'Performing' Magic

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.

Postby Adam Brooks » 10/20/01 09:49 PM

This is something which I have been debating over for a long time, and I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer.

This issue in question is this: When performing magic, regardless of venue or situation, you're either in "performing mode" or you're not. If someone finds out you're a magician, and she says "Can you show me something?", do you immediately flip the switch to "performing mode"? Or do you stay within your current mentality and work the magic there?

Magic is a performing art, and yet I've been many examples of good magicians who simply "do" magic instead of performing it, and the audience still loves it.

"Organic' magic as it has come to be known is a great example of just "doing" magic. No patter, no apparent planned actions, the magic just happens on its own accord. Take David Harkey's "In A Jam" from his book, Simply Harkey. As you return to your house, you put your key in the lock, only to have it vanish from the lock, and it reappears up on the door jam.

There are two different ways one could do this. The way Harkey presents it, he is performing magic. He has patter, choreography, the whole deal. When the key is discovered, sure, it's magic, but what will the spectator think? He'll realize that the performance was just that, a performance. And performances carry with them an implicit sense of order and planning, which, I think, detracts from the idea of 'organic' magic.

Then, there's the other side of the coin: letting the magic happen on its own accord.
I don't recall where I read this, but it is a perfect example of what I'm talking about:

Say you're at a 7-11. You've paid for your stuff, your wallet is out, and the cashier places the change on the counter. You say "I don't need the change." You pretend to scoop the money into your left hand with your right, but actually, retain all the change in your right. Pick up your wallet with your right hand to cover the change, and extend the left towards the cashier. Open your hand, the money's gone! The right hand is holding the wallet, all seems normal, but where the hell did that change go!? The clerk ended up completely confused, and, as we all know, "Confusion is not magic."

So what's the deal? Should magic be held strictly as a performing arena, or is there room for 'organic', non confusing magic in our world?

Adam Brooks
Posts: 165
Joined: 03/13/08 08:57 AM
Location: Boston, MA

Postby Guest » 10/21/01 07:42 AM

There are ways to stay within the context of the moment when you're asked to "do a trick". Remember, impromptu (or organic) magic, still requires work and practice. I wouldn't satisfy a request for magic right away, but would wait a bit, build a little suspence, and perhaps discover window of opportunity.
I often feel a bit empty when in "performance" mode, like a well rehearsed robot. I just read somewhere (can't recall, Ortiz perhaps?) why built-in mistakes in a routine have such an appeal to an audience. When you apparently make a mistake, your audience suddenly becomes aware that "hey, this guy is not only human, but is stuck in a real life, in the moment, problem". Mistakes remove the script aspect of a routine, making it much more real.
My best performances happen when I'm connecting with an audience, when I've bonded with them and understand fully, the moment we are sharing. Otherwise I'm a mere juggler, or worse, some kind of freak.
Study Malini!
Isn't there a story where Malini, being Jewish, was served a roasted pig on a platter as a joke. What did Malini do? He turned the pig into a chicken!
"Letting the magic happen of its own accord" works, but can cause confusion, as in your 7-11 example. If the 7-11 guy doesn't know you're a magician, what are you doing offering him a handful of nothing? Out of context, it makes no sense. If he somehow "gets it", it will come across as a practical joke, or something. Not magic.
Remember Henning Helms and his ham sandwhich. Producing a ham sandwhich from someones pocket might be curious, but if that person says they're hungry and the same ham sandwhich produced, you have the inexplicable. A need is fullfilled, in this case the satisfaction of hunger. Again, this is context.
There's plently of room for organic, impromtu magic. Just be ready for it!

[ October 21, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

[ October 21, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

[ October 21, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

Postby Guest » 10/23/01 06:00 PM

Originally posted by Adam Brooks:

If someone finds out you're a magician, and she says "Can you show me something?", do you immediately flip the switch to "performing mode"? Or do you stay within your current mentality and work the magic there?

Magic is a performing art, and yet I've seen many examples of good magicians who simply "do" magic instead of performing it, and the audience still loves it.

