Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

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Mahdi Gilbert
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Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Mahdi Gilbert » July 9th, 2018, 6:00 pm

Hi,

This is a question that has been bothering me and discussed a lot. So I wrote an article with my thoughts on what it means to be natural and do natural magic.

http://beforemagic.com/modern-magic/201 ... de-ascanio

Please let me know what you think.

Edward Pungot
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Edward Pungot » July 10th, 2018, 1:02 am

"Magicians are considered to be the scientists of show business."
--Milbourne Christopher
[ Stewart James The First Fifty Years ]

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Mahdi Gilbert
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Mahdi Gilbert » July 10th, 2018, 8:15 am

Edward Pungot wrote:"Magicians are considered to be the scientists of show business."
--Milbourne Christopher
[ Stewart James The First Fifty Years ]


What does that mean?

Edward Pungot
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Edward Pungot » July 10th, 2018, 12:41 pm

Magic seems to have an intrinsic quality that makes it lean more towards the sciences when asking the big What, How, and Why questions. Add to that the big data sets from magic literature and you start to have enough to form terms and definitions and even the loftier theorems. Your essay has that quality along with Ascanio's thoughts on the subject.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Bob Farmer » July 10th, 2018, 1:15 pm

I've always interpreted "be natural" as "be plausible"--which of course, changes depending on the context (e.g., the magician, the surroundings, the audience, etc.).

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Andres Reynoso » July 10th, 2018, 1:59 pm

I interpret "be natural" as movements don't look contrieved. The thing of make the false transfer as if you were really transfering it. If you are loading something doing it without being noticed flawlessly. This kinf of things. Oh, and logic in the movement. Why he took the cards, pass them to the other hand, return to the left, gave three turns with a finger on an odd position and returned to the first hand?

But in respect of the thread title "What did Vernon mean?" I'm not really sure. In The Vernon Touch (I need to go home and check the book for specific reference) The Professor says something about "be natural": male magicians being gentle and not "delicate" as it will look extrange. (For exact words I have to look the book, I promise post them here) I disagree with this interpretation. Currently I'm very interested in more "theatical" magic, I think in this kind of magic often a character is interpreted. I doubt is "natural" on this context.
I perform sands of desert using elements taken from ballet and pantomime. I take the props with unnatural hand movements (Nobody takes objects that way on dayly basis) but I have received good feedback about the hands because reflect a specific aesthetic that gives the number a different look. So maybe this unnatural part is not bad at all.
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Edward Pungot » July 11th, 2018, 6:56 am

All you have to do to understand Vernon's famous advice to "be natural" is just to watch and listen to the master himself.

Whenever he speaks, gestures, and segues into his tricks--everything--including his tangents--transition so smoothly, so naturally.

There are no, "Okay now for my next trick," no "moves," or unnatural get-ready. The way he handles everything is so damn natural. And there is an unspoken elegance to this style of performing.

It's disarmingly subtle.
It's a seamless flow.

Vernon would be having an ordinary conversation with you and that conversation would gently lead to a trick. About 3/4ths of the way in, he would gain your confidence and confess that perhaps a bit of chicanery was involved and offer an explanation that the spectators may already be thinking and on to. Only to defeat their logic with another devious method that cancels everything out. Or in the case of the cups and balls confess, and produce the final fruit loads with the fourth one being a lemon.

It's damn genious is what it is. The way everything is structured and how Vernon makes the supernatural look natural and commonplace. Magic just happens.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby David Penn » July 11th, 2018, 6:18 pm

My interpretation is this: act as if you would if you really had the power.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby performer » July 14th, 2018, 4:32 pm

David Penn wrote:My interpretation is this: act as if you would if you really had the power.


You ARE joking, aren't you? That is the very antithesis of being natural. As for "acting" I always find acting types who do magic to be artificial rather than natural. And they usually talk too much and too loud. They think they are playing Hamlet instead of doing the cut and restored rope.

As for being natural it should be remembered that what is natural for one person is not necessarily natural for another. This point is made in a gem of a book that not many have read because it is hard to obtain. That is "Mr Smith's Guide to Sleight of Hand". The book also contains the best method of devising patter that I have ever read.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby JHostler » July 14th, 2018, 5:08 pm

Nothing contrived or unnatural in context. More power to the performer capable of re-setting norms or establishing an environment conducive to his/her astonishments. Take Slydini, Gagnon, etc...
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby performer » July 14th, 2018, 6:09 pm

Oddly enough I was reading in one of Jamy Ian Swiss's books recently (I can't remember which one) quite a long dissertation of what Vernon meant by "be natural". I remember there was some discussion about the contradiction between the unnatural flat hand position in Vernon's Spellbound coin trick and his advice about being natural. Best to read it for yourself. I am only mentioning it because it seems relevant to this discussion.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Joe Mckay » July 14th, 2018, 8:42 pm

Michael Close made the excellent point that all coin magic is inherently unnatural since there is no logical reason to place a coin from one hand to another. It is an action that only ever takes place in the course of a coin trick.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby JHostler » July 14th, 2018, 9:37 pm

Joe Mckay wrote:Michael Close made the excellent point that all coin magic is inherently unnatural since there is no logical reason to place a coin from one hand to another. It is an action that only ever takes place in the course of a coin trick.


