CategoryInspiration

Do It Your Ways: Finding Multiple ways To Do Magical Actions

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Picking. Signing. Shuffling.

There are many standard actions in magic. In fact, they’re so standard that we do them without thinking. But the standard way of doing them is only one way. So how many different ways are there?

It’s easy to feel like there’s a limited number. But this post was inspired by a strangely captivating video that cropped up on my feed, by Jan Hakon Erichsen. Essentially, it’s him popping balloons in different ways. Sounds unpromising, I know. After all, how many ways can you pop a balloon? But just watch it:

And he doesn’t stop there. He’s turned these surreal acts into a whole sub-genre.

Here’s another example – this time, destroying dry spaghetti:

Applying It To Magic

Now I’m not suggesting that you duplicate his style. But I can see two ways that you can use this as a springboard to more distinctive routines:

  1. Making standard actions less standard
    Take one of the standard actions you commonly do in magic, like saying “pick a card”, signing a card, shuffling the deck, or making a magical gesture. Now spend just 20 minutes – about one Friends episode – brainstorming different ways you could do that action. Don’t censor yourself, just have fun, generate lots of ideas, then filter them afterwards. If you come up with one or two that you like, congratulations – you’ve just made many of your tricks more you.
  2. Doing one action in many ways
    Think about any routines with repetitive phases – coins across, coins through table, ambitious card, multiple selections – and explore how many different ways you can perform the main action. If you find an interesting one, use it to replace the standard movements. If you find a few, you can include them all by doing a different one for each phase. Either way, it’ll make your routines feel less repetitive, which is always good.

Oh, and if you’re in any doubt of how effective this can be, just think of Juan Tamariz and his “Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle” catchphrase. So have a play – your own signature action awaits!

Next Friday:

A new way to think about your gig bag.

The DCMCU: Creating A Blockbuster Superhero Crossover Trick

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New superhero blockbusters aren’t coming out any time soon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your audience their superhero fix though magical means.

The Inspiration

At its simplest, creativity is sometimes described as combining two existing ideas to create a new one.

So in this case, we’re combining a trick from the magic world with a hook from the movie world.

The trick

Andy Nyman’s Killer Elite. It’s just great – engaging premise, elegant method, justified props and strong reactions. *Chef’s kiss* I can still remember the first time I saw it at Davenport’s Magic, many moons ago.

But most people treat it like an unchangeable clock (to use the terminology from this article) rather than an adaptable building block. For our purposes, we’ll keep the method and the idea of imagining characters from different films coming together, but just apply it to superheroes instead.

The hook

Fans love talking about possible crossovers in movies. And since we’re making a film in people’s imagination, we can offer a truly impossible crossover – one that combines the Marvel and DC universes.

The Idea

Adapt Killer Elite to stage an ‘Uncivil War’ to find the ultimate superhero.

Choose whichever your favourite four characters are from the two universes. For me, it’s probably Black Panther, Spider Man, Wonder Woman and Aquaman (though only when played by Jason Momoa, because he’s awesome).

If you can find some postcards of them, great. If not, just print some images into card to make your own.

In place of the poker chip, you could use one of those tiny trophy’s given out at kid’s parties, like these, writing the champions name on the back or the base, or placing a folded picture inside the trophy. Or, if performing for true fans, go a step further and create an ‘Infinity Box’ – a mash-up of the Infinity Gauntlet and a Mother Box. Set the rest of the trick up as per the usual method.

Now you can have a fun movie chat that ends with an amazing revelation.

Thoughts and variations

One of the things I aim for in my magic is to connect it more with people’s lives. Often, when we perform a close-up trick, there’s that weird moment after the reveal, when the conversation stalls, before it starts up again. Yes, this is partly because they’re reacting to the trick, but I think it’s also because so many magical premises are un-relatable, or live in their own strange silo of ESP, premonitions and ambitious pasteboards.

This trick takes the opposite approach – it starts with the kind of conversation that normal people are already having, then segues into a relevant trick. Hopefully this makes the trick, and the magician, more relatable.

If you’re in the UK and you collected the Disney Hero cards from Sainsbury’s a while back, which included characters from across Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars, then you could make your crossover cross even more franchises.

Similarly, you could create your own imaginary entertainment monolith by combining other iconic franchises from different studios, even going beyond superheroes, to settle discussions like “Who would win in a battle between Harry Potter and Doctor Strange?”

