Chapter Seventeen Immediacy

Planned Spontaneity

"Spontaneity is not a kind of easy, spur-of-the-moment facility that an actor has, but rather is a stale of possibility engendered by comprehensive preparation.

Brian Bates. The Way of the Actor

The essence of successful close-up magic and indeed of all live entertainment is the feeling that you are experiencing something now that you would not experience if you had come to the performance yesterday or if you came tomorrow—that you are experiencing something that has never happened before and will never happen again, at least not in exactly this way, and something that you arc lucky to be a part of. This is a very difficult quality to pinpoint, but there is no doubt that all the greatest live entertumors succeed in imparting this feeling to their audiences.

I once read a revealing profile of Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton in Atlantic City magazine. The writer pointed out that every 'ime he had seen his show. Newton said to the audience part way through the performance that the show was running overtime. "But you're such a great audience that I'll do one more number." lie would then do two or three more numbers. Then he would glance at hi« watch and make some comment about how the showroom manager must be having a fit because the show was going overtime Then h. would do one or two more songs Again he would look nt hia w«tch and say in mock horror. "Ooooh boy You know we are *> far overtime that IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE'

By now, the audience would bo going wild, cheering for,i-man who was willing to defy the powers-that-be to „B extra measure of entertainment. Each of thein was no H i ths® a how lucky he was to be there on the one night thai Eu thlhki,» decided to go all out. at Wayue NeC^8

The writer of this piecc went on to state, "And yet eact, shows I saw started and ended at the exact same tia tWshl! Furthermore, the "adlib" comments about running ,Ae <S»'

exactly the same point in each show. Newton's show art n Carae « clockwork and every audience got exactly the same m-rfc V ^ every audience left feeling they had gotten something™*- B« audience got. The fact that Wayne Newton is one of successful entertainers in the history of Las V..., J J. ■ ">»« that he's onto something here. jUat

Since each of your audiences will, in fact be eettin- „ same show, how do you make them feel that 7h?= T""311? tfc something spec»,? A former student o mint-Whenever some minor mishap occurs such lac^iX ST card, be says, "That's just an example of planned*™^ PP'"f'' oiymoronic phrase is actually the key to mak™ SpDn'ane"r This special for the audience. There muscle m the performance. However, to «L Tta a, f™"'1' success, it must be nfaroxrf T ■ 6 Pcr<°rmance is , example makes clear,TZ jr r^rt,5 ^

engineered spontaneity! Carefully ca'ou]ated, precisely

Induced Response«

When he came out at te ^ W°fld's illusionists.

Bttai in the first row wHh a Lee n SP°tted 3

the young lady 0vs.WowedtU'[^f'"- P^formel "„-"i °ff-the^fbZ ' iS' binoculars, and engaged in ®at. Fnends who've seen her baci ^

in Nate Leipzig's act th on *£mt*S' ' 0P„A*"" hc hold his hand

"urn rri* mh l>and osal"""'"mbersof,the committee h t,S IT!0"" ™th ^ smile to eh P'tl0llS »™M then

e"' J he obviously unrehearsed, neons nature of the moment would have to prove irresistible to Sp°Tudience. The curious thing is that the same thing happened at iyperforniance.

xplanation was not a stooge, but rather audience cueing, It's a Unique often used by the best stage magicians when performing teC£"nce_participation routines. Cueing consists of the performer i,U etly whispering instructions to the assisting spectator. These ^struct)on a have nothing to do with the methodology of the effect. Rather, they're aimed at eliciting laughs from the audience. The performer instructs the spectator to do or say something that will t,e funny to the audience. The audience finds the action funny because they think it's a spontaneous act. They don't realize the spectator has been prompted to perform the action. Cueing has probably been around as long as stage magic has, but it's reached new levels of subtlety in recent years with the introduction of wireless microphones. Today, the performer can have a hidden switch that allows him to turn his mike on and off at will. Now he can speak in his normal voice and the entire audience can hear what he is saying. Yet a moment later he can secretly turn his mike off and quickly cue the spectator. He then turns the mike back on and the audience again hears his voice, completely unaware that a crucial comment has been edited out.

I don't rule out the possibility that some ingenious close-up worker may some day figure out a way of incorporating cueing into a close-up performance. Perhaps he might use the kind of secret written instructions that are sometimes employed in impromptu s ge effects. Nevertheless, I fear that audience cueing will always reman, basically the province of stage magicians.

There is, however, something the dose-up worker manufacture through cueing. I call W "eenn q The concept is somewhatcoaxes You create a set of circumstances that sub WDu V ^

other words, you manipulate the ape» ^ Most resiaurant without his realizing Vt" f ¡nluci„B coal„n,„s to tip magicians give a lot of thoughts. ' Ju their own idea. The same them while making them think « ™

concept can be used for less mercenary « ^ ^ ^ _ ^ Eddie Fechter had a great qurf.e ^ ^ ^ Thlfn he

For You." He would have a coij^m ^ ^ ^ (he would show an indifferent caro

When told that it wasn't, he would toss it on the table w,tk , comment. 'Then I've got a surprise for you." « the

He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a card. Naturallv A audience assumed that this was the selected card. Yet. when FCch/* turned it over, it proved to be the indifferent card he had JUsl on the table a moment earlier. Invariably, someone would grabT tabled card and turn it over, only to find himself staring at Z selected card. At that point Fechter would observe, "That's the surprise."

