The imm or tncottr

INCE a large part of this book and its companion volume consists of theoretical essays, it seems judicious to consider first what theoretical discussions can do for us and how important a part theoretical concerns can play in the realm of magical performance.

Some may say that theory, nice as it may be, doesn't contribute significantly to the development of a good performer. In support of this they point to many such performers who never practiced theoretical analysis. Indeed some fine magicians have never formally studied the theories behind their work, but rely on some instinctive feeling for what is right for them and what is not.

There are also magicians who study and study, who know a great deal about the theories of magic, but when they apply these theories in their performances they fail to achieve the great magic for which they hoped. From all this one could draw the conclusion that theory seems to contribute litde or nothing to the making of a better performer.

Raw Diamonds

While this contention is obviously open to debate, I do agree that there is a certain something, an instinctive insight, a raw knowledge, that it is essential to have to become a good performer. Call it talent if you like. The more of this special something one has been given by nature, the better performer one can become.

I say become, because even if one has all the talent in the world, it still must be developed. Talent is like a raw diamond. An uncut diamond is not particularly interesting, but once it is polished to perfection, it becomes a thing of beauty. The same is true of talent. The more talent, the bigger the raw diamond, the better one can become. But it still requires polishing!

Polishing this raw diamond brings out the sparkle and brilliance, so that audiences can begin to enjoy it. However if the base material, the talent isn't there, if instead of raw diamond there is only flint, no amount of polishing, no amount of work can bring out the brilliance of a diamond.

The idea that, without talent, no amount of work can make one a truly good performer may seem pessimistic, even elitist; but I believe it, nevertheless, to be true. However, I'm not really the cynical misanthrope this statement might at first suggest, for I tend to think that most, if not all people have some measure of talent—maybe not much, maybe just a speck; but a tiny little diamond polished to perfection is far more enjoyable than an enormous unpolished one. So don't despair if you find that your "raw diamond" is not huge. Your magic can still be admirable.

I don't believe that one can enlarge ones talent. One can only polish it to bring out its qualities for audiences to enjoy. If this is true, there is really no need to be worried about the amount of talent one has. We shouldn't be concerned with how big the raw diamond is. There is nothing to be gained by feeling depressed over a lesser stone. We should only consider how well we can polish the gem we have; and we should only feel discouraged if we fail to polish it sufficiently.

I always smile a litde when I hear people rationalizing the absence of quality in their work by saying, "But you see, I don't have as much talent as so-and-so!" I don't pretend to know exactly what talent is, and maybe some do lack it completely—but I do know that the phrase lack of talent is often used as an excuse for a lack of polishing.

Whether we have talent and how much is something for others to worry about. Let's ban that fear forever, and lets also stop using the amount of talent we imagine ourselves to have as an excuse. These things are senseless and will never bring us any closer to our goals.

Feeling Right

One of the best ways I know of to polish the talent one has is to use it as much as possible. In other words, practice and perform magic as much as you can. In doing so, you will come to see and feel almost automatically how you should do things; you will sense when it is right. The more magic you perform, the more experience you gain and the more your sense for "what is right for you" can be developed. This sense can become so sharp that, after a time, you will even be able to tell when something is right just by imagining yourself doing it. And you will certainly be able to tell when it is right by actually trying it.

Let's say that you want to work out a new effect, and at home you try various moves and sequences. You do it this way, you do it that way; and suddenly you feel that a particular way is, well—just right. This feeling that something is just rightfor you is, in my opinion, the primary basis for making decisions, and should never be ignored. Many great performers make decisions about their work solely on what they sense is right for them. They can't explain exacdy why they do the things they do in a particular way—but it just feels right.

This "right feeling" is a much better, much more secure basis for deciding these things than any theoretical analysis can ever be. Of course, the amount of "feeling" you have will depend on how much natural talent you possess and how thoroughly this sense has been developed. If the sense is very small, then "feeling right" might be a shaky, possibly even a

'PROLOGUE: 7ME LIMITATIONS OF IHEORY

misleading basis for making decisions. If you should fail to develop this sense of Tightness, it's probably better to forsake the performance of magic. Before you can hope that intuition will lead you to correct decisions, it is first necessary to develop it as much as you can. The intuition, the feeling, must be developed by intensive practice and performance. If you fail to achieve this development, basing decisions on intuition will be an incorrect approach. One can't base decisions on a sense one does not yet possess.

To place intuition above hard analysis is not a very scicntific approach. Its probably not even scientifically defensible; but can our theoretical analysis be scientific? For a theory to be scientifically valid it must be complete and all encompassing. Is magic theory today this complete? And even if someday we do understand magic so thoroughly and precisely that the extant body of theory does encompass all aspects of magical performance, won't that theory be too large and cumbersome to be workable? At any rate, our theoretical understanding of magic today is still limited, and is easily overshadowed by even a moderate amount of intuition or talent. And intuition and talent certainly work a lot faster!

Why Theory

If all rhc above is true—and I believe it is—then the question must be asked, What is the use of theory? Shouldn't we just forget it and develop our intuition, then just do what feels right? I don't think so; for by doing that we would be discarding an invaluable tool!

\bu see, after your intuition tells you what to do, theory can bccomc a great aid. Once you have decided diat something feels particularly right, thought guided by theory can give you important insight concerning your decision. Understanding why something feels good can lead you to more prccisc or cffcctivc utilization of that insight. Intuition is, after all, an obscure, subconscious process that doesn't offer clear reasons for its decisions. Only through theoretical analysis can we refine, improve and broaden those hazy lessons that intuition presents to us.

Intuition is a great step toward accomplishing good magic, but intuition alone is unlikely to achieve the full potential of the ideas it generates. That is the job of theoretical analysis. However, if theoretical thinking is applied without that first intuitive leap the result can be pure rubbish. It is far too easy to use theory to twist a completely misshapen assumption into something that gives the appearance of being straight. You can do this without ever being aware of it. But all the theoretical patches in the world won't stop a rotten foundation from crumbling when a ramshackle structure is set before an audience. I believe this misuse of theory is possible because our theories are incomplete. We still have so much rn learn, and it is highly unlikely that we will ever understand it all.