The same point could be made about almost everything we do.
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby performer » July 14th, 2018, 10:19 pm

There are often reasons for passing a coin from one hand to the other and if there isn't you come up with one. It isn't exactly rocket science.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Jack Shalom » July 15th, 2018, 2:03 am

There's lots in the acting literature about appearing truthful that applies to close up. Stanislavski's Method of Physical Actions is worth reading. It was a later development and a quite different approach from the Method popularized by Strasberg.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby erdnasephile » July 15th, 2018, 9:24 am

performer wrote:Oddly enough I was reading in one of Jamy Ian Swiss's books recently (I can't remember which one) quite a long dissertation of what Vernon meant by "be natural". I remember there was some discussion about the contradiction between the unnatural flat hand position in Vernon's Spellbound coin trick and his advice about being natural. Best to read it for yourself. I am only mentioning it because it seems relevant to this discussion.


"Unnatural Actions: Invoking the Supra-natural" in Shattering Illusions (pg 202-ff)
Mr. Lewis is quite correct: JIS' excellent essay does indeed directly address the discussion at hand.

Dr. Gene Matsuura also has a wonderful presentation entitled "Better than Natural" where he discusses related concepts and offers up some intriguing insights. It can be found in one of the EMC convention sets and is well worth tracking down.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Michael Close » July 15th, 2018, 12:59 pm

Since my name was brought into this discussion, I thought it best to clarify my position by quoting what I wrote in Workers 5 (1996):

"I would place false transfers in the same category as false shuffles and false deals: sleights that are meant to simulate real activities. If I want my false riffle shuffle to deceive, then the first step should be to examine what a riffle shuffle looks in real life. How do people riffle shuffle cards? There are lots of opportunities to watch people shuffling: I can watch my friends playing cards; I can watch the dealers in casinos. I have available to me real life examples to emulate.

"So, if we wish to perform a convincing false transfer of an object, then our first step should be to examine this move as it occurs in real life. Which brings us to the big question: When in real life do we transfer objects from one hand to another?

"I hope you took a moment to ponder this. If you did, you probably came to the same discovery I did. Only in rare situations do humans transfer objects from one hand to another. I could only come up with a very few examples, most of which were trivial, one of which was very important. Here are the trivial ones: When Americans eat, we tend to shift the knife and fork from one hand to the other when cutting meat and then back again to eat. If you are searching for a specific number of coins in your pocket, you may use one hand as a tray, placing the coins on it as they are found. If you pick up an object and it is hot, the object is sometimes tossed back and forth from hand to hand as it cools. And sometimes, if we are slightly bored, we may toss an object back and forth to amuse ourselves. That’s as far as my list goes.

"Real people do not transfer objects from hand to hand, because when faced with a task that requires the use of both hands, our brain examines the situation and moves the hands in the most efficient way possible. An example: If you are right handed, and you are going to hammer a nail in a board, you would never pick up the nail with the right hand, transfer it to the left hand, and then pick up the hammer with the right hand. You would pick up the nail with the left hand, and if the box of nails were far off to the right, you would move them over to the left first, and then pick up the hammer with the right hand.

"So here, perhaps, is the core of our problem. A false transfer is not a move that simulates a real activity, because we are performing an action that has almost no correlation to the real world. No matter how cleverly we exploit the retention of vision factor, and no matter how carefully we motivate the transfer, the action rings false, because it is an action that no one has ever seen anyone but a magician do.

"I mentioned that there was a non-trivial example of real people transferring objects from one hand to another, and that example is this: People will perform this action if they have made a mistake...One of the most deceptive moves in magic, Juan Tamariz’s Double Crossing the Gaze Switch uses a false transfer motivated by a mistake."

Sorry for the long post. Just wanted to clear up that my problem with false transfers wasn't specifically aimed a coin magic.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 15th, 2018, 1:24 pm

I learned much at the Stella Adler Conservatory that is applicable to magic, whether stage or close-up.

But here's a smell test.
Is something unnatural? You know it when you see it.

