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Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 27th, 2003, 1:10 am
by Dustin Stinett
If someone said that a magic book was "controversial," most people might suspect that it's because the author neglected to give credit for an effect or sleight, or printed an effect or sleight without permission, or some other ethically questionable conveyance. But perhaps one of the most controversial magic books in recent memory did not fall into one of these categories. Instead it was a book on the performance of magic that caused all the ruckus, and it wasn't just one particular issue or point made by the author that instigated the debate. In the case of Darwin Ortiz's Strong Magic: Creative Showmanship for the Close-up Magician (Kaufman and Greenberg, 1994), controversy surrounds the book in many facets. Perhaps the only thing that everyone can agree upon is the fact that the book sold extremely well, having sold through four English printings (there is also a Spanish edition, La Buena Magia, translated by Rafael Benatar). It remains highly sought after, occasionally fetching unrealistically high prices in the secondary and auction markets.

Some say that only naive amateurs and hobbyists appreciated the book while working professionals--almost as a whole--lambasted it. This, of course, is only partially true: amateurs did embrace the work in great numbers (hence the book's impressive sales), but the professional ranks seemed to be split somewhere around the middle.

The reviews in the major magic magazines were all but unanimous in their displeasure, although I would categorize the Jamy Ian Swiss review in Genii (July 1994) as a split decision and not the complete "panning" as that review is often viewed. He did, after all, recommend the book. Chuck Fayne, on the other hand, clearly hated the book and all but said so in his rather curt review in the July 1994 issue of MAGIC. ("Utter nonsense! Mr. Ortiz, in his attempt to define showmanship, proves it can't be done.")

Why? What is it about Strong Magic that some well known and respected strong performers openly berated the book while so many amateurs clearly loved it? Jim Sisti, in his review in the September/October 1994 issue of The Magic Menu openly wondered as well, noting that he "couldn't help but wonder if we all were reading different books." To answer the question, we must start from the beginning: In his introduction, Ortiz comments that the book is not a book on theory, but a book of techniques for effective showmanship. This comment alone starts the controversy, as there are those who would have you believe that showmanship is not something that can be taught from one individual to another, but only learned by an individual over time and experience: that showmanship has theories and elements, but not teachable and learnable "techniques."

In his review, also in the July 1994 MAGIC, Stephen Hobbs states, "Ortiz clearly believes…that the theatrical and psychological elements of showmanship can be treated and examined in the same manner as the manual elements of sleight of hand. I disagree." Can conceptual talents like showmanship and creativity have technique? Well, I personally learned the techniques of creativity from one of the best and most creative photographers on the planet. Yes, I said techniques, and so did he when he was teaching them. Strong Magic presents numerous techniques for showmanship and they are not at all abstract. Of course, that also doesn't mean that they are always correct, at least for me or for you. Herein lies another controversy about this book: Darwin Ortiz's apparent confidence that what he says is always 100% correct.

Another point raised by more than one critic is the notion that, because of Mr. Ortiz's less than dynamic performing style, he is somehow unqualified to write a book on showmanship. It is only for the sake of completeness that I bring up this absurd sentiment. Several fine performers--past and present--come to mind whose styles could be described as subdued and this makes them no less entertaining to their audiences. Style is a matter of taste and of what character works best for an individual performer. Good showmanship does not differentiate between subdued or "wild & crazy" personas; one is not better than the other. What is important is that the persona works for and entertains the audience and is original. As I once heard Chuck Fayne say in a lecture, "If you promise not to be me, I'll promise not to be you." There are times in the book where Ortiz cautions the reader of the pitfalls of copying personas. The message is the same, and though they are delivered differently, its importance is not diminished.

Before continuing, I must confess that I had not read any of the reviews of this book until a short time after I was cajoled into tackling it as a subject for the Book of the Month. At the time of its publication I subscribed to neither Genii nor MAGIC. I originally purchased the book based on two things: It was a subject I wanted to learn more about and it was a subject I needed to learn how to apply to my magic. Because I had some theater background and, also having read Fitzkee, Nelms and Maskelyne & Devant, I was not completely devoid of theoretical knowledge. I was (and in many ways still am), however, lacking in its practical application. I believed--hoped--that this book would be of help to me; I found that it was and it wasn't.

When I read the Jamy Ian Swiss review I was quite tempted to simply find out if I could just reprint it here. This was because I found myself agreeing so often with him that I was having a terrible time finding my own words for this piece: I kept hearing his words coming into my thoughts. Interestingly, this is an issue that Mr. Ortiz addresses in the book. I found that I had to consciously work harder at making sure that you were reading me, and not Jamy Ian Swiss. I had to apply the same type of technique suggested by Mr. Ortiz in a section of the book. (That having been said, I do want you to read his review, and with the kind permission of Richard Kaufman--and the suggestion of Mr. Swiss--you can read the complete review by clicking the link at the end of this piece; but me first.)

