Dr Nagiers Study

^ Some months ago I was having a phone conversation with Scotty York. During the chat Scotty asked ^ f I was familiar with a book called Your Audience Really Doesn't Like Being Fooled written by Dr. ^ William Nagler. I was unfamiliar with this work. Scotty sent me some information. What I read came a s both a revelation and vindication, since what Dr. Nagler had discovered in a laboratory setting totally agreed with what I had stumbled on through 14 years of performing for real people.

Dr. Nagler's study sprang from knowing about The Big Lie. Using more than 50 students as subjects, V.^ Dr. Nagler and his associates recorded both physiological and psychological data as the subjects ^ watched magic performances. From this data Dr. Nagler extrapolated four approaches that would ^ minimize the negative effects of being fooled. I was surprised to discover that those routines in my repertoire that I felt were the most effective fell into one or more of these categories. Through trial ^^ ind error, over a long period of time, without realizing what I was doing, I had structured my rou-

tines to minimize audience animosity. Dr. Nagler's four categories are: Conspiratorial, Triumphant, Distancing, and Non-magic. I will explain each one.

Conspiratorial approach: the magician takes the spectator in his confidence, as if both were unable to understand why the trick works. My angle on this approach is, as much as possible, to have the spectator be responsible for the magic. Examples of this are Dr. Strangetrick and The El Cheepo Magic Club. The spectator is the one doing the trick. I'm as amazed as everyone else.

Triumphant approach: the trick has apparently failed, but the magician pulls it out at the end. This has the aspect of a sucker trick, but you don't shove the spectators' noses in it. While most people hate to be fooled, they also don't like to see a performer screw up a trick. When the trick has apparently gone astray, the spectators feel sorry for the magician. When the magician triumphs over apparent failure the spectators cheer his success, even though it means that they were fooled. An example of this occurs at the end of The Frog Prince, where it seems the frog found the wrong card. [Another example is The Shuffles Routine from Closely Guarded Secrets.]

Distancing approach: the magician removes himself one step away from the action by couching the entire trick in terms of a story. Almost every trick I do involves this approach to some extent, but good examples are The Pothole Trick and A Visit From Rocco. [A variation of this approach is distancing by means of invisible technique. It is very difficult for an audience to resent a magician if it app;ears that he did nothing to accomplish the effect.]

Non-magic approach: the comedy and by-play involved in the routine is really more important than the magic. Down for the Count is an example of this. These types of routines are important; it isn't vital that every routine be a brain-basher. If I perform three tricks at a table it is likely that the middle trick will be of this type.

If you examine the routines in the Workers series you will find that they fit into one or more of these categories. You can understand why I was both surprised and vindicated. I always knew that these routines "worked", but now I knew why.

In addition to Dr. Nagler's four categories I would offer two more suggestions, one. from Alex Elmsley and one from myself. Elmsley suggested that if the spectators could anticipate the climax of a routine an instant before it happened, then even though they would be fooled they would feel some sense of accomplishment. I would agree with this assessment with the following warning: the technical requirements of the trick must be completed before the point in time when the spectators anticipate the climax. Here's what I mean: At the end of The Frog Prince the spectators realize the folded-up frog is going to be the selected card. But at the point that they realize this the frog has already been switched. I am clean. Technically, the trick is over. But, as I mentioned in the last chapter, in The Card in the Box, the spectator anticipation happens at the wrong time. They realize the card in the box will be the spectator's card, but I haven't switched it yet! I hope this clarifies my point.

One more suggested approach I would offer is this: the last trick of your performance need not fall into one of the above categories. After all, at the end of this trick you are leaving, so it is not vital that you be nice. The Big Surprise is not a "nice" trick. It kicks people in the head. But I don't care, because I'm walking offstage. I want people to remember me and the best way to accomplish that is to fool them to death just before I leave.

I think we've had enough of a walk for one day. I did not discuss the theatrical structuring of a routine, but that can be a topic for another time. In this regard, though, some of the best advice on the subject was offered by Alex Elmsley. He suggested that at every point in time in a routine we ask ourselves two questions:

1. Is something of interest happening?

2. Can the audience appreciate the effect?

Elmsley's exposition on these two questions is required reading for anyone who is interested in presentation and showmanship. His entire essay can be found in The Collected Works of Alex Elm-sey, pages 3-14.

This wraps up the first part of my magical filtration system. Other essays will examine other elements. I hope that the above information will be useful as you build your own sieve.

+1 0

Post a comment