Classics Handed Down from Generation to Generation … Nobody Wanted Them!
Michael Close and Jon Racherbaumer have recently spoken on Cups and Balls and given their opinions. I don’t think that I will be called pretentious for saying that I too can offer a couple of thoughts about this matter as I have deeply studied the Cups and Balls (and won a F.I.S.M. prize for it…but please don’t hold that against me!). I have two routines I perform regularly. One mainly for magicians which is highly technical and may not be easy to follow for lay audiences (all magic should be simple to follow in my opinion) but extremely challenging and appealing to the magicians who are looking for new and (why not) revolutionary moves. Obviously, being conceived for a competition, I kept in mind, at the time, that I had only magicians watching me perform the routine for lay audiences (although I do perform it at the Magic Castle but there I don’t find a `NORMAL` lay audience in the sense that it is a mixture of magicians and lay people). I perform the routine for lay audiences only in special circumstances or for special people. I remember doing it for the tenor Luciano Pavarotti and special guests in Italy and the routine got a standing ovation. But then again, they KNEW, they FELT, it was something special.
Many Cups and Balls routines are confusing, not easy to follow. We forget many times that when we perform WE KNOW what is going on. We have done the routine countless times so we know the position of the balls and so on. But, the audience doesn’t. It’s not easy to follow three balls and three cups at the same time. So, keep it simple. I have seen magicians doing routines with two balls and three cups or three balls and two cups. Why? It `s too confusing. Three and three is logical and easy to remember. Three, that’s all. If you use three balls and two cups they have already two things to remember with the consequent challenge of following the positions and so on. I have a second routine that I perform regularly for lay audiences and it is kept as simple as possible. By simple, I don’t mean necessarily simple to do, but simple to follow. I use different colored balls, a few penetrations, a couple of transpositions and then go directly into the big load. I agree with Michael that it is not easy to find patter for such a trick. In fact, I perform the F.I.S.M. routine silent sometimes with music as a special effect. Some tricks do not necessarily require patter. Nobody, to my knowledge, has done a dove act with patter as there is no need for it…maybe. The other routine is performed with patter, kept to the essential. And I think it goes over well.
I partially disagree that the only thing that spectators remember is the final load. It is the same thing as saying that in the Ambitious Card routine with the final leadoff the card in the wallet, the spectators remember only the card in the wallet. They may remember ESPECIALLY the card in the wallet, as it is your climax and created to be memorable. But they certainly remember the phases in between. So it is with the Cups and Balls. They may NOT remember each phase and how many times the balls penetrate or transpose, but they certainly keep in mind what happens. It is the build up, the prelude to the final load. It is like a piece of opera; you usually have a not so difficult basic `aria’ that gradually builds up into the famous `tenor masterpiece’. And it’s this climax that pulls the thunderous round of applause. Cups and Balls are the same.
Basically, I repeat, the MUST here is to keep the routine as simple as possible; try to avoid inserting EVERY move you know about the Cups and Balls. When I created my original routine I bought all the basics I could find about the Cups and Balls. Gee, how many there were! I studied them all and then tried to come up with something new and different. Other magicians say that the Cups and Balls are a puzzle. Well, if you think about it every magic trick is a puzzle. It is in the ability of the magician to change the puzzle into ENTERTAINMENT. Also, the Oil and Water routines have been labeled with the `boring puzzle’ name. Magicians tend to ignore such tricks because they think they are boring. I disagree. Nothing is boring if presented properly. (Except maybe an Italian soccer match). As a challenge, I did my Oil and Water routine at the Magic Castle knowing that many magicians are always in the audience. I got letters, E-mail messages and telephone calls telling me how good the routine was. I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me. I would probably have had a lot more phone calls if the people who didn’t like it had called me! However, you get the point I am trying to make.
To me the biggest `doubt’ about Cups and Balls is : What do the Cups SEEM to be to the audience or what exactly are they meant to represent? Glasses? Containers? Why cups with balls? Why hand-crocheted balls or miniature golf balls? Or sponge balls? Why any particular combination? Great questions! Aim afraid I do not know the answer. Sometimes we tell the audience that this is a very, very old trick seen in pyramids and so on. Do they really care? I doubt it. My solution is simply that I don’t have one ! I just do it. I never came up with a LOGICAL explanation why we use cups and those kinds of balls (aluminum or copper or whatever). Do we REALLY need an explanation? We may say that these are a kind of replica of cups from ancient times and the balls are replicas of stones or small fruit used by ancient magicians to do the trick. I just do the trick. Audiences are so aware of the cups and balls (remember, it is a classic) that I don’t think we need to explain LOGICALLY what they are. And if we think in that way, so many other tricks would need an explanation. Why do we light candles and then use a silk to vanish them? Why do we use a cane and then use a newspaper to vanish it? And so on and so on.
Cups and Balls, like Linking Rings are classic. I don’t think that audiences will ever get tired of the so called `classics’. It’s like music. Verdi, Mozart and the likes are classic. You know them. You’ve heard them over and over again, but from time to time you want to hear them again. Why? Because they are usually tied to some sensations, emotions, feelings or romantic moments. Sensations that stayed in your heart and you want them back to relive from time to time when you need them or just miss them. Even though you know it’s just music, you like it. The classics of magic are the same (at least to me!). Even if you know (even if the AUDIENCE knows) that you have an open ring, a Linking Ring routine performed properly, I think, is always well accepted. Because it is ALL in the WAY you do it, your own personal and unique presentation. Basically its a very simple secret: There is no secret.
I am open to and welcome your comments,