Strong Magic is comprised of four major sections (The Effect, The Character, The Act and The Audience) with 22 chapters, each with numerous subsections, in 371 pages. Oh yes, there are also two appendices totaling an additional eight pages, for a grand total of 379 pages (including the title page, contents, foreword, introduction, prologue, etc.). It is within Prologue: A Little Theory that Ortiz sets a tone for the book that has garnered most of the negative criticism: that no one is beyond the reach of his analysis and his conclusions are always correct. For example, in "The Challenge Attitude," Ortiz questions the challenge style of Slydini and, to a lesser degree, John Ramsay. His opinion on this lone aspect of two giants of the art comes off as arrogant and disrespectful; an all-knowing "I'm right and if you disagree, you are wrong" attitude that permeates the book. While I am not convinced that this was his intention, it does set this tone and there are many moments throughout the book when the reader can say to himself, "there he goes again" if he allows himself to. For it is here that the reader must realize that he is reading a book of conclusions reached by one man through his personal analysis and experience. Therefore, the techniques that stem from these conclusions should be as open to the reader's analysis and conclusions as the author's. Mr. Ortiz fails to point this out early on in the book: Whether this was by design (as his critics seem to think) or because he assumed the reader would come to this conclusion himself is unknown to me. Nevertheless, if, at this time in the book, the reader fails to reach this conclusion himself, its absence unquestionably adds considerably to the overbearing character of Strong Magic.

Also beginning within the pages of the prologue, and continuing throughout much of the book, is the use of dozens of examples from dozens of well-known magicians in his analysis; most, perhaps, flattering to the subject, but some most certainly not. Of course, as should be expected, he also uses many examples from his own work. Of all these numerous examples, Stephen Hobbs said that, "while interesting, [they] only serve to reinforce Ortiz's own personal conclusions and beliefs." I can't help but wonder whose conclusions and beliefs Mr. Hobbs would expect Mr. Ortiz to support. The point being that whether or not you agree with them, Mr. Ortiz makes his arguments, supports them with his analysis and recommends technique for applying them. This is light years ahead of such theoretical bombshells such as "just be yourself."

Some of what the author offers is common sense to many. However, he is not averse to going in-depth on these subjects for the sake of completeness (which, of course, lends some credence to the belief that leaving out the admonition that the reader need not agree with everything in the book was by design). Concepts such as the fact that magic is a narrative art may be obvious to many, but he further states, and I believe correctly so, that the principles of all other narrative arts--film, theater, fiction, apply to magic and, "it has received little attention in magic literature." The prologue alone gives the reader much to consider, and it's less than eleven pages in length. And, for me, it is this aspect that defines this book: performance magic is a craft that requires thought to reach the level of art. I am able to dismiss the attitude of the writing because the questions posed by the answers provided are far more important to me.

Part One: The Effect makes up over 50% of the book (200 pages). Here Ortiz covers sections on Clarity, Conviction, Suggestion, Substantive Meaning, Situational Meaning, and Dramatic Structure and how they relate to the effect of magic. "Magic" and Ortiz's belief that magic alone can be entertaining is the primary focus of this section. Apparently some of Mr. Ortiz's critics do not appreciate his belief that the effect of magic should be the ultimate focus of the magician: That elements such as drama and humor are tools that should be used to enhance magic and not the other way around. This, of course, is another example of Mr. Ortiz apparently adding fuel to the conflagration of controversy since he seems to serve it up as "fact" as opposed to "opinion."

It is also here that the author's apparent disregard for the hobbyist magician appears for the first time. Comments such as, "The average 'magician' is just a layman with a bunny rabbit on his business card" appear regularly throughout the book and Ortiz is chastised for these derogatory jabs at those who are indeed the target audience of the book. But yet his audience still loves him for it; so why is that? I suspect that there are a few who are too ignorant to realize that some of these truisms are aimed directly at them. However, I also feel that most realize that it occasionally takes a good thump to the ego to come to the conclusion that you have been going about something all wrong. Many years ago Max Maven told me that my writing was "sophomoric." He was correct, and I'm not sure if I ever thanked him for that piece of "tough love." (Of course, I'm still working on it, and suspect I always will be.) Ortiz's blatant honesty regarding those of us in the rank & file can be interpreted as tough love as well. After all, one less flashing bunny lapel pin is indeed a step forward for the art of magic. This is not to say that Mr. Ortiz never goes too far--and not just in his amateur bashing. There are a handful of comments in the book that actually have little or no redeeming value other than to be inflammatory, and in my opinion, these could have been left out. But again, if we as readers can sidestep these landmines, we can concentrate on the important questions and indeed many of the answers provided in this, the largest, section of Strong Magic.

In Part Two: The Character, Mr. Ortiz loses me a little--but just a little. Much of what he offers the reader in The Functions Of Character, Creating The Character, Conveying The Character and Style is sound advice based on standard theater craft. He stresses the importance of character or the persona and how that relates to every aspect of the performance, including those covered in the first section (The Effect) in the book.

Where he loses me, however, is in the comment "…the single most important tool you have in conveying your character to the audience is the kinds of effects you choose to perform." [Emphasis mine.] This leaves little room for anything else. I would ask if Teller's stage persona is conveyed to the audience primarily through the incredibly diverse effects he chooses to perform? I don't believe so. How is Penn's character, who actually performs little magic but is stilled perceived as a magician by the audience, conveyed? How does "Cards Across," "The Cut & Restored Rope" and "Sword Through Neck" convey Tom Ogden's persona? I believe the comment should read, "the single most important tool you have in conveying your character to the audience is how you choose to present the effects you perform."

Obviously material selection is a function of character; Martin A. Nash would look silly if he suddenly whipped out some sponge bunnies after performing a demonstration of second dealing. As Mr. Ortiz says, "No one trick is important enough to justify undermining everything you're trying to accomplish in your performance." But even the "Charming Cheat" does a few pick-a-card tricks, and it works with Martin's character because of the presentations he applies to them.

