Backdrops, Part 2
ABBOTT’S JET SET is perhaps the most famous and inexpensive tripod system for magicians ($70). They have it manufactured specifically for magicians. This hardware only package is chrome-plated, has no loose parts, collapses down to 3’ x 5” in diameter, and weighs less than 7 lbs. As I mentioned, 6’ x 6’ is rather small, but you can safely extend it to 8’ x 8’ with simple piping available from your local hardware store. Abbott’s Jet Set comes with directions for making your own curtain. The curtain in the photo below looks like dark crushed velveteen. This system is very light, fast and easy to work with. If you use two they will fit together forming one 6’ x 12’ backdrop. (abbottmagic.com)
For just a little bit more money, you can DESIGN YOUR OWN tripod system. I would suggest searching through the online catalog at B&H Photo Video in New York City (bhphotovideo.com). You are looking for photo & video backdrop systems. Try to construct a setup where the tripods are not on the very ends, but hidden behind the curtain. Closely examine the Abbott and Klamm photos in this article.
If you want a quick link to a specific product, check out THE PORTABLE BACKGROUND SUPPORT SYSTEM ($170) at www.tallyns.com. While the tripods are silver colored, they extend to over 8’ high, and the 3-section telescoping crossbar has a maximum width over 12 feet. They sell a cheaper, narrower product and large shade-like backdrops that photographers pull off a roll; their “seamless paper” for backdrops looks intriguing as well. While I have never tested these shade-type backdrops, I always thought it would make for a rather artistic, avant-garde look. I would beware of the paper being too lightweight because (as in any theatre) you do not want the backdrop moving when making an entrance or exit. There is a transport issue too since the roll of material is so long.
Klamm Magic (klamm-magic.com) sells a dual tripod setup for $249 (the 4 drapes are $230 more). The price seems steep considering the options above. I would advise against Klamm’s cheaper wooden frame system. Upon examination, it seemed a bit flimsy to me. Steer clear of Mylar curtains unless you definitely need to hide threads and wires. “It’s about you, not your backdrop.”
Theatrical Drapery (stagedrapery.com) sells PIPE AND DRAPE SYSTEMS in various configurations. While heavier and less compact, this option may suit your needs. Their 8’H x 10W booth is $665.
SPIDER BACKDROPS of Germany (spiderbackdrop.com) has wonderful, complete systems for a fair but considerable price. I purchased the “Spider Flex,” which contains two 5×8 frames, two stabilizer bars, 4 fastener bars to join the two frames, two larger curtains in a color of my choice, back padding and a doorway curtain of matching material or Mylar streamers… This creates a slightly concave backdrop eight feet high by twelve and a half feet wide. I LOVE IT. Currently the Spider Flex system retails for around $1,350. The best part is that it all fits in my Honda Civic thanks to a convenient 12”x18”x30” soft case that rolls. A smaller single-frame “Spider-Jet” package is available too for $630 at Arjan’s (see below). Frame and curtain sizes include 5×8, 8×8 and 10×8. The colors include black, midnight blue, red wine or royal blue, and Richard Robinson tells me the fabric is one of the best he has ever seen on the market. You may purchase individual parts to design your own setup, but this can be the more costly way to go. To save some cash, you might want to purchase curtains, backing and curtain rods from Spider Backdrop and hang them on a cheaper support system. (The rods have little hooks on them.) Snazzy spider leg side-tables are available in 55, 65, 78 & 88 cm heights and in two clear acrylic tabletop sizes (30×30 cm & 40×40 cm). Spider Backdrop systems and parts are also sold by Arjan’s Show-Biz Centre (show-bizcentre.com 1-888-994-6287 in the USA). They will send you a very nice information packet that includes brochures, a detailed price list and fabric samples.
