Project Slay-Them: The Groundwork

In general the email correspondence I get comes from two different groups.

The first group is people like Andi Gladwin and Joshua Jay.

Closeted homosexuals?

No. That's not what I mean.

Like, dudes who co-founded a business so they have an excuse to spend a ton of time together without their wife/girlfriend getting suspicious? 

No, no. Look, you're taking this in a completely different direction-

Oh, I know. Rabid analingus fans? Like absolutely insatiable dookie freaks? 

NO! Stop and listen to me. What I mean is that the first group of people I hear from frequently is professional magicians -- people who make their living performing and creating magic effects. This, of course, isn't a huge portion of the population, but it's a large percentage of the people who would have any interest in my site.

The second group of people I hear from a lot are people who don't perform at all. They don't want to be associated with "magicians" and just enjoy reading about it, practicing it, and maybe performing for other amateurs like themselves. I used to be very much in that group myself.

I think this group is pretty large. In fact, I'm beginning to think that very, very few people who aren't performing professionally ever actually show someone a trick.

While I was on a partial break from writing last month, Penguin magic released this trick

The effect is nice. The method is workable in theory. The only problem with the trick is that you could never actually perform it for someone. And the fact that no one has mentioned this is one of those things that makes me think nobody is really actually performing this trick anywhere (or performing most tricks anywhere -- there's nothing unique about this one). I'm sure people have performed this trick for their friends in magic, or their significant other who they perform all their stuff for, and you can certainly do it on a demo video where you have people playing the role of a spectator (I'm not saying their reactions are fake. I just mean people behave much differently when a camera is on them than they do when there isn't one on them.) 

Here is how this trick would play out if you tried to perform it in a casual situation for someone other than your magic test-audience.

You: I'd like to try something with you with this deck of tarot cards.

Them: Neat. Let me see. [Holding out their hand.]

You: Uh, err, uhm, uhhhh... I uh... you can't uhm... you see... I uhm... well... it's just that... I uhm.

I've performed plenty of tricks with tarot cards for friends and acquaintances and people I've just met. In every case where I introduce them, people want to take a look at the deck. They're either familiar with tarot cards, so they want to take a look at this particular deck, or they're unfamiliar with Tarot cards, so they want to take a look at the deck. The only people who don't want to take a look at the deck are your magician friends and your wife who are familiar with the rhythms of watching tricks. "Oh, I don't look at one of his props unless it's offered to me -- that's how this works." They know that, but that is NOT how the rest of the world operates. Especially when you're trying to show something in a casual situation and not in a "Gather 'round everyone, the show is about to start" situation. 

"But, Andy, I've performed this for people and they don't have any interest in looking at the cards." That's very embarrassing for you. If I showed someone an object that I wanted them to take some interest in (like a tarot deck) and they just gave a half-hearted glance at it, I would pull one of these...

because that is a sure sign of indifference on their part. In fact, if you're one of those guys who can never tell if a girl is interested in him, try this tip: bring out something that has some inherent interest, it can be a tarot deck, a snowglobe, or just a picture on your phone. Express to the girl that this item has some meaning to you -- "this is my favorite snowglobe" or "you've got to see this picture of my niece." If the girl looks at it briefly and says, "That's nice," then you're sunk. A person who is interested in you OR in what you're showing them will take the object and give it a closer look. It's human nature. If you take out a tarot deck and the person couldn't give less of a shit about it, then they're not interested in you or the deck. That's bad news.

"Audience management. That's your problem, Andy. You don't have audience management skills. Sure they'll want to examine the deck, but you have to manage the audience so they don't get to." This is the type of thing you hear on the Cafe when someone complains that something can't be examined. "Audience management" is a phrase that is thrown around the most by dumb people, like "horsey sauce" or "make America great again." If "audience management" means to deny or ignore someone's interest or curiosity in an object I'm presenting to them that was intended to gain their interest or curiositythen yeah, I don't have that particular skill. And I don't want it because it's completely self-serving horse-shit. It's 100% illogical. I can "audience manage" my way around letting them examine a deck of cards in a poker routine, or a pad of paper that holds an impression device, because those are not things I'm putting undo attention on. But if you do a trick with something inherently interesting or where an item undergoes some kind of transformation, then the audience needs to be able to at least give it a cursory examination or the trick is worthless in an informal close-up situation. Otherwise you have this situation: "Here's something I'd like you to show some interest in. OH FUCK NO, NOT THAT MUCH INTEREST!" It's one of those contradictions that put people off of magic, even if they don't understand exactly why.

