Sleights vs Gimmicks
Revised and resurrected.
I noticed recently that there is a lot of talk about how gimmicks are supposedly inferior to pure sleight of hand. So let’s take a look at the comparisons, and differences between the two. Although they should not even be being compared in the first place, only unified together as a whole to produce the strongest magic possible; and provide the most impact.
Some magicians, or even better yet “magic hobbyists,” may feel as though they are too “advanced” to deceive, or entertain an audience with “simple” methods. They assume they must employ sheer sleight of hand prowess in all their magical workings, or possibly be able to fool magicians in order to prove their interest is legitimate. However it is the audience/laymen who compensate us for our performance, not other magicians.
Some may want to be able to perform “the pass” simply because they want to impress their magic colleagues, and sort of obtain a right of passage so to speak. Although proficiency in sleight of hand is an essential part of any serious magician’s arsenal, I also have found that simple methods can accomplish “simply amazing” results. Is the personal gratification of pulling off a difficult sleight more important to you than doing so by any means necessary, and regardless of the difficulty of the method involved?
To anyone who is adamant about their study of this art, they know that both sleights and gimmicks have their place in magic, and they both can be beneficial to all skill levels. Yes a strong foundation in sleights is important, but why should it have to be “extremely difficult” so to speak, to amaze or entertain an audience? Personally I use whatever works, or will best fit the present scenario.
Maybe I will even mold a gimmick, or gaff to fit the current situation at hand, should the need to be impromptu arise. In the end, the method is not what the audience will be talking about, at least we hope not; but the magic that happened before their very eyes. For one to think that very difficult sleights are a necessity to fool or entertain someone, I believe it is them who are actually being fooled. I say this after twenty-six years of experience in having consistent success utilizing both sleights and gimmicks, not one or the other.
If one passes off another due to preconceived speculations that one is superior over the other, due to its method or the skill level of the performer, thus actually taking the harder route when not necessary; just how advanced is this performer? Sometimes gaffs do provide results and advantages that are not easily replicated with sleight of hand, or are impossible to accomplish with sleights altogether. I believe most budding performers all start with a gimmick in a sense, that of a magic set.
What this set of “gimmicks” can allow is for a beginner to have some instant success and gratification with the handling of magic props, and provide him/her with a little confidence to continue on their magic journey; and possibly incorporate some basic sleights into their arsenal later on. If most beginners start out this way, I believe they can make the gradual progression needed in order to learn more difficult sleights, and develop more magic knowledge as a whole in the long run.
To assume the title of “magician” requires the utmost desire and dedication to the art in its entirety, not just trying to find the easiest ways around advanced technique, or all the other facets of magic as a whole. However it also requires that you be open-minded to all the possibilities, regardless of how simple they may seem to you. Now after I received my first magic sets, and worked with them for awhile, I personally strived for much more knowledge later on than just settling for a few gimmicks.
I wanted to absorb as much magic knowledge as possible, regardless of the method used to achieve the results. I began searching for magic books, and studied them with a relentless passion. I wanted to be sure I was well grounded in all the basics before I ordered any apparatus, or too much expensive magic equipment from a magic shop. All my studies began at the local Public Library, and School Libraries as well. It was there that I found my first magic gem of literature, The Amateur Magician’s Handbook by Henry Hay. I then bought Mark Wilson’s Complete Course, along with The Magic Book, by Harry Lorayne; and many of Bill Severn’s books after that.
After finding a few of Bill Severn’s books at the library, I was hooked on them. Most of the effects were very practical, and required no special props that could not be made using items found laying around the house. I then purchased the expensive Tarbell Course by Harlan Tarbell, which quickly became one of my most prized magic possessions. I guess a better question is, does the magic enthusiast want to do the required work to become a great magician, or do they simply want to be “tricksters” who only know a few tricks?
Examinability of props may be a plus, but is rarely ever a problem. Especially if you do mostly small stage/parlor shows. However I do a lot of close-up as well, and hand out stuff from time to time; or rely on audience assistance often. So they assume all is legitimate regardless, otherwise why would the magician risk handing out his secret gadgets to them? He/she could be very embarrassed should they find out the workings behind the alleged miracle! It is all about psychology, misdirection, and self-confidence—that is why the magician can get away with it; especially a competent one.
I guess it all depends on how much we practice our “methods” and how well we can switch out gaffs, or make transitions to non-gaffs in a flowing routine. Sometimes a “visual examination” is all that is needed—or even a few examinations of non-gimmicked items will usually be enough to convince the skeptic that there is no foul play. I once handed out a few objects at the audience’s request which were luckily ungimmicked. Later on I took a big risk, and floored them with a gimmicked effect, and followed by asking them if they wanted to “examine” that too? They simply said no, and that they “would not find anything” regardless.
It is important not how we amazed the audience, but DID we amaze, and entertain them? Close-up workers seem to be expected to hand out their items often, whether the expectations are by audiences, or even the performer themselves. But just how far do we need to go in order to prove we are truly doing real magic? What is next, stripping down naked to prove we have no concealed pockets, vests, or pulls? I think that constant examination actually throws a hindrance into many acts, and tends to stagnate them more so than make a routine flow. Are we entertaining, or are we just presenting confusing puzzles to the audience, and asking them to try and solve them?
True, method does “affect” effect, and may also even affect the performer’s total confidence while performing. However one should not limit themselves to any given effect(s) simply based on whether or not the method appeals to them. Also sometimes there is an added assurance at the end of an effect that was accomplished with sleight of hand, that you are “clean,” and there is nothing to find.