I came across the idea of using mini plastic trophies in magic from Christopher T. Magician’s idea-packed book, Just For Fun.

Finally, since they can make their superhero choice verbally, you can easily do this over Zoom if need be.

Coming soon to a blog near you

Next Friday, I’ll share another way to add some movie-magic to magic-magic.

Adding Bite To Book Tests With ‘The Raw Shark Texts’

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While book tests can be great (I do one myself), they’re often a bit dry. So let’s dive in to discover a way to make them more interesting.

There’s an old saying in creative advertising (my other job, when I’m not magic-ing) that if you’re really stuck for an idea for an ad, just stick a dog in it.

So, twisting that to magic, here’s my version – when it doubt, stick a shark in it!

THE INSPIRATION

There’s a marvellously mind-bending book called ‘The Raw Shark Texts‘ that came out a while back. As Wikipedia summarises it:

 It is the story of an amnesiac re-discovering his past life through a surreal collection of clues he has left himself while evading a steampunk villain and the shark of the title.

Wikipedia

But the really fun part is the ‘word art’ or ‘concrete poetry’ that’s sprinkled through the book, including the bit we’re most interested in – a section of pages that act as a flip book. They start blank then a shark made of type ‘swims’ straight at you.

You can get a sense of it from the first 8 seconds of this video:

The Trick

Essentially, we can use this book to fix one of the common weaknesses in book tests – the reveal. With a few notable exceptions (like Luke Jermay’s lovely routine), the reveal is usually just saying the word or writing it on a board. Not deeply dramatic.

This book allows you to do a flip book reveal instead, which we know from Dan Harlan’s work is much more engaging. Plus, you know, sharks.

To try it, get the book, and replace the cover with one from a different book. It can be almost any, as long as it’s the same size and the title doesn’t tip the chosen word too soon. Oh, and add a long bookmark made of stiff card where the flip book section starts, so you can start flipping from the right place (an idea I first came across in Tom Stone’s Siamese Book-Test, I believe).

If you want to add a comedy reveal, pick a book with a generic title about the sea (e.g. a guide to sea fishing), then have the spectator ‘choose’ shark from a list of sea creatures (e.g. with the DFB). Now reveal the generic title and say it’s bound to be in there somewhere. Then flick through to show the real animated reveal.

Alternatively, if you can’t find a suitable cover, just re-cover the book in brown paper, scuff it up a bit, and say you found this mystery book in the bargain bin of a second-hand bookshop, but it was missing the cover, so even you don’t know what it’s about, and proceed from there.

Also, if you’re audience is there in person, you could even let them flip the book themselves.

Beyond Sharks

As usual, the more you can put your own twist on routines, the better. With a little thought and a graphic designer (try Fiverr), you can create your own flip book reveals of other animals and objects. Just like with reading, your imagination can take you almost anywhere.

PS

As ever, if you give it a go, let me know.

PPS

We’re coming up to six months since I started this blog, so I’d love to hear what you think of it.

What are you enjoying? What’s been most useful? What would you like more of? Any tricks or topics you’d like me to cover? Anything you’re stuck on?

Just drop me an email at wideopenmagic@gmail.com or find me on Facebook. Hearing from other magicians is one of the main reasons I put time into writing this blog, and I want it to be as helpful as possible, so do get in touch.

Three Little Words: How Netflix Can Help Pinpoint Your Performing Persona

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Bowl of popcorn

Like many people, I’ve succumbed to a Netflix subscription during lockdown.

But even when I’m taking a break from thinking about magic, I often end up thinking about magic!

Recently, I’ve been working on finding a pithy way to describe my onstage persona. One evening, I went onto Netflix and…

The Inspiration

I noticed that almost every show is accompanied by a few adjectives to describe it (let’s call them descriptors). So, for example, Rick and Morty is “absurd, quirky, irreverent”.

The Idea

If you’re struggling to think of words to describe your character, that are more specific than “funny” or “incredible”, then just flick through Netflix and see if any of their shows’ descriptors chime with you.

You can also combine this with the ‘You are what you like’ technique from my book, Sell Your Show in Seconds. How? Just collate a few of your favourite shows, then look at the adjectives used to describe them, and see if any suit you (or suits you, for any Fast Show fans).