That's not to say the Past, Present, Future trick is bad. It would be great to do over facetime or a webcam. You could also do it in a formal show where the spectator doesn't expect to have the freedom to handle the props like they would in an informal presentation. My point is not to denigrate the trick. This was just a long tangent to suggest that because no one had seemed to mention what is a foundational flaw in the structure of this trick (in most performing situations), I took that as more evidence that people aren't really performing these things. I would not be surprised if 90% of the effects purchased and practiced are never performed for anyone outside of people's typical "practice audience."

If that sounds like you, then get ready, because 2016 is going to be the year you start performing again. That is your magic resolution for this year. 

I was like you. I would work on routines for my own enjoyment and then show some to my magic buddies occasionally. If I had something really great, then I might show a sibling or my girlfriend. And I almost looked at the people who did perform a lot as corny. Performing tricks was the least interesting part of magic to me, and I think that's true for a lot of you. But I've done a complete 180 on that now. I now think the really lame thing to do is just practice these tricks for yourself or show them to one or two people or your magic buddies. It would be like putting 100s of hours into studying massage and then just sitting on your floor rubbing your own thigh for hours on end. That is not the purpose of this hobby. 

The reason you don't want to be the type of person who shows other people tricks regularly is because the type of person who is naturally inclined to do that is usually a needy, awkward, weirdo. And because you don't want to project that image, you keep your performances to yourself and your inner-circle. So what we've done is left the performance of amateur magic -- done in the real world for regular people -- to the worst of us. 

Let's change that. 2016 is going to be devoted to easing you back into performing magic for others, specifically friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, or anyone you're stuck spending some length of time with. I'm not going to pressure you to go to the mall and approach strangers and show them a trick. This isn't a contest to win a black tiger deck from Ellusionist. It's just about getting you non-performers slightly out of your comfort zone and showing you some opportunities you might be able to capitalize on to show interested people some magic. That's all. I know you think showing people tricks can be intrusive, but that's because you're so used to seeing it done poorly. 

The first step is this: Amass a repertoire of tricks that you enjoy performing and that can be done impromptu. There's no hurry to do this. Go back through your magazines, books, and DVDS and find the tricks you like and work on adding one trick to your repertoire each week. At the end of this year you'll have 52 tricks in your working impromptu repertoire. Enough to effortlessly slide into one should the opportunity present itself. Not many, if any, of these should be cards tricks. Your card trick repertoire should be a separate thing. Think things like: pocket change, bills, cellphones, rings, pens, keys, rubber-bands, headphones, business cards, gum, and things you might find in a coffee shop (or, if you don't spend time in coffee shops, then things you might find in a location you do spend a bit of time in).  

Keep track of these effects in a spreadsheet or a notebook. Something you can edit easily is best. Don't duplicate effects. If you have ten ways to vanish a coin, then choose the best one. If you have a trick where something drawn on a bill changes in some way, and you find a similar one that you think is better, then douche out the old one. Keep all the props you need to practice these effects in a small box so you can run through them all in a quick sitting once a week. Don't worry about adding more than one trick per week to this subset of your material, that's a fine pace. Eventually you'l have 50 or so and for the rest of your life you can just replace the weakest trick in your impromptu repertoire when you find a better one to include.

I know that seems like a lot of tricks to have in just your impromptu repertoire, and it is. But the idea is to have enough different tricks to give you a wide range of connections so that when you want to show someone a trick you have a number of ways to get into an effect. Knowing a lot of tricks, that use a wide variety of objects, that have different premises, and demonstrate different powers, is going to allow you to be a nimble performer and allow you to get into an effect that seems relevant to the conversation or the situation with ease. And in a way that doesn't feel intrusive, or manipulative, or desperate (which is what it feels like when you try to force that one-trick you really want to perform into the interaction). It's like knowing jokes. If you know 50 jokes on a wide-range of subjects you can usually find one that will fit into any conversation. If you only know your one farmer joke, then you sit around desperately trying to get the conversation around to farming, or you jam your farming joke into a conversation that it doesn't belong and everyone is like, "This pathetic tard with another fucking farmer joke, good christ!"

As the year progresses we will talk about various ways of getting into these effects, who to perform for and who not to, how to get people to ask to see something, how to indicate you perform magic without wearing a wizards hat and a card tie. Things like that. For those of you who already perform regularly, this project might be superfluous. If you don't, then I hope it will inspire you to get out there and use these skills you've been honing for their intended purpose.