Within the chapter on Style, Ortiz tackles the sticky issue of naturalness, of which Mr. Ortiz says, "Some magicians seem to think the question should be settled by a vote." While brief, it is one of my favorite subjects in the book. Ortiz defines--and I believe correctly so--the difference between a "naturalistic style" and "naturalness." A perfect example would be a comparison of the aforementioned Messrs. Nash and Ogden. It would not be natural for Martin A. Nash to handle a deck of cards with Tom Ogden's naturalistic style of card handling, just as the reverse would be true: It would not be natural for Tom Ogden, after having performed several effects in his naturalistic style, to suddenly change to the overtly sophisticated style of Mr. Nash. Both styles are completely "natural" for each performer's persona and work exceptionally well, but one is "naturalistic" while the other is clearly a skilled "card sharp" who handles the deck accordingly. The same can be said for those who choose the even more flashy and flourish-heavy styles popular today. As Mr. Ortiz points out, just as a naturalistic style is a choice, so is a flashy style. Being true to that chosen style--remaining in character--is what "naturalness" is all about. Being aware of what is natural for your persona is an important element for good showmanship.

As Part Three: The Act begins, the reader is over 70% through the book. A very short section (a mere 17 pages), it covers specific aspects of the act itself within chapters titled Structure, Unity, Variety and The Informal Performance. Much of what is discussed here, the importance of a properly structured act--even in informal situations--falls under the "common knowledge" label, but is another area often overlooked by amateurs. More importantly, however, the underlying threadwork of the entire book remains intact as Ortiz ties these aspects of the act to the other elements covered in the book.

Part Four: The Audience closes the book with some of its most interesting reading. It is also here that Ortiz puts the entire book into perspective. Before getting to that, however (as I unabashedly use a technique taught within the pages of Strong Magic), it's worth looking at the chapters within this section. Those chapters, Audience Testing, The Time Element, Immediacy, Attention Control, Audiences, Assistants, Hecklers and The Unexpected, cover not just the makeup, attitudes and needs of the audience, but also a detailed and diverse discussion of the relationship between the performer, his character, his material, his style--virtually all of the previously discussed elements that composes a magician--and his audience. Ortiz covers cohesive subjects such as "Timing" and "Pacing" to the more abstract, such as "Commercial Sense" and "Misdirection." Reading through subjects such as "Planned Spontaneity" made me think of the advice/techniques offered and my own observations of other performers who I know use these techniques. I once saw Tom Ogden stop in the middle of his performance to write down a funny line spoken by an audience member. Ortiz recommends doing this after the performance, but you must know Tom: he made it a part of the act. It was funny and seen as a joke by the audience when he stopped and said, "I have to write that down" and searched for something appropriate to write it on. But Ogden was also quite serious since he really did write down the line because it was funny and he had every intention of working the line into his show. Interestingly, another master of the principles of "planned spontaneity" and someone who has few equals in his ability to size up an audience is a man who despised Strong Magic: Chuck Fayne.

In this final section of Strong Magic, Darwin Ortiz does a fine job of wrapping the entire work into a complete package. The common thread of the interrelationships of all of these elements remain in place throughout the book--each section building upon the last, the book itself an example of several of the techniques offered for the reader's approval. And it is here that Ortiz qualifies the work as opinion. The admonition is short; short enough to go unnoticed--as I suspect some of his critics may have done. Ortiz admonishes the reader: "The moral is: when it comes to showmanship, don't listen to magicians; listen to your audiences. Don't even listen to this book--at least, not uncritically. Test the concepts discussed in it before lay audiences and evaluate the results." [Emphasis mine.]

How anyone could disagree with this recommendation is beyond my comprehension. Using the same tone used throughout the book, Ortiz takes everything discussed in his book and puts it in its place. It's up to the reader to do what he will with the techniques offered, and that can include ignoring them altogether. But my advice is to at least study this book; listen to the questions. You don't have to listen to the answers, but even those that you may find disagreeable are worthy of study if only because they come from a man who makes his living performing for lay audiences.

Throughout the book, Ortiz references theater and acting technique. While he cites his sources (which implies that the reader would do well to search them out), I cannot recall ever reading a recommendation that the student magician actually take acting or stagecraft lessons. I see this as a flaw especially since the book relies so heavily on the principles and techniques of theater. (If I am wrong, I hope the passage can be pointed out to me.) I am of the school that feels book study of these techniques is not enough. Since Ortiz clearly expects the reader to take his recommended techniques out for a test drive, firsthand experience with the roots of some of those techniques would be as beneficial.

At the end of Strong Magic are two appendices; the last being a glossary of terms used by Ortiz throughout the book. Appendix One: Darwin's Laws is a distillation of the points Mr. Ortiz determines as the most important from the book. Reading these 36 points, I find it difficult--and in some cases impossible--to argue with most of them. While it may be possible to disagree with the route taken by Ortiz to reach them, the majority of these conclusions themselves are quite sound. By adding "why is," "why does" and "why are" (etc.) to the beginning of them (and, of course, a question mark to the end) they form many of the questions a magician who wants to perform for real people needs to be asking himself. These truism/questions really are the essence of Strong Magic.

