It’s almost universally accepted that magic with “everyday objects” is stronger than magic with some strange prop. I would say, in general, I agree with that pretty much 100%.
But there are still a lot of obvious props that allow you to do something very interesting or really visual, and often the trick itself is really easy. So these tricks can be very alluring.
A typical approach when dealing with a trick that uses some unusual object is to try and normalize the object. “It’s not a magic prop… it’s a sleeve to protect expensive baseball cards!” (WOW gimmick.) “It isn’t a magic prop…it’s a little pill box.” (Okito box)
That makes sense, but it seldom works. “A sleeve to protect baseball cards…. that obscures the image on the card? Who wants that?” “A brass pill box with a lid that just rests on top? What purpose would that serve? Surely we have better options than me walking around with a bunch of loose pills and the top and bottom of a pill box floating around in my purse.” Even if they do buy it, then you’re still carrying around rather arbitrary items to do a trick with.
Below are some different approaches to dealing with unusual objects/obvious props. They’re along the same lines as The Engagement Ceremony style of presentation, where we deal with tricks with a lot of process by putting the focus on the process. Here we deal with a weird object by putting more focus on the object itself.
Here are some examples…
Obvious Prop: Tenyo Trick
Standard method: You pull out the trick and perform it. It’s pretty neat. Your spectator thinks, “Oh, that’s pretty neat. I guess there’s a trick you can buy that does that.”
This is an idea that comes from friend-of-the-site, Toby Halbrooks. Toby is a Hollywood hotshot whose lowest Tomatometer score is still certified Fresh. Toby understands the value of a good story. (I’m hoping to get him to produce an erotic thriller I’m working on about a lawyer with three testicles (fingers-crossed).)
He also understands the value of minor adventures and he suggested to me a presentation for a Tenyo trick—inspired by the Yento presentation—that mixed a little story and a little adventure. From his email…
When you're making plans to eat with a friend and the inevitable "where should we go?" questions turns into "I don't care," you can jump into this. Once you've settled on a place, you jump in the car and start heading towards wherever you decided. Shortly into the drive, you get a text: "Package arrived." Let them see this, overtly or accidentally. Ask if they wouldn't mind changing plans... it'll take a little longer but will be worth it.
For me, we'd drive 40 minutes north to the Korean area of town. I imagine there is some version of this in every town. There is an Asian grocery store, mini-mall, and a bunch of great restaurants.
You can either pull the person into the grocery store with you to go receive the package or ask them to wait in the car. You'd have to set up with somebody there to actually give you the package, which shouldn't be too difficult - obviously, it's nothing illegal. For me there is also a little mini-mall with little booths next door to this that sells a wide variety of things. It would not a be a huge stretch that you'd pick something up here.
With plans officially changed, you pick one of the local restaurants, something they haven't tried, which should be nice and novel on its own. Proceed with the story of what this thing is and let the good times roll.
So now the story you tell is that you got the hook-up on some black market magic tricks out of Asia.
Like Yento, I think it’s a good idea if the trick is examinable and you act as if you don’t have anything to do with the way the trick functions. “It looks like a kid’s toy, but that’s actually part of the way they smuggle it out of the country. By making it look so innocent. It’s really premium shit. I have no clue how it works.”
Obvious Prop: Okito Box
Standard method: You pull out the little brass box and do your coin trick. The spectator thinks, “That was pretty cool. I guess there’s something special about that little brass box.” They’re wrong though. The box is examinable and ungimmicked. But because it’s unusual and introduced as part of a trick, it feels more like a “prop” than a normal brass box.
You’re at the flea market with your wife. At some point you two go your separate ways. When you reunite, she asks you what you bought. You show her a little circular brass box. “I’ve been practicing those coin tricks and I keep misplacing the coins or knocking them off my desk. I thought this would be a good place to keep them together. And it was like 50 cents, so I figured why not. “
“Also I got a hat from Wrestlemania 7.”
You get home and set the box on your desk where it remains for a while
Six weeks later you say to you wife, “Remember that little box I got at the flea market to hold my coins? It’s the craziest thing… I’ve got to show you….”
Here we’re putting all the focus on the prop, but long before it’s used as part of a trick. So when something strange starts happening with it, it’s not something strange happening with “the brass magic prop box he just brought out,” but with the box you got at the flea market.
This is a very disarming technique. For example, if you wheeled out a production cabinet, and then did a trick with it, people would assume this was some special magic prop.
Of course they would, because that’s the context in which they were introduced to it. However if you supposedly bought it at a garage sale and just had a lamp resting on it in your living room for a year and then you did a trick with it, people wouldn’t say, “He did a trick with a special magic cabinet.” They’d say, “He did a trick with the end table.”
Obvious Prop: WOW Gimmick
Standard method: You pull your gimmicked plastic sleeve and make the card visually change. The audience thinks, “Holy shit! That’s crazy. Let me see that plastic sleeve. Oh… I can’t? Okay, I see what the deal is. That was cool though.”
Go to the dollar store or a thrift store and buy a cheap ceramic statuette of some sort. Then mail it to yourself. Or just put it in a mailing box, print out a fake a mailing label, and leave it near your front door.
Go with your spectator to your house and notice the box on your porch. “Sweet. It came.” You pick up the box and bring it inside. Open it up and remove the figurine and shake it to your ear, but you don’t hear much.
Go in the other room and grab a small towel and a hammer. Already in the towel—unbeknownst to the spectator—is an ungimmicked WOW sleeve. You place the figurine in the towel and smash it with a hammer. Then you unfold the towel, pick through the pieces, and find the WOW sleeve (as if it was entombed in the figurine).
“Huh,” you say, looking it over. “It doesn’t look like much. I hope I didn’t get ripped off.”
You tell your friend about this guy you met who’s able to get some contraband magic tricks shipped to you. They put them in the statues so they’re not seized at the ports.
“He’s never ripped me off before. Does this look like anything to you?” You give your friend the sleeve to examine as much as he wants.
You leave the room to make some phone calls and make sure you got what you were supposed to.
You come back, “Okay, I think I figured it out.” You switch the real WOW trick in at some point and take it from there.
You see, if you take out the WOW gimmick and say, “this is a luggage tag” or “this is a protective case for baseball cards,” you are saying something that is both obviously false and totally boring. But if you say, “I’m not quite sure what this thing is. But I know it has to be smuggled into the country, and if you’re caught with it, it’s a 20,000 dollar fine.” That too is probably not true, but at least it’s kind of interesting.
Not only that, but it’s completely congruent for the spectator. They look at the gimmick and think, “Hmmm… that’s probably some weird magic thing.” And your attitude is, “Yes it is. Weirder than you can imagine.”