Presentation Exploder

Let's take a look at the evolution of a trick/presentation as it applies to a commercial effect.

Why not just go with the presentation that was provided with the trick itself? Well, there are probably a number of reasons why you wouldn't want to, but two key ones are:

1. A personal, non-generic presentation is likely to be stronger and more interesting.

2. An original presentation is much less susceptible to having the mystery eliminated with a quick google search.

The basic idea we're building towards with this example comes from Joe Mckay. I've just embellished his presentation a little so it suits my style.

So we start with the commercially released effect, Cesaral's Melting Point. This was a trick that was released over a decade ago and was, primarily, marketed as a coin through glass table effect. You can see the effect below (and listen to some funky bass grooves).

I think this trick looks great, but the problem with a trick like this is that it's just about the moment of impossibility. When a trick is just about that moment, that become the sole focus for the spectator. And when all they're given is a moment of impossibility—for a lot of people—it just becomes an exercise in attacking that moment. By adding some other elements to the presentation we can create something that is bigger than just the one moment.

For decades, if not centuries, magicians have done a terrible job of adding elements to the presentation in an attempt to flesh out their presentation. Usually their big idea is to add symbolism. "This coin represents your goals and dream, and this glass table represents the obstacles you'll face." Or, "This coin is like an atom and...," blah, blah, blah. Symbolism is terrible in magic presentations. It trivializes both the magic and the thing being symbolized. 

An equally dumb presentational choice magicians make is to add a layer of distance between this moment and the effect the audience is seeing. Instead of a presentation that suggests, "I'm going to push this coin through the table and this is why it's important/interesting," they go with a presentation that's like, "One time I was at a bar and I saw a magician push a coin through a glass table." This type of thing is terrible. All it does is shift the focus off the current moment, when magic's greatest strength is its ability to pull focus to the present.

So the question becomes, what could we add to this effect to make it not just a moment of impossibility, but one that has some potentially broader implications? Cesaral's Melting Point does not need to be done with a coin or a table. Can we change either of those elements to make the penetration more meaningful? What else might go through glass? How about that Danny Thomas story where he would have prostitutes shit on a glass coffee table while he laid underneath it? Hmm... no... I think we're getting colder.

When else might there be a pane of glass that you'd like to get an object to the other side of?

How about...


No, I'm not suggesting you perform the effect in a prison visiting room (although that would be pretty cool). 

But look at what Melting Point looks like when done through a window rather than on a table. (The person on the other side of the glass is a stooge. And in this case, a not particularly good one. (Why does he only react to the coin going through the window after he looks at it?))

You can see how that visual could easily be transposed in a spectator's mind to something that was happening on opposite sides of prison glass. 

Joe's idea was to do the trick through a window with a stooge and to use a key instead of a coin. I really like the use of a key because I think it's easier to come up with reasons why you need to pass a key from one side of something to the other than it is to come up with reasons you need to pass a coin. In Joe's version, the trick was a demonstration of an old Houdini technique to sneak a key into a prison he was going to be escaping from. 

If I was going to do this trick (and I likely will) I would probably modify that presentation slightly in two ways. First, I wouldn't use a stooge. I'd use a second person who is a partner with me in the presentation. (A stooge whose primary job is to act amazed never goes over well in my opinion.) And rather than making it a demonstration of an old technique, I'd make it a rehearsal of something new we're working on now. 

Here's what I mean:

Presentation 1 - For use when the audience knows me well, and understands that I'm prone to spinning a web of bullshit for the sake of entertainment and they're not too likely to get hung up on the reality of what I'm saying.

In this case I'd be out for a coffee with my partner, and our target audience (of one or more people) would be joining us. When they get there, my partner and I are looking at some sketches on a napkin. "Oh hey, guys. You know Steve, right? Let me get these out of your way.... We have this thing we're working on. Steve's uncle is in jail on some totally bullshit charges. What is he supposed to do? Check the I.D. of everyone who gives him a blowjob? Anyway... we have this plan to help him out. We just need to get him this key. But everything you send in through the prison mail system gets searched and visitations are done through a pane of glass. But I think I have an idea. It's based on an old technique Houdini used to do. We were just about to try it."

This is the type of presentation I think of as "immersive fiction." I'm not trying to present something to people that they'll believe is true. I'm trying to present something to them that they'll find intriguing. And sneaking something to someone in prison is an inherently interesting subject even if there is no magic involved.

Presentation 2 - For when I want to present the effect in a way that is more nuanced in regards to what is real and what isn't. 

It starts off the same way. Some friends meet up with me and my partner for this effect as we're apparently working on something. [It would not come off as a monologue like this, but this is just the general idea.] "You guys know Steve, right? We're working on something pretty interesting. Steve has been studying Houdini for years and he's trying to do some similar types of performances and is working on a prison escape publicity stunt. They won't let you do anything like that in the U.S., but he has family in Colombia and he's got permission from a prison there because... what do they care."

"The thing is, the way you break out of prison as an escape artist is by sneaking in keys or lock picks. And the way Houdini would do that is he'd hide them in his hair or up his asshole or he'd swallow them to regurgitate them later. Or he'd have his wife, Bess, hide them in her mouth and when she'd give him a farewell kiss—after he'd been searched—she'd slip them from her mouth into his. But all those techniques are public knowledge now, so they're not going to let Steve get away with that. They're going to shave his head and use some temporary glue to seal his mouth shut and something to plug his butthole, I guess. It's pretty intense. And he only gets to see his girlfriend through a window in the visiting area before he's locked in for the night. So we're trying to come up with a way for her to still sneak him a key. We think we have an idea and we were just about to test it..."

The narrative elements here are the sort of thing that will make the passing of the key much more interesting than just a standard penetration. "But doesn't the impossibility make it interesting enough on its own?" Sometimes yes, but the novelty of impossibility does wear off for people who have seen a lot of magic. On the other hand, a truly captivating concept with a magical element to it is the type of thing that people will never tire of seeing.