At one point Mr. Ortiz cites the fine book Dress For Success by John T. Molloy (Peter Wyden, 1975) and of it says, "I'm not suggesting you automatically adopt every suggestion he makes, but rather that you study his thinking." I would apply this comment to Strong Magic as well.

Dustin Stinett

<Read the Jamy Ian Swiss review of Strong Magic as it originally appeared in the July 1994 issue of Genii by clicking here.>

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 27th, 2003, 1:13 pm
by Bill Mullins
I've been hoping this would be a "Book of the Month" ever since the feature started. The next month or so of comment should be very interesting.

It's obvious that Dustin has had some discussion on the book with Richard Kaufman and Jamy Swiss. But what about the author? Most of the other BOM's were by writers who have since passed. However, Darwin Ortiz is not only still with us, but is still a creative force within magic. One hopes that, despite the bad feelings that may exist between him and Genii management, he will join the discussion at some point, and perhaps revisit his thoughts on Strong Magic.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 27th, 2003, 5:49 pm
by Dave Egleston
Mr. Stinett,

Thanks so much for yet another wonderful lead in to a book I've wanted to discuss for several years - I feel kind of oogey, because I have met and watched Mr Ortiz - I love his magic and have enjoyed conversations with him -

When I read this book I thought I was committing some sort of blasphemy because I felt there was a lot of hypocrisy from Mr Ortiz point of view because everytime I've seen a performance hosted by Mr Ortiz - I never had the feeling he was completely comfortable performing in front of magicians.

Right now the biggest discrepancy I can remember off the top of my head - During one effect he was performing - He made a statement that he had a trade mark "horseshoe" type of spread that he was "known for" - Yet the VERY NEXT trick he spread the cards in a straight line from lower left to the upper right side of the close up mat - several of us in the audience kind of looked at each other (He was hiding some reversed cards at one end of the speard) It would have gone unnoticed had he not stressed his "trademark" move less than 3 minutes previously.

Unfortunately Mr Ortiz also stated that the Magician should always "Be the hero" (paraphrased) in all effects performed - and cited examples of actors who would turn down parts because the part would not cast the personna the actor had been nuturing for most of his/her career - the unfortunate part of this thought was the use of Chuck Norris as the exemplar - he could have used a zillion other examples in Hollywood including Bea Arthur who would have lent this thought more credence. He also used Clint Eastwood - However I think he must have forgotten: UNFORGIVEN, ANY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (Clint actually sings in this movie) and TIGHTROPE - There are several other movies Mr Eastwood was not the "Knight in shining armour"

I have a lot of other coments about the book I hope I can intelligently expound upon.

I have bought all his books - except SCAMS AND FANTASIES - (I won't buy a new A1 book anymore - I'll wait until I can find a 2nd hand copy)and have enjoyed all of them - and STRONG MAGIC is no exception - The information contained in this book is sometimes flawed - sometimes right on - and sometimes just the author enjoying the sound of his own thought process. I think as does Mr. Swiss, a year of careful editting would have made this book a tome for the ages.

Right now I'm re-reading it for yet more insightful comments from the town idiot


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 28th, 2003, 3:08 pm
by Guest
In spite of good (or bad) content, Messieurs Ortiz and Swiss could both seek more brevity in their philosophical writing.

We get the point(s).

Move on.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 28th, 2003, 3:49 pm
by Jim Maloney_dup1
Judging by the large amount of poor magic out there, I'd guess that most don't get the point.

In any case, let me say that I love this book. Do I agree with everything in it? Heck, no! But the questions he raises are very important and should be considered by anyone who wishes to improve their magic.

Darwin seems to have taken some flack for giving the impression that what's in the book is how it should be done and that's that. Well, first off, I didn't get that impression at all. But that may just be me and probably relates to how I read ANY book. Whether I'm reading a book like Strong Magic or a book on card tricks, I never take the author's word as gospel. Should we criticize Bobo because he doesn't say at the outset, "The coin tricks in this book are only here to serve as a model for your own coin work. You don't have to do them exactly as written"? If you don't agree with using a certain sleight or technique in specific trick, you change it. If you don't agree with using a certain technique proposed in Strong Magic, change it.

I think if you go into this book with an open mind, asking the questions that Darwin asks, and answering them for yourself, then you are bound to improve as a magician.


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 28th, 2003, 8:45 pm
by Steve Vaught
"I think if you go into this book with an open mind, asking the questions that Darwin asks, and answering them for yourself, then you are bound to improve as a magician."
Yes! Yes! I agree Jim.
I bought "Strong Magic" back around 6 months ago. I started reading the book and could not put it down! I would stay up to the wee hours of the morning taking in every word. Then I went back and took notes of the highlighted areas. NOW!!! Does that mean I agrees with EVERYTHING, NO! but OVERALL, for a person with an insatiable desire to learn as much as he present his craft as an art form...something to be respected and admired...I believe it is a wonderful book! In fact, I am now going back over "Our Magic" and studying it along WITH "Strong Magic" and "Sowmanship for Magicians". My point being...there are great nuggets to grasp and learn. For those who oppose the book so strongly, I would like to hear what book or books THEY would recommend, that would cover in detail, from a modern stand point, the areas that Mr. Ortiz covered:effect,act,audience,etc.
I am glad this book was brought to the forum. I realize there is plenty for me to learn, so I will enjoy reading the opinions of others as well!

