Should we work to simplify magic tricks?
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs
be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count
half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” – Henry David Thoreau
Simplify, simplify, simplify.
This is a quote that fits the magic world perfectly!
Sometimes routines can be too over complicated and have far too much going on for a spectator to fully and truly appreciate what they are seeing.
Dai Vernon once famously said, “A great magic trick should be able to be explained in one or two sentences.” Which also ties in nicely with these thoughts on performance.
Here are my five top tips to simplify magic tricks, and streamlining them to make them not only more enjoyable and magical, but also more memorable for your spectators.
Try to explain what your effect is in one sentence
If this is impossible then you should remove some phases from your routine. This doesn’t mean your routines have to be short, they can be long routines, they just need clarity. Let me explain further.
For example, if you have a signed card that turned face up in the deck and then was found in your pocket, the back colour of the card changed and then it was found to be inside a block of ice; that is a LOT going on that cannot be explained in one sentence. In this example, it would be better to simply have the signed card vanish and reappear
Remove unnecessary patter
If you were to film yourself performing magic to an audience how much of your patter do you think that you could remove and still achieve the same effect? How many umms and errrrs are there? I think if you were honest with yourself then you would realise there is actually a lot of words that performers say that are not necessary at all.
Eliminate sentences like, ‘If I just take the cards out of the box..' ‘if I turn over the top card..’ or even sentences like ‘As you can see my hands are empty.' These sentences do not add anything to your performance and are easily understood by the spectator as they can clearly see what you are doing. Think about it, what is better, if something were to vanish and the magician stands there turning his hands up and down whilst saying, ‘and as you can see my hands are totally empty’ or if something were to vanish, watching the magician slows down and simply holds his hands out in the open slowly turning them back and forth without saying a word. The latter is by far the more theatrical and magical of the two presentations.
Try to slow everything down, performing at speed is usually linked to insecurity and guilt in the magic world. If you feel like something you are about to do might be figured out or they may catch something then the tendency is to speed up your performance. This is very natural and you must fight it. You know how these effects work, but trust me, when your spectators are seeing magic for the first time they are miles away from the method. They have a billion confusing thoughts occupying their brain when you are performing. When you speed up you are actually doing more harm than good, you are telegraphing to the spectators that there is something dodgy going on. They will subconsciously pick up on this and will not necessarily know where to look and pay attention, but they do know when and this alone increases the odds of them catching you out. Do not let the guilt of deceiving people overcome you, stay calm and composed.
Another reason for speeding up is insecurity, you may feel like you should have got a great reaction for something and instead of getting ‘WOWs’ and ‘what the’s’ you may get a more deadpan reaction, this can make you feel like you have to go quickly into another phase or effect to get that big WOW you are looking for to let you know your magic is good! People react in many different ways, I cannot tell you how many times I have felt at a gig that someone has not reacted well and I have looked at how I performed only to be contacted by them the day after or a couple of days later wanting to book me because they were so impressed. Sometimes just pausing after an effect can give the spectator time to process what has happened and let their brain catch up so they can react. Try it out.
Focus your spectator on just the key points in your routine.
This will begin to happen naturally as you eliminate the filler in your performances. As you remove unnecessary patter and sleights, you are concentrating the magic down to make it more potent. The less they have to misdirect them and concentrate on the better the magic will be received. Another way to make spectators focus on the key points is to recap briefly before a reveal. Sometimes this is really not needed, but other times it can totally enhance the moment of magic and inflate the reaction you receive. For example, if you had a word selected from a book and you read their mind and said, ‘concentrate, ok, now the word I am getting is… Tree, is that right?’ You will get a strong reaction but if instead you said, ‘Please concentrate, ok, I think I have it. Now, just think about this for a moment, you freely chose any page in that book, all the pages are different and there are about 300 words to each page. There are 225 pages in the book so that is an average of 67,500 words in that book correct?’
‘Of all these possibilities I am certain that the word you are thinking of is… Tree.’
Briefly recapping, you are elevating the impossible nature of the effect and making them focus on key points, the free selection of page and the fact that there are an enormous amount of words in the book. Even though they may have been instructed to look at the first word on the page and not ANY word, this sort of reprogramming can really help elevate the impossibility factor and prevent backtracking when a spectator tries to remember what happened.
Leave your spectators with a clear memory of the magic you performed.
There are many ways to do this, one way is to leave them with an impossible souvenir that they can keep and tell their friends about. This could also be a business card with a word reveal or drawing duplication you performed for them. Something they can take away and show when they tell the tale of the conjuror who captured their heart!
You don’t have to leave them with something though, you can create a moment with your spectators. If you watch Bill Malone he has a chant that he gets the spectators to do when he performs as part of the celebration and reaction, this can be very memorable. By framing your routines up near your face, for example, holding a signed card up near your face with a cheeky grin when you reveal it is actually their card. Small images like this can stick in people's minds and can increase the chances of them thinking of you next time they need a magician or are talking about a magician. Using techniques like this can help elevate areas of your routine without adding extra patter lines or actions that will cloud up the performance
So there you have it, these are my top 5 tips for simplifying your magic. Remember by doing this it not only helps you but it helps the spectators to appreciate your magic more and in turn your reactions and the general response to your magic will be more rewarding.