The main function of theory, then, is to solidify and refine the fruits of our intuition. That is its real purpose. Once we have, through theoretical analysis, made the vague feelings of intuition concrete concepts, it is much easier to determine if and how the teaching? of our feelings can be improved and better applied.

Intuition first; theory and analysis sccond. This progression is essential!

Developing Intuition

I began this discussion by observing that the best (perhaps the only) way to develop your latent intuition for magic is by practicing and performing it as much as you can. Of this I am certain. I am far Jess certain of the following thought, but I am confident enough in its possibility to offer it for your consideration. I believe that dieoretical analysis, when properly applied as we have discussed, can heighten your intuitive faculties. It is my impression that by having constantly examined those things that have felt right to me in my magic, my sense of intuition for what was right became better and surer. This might he because my mind was made to delve regularly into these matters, and my subconscious subsequently grew more at home with such thoughts and more adept at handling them.

It could be that Im wrong about this. I can't prove that theorizing and analysis really improve ones intuition for good magic, diat they can enhance whatever raw intelligence you might possess—but I suspect that the)- do. If so, this is an added benefit to be gained by busying yourself with matters of theory.

Refining THeory

To broaden our knowledge of theory, it is natural to presume that further thought about these matters will deepen our understanding of them. And it certainly can. However, it is also possible to carry such exercises too far: to focus on a certain theory and, in an attempt to elaborate on it further and further, wind up widi sheer nonsense. I don't believe that theory alone should be the basis for elaborating further theory. The true basis must always be well-grounded intuition.

The surest source of new theoretical ideas lies less in the theories themselves, and far more in your sense of what is right for you. Exult in those moments when, as you analyze your intuitive ieelings, you suddenly understand something, something new, something that can be added to your theoretical knowledge. Also watch for those times when you discover a bir of knowledge thai can change or refine existing theories.This is the way our theoretical knowledge grows. And the greater that knowledge becomes, die better able we will be to understand our intuitive thoughts, and to handle those thoughts and make the most of them.

No Rules

From diis it follows that theory should never be used, or should I say abused, as if it were a set of rules to be slavishly followed. Never permit theory to become dogma. This can only lead to disaster. Our theoretical knowledge is far too incomplete to forge rules from it. However, theoretical knowledge can and should be used a.s an aid to furthering our understanding of intuitive insight, and for this our theories dont have to be complete or totally encompassing to be of value.

Some individuals wfio haven't sufiiciendy developed their latent intuition might come to the conclusion—and quite lighdy—dial dieir feelings can't be trusted, diat intuitive decisions too often prove wrong in performance. This of course undermines their trust in dieir own sense of tightness. Odiers may liave different reasons for lacking confidence in their intuition. No matter what the reason, deprived of this confidence, such people may he attracted to theory as a means to compensate. This is perfectly understandable, but regrettably it wont lead to consistently desirable results.

If you don't trust your intuition, you must learn to develop it, work with it, have faith in it! Heed your feelings, don't ignore them. Understand the importance of intuition and the subordinate importance of theory. If your intuition turns out to be wrong time after time, it only means that it is still underdeveloped—or that the talent simply isn't there. Remember, the size ol one's talent can't be eidarged; but keep working and, if diere is even a lirrle talent in you, the day will come when you find that you can trust your intuition more and more, and that your intuitive decisions more frequently turn uut to be right.

Theory is extremely important—but it can never be more than an aid, a tool for crystallizing and refining natural intuition; and as such it must always come second to that intuition. Your intuition!

wimorormkiiii

«a^h isdirection. So much is written about it, so much is said about it. Often, ■lw^en sPectacors talk with magicians, you hear, Til bet you misdirected me, ■AmWH 7°u-' For we readily confess to using misdirection—and it is true. It is one of die strongest and most interesting tools we have. Many, although unfortunately not all, magicians will admit this. However, do you use it as much as you sometimes "confess* to your spectators? Do you use it as much as you should? Are you really using it at all?

Outside—Inside

I suppose that there are several reasons readily cited to account at least in part for why misdirection is not used to the extent it should be. But even with those who do use it consistendy and are very aware of its power, I often sense that its entire benefit is not reaped, that we are not always deriving from diis tool the full strength and illusion it can provide. I think this occurs because misdirection is often applied as it is learned. As you discover certain things, characteristics of certain misdirectional ploys, those ploys are used wherever they seem suitable. Often, though, such applications arc not suitable at all. Let me explain.

The usual way to understand something new is to approach it from the outside. Often thats the only way. From the outside we examine the subject and probe more and more deeply into it; and at the same rime our understanding of it should grow. When examining misdirection, it doesn't take long to find out that there are all kinds of little systems, ploys, tricks oi die trade. For instance: Have something happen away from the secret—Ask a question—Ii you want the audience to look at an object, look at it yourself—Look them in the eye ifyou want them to lookatyou—Make diem laugh—Take advantage oi relaxation.

On examining successful misdirection one will find that these things, these tricks of the trade, work; and it is logical then to use them, or at least to try to use them to cover up weaknesses or perilous moments in your work.

Do you have to palm a card? Ask someone a question and, while they arc busy answering, bingo, you palm the card. Problem solved! Do you need to load a cup? Say something funny. They will laugh and you can safely load that lemon. Once again, problem solved! Isnt misdirection great?

This method of applying the tricks of misdirection—which your study has shown to he effective in the performances and writings of other magicians—may seem valid; and yes, properly applied, all these different techniques will definitely work. They will help to liide the weak spots, discrepancies, secrets, unnatural procedures____But is this the best approach?

Is it best to examine your routine, find the weak or dangerous spots, dien plaster over each of them with some form of misdirection?

