by Mike Rogers
I have been asked just how I go about selecting performing material. It seems the process might be simple. Just find the tricks you enjoy using and put them in the act. I have a feeling that’s exactly how many do it. There are thousands of effects from which to choose. Considering the many books, TV specials, magic conventions, magic shops, and magic videos there’s certainly no loss for references. One can find, and see, many fine effects with little effort.
Personality is obviously a factor. Also, the performer must have some idea just where he or she wishes to go with magic. For instance, the hobbyist is totally unrestricted, for that person can turn in any direction. However, the performer wishing to obtain some degree of financial success with magic needs to be focused. Does he want a 15 minute act or a 15 hour act? We all know of the many card men who proudly state they can entertain for several hours with nothing but a deck of cards (I think we all go through this phase — it’s an ego thing). How about the magician who travels the world using only five tricks? How many times have we heard allusions to that anecdote? (It could be done, but it would get pretty boring!)
Anyway, getting back to how I select performing material, I don’t select effects, I eliminate them. I’m well established in my career and my performing venues, though scattered about the world, are almost always similar. In almost every case I will be in an exhibit hall, an exhibition center, or a convention center, and there are always restrictions. To illustrate, I’m not hired by the company sponsoring the function. I’m always hired by a vendor who is paying to exhibit in the function. Hence, I have no speaking voice beyond the client who has hired me. If there are show rules my client is required to go along with those rules. Thus, I can’t take on city hall to achieve a goal.
I have already said I don’t choose effects, I eliminate them. I’ll quickly walk you through the process. Right up front I exclude any effect having fire, using animals, or needing liquid. The reasons are simple. Most trade shows will not allow fire of any type unless it is actually used in the product being shown, a soldering torch or a gas range for example. Even then local fire codes apply and fire marshals are quick to enforce those codes. (Yes, magicians are getting away with it with flash paper, vanishing candles, and so on, but it’s only because they are not getting caught.) As for animals, most trade show managers will not allow the use of live animals unless the product being shown relates to the animal. For instance a supplier of pet foods might be allowed to have some pets on hand. When it comes to effects using liquid, I eliminate them simply because of the many problems fluids can create. One glass of water can wipe out a million dollar piece of electronics if spilled in the wrong place.
You can easily see that by eliminating fire, animals, and fluids my selection of performing material has been greatly reduced. Let’s continue. I do away with large props, effects having critical angles, effects requiring any sort of involved resetting, and any effect that causes a mess. I won’t bore you with the reasons as most will be obvious. Also, much has to do with personal tastes. To continue, I eliminate all effects using silks, electronics, thread, and rope. Silk tricks don’t fit my personality, I don’t know how to fix an electronic gadget if it fails, I can’t find the thread if I lose it, and rope tricks are for sailors and boy scouts. Again, all personal preferences.
Now you are getting the idea. After reading the above you can see how I have eliminated literally thousands of effects as performing material, and I haven’t even named a specific trick yet. So let’s get to the nitty gritty and name some specific effects that are popular with many magicians, yet on my list of things not to do. Let me stress that even though the item holds a spot on my exclusion list it has nothing to do with the quality of the trick or how much mileage can be gained when using it.
So here is a list of popular commercial effects that I choose not to use:
RING FLIGHT or any effect with borrowed jewelry. We’ve all heard of the lost stone story when doing Ring Flight. I’ve heard it for years and the venue is always different, so it may, or may not be true. It matters little. I’m simply not comfortable handling jewelry belonging to another.
CARD WARP. Great effect loved by many magicians. To me it looks like a puzzle, which it is.
BILL TO LEMON. This is a great effect having several methods. The easiest is to use a stooge who will just read off the number of the bill already loaded in the lemon. When I was in club management we had a comic who used to have me write the bill number on the palm of my hand, then he’d preload this bill. During the show he ask me to borrow a bill from a member of the audience. I would walk away from the spectator, then ask someone to copy the bill number as I read it. All I did was hold up the bill and read the number from the palm of my hand. It worked well. Anyway, I eliminate Bill to Lemon because of the mess.
MATRIX COIN TRICK and all related versions. To my way of thinking this is an obvious explanation of the one-ahead principal. (I know I’ll get flamed on this one!)
COLOR MONTE. This is probably the best selling packet trick in the history of packet tricks, though Wild Card might have it beat. Hundreds of magicians who openly claim not to use Marlo effects perform Color Monte. Wait a minute, Color Monte is an Emerson/West effect. Well, yes and no. The story line and the special cards are from Emerson and West. The method is pure Marlo. Check out Quick Three Way from Ibidem. My heartburn doesn’t come from the method for I am a Marlo fan. It’s the story and special cards that I dislike. You can not tell the difference between the colored diamonds in bright light because they reflect as a mirror. Moreover, the story is overly cute.
SPONGE BALLS. Sponge ball magic, when properly performed, can look like real magic. I even manufacture a top of the line set of sponge bunnies, yet I have never used sponge balls. Just a personal thing I guess.
CHOP CUP. One of the frontiers of close up magic might have started that Sunday night long ago when Don Alan performed Chop Cup on the Ed Sullivan Show for the entire nation. Since then magicians the world over have been playing “Is it in my pocket, or under the cup”? Don Alan road companies have toured because of this effect. I have no idea how many hundreds of times I have seen it done, yet through it all I only remember two performers as standing out. They are Don Alan with his guessing game routine, and Ron Wilson with a version of the Larry Jennings handling. Both Don Alan and Ron Wilson impressed me greatly with the Chop Cup. If I were to do it I would not be happy unless I equaled their skills with this item. Sadly, I’m afraid I’d remain among the garden variety. Hence, the effect is eliminated. (Yes, I feature traditional cups and balls in my act, but I’ve never used Chop Cup.)
SCOTCH AND SODA. This effect is among the best of the best when it comes to a coin transposition/change. It is easy to do, visual, and magical. Yet I won’t use it. Here’s why. I know a guy who for many years has used Scotch and Soda to bilk college kids working as food servers out of a free meal. He follows the published Scotch and Soda patter line getting the food server to agree to spring for the meal. He has sent many a young waitress away in tears as she knows she can’t afford to pay for his meal, yet she’s made the agreement. He tells her a bet is a bet, and he doesn’t ease up. Every time I think of the Scotch and Soda coin trick I think of this rotten bastard and I become ill. Hence, the trick goes out.
PROFESSOR’S NIGHTMARE. Two problems here. With so many modern products on the market such as one-size-fits-all stockings and gloves, the viewers think you can actually stretch the three ropes. Secondly, as with all rope things it looks like a boy scout trick. (Yes, I know all the stories about who should get credit for this thing, so please don’t bother telling me again.)
HIMBER RING. Reread my thoughts on jewelry.
RUBBER BAND tricks…All of them. They look like puzzles that don’t make much sense. (All flames gladly accepted.)
BALLOON ANIMALS. Save these for the no talent bums!
$100 DOLLAR BILL SWITCH. This may be one of the greatest close up effects ever. If we could do real magic this is what we’d do. We would do it again and again until the supply of $100 bills was overflowing, then we’d quit. There’d be no reason to perform magic. As for me, it’s simply one of those things I’ve never bothered to perfect.
All right, that’s enough. By now you are getting the idea how I eliminate to finally arrive at performing material. My act currently consists of the DIME AND PENNY and the WONDER MOUSE. The Dime and Penny is a kin to Scotch and Soda, and the Wonder Mouse uses thread. If I stay the course my career as a magician might soon be finished.