Setlirig the Stage

We have all had our moments as magicians that make us proud, usually having something to do with an astonishing coincidence working in our favour. Recently I was having dinner with a family who knew my trade, and the eldest son, aged about nine, was eager for me to show him a trick. In such situations I generally allow my behaviour to suggest that they would be extremely lucky to see any magic from me. Not that 1 say those words out loud. I would never have dinner with anybody if I voiced such sentiments. But I allow my manner to suggest it. I feign a certain, but not a decisive, reluctance. I strung this kid along as much as I could, in the back of my mind wondering what I would show, if indeed anything. I had, of course, as fate decreed, forgotten the sponge ding-dong, Eventually I decided I would wait until dessert and then read his precocious prepubescent mind. He was impressed by the playing cards I had with me, so I decided to use them.

Here is what happened. By the time dessert arrived, this boy was finding it difficult to suppress his impatience. His parents gently chastised him for continually hinting, and each lime they did I caught his eye and smiled naughtily, which only made him worse. Eventually, I withdrew the cards from my waistcoat pocket. I looked him right in the eyes, then took them out from their case and gave them a one-handed riffle shuffle. He was mesmerised, I spread them out in a long, slow ribbon spread across the table. He had a look of complete seriousness on his face, which was matched by the expressions of his parents, who had suddenly become just as intrigued. I looked up at him and waited for him to look back. I held his stare and smiled knowingly. "Jeff, why don't you take one out? Go on, they're right in front of you."

He reached across nervously and pulled one towards him. He looked up at me, silently asking if he should look at it. "Go on, take a look," I said, gesturing at the card with my hand. He turned it over.

The air suddenly surged in his lungs and his eyes widened. He stared at the rectangle of cardboard in his hand and absolutely froze. Then he flickered, and looked over at his mother, then back at me. "Oh my God the Pize of Diamonds mummt~ how did he know? I-low did he do that? That was it, that was it

His parents looked at me with uncertainty in their faces and I gathered tip the cards and put them back in my waistcoat pocket, ready for another day.

I still don't know exactly what happened, It seems that he had had the card in mind before he picked it. I didn't ask, I just kept the knowing look on my face for a while, then steered the conversation to other areas. 1 still see the family, and I have never shown Jeff another trick. When I do, it'll have to be a good one.

Such are the moments that we live for. Jeff experienced a shiver of real magic, and his parents will never be able to give him a satisfactory answer. Now, imagine if the same coincidence had happened and I had been a jolly entertainer with a grating voice and a penchant for making unconvincing poodles from balloons. Imagine that I had asked him to pick a card and he had chosen the one that he had happened to have in mind, for whatever reason. He would have searched for meaning and perhaps would have still been surprised. But would he have done all the imaginative work necessary to turn it into a wonderful miracle that he is going to remember well into his adult life? I doubt it.

It is vital for our model of magical performance that we set the scene with subtle drama, suggestion and presence. When we do, we create a sense that what we are about to perform is of importance. This is a luxury open to us as workers of real magic when we are asked to perform in a social, non-professional setting. Imagine: we can teasingly show reluctance, we can spend an hour's conversation setting the psychological scene before the effect, and we can restrict ourselves to the performance of a single item. These are beautiful opportunities. In order to exploit them fully, I never ask if anyone would like to see a trick, If there is something that I would like to show, I drop a hint in conversation and allow it to ferment. I always manipulate them to ask me, and presume if they don't that it would have been a bad idea anyway. The hint that I drop is not that I might have something to show them. It is merely an intriguing reference to the experience of magic, combined with a certain glint of the eye and a seductive glance. That way, I can feign reluctance and intensify their desire.

With this in mind, the moment of performance has a gravity and sense of profound anticipation before I have apparently done anything. Yet that paving the way for a certain responsiveness from my participants will create the conviction needed for Jeff's mirade to take root, and render my companions far more suggestible than otherwise.

Compare this to the mood that is generated if you ask, out of the blue, if anyone would like to see a trick. A certain percentage will be enthusiastic, but there will usually be a note of cynicism struck when the offer is made. Similarly, I find most 'attention getters' rather wearying, and am unsure about using striking pieces of visual magic to 'reel people in' (such as Tommy Wonder's F~ftv Per Cent Lighter, suggested for this purpose, where his empty lighter changes to a box of matches to allow him to light his cigarette). This latter technique has about it a note of self-consciousness that I believe an intelligent audience will come to realise and eventually find rather sad, Imagine you are seen smoking, and suddenly you push the lit cigarette into your ear and pull it out of your mouth. You did it to get the attention of somebody because you would like to perform some magic with the group. Someone responds, genuinely amazed by what they saw. Obviously you have performed the impromptu piece in such a way that did not seem to be self-

conscious, and you did it well. A conversation begins, and you say that you are a magician. One thing leads to another, and you are soon performing a few tricks.

All very well, you may say, but it does not take long for that first person to realise that you must have been using the cigarette effect to draw attention to yourself. However much they enjoyed the tricks you performed, I am unsure about leaving someone with the impression that you were eager to do a bunch of tricks and sat there dropping visual hints. This does not seem in line with giving your magic a very high prestige. It makes it seem a little trivial, and you something of a nerd. It gives me the same creeping feeling that I get when I see magicians carrying around their props at all times for when some situation arises. What would be your perception of a man who casualiy performs a few tricks in a bar for his friends, and then suddenly produces lengths of rope from his pockets and starts to perform? Would you cringe? Most probably, for it advertises the fact that he is always ready to be Mr. Entertainer, and happy to be seen to be so.

I carry nothing with me when 1 go out, unless! need to practise a new effect and need guinea-pigs. But even then, I would not carry anything that looked as if I were carrying it on purpose. A deck of cards would be the absolute limit, but I would act as if I were not sure that I even had a deck on me. There have been times when I have gone out with an ITR fixed inside my jacket, a thumb-writer in my pocket and a magnet strapped to my knee — but these are all invisible props. With them I can perform miracles that would be difficult to match without this preparation, but when I use them I do ;wt appear to have brought anything with me. No one is going to inwardly groan as 1 produce a prop.

There can be no nerdiness in our model of magic. We must remember that it is us that our companions are experiencing, not just the effects. If that projection of self shows a man who is eager to jump up and be Magic-Monkey at the beck and call of anyone who will talk to him, then all thud is left to be interesting are a hunch of tricks.

It is the power, again, of withheld presence: the impact made by what you don't do, translated deftly and faintly into what you do. When I said to Jeff, "Why don't you take one? They're right in front of you," I am making the cards suddenly tempting and forbidden. This, combined with congruent non-verbal communication ensures a heightening of the experience. Seduce people with intriguing and calculated understatement. Give yourself and your art that importance, and the capacity to unnerve.

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