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When you embark on a career as an entertainer, specifically a live entertainment performer, you will either choose to create and perform an act or a show. This will largely determine your career paths and venues & shows that you take on.
Headliner entertainers who perform full shows are generally more well-known as they get marque star billing. However, there are also many highly successful acts who perform in the best variety venues around the world. There include Antonio Gatto (juggler), Jerome Murat (living statue), Alexis Brothers (balancing act), Picaso Jr (juggler), Willer Nicolodi (ventriloquist) and Kris Kremo (juggler) to name a few.
An act is a short specialty act that generally is between 6 – 12 minutes long. It is highly specialized and features one or two routines/ genres of your art. It features multiple effects or “tricks” in a self-contained “story” that is told within the performance of the act.
Sebastian & Kristina perform a quick change act around the world
A show is a longer performance made up of different acts or routines. The different acts or routines may or may not be related to each other. Generally, for variety, the individual acts or routines that make up a show are different from each other in effect/ “tricks”, texture and presentation. A show can run anywhere from 20 minutes to 90 minutes.
Most entertainers start their careers on either path. An entertainer either first creates an act or a show but as his/ her career evolves, he/ she either builds more acts to create a show or takes the best act/ routine in a show and make it as a featured act.
The initial path you take is typically determined by your market, city or country especially at the start of your career.
For example, traditionally, European countries and North Asia tend to produce more entertainers with acts than shows. This is due to the strong presence of circuses, varieties, theatres and cabarets in these markets. But, it is the opposite for countries like the US, Australia and South East Asia where full shows and not short acts are commercially favoured.
In Singapore, when I got into the business the seemingly only choice to be a commercial entertainer was to perform at events. We had literally no showrooms or theatre-style venues for magicians. So, it seemed the only route was to develop a 30-minute show, that was the industry standard. However, in years to come, more opportunities presented themselves as my product became more differentiated and better. In fact, I headlined a venue in the country’s first permanent magic & illusion show for 13 months. Currently, I have illusions that can be performed as standalone “acts” even though I still typically perform full shows internationally.
I perform a show and have always performed a show from the start of my career.
Having said the above, I think the binding effect of your specific market and geographical location is not as strong as before. In 2014, the world is so connected with the Internet and the ease of global travel.
10 – 15 years ago, I would have told new entertainers to develop a show as I believed a show offers more opportunities and has more value than an act. However, in 2014, I would recommend new entertainers to try to develop a unique act but build a show around it at the same time.
This approach allows you to get a variety of work. This means you get experience and exposure in different markets that allow you to identify niches that you can then specialize in.
Here is a look at the advantages and disadvantages of an act and a show.
Note: This may not apply to all acts/ shows because some acts/ shows have specific technical requirements that negate the advantages or disadvantages.
Advantages of an Act
- An act is generally self-contained, making it easy for it to fit into variety shows, circuses, production shows and TV appearances.
- An act has more opportunity to work in highly specialized venues.
- It is cheaper to produce an act than a full show and it is easier & less expensive to transport.
- It is easier for an artiste to stand out if he/ she performs a truly unique act
Disadvantages of an Act
- The biggest disadvantage of an act is that an act has less ability to scale and increase value/ performance fee due to nature of an act and its duration.
- An act can be a victim of its own success as often an entertainer is recognized for only a single act and finds difficulty growing beyond the successful act.
Advantages of a Show
The biggest advantage that a show has over an act is that it is generally viewed as higher value with more ability to scale and increase value/ performance fee.
- A show’s format allows it to be more flexible to adapt to a variety of show programs and entertainment venues.
- There are more opportunities for a show to work in general markets.
Disadvantages of a Show
- Full shows are expensive to produce and it takes much longer to produce a full show than an act.
- It is much harder to have a consistent high quality of an entire show. As such, it can take an artiste much longer to break out and be successful as a show than as an act.
- A show is also harder and more expensive to transport.