Although this approach can do what you ask of it, distracting from the defects of your method, I doubt that such a padi will yield the finest results possible. Undoubtedly, misdirection can offer such services in abundance. I lowever, by applying it in this way, you use only a sliver of its potential. Aren't we merely patching up leaky holes in a less than perfect trick or routine? Of course, patching such holes will prevent the boat from sinking, which is always better than going down. But wouldn't it be better to build your boat without holes in the first place? Wont that give more artistically satisfying results right from the start?

In magic you have an effect, an ideaL Maintaining this ideal, originally pristine and beautiful, is difficult if, before even the first performance, you find holes that need patcliing with extraneous ploys. Such an approach originates from outside. Misdirection is used as an external measure, a tool divorced from the effect. Thus it cannot be an integral element of the procedure, woven naturally into the original design. I believe that, in such circumstances, you will have an extremely difficult time devising misdirection diat functions logically and naturally within the envisioned effect.

At one point Slydini speaks of magic as a piece of cloth. When creating a presentation you weave your cloth using misdirection as just one of the threads. It is then fully part of the whole, integrated. The misdirec tion is woven in during the initial designing. This is much different from weaving a doth, then discovering that there arc one or two holes in it, and sewing those holes closed widi an extra thread. I he result is a cloth without true beauty, for the mended parts will probably be a Iitrie rough and stiff. The cloth wont have the beautiful feel and texture it could have. Ir stands to reason that mending weak parts afterward can only result in a patched piece of work.

Studying misdirection only to find litde strategies that you might use will surely give you a means to strengthen your magic; this can't be denied. However, 1 believe there is another way, one that will unleash far more power for you, and one that offers far better chances of achieving something of real beauty.

This other way, an inside approach,, is not easier or faster than the usual outside approach, and therefore might be considered less practical by some. In the beginning this inside approach will take more time and effort; indeed, at first it may seem hopelessly difficult— but once you get used to it and have gone through the proccss several times, it becomes easier. It will never be as easy as the usual method of patching up your work with misdirection, but then again, die results will please you more. I am certain that with an inside approach you can achieve misdirection that is woven naturally into your routines, an integral part of them, inseparable and far more artistically sound; and falling short of true artistry, at die least they will be more subtle, more devious and more effective. In addition, you will find them incrcdibly easy to execute and with greater protection against failure.

Sound promising? Perhaps, then, we should have a look at diis inside approach. I low-ever, I must ask for your patience. Before we can see how an inside approach can work, we must first gain a clear understanding of the different factors that affect misdirection.

We must first study the often used systems, the standard tricks of misdirection. I will not attempt to make a complete analysis of all the ploys available. Other people have already done that in an admirable way. Fitzkccs book, Magic by Misdirection, although written in die 1940s, is still a monumental work on this subject. Henning Nelms, in his Magic and Showmanship, has some very important things to say as well. I can only advise you to study diese texts along with other books on the topic, the performances of other magicians, your own experiences and, most important, your own observations.

What I will discuss here are various ideas of mine, some of which I believe differ to some degree from those already published, and some of which I have never read anywhere else. I will also make some general observations that offer no fresh concepts in themselves, but are necessary to understand ensuing ideas that are new. But I repeat, I make no attempt at completeness.

Lets first approach tliis great invisible beast from the outside. Lets dissect ir, tear it apart, analyze it, consider it and try to understand it. Then, when we understand the parts sufficiently, well unite them again, enabled by our understanding rn play with their union, since it has become a part of ourselves. We can start, armed with a thorough understanding of the elements involved and with an approach from die inside, to create the most elegant, artistic and effective misdirection imaginable. At least it is the most beautiful formulation of misdirection that I can conceive.

Misdirection

Okay, lets begin at the beginning:

mls-direction—Its truly unfortunate that in magic we liave many terms and expressions that don't accurately reflect what dicy are intended to. This is a pity bccause the use of correct terminology helps to keep ones thinking straight, and greatly simplifies matters when magicians communicate with each other. One ul our more serious misnomers is the word misdirection.

/V/wdirertion implies "wrong" direction. It suggests that attention is directed away from something. By constandy using this term, it eventually becomes so ingrained in our minds that wc might start to perceive misdirection as directing attention away from rather than toward something. Ncwcomcrs to magic will almost certainly think along such incorrect lines, because wc have chosen a word that promotes this misconception.

Let me try to explain with an example why misdirection should never be a diverting of attention from something. Suppose I say, "I want to get out of the city for the weekend."

Here I have not said where I will go, only that it will not be in the city. The city, where I won't be, gets all the attention in my sentence, and the place I will go gets none.

If I said instead that I wished to go to a specific village for the weekend, I wouldn't be speaking of the city at all, but only of the village I intend to visit. When I go to this village, I naturally wont be in the city, but no attention is focused on the city. Attention is properly placed on the village to which I will travel. The sentence becomes a positive one, carrying a positive meaning directed at the village.

I £t s now translate this into magical terms. Let s assume you wish to do a trick in which you palm a card from the deck using your right hand. While you are palming the card, you want to direct the audience's attention from the right hand. All your efforts are concentrated on getting attention off the right hand—off the right hand—off the right hand And in your mind, all you are thinking about is your right hand}. Its hard for you to forget that hand; and your audience may sense your concern and concentration on your hand. They may actually become intent, just like you are, on your right hand—and then they will sec you palm the card!

However, now imagine that you use your left hand to move a glass to your left on the table while you palm the card. Now, don't try to direct attention away from the right hand; instead direct all attention to your left hand as it moves the glass. Don't worry if someone is watching your right hand. Forger it. Don't be concerned about it. Concentrate instead on the glass, on how you grasp it, where you move it, ctc. Now your mind is entirely focused on the glass, and you will actually be able to forget that the right hand is palming a card. This is a much more positive approach than the previous one, and it results in there being no attention on your right hand. Your attention and the attention of die audience w ill be on the glass.

It is said, and I believe it to be true, that the subconscious mind is capable only of taking in the positive meaning of things. This is due to its ability to think in concrete pictures rather than abstract words.