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 29th, 2003, 12:29 am
by Dustin Stinett
To Bill Mullins:

Darwin Ortiz kindly answered my email inquiry about Strong Magic and did give me some helpful information about the book. However, he had nothing to add to, or take from, its content.

To Dave Egleston:

(Please call me Dustin. When I hear "Mr. Stinett" I turn around hoping to see my late father!) I guess I'm not as critical of Darwin Ortiz's performances than some. I have seen him work a handful of times, always for magicians, and while I have not been bowled over, I was entertained. I suppose it was because his magic is so good, but of course that's one of the points of this book: good magic is entertaining. I will admit it: I'm a magic junkie. I really love to watch good magic being performed. Obviously there are magicians who are such strong entertainers that it appears that they could entertain the room without doing any magic at all. Would I characterize Darwin Ortiz as one of them? Not at all, but he must be doing something right.

You might be interested to know that part of my piece that fell victim to the delete key was Mr. Ortiz's apparent enjoyment of action movies. Many (not all, but many) of his movie references are films of this genre. Had it been my book you would have grown tired of reading about the films of Jack Lemmon--the greatest actor of the 20th century despite Airport '77.

To Jim Maloney:


(Brevity for "WarlockDrummer" to whom I say, "Didn't you notice that my piece was over 30% longer than Mr. Swiss' review?" While I feel very left out right about now, I shall move on.)


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 29th, 2003, 10:05 am
by Pete McCabe
I enjoyed reading Strong Magic.

I haven't met too many magicians who haven't read it who wouldn't benefit from reading it. Not so that they could follow it blindly, but so that they could get a better view of the world beyond the magical technique which can so easily swallow a performer whole.

I felt, reading it, like most of its theory was based on applying to magic the same principles that guide other narrative arts. Have a point. Make your magic meaningful to the audience. Write a script. Make it interesting. Relentlessly polish every second of your show. Spend a great deal of time and effort developing your basic performing skills.

This can all seem very obvious, and most of the very successful professional magicians I've seen already do most of these things. Very few of the amateurs do, but then, few amateur painters or piano players work as hard as pros either.

To me the most useful part of the book was seeing how other magicians applied these fundamental techniques. I would think that almost anyone could benefit from these examples, regardless of whether you feel as strongly about the underlying theory as Darwin does.

But if Strong Magic does nothing more than help you better consider your performance from a lay audience's perspective, it will be one of the most useful magic books you ever read.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 29th, 2003, 4:59 pm
by Guest
Mr. Stinett (er...Dustin):

I was not referring to the Swiss review, but the Swiss book, so please don't feel left out.

(I liked your "kick-off," as always, and I liked his review.) :)

In his own book, Mr. Swiss (may I call him that) made many fine points, as did Mr. Ortiz; however, he belabored them. Saying the same thing more than once does not always clarify or enhance. It often has the opposite effect or simply makes for monotonous reading.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 29th, 2003, 10:57 pm
by Dustin Stinett
I must say that I feel much better now, knowing that my propensity for pleonasm has not been overlooked. While brevity certainly has its virtue (and I mean absolutely no offense), it was your brevity that led to the misinterpretation (and I can tell you with complete certainty that I was not alone in my interpretation of your original post).

(Okay, deep breath&#8230;) All that being said, I feel I must defend at least some of the perceived overwriting present in Strong Magic. (I will try to make this short.) I believe that much of the redundancy in Strong Magic is a matter of Mr. Ortiz pointing out where the principles and techniques blend together. Without pointing out their interrelationships, the uninitiated would probably miss the point. Books such as these are targeted at people who need to read them. While those who understand the principles (the choir being preached to) may perceive their reiteration as unnecessary, those who don't "get it" need to have them drummed into their noggins. This, I think, is especially true of a book containing so many pieces on ethics such as Mr. Swiss' fine compendium of essays, Shattering Illusions (I'm guessing that is the book of which you speak--he does have others, but they could not be mistaken as "philosophical" in nature). Then there is, of course, the unfortunate crowd who recognizes the redundancy, but misses the message.


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 30th, 2003, 3:34 pm
by Guest
Having never actually read but only thumb through Strong Magic Dustin's review gave me a better sense of content. Jamy's review gave me a better sense of understanding of the author. (Now, if we could just get a morph of Dustin and Jamy into one reviewer- than we would have a logical, easy to understand, never a yawn review. You guys really compliment each other.)

I applaud Mr. Ortiz for attempting to address presentation for the Close-up worker. To me presentation and practical application can never be addressed enough in all of the various branches of our art.

And, Dustin, you're one of the best writers on the Genii Forum. (Unlike my highly opinionated rantings.)

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 30th, 2003, 5:22 pm
by Leonard Hevia
To Steve Vaught: I don't oppose Strong Magic but I also recommend the Books of Wonder. These two volumes are also designed to get you thinking. :)

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: April 30th, 2003, 8:28 pm
by Guest
Along the same lines as Books of Wonder (and ditto that comment), what about Michael Close's Workers Vols. 1-5 ...learning by POSITIVE example :) , rather than scolding. :(

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 1st, 2003, 1:40 am
by Dustin Stinett
Let's not jump ahead of ourselves, boys! ;)

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 2nd, 2003, 6:43 am
by Matthew Field
Dustin has done an admirable job with a difficult book.

