Most people wouldn’t peg me for a “Cardist”, “XCMer”, or whatever term you want to ascribe to the modern wave of flourishing. If nothing else my age (mid thirties) would tend to type cast me among the “Red Backed Bike Nazis” who seem to insist the magician displays only modest skill with a deck of cards and is never caught with a deck of cards that could not be bought at the corner drug store or found in the average suburban home. At my age I am supposed to be studying my classics and preaching the gospel of “naturalness.” The truth is that I do study the classics, and there is a lot to be said for “naturalness,” but there is also room, and lots of it, to explore the other side of the spectrum. Lee Asher, who was perhaps one of the first of the “Post-Modern” card masters, said it perhaps the best, "Some people strive to be as natural as possible when performing magic. I, on the other hand, want to be super-natural." That line really spoke to me and has influenced much of my interest in flashy knucklebusting moves(Clip shifts, Diving Board Double, Etc.) and flourishing style(light on classic spreads, heavy on packet cuts and aerials)
With that admission under my belt, and a hint at where those views come from, the next question that arises is, “How can you combine cardistry with magic?” Many, on both sides of the coin, view each other as distant cousins, not close knit brothers. That, in my opinion, is a terrible shame. Perhaps the best example of what can be accomplished by closely weaving magic and cardistry together come from the Buck twins. In particular, their renditions of Bill Goodwin’s, “The Queens” and Aaron Fisher’s, “Hello, Goodbye,” elevate those effects from being stunning magic to being stunningly beautiful magic. The Bucks added not more than a small touch to each but it was a significant one indeed.
So lets assume that by now you have either bought into my arguments or you haven’t. I won’t offer any more so if you still can’t stomach the thought of cardistry and magic existing in the same space then it will do you little good to read further. That leaves us with those that are interested in the idea of weaving these two art forms more closely together. How do we do this? Well the most direct answer is to turn our “weaving” metaphor on its head. In short, it can be well done provided we do carefully “weave” them together, as opposed to “smashing” them together. It is important to understand when it is appropriate to mix the two and when one merely distracts from the other.
First it is important to understand what we are telling an audience when we perform a flourish. We are telling them upfront and boldly that we are masters of our craft. We are exhibiting a level of skill that few in the world possess. In a brutal Darwinian sense, it is a dominance display. The cards flipping around our hands are our peacock feathers, our antlers, our waddle . Now it is important to understand what this behavior is telling an audience. By flourishing you are “showing off,” and demonstrating Alpha male/female behavior. There are certainly times when being the Alpha is beneficial to a magician(crowd control, heckler management, etc.) but there are also times when this behavior might be detrimental. For one, everyone likes “their” alpha. Only problem is, you are not “their” alpha…at least not yet. Certainly a magician wants to grab attention quickly with an effect that establishes credibility but adding a flourish in that first trick may be premature. Flourishing is blatantly showing off and before it should be introduced you should have already made friends with your audience otherwise you risk creating more hecklers than any powerful trick, witty line, or display of cardistry could ever shut up. In other words, become their Alpha. There have been several times when, in the midst of a performance, I could feel my hands start to lose control of the packets I was twirling around my fingers. Instead of my audience groaning and thinking, “geeze dude! Give it up! You suck!” I could hear them almost cheering me on. There was suspense in the air as the audience anticipated the possibilities of success or failure of a complicated cut…the trick hadn’t even begun yet! Why did I get the, “Can he do it? Can he do it!? YES! He DID IT!” [applause] reaction instead of the “give it up dude!” reaction? I attribute it to the fact that they liked me. That’s all. They liked me. So my first guideline is to be sure they like you before adding flourishing into a magic set.
The next issue to consider is the character of the effects you are performing. I can best describe this by giving two examples of where flourishing has worked for me and where it fell short. Two effects that I love performing are Joshua Jay's “The Big Deal” and Paul Harris’s “Twilight Angels.” For various reasons I feel that both of these effects belong within the context of an ACR. I used to use almost the same introductory moves to the ACRs I had built for each finally, including a series of false XCM packet cuts. After several months of experimenting with the two routines I found that “The Big Deal,” at its heart an in the hands version of a gambling demo, played bigger with the XCM, but Twilight Angels played better without. Why would TA play better without XCM? Because of the character of the effect. My purpose for putting TA within the confines of an ACR was to dispel the notion of a gaffed card. Unfortunately, with XCM included I was drawing attention to the fact that I was really good with cards and thus the possibility that I had been using a gaffed card all along was perhaps in the back of some spectators minds. Why did the gambling demo go better with the XCM cuts. Because A: it completely dispelled the possibility of the actual method used, and B: the whole point of a gambling demo is to display mastery of a deck of cards. The XCM cuts essentially heightened the illusion of that mastery.
The final thing to consider when deciding whether or not to use cardistry or XCM is your character as a performer. This is something that only you can ultimately answer though I will offer a few ideas on the subject. As a general rule I would say that anyone who adopts a “clever con-man with a twinkle in his eye and a wry grin” type of persona can pull off cardistry without distracting from the performance. This whole character type is built upon the notion that you accomplish amazing feats through superhuman skill and highly trained reflexes. Cardistry exhibits this perfectly. Even a “bumbling klutz who has magical things happen to him as opposed to because of him,” could find a place for cardistry. See my above example of my experiences when it was obvious to the audience that I was about to drop the cards. While that example is of something that happened accidentally, it certainly could be used intentionally, and hammed up, for effect. My biggest caution with Cardistry and character would be for the “man of mystery” character types. Obvious displays of skill could, as I found it did with the TA effect, take away from this character. It is hard to maintain that mystique when you conspicuously display skills that , to the audience, look like sleight of hand.
So my in the final analysis, cardistry can, is, and should continue to be a close brother to your magic. Provided you take the time to consider your style, the impact and intent of the effect, and are careful not to present it as a “challenge” to your spectators you can add a lot of elegance and dash to your card magic set. Happy card juggling!