cause an audience to engage, participate in and hopefully, be entertained. Some enjoy doing this through comedy, some enjoy doing this by storytelling, some enjoy doing this through traditional performance techniques but I personally like to do this through emotions. I enjoy evoking some kind of feeling in my audience. Whether that is awe, sadness, happiness, confusion, fear, nostalgia or any number of other feelings. I enjoy thinking of magic as a tool, a way to tell a story.

The easiest way I can represent my thoughts on magic is that, I think of it as a physical manifestation of a book. The words are the narrative and the magic is simply there to help illustrate the point. A wonderfully, magical, whimsical illustration of the imagination coming to life.

Once upon a time, magic was used for that purpose. Maybe to raise the dead and make the world believe in life after death. Sometimes to make us feel in love. Looking at some of David Copperfield earlier illusions, it’s hard not to get swept up in the romance of it all. In theatre, magic has been used to illustrate moments, elevating the story and making something entirely impossible feel possible. Sadly, in recent times, it seems magicians have decided that magic should be performed a certain way, with certain tricks and elicit certain emotions. Personally, I don’t think that way and I will never be apologetic for not wanting to do things the way others do. I will always enjoy performing, creating and developing the kind of magic I enjoy and hopefully entertaining my audiences differently to how most others are.

In this show, I used the shift in perspective with 3 characters I'd written about.

You can see some of them in the background. He looks like he's having a whale of a time doesn't he!

Enough of the self righteous rant! Onto the main point! What do I mean by changing perspective? Well, in order for a narrative to be engaging, it is important to not give the audience too much information at the beginning of the performance. Drip feed pieces of information and allow the preceding piece of information to change the idea that you’ve already set up. Almost like a narrative magic trick. You see, with magic, we provide a simple idea.

“The knife can go through this card box with a deck of cards inside”

In doing so, we are allowing the audience to ‘fill in the gaps’

“Well there is obviously a hole going through the deck, duh!”

We’ve created the scenario but now, we are going to change their perspective on what’s going on to create a conflict (the trick) but also a resolution to the scenario.

“How the hell is it a massive block of steel inside?! I thought it was a deck of cards with a hole through! But there I no way anything could pass through this!”

But we can also do this with our narrative. Comedians do this an awful lot! Here is an example for you from comedian Joe Wilkinson:

When Joe was asked to give a piece of advice to someone from his life, this is what he said:

“Never tell a bride with a piece of dog sh*t on her dress to chillax”

So far, we think he has given us the punch line. Seems suitably random and strange. But he is about to change the perspective of the narrative he is weaving.

“They get annoyed, that’s all I’m saying. They get annoyed. Especially when they find out it was you who threw it at her”

In terms of the story, he has given us a little bit of the story and in giving us that second piece of the story, it’s changed the perspective and given him a second punch line. But, he has more to give…

“We’d run out of confetti, I had to improvise”

Again, by now saying the dog droppings were actually intended to be confetti, he has changed the perspective of the narrative once again and given another punch line. But, he has one more shift…

“I put it down to the stress of not being invited!”

And there we have the final change in perspective. If we collate all of that information going backwards… he wasn’t invited to the wedding, so he was stressed and forgot to bring confetti. So he picked up dog droppings and threw that at the bride. When it hit her dress and she got annoyed, he told her to chillax.

All he has done here is, essentially told the story from the end to the beginning and in doing so, keeps the audience engaged with whats happening.

Another brilliant example of this is in Derek Delgaudio’s ‘In and of Itself’. A superb show full of excellent moments of story telling and magic. But one part I particularly enjoyed was the moment when he talks about a brick in a window. The brick is seen in a smashed window on the stage. At this moment, the audience will only see it for what it is… a brick. Then he tells a heart wrenching story of how the brick was thrown through his childhood window as a hate crime toward his mum who identified as a lesbian. Then, he sits in a chair next to the brick and mentions that now the meaning of that brick has changed and the audience will never be able to see it in the same way.

This is an excellent way of changing perspective, in a more literal way. By giving meaning and significance to an otherwise ‘normal’ item, it’s caused the audience to see things totally differently.

I’ve been working on stories over the past few years that use this concept and one of my favourites was a story I wrote for a horror trick.

The interesting this is, I have already told you the crux of this story. At the beginning on this post, I gave you 3 characters and told you we had to kill off 2 of them and only allow 1 to survive. I’m guessing the overwhelming majority would have chosen the young man. Right?

Here is where I’m going to change the perspective. The old lady is actually a nurse and is looking after the man. He I an alcoholic. He was pushed to alcoholism when his wife and mother of his child unexpectedly passed away. But he is determined to get clean for the sake of his son. His son is the young man who you just saved. The problem is, the boy see’s his dad with this older lady a lot and presumes he is having an affair. He gets more and more angry seeing his dad drunk and the boy kills his dad and the nurse.

Still glad you saved the boy?

The idea here is, I wanted to make the audience almost complicit in a situation by making them realise that their own cultural bias isn’t necessarily a good indicator of what is right and what is wrong.

I get this os a very dark example of what I mean, but equally, it is a very simple example which hopefully is easy to follow. No doubt, there are versions of this you can now think of. Films like The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Usual Suspects and The Prestige all use this technique to create twists throughout the film. But it is an excellent way to help write an engaging narrative for a show that will keep your audience engaged, help elicit different emotions and make your performance feel most more polished and substantial than what your audience are probably expecting.

So, start building your shows in a more considered, interesting and entertaining way by changing the perspective.

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