Project Slay-Them: Summer School

[This is the third entry in a series of posts for people who would like to perform for people more but don't. If you're not in that category then this advice won't really apply to you.]

In the first post in this series we talked about amassing a large repertoire, and so far we've looked at that from two angles. The first is simply going through your books and DVDs and finding the tricks that appeal to you. The second is looking at the items you carry with you or could carry with you on an everyday basis and working backwards from those. 

So we've looked at growing your repertoire based first on the tricks you like and then on the items you have with you anyway. The final way we want to look at identifying material for your repertoire is based on the places you spend your time. Think about the five places outside of the home where you spend the most time. It might be work, the gym, a bar, the library, and a park near your house. Think about each place individually and what their characteristics are and what objects they contain that you might be able to take advantage of. These are the places you're already at anyways. Why not have a game plan? 

So, for example, you think about the bar you always go to. And then you recall, "Ah, there's a dartboard there." This can lead to material in three ways. Either you will already know of an effect that uses that object. Or you can search for effects that use that object. Or you can create effects that use that object. What can you do with a dartboard? Ok, I know there's Corinda's Dartboard Prediction effect. Then I do a little searching and I find this Brent Braun trick that looks pretty good. Then I think about it and see if there's any other way I could use it. Perhaps you could do a card at any number type thing. Riffle the cards towards the spectator and then tell her "Three of Hearts." She throws a dart at the dartboard and whatever number she hits we count down to that place in the deck and we find the three of hearts. You frame it as some incredible skill on her part. It's a decent idea. And in a bar with people gathered around I think it would go over pretty well.

The purpose is not to add three tricks to your repertoire for every item in every location you hang out at. It's just to have a portion of your repertoire that is location specific to the locations you spend a good amount of time at.

You say you don't leave your house? Who were you hoping to perform for? That's a completely different issue. Go engage with the world.

I don't get it, Andy. You said this was going to be a series about going out and performing more and for 6 months all we've done is build up our repertoire. That's exactly what I've been doing while I sit at home not performing.

Not everything is as seems. First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Daniel-san, not mine.

These posts are not directed at people with social anxiety or people who don't perform for that type of reason. These posts are geared to those people who like magic but don't perform it because they feel cheesy or like their being invasive when they offer to show someone a trick. And that's because it is cheesy and invasive to shoehorn your "performance" into a normal human interaction. 

Let's look at another art form again for an analogy. If we're sitting around and I say, "Hey, I'd like to sing something for you. Swing low, sweet chariot. Commin' for to carry me hooommmmmeeee." And if I do it seriously, you're going to feel awkward. Even if it's just the two of us together. But if you're talking about your favorite tv show and I'm like, "I love the theme song," and you're like, "Yassssssss!" As soon as I belt out, "Unbreakable!" you're joining in with, "They alive, dammit!"

Here is the key thing to remember for casual performances. A performance that comes out of the blue and is unrelated to anything puts your spectator in the position of "audience." This is an awkward position to be in when you're just hanging out in a friendly setting. But a performance that is borne out of something the spectator says or something in the environment puts the spectator in the role of director or fellow actor. 

Think back to that example above. If I sing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot unprompted, it's uncomfortable. But if you say, "I love a good negro spiritual," and then I start belting it out -- it's an entirely different situation. You're raising your hands and closing your eyes and swaying back and forth. "Preach!" you exclaim. Because it feels like your idea. But if my goal is to sing more around my friends in a non-awkward way, I can't just have that one song in my holster and hope someone brings it up. I need a big catalog.

Magic, done in a casual situation, is not different from other art forms. The key to making it not come off as corny is to make it fit the situation. To reiterate what I've said in a previous post, the purpose of this large repertoire is not to go out and show people 14 tricks in a row. The purpose is to have the right trick to slide seamlessly into the right moment. Yes, we've been building up our repertoire, but in a very specific way so that it gives a lot of options for ways to get into effects organically.