Words have 110 power in your mind. Imagining something with words alone is hard, perhaps impossible. For instance, imagine that you wish to ask your employer for a raise. Mentally, though, you envision his telling you no and dismissing you from his office. As you picture this scene you can say to yourself, "I don't want that to happen," but your mind pushes this denial aside and continues to see your failure. This mental picture can shape future reality, resulting in your actually being denied the raise! This occurs because the scene of failure you have imagined causes you to beliave a bit nervously, perhaps, or unsure of yourself—litde uncontrollable diings; which convey to your employer an impression that you aren't sure yourself if you deserve a raise. This, naturally, makes it easy for him to dismiss the idea.

Essentially the same thing occurs when you are concentrating on your right hand and the card it must palm. The picture is there, containing your fear of rhe palmed card being seen, and consequently uncontrollable signs produced by your fear betray you, causing the palmed card to be detected.

Returning to our example of die raise, imagine dial you were now to concentrate on a positive scenario: You see your employer agreeing with you that you deserve a raise, after which he grants it. This mental picture helps to produce behavior in you that broadcasts different signals. Behind your actual conversation there now lies an impression that your employer will give you die raise; and he will sense this confidence through subtle details. Consequently, he will find it more difficult to deny the raise, since your attitude has made it easier lor him 10 perceive your request as a reasonable one. The chances of your getting the raise are much greater. This is nothing more than the power of positive thinking. People are generally pushed in the direction that takes the least effort on their parts.

In magic this translates into adhering only to positive ideas. Negative approaches, like that of directing attention away from your hand as it palms a card, only create negative pictures that fulfill themselves, drawing attention to the hand. It is much better to use a positive picture, like that of your other hand moving the glass. Such pictures are also self-fulfilling. The idea is quite simple: Misdirection must be attention directed toward something, not away from something, and positive images are the way to achieve this. Directing attention from is a hopeless and virtually impossible approach. The moment you start trying to wwdirect, the battle is lost!

It would be far better for us if misdirection had not become an accepted term in magic, and direction had been adopted instead. Alas, misdirection long ago became so common a term, I don't think well ever be ahle to replace it by direction. Well, youre right. That is very negative thinking on my part. Okay, YES, we will be able to rcplacc the word misciircc-tion with the more precise word direction.

Something of Interest

The above makes clear that for our secret moves to avoid unwanted attention we must direct attention toward something else. From this it follows that we must have something else available at those times, something of interest. The more interesting this certain something is, the easier it will be to focus attention on it. The next time you wish to hide something, don't think of hiding it, but rather think of what you can offer of interest in its place. Preferably this should be something thoroughly intriguing.

I 'he concept of offering something of greater interest is, although simple, an important and essential step in hiding your secrets. I believe it is ignorancc of this conccpt that has caused many magicians to fail in what they thought was misdirection. Presenting something of greater interest that attracts attention, rather than trying to direct attention away from your secret, is a much more dependable way to protect that secret. This is a key concept, and if it hasn't already bccomc an automatic part of your thinking, malting it one could well be the single most productive step you can take toward a more successful use of attention control. Many know this concept; some even apply it. However, it is so easy to forget, because it is so simple. It is like the gasoline in your car: Without it you will not get far. You must have something of interest to offer.

While the importance of this concept cannot be emphasized enough, it Is nevertheless only the first step in hiding your secrets. There is another well-known but often ignored principle, a major principle diat has many other benefits: "continuous direction0.

Continuous Direction

In legitimate theater, techniques for directing attention are constandy used. Not, of course, to hide a multitude of little secrets; no, these techniques are used to present die story in a clear and uncluttered manner. No matter what you perform, diere will always be coundess little things that are there out of necessity, though they bear no importance to the plot or idea presented. Many things must happen to get the story across effectively, but it isn't important for the audience to perceive those things, because they simply aren't significant to the plot. For an audience to follow the story, you don't want to bother them with details of stagecraft; you want only to impress on them those elements that matter—nothing more, nothing less.

When we perform as magicians, our job consists of more than simply hiding the secret. I hat is just a small part of our objective. Much more important is that we highlight the important details, those things that arc nccessary if the audience is to understand and follow the action and its intended meaning. You should be giving your spectators an uncluttered impression of the effect. We want to cnhancc the most interesting and important points, to paint one clear picmrc in the spectators' minds. Only then can they appreciate what we are trying to convcv to them. Simply stated, we must present our work in a clear and efficient wav if it is to he effective.

To do this, it is necessary for us to point out only the important details, to display them, to throw a strong light on them. It is then only logical dial we should direct the audiences attention continuously, from one important point to die next. If this isn't done, attention may stray to something unimportant, which may complicate or confuse the information the audience receives. Therefore, from the first moment of our work to the last, the instant an important point has been digested by die spectators, the next important point should be presented to them, all without the intrusion of clutter and unimportant detail.

Continuous direction is essential if we are to create sound theater; we can't do without it. Since magic is theater as well, it needs continuous direction as much as any other theatrical form. With continuous direction we control the attention of the audience, focusing it where we want it by presenting a series of important and relevant ideas and occurrences.

Believing in Your Own Magic

Often I've read advice in our books that one should forget the sleight or gimmick. The best way to use a thumb rip? "Just forget that it is on your thumbs Afraid of palming a card? <vl<orget that you have it palmed!"

Now, this advice certainly seems valid. It might be very beneficial if you could forget you are doing a sleight or forget that thumb tip on your thumb. But this advice doesn't oiler much real help, does it? It instructs thar you consciously forget! How on earth docs one do that, forget 011 purpose? Just one attempt will be enough to convince you that such a thing is impossible!

However, this laudable but impossible idea of lorgetting provides an excellent case for the practice of structuring your performances as a string of highlights. Focus attention on somediingodier than the secret and the audience will pay no attention to the secret—but just as importantly, it corrcctly directs your attention as well!