I was an editor on "Strong Magic," although "editor" is not really the right word. Richard Kaufman's instructions to me were, per Darwin's wishes, to correct errors, not to suggest content changes.

That was fine with me, although there were times I was itching to put my two cents in, to make suggestions to Darwin which I believe would have stregthened "Strong Magic."

But, as it stands, I believe it is a very good book, with a lot to say to magicians. As Dustin states, and as Darwin himself writes, the opinions in the book, although put down as if they were carried on tablets from the Mount, are Darwin's conclusions, arrived at by years of performing and careful thought. I disagree with many of them, and so might you, but that does not make the book any less valuable or interesting.

It is pointless to list the conclusions with which I disagree, although I can't resist pointing to Darwin's idea that a trick should be performed deliberately, then as you perform the sleight you speed up, then slow down again. To me, that herky-jerky style, apparent in Darwin's performances, is a gold-plated "tell" of when the sleight is taking place, not a camouflage, as Darwin intends.

But for Darwin to have written a book of opinions with every opinion prefaced with, "I think," or, "I believe," or, "It seems to me," would be the height of inanity. Of course it's Darwin's opinion -- who else and what else? For people to take it otherwise is, I believe, sloppy reading.

I think that the book, along with the writings of Henning Nelms, Eugene Burger and Derren Brown, is one of the few essential books for any magical performer on the subject of performing. It shifts the focus from the performer to the audience, an important exercise for the magician, who is involved too often in the solipsistic activity of practcing in front of a mirror.

I wish I had been allowed more input into "Strong Magic," but, hey, it's Darwin's book and it's his right to have it appear the way he wanted.

Matt Field

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 2nd, 2003, 7:47 am
by Steve Bryant
I think the real value of Darwin's book, which I quite enjoyed, is to get you thinking about various aspects of magic. Everything in magic can be disagreed with, as virtually every point you can bring up has an opposite that is also successful. "Learn only 6 tricks really well!" vs. Michael Skinner's choice to learn practically every trick. "Don't use blue lines or material!" vs. the fact that Penn and Teller and Amazing Johnathan have people lined up in droves. And so on. The trick is to weed through the advice and find what works for you. (I, of course, am still wandering around in the weeds.)

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 2nd, 2003, 9:20 am
by Philippe Noël
I don't understand why you say that it is pointless to list the conclusions with which you disagree. I think that it is just one of the goal of this thread to know the opinions of others on those conclusions!
Regarding Darwin's idea that a trick should be performed deliberately, then as you perform the sleight you speed up, then slow down again, I would like to quote Vernon who clearly disagreed with Mr Ortiz when saying:"Nothing disarms and deceives a spectator more than an UNHURRIED and deliberate presentation...".

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 2nd, 2003, 10:09 am
by Pete McCabe
But for Darwin to have written a book of opinions with every opinion prefaced with, "I think," or, "I believe," or, "It seems to me," would be the height of inanity. Of course it's Darwin's opinion -- who else and what else?

Matthew Field
Genii Forum
Yes, according to me. That's usually who it's according to when I'm talking.

David Mamet
American Buffalo

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 2nd, 2003, 10:36 am
by Bill Duncan
Originally posted by Matthew Field:
...Of course it's Darwin's opinion -- who else and what else? For people to take it otherwise is, I believe, sloppy reading.

Matt Field
I've never heard it put better Matt! Too many people read a book or (more likely) watch a video expecting to learn TRUTH when in fact the best they can hope for is to learn what is true for someone else.

Strong Magic is created of the conclusions that have shaped Darwin's work and he is without a doubt successful at what he does. That doesn't make what he does the right goal for me nor does it make him the only answer. But if it's even part of the answer it was worth reading.

My interest in Strong Magic was becase it was a book of "theory". I've read a bunch of books on theory from the bad (John Mendoza's Close Up Presentation) to the sublime (The Books OF Wonder) with Eugene Burger, Nelms and Fitzkee and Swiss thrown in the mix. None of them form the complete picture of who I am or who I will become. But even the Mendoza book taught me something...

If you assume that someone has all the answers, or that personal truth can be found in any one book you're certainly going to be disappointed.

That being said, if the only book you ever read on performing was Strong Magic and you applied what it says you'd probably still be a better performer than if you hadn't.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 3rd, 2003, 12:19 pm
by Philippe Noël
Here is an interesting link concerning this BoM: ... tions.html

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 4th, 2003, 7:33 am
by Guest
Thank-you for this GREAT link Philippe!

I'm all for asking as many questions (in this case no less than 443! Wow!) and getting down to the WHY of what we do. Does everyone need to answer all of these questions let alone be aware of them? No, of course not. I believe if you just simply follow Paul Daniels advise found in his to-the-point quote on the Astonishment Site you will pretty much answer these questions in one way or another: Baffle 'em & Entertain 'em. "Them" (the audience) being the emphasis.

Astonishment Site- best site on magic I ever saw.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 5th, 2003, 4:03 am
by Guest
"It is pointless to list the conclusions with which I disagree, although I can't resist pointing to Darwin's idea that a trick should be performed deliberately, then as you perform the sleight you speed up, then slow down again."

Hello Matt,

I have read this book 5 times and I have yet to come across this passage. Are you sure you are not confusing this with Darwin's explanation of how he performs the Geminii count at the end of Jumping Geminii when he is displaying the 4 Kings (from his A-1 video)?

