The quote that inspired the original post comes from Teller:
"To compose a new tune in magic, you don’t just write the notes, you build the piano."I maintain this is true of all variety arts: The mark of a "professional" is the customization and handcrafting of costumes and props. "Amateurs" by comparison are very much off-the-shelf. (It may be true for all theatrical arts, but I'll let you be the judge of that.)
In this article, a few examples of exactly what I'm talking about:
Red Snapper, photo by Markus Alias
Red Snapper. Red documented the construction of "Mega Costume" on her blog. Everything you see in this picture (except for the stockings) is either hand-crafted or modified. There's at least a hundred dollars worth of rhinestones on her shoes.
Rob the Balloon Guy, photo by Ashley Clinton
Rob the Balloon Guy. Rob made most of his costume, but the detail I want to focus on: The chair. Standard folding chair, right? Rob couldn't find a red chair, so he painted it. It's a simple thing, a simple customization, yet it works. It shows he cares, it makes the prop consistent with his performer persona, etc. (Imagine if he was balancing a standard beige folding chair on his chin.)
Red Bastard. You can't buy a costume like that off the rack. Really look at how it moves, how the silohuette changes with the performer's movements. Outstanding!
Clownvis -- he's the King of Clowns for a reason. This hard-working performer puts a lot of work into his costume and make-up. I can't find a clear picture of this one dais he uses -- actually his travel case. The few times I’ve seen him live, he’s been on his own, without the full entourage and set dressing. Using his travel case as a dais is smart: There’s less for him to tote around. And do you think such a colorful act would go onstage with a plain Jane travel case to stang on? Of course not. It's painted up with stars and stripes, consistent with his color palatte.
This is just a small sampling, and I could do this all day. The point is, “building the piano” shows respect for the audience; it shows that you care enough to take the time to get things right, whether that means a hundred dollars worth of rhinestones or putting googly eyes on a rubber cockroach. Each of these performers could have gone with an off-the-rack solution, using unembellished props and costumes. But what would be the point?
We are creating an experience for the people in the dark, not an experience for ourselves onstage. Off-the-rack and unembellished would work if we were doing it for ourselves – we know what it’s supposed to look like in our imaginations. They don’t, and they’re the ones we care about, right?