One cannot purposefully forget, but you can substitute one thought for another. If you dont want to think of something, think of something else! The trick is not to forget the thumb tip; the trick is to think of something else while you wear the thumb tip. And if diere is a strong point of interest, you can place your interest there as well.

It can and should be so strong a point that it will make you tliink of the important and relevant features of presentation, die higlilights only, and this makes it impossible for distracting thoughts concerning method to enter your mind. Your conscious mind is completely occupied with the important aspccts of the effect. No place is left in it for you to diink about the secret; and the secret is pushed into the shade of your subconscious mind. When you do this, you can dcccive yourself!

Of course, it takes practice. You might not succeed the first time you try (at home); but if you really concentrate, if you force yourself while practicing to think only about the highlights of die presentation, soon thoughts conccrning method will slip into the safe darkness of your subconscious. You simply won t have time to think about sleights and gimmicks, as your thoughts will be too engaged for such things.

To learn to believe your own magic, apart from good direction you will need a solid "silent script". The silent script, a basic acting tool, is well described by Henning Nelms in Magic and Shmvmamhip. A silent script correcdy grounds your acting. While it is formally an acting tool, it also helps you to avoid undesirable thoughts concerning method.

This idea of replacing certain thoughts with others may sound a bit mystical at first, but it is practical and not particularly difficult. However, it isn't automatic. It must be practiced. Odiei wise, when you execute some sccrct action, before you know it, a thought about this action will appear in your mind. But if you practice, while seriously concentrating, to supplant such thoughts with presentational ones, eventually the divorcing of secret actions from thoughts about them will beoome easier and easier. And eventually this dctachment from method will work for you during actual performances as well. You must, though, stick to your silent script during practice. If you attempt to use a silent script only during your shows you will have trouble. Only thorough practicc with the silent script will produce the desired results. From this you will see that there must be not only continuous direction, but continuous thinkings well!

Lack of Confidence in the Power of Direction

The four concepts just discussed are basic and widely recognized. Their simplicity may seem to suggest that they can be taken for granted, but they are vital, and you should always keep them foremost in your mind if you wish to dircct attention effectively. 1 offer the next idea with the hope that you will find it helpful in becoming comfortable with what must seem at times to be an intimidating tool.

One of the greatest difficulties with the use of misdirection—sorry, direction—to cover elements of method, is that it is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve if you lack confidence in its power; for without adequate assurance you wont be sufficiendy relaxed ro pull it off. For many this may be die main stumbling block. Suppose you try performing a trick that requires the camouflaging power of direction. The first time you perform a trick for an audicncc it is perfectly natural that you should be a litde nervous—and this lack of confidence might give you away at rhe crucial moment, resulting in the failure of your direction of attention. This failure will of course injure your confidence in the power of direction to cover the method. So rhe next time you try this trick, your level of confidence probably will be even lower, and so on in an ever accelerating descent. Eventually, you might come to concludc that all these ideas of attention management are not your cup of tea, upon which you abandon the idea of ever using it again. Tt is important diat you don't find yourself caught in this downward spiral, because if you do, ir may mean that your chance of becoming a good magician will be forever cut off.

Good magic without proper attention management is an impossibility.

Confidence is one of our most important assets, and we must alwrays try to avoid anything that can hurt this confidence. It is important, then, that we gain confidence in the power of direction. To believe in it on a theoretical basis may not be dilficult, but diere is a world of difference between theoretical belief and putting that belief into practice. Belief during performance can only be gained through experiencing the power of direction in front of an audience.

Since failure and the fear of failure are elements that can seriously undercut our belief in die power of direction, you must try to find a way to experience this power without there being a chance of failure.

The first trick in this book, "Magic Ranch" (p. 45), provides such a way. In it you produce an egg on the table while you arc several feet away from ir.' I he method is pure attention management, but there is no danger of jeopardizing your reputation if the strategy (ails. Should you see that someone in the audience has noticed you place the egg on the table, you simply forget the production, act as if everything is going as planned and continue with the surrounding larger effect: the revelation of a chosen card inside the egg. However, when you learn how to direct attention reliably away from the egg, you can use its appearance on the table to yield an extra bit of surprising magic.

Because rhis effect can't go wrong, you will be less nervous about trying it, and because you are reasonably at ease, the diances of it working are much better. When you experience the power of direction several times, you will be amazed. It is exhilarating, and later, knowing rhe power of rhe tool, you will gain die confidence necessary to do more daring things with it. Then you will have at your disposal the greatest tool in magic! So find a few effects that use attention control without hazard. Doing so will make you feel much more at case, and your chances for success will be higher in your first attempts—much higher than they would be if your reputation were at stake.

Having looked at the basic concepts of attention management, lets now examine in a bit more detail some ploys available to us. There are two basic types of attention management: One is the manipulation of mental attention and usually deals direcdy with a spectators thoughts; the second is used to control the direction of a spectator s gaze. Lets first examine some aspects of the visual type.

In considering visual direction, we can differentiate between two general situations, each the antithesis of rhe other: the broadening of attention (relaxation) and its concentration (tension).

Each of these has its own characteristics, and you should be familiar with both, so that you can choose the best one to suit the particular situation at hand.

Broadening Attention

You will often find that in your effect diere are moments that result in a short period of relaxation as a natural result of the current action. When the audience relaxes, their attention broadens, spreading out over a wider and less carefully observed field. Such moments of relaxation seem perfect for the hiding of secrets. Indeed, this strategy is frequently used and it certainly can be effective. Some performers seern to use this rnediod exclusively.

An example: The magician is performing a cups and balls routine, and during it he produces something from one of the cups. The spectators arc surprised and amazed; after which they relax and—whoosh!—the magician grasps his chance to make another load.

This technique certainly works, but there are problems connected to the use of relaxation. First, one can't really make the audience relax on command. I cant tell them (direcdy or indirectly), ' Now relax, damn it!" Although you will often find that relaxation occurs at a specific moment of your routine, particularly after something amazing has happened, taking extra precautions to assure that relaxation will indeed result is wise.

