Smear Campaign

This is how an amateur magic performance often feels to me. You have this path or stream that is the audience member's life and then you have this object set right down in the middle of the stream.

The distinction between their life and the magic trick is completely clear. The trick is this totally well-defined, outside "thing" that's just been plopped in the middle there. 

The person you're performing for is going through their day and then you say, "Hey, I'm going to show you the cups and balls." And you show them the cups and balls. And then they go on with their day.

As I've talked about before, I find the strongest performances are ones where the edges are blurred in regards to how this trick fits into their world. Where it doesn't feel like this arbitrary experience that you forcefully inserted. 

This is advice that, to a very minimal extent, has been offered previously in magic texts. "Bring the subject around to ESP," they say, "and then lead into this trick." I think this, most often, is completely transparent. "How about this Trump, right? You don't need ESP to see how that's going to turn out.... It's funny that we're talking about ESP. Do you guys believe in that? I happen to have some cards here that were created by JB Rhine at Duke university." The goal of this technique is to soften that edge between performance and real life, but done poorly it's pretty obvious, and potentially pathetic.

In this case, what you're trying to do is blur their life into your effect. You're trying to take something they were saying or doing and let it lead to the magic. You're trying to create an experience more like this.

You're smearing their life into the presentation. I think this is great when it works, and much of The Amateur at the Kitchen Table is about ways to put yourself in a position where you can make this happen more often. The idea behind the 100 trick repertoire is to allow you to give yourself a number of potential pathways to more seamlessly transition into effects from what is happening around you. 

But this "inward smear" is only one half of the equation. 

The other technique for creating performances that are more enmeshed in people's lives is to smear outward. That is, to push your presentation into their life, rather than to pull their life into your presentation.

How do you do this? Well, there are a bunch of ways. The ways I'm exploring are: Imps, Reps, and Hooks, among others. Only one of these (Imps) is something I've mentioned before, but I will get to the others in time.  

The nice thing about the outward smear is that you don't have to wait for the right moment to make something seem organic. Instead, you make something seem organic by giving it a greater context in the world

Let's use a comedy analogy. The image at the top, the plain black box, which is the way magic is so often presented, is like telling a joke from a joke-book. It might be funny, but it's kind of impersonal and devoid of any connection to the listener or the world around them.

The inward smear is like being someone who always has a funny response to what someone has to say or things that are happening. You're not directing the conversation, you're just sliding in where you can.

The outward smear is like saying, "I have such a funny story for you." And then giving them something that is personal and feels relevant and like it's connected to the world they live in.

You can see this a lot in some of my previous ideas, although I wan't really thinking of them in this way. The Peek Backstage, The Engagement Ceremony, The Distracted Artist, pretty much every trick I've ever written up here or in the JAMM, they're all about finding meaning and context in a trick beyond just that moment of inexplicable surprise and pushing outwards on the boundaries of the trick.

On Friday I'll introduce a concept called Reps which is kind of the opposite of Imps. Imps are a way of blurring the start of a trick, Reps are a way of blurring the end.