Some Rambling Thoughts About Presentation and I Put That Know-It-All Tamariz in His Place

Over on the Conjure Nation forum there is a thread that started way back in 2005 when I shut-down the Magic Circle Jerk blog. The thread was revived when I started this site. In general I don't tend to read what people have to say about my site, unless they're saying it directly to me via email. Other than that I really don't think it's my business. Plus I like to let people live with their misconceptions. When I first launched this site I saw a message somewhere that was commenting on one of my first posts saying how bad it was and that it didn't live up to the stuff I was writing on MCJ. Which may have made me doubt myself -- have I lost my mojo? -- except for the fact that the post he was commenting on was conceived and mostly written 10 years ago for my old site, I just hadn't gotten around to posting it yet. My other favorite criticism of this site that I read in a few places early on was that while some of my ideas were good they didn't like the site because I'm a lazy writer who uses dirty words to shock people. I hate to break it to you ding-dong, but I never think, "I'm really going to shock these guys when I say 'fuck' and 'dicklicker.'" There is nothing shocking about those words to me. That's how I talk, and that's how many of the people in my social circle talk. And because we're not 5 years old, we don't place value judgments on "bad words." I think in a blog situation you want people to write like they talk, because it feels more personal that way. That's the only thing that dictates how I write on the site. And for those who want to label that as "lazy writing," you've got a big problem, because I'm 10 times more interesting a writer than you. And that's when I'm being fucking LAZY. But I don't need your readership, so stop fanning yourself on the fainting couch and hit the bricks, you fucking dicklicker. Oh wait, I mean, "you abhorrent ignoramus!" Look at me! I'm such a hard-working writer now for avoiding curse words. Thanks for the lesson in self-expression.

Annnyyyywhooooooooo.... where was I? Oh yeah, about a week ago, over on the Conjure Nation forum, in the memorial thread for my old site, which turned into the baby shower for my new site, there were a few posts about the relative importance of method, effect, and presentation. One person (and I'm not naming names only because it's a private forum and it really doesn't matter) suggested he subscribed to the Juan Tamariz school of thought that method is the most important, followed by effect, then presentation. And he mentioned Tamariz's analogy that compared method to the skeleton, effect to the flesh, and presentation to the makeup or clothing.

Juan Tamariz is a genius (which we sometimes forget because we think he's just another pretty face) but the more I thought about this, the more I disagreed with it. First off, it's not really an analogy at all. It's just an assignment of value based on his personal belief of what's most important. And second, the fact that we treat presentation as simply "makeup" is magic's failing, not something that should be championed. It's true that most presentations in magic seem superficial and slapped-on at the end -- yes, like makeup -- but that's not the way it has to be. In fact, it shouldn't be that way (in my opinion).

You might wonder how I rank method, effect, and presentation in importance, but the truth is, I don't think it's a useful or meaningful question. It's almost like saying-

Okay, when playing the trumpet, what's more important: 1. The song the audience hears, or 2. The process of blowing air through the horn?

You can't really rank those two things in order of importance. 

When we look at method, effect, and presentation, it seems like method is the foundation of a trick, but it doesn't have to be. You could build a trick from the presentation. I do it all the time. And I guarantee you'd rather watch someone with great presentations for uninspired methods, rather than someone with clever methods for dull presentations. Well, maybe you wouldn't, as a lover tricks and their methods, but a normal audience would. 

Of course, this is all pretty much semantics, as the people on Conjure Nation seemed to agree. You can't really separate these things, and if you ignore any one of them you're going to end up with a bad final product. But I do think there is something of value in assessing two of these three elements when working on effects. 

First, let's get rid of method. Method is essentially binary. Since my preferred performing scenario is one-on-one, the method either fools the person, or it doesn't. I don't care if the method is clever or unique. Magic, by definition, has a method that fools people. If it doesn't, then it's not magic. It's just some kind of boring exhibition. 

So we're left with effect and presentation. And I think the issue is that we treat these as two different things. But I find the strongest tricks are the ones where the effect and presentation are the same.

Let's look at a trick where effect and presentation are somewhat disparate things.

Effect: A card keeps rising to the top of the deck.

Presentation: One of the cards in the deck is ambitious, so it rises above all the other cards.


Effect: The aces vanish from packets of four cards and reappear in another packet.

Presentation: The Ace of Spades is the "leader" ace, and the other aces are drawn to it. 

These presentations could all be considered "makeup" They're just slapped on at the end. They're mostly nonsense and boring, but they're not too egregious because they are at least in the same ballpark as the effect.

When there is a big gap between effect and presentation, then you have stuff that comes off as hokey or condescending. The biggest offender is probably gospel magic.

Effect: A sponge ball changes color.

Presentation: Jesus Christ is our all-powerful lord and savior

Maybe it's just meant to be effective on kids, but I have a feeling even stupid kids are like, "Hey c'mon, I'm not that stupid."

On the other hand there are tricks where effect and presentation are the same.

Effect: Cards are absorbed into the performers hand in an "Invisible Palm."

Presentation: Cards are absorbed into the performers hand in an "Invisible Palm."

I find people tend to be the more engaged in these types of presentations. 

An effect that can be differentiated from its presentation will come off as a performance. Which is fine if that's what you're going for. But when your presentation becomes the effect to the spectator then you are performing the most affecting type of magic. I'm not sure if I'm making this clear... Okay, so presentation is the story that accompanies the trick. If you make that "story" something that is happening in the present tense then you not only immerse your spectator in the effect, but you also make the presentation and effect the same thing.

Let me think of an example...

Okay, let's say you have a trick where you can make a ball disappear and reappear. That would seem to be the effect: a ball disappears and reappears. But that's not necessarily the effect. Let's imagine two performers who can both perform this trick perfectly.

Performer One has a presentation about how when he was a kid he used to lose his favorite ball all the time, but if he wished hard enough he could make it come back. He makes the ball vanish and reappear a few times as he tells this story. This is kind of a standard presentation that's tacked onto a trick. What Tamariz would consider "makeup."

If you asked the spectator after the performance what the effect was, she would say, "He made a ball disappear and reappear." 

Performer Two has a presentation where he sits the spectator down and draws a square in the air with his finger. Then he goes through a brief "hypnotic induction" and says that after he snaps his fingers, for the rest of the performance whenever he says the word "square" her mind will latch onto that concept and the notion of "squareness" so tightly that it will cancel out the visual image of the round ball in her brain for a few moments. He snaps his fingers and says the word "square" and the ball seems to disappear. This wears off after a few moments and the ball reappears. Then he does it again and it disappears again.

By making the "story" of the presentation the story of that moment in time he has made the effect and presentation the same. 

If you asked the spectator after the performance what the effect was she is likely to say, "He hypnotized me to not be able to see the ball." In fact, she's likely to say that even if she knows it's not true. 

And the trick will almost certainly be more powerful to her because she is central to the presentation and the effect, rather than just a witness to it. This is the locus of audience-centric magic. Bring them an experience that happens to them, in real time, and would not be the same without them there. "Magic is the only art form that doesn't exist without an audience," magicians are fond of saying. And then they perform for people the same way they would for a tree stump.