One of the best ways to achieve relaxation with certainty, I've found, is to create it through rhe release of tension, lb create relaxation, you must first build tension in your audience. Then when the tension is discharged, relaxation results. The higher the tension, the greater the relaxation that results. It is important to understand this, because it shows how relaxation can be intensified. If you want greater relaxation at a certain point, just intensify rhe preceding tension. In this way you can exercise some control over the degree of relaxation created.

It is important when using this technique that as tension is released the moment of release should be crisp and distinct. Relaxation that begins fuzzily wont be as effective. You must give a clear signal to your spectators that lets them know when they are to relax. Usually you signal this moment by obviously relaxing yourself.

Another way to induce relaxation is by giving the audience a strong experience. The production of an unexpected large load, for instance, can be quite shocking, and as a result the audience will feel a need to relax. The stronger the experience the deeper the momentary relaxation. This suggests another possible way to increase the degree of relaxation.

Obviously, both methods of intensifying relaxation can work together quite naturally. At their roots they might even be considered the same conccpt.

No Control

Relaxation, as valuable a tool as it is, does have one serious drawback. When spectators relax, they are basically out of your control. You have no idea where their eyes may go. During moments of relaxation, they may look at one another, at the ceiling, at the floor, to the left or the right. Suppose you intend to execute some secret action during this period of relaxation. Since you have no control over where the spectators will be looking at that moment, through coincidence it could very well be diat one or more spectators will look direcdy at your hands just as you make your move!

Granted, because attention is not intense or focused, you might get away with the move while someone is staring at your hands. It might not be noticed, but you can't be sure.

Waiting

It follows that by using relaxation to cover a secret action, you must be very aware of where each member of your audience is gazing. If someone happens to look at you when you are about to execute the move, you must wait! You must wait until the persons gaze moves on.

When using relaxation as cover, you must carefully observe if the period of inattention is indeed permitting your move to be done unnoticed. You have to choose the exact moment, wait and grasp it when it arrives.

I laving understood this, it must be possible, then, for you to delay the move. But sometimes that is difficult, perhaps even impossible. Ifyou must do a move that can't be delayed, or would become unnatural at a later moment, the use of relaxation is generally not a desirable strategy for concealment. Consequendy you may need to change the method, so that the secret action falls at another time or is replaced with an action diat will withstand delay when necessary.

In addition, within the context of a stage performance, in which it is impossible for you to check everyone's gaze and judge the right moment, relaxation is generally not a reliable technique to use by itself On stage, relaxation is better used in combination with another direction technique, to reinforce it.

Although it seems simple enough in concept, waiting is a very hard thing to learn. At least it was for me. It takes a certain amount of couragc and confidence; confidence that, even when the right moment has nor yet arrived, eventually it will come.

Another thing that can make waiting difficult relates to the way you practice and rehearse. When you practice at home, things are done in a certain tempo and rhythm; and when it comes time to perform before an audience, you should have practiced the trick so often, the tempo and rhythm of the moves will be almost automatic. However, now instead of the mirror watching you, you have live human beings. The timing that was perfect for I he mirror may need adjustment for an audience. Vnu are now faced with something rorally new: adapting your well-rehearsed riming and rhythm.

Since being a bit nervous the first few times you do an effect for audiences is normal, you may find that you have no chance to concern yourself with precise timing; so you use the timing you practiced at home—timing that might very well be totally wrong for this specific show and audience. Forcing voursell to wait lor the appropriate moment will be difficult in such circumstances. The alternative to waiting, though, is the possibility of get-ring caught and, further, of having your confidence in direction techniques shattered—well, dented at least.

My advice is that, if you use relaxation for cover, be very aware that in an actual show you may have to adjust die exact moment a move is done. Being aware of this while you practice will help later. When you practice, imagine diat a spec tator is watching your hands, and wait until this imaginary spectator looks away. In other words, practice rhe technique of waiting as well as the moves and presentation. Then, when show-time comes, such delays aren't something new for you. You will have included the practicc of watching your audience and waiting for the corrcct moment in your rehearsals.

Now, you may think, this sounds fine in theory; but what if a spectator doesn't look away? What do 1 do then? When I'm depending 011 relaxation to cover a move and I see that a person is watching my hands, I keep them still. There is nothing duller than watching nothing happening. You will find that the spectator, being relaxed and not knowing that you arc about to make a sccrct move, will soon look away. After all, there's nothing interesting to see.

There is more, though, to handling a spectator whose eves coincide! 1 tally settle on die critical area during a period ol relaxation. Here, I must assume that you have noL aroused suspicion in rhe spectator, for rhen it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to make the person look rhe other way. A suspicious spectator will usually not relax, but will insist on keeping a watchful eye on you.

Even if you haven't aroused suspicion before the actual moment of the secret action, its srill possible to arouse it during die relaxation period. One thing you should not do is steadily watch the spectator who is watching your hands to see when he looks away. It is far better to look elsewhere, and observe this person from the corner of your eye. As a result, the spectator notices that you aren't interested in him, that his behavior doesn't matter to you—and if it doesn't seem to matter that he is watching your hands, he concludes that there will be nothing to see and his attention moves on. Of course the spectator probably doesn't reason this thoroughly, but if you were to watch him like a hawk, he might very well conclude that his attention on your hands concerns you, upon which suspicion will rear its nasty head. We will look deeper into die matter of difficult spectators in the other two articles that occupy this chapter.

Keep It Subtle, Keep It Short

Try to keep the intensity of relaxation as subdued as possible while it still does the job you require of it. In other words, don't build tension unduly before you let the audience relax. If the degree of relaxation is enormous, people may suspect that you purposely created an opportunity to do something secretive. You want to keep the level of relaxation subdued to prevent spectators from recognizing that they did relax their attention, and that you might have exploited this.

