The Times They Are A-Changin'

One of the things I always thought would happen when I started writing about amateur/social magic is that people would come out and say, "Oh, yes, here are the other books on the subject that were written over the past 100 years that you don't know about because you're a magic ignoramus." But that never happened. There were a few things here and there directed towards amateurs, but very little that looked at it seriously. Since I've started this site there has been more talk about it (because I am, obviously, a world-class thought-leader) but still not that much. It makes sense though. because while there is a huge population of amateur magicians, most of them perform rather infrequently. And to get useful insights and ideas, you really need to be out performing regularly. But the people who are performing regularly tend to be professionals, so most of what you read is from that perspective. To perform a lot as an amateur, you have to be independently wealthy or have stumbled into a situation where you started a magic blog that eventually evolved into a situation where people financially support the site which allows you to spend a lot of time trying out new material and going to bars, restaurants, coffee-shops, libraries, etc. in order to generate more social interactions and try out different ideas.  As I've said before, I'm the world's first professional amateur magician.  

I bring this up because what I want to talk about today is something that is a fundamental tool for the social magician. And it's something we should obviously be taking advantage, but there is almost nothing written about it in the magic literature because it's not a tool that is available to the professional performer. So no one bothers writing about it. Even people who aren't professional performers will tend to create magic to be used in a professional situation, so they ignore this tool too.

The tool I'm talking about is Time.


As I was talking with a friend about some of the unpublished routines that will be in Magic For Young Lovers, I realized that a number of them followed a very non-traditional time-table for a magic trick. There's a trick that starts in the evening and ends the next morning, another that takes days (potentially weeks) to play out and concludes at a time you (the magician) don't choose, another where you "expose" a trick a couple hours after performing it and the exposure is actually more unbelievable than the effect.

The professional magician usually has to wrap up a trick in a few minutes. If he has a full-length show, he may be able to start a trick at the beginning of the show and wrap it up at the end, but he's still generally limited by the boundaries of the show itself.

As social magicians, we're often not constrained by the same time boundaries. And I've found that messing with the time element of a trick is a very good way to give people a richer experience than they may have with a more standard presentation. (I'm not suggesting that you need to turn every 2-minute trick into a 2-hour ordeal, but sometimes it's worth it.)

I would suggest if you have an idea for a trick that you feel is solid, but you're not getting the reactions you want from it, or it feels somewhat inconsequential, that you mess with the time-line in regards to how the trick plays out. I've found this to be a reliable way to generate a deeper experience from effects and it may be the key to amplifying the reactions you're getting from the trick.

Ideas and Examples

Let's say you meet someone at a party and they find out you do magic or mentalism. They write down a word (on an impression pad) tear off the page and you read their mind. This may or may not be a good trick depending on how you go about it. 

But consider this instead. They write down a word on a piece of paper, fold it up and put it in their pocket. "To be clear," you say, "I'm not really psychic. And I'm just learning how to pretend to be. So I'm not just going to be able to guess what you wrote. But I bet by the end of the night I'll figure it out." Maybe you actually wager some money on it.

Now, instead of a 1 minute trick, you're able to weave this effect all through the night. As the party goes on you check in with her from time to time, trying to get a feel for what she might have written down. Maybe you ask her some bizarre questions that you imply are designed to allow you a peek into her subconscious. Maybe you show her a funny video on youtube and while you're doing it she catches you trying to steal the slip of paper from her pocket ("What? I didn't say I'd read your mind, just that I'd somehow figure out what you wrote.")

And there can be different beats that play out throughout the night as you attempt different ways to figure out the word. In a professional show, a 10-minute presentation to guess a word is likely going to fall flat. But for the social magician, a presentation that is broken up into 10 one-minute moments throughout the night could be very fun. In this case because it's more than a trick, it's also a game (and if you're at all charming you could turn this into a playful flirtation (if you needed me to tell you this, you're not at all charming, don't try it)).

The night ends and you approach her with $20 in your hand. "You win. I have no idea." But as you give her the bill your hands touch and then you grasp her hand and twitch your eyes, Dead Zone style. "Wait... no... I got it... it's... doormouse." (Or however you choose to reveal you know the word.)




I've mentioned before the Michael Weber idea of splitting up a multi-phase routine over the course of several interactions with a person.

This is a great way of extending the moment and using "time" to make a trick feel different. Look, a 10-phase ambitious card routine is—almost by definition—going to peter off after a couple phases. But if you just do three phases and then keep the person's signed card on your bookshelf and every time they visit you're like, "Remember this card you signed that kept rising to the top of the deck? Well I thought maybe if the deck was bound in rope then the positions of the cards couldn't change...but check this out." In other words, you could do a single phase each time you see them. Then, rather than having a jumble of moments in their head after one long multi-phase effect, they would have this one moment they could keep with them (at least until the next time you see each other).


Other ways of using a time element to give people a different experience.

  • Tell someone you're working on a new trick, fail at it a couple times, and then a week later perform it for them and nail it.
  • Send someone a text in the afternoon asking them to stop by on their way home because you have something cool to show them.
  • Teach them a trick and then months later say, "I've been working on that trick I taught you." And show them something similar but with a wildly different method they could never conceive of. 

I would also direct you to the Presenting Coincidences post from a couple weeks ago for an example of what I consider a very satisfying modification of the "time" element of a standard trick.

I have more thoughts on this that will come out in the future, but this isn't the type of thing you really need someone to guide you through. With a little thought you'll find ways to adjust the time it takes for an effect to play out so that the tenor of the overall experience changes.