Transitioning Part II

This is now going to be a three part series with part three coming on Monday.

Before we get on to some practical suggestions in part three, I want to make two points in today’s post.

For the most part, this issue is in you head.

What I mean is, people will write me and say, “I really like your presentations, but I don’t know if it’s the sort of thing my friends would go for.” I usually reply, “Just try it. They’ll like it.” In every case I can think of they wrote back to say I was right.

If the people you perform for like you and seem to enjoy watching you perform card tricks in a somewhat traditional manner, they will almost certainly like something stranger, more fantastical, or more immersive. I said it early on: The world wants to be charmed. There are very few people who would think, “I’d prefer just to sit here quietly and watch you twist your aces.” No, people want to interact and want to get wrapped up in something. So your concern that they might not “accept” a change in style is mostly in your head.

Part of this is not in your head.

The part of the “transition” issue that’s not in your head is this… Immersive magic will usually require a greater investment of time or energy on the part of the spectator. This is something with which you need to start off gradually. Let’s be honest, the average amateur magic trick, done in a standard way, is probably not intensely rewarding for the spectator. But it doesn’t require much investment either. So that’s not a bad trade off for them. “I just have to stand here and sort of pay attention for a minute and I’ll see something mildly-cool? Okay, I’ll do that.”

So if you immediately jump to something like, “Hey, let’s take a four hour road trip, I have a trick I want to show you out at the national park.” They’re going to think “Huh? Four hours to see something mildly-cool? Yeah, no thanks.” Because that’s the reward they’re used to from seeing a trick. So you have to train them that reward will be equal to the investment.

So if they’re used to seeing tricks at the dinner table, you can make them invest just slightly more time/energy by coming to the backyard, or engaging in some “synchronization exercise.” You put a small impediment in their way (putting on a coat and going outside, or maybe feeling a little silly because of the synchronization exercise) but there is a payoff for them at the end. And the next time you can push things a little more and a little more. After a few situations like this, the spectator should have the feeling that they can trust you to make the experience worth their investment, regardless of what you ask (within reason).

Something to keep in mind is this: The moment of impossibility itself does not need to be significantly stronger with a 10 minute trick than it does with a 1 minute trick. If the 10 minutes are cohesive and interesting, then the effect can be the same, but the 10 minute trick will seem stronger.

I’m not suggesting you always make your tricks longer for no reason, but if you have a more in-depth presentation that warrants it then you shouldn’t be afraid to attempt it. The good thing about longer presentations is—as long as they’re not boring—they have a tendency to create their own momentum and boost the impact of the effect.

I wrote before about about a friend of mine who did a floating ring trick at a decommissioned nuclear power plant. He took an hour-long journey with people to do a trick that lasted a few seconds and he could have done it just as easily in the bar they were in originally. But the journey—the investment—was what made the trick more powerful. The audience has invested more and they want to perceive the outcome as more rewarding. It’s like that economic theory where if you give people a cookie, they may rate it as a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. But you can take the same cookie and tell people it’s only made once a year by an award winning chef and charge $40 a piece for the cookies and now people rate them at a 9 or 10. (I’m making up the example, but you know what I’m talking about.)

With magic we can take advantage of a similar process but without actually taking anyone’s money, just by having them invest more time or energy into the performance.

But if you’ve established a pattern of performing quick tricks to the audience, and not asking them for much, as you might need to in an immersive presentation, then you will need to transition the spectators to that new style.

On Monday, in Part 3, I’ll give some concrete techniques I’ve seen others successfully use to transition to a non-traditional style. And I’ll tell you the dumb way I would probably go about it now if I was facing the issue.