Effects that fight each other.
This is an essay on just one aspect of routine construction.
It is to do with the conflict of effects in a performance that may leave the audience thinking “So what ?”.
I have had to discard many effects I have worked on because I had a conflicting effect. Allow me to give you an example of an effect that can conflict majorly.
At a magician performance I went to a couple of years ago, before the show a magician walked around entertaining the audience. I was sitting with a group of girls I had just met and since I was in a new city, nobody knew I was a magician which was great.
The magician approached, his playing card necktie giving him away immediately, here was his effect.
“An audience member selects a card, the performer concentrates on her face and names the card out loud.”
We all applauded and then he asked one of the girls to pick a card, she did and then placed it back into the pack. He did a couple of cuts and then ran through the deck concentrating and found the card.
The audience was impressed but less so than before and then one of the girls hit the nail on the head by saying “Yeah, but you already knew what she picked as soon as she picked it”.
The girls figured that if the magician could know the card simply by looking at her, of course he can run through the pack and find it. To the group, running through the cards was a complete waste of time since apparently he knew what it was already, like he had demonstrated a minute ago.
Now that is a clear mistake in routine planning. This magician had ‘peaked’ too early and demonstrated an apparent ability that made the next effect pointless. There is little room for wiggling on this one, the effects were at BEST, just in the wrong order and at worst, should not have been in the same routine at all.
It is sometimes difficult as a performer to remove an effect from performance, particularly one we feel is particularly strong or we enjoy performing a great deal.
An example is from my own repertoire:
Effect: A card is placed inside the deck which is sitting on the table, an audience member is asked to guess at what number the card lies. She makes a guess and the magician deals out the cards, counting and when the number is reached, the card turned over and amazingly, it is the selection.
Now I loved performing this effect, it got great reactions and fit into a presentation nicely. However, when I came up with an effect I liked better, I had to remove this one because it also contained the ‘counting’ of cards to a selection. Even though the premises were different, the method was different it still appeared from an audience’s perspective, to have a similar procedure. In other words, the two effects appeared to be too similar to each other even though their presentations were different. I dropped the one I thought was the weaker of the two and never looked back.
Now in this example, one could change the presentation a bit more and instead of getting an audience member to name a number, they might in fact tell you their middle name and instead of counting, the performer could spell to the selection. This might just vary it enough to fit into the same performance. Unfortunately the methods I used for these effects did not work with this procedure. But it was a possibility.
One of the most famous and most performed card tricks of all time is the Ambitious Card routine. This has the possibility (without a clever routine) of damaging any other card selection effect where the card is replaced in the centre of the deck. Think about it, the audience has just seen you bring a card to the top of the pack after they saw it go in the middle. If you then start a new trick where a selection is placed into the deck, you better make sure they do not suspect (just as you taught them) that the card can immediately be on the top no matter how fair it looks.
There are even some effects that just destroy THEMSELVES by trying to be too clever.
An example is the classic “Magic Square” favoured by many mentalists and parlour performers. This is usually performed as a feat of lightning, mental calculation and if anybody has seen Harry Lorayne do it then you can attest to its effectiveness.
The basic premise is generally that an audience member calls out a two digit number and the entertainer then completes a magic square right in front of their eyes.
The audience by the end is amazed at how this performer’s brain can do something so complicated in such a short period of time and this itself deserves a massive round of applause and usually gets one.
However, I was reading an add on effect by a well known mentalist where the performance is done the same way, same premise but after the magic square is revealed, a prediction is brought forward to show that the mentalist had predicted the number before they started !!!
This struck me as incredibly silly.
Why should the audience be amazed by a feat of lightning calculation if the number was ‘already known’ beforehand ? This once again makes the beginning of the effect a complete waste of time and almost completely unimpressive. Sure, they don’t know how the mentalist knew the number, but they certainly knew how he made the magic square, he just memorised the answer.
How to rectify these conflicts if the effects are so strong we wish to keep them ?
Well this is a presentational matter which requires some creative thinking. Let us look at an example of a well known effect, its conflict and give an example of a possible resolution.
The sleight of hand artist unwraps a new pack of cards and shows they are all in ‘new deck order’ and then proceeds to shuffle them. He apparently mixes them completely, complete with fancy cuts and so on. He then spreads the cards out on the table and the cards are shown to STILL be in new deck order.
This is a very popular effect and very entertaining in the right hands.
The conflict is not in this effect itself, but may be detrimental to the rest of the performance, allow me to explain:
The sleight of hand guy has just demonstrated that even though it looked very much like he was shuffling and mixing the cards, he wasn’t really. The audience may suspect from then on that any shuffle performed could well be another one of those fake shuffles. If the cards are under complete control, no card could be ‘lost’ in the deck.