Is something natural? You know it when you don't notice it.
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Leonard Hevia » July 16th, 2018, 12:39 am

Michael Close wrote:Sorry for the long post. Just wanted to clear up that my problem with false transfers wasn't specifically aimed a coin magic.


Great posts are never too long. I don't have a problem with false transfers as long as they are motivated. It's true that most people don't transfer objects except magicians and teachers/lecturers who are holding chalk pieces in their hands or pointers and might transfer those objects to the other hand to grab something else. In that context, transfers are deceptive and in some cases can go unnoticed.

This was the core of the discussion when Hugard insisted to Vernon that Ramsay just made the coins disappear when the Professor kept prodding him for more information. Which brings up the Retention of Vision vanish. Carney eschews this vanish because it draws attention to itself and isn't an in transit action that flies below the radar of the audience.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Bill Mullins » July 16th, 2018, 1:47 pm

Michael Close wrote: If you are searching for a specific number of coins in your pocket, you may use one hand as a tray, placing the coins on it as they are found.


I think this is a specific case of something a little more general -- If you are picking up a large number of small objects one at a time, you will pick them up with one hand and put them in the other (because it is difficult to continue to pick things up when you are using some of the fingers in that hand already to grasp them).

For example, if I were building something out of wood and nails, and dropped the nails on the floor, the most efficient way to gather them is to pick them up in one hand a few at a time and place them in the other. Picking them all up with one hand doesn't work well.

(I can't think of any immediate way to apply this line of thought to magic. That was Tamariz's genius -- to identify a situation, and apply it.)

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 16th, 2018, 2:24 pm

I sat and talked with Vernon at length about what he meant by being "natural." I should turn that into a Genii article.
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby performer » July 16th, 2018, 2:27 pm

I think that would be a remarkably good idea. I have always been a little unsure as to what he actually meant by it.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 16th, 2018, 2:29 pm

It's not exactly what people think.
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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Tom Gilbert » July 16th, 2018, 2:35 pm

Article it is Richard.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby performer » July 16th, 2018, 2:39 pm

I have always had a feeling it was not what people think it might be. I believe it would indeed be a very good thing to get it clarified and I wish it had been done decades ago.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby JustinM » July 16th, 2018, 5:29 pm

Vernon talks about naturalness, and what he means by being natural etc. in The Vernon Touch book, in his own words....

There's a piece on being natural in the Dai Vernon Book of Magic.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » July 16th, 2018, 5:56 pm

Genii Magazine January, 1976 The Vernon Touch!

That’s their natural behavior, and they behave that way all the time which is very essential in doing magic — behave naturally.
I would say that too many magicians defeat the purpose of their performances by not being natural.

They imitate someone else. Or they have seen someone do a certain bit of business or use a gag that they think they can throw into their act with success. This is a great mistake.

It really hurts me when I see people who could be so much better if they would only give up the nonsense of trying to copy somebody else or trying to be funny when they are not naturally funny.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby McKitterick » July 16th, 2018, 7:30 pm

Here are two other references to check out when revisiting our shelves of magic books:

The section "On Being Natural" in He Fooled Houdini: Dai Vernon A Magical Life, Volume 4 of the Vernon Chronicles, and the last few paragraphs of Chapter 1 of Dai Vernon's Ultimate Secrets of Card Magic

A brief quote from the latter:
Be natural - what I mean by this is 'be yourself' - watch a good performer and note that he is perfectly at ease because he is doing things that are natural to him; he's not trying to be Cardini, Slydini or any other of the 'greats'; he may have learnt much from watching and reading about other performers, but he has adapted the tricks so that they fit him like a glove; he is a master of the tricks which have been tailored to suit him - he does not try to make himself fit tricks that have been evolved by someone else.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby MagicbyAlfred » July 16th, 2018, 8:39 pm

Transferring a coin from one hand to the other is unnatural only if there is not a natural motivated reason for doing so. As one example among many possible ones, it is natural (or at least it appears so, and that is what counts) to place a coin into my left hand with the right hand if I need the right hand available to pick up or move something that is so situated that it would be awkward or unnatural for the left hand to pick up or move.

Further, probably the most convincing vanish of a coin that I personally do (and it happens to be a complete vanish), starts with the coin plainly in view in my left hand, and the coin is never visibly transferred to the right hand, nor apparently ever taken out of the left hand from start to finish.

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Re: Be Natural. What did Vernon mean?

Postby performer » July 16th, 2018, 9:00 pm

JustinM wrote:
There's a piece on being natural in the Dai Vernon Book of Magic.


That is where I first read the theory about 55 years ago. I am still not quite sure what he was getting at.


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