I guess its about time to speak up. Though I had been tempted to do so before, I chose to let the thread follow its natural course. With due respect to everybodys opinion, I would like to set some facts straight.
Ian asks: Is David's description accurate? If the dialogue is as reported, how much of the clunky use of words could be due to Mr. Benatar working in a foreign language?
Being this the touchy subject it is, the precise way things are done and said becomes particularly important. Even if it werent, it makes me uncomfortable to be misquoted and misrepresented. To use quotes as if they were my exact words distorts the picture. So, Ian, to answer your question: No, language is not a problem but the clunky words are not mine.
David Groves quotes me as saying, when I ask a lady to write the name of someone who has passed, "Make it someone whom you were emotionally close to." What I say is: "I want you to think of somebody who is not anymore with us, somebody who has passed away. Preferably somebody you knew personally. Is that OK with you?"
I am prepared with a follow-up to that request in case the spectator shows the slightest hesitation, which is, "Or if you dont want to get too involved you might think of a celebrity or a historical character." The fact is that almost every time (in my last week at the Castle it was literally every time), the person nods in approval promptly. I have given a great deal of thought to the exact wording and it does make a difference.
The writing that appears in the billet at the end was also misquoted as: "Don't worry about me. I am in a better place. I will love you always, Auntie Mae." And what I actually write is: Hello [name of spectator]. I love you [sometimes I add, or substitute, I miss you]. Im OK. [Name/signature of the person thought of]."
Lets talk about what I intend to do. Do I try to make people cry? Well, I do try to get them emotional. Some cry and some dont. Mind you, its not actually crying, its their eyes getting wet with emotion.
I am surprised many of the posts have simplistically assumed crying is bad (laugh=good, cry=bad). Some people laugh when they are given bad news and many cry when their daughter gets married (being happy about the marriage, that is), or when their son graduates from college, to be clearer.
Several people have referred to what magicians think, or to what the husband of the spectator thinks. But what about the spectator herself? If you know me, you know I care as much as anyone. Let me express my view after hundreds of performances. The woman that cries (or gets emotional) often goes out of her way to find me and thank me for the experience. If I feel she got very sensitive, I find her after the show and make sure she's OK, and they always are. And I mean always.
What do I pursue with this effect?
In magic effects in general, people ideally should get nowhere near an explanation. Any possible solutions have been blocked and proven wrong by the time the effect takes place. (For an extensive dissertation on this see Juan Tamariz: The Magic Way). In the present case, however, when spectators are thoroughly convinced I cannot have access to that information, the only window that is half-open is that to the message from beyond. Even down-to-earth non-believers are led to put their heads through that window for at least a moment of illusion. The comments made by Max Maven in his first post accurately reflect these thoughts.
Do I pretend to be real?
By no means. Its an illusion. Its a moment of theater. But the illusion would be hampered if I were to admit it verbally right there. Same as in the movies, no more no less. In the case of emotional spectators who ask me difficult questions after the show, I tell them its an illusion.
So, how do I convey the fact that Im not pretending to be real? Well, this is a crucial point that is missing in all the posts that describe my performance, though Max Maven did mention something about the context in which its done.
Though magic is the top priority in my shows, I use a great deal of humor. People who have read this thread and havent seen the show have no way of figuring this out. I wouldnt call it comedy magic but here are some revealing hard facts. I was doing a 20-minute show at the Castle. I had made a chart, for myself, before this thread started of the number of laughs in my show. To be precise, I am including mild laughs, big laughs and chuckles of different degrees. I dont include mere smiles. Only those that make some noise just in about every show. I only count expressions of astonishment when they are mixed with laughter. The total for the 20 minutes is 32 laughs, 7 of which are in the closing trick (the one in question). When Im "letting my fingers write" I do it almost tongue-in-cheek. I dont sweat or appeared possesed, and I never get completely serious.
I do think it is possible to do magic without humor but even the most serious good performers resort to different degrees of humor, irony and tongue-in-cheekness. Its a way to establish a complicity with the audience. Like saying: "You and I know this is not real, lets just have some fun." Otherwise even a coin vanish could freak people out if you presented it (and were able to convey it) as real.
David wrote, "The cold reading was not sophisticated enough, it seems to me, to pass the skeptics." But there is no cold reading to speak of! He also says that the audience doesnt believe this to be real and suggests what is needed for it to seem real. Whats the point then?
He also said: "With billet routines such as this, one of which I have performed for several years, I have found that even though you get away with the sleights involved, a certain percentage of people always say: "I didn't see him look at the piece of paper, but he must have looked at it at some point. "It's the only logical explanation."
Thats the point I tried to make above. If the only logical explanation is proved to be impossible, thats when its magic. Getting away with sleights is too low a goal. Remember Erdnases most famous statement in p.83: "...in such a manner that the most critical observer would not even suspect, let alone detect, the action."
David also wrote, "I feel that the suggestion of the message simply plucked an emotional chord within her, and even though she knew it was a fake, the tears came."
In this we agree, though I see no reason to call it fake if Im not pretending to be real. If I wanted to be taken as real, believe me, I would act very differently.