"Organic' magic as it has come to be known is a great example of just "doing" magic.

Great question(s) Adam.

I think there are those that do magic [it seems to flow from them naturally] and those who over do magic [their character doesn't fit the venue].

For magic to feel "organic" it must arise within, and aware of, the situation. It is a matter of presentation. It is also much like accepting and then making an offer in Improvisational Theater. (Yes, I read your profile) If your magic offer is too different from the request for magic, it is very awkward and they (your audience)won't be sure how to react until they get acquainted with this new character. One often doesn't have that much time.

My style of performing close-up is intimate. I am sharing with my audience. For this reason my "performer" and everyday personna are not far apart. (Psst, the performer is the nicer guy ;) )

Having been asked so many times to show a little something I have a transition piece that requires an object which can be found in almost all my favorite places to be; restaurants, wineries, catered events.

I get to give someone a quest to find the item, aluminum foil, and casually warm the audience up to my intimate, sharing style. As a group we experience the search and upon return we all experience a little culmination of my lead in story. The magic then just starts flowing out of that.

I don't think magic without spoken words would be appropriate for a first effect. It seems to me, too much a puzzle.

Making magic seem natural unto yourself, in that instant, is the key. It is not easy to do. It requires an accurate ability to judge people's desire instantaneously and the ability to engage them with your passion for the art.

To put it bluntly, truly improvised spontaneous magic is rehearsed in great depth.

Tom Cutts

[ October 23, 2001: Message edited by: Tom Cutts ]

Postby Guest » 10/23/01 11:56 PM

My advice, be ready anytime. Case in point. I was at Starbucks one night playing Yahtzeewith my best friend and our wives. A couple of the local Tennessee Titan football players came in with their wives. I knew one of the guys, and he'd seen me do magic at some function we were both at.
He had me do some quick stuff for the other guy and his wife with a deck they'ld brought with them. Long story short, I have about 3 shows to do between the two couples between now and Christmas.
If all you carry on you is a British half-penny and a quarter, borrow a quarter from someone and do Copper-Silver transpo (I use the description idea from the Mike Skinner issue). Just that simple trick, since I've borrowed their coin, gets a strong reaction.

Postby Guest » 10/24/01 02:32 AM

I agree with you, Rick. Be ready anytime. However, true improvised magic is the result of through rehearsal.

For example, I'm given a deck of cards and they say "Do some tricks". I know I'll always start with Switching the Aces, and finish with either the Ambitious Card or a Multiple Selection Routine, the rest is freewheeled. However, I know whether each piece in my reportoire of card effects is an ideal opener, closer, good for the early parts of a routine, good for later, ideal for kids, ideal for teens etc, etc. That's how I can pick and choose. Its like a jazz musician who has his favourite riffs and phrases he likes to use while improvising.

There are times when the effect is near enough improvised. In those cases, when I know I can get an effect out of the situation, I always make sure its appropriate. This comes from experience.

Read "Malini and his Magic" by Dai Vernon and Lewis Ganson, and you'll understand how the maestro of impromptu miracles thought, and it'll pay dividends...

Love and peas,

Postby Guest » 10/24/01 06:24 AM

Refer to my post above and the Malini example. How and why Malini had a chicken on him is beyond me!! (he must have overheard about the pig joke). The point is, Malini was ready at all times!

What do you think of Greg Wilson's On the Spot video? This guy is performing miracles, in short sleeves, outside, impromptu, strictly with borrowed objects!!

[ October 24, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

[ October 24, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

Postby Bill Duncan » 10/24/01 06:48 PM

Originally posted by ChrisDavid:

What do you think of Greg Wilson's On the Spot video?

It's on my "To Buy" list. I picked up his "Off The Cuff" video at a swap meet, knowing nothing about him, and I'm a convert. The routine with only a stick pen (ReCap) is a masterpiece and "Something from Nothing" is a great starter.
Bill Duncan
Posts: 1382
Joined: 03/13/08 11:33 PM

Postby Guest » 10/24/01 07:02 PM

Get On the Spot!!! The footage of Greg performing for real people is worth the price of tape. The material is superb.