A couple of years ago Richard Robinson recommended to me one method that does not use curtains at all, but rather a system of three or four foot square MODULAR PANELS as outlined in Frances Marshall’s book, The Super Show. Contact Magic Inc. in Chicago (773-334-2855). While somewhat dated, it still contains much valuable information. These panels can be configured in many different ways, and you can easily customize them for corporate events.
While simple and affordable, hinged theater FLATS are bulky but perfectly usable if you have help and the right vehicle to transport them in. Their construction is basic, using 1” x 2” pine stiffeners and stretched canvas. Consult most any book on basic theater set design. They set up quickly and are also customizable – consider Velcro tabs to hold custom signs, frames and fabrics. If you’re doing this on the quick and cheap, FOAM CORE BOARD comes in various colors and can be hinged easily with cloth tape.
Something worth considering is a portable TRADESHOW DISPLAY used by traveling corporate folk. These come in handy transport cases and pack up quickly and neatly. Jeff McBride uses a tradeshow backdrop by Nomadic Display (nomadicdisplay.com). His sold for $3,000. It is flame resistant and looks fantastic every time you set it up. It comes with great flight cases, and is guaranteed for life. If you ever have a problem with it, the company will send a replacement overnight. WOW! It makes sense, though, if their clients include companies like IBM. Here is one example of many:
Keep in mind that their purpose is to bring attention to themselves and the materials posted on them. I believe simple and subtle is best for magic. They come in many shapes and sizes, but I repeat: “It’s about you, not your backdrop!” In the early 1990s used tradeshow exhibits were sold in the Boston area. That might be worth checking out in any metropolitan area – especially in a slow economy where business people are traveling less…
Finally, a friend I met at Master Class a couple years ago mentioned a similar setup called a “portable funeral.” If you know anything about them or other backdrop systems, please contact me at David@Reed-Brown.com. I will be most grateful.
A STORY FROM THE ROAD: CREATING A THEATER IN 24 HOURS
In summer 2001 I was on sabbatical at a Camp Wightman, a great place for kids and adults in Eastern Connecticut. Every Sunday evening we had an all-camp welcome in a simple outdoor program shelter – the open-sided kind you see in parks across the USA. For the start of the program I had our staff produce the camp program director with a basic grand illusion, but to make it truly spectacular, we needed a makeshift theater with sound, lights, backdrop and wings. Did I mention we had no budget? One college student brought in a CD player and 100 watt computer speakers. Another bought some clip-on shop lights with colored PAR38 floods. The camp had some band risers. I went to a local fabric store, which was having its seasonal clearance sale. Many fabrics were a dollar a yard – YES! The backdrop was navy blue; the wings green and pink. A hem here… A stitch there… We hung three pipes from the rafters with spare chains from the shop and weighted the fabric with more pipe. Everything could be hung or removed by two people in five minutes. We crafted a simple but effective theater for under $125 in one day. NOTE TO SELF: Sometimes the measure of art is how much can be done with very little.
Our next stop will be the issue of tables and cases. I wish you all the best on your journey down The Magic Tech Road!
Abbott’s Magic Jet Set $70
B & H Photo Video – search for photo & video backdrops
Don Drake: Black Art Wizard’s Window, Wizard’s Table & Wizard’s Curtain
Black Art Breakthroughs by Don Drake
Inexpensive Illusions by Gary Darwin
Dual Tripod System by Bob Klamm $250, Curtains $230
Tim Ellis & Sue Ann Webster see “Have You Ever Thought About School Tours?” PVC Frame & Black Art at www.magicunlimited.com http://www4.tpgi.com.au/users/katzkin/2002WorldLectureTour.htm#merchandise
Nomadic Display (tradeshow systems) $3,000
Portable Background Support System $170
The Super Show compiled by Frances Marshall, Magic Inc.
To develop simple illusions without black art reference the following:
The Mark Wilson Complete Course in Magic
Mystery Carton Illusions by U.F. Grant
Illusion F/X by Andrew Mayne
Easy Build Illusions by Paul Osborne
Posted in Technical Advice