One issue that pops up in my email with some frequency is people wanting to adopt more offbeat presentations but not knowing how to transition into them with the people for whom they’ve been performing for some time.
This is understandable. If you’ve been performing card tricks, for example, in a fairly standard way for years for friends and family—to try and jump into a less-traditional performance style will feel awkward for both of you. If the people you regularly perform for are used to you showing them ace assemblies and things like that, it will be weird to one day say, “I was reading today about something called Color-Induced Amnesia. Apparently showing people a certain sequence of light at different wavelengths can affect memory,” and transitioning from there into a trick.
If you jump straight into that, you’re going to get one of three reactions:
There is a small chance that they’ll believe what you’re saying the whole time. That may be what you want, but that’s not what I want. Belief is the opposite of magic.
There’s a good chance they’ll believe what you’re saying initially and then they’ll be confused when it’s clear you’re going into a magic trick. Your tricks in the past have been more clearly delineated, so blurring the lines is going to seem strange. They’ll wonder what your motivation is. Are they supposed to know it’s a trick? Are you trying to fool them into believing this thing is real? What exactly is your end game?
There’s also a good chance they’ll realize it’s a trick from the start, but they’re so used to magic’s typical frivolous “patter”-based presentations that they won’t engage with the trick in a meaningful way. Historically, magic presentations are intended to be disregarded. When you say, “The Ace of Spades is the leader of all the aces,” you expect them to brush that off. You don’t expect them to say, “Really? How were the dynamics of this relationship established amongst the aces? Was there a power struggle or did he just naturally emerge as the leader?“ We’ve trained our audiences to ignore our patter. If not to ignore it, then at least to dismiss it.
So if people are used to the rhythms of a traditional magic performance, when faced with an immersive style of presentation they may:
None of those will lead to a particularly positive experience.
Instead, what I want when I offer an immersive presentation to someone, is for them to:
Disbelieve it - I want them to know it’s a trick. And equally important, I want them to understand that I’m not trying to convince them that it’s anything other than a trick.
Accept it - I don’t mind an audience that looks at the trick itself with a critical eye, but I want them to realize there’s nothing to be gained by not accepting the context/the fiction/the game of the trick. What I mean is, if I say it’s an old gypsy ritual, they don’t gain anything by saying, “No it’s not. I bet it’s just a card trick.” I can usually get people on board because the story I’m presenting isn’t, “I’m powerful,” or “I have incredible skills.” It’s a lot easier for audiences to accept the “story” of a trick if that story is something other than, “Ain’t I incredible?”
Embrace it - I want them to realize that the more they allow themselves to get caught up in the trick, the more fun it will be for them. This attitude can really only develop after they’ve experienced this style of magic a couple times.
I’ve discussed my process on easing people into this style of performing before. But that post is about how I do it with people I’ve just met.
I think it’s much more challenging if your audience is already locked into their expectations for what a magic trick experience with you will be.
I said at the beginning of this post that this is an issue that has come up pretty frequently in emails. That’s true, and I’ve been slow to address it on the site because I wasn’t sure I had any good insight into it. But I’ve given it a lot of thought and worked with some other people on it and I think I have some decent ideas on how to address it.
You see, it wasn’t a problem I personally had because my own evolution was so slow on this that I sort of dragged my audience along with me. I performed magic in a fairly typical manner. Then I pushed things a little bit presentationally, and then a little more, then a little more. And over the course of years I got to a much different style of performance, but my friends never witnessed a particularly dramatic shift because I was sort of slowly clearing the path myself as I went.
If you feel locked into a traditional performing style with your friends/family, it’s because you’ve established a pattern with your performances in the past and now you need to break that pattern in order to reset their expectations.
In Part II (which will come out Friday or next week), I’ll talk about some ways to do that.