However I don’t think we should be limited to just that type of magic skill, as there are some great gaffs/gimmicks out there that simply just cannot be recreated with sleights. Again, BOTH are an invaluable asset to me as a professional magician/entertainer. As I also stated previously, sleight of hand is indeed an integral part of a magician’s arsenal. In fact during my teenage years I too thought that sleights were the “only way to go.”
I got so caught up in the self-gratification of being able to astound people with pure sleight of hand, that I simply excluded gimmicks from my arsenal for a long time. However later on in my magic journey/career, I felt something was missing. I found that neither sleights, nor gimmicks could fully replace the other, and they should not be expected to. As I matured as an individual, and a performer, my magic also matured. I realized that to simply disregard what was seemingly a powerful effect solely because it involves some gimmick, or hidden contraption if you will; was actually placing a lot of limitations on my magic’s potential.
In fact one could even argue that your hands themselves are gimmicks, being they are being used for covering, misdirecting, and pantomime to just name a few. I have found in my experiences that the combination of gimmicks, and sleights tend to be the most powerful overall—as opposed to utilizing them separately. Whatever “gets the job done,” and is able to bring forth the magic I am creating in my audience’s mind, to the most stunning and astonishing conclusion, is all that really matters—not HOW I was able to do so. To only do sleights because they do not utilize any type of physical gimmick so to speak, is doing nothing more than inhibiting your magic’s growth and fullest potential. You also are inhibiting your own growth as a magician.
Basically you are engaging in “magical masturbation,” and stroking your own misguided ego. If one can obtain the same results with a certain method, gimmick, or gaff without having to execute a difficult sleight, what other reason would they have besides basking in the glory of self-admiration? The audience is unknowing regardless, and why run if you’re not being chased? Items such as the TT are more so a universal utility than a gimmick, as it has many more uses than a stand-alone gimmick would. However being it is never seen, or known to the audience, I assume it could be characterized as a gimmick as well.
I been through the whole “sleight geek” stage many years of my life, and although I do find the practice and performance of sleights to be quite pleasurable from a technical, and emotional perspective; I no longer feel the need to limit myself to just sleights. There is no shame whatsoever in deceiving, entertaining, amusing, or baffling a spectator by “any means necessary” to get the job done. This is not to undermine, or question the importance of sleights, but more so the importance of implicating and utilizing whatever tools that make the magic work the most effectively—not just the most “advanced” way of doing it.
If a magician believes that only sleights are the ultimate answer, and completely disregards gimmicks based on the fact that they have some type of concealed mechanism within them, I believe they are doing themselves a true injustice in the long run. They are also doing an injustice to those people they will be performing for in the future. They are only deceiving themselves by believing in this delusional misconception that great magic cannot be achieved through anything other than “knuckle busting” prestidigitation.
I strongly believe, and base my statements from my experience that combining both is almost as close to real magic as one can get. Not to say that each individually cannot hold their own the majority of the time, but this factor is also based on the ability, and overall skill of the performer. A lot of magicians talk about being able to do things on a “moment’s notice,” and how they must always be “impromptu,” and end “totally clean.” Well I know one magician who is a very successful stage performer, and specializes in doing kid’s shows. His entire act consists mostly of props/gimmicks, and he is almost never any of those things.
I always ask him, “Doesn’t bother you if someone comes up to you after a show, or at some other point and time, and asks you to just do something right then and there?” He simply replied, “Nope, I already received my check by that time. Doing freebies for passerby’s are not what is earning me my living, doing my full-time stage act for paying clients is.” Of course it could only help to be able to do something on a moment’s notice no doubt, and you will definitely handle your gimmicks with far more proficiency if you are well grounded in sleights.
However as we can clearly see, sleights are not a necessity to be a magician, or even a successful one. It always helps to walk that extra mile, but you can’t really argue with the facts. He is just as much of a magician as one who relies mostly on sleights is. I guess his audiences do not care too much about all his props/gimmicks, as he gets more callbacks and referrals than he can keep up with. Why? Because he did his job as an “entertainer.” Personally I love sleights, but I also love clever gimmicks and gaffs.
I will not hesitate to utilize any tool that will enhance my overall performance value. I am more concerned about being able to present the most magical, and entertaining effect possible—and by the most practical and simple manner, as far as mechanics go. Thus I can focus on my presentation/showmanship even more so. Nonetheless, this magician is shunned for not having the ability, or simply choosing not to incorporate advanced sleight of hand into his repertoire.
I know he is very content however with his ten to twenty shows per month, earning at LEAST five times what he did as a “wage slave,” and is closing in on four years now in the business. Even I did not assume it was possible to earn a living performing solely with props/gimmicks exclusively. However his presentation and showmanship, combined with his little “disgraceful elaborate props,” has transformed these inanimate objects into something far much more; entertaining magical masterpieces.
Which in turn has become a very lucrative prospect for him, and led to a full-time career. This is all the proof that I will ever need that gimmicks are only as strong, or weak as the performer’s own skill level, presentation ability, and imagination. Gimmicks don’t do anything themselves, hence the term “inanimate object.” They are merely a “byproduct” of the performer’s magic persona.
I don’t believe that sleight of hand is the “final stage” as many would assume it to be, but only the foundation of the magic house—and just the beginning of a better, and fuller understanding of magic. One should continue to build upon that foundation, not stop before the construction has been fully completed. To do so would only leave you with an unstable, and unfinished building project—and the same can be said about the type of performer you will be as well.
Last edited by sirbrad on Mon Oct 01, 2007 2:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.