Developing Your Signature Routine
By Samuel Patrick Smith
Establishing rapport with your audience is the single-most important aim you can achieve as a performer. A signature routine -- material unique to you which you have brought to a high level of excellence -- is a perfect way to create rapport and communicate who you are to the audience.
Think about some of the great performers you have seen. With years of experience, they have developed signature material which you not only look forward to, but expect them to perform. We've all seen this in concerts when a singer begins a signature song and the audience goes wild over the first few chords.
In children's magic, Mark Daniel's "Legend of the Indian Paintbrush" has become one of his performance signatures.
Others, which you may have seen, include:
David Ginn's Snake Can routine
Dave Risley's Rufus
Steve Taylor's Air-Head Rudy
Steve Kissell's Instant MC signs
Ken Scott's Instant Magician
Bev Bergeron's "Send in the Clowns" with his character, Rebo
Selina Frederick's Joey presenting "Tickets!"
Even a single line can become a signature. When Garrison Keillor says, "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon, my hometown," fans eagerly applaud, knowing that an ingenious and witty monologue will follow.
Your signature item doesn't even have to be in your main area of expertise, surprisingly enough. Jay Marshall, a magician, gained the most recognition for his "Lefty" routine. The magic and personality he demonstrates with a simple glove puppet never fails to fascinate.
My own Puff the Magic Rabbit routine has become one of my signature items, even though my background and primary focus is magic, not puppetry.
What, then, constitutes a signature routine? Typically, it will include these four characteristics:
(1) Material you have mastered through hundreds or thousands of performances.
(2) The signature fits your natural abilities. Although it doesn't have to be in your primary performance area, you will find that certain routines come more easily to you because the proper timing and delivery is better suited to your personality than other material.
(3) At least some aspect of the routine is unique to you. You don't have to be the inventor of the effect, just as singers often become famous for songs written by others (and used with permission). If it's a standard magic trick, the jokes, patter, or presentation will be uniquely yours. Or you simply do it better than anybody else. Michael Ammar didn't invent the card on ceiling, but I don't know of many others who can perform that effect in a gymnasium!
(4) Audiences love it. No routine is a signature piece if it doesn't consistently get strong reactions from the intended audience.
How do you begin developing signature routines? Look over your existing material and determine which routines get the best reaction. What do people talk about after the show? I've had routines turn into signature material without realizing it. I only discovered it when others have pointed it out.
Once you've discovered a routine with signature potential, begin the process stepping back and looking at it through the eyes of your spectators. What is it that makes that particular routine, charming, funny, amazing, or fascinating? Then during the next several hundred performances, begin testing and improving your delivery. Eventually, you will find yourself extremely comfortable with the mechanics of what you're doing, which enables you to divert more brain power to polishing your lines and delivery and perfecting your facial expressions.