Presenting the Unpresentable

For me, there is almost a meditative/therapeutic quality in the process of going through a new card magic book and working through the effects. This is especially true with tricks that are self-working. I count the cards, deal the cards, cut the cards... go through whatever process the trick requires and at the end something amazing—or at least interesting—has occurred. 

In the past, these tricks that I've found so pleasant to follow the steps and see how they play out, are the same tricks that I would never show real people. "Dealing tricks" and "counting tricks" or any other process-heavy tricks are often dismissed by magicians. "No real magician would do it like that." And that's true. But no real magician would be doing any of these card tricks we're doing, so that's not really a good rationale. 

In my opinion, the reason for not doing these types of tricks was simply because my audiences didn't seem to like them. If I would tear and restore a card, they were on board for that. But if I said, "Deal the cards into a pile. Stop wherever you like. Now bury the top card in the center. Turn over the new top card. Whatever the value of that card is, deal that many cards to the table," that sort of thing would, understandably, come off as rather dull.

So I spent a lot of time looking for ways to disguise the procedural elements of these sorts of tricks because I felt there was some magical merit to the ending. And if I could just get them to the end, then that would justify the time-consuming build up. But in the past couple of years, and especially so in the past 6 months, I've come around to the exact opposite position. 

The way to make a process-heavy trick interesting is not to hide the process but to focus 100% of your attention on it.

To do this you just need to create some rationale for the existence of this process and that is accomplished by a simple formula:

The name of some ethnic group or subculture
Some broad, intriguing concept
The word process or procedure (or other, more interesting, words to that effect)

You're not asking them to see a card trick. Instead you're saying:

"Shuffle this deck up. There's this Amish custom called the Rite of Fate that I read about and want to try."

"Can I get your help? In the early 20th century there was a gypsy love-beckoning ceremony that swept the nation. Supposedly my grandmother met my grandfather after performing this. I want to see if there's anything to it."

"Have you ever heard of something called the Nazi Luck Protocol? I saw it on the History channel. It used a deck of cards...."

I've found that you can generate great interest for process-heavy tricks from the type of spectators you might never suspect would sit still for this sort of thing as long as you concentrate their attention on the process. 

If you approach someone and say, "Would you like to see a magic trick?" and then commence a procedure with a lot of counting and cutting, it's understandable that they're not engaged, because that's not what they associated with anything magical.

But if you say, "I want to try this old Apache coincidence ritual I read online." Then they become interested in the process itself. What is an Apache coincidence ritual? I don't know, but it sure sounds intriguing. And even if the process consists of the same dull actions, it still presents some level of fascination because it's not clear where it's going.

If you've ever read someone's tarot cards you find they invest a lot into the mixing and cutting involved, even if they don't believe in that sort of thing. They want to invest in the process because you've given it some importance. That's what you're doing here too. "I found the instructions for this old Carnie Good Fortune procedure folded up on a sheet of paper in my grandmother's bible. Apparently if you follow it something pretty crazy happens." 

Below is the video for John Bannon's Collusion from his recently released Move Zero DVD.

On the Cafe, Ross W writes:

Clever, Very, very clever. But my God, boring. "You cut some cards, now you cut some cards, now count them, we combine the numbers.. no, wake up, we're only halfway through! Blah blah blah zzzzzzzz"

How many of you EVER get to perform tricks like "Collusion"? It's long, procedural, and (dare I say) confusing. When on earth does someone perform this stuff? More to the point: WHY? I can understand it if the reaction you seek is, "Hmp. Interesting." But otherwise, in my experience, there are very few times when people are sitting down, attentive, sober and dead keen to see a longish trick that requires a lot of explanation. 

On one level, Ross' criticism makes sense. This is not the effect you would do if you wanted to create the most "magical" impression on someone and you had one trick to do it with. But, as I wrote in my July 15th post, I want a repertoire with material of varying intensities. This is, I think, a low intensity trick, but one that fools people. And it's a perfect trick to focus on the process and get them intrigued with the process. Think back to the Rick Lax videos that have 50 million views. They're not the ones with the strongest/most straightforward magic tricks. They're the ones that engage the watcher in a process that they take an integral part in. You can do a similar thing with these "long, procedural, boring" card tricks too. Especially when presented in casual situations.

What would I couch the process for this trick in? I don't know... maybe, "Have you two ever heard of Scientology's Relationship Compatibility test? Well, you know all those scientology relationships are completely bogus, it's all for show. But they still want to put together people with some sort of chemistry and apparently L. Ron Hubbard created this test to find if people we're on the same wavelength. I'm sure it's nonsense, and the odds of it working out are astronomical...but it's fun to try."

"I wrote down the instructions. Let's see... Ok, Amy, take the deck. Imagine you're on an elevator going up and down in a 20 story building. You stop on one floor, the doors open, and Tom is waiting there. Look up and note what floor you're on. Deal that many cards. Now Tom, you do the same..." blah, blah, and so on and so on. "The two of you have come together to create a card which no one could have known. And the two of you have come together to create a number which—at this point—no one does know. In Scientology, depending on how far away your card is from that number, that would indicate your suitability. According to Xenu, at least."

I'm just spitballing here. The point is not to come up with a premise for the trick. The point is to come up with a premise for the process. Don't even worry about the trick aspect. That just happens at the end. "Wow, you found the mate to every card in the deck." "Wow, you dealt to a four-of-a-kind." "Wow, the one card you created together is at the number you created together."

"Maybe there is something to this Bald Knobbers purification ritual."