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 12th, 2003, 11:29 pm
by Dustin Stinett

Though I cannot be certain this is what was going through Matt's mind, check the Tempo section beginning on page 318 and perhaps you'll find what Matt was referring to (of course, Matt, if I'm wrong please correct me).

One more thing for Matt: I would love to read more about the conclusions of Ortiz with which you disagree, especially since you were one of the editors. Could you share with us just one or two key elements?

One of the things, for me (as I alluded to in my opening) is that some of his ideas about character are flawed (to my way of thinking). And not just in the section on character. In the Meaning in Magic section he notes that a "Riverboat Gambler" character could not be taken seriously--that today's audiences will know it's "all just make-believe." Why is this a problem? It doesn't seem to be a problem in theater or film. (Particularly in the action films he cites. Of course, we all know what a powerhouse actor Chuck Norris is.) If the performer is a strong enough actor and performer, there is absolutely no reason why such a character couldn't work. Ortiz says that the audience needs to have something that relates to their lives. Sometimes, yes, and sometimes they want to escape their lives, if only for a few minutes. (The venues open to such an act is an entirely different argument.)

Earlier, in the section on Suggestion, Ortiz talks about "atmosphere." A character can do a lot to set the atmosphere, yet Ortiz fails to point this out. He focuses on the type of magic, props and the setting. Setting, he says, can be evoked by the stories the performer tells: this is as close to character as he comes in this section. The character determines all of the things he cites (but misses the opportunity to say so here), so why not a riverboat gambler? I can imagine a strong performer taking his audience on a trip back to the 19th century aboard a Mississippi riverboat. I think given the opportunity an audience would be receptive to such a trip.


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 12:16 am
by Edwin Corrie
Wasn't there an article about a riverboat gambler type character in Genii recently? The name escapes me at the moment, but the magician in question was interviewed by Steve Bryant and seemed to be quite successful.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 3:56 am
by Guest

I believe you are referring to Bodine Balasco. I believe he did perform or does perform as a Riverboat gambler (amongst other duties like motivational speaking).


I did reread the section and I believe that Darwin is referring to speeding up or slowing down the pace of the entire effect rather than just during the moves.

In regards to tempo, no matter how slowly and deliberately I perform an effect in practice, come show time I have a tendency to speed through it. If the effect normally takes 3 minutes, I can perform it in 2:45 or 2:50. This phenomenon always occurred when I had a band as well. On demo, we played at a comfortable pace, play it live, it went so much faster.

Is the natural tendency of speeding up an effect when performing for an audience a common occurrance amongst magicians? Is it because we are excited, nervous? What do y'all think?

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 4:00 am
by Linds
Yes there was. It's on page 52 of the June 2001 issue. An interview by Steve Bryant of Bodine Balasco.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 4:41 am
by Steve Bryant
We can all do card tricks, but a few guys can just light up a room with a deck of cards. Tom Mullica did this in his Atlanta bar, Doc Eason can do this, Bill Malone can do this. Another is Bodine Balasco, though few in magic have seen him do it unless you've taken one of those Delta Queen trips. I'd love to see Louis Falanga capture Bodine on a video set.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 9:00 am
by Guest
Strong Magic is the best book in "techniques for effective showmanship" I've ever read. I don't agree with Mr. Ortiz in a few points, but I respect his effort to write a treatise so structured. I found "Strong Magic" very useful for my performances. The best part, imho, lies in the first 150 pages, especially when Mr. Ortiz analyze "Clarity" and "Convinction". It's a controversial, but essential book: it made the difference, for me. I'm still studying it, and I'm planning to translate it in italian, for my personal use. Thanks, Mr. Ortiz!

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 12:18 pm
by Grant McSorley
I have noticed this same change of pace between practice time and performance time, both in my magic and in any other presentations I have done. Personally, I think it is nervousness that causes this, but it may be different for different people. I find that the more comfortable I am with a routine, the more I can concentrate on interacting with the audience, whether through off the cuff remarks or through pauses to let something to sink in. If I am not comfortable, then I have a tendency to simply run through my script and the moves. While this can work and often the audience does not notice anything wrong per se, it makes for a shorter performance time.

Is this how others feel as well?


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 3:44 pm
by mark
I think you are right, for the most part. The excitement of performing does have one moving a bit quicker, and speaking faster, as well. In my experience teaching, the more uncomfortable (i.e. excited) one is while in front of people, the faster one talks. While this is alright up to a point, the real quality issue to me is the quality of one's voice. The same tension that speeds things up constricts things in the neck and throat, affecting the pitch of the voice. You mentioned that the same thing happened when you had a band. This is exactly so, and it is certainly not the time for constricted 'pipes.' Deep breaths, chin up, keep the pipes open and while things might move faster, they will at least sound good :D

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 6:42 pm
by Matthew Field
To Dustin --

I'd love to post more on this important book, but I'd have to reread it and all my books are packed -- ready for a big move from New York City to upstate New York. So "Strong Magic" is packed away in a box.

Gawd. I'm starting to sound like Biro.

Matt Field

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 13th, 2003, 11:49 pm
by Dustin Stinett
Thanks anyway Matt, and good luck with the move. (I'd like to move: my hot water heater just went dump city. :mad: Tomorrow is going to be an expensive day.)