For the same reason, try to keep the period of relaxation brief. To accomplish this, you must have a definite plan for recapturing attention: a remark, a gesture, an action. Whatever method you decide on, it must regain attention in a positive way. This is the price you must pay for relinquishing control.

Relaxation created by laughter at a joke has a special problem: You have less control over the degree and timing of the relaxed period. Lets say that your spectators are roaring with laughter; maybe they're even holding their sides and crawling under the tables—all at a joke that normally brings only mild chuckles. In such a case, you must be prepared with a good, reliable way to regain control; or be ready to accept the fact that the cabbage you just loaded under your hat won't make much of an impression when you produce it later.

Nothing Happened

Allow me to mention one more little technique, which is applicable in virtually any situation where the audience has looked away from a certain spot. The technique is useful widi either the principle of relaxation or that of concentration of attention, but it is especially valuable when attention is relaxed

You have been succcssful in relaxing your spectators and they are not watching your hands while you execute your secret move. Now if possible, bring your hands and whatever props they might hold back to the original positions occupied before the move occurred. Once the hands are in position, keep them there. Shift your attention to a spectator, talk to him, catch his eye, then look down at your hands. In other words, after the work is done, as quicldy as you can, try to focus attention back on your hands. The spectators will see that, seemingly, nothing has changed and they will conclude that nothing has happened. If the hands or the props on the table have changed position, the audience might subconsciously realize the hands have made unobserved motions. The spectators might not conclude from this that some secret action has taken place, but subconsciously they will know that information has been missed.

LInderstand, the spectators don't perceive any of this consciously, but subconsciously these things do matter. Your goal is to make everyone believe that they didn't miss a thing, yet miracles happened.

Summary on the Use ofRelaxatio?i

' I o use relaxation of attention properly we need:

1) Either a way to build tension just before, or some strong experience for the audience—or a combination of these elements to create relaxation.

2) Further we must choose the precise moment for the secret action to go unobserved, which requires that we be able to delay the action when necessary.

3.) We should also try to keep die period of relaxation as short and subdued as possible.

4) We must have a way tu regain attention in a certain and dearly defined manner.

5) Whenever possible, we should return attention to the same apparent situation observed before attention was relaxed.

As you see, there are quite a few factors that bear on the effectiveness of the relaxation principle. Used incorrectly, the audience might very easily perceive that you have been exploiting the rime they were not paying strict attention. Careful use of the technique is necessary, due to its many pitfalls. Use of relaxation-periods is a valuable technique, but it can be easily detected if not properly employed.

Concentrating Attention

Now lets examine rhe other major principle of attention direction. Instead of relaxing attention, one can do just rhe opposite: concentrate it. Ibis principle seems far less frequently used by most magicians, yet it is a very versatile and extremely strong tool. While attention is basically uncontrolled during periods of relaxation, it is under your complete guidance when you concentrate it. Total control is the main advantage of this technique, and as important and versatile as it is in close-up situations, it is even more so in stage performing.

When concentrating the audiences attention, all eyes are all drawn to one point while die surrounding area is excluded from die frame of focus. The tighter the point of interest, the safer the surrounding area will be for your clandestine use.

A good example of such concentration of attention occurs in the previously mentioned trick, 'Magic Ranch". In this effect, the performer purposely gets everyone interested in seeing the face of a card just selected. Their concentrated attention on the deck in your hands keeps them from noticing an egg you have secretly placed in full view on the table.

Because of the way this type of attention direction operates, there are fewer things to take into account and to deal with than relaxation technique demands. There arc fewer critical factors, and the circumstances that foster it will crop up frequendy and naturally in your presentations. Consequently, you will find many suitable opportunities to use concentration technique to conceal secret actions.

As an added benefit, spectators feel that they are watching very closely, which they are— its just that they arc watching the wrong spot to discover the secret. 1 his is extremely desirable, for when spectators believe they are watching intently and you still fool them, your reputation as a magician is enhanced tremendously. However, this aspect also carries a caveat: The technique should not be betrayed to the spectators by having them concentrate on something that turns out to be of no value. The object of attention that you create must have pertinent interest to the action. Don't make the audience feel foolish by making them look at something that turns out to be obvious!)' trivial.

If the concentration of attention is not strong enough to cover a secret maneuver you can increase the degree of attention by giving it more importance, bur do so with moderation or you will find that in hiding your secret you are disappointing the audicncc by placing excessive importance on an incidental point. Such abuse of the principle can mar the overall impact of your presentation.

Although I feel concentration of attention is a powerful (and extremely under-used) tool, it does have a characteristic that may frighten you away from its use. In most cases, when using concentration, wailing for the right time to make your move will not be possible. It would most often be totally unnatural to do so. This is because, in stressing a certain point, once the point is seen and understood by the spectators they will expect you to continue on to the next point of your presentation. The length of time their attention is concentratcd cannot be extended. The concentration must last just long enough for the audience to absorb the information you've given. In addition, since you too arc concentratcd on the point of interest, you have no opportunity to scan the audience to verify where everyone's attention lies.

This means that you have to execute your move or sleight at the very moment attention is concentrated, taking for granted that your audience wont be watching your hands as they do the necessary.

When you First present a new trick, you will be tempted to exaggerate the degree oi concentration; but with a bit of experience you will feel more at ease and can decrease the intensity of concentration to a subtler, more suitable level.

In deciding the intensity of concentration, its wise to see how large the area of focus will be. Suppose rh is area is about eight inches in diameter. That is only a moderately restricted field, and your move should be done well outside this eight inches of concentrated attention. However, what if the eyes are drawn to a point encompassing less than half an inch? Then the sleight can safety be done quite close to the area of interest.

Whenever you focus attention on a very small point of interest, the intensity of concentration (that is, the importance placed on this tiny point of interest) can usually be rather light. But whenever the area of interest is broader, and the secret maneuver must be executed relatively close to the area, you must significantly increase the degr ee of concentration.