Magic books —as they often do when writing about interacting in social situations— will give you the exact wrong advice. They will tell you, "Steer the conversation towards talk of ESP." This does not work. It's obvious. "Yeah, that Donald Trump is crazy. Who knows what he'll do next. It's almost like you need to be psychic to predict it. Oh, did someone mention psychics? Funnily enough I have a trick that deals with that subject" This comes off sketchy and weak. And it poisons the whole conversation. I mean, if you do successfully change the subject to psychics and people are into the conversation and then you're like, "Here's a trick about psychic power," people will think, "Oh... wait... so that's why you brought it up? Not to hear my opinion or interact with me. Got it." You've been in a conversation where someone tries to steer the topic towards something else they want to talk about. It's not subtle. And it's actually worse than just directly changing the subject and asking if you can show them a trick. That type of direct approach (which I'll touch briefly on in a future post) can work well. But ultimately the indirect approach —using their conversation or objects in the environment to get into an effect— is stronger, in my opinion. You do not steer the conversation, you let the conversation steer you.

The other reason I'm stressing increasing your knowledge-base of effects is because, armed with this type of repertoire, you will feel like an idiot if you never brandish it. Especially when you're stuck around people and you're all just killing time and you have something that would be perfect for the situation. You'll feel like someone who took a bunch of first aid classes and just quietly sits with their hands folded while someone at another table chokes on a bratwurst.

Okay, so maybe you want a little more guidance on getting back into performing. If your only audience for many years has been yourself, you may feel the need to take it slow when it comes to performing for other people. I understand that. First, let me restate the purpose of this series is not to get you out performing for strangers. I think that type or performance hurts magic more than it helps it. This is to get you performing more for friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and yes, even people you've just met, but not people that you're introducing yourself to for the sake of showing them a trick.

If you feel the need to dip your toe into performing for real people again, here are three homework assignments for you this summer. You should complete each one three times.

Assignment One - The Set-up With No Climax

Sounds like my honeymoon!!!! hahahahah

For this one I want you to ask someone to name a color (red or black), then name a suit of that color, then name a value from A-K. When they do, thank them, make a note of the card they selected on your phone, and move on.

They will ask you what it's about, you just tell them it's for a project your working on (which is sort of the truth). 

That's all you need to do.

Now, you could, of course, have an invisible deck in your pocket and say, "See, this is so weird. It keeps happening." And then show the card reversed. If you feel compelled to do that, you've just shown someone a magic trick. Congratulations. If not, don't worry. To complete this assignment you just have to ask for them to build a card in that way.

The purpose of this assignment is to get you used to starting a trick. The truth is, once you start it you'll probably want to finish it, but you're under no obligation to. It's also an example of an approach we'll look at in the next post in this series.

Assignment Two: Optical

Keep the picture below somewhere on your phone. Try to find three conversations during the course of the summer where you present it in a way that feels organic. This won't be easy. It's the equivalent of having one magic trick to show people and looking for ways to work it into a conversation. Maybe someone is talking about paint colors, or something about their vision, or maybe the shadows on a baseball field affecting the hitter during a later afternoon game. Or hell, maybe you'll get lucky and someone will bring up optical illusions. I don't know. 

No one is going to bring up this specific subject of how our eyes compensate for a perceived shadow, etc. etc. That doesn't matter, because as long as they hit a subject nearby you can use the magic words: "That reminds me."

"Yeah, I can't really tell if that dress is red or orange either. I'm a little colorblind.  Oh, that reminds me. You have to check out this picture and tell me if I'm crazy or not. They say squares A and B are the same color. That can't be, can it?"

Then maybe you rip a couple holes in a napkin or business card and place it over the image so only squares A and B show. "Son of a bitch, I guess it's true," you say.

That's it.

The purpose of this assignment is to get you looking for openings to present material. And to get you used to showing people things of a mildly interesting nature.

Assignment Three: Project Mayhem

I want you to go out and perform a trick and screw it up.

For example, ask your bartender to grab any number of objects and place them in a row on the bar. Tell her to think of any one. Hold your hand over the items one by one and then name any of the objects. If you get it right, great. But you have to go somewhere else and do it again. You have to do it until you screw it up. Once you do, the assignment is complete.

If you have a fear of screwing up tricks in public this is a good exercise because you'll learn no one really cares. And since you're going into it knowing you're going to fuck it up you can mentally prepare yourself. 

If you try this exercise and find it's actually easier than presenting a trick normally, this suggests your concern in performing is being seen as a desperate approval-seeker. A valid concern. In this case, knowing that you're going to fail actually takes that pressure off. In the next post in this series we'll look at ways of getting into effects that will remove that pressure and stigma but in the context of presenting a successful, amazing trick.