Originally posted by Cugel, "(gag)".
Stephen Minch wrote what may be the definitive essay on this subject, "In Praise of the Lowly Flourish". It is in a very good but long out-of-print and now forgotten little book of magic by Daryl called "For Your Entertainment Pleasure" (copyright 1982 by Daryl Martinez).
The following much needed citation is offered as a public service.
"In another place, some years back, I examined two basic schools of thought as to styles in presentation of sleight-of-hand magic. The one school I dubbed the Artful Duffers, those persons who believe any overt show of skill must minimize the magical effect of a performance. This theory runs, 'If they know you are clever with the cards, coins, etc. they will attribute what they see to covert skill rather than supernatural powers'. The point is well taken as far as it goes. What lies beyond is the fact that, in the matter of simple conjuring feats, there is virtually no one in modern society who would mistake a card or coin trick for anything other than what it is, no matter how innocent the performer might seem... unless we restrict ourselves to that tight corner of the art known as mentalism. For this reason I can only view the philosophy of the Artful Duffers as touching and naively romantic, but without foundation in reality.
"The question next arises, if the average layperson no longer accepts magic as a real possibility, to what will he attribute a seemingly ingenuous performance? The answer: probably some mechanical means; i.e., stacked decks, marked cards, gimmicked cards or coins, mathematical principles, etc. This is an unfortunate assumption both in the event that such methods were not used and in that where they were! Here then lies the performer's reward who deliberately sets up to deny any visible skill in his art, exemplified by the amiable sot who comes up after a performance of advanced sleight-of-hand, grabs the deck and proceeds to show you the '21 Card Trick' or 'Little Leroy'. Obviously he has made the assumption that all he has seen must be of the same coarse cloth. If this is the reward of the Artful Duffer, this is the respect amassed by his philosophy in practice... Well, everyone must make a choice.
"The other school has it that not only is it ego-salving to betray some little skill in your craft, it is professionally necessary. If you expect to be hired, paid a good fee and asked to return, you must evidence expertise in your art. They have paid good money to hire an expert; an expert is what they expect to see.
"However, this sort of obvious expertise must be fully understood. Misunderstanding leads to pitfalls far worse that that of the Artful Duffers. First, the skill you exhibit must not endanger the true methodology of your effects. This sort of thing is often seen in the performer who has worked terribly hard in mastering his craft, yet constantly manages to 'flash' or 'tip' a secret sleight to his audiences. This can be from either of two things: a) inattention to misdirective routining, or b) unconscious exposure to telegraph the performer's skill to his viewers. This sort of silent swaggering is painfully understandable, but entirely deleterious to the magical effect.
"Here is where flourishes command respect. Flourishes can be the voiceless messengers of skill without exposing the genuine methodology beneath the effect. They are a sort of seasoning that garnish the salad. They can also serve to dissuade the layman from ascribing mechanical means to effects that actually rely on them.
"All secret sleights must remain so if the effect is to be admired. Flourishes, though, are separate values that stand outside the equation of the effect.
"Flourishes can also serve as credentials which tend to psychologically break down the audience's resistance to your illusions. If one is just introduced as a magician, as is most often the case, the first few minutes can set or destroy the success of the entire performance. As soon as one is recognized as a magician it can be taken as certain that there will be a significant number of persons in any audience whose immediate response to the image is, 'He is going to try to fool me, and I don't like being fooled. So I'll see if I can't catch him out'. This emotional response is, of course, antipathetic to the very mood of fantasy you wish to create for your spectators. Two things must be done at once to dissuade or diminish this reaction: First, you must immediately and efficiently convey your best and friendliest personality during the initial moments, so the audience immediately understands that you are a likable character, not some sneering smart aleck out to embarrass them. And secondly, as this is done the hands and cards come alive in the performance of flourishes which show an unordinary and magical skill that convinces them they will have little luck in catching you at your work, so they might as well relax and enjoy the performance. In this manner you have conquered their resistance to fantasy on two levels: one of personableness, the other of obvious but underplayed facility with your tools.
"Like all things, there are rules to flourishes' proper usage. One rule is that each flourish must have an obvious function aside from that of simple showing off. Flourish shuffles and cuts usually mix or change the order of the cards. They should be used logically within that context. Some flourishes can be made to appear funny. This has a function of amusing--that is, entertaining--one's onlookers. It is a viable function if used with common sense. In fact all flourishes are a sort of entertainment in and of themselves.
"This leads to a qualifying second rule: do not let flourishes interfere with or confuse the basic effect. The safest place for flourishes is between routines. There they form a sort of visual seque without competing with the important portions of the act, the effects. The last thing you want is to have your flourishes upstage the main effect or distract spectators to such an extent that they forget the selected card or what is being accomplished. Notice how Daryl forces flourishes to work for him, rather than against him, by making them into minor magical effects in themselves, but subservient to their major premise. They, then, add to the Gestalt of the entire performance, becoming tiny magical happenings that incidently surround the more important effects.
"Daryl will also use flourishes immediately after a routine. Here their purpose is to take the spectators' minds off the effect and thereby strengthen its impression when it is later remembered.
"The third rule to respect, perhaps the most important of the lot, is to treat all flourishes you do casually. By its very nature a flourish is a piece of braggadocio. It's 'showing off'. But braggarts and show-offs are seldom likable personalities. Therefore the sting must be removed from your flourishes by doing them effortlessly and paying no notice to them when they are performed. It is as if the cards have suddenly come to life for a second to do this marvelous thing in your hands; but you are used to it and pay them no attention. Don't look at the hands as you perform a flourish, and don't stop and smirk after it. Continue speaking to your audience and don't 'point' the thing verbally in the least. This not only speaks more eloquently for your skill than any posturing, it imbues you with a certain likable humility.
"Anyone who has seen Daryl work will know exactly what is meant here. Flourishes presented in this fashion might even fit into the canons of the Artful Duffers!
"A fourth and final rule of flourishes is to use them in sensible quantity. Too many flourishes in an act will send your audiences away with the impression they have seen a juggler rather than a magician. You want them to leave thinking and repeating to their friends, 'This man is incredible. He does things that are impossible. I've never seen anyone like him!'
"As you read over these thoughts, please don't misunderstand my intentions: I would not have it that the philosophy of the Artful Duffers is an untenable one. If one is a casual amateur performer who works in impromptu circumstances, mainly for those unaware of his skills, naive and clumsy-appearing handling of the objects he is manipulating may take a tremendous toll. I would not even deny that there may be some very successful professionals out there somewhere who subscribe to this theory. But all the personalities that come to mind at present use flourishes to good effect and handle their props with obvious skill: professionals like Mike Skinner, Paul Harris, Martin Nash, Jimmy Grippo, Ricky Jay, Al Goshman, Darwin Ortiz, the late Fred Kaps, Paul LePaul, and many more. They all recognized the extreme value of flourishes and used them to enhance their performances and reputations.
"I dislike dogma, in or outside magic. When it comes to things like performance, style, and most anything else in this life, anyone who tells you a thing can only be done properly in one way is to be distrusted. He is either a liar or a fool. The philosophy of the Artful Duffers has its one point to recommend it. Flourishes in turn have the points we've just examined to their credit. It is up to each performer to make his choice and brandish it to his best advantage. And good luck to him."
Last edited by castawaydave
on 01/06/09 02:37 AM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: You don't want to know!