The Trick

Since millions of people now have Netflix, you can also use this feature as a relatable presentation hook. This would work best with groups of people who know each other, which is handy since, at the moment, they’re about the only ones who can go out together.

Essentially, you perform a Thought Thief/Psychometry-style routine, but using people’s descriptions of their friends or family. So, get everyone in the group to describe the person to their right in three words (but without writing any names down, to keep things anonymous), but warn them to be nice, as someone is doing the same for them.

Then mix up the cards, look at them, and ‘intuit’ who wrote what about who. Try and ask people to keep a poker face as you read out the descriptions. That said, the subject matter is almost guaranteed to provoke a reaction, from laughter to outrage (“You think I’m egotistical? Moi?!”), so don’t worry if it ends up being more entertaining than amazing.

The method? In person, it’s simple, just use the standard methods (though probably with added grip-seal bags and hand sanitiser!). Socially distanced or via Zoom? Good question! If you come up with anything, let me know. Otherwise, keep it in your back pocket for when things open up again.

More?

For more techniques to swiftly sum up your show, and your persona, check out my book Sell Your Show in Seconds. It’s had some lovely 5-star reviews and is available on Amazon in many countries, including the UK and US.

Pull Back And Reveal

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Street from above

There’s a classic comedy technique known as the ‘pull back and reveal’ (a.k.a. ‘pull back reveal’ or, in TV, the ‘reveal shot’). TV Tropes has a good summary of it here.

Basically, as the name suggests, you start close in on a scene, then pull back and reveal more information, often with humorous results.

And since every Zoom show is a TV show, of sorts, why not incorporate a TV comedy technique?

Here’s one way to do it:

Mis-Made Jacket

Prepare to transform a bill into a mis-made bill, by folding it and unfolding it, using the classic method. This would also work with Sankey’s Monopoly money version.

You’ll also need to be wearing an unbuttoned suit jacket, ideally with a distinctive lining, and to ask your partner/housemate/trained poodle to be your off-screen helper.

Performance

Make a comment early in your set about your jacket, so they notice it. Any quick comment that suits your persona is fine, like:

“I may be in my spare room, with washing drying in the corner, but I’m wearing a jacket, so it’s still showbiz, right?!”

Now go into the mis-made bill routine, and move in close to the camera. This is supposedly so they can see clearly what’s happening to the bill, but it’s also so your jacket goes out of shot.

Now, as you do the standard moves with the bill, and your hands take turns holding it, drop your free hand out of shot, so your helper can remove your jacket, one side at a time.

They then turn your suit jacket inside out, and put it back on you, one arm at a time.

Now you can reveal that the bill has magically turned inside out, then step back to reveal that the same thing has happened to your jacket.

It may take a bit of practice to nail the choreography, but once you do, it should be as much fun to perform as to watch.

Not just jackets

You can adapt this concept to all manner of tricks – just apply whatever you’re doing to the object, to yourself. Maybe holes appear in the card, then in your shirt. Or the deck turns blank, and the pattern on your shirt vanishes too. Or after you reveal an orange under your cup, you reveal another orange stuck in your mouth.

As ever, if you give it a go, or come up with any other variations, I’d love to hear about it – so after you pull back, come forward.

Hold Up

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Tree being held up

Displaying playing cards in wine glasses is so classy, it makes Ron Burgundy jealous. But what if you want to show more cards, or display more of the faces with fewer distracting reflections?

I was wondering this recently, while playing with A New World by Dean Dill and Michael Weber. I wanted to perform it at chest height, as I generally prefer that for Zoom shows. It got me thinking about other possible card holders. And, as I often do, I looked outside of magic for inspiration.

The solution, which others may also have thought of, is using the menu and leaflet stands you find in shops and restaurants. They’re simple, recognisable and look free from guile, because they are.

I’ve yet to get my hands on them, so for now this is an untested idea. But here are four types I think could be useful for magic (these aren’t affiliate links, and I can’t vouch for the products or sellers, they’re just to give you a sense for how they look):

1. Acrylic Business Card Holders

Like this.

Good for holding single cards, while showing more of the face than a glass does.

2. Book Stands

Like this.

With the extra lip at the bottom, they’ll stop the card(s) sliding down, which I’m always paranoid about when propping cards against the side of tumblers.

3. Acrylic leaflet holders

Like this.

These come in several sizes, depending on what size cards you’re using (regular, parlour, or jumbo).