No doubt, the spectator who pounced on the tabled card thought that this action was his own idea. But, as Fechter's tag line brought home the spectator had actually been manipulated into performing the action by a set of circumstances that made the audience's desire to see the tabled card irresistible.

Of course. Fechter might have staged the effect in a different manner that called for he himself to turn over the card. In a theoretical sense, the effect would have been the same, but the impact on the audience would never have been the same without the emotional thrill of that seemingly spontaneous moment when the spectator lunged for the tabled card.

In Darwin Ortiz at the Card Table I have a very commercial effect called "The Lucky Deck." In it, I show a blank-faced deck and claim that the faces were worn away through use. I state that each card still has a faint impression on it of what the face used to be. At one point, I identify one of the blank cards as the joker. I say, "This shouldn't even be in the deck," as I casually slip the card in my breast pocket. In so doing, I leave the card jutting out of the pocket for about an inch. At the climax of the effect, I print faces on all the cards in the deck.

Almost invariably, after the applause has stopped, someone will say, "What about the one in your pocket?" When that happens, I casually remove the card from my pocket and hand it to a spectator, at which point everyone sees that the previously blank card is now a joker. This sequence plays all out of proportion to the magic involved simply because it happens spontaneously in response to a spectator's unexpected challenge. Of course, I not only expected the challenge. I induced it. I know that, with the card sticking so tantalizingly out of my pocket, someone is bound to take the bait and ask about it. If I hadnt wanted it to happen I would have pushed the card all the way into my pocket where ,t would have been out of sight and out of mind. There you have the essence of induced response: you set out the bait, then wait for the spectator to take it.

. „ther go°d example of the kind of thing I'm talking about can be ^ ,nd in Michael Ammars presentation for the "Hundred Dollar Bill ££ch." You'll have to check out Ammar's book for the details The essence of it ia. however, that he borrows a one-dollar bill, then induces a spectator to ask him to change it to a hundred. The -pectator thinks that the plot of the trick is his idea! Naturally the ¡Set becomes much stronger because it seems to be spontaneous in response to an unexpected request. As Michael Ammar says, "You have to act genuinely surprised at their clever remark." How do you go about developing situations like this? Most of the time they simply evolve in much the same way that I suspect most audience cueing situations evolve for stage magicians. I doubt that stage magicians spend much time trying to originate bits that can be created by cueing. I suspect that what usually happens is that, during an audience participation routine, a spectator does something that gets a big laugh from the audience. The magician says to himself. "That was great! It would be terrific if it happened every time." He then decides to make it happen every time by cueing the spectator. Your close-up magic can benefit from the same kind of thinking. The next time a humorous or powerful spontaneous moment develops in a performance because of something a spectator says or does, ask yourself, "Can I encourage this to happen more often—maybe even at every performance—by manipulating the spectator into a situation where he'll naturally react that way?" Sometimes, unfortunately, the answer will be no. But you'll be surprised how often, with a little thought, you'll find the answer is yes.

One final point, always be prepared with a contingency plan. You must know what you'll do to still bring the effect to a successful conclusion if the spectator doesn't take the bait. Usually, this is a simple matter. In the Fechter trick, if no one grabs the tabled card, you can always turn it over yourself with the comment. Thats the surprise."

A very effective example of this in ^t^^T^Z -ag-uve decides that this a^n£ncept can be appbed In close-up magic ^e ways beyond just encores

In his excellent book The Other Side of the Coin tJiat he bas a beautiful set of Indian Cups an<[ Ball^ i?V°n8 "enroll rare occasions because he is afraid they would , he "se, * constantly. From time to time he brines them to th ™aSed if,0"1» he works and does the trick. The important point ÂL"'^««?? of this discussion, is that Evans always makes v ^Poi whatever party he doss the trick for that they are cl=»r 7

special, something he doesn't do at every table Th—'^ st>™etlm, sort of thing that makes a performance memorable™ " Precis<% Hif In Magie From the Soul, René Lavand discusses h "" V**8»«. "Color-Changing Knives" routrnc in much the same wâv h® USCS >1« conveys the strength of this ploy when he speaL of Ï Perfo<% desire of any aud.ence" to en;oy "the *

Once again, Wayne Newton carries this concent to th , ■

special kind of group, a special kind of mood. So Sd^ »

then launch into an elaborate production numbe ,„v■ He Wi" extensive stage special effects that it couldn't p« Hv l > such spur of the moment. Possibly be done on the

A twist on this approach that I sometimes use i« t„ next effect I'