Steffan Soule’s SFX Magic in Mysterian.
The longest running magic show on the West Coast began in 1999 with a perfect SFX system in a theatre built for the show.
Steffan Soule performs artistic magic for the corporate and family audience aimed at invoking wonder, astonishment and awe. His tools are large-scale-grand illusions like his Giant Hour Glass; amazing-small stage effects like his Signed Bill in Lemon; his Cast of Mysterians; and his Lights, Sound, Smoke and Mirrors all run by SFX. His show, Mysterian, now in its fifth year, opened in 1999 with the perfect SFX system controlling the small 250 seat magic theatre designed and built for the show at Illusionz Magical Entertainment Center.

The owner of Illusionz, Mike Dobias, formerly with Microsoft product support, understands the power of technology and the need for people who can use it wisely. When Steffan’s dream to have a magic theatre combined with Mike’s willingness to build it and see if they will come, the ability to control the technology from one central computer was a major consideration. Steffan found SFX through his contact with the theatre world, and every piece of equipment was compatible with SFX from the beginning.

This SFX system uses an Echo Layla Sound Card with Midi In and Out, a Yamaha O2R Sound Board, an ETC Express lighting board connected to 48 dimmers, Technobeams, hazer, fogger, color scrollers, and secret devices like an air valve that must open at a perfect, exact moment. In addition, the theatre is complete with Surround Sound (fully utilizing all 8 of the SFX outs and additional routing through the O2R for the on stage speakers), Wireless Mics, CD player, Boxlight, DVD, Video, Backstage Monitor, and the list goes on. SFX is used to control everything from the muting of the mics to the fogger and secret blast of air that propels a performer into a giant clock.

While Steffan’s Hour Glass Illusion originates with Steffan Soule and is featured in the Kennedy Center Award winning play “Still Life with Iris”, many illusions in Mysterian come from the classics of magic. SFX gives new life to the standard effects by framing the scenes with elegant sound and lights. And, SFX makes it possible for Steffan to produce complex cues for his original grand illusions and new works. The complex sound cues can be simplified and mixed down after months of working out exact timing. This is useful for performances at other locations or TV specials when the music must come from one CD.

SFX plays a central role in controlling the cues in every show and in the economy of the theatre. SFX provides over five versions of Mysterian, ten smaller shows for corporate events, and a fast way to create special scenes for various corporate meetings. The additional ability to send a wireless GO signal to the SFX computer from anywhere on stage offers a precision and a cost effectiveness that is unsurpassed.

Steffan Soule’s Water Fountain Levitation

Magic uses background and foreground music. When the magician performs silently to foreground music, the timing of the action to the music is important, but in magic, the magic come first. There are many reasons to ask for the music to end at a different point in every performance. Sometimes the magician will take longer to put the blade through the box; sometimes the assistant needs a few extra seconds to arrive on spike with a prop; larger audiences will applaud at several points in the middle of a routine while smaller audiences will wait until the end to applaud. While most magic shows fade out the music when the effect is over, SFX allows a musical ending to crossfade into the piece at the right moment, which can and should vary with each show. The “Ender” as it is called brings the music to a definite end, and when switched for the main music at an agreed upon cue, the performers and the music will end simultaneously from nearly any point in the music.
This same principle is also used for “stings” and for transitions from one piece of music to another. In one of the grand illusions in Mysterian, Steffan divides an unrehearsed spectator in half, which, by the way is impossible, and at the moment the audience sees the spectator in two places at once, a “ta-da” sting plays that blends perfectly with the main music at ANY point in the piece. Of course sometimes the “ta-da” arrives more perfectly on the beat, but, in general, no one can tell. This improves the show dramatically and gives a freedom to the performers that is appropriate for this type of art.

There is a basic transitional technique used in several key magical moments throughout Mysterian. When the magic reaches a visual climax, or just before, a crossfade to a transitional piece of music is used to accentuate the action. As the transitional piece fades in, the first piece fades out and cues the cast to connect with the final musical piece that comes out of the transition. The final piece then may also have an ender, and once again, the music will finish in perfect time with the cast. With any other way of running the show, this flexibility is lost, and the impact of the magic is diminished.

In the Mysterian cast, all six performers understand SFX because Steffan’s approach to magic demands this, and a basic understanding of SFX is easily attainable. Even the non-technical performers must practice with each of their cues in front of the SFX screen. When Mysterian opened, there were three booth operators: a cue caller, an SFX operator and a lighting board operator. Within a month, they had it down to the original idea: one SFX booth operator clicking one GO button which sends midi show control signals to the sound board and lighting console. The hazer, fogger and other devices are triggered by DMX through lighting cues or macros.
For several years, Steffan developed and performed with a wireless GO button for use during his private one-man shows. Although Steffan prefers a live booth operator for Mysterian since the cues are rich with complexity, the economic times have necessitated the use of his wireless device for every performance. What started out as a way for Steffan to have a few nice cues during his solo performances for small corporate groups during the week has turned into another instance of technology replacing a person. Now, the wireless GO runs even the high tech show for the public on the weekends.
Each cast member is responsible for what are called “clicks” during the performance. The clicks send a GO to SFX by way of a wireless momentary switch into a Midi Solutions Footswitch Controller.  This sends a midi program change to SFX, which SFX interprets as a GO due to settings pre-selected in the SFX Cue File.
To make it possible for the Cast to click every GO in the show, many of the cues had to be strung together. The show went from hundreds of cues to under 40 -- and now relies upon precision stemming from years of working together.

(Right: 8 CUES reduced to 3!)

Illusionz also features numerous attractions like Laser Tag, a high tech Arcade and on site Catering.

The wireless clicker is nothing more than an inexpensive wireless doorbell with a few obvious modifications: the doorbell sound on the receiver has been changed into a silent signal through a quarter inch jack that fits into the footswitch slot on the Midi Solutions box, and the transmitter (the doorbell button) has been fitted with a rocking switch, so it does not go off by accident as it is worn by the magician himself. And, finally, there are doorbells with no alteration on props and walls all over the backstage area allowing for nearly every foreseeable GO command to result at the perfect time.
There is one catch. At times, the inexpensive doorbell system does not respond on the first click, and at times it responds as if the user clicked twice. No one in the cast knows why, though theories abound. Steffan has programmed SFX to fix these very occasional misfires as follows: after any cue that does not contain a few sub cues with waits that are longer than 1 second, he places a half second wait followed by a dummy cue (a wave that plays with no volume).

For any cue that cannot be heard immediately, like a light cue with no sound connected to it, he places a sound that can only be heard on stage by the person clicking or a light that flashes in order to prove to the performer that the click has occurred.

There are many more ways SFX can make magic more magical. These are the core uses by magician Steffan Soule in his million dollar magical extravaganza, Mysterian. In addition, Steffan times every show using the Start and Stop Clock feature; and SFX sends time code to the O2R for automated (auto mix) surround sound effects as well as CD player fades for a variety of background music during set up!

For more information about Steffan Soule and his relationship to the Art of Stage Magic, contact Steffan at magic@steffansoule.com or visit www.steffansoule.com where you will find videos of his work. You can even find a picture of the interior of his wireless-doorbell-Go-button which has become an integral part of his act, so important that he now uses it with an SFX laptop when performing at other locations away from the high tech theatre with all the sound, lights, smoke and mirrors a magician could ever want.

Copyright © 2003 A Touch of Magic, Inc. • All Rights Reserved
Published by Stage Research, Inc. with permission.