If you used two stands with a larger width (say A4), you could lay out a short row of cards, for OOTW, then turn the stand around at the end to reveal that they are all separated into reds and blacks.

4. Wooden Menu Holders

Like this.

In the UK, these are often in pubs and bars to hold menus. They have a minimalist, functional design. They’re literally a block of wood with a slot cut in them. But that’s also the benefit – they don’t look tricksy at all. And they’re not plastic, which makes a nice change.

Also, if you can find one with a slot deep enough to obscure the lower pip on the card, you can use them for some cunning hands-off mis-pipped tricks.

I’m sure there are more possibilities to explore. Just search ‘display stands’ or ‘POS’ (Point Of Sale) and you’ll find a panoply of potential props. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

The Impossibility Scale

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Scale by Markus Spiske

What’s more impossible? 

As soon as we start deciding on the order of phases in a trick, or tricks in a show, this question raises its meddlesome head (like a Scooby Doo baddie, but without the “It was you all along” unmasking). 

If only there was a way to skip the guesswork and get some concrete answers. Well, thankfully there is. Please give it up for…Psychology.

A Scintillating Study

I came across a fascinating study that’s summarised in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest:

https://digest.bps.org.uk/2019/06/10/people-agree-its-harder-to-conjure-a-frog-with-magic-than-change-its-colour-suggesting-we-use-our-intuitive-physics-to-make-sense-of-imaginary-worlds/

As the URL suggests, researchers John McCoy and Tomer Ullman conducted a study (published in PLOS One) and found that people apply intuitive physics to imaginary worlds.

The study even ranks how impossible (or difficult) people perceive different magical acts to be. For example, people intuitively feel that it’s harder to make a frog appear than to change its colour. For the full picture, check out their helpful diagram (N.B. ‘Conjure’ = appear, ‘Cease’ = vanish):

Degrees of impossibility
A scientific scale of impossibility by McCoy and Ullman (2019)

Playing to an intuitive impossibility scale is something we already see in depictions of magic in fiction. In Harry Potter, for instance, when students are learning levitation spells (levi-O-sa), they start with something light – a feather – before attempting to lift heavier objects. And it’s something that can help with our own magic.

Scale New Heights

Have a read and a ponder – if you’re anything like me, it’ll make you reconsider the order of some existing multi-phase routines, and inspire ideas for new ones. As ever, let me know your thoughts and discoveries.

And next Friday, I’ll share some thoughts it sparked for me.

Reservoir Jacks: The Movie

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Blood with play button

The constantly creative Nikola Arkane took my Reservoir Jacks idea (described here) and ran with it.

This is the result – it made me smile from ear to unsevered ear:

Oh, and if you don’t already read her blog, you should:

arkaneshop.com/news

The quantity and quality of magic she’s developing as part of her ‘Isolation Creation Station’ is really inspiring.

2 Simple Words For Crystal Clear Plots

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Block lettering

“Confusion is not magic” said Ed Marlo (Kidding! Vernon, obvs). But when it comes to trick plots, how do you avoid ending up with a muddled multi-climax monstrosity?

Here’s a elegantly simple way from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, of South Park fame (or intentional infamy). Watch the video (it’s under 3 minutes) then we’ll look at how to apply it to magic.

Okay, so they’re applying it to plots of shows, naturally, but you can just as easily apply it to plots of tricks – especially those with more than one moment of magic.

Just write a brief description of what happens in the trick, then see whether you’re tending to use the words ‘therefore’ (or ‘so’) and ‘but’, or just ‘and then’.

Good plot, bad plot

Here’s an example of the former:

‘The performer wants to make a chosen card travel to their pocket, so they ask the spectator to make a magical gesture, but the magic gesture is too strong, so the whole deck except the chosen card travels instead’.

This has good causal flow, and internal consistency, while still containing a twist. (And yep, it’s a phase of David Williamson’s 51 Cards to Pocket – a modern classic for a reason).

And here’s an example of the latter:

‘The performer wants to make a chosen card travel to their pocket, and then its back changes colour, and then the deck becomes a block of clear plastic’.

This has multiple magical moments, but minimal making-sense moments!

It ends up feeling a bit like DC’s Suicide Squad movie – there’s lots going on, but afterwards, you’re not quite sure what happened.

Give the technique a go and let me know how you get on at wideopenmagic [at] gmail [com]

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