The same rules apply to the use of concentration of attention as to its opposite, relaxation: Short and subdc arc qualities to be striven for. Keep the degree of concentration as subdued as possible while directing attention reliably. Use just enough to cover the secret maneuver. Try to use so litde that, if you used any less your secret would be exposed. Walk on the edge! Living dangerously in this sense is more inn! And such moderation assures that your audiences dont feel their attention has been diverted. Just as with relaxation, when concentration of attention is appl ied subdy, your spectators will believe they've paid attention to the various points of your presentation of their own accord. Your job is to guide them widiout letting them realize they've been guided.

All this leads us 10 a fascinating aspect of visual direction: 1 HE WEAKER IT IS, THE

STRONGER IT IS!

TkE IfcNSION-RFJ AXATTON WAVE

Wc have so far been looking at the elements of relaxation and tension as separate entities. However, by their very nature they alternate with each other constantly, and this alternation creates a wave of attention.

The amount of attention an audience can give is a limited commodity. Whatever you do, after rhe expenditure of attention, the audience will want to relax. After every wave of tension comes a lull of relaxation. That is natural. One can't give constant attention. There have to be respites of relaxation between stretches of concentration, and from this alternation we get our wave.

Imagine that you have an enormous washtub full of water. You slap your hand on the water, making a small wave. You slap your hand again oil the water, and again. If you continue to slap the water, in exacdy the right rhythm, the waves in the washtub will grow higher and higher, until the).' splash over rhe sides of the tub. 1 he energy of each slap need not be great, but given the proper rhythm, light slaps create a very strong wave.

The same can be said of an audience. Create a wave of alternating tension and relaxation, giving a new surge of tension at the right moments, and eventually the wave will grow very strong. Not a lot is needed to maintain this wave as long as you keep the correct rhydun.

Conveniently, if you can create the wave and ride it, the rhythm becomes almost automatic; and being partially automatic, less energy is needed to maintain it at those moments when you need to use it for cover. In addition, it requires less energy to regain attention at the end of a relaxation period. Such a wave makes the use of both the principle of relaxation and that of concentration easier, since less obvious expedients are needed to create them. Thus everything is done more subtly. It also requires less effort to modulate the level of relaxation to a subtle and effective minimum.

An important prerequisite for creating such a wave—actually, an essential for any direction technique you wish to employ—is the interest an audience invests in you. When the audience finds you interesting, they hang on your every word, they watch for every movement you make. Because they are interested in what you do, they follow you and every pulse of tension and relaxation you create for them. Their attention is captured by what you do. When such a situation is attained, creating a wave of tension and relaxation is easy. However, your guidance of the audiences attention must be good. So much happens when ones control of attention is properly executed: The spectators pay close attention to every word and gesture you wish them (o, and therefore follow what you are doing; and when your work is easily followed, it becomes easier to appreciate the magical cffccts you bring forth. This in turn makes it easier to like and appreciate your work, leaving the audience with a pleasant experience. Given all this, people may even start to likeyou\ In a way, cause and cffcct amplify cach other here, forming an ever-increasing wave of their own: Your ability to control attention makes it easy for the audience to begin to like you., and when they like you it is easier to control their attention, which causes them to like you more, which...

Once the wave is set in morion, the alternation of concentration and relaxation feels totally namral to an audicncc and bccomes much easier to perpetuate. Not only does this make concentration and relaxation easier to use for your secret purposes, it also makes the audience feel much happier and more comfortable. It is similar to breathing in and out. (Breathing, by the way, is another tool for creating tension and relaxation: Breathe in for tension, breathe out for relaxation. Til have more to say on this subject in an upcoming article on "Breath Control", p. 173.)

A good tension-relaxation wave creates a feeling of being alive, of cxcitcmcnt, of riding an emotional expericncc together as a group; the audience and performer become one, breathing in with tension, breathing out with relaxation, in a total harmony of mutual experience. The rhythm of the wave beats likes an orchestra conductors baton, carrying the entire group along for an exhilarating emotional journey. Audiences love this feeling of oneness, as do 1, and I presume you do too.

Once you establish a wave, rake care not to destroy it by delivering a shot of tension at the wrong moment. One ill-timed burst of tension can easily break the wave into ineffectual little ripples. Hit that growing wave of water in our wash tub at the wrong time and see what happens.

When the wave is allowed to roll, though, it can grow so strong and exciting diat it becomes a major experience for both audience and performer. Unfortunately, I frequently ruin the rhythm, missing its heights. So often, keeping proper time with the rhythm of the audience is difficult, and all I create is a rather small wave. But on those occasions when the wave docs grow large...!

Mental Direction

No matter what we do, our actions always paint a certain picture in the minds of our audiences. This is influenced by what wc say, what we do, how we look and so on. Everything perceived by the audience influences this picture.

The ideas we plant in die minds oi our spectators are very important to all aspects of what we want to achieve, not the least of which is the hiding of our methods. There are several things we can use ro influence the thinking and perceptions of our audiences. Although I'm sure I don't have a complete overview of all the techniques available, lets look at a few of rhem.

TIme and Place Dissociation

Disconnecting cause and effect, either in time or place or both at once, can be an incredibly strong tool. If you carefully analyze Cardini's classic act you will see how well he uses diis idea. Imagine that you have stolen souiediing from the lef t side of your jacket and wish to produce it. Using the concept of place dissociation, you would bring the item into view as that the ball doesn't leave your hand. You then suddenly make the sponge ball multiply into two balls. Under these circumstances, the audience might well feel cheatcd and realize that they had no chance to see something go into your hand because they were watching for the wrong thing. In such a case, die ruse is too blatant. For this technique to be effective it should be subde, and the change in intention should seem logical, not contrived.

Grasping at a S traw

This unusual technique (actually a combination of mental and visual techniques) requires subtlety to be effective; but when used correctly, it is infallible and extremely strong. It is especially effective when someone is obstinately fighting any direction; the type of person who glues his eyes on your hands, locks out all your signals and stubbornly concentrates. Such individuals invest a lot of energy in maintaining attention on your hands. While

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