CategoryTips

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.

Social Distancing Show Tips From Griffin And Jones

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Griffin and Jones performing magic

Since y’all (hey, I’m half American, just go with it) seemed to enjoy Oliver Tabor’s account of doing a stage show online, here’s another guest post about performing in these strange times.

If you don’t know them, Steve Griffin and Nathan Jones are a beautifully bantering, endlessly entertaining, multiple-Edinburgh-Fringe-shows-a-day performing magic duo. I’ve known them for years, through bumping into them at various fringe festivals and The Session.

They recently did a weekend of socially-distanced outdoor stage performances. Afterwards, Nathan shared a few lessons on social media, so I asked if I could reprint them here along with a few photos, and they kindly agreed.

Okay, over to them:

Findings from “Griffin and Jones’ Secret Garden Magic Show”

We premiered our new show “Griffin and Jones’ Secret Garden Magic Show” last weekend in Brighton and I thought I’d share some findings as it might help other stage acts.

1. Getting An Audience

It was a ticketed show and we only had 10 days to sell the show with very little promo and marketing. (25-seat garden venue, 5 shows over 3 days). But what I think we learnt is, “if you build it, they will come”. Some people are still hesitant to come out to see live entertainment, but there are enough people who are desperate for it and will snap at the chance.

2. Adding New Interactions

Finding new and novel ways to interact with them now we can’t get them up on stage or be among them is key. Make them feel special and involved. We could have just done an hour of Cut and Restored Rope, Cups and Balls, and flashy visual stuff but it would lose what our act is about.

Disguising mentalism as fun games that they can join in with has always been a favourite of ours and those moments really made the show exciting. (Think stuff like a quirky Confabulation or prediction effect!)

3. Acknowledging The Situation

Address the elephant in the room and either move on or paint it red. The audience knows that the game has changed and it feels weird for them too. So acknowledge that, in spite of the situation, you’re going to put on the best damn show you know how to, and you’re all going to have a bloody good time.

Lastly, clearing up after 25 people have done Woody Aragon’s Love Ritual and thrown the cards in various flower beds is a pain in the arse! (The cards were sanitised and put in plastic bags on their seats before they came in.)

For more Griffin & Jones goodness, mosey on over to their website at griffinandjones.co.uk

Exact Exaggeration

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Steak

This small scripting tweak can make your tricks a million times better. Well, maybe not a million, but maybe 1.5 times.

It was inspired by an episode of Parks & Recreation, one of my favourite sitcoms, for several reasons (ask me sometime). With a little thought, it contains oodles of techniques and ideas that can be applied to magic.

The Inspiration

In this case, it’s a line from Ron Swanson, a red-blooded male who loves red-blooded meat. He’s in a restaurant, and says this:

“You know what, I am gonna have that third steak after all”

The Question

Since everything in a good script is there for a reason, it got me thinking – Why did the writers choose “third steak”? Why not second? Or twentieth?

I think it comes down to the right degree of exaggeration.

Asking for a second steak is a slight exaggeration, so it’s only slightly funny.

Asking for a twentieth steak is a massive exaggeration, which could be funnier, but what you gain in hyperbole, you lose in plausibility.

ENOUGH FAN BOY-ING, ALREADY

So, how does this relate to magic?

Well, as magicians, we often make exaggerated claims. From impossible claims, like how fast we can memorise a deck of cards; to backstory claims, like where we found an unusual prop.

But we don’t always stop to consider how exaggerated we’re making them. And it’s not a binary choice but a sliding scale, from totally believable to totally exaggerated.

The Activity

Take one of your routines, where you make an exaggerated claim, and spend just a few minutes asking yourself these questions:

  1. How much am I exaggerating?
  2. How funny versus believable is it?
  3. How could I make it more exaggerated? And what effect would that have?
  4. How could I make it less exaggerated? And what effect would that have?

Examples

Using speed memorisation as an example, if it currently seems to take you 30 seconds to memorise a deck, what if you did it in 1 second? Or 30 minutes?

Similarly, in terms of your performing persona, if you’re describing yourself as a card mechanic who goes through lots of decks of cards a year, how many feels exaggerated yet believable?

50? 100? 1,000? 3.14?

Or go the other way – do you only own avsingle deck of cards? And is that at any one time, or ever? If so, why?

There’s no right answer, so since it’s easy to vary your script, why not try out a few versions in performance and see what works for you.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on – I’m behind you 102%.

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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