Social Magic Basics Pt. 2

How to Know if Social Magic is the Style For You

Which of these interactions would you prefer? Which would you feel more comfortable presenting and which would the people in your life be more interested in witnessing?

Interaction #1 - You're out getting some drinks with friends. You pull out three half dollars and pass them around to be looked at. "You know," you say, "the eagles on the back all look identical, but they're actually all different and they each have their own unique personalities. You see, the first eagle is Bob, and he's a bit of an adventurer. So even though the coins are all in my closed left fist, Bob just needs to make a break for it and now he's over here in my right hand. That leaves two in my left and Bob in my right."

"Sonia is the next coin in my left hand. She loves Bob, so she'll follow him wherever he goes. That's why there are now two coins in my right hand."

"That just leaves Petey in my left hand. Petey is scared of being alone, which is why...," you slowly open your left hand and the coin that was there is gone. You open your right hand and now there are three coins there. 

You place the coins back in your left hand. "Of course, you can't keep Bob in any one place for long. So there he goes. Sophia follows. And Petey tags along behind." You look off into the distance and brush your hands together and the coins are all gone. 

Interaction #2 - You're out getting some drinks with friends. One of them asks you if there's anything you're working on. 

"Eh, kind of, but I'm not having much luck with it. There was this... I think he was Russian... or maybe Eastern European physicist in the 1960s who was also a magician and he came up with a way to make a small object go from one hand to the other. And I've been working on it for a couple weeks but it's really hard because his magic style was very physics-based and I just grew up learning more traditional sleight-of-hand type stuff. I'll try it for you."

You pat your pockets. "Do you have a coin?" One of your friends gives you a quarter. You pick it up and hold it tightly in your right hand. 30 seconds pass. "Oh, it's going," you say. Another 10 seconds pass. You drop the coin on the table. "Nope, not going to happen." You shake out your hand, then press it flat on the table and lean into it like it's been painfully contorted and you need to stretch it out. "Ah... holy hell that hurts."

You pick up the coin again and hold it in your hand, "I've seen people who are really good at it who can make it go in just a couple of seconds. But as I said, it's not really the style I was brought up—wait, wait, wait...." Your eyes go wide and you stare straight ahead. You slowly look to your right hand, and open it finger by finger. Then very slowly you turn your head 120 degrees to the left. So slowly, as if there is something precariously balanced in some alternate dimension, and if you move too quick it's going to topple over.

Eventually you're looking at your left hand which is holding a glass of cider. A silent moment passes. Then the coin falls from your palm, ting'ing against the glass, and wobbles to a rest on the table.

"Well I'll be damned," you say quietly.

✿ ✿ ✿ 

The first is an example of a theatrical style of performance. "Watch while I present to you this performance piece I've put together." You might say I'm trying to deter you from this style by giving you a shitty example with the bird flying patter. I'm not. That patter is just a variation on some Tommy Wonder coins across patter. For our purposes you can imagine the most well scripted patter for a multiphase coins across ever created. Or you can imagine performing it in silence.

I'm not trying to convince you a social style is better. I'm just trying to elucidate the differences between the two styles, so you can identify which you're more comfortable performing.

With theatrical/presentational magic there is a more overt beginning and end to the trick. With social magic the trick is, ideally, more enmeshed with the natural interaction.

Theatrical magic is usually more about the effect, whereas social magic is usually more about the context of the effect. (This is due to the fact that theatrical magic's context is well established. It's a "show.")

With theatrical magic you are presenting yourself as a magician (not necessarily a "real" magician, but you're taking on that role during the course of the effect). With social magic you are presenting yourself as someone with an interest in magic. 

That may seem like a minor difference but I think it's actually very important. 

I, Magic Enthusiast

I'm hoping this post, and the example of a Social Magic presentation above, will clarify something that I haven't stated clearly enough in the past. Something I think both fans and detractors of the style of magic I've endorsed on this site may have misunderstood. 

I've often said that social (née amateur) magic should be presented without the trappings of a "show" and that you should take the focus off of yourself as "the magician." 

I think some people reasonably interpreted that to mean that I was suggesting you do magic secretly. Like you should do effects and act like you have nothing to do with what's happening. While that can be an interesting dynamic, and I will occasionally do something in that manner, it's just not something that is workable for the long term with friends and family. "Wow, Andy's fortune cookie had a description of what he was wearing in it." "Wow, Andy got a $20 bill in his package of M&Ms." "Wow, Andy found an envelope in his mailbox that said not to open until after the Superbowl and when we did there was a written prediction of the winner and the score." 

Eventually, unless your friends are morons, they'll catch on that you're orchestrating these things. (Now, I suppose it's possible you could say, "I was struck by lightening as a kid, and ever since then, strange coincidences and weird events have been happening all around me." But to really sell that you would have to hide any interest in magic that you have from everyone else in your life. Which is not something I'm willing to do.)

I don't think you should try and hide your interest in magic, or suggest that you're not responsible in some way for the things that are occurring. On the other hand, I don't think it's great to call yourself a Magician if you want to perform Social Magic. Taking on the persona of a magician outside the context of a "performance" is off-putting to people.

Instead I think it's best to just establish yourself as someone with an interest in magic. That's how I handle things. And occasionally that interest manifests itself in the form of me presenting a trick to them, like it's a show. But those are rare occasions. 

More often, tricks are introduced in a sort of back-door way, e.g., I'm talking about some new technique I'm working on, or a new concept I read about, or an effect I need their help with, or a convention I'm going to, or some interesting person I met, or a strange object I was given. Some of these entryways into performing are legit, and some are as fake as anything you'd see in "theatrical" magic. No one cares too much either way. Because of the fact you're not presenting these things in a magician-centric way—intended to glorify yourself—people quickly become comfortable with the idea that there's a mixture of fantasy and reality here.

You see, Social Magic isn't about just getting lucky and hoping the conversation will turn to a subject for which you have an effect prepared. It's not even about willfully orchestrating those moments (necessarily). It's about expanding people's perception of you to include your interest in magic. Then it becomes something they bring up because it's natural to do so.

At least that's what I experienced with my evolution as a performer. I used to just be like, "Hey, check this out," and I'd show them a coins across or something. People liked it to a certain extent, but it felt a little a little show-off-ish at best and needy at worst. So then I went the route of crafting better presentations. No longer was I just like, "Hey, I can do something amazing." Instead they would witness a little "show" from the me. But that felt awkward and out of place and still put the focus too much on me. 

That's when I kind of stumbled into a way to build a foundation for Social Magic, which is the last thing I want to mention today.

What I did was, for a month or so, I stopped performing. And instead of performing I was world-building. I was creating a world that was half truth and half bullshit about how magic was learned and secrets were kept and passed around. And I would mention some book I was reading, or a convention I was going to go to, or this old man I was hoping to visit who taught this one effect to someone only once a year. And it was all magic related stuff, but I wasn't actually performing for them. Instead I was just talking about magic with enthusiasm the way my friends talk about their hobbies. Prior to that, the only time I ever brought up magic was when I was doing it. But here I started just mentioning some interesting or intriguing ideas in passing which made magic a normal subject for us to talk about. After a couple of weeks of setting the table like this, people quickly picked up on it and they were asking me if I'd learned that technique or met that person. When they lead you into the trick like that it eliminates the boundary between effect and interaction. This helps create something that feels like real human interplay and not a performance. And that's the fundamental idea behind Social Magic.