Postby Adam Brooks » 10/24/01 09:02 PM

I have On The Spot, and it's a great set of videos. I use ReCap constantly, as well as his All-Around vanish. The real-world segments are really great, though I would have liked to see a little more variation in the spectators. There was that one poor girl on whom Greg worked several routines, and ended up apparently driving her out of her mind: "How is he doing this sh*t?" I believe were her distressed words...
The only thing I wish he hadn't done (and maybe he didn't) was just come up to people and start performing. For example, the first routine on his tape, a coins across, he just runs up to two random guys and digs in. Even common ettiquette demands some sort of permission to record their responses.

I think he probably did, but for some reason, him walking up and saying, in essence "Wanna see some magic?" is, at its root, rude.

My two cents,
Adam Brooks
Posts: 165
Joined: 03/13/08 08:57 AM
Location: Boston, MA

Postby Guest » 10/24/01 09:36 PM

Ahhhh, you bring up a very important issue: The Approach.
Greg Wilson is over the top aggressive in his.
One school says to ASK before launching into your magic, the other school says LAUNCH!!

What's interesting (having done both) is, in the "launch approach, you empower YOURSELF, by "asking", you empower THEM!

It takes experience to recognize those spectators who can handle the launch approach. And there are many who can. Outgoing people ACCEPT other outgoing people.

Personally I despise the formal introduction. It drags things out, and creates a stuffy kind of, tight ass feel. But guess what! 8 times out of 10 I introduce myself!! Which is to say the launch appraoch is much more difficult psychologically.

[ October 24, 2001: Message edited by: ChrisDavid ]

Postby Guest » 10/24/01 11:53 PM

What a great discussion. I generally don't perform unless I'm working. On the outside chance that I'm asked to perform usually it would be a serial number divination with a bill. I always memorize the numbers on one of the bills I carry out that night. I guess I am always prepared.
As far as the approach goes I like to get to know people first without breaking into the magic. I tell them what I do but I act as if it is of little importance compared to chatting about them. Two situations happen generally speaking, First they don't care to see any magic but still engage in conversation and there is no awkward "No thank you I don't like magic" moment or they ask me to perform for them or I ask them if they would like to see me perform. It is win/win. I have always found that if your prospective audience likes you then they will enjoy what you have to show them.
For those of you who utilize the "launch into magic" approach, what do you do if they tell you they don't want to see or don't like magic? Actually what do you all do in that scenario if they politely inform you that they dislike magic?

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 04:21 AM

Personally I am a bit gun shy to launch into performance unless it is a paying gig and that's what I am supposed to do. I've seen too many magicians not get invited back to parties and I have seen some magicians get put into their place because of this method. I think very few people have the personality to be able to get away with it.

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 05:21 AM

The argument is which approach is stronger? In the end, IMHO, it takes more people skill and experience to launch straight into a routine for a group of strangers.

The worst I'll get is a funny sort of look. This dissapears the moment they realise I'm offering them value. If your magic is strong, you will not be rejected.

Again, when you ask, you empower them, when you do not, you empower yourself!

My confidence surges when I'm in control. I'm saying "this is me, this is what I do" without actually saying it.

Introducing, and explaining, and waiting for approval reveals a certain fear. There is no quicker road to rejection.

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 09:19 AM

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of empowering the spectator/participants. Is magic is about entertaining them, or about showing off what wonderful things we can do? I think that there has to be a little of the second, but I greatly believe that the spectator has to feel that they are involved, otherwise magic just becomes a spectator sport, and not a mutual experience.
I tend to agree with a lot of Burger's thoughts on this. I've been performing close-up for quite some time in restaurants/bars/hospitality suites. If there is one thing I've learned on this, I want to be seen by the audience as someone who is a professional entertainer, not some guy starving for attention.

