Opinions by Mike Rogers
Several years ago I wrote and published a small nine page manuscript called Opinions, A Lecture On the Art of Magic. The thing sold for a mere three bucks and did absolutely nothing to speed up my intended early retirement. I keep very few records, but this manuscript sold so poorly that I can safely say that less then 200 copies made the rounds. Through it all the thing established a rather cult like following and much of the material has been quoted in various magic journals. Peter Duffie and Paul Gertner both found it to be great fodder for their writings.
The small missive contained some varied opinions regarding my views on the presentation of magic. I also included various guidelines by which I regulate my approach to magic as an art, craft, and business. I’ll revisit some of those notions in this column.
Let’s begin with some ideas to help make a magical performance more magical, and a magical performer more successful.
Have a backup for every effect you do. That is, if you use a certain prop, and if that prop is important to your act, have an extra. I believe in Murphy’s Law. If it can go wrong it will. Any prop can be lost, stolen, or broken. Thus, I always have an extra. Here’s a story to point up this notion. I once was the night manager in a NATO Officers Club in Italy. It was an elegant club and we had two full time house bands. One of the band leaders told me that we could hire a part time band for less money and still retain the high quality of music. However, he went on to explain that should something go wrong with the part time band, such as equipment failure, they’d be out of business for the evening. He said, “When something goes wrong with us you’ll never know it.” It’s an excellent point. When something goes wrong in a magic act the client should never know it.
In keeping with the above it’s equally important to have an” out for every effect you do. It’s no fun having to stand in front of an audience with egg on your face. Hence, when selecting effects one of the first things I ask myself is, “What’s the OUT?”
It’s all right to lie when doing magic. We are in a business where lying is accepted. Everything we do is a lie. We don’t do real magic; we lie about it. When we tell the lie well our magic will look real. For those wishing to challenge me on this point, please tell me the last time you saw someone actually drive four coins through a table. (incidentally, can you name another profession where lying is accepted?) (Answer at the end of the column.)
- In addition to being good liars we can also be honest when developing a patter line. Many times the most sensible patter line is simply and honestly telling them what you are doing. Rather than creating a “cock and bull” story it might be better to tell them just what they are to see, or think they will see. Just tell them what you have, what you will do, and then do it.
Keep the effect simple. That doesn’t mean using simple methods, it means the overall effect in the eyes of the viewer should be simple. He should be able to walk away saying what he saw. Long drawn out contrived effects only confuse the spectators. However, in simplifying the effects don’t pay the price of losing the magic Many times magicians will work to simplify an effect to a point where it no longer looks magical. It takes some thought.
Regardless of what we have been lead to believe it’s all right to do four ace effects. We magicians tend to think there are too many four ace tricks, and that may well be true. However, laymen like them. Aces make sense. They are easy to see, easy to remember, and there is a mystique about four aces. Ask any card player. A good four ace effect is always welcome in a card sequence. Don’t muddle it though; at times just cutting to the aces is all that’s needed.
If you have a choice between using a sleight or a subtlety use the sleight. The subtlety probably won’t fly the second time, yet a good sleight can be used again and again. I’m not against subtleties, but many magicians rely on them too much.
If a gimmick will do the job better than a sleight use the gimmick. There’s nothing wrong with gimmicks if they are handled well. Sadly, many magicians handle gimmicks poorly. They often handle them as if they were fine pieces of jewelry, which many may actually be. However, if a gaff is handled that way the viewer will spot its use. Watch many magicians with a shell coin. They will handle it so carefully that a spectator watching from across the room can spot its use. I’m not saying to abuse gimmicks, but they must be handled as if they didn’t exist. An example of an excellent gimmick is the cigarette pull. A cigarette can not be made to vanish in a more magical way. (How many readers here are old enough to remember a cigarette pull?)
Study timing and apply it to every effect you do. Learn to work on the off beat. Don’t do a sleight when the heat is on. A good sleight won’t cover bad timing, but good timing can cover a poorly executed sleight.
Do kid shows, or at least work for kids when you can. Kids have a keen eye and the accept nothing they can’t see. If you want to really test a routine, one you consider among your best, do it for a group of teen-age kids. They’ll let you know in a hurry just how good your handling is.
- Learn to work without using a close up mat or pad. Close up mats are wonderful, but there are too many times in the real world where there’s no chance to use them. I’m speaking of cocktail parties where everyone is standing or milling about with no tables available. Moreover, the host may be dragging you from person to person saying to do such and such effect.
As with close up mats learn to work without having to carry a briefcase. There are just too many times when a briefcase only gets in the way. Hence, learn to work from the pockets and you’ll be money ahead.
Develop an act that isn’t critical on angles. Angles will kill you in the real world. When working social functions you can’t politely move people about and position them just so they won’t see how an effect is done. The guests at a function are going to be on all sides and they want to position themselves.
- Avoid having to use special tables. Many close up men enjoy having special tables made, and they are indeed wonderful when the conditions allow for their use. However, if you can do without such a device your magic life will be easier, and so will the life of the person throwing the party. Don’t try and be a Del Ray clone. It isn’t possible.
Avoid using corny one liners and silly asides. They do little for your act and they are viewed by most as being rather tacky. Also, most one liners have been heard many times.
As with the one liners avoid silly sight gags. It takes little or no skill to use them and this is recognized by those watching, Let’s leave the sight gags for the buffoon at the local lodge party wearing a lamp shade for a hat.
Do not allow the effect to become anticlimactic. Try and have only one ending to an effect and let it be known that you have reached that ending. I’m not in favor of what we like to call “kickers” in magic.
Don’t try and do every trick in the world. It can’t be done. Lock in on the best material you can to fill ten to twenty minutes and stick with it. I strongly favor the old concept of doing ten effects perfectly rather than fifty effects poorly.
- Don’t be a copycat. No one can copy another and do it well. It’s quickly spotted as being phony. Stick with your own personality and don’t lift material. Probably the most lifted line in magic right now is the, “One, Two, Three its me” line when doing the substitution trunk. Also, how about the Ritual Fire Dance for backup music? It’s been used and used and used ……..
Avoid using fire of any type. The fire codes for most public buildings restrict the use of fire or open flames of any type. Yes, magicians are getting away with it, but that’s only because the client doesn’t know in advance that the fire is going to be used. I’m talking about torches, dove pans, flash paper, and so on. Simply openly burning an envelope within a building is probably against the fire codes of most cities. Besides, even though the fire may look magical, many people are terrified from it, and rightly so.
(OK, besides magicians who else is expected to lie? A Novelist.)