(Gettin' ready for that morning cold shower! :eek: )

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 14th, 2003, 7:55 am
by Bill Mullins
Originally posted by Dustin Stinett:
my hot water heater
hot water heater??? Why would you heat up hot water?? I have a cold water heater . . . . .

(My wife is sick and tired of me "correcting" her on that one )

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 14th, 2003, 8:39 am
by Dustin Stinett

Don't you have anything else to do?!?!

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 14th, 2003, 11:04 am
by Jeff Haas
Hey Bill...

Why do you have both a clothes washer and a dish washer? They both wash things. Seems to be redundant! Get rid of one.


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 14th, 2003, 11:09 am
by troublewit
Strong Magic was an exciting "first" read for me, as many ideas and philosophies resounded and illustrated principles which I already knew to be true. On the second and third times through, I found myself highlighting some quotes and passages. I also checked out several of the books and authors he refers to such as Hitchcock's work on suspense, and various other authors and books. All in all, I thoroughly enjoy this book for its inspiration and (I thought) entertaining contents.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 14th, 2003, 11:17 am
by Dustin Stinett
That is one of the strengths of Strong Magic; its affirmative quality. And even when there is something disagreeable, the simple fact that the author got the reader to think about that subject again, to perhaps reevaluate it, Mr. Ortiz has done his job.


Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 14th, 2003, 11:29 am
by themaestro
Originally posted by Dustin Stinett:

One of the things, for me (as I alluded to in my opening) is that some of his ideas about character are flawed (to my way of thinking). And not just in the section on character. In the Meaning in Magic section he notes that a "Riverboat Gambler" character could not be taken seriously--that today's audiences will know it's "all just make-believe." Why is this a problem? It doesn't seem to be a problem in theater or film. (Particularly in the action films he cites. Of course, we all know what a powerhouse actor Chuck Norris is.)
The problem is he is not discussing character here in magic or close-up performances in general. He is discussing anachronistic dress in a "gambling routine." Which he uses to name a specific type of routine differntiated from gambling themed magic or acts. The idea being ,as I understand it, having never actually seen one, that a real gambler is demonstrating his techniques for cheating. Authenticity is the key he says, and some one dressed as, or even doing a character, of a river boat gambler would not be taken seriously as real gambler.

The point he is making is the equivalent of saying you could not take a documentary seriously about the Texas Rangers with Chuck Norris shown as a Texas Ranger.

Nowlin Craver

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 14th, 2003, 11:22 pm
by Nathan
Some of the specific criticisms that Mr. Swiss raises about the book don't seem completely fair to me.

In my opinion, Strong Magic is directed at the average magician who wants to develop his/her presentation skills. Citing examples of magic's top performers which contradict the advice in the book isn't a good way to illuminate the pitfalls of Mr. Ortiz's advice. Of course a magical artist is probably capable of violating nearly every piece of advice in the book and still coming out with a strong magical effect.

In fact, that may be a good exercise for those that want to try push their presentations beyond what is available in Strong Magic. See how many of the laws you can break while still maintaining a solid presentation.

Yes Ricky Jay and Eugene Burger can both pull off engaging story presentations where the cards take on personas of their own. Of course it can be done. But would you expect the average magician to be able to pull off those presentations without the story seeming contrived. I certainly have cringed through a handful of such performances. Some of them were videos of my own from earlier days.

I have no doubt that Peter Samelson can do seven minutes of patter for a one minute effect. But he is "one of the most original theatrical magicians of his generation" according Mr. Swiss. Strong Magic was certainly not intended to train such an already accomplished performer.

As far as making the performer always be the protagonist, this is another rule that can be broken, but I don't think the average magician should initially go about trying to improve his/her presentation by breaking it. The protagonist of a story presentation could certainly grow from tackling the conflict in the story. But I think Mr. Ortiz is telling his readers to avoid casting themselves in the role of the antagonist. There is a style of comedy where the comedian continuously insults members of the audience. It is certainly possible to get big laughs from this, but there is a fine line that must be danced upon. I'm sure there are performers who could cast themselves as the antagonist or even the true villain in a magical effect. I don't think the average magician would be successful at pulling off such an effect.

Many of the great artists from all art forms made progress by violating classically accepted rules. I don't think Strong Magic is intended to train people to violate such rules successfully, but I know the first step towards breaking the rules is to have a profound understanding of them.

Re: Book of the Month: Strong Magic

Posted: May 15th, 2003, 11:08 am
by Lisa Cousins
Before I read this book, my magic was a 98-pound weakling, the prey of burly magicians who viciously kicked Hindu Sand at it. No more. I took Darwin's advice to clap the white hat on my head, and the black hat on the head of my imaginary antagonist, be the hero, always win, and you are me, and ain't life grand?

The "how to practice" issue has always been a tricky and frustrating one for me, and I found Darwin's advice here invaluable. He advises that most of your practice should consist of things you have already mastered. While obviously useless for the absolute beginner, I was at exactly the right point when I read this book to make excellent use of this advice. Continuing to run through the things that I already know has brought a surprising degree of improvement to my supposedly-mastered routines, and fosters an ease and polish that seeps into all of the "gotta-try-THAT!" new stuff.

Also, from the point of view of my recurring role as "spectator," and particularly from the point of view of my recurring role as "assisting spectator," the respect and consideration Darwin Ortiz evinces for a magic audience is right-on and very well appreciated.