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 09:58 AM

I agree Rick. You hit it on the head when you say that we need to include our spectators. I believe this also applies to the approach. I would like to clarify that after my introduction I never ask right away whether they want to see magic. I also do not introduce myself as a magician just as Jay. I ask them their names and about their night. After a few moments of chatting I let them know why I am there. Chris I'm not sure I believe that it takes more people skills and experience to launch into a routine for strangers. I think it takes a personality. There is a magician in New York that goes by the name Magick Balay. He can walk up to a group of people and perform for them anywhere. His personality is so infectious(sp) that people are drawn to him no matter what he is doing. It works for him. As for me, I haven't been performing very long however I have tried both methods as well. People tend to respond better when I become a person to them not just a bloke performing some effect. I think the question of which is stronger is a personal choice, I can only make the decision for me and how I perform. I know what works for me. My philosophy about audiences is that I'm making friends. I want to introduce myself and talk about them, like I said in my earlier post on this subject if they like you they will like your magic.
Again what a great thread!

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 02:52 PM

By no means am I a show off performer, in fact I'm quite the opposite. Very little of what I perform does not involve the spectator. I'm friendly, curtious, and soft spoken.

That said, I've gotten stronger reactions, and was more well received when I simply "went for it"!

Naturally this doesn't mean doing a silent, juggling act! It means bringing people into yourworld.

This takes courage and confidence.

Wouldn't you agree?

The aggressive approach elimates down time by getting right to the heart of the matter.

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 03:51 PM

Here is a crazed, novel idea. Why not do both? A quick "Hello, how is everything?" will tell you if the table is open to interaction; ie not in a tiff, or worrying about when to propose.

Then seamlessly blend your introduction, what ever you choose, into an effect.

Picture this:

"How is every thing this evening?"
"Wonderful, well I am here for one thing..." Holding index finger in air and gradually lowering it to the table top (2 inches from the edge so as not to encroach on their space)while finishing. "...to ensure your time with xyz restaurant is an outstanding, unique experience."

At "xyz restaurant" your finger comes in contact with the table. During "outstanding unique" your finger mimes a ball or coin appearing. The final "experience" is delivered as the object appears.

You have cut to the chase and proven yourself without jarring their world into yours.

Accept their reaction (very important) and roll into a routine with the object.

I love the idea of brainstorming ideas like this, and the real world application of theories of magic. So much so I started a periodical on the subject, AM/PM...About Magic, Performing Magic.

Anyone who is interested in this subject and would like more info on AM/PM can email me at am.pm1@juno.com

Tom Cutts
Publisher, AM/PM

[ October 25, 2001: Message edited by: Tom Cutts ]

Postby Adam Brooks » 10/25/01 04:41 PM

Here is a crazed, novel idea. Why not do both? A quick "Hello, how is everything?" will tell you if the table is open to interaction; ie not in a tiff, or worrying about when to propose.

Yes! That's exactly what I have found myself doing recently at my bar gig! I do walkaround, my intro has gone like this:
"Hi, how are you guys doing tonight?" They respond. "My name is Adam Brooks, and it's my job here at Pugg Mahone's to make your evening a little more exciting and memorable."

It immediately grabs their attention, I go straight into my opener, and we're rolling.

Adam Brooks
Posts: 165
Joined: 03/13/08 08:57 AM
Location: Boston, MA

Postby Guest » 10/25/01 05:03 PM

A good combination of both approaches. Works for me.

Postby Bill McFadden » 10/26/01 10:05 AM


"Ask" vs. "Launch." Most of this entire thread is one of the best chats I've ever read on a magic EBB. Although I've nothing to add, I wanted to express my gratitude to all of you for your contributions. I am most interested to pursue Tom Cutts' efforts in taking this ball and running with it. 'Twould also make an excellent Genii feature - not unlike the recent digest on TTPF.

Bill McFadden
Posts: 620
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Villesville-on-the-Chesapeake

Postby Guest » 10/26/01 11:09 AM

If Richard asks, I'll definitely be there :cool:



You are correct.

This is quite a civil discussion where the end result is to find out how similar we are instead of beating our differences. ;)



Does something memorable happen when you say the word "memorable"?

Just something to think about.

Tom Cutts
Publisher, AM/PM

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