This resolution would not work for everybody, it will work for somebody who is trying to establish themselves as a card sharp or sleight of hand expert but the principles could be applied to magic with a little thought.
In order to find a resolution we must find a way to make these shuffles unlike the shuffles in the rest of the performance. It must follow a procedure that is unique to this effect and therefore cannot be replicated in another.
We can start to come up with this solution by looking at the placement of this effect in the routine.
Since the cards are in ‘new deck order’ it is generally performed at the start of the routine, so from there we have a potential premise.
“Since this is a new deck of cards, they have come in what is called “New deck order” it means they come Ace, 2, 3,4 all the way to King in Hearts, then in order in spades and so on. The reason for this is because when a casino opens a new pack of cards they can quickly spread them to make sure they are all there.”
Now I admit this is not everybody’s idea of a brilliant and creative presentational starting point, but it does a couple of things. It establishes the performer as somebody who knows a lot about their prop and actually shows the cards are in order while giving a reason for doing so. If the performer then spreads them on the table and glances at them for a second and says
“Yes, they are all there”
it indicates a fast mind that can essentially study a pack of cards very quickly just like a casino dealer would.
“I have not had a chance to warm up because I haven’t used these cards before and I also have to warm up my mind so I will be able to do some of the things you will be seeing tonight, so I shall do it now if you do not mind. I generally do this by shuffling the cards to get my fingers working”
The reason this may work is because it gives the performer a chance to shuffle and the emphasis is on ‘warming up’ his fingers rather than trying to be deceptive at this point. It also tells the audience rightly or wrongly that you have not touched these cards before. On a side note, it is actually good for warming up your fingers before you perform.
“I usually start off with the really easy looking shuffles and when I feel that is working, I can do some more complicated shuffles and cuts”
At this point you simply do what you say, do some simple running shuffles and then some cuts and more impressive mixing. Make this as brief as you can ! This is not a reason for performing every single fancy shuffle you have and certainly not the place to start showing off. You are just shuffling. Make it too fancy and you run the risk of conflicting every other effect after it that does not contain your amazing ‘sybil’.
As the brief sequence of shuffling concludes the performer puts the pack down and says:
“My fingers are pretty much warmed up but like I said at the start, it is not just about my fingers, it is about me warming up my brain as well, so what I have been doing is shuffling in my head as I have been shuffling with my hands, I know it sounds complicated. The way I test if I am ready is by shuffling the same way I just did but this time BACKWARDS”.
See where we are going here ? The performer then apparently reverses the procedure. If he ended with cutting the cards, he then starts with cutting the cards and just moves backwards through the shuffling sequence and then puts the cards back on the table where they were when the effect was begun.
“Now this is the test, logically if I shuffled them forwards and then exactly the same way backwards, they should be in the same order they started in”
The performer spreads the cards and they are all ‘back’ in new deck order.
“Now I am ready to perform!!” he says.
Logically the effect has come to a satisfactory end. This resolved the conflict of false shuffling because you have apparently given the audience the explanation already. You were legitimately shuffling the cards and then ‘unshuffled’ them by doing it backwards. Since you were not pretending it was a magic trick, or acting like it was an effect, the audience has no reason to suspect deception. They will believe you. It can be ended with a qualifier:
“Okay, now that I am warmed up I will give them a shuffle and not reverse it, in fact, sir, would you mind shuffling them as well ?”
Ending the effect in such a way puts the emphasis that both procedures of shuffling “Forwards” and “Backwards” were required to have the cards appear in order the way they did, if you do not repeat this procedure, the audience has no reason to suspect anything else. It has come from a demonstration of false shuffling to something much more impressive and much less damaging to the rest of the performance that may require false shuffling.
Like I said, this presentation is not for everybody. But what I wish to impress upon the reader is that sometimes a conflicting effect can remain in a routine with a presentational reason for them to be there.
To avoid repeating yourself, see if you can continue the effect rather than start a similar one anew.
Why get another person to pick a card when you could use the same card you used in the effect before it ? If you wish to get more people involved then let a few take a card and then as they hold them do an effect with each of them one by one and then at the end you can do an effect that involves you finding all the cards at the same time. Of course there is more to it than that, you would have to make sure it becomes more impossible and more impressive as you go to keep interest alive but it may break up the potential monotony of “Pick a card”.
If you think of your entire performance as an ‘effect’ rather than many effects in a row, you will be on your way to making a smoother and more pleasing experience for your audiences.
I hope the reader has found something of use in this essay.
Regards, Marc Turner.