Mailbag #13

giphy (2).gif

I've been thinking about your recent advice about context. I've always been the kind of social magician that waits for someone to ask me to do something rather than charging ahead; that's something I need to work on, and your ideas have helped. As much as I like it when someone seeks me out and brings someone for me to meet, they often say something like "can you show us a card trick?" So right off the bat the experience is capped as a "card trick" in their minds. Some older blog posts hint at ways to pivot from this starting point, but I'm wondering if you have any advice about this specific situation. —CC

This is obviously related very much to the subject of my last series of posts on transitioning. And my advice is going to be similar.

Here is what I would do:

Someone says, “Can you show us a card trick?”

Me: “Uhmmmm… yeah… I think.” I don’t want to say “yes” or we’re locked into a card trick. But I don’t want to be someone who says, “No” immediately either. So my attitude would suggest that yes, I’d like to show them a trick, but there is something preventing that.

“Actually, I have to be honest… I’m way out of practice. I haven’t really been doing any card tricks in a few weeks. Maybe another time?”

I want to push and pull a little here. I want to mess with their emotions a bit. It’s not quite an emotional rollercoaster. We’re talking about a magic trick, not waiting on the results of an AIDS test. It’s more of an emotional mechanical horsey.

giphy (3).gif

“Actually… you two would be perfect for this thing I’ve been working on. It’s not really a ‘magic trick’ in the sense you’re thinking. It’s a little weirder. Can we try it?”

That’s how I’d approach it.

  1. Tentatively agree

  2. Decline

  3. Transition to something else

If they come in asking for a card trick, they’re not expecting anything too weird. If you say you can’t give them a card trick but you can give them something sort of similar but a little stranger, then you’re telling them to set their expectations aside. I still probably wouldn’t go into something wayyyy out there. But you could definitely shift into something with a significantly different feel than “a card trick.”

You’re not giving them exactly what they asked for, but hopefully what you end up doing is as good or better. I think that would be a satisfying experience for them.

(Imagine your friend said, “Let’s drop by my friend Anna’s house. I want to say hi. Oh, and she makes amazing caramels.” You arrive at the house and your friend says, “Could we get some caramels?” Anna says, “Uhm… sure… actually… I think I’m all out. I haven’t really been doing the candy-making much recently. I’ve shifted to baking. I just made some cupcakes. Would you like one?” You’d have to be a real piece of shit to say, “But I asked for caramels!”)

After you’re done showing them whatever it is you want to show them, you can then say. “Next time we get together I promise to show you a card trick.”

This does two things:

First, it builds a little anticipation by planting a seed for “next time.”

Second, and very importantly in my opinion: It establishes a bifurcation of your interests between “magic tricks” and “some weirder sorts of things.” This means, in the future, you’re free to do any sort of thing you want. You can do sponge balls, or a gambling demonstration, or a “Traditional Apache Summoning of the Dead Ceremony.” If you have something really cool to show someone that feels like a trick, that’s fine. If you have something that is perhaps a little more intense and hits on a different level, that’s fine too. You’ve established an interest in both types of things so you’re not locked into any one thing.

I’m trying to reconcile a couple things. In your “Transitioning” series and elsewhere on your site, you’ve made the point that you want them to understand that the trick is fiction. But then in other posts you’ve talked about The Smear Technique where you try and make it unclear to them what is real and what isn’t. Doesn’t that technique undermine their understanding of the “reality” of the situation.—RA

It’s a good question. It’s somewhat confusing. Here are my goals.

- I want them to know the trick is a trick.

- I want them to ultimately understand that the context the trick is in is a fiction. But I’d like them to be open to getting immersed in the context and letting it feel real. And, ideally, the trick will be so strong they’ll have no easy answer other than the fantastical one I’ve given them.

- I want there to be elements of the experience that they will not know for sure if they’re part of the reality or the fiction.

That last point is where the techniques I’ve mentioned under the term “smearing” come in.

The next next book (i.e. the one after this coming next book) is likely going to be about this subject.

I’ve loved your posts on DFB. [Note: That’s the Digital Force Bag app] I was wondering if you switched to using ReaList and if you had any thoughts on that. If you’re not aware, it’s similar to DFB but has the advantage of the list being on the spectator’s phone. —SU

I haven’t purchased this yet, but I intend to.

I think I’ll still use DFB for the most part. For my purposes, ReaList would probably be a step backwards for a few reasons.

First—to be clear—the list isn’t exactly on the spectator’s phone. It’s on a website that the spectator visits on their phone. That’s quite different. Everyone knows websites can be changed and updated in real time.

The goal with most apps is to make the audience think technology is not involved. In my opinion, having them tap on the Notes app on your phone feels slightly more innocent than directing them to an unfamiliar website on their phone. Reasonable minds could disagree. So let’s call the Innocence Factor a draw

Here are the clear benefits of DFB for my purposes:

  • When performing magic in social situations I usually want to do things that feel personal and casual. For me, pulling up a list of local restaurants I want to try, or people I want to invite to a party, or gift ideas, or errands I need to run, or activities I want to do, or things I’m studying, or whatever, fits that personal/casual style better than, “Here’s a website with trending searches.” (Of course, if I performed professionally, then “personal and casual” would probably not be what I was going for.)

  • I don’t have to explain what a Notes app is or why we’re using it.

  • I can get in and out of DFB in less than 10 seconds, if I want. Which—depending on the routine—means the list itself can feel quite incidental to the effect (and in most of the “big” effects I do that use DFB, the focus is not on the list at all). With ReaList you need to get the spectator to go to a specific site and you need to explain the purpose of the site. This takes a bit more time and focus. So it’s going to be much harder to make the trick about something other than that list.

Those are the benefits for me of DFB.

On the other hand, I think ReaList is definitely a better way to do the worst possible tricks that people do with DFB, like a prediction of a celebrity. (And from the couple of times I’ve been on the DFB Facebook group it seems like that’s what the vast majority of DFB users want to do.) I don’t really have any desire to do that trick, but if I did, I would definitely use ReaList over DFB.

If we were smart, we wouldn’t even see these as competing apps. Does the audience see a list in a personal note as the same thing as a list of trending topics on a website? No. So it’s going to come down to what you’re forcing and why and then choosing the appropriate app. If I’m forcing a food, I’d rather choose something randomly from my “grocery list” than a list of the “top trending foods” or whatever. If I’m forcing a celebrity I’d rather force one from a list of trending actors than force one from a list of actors I keep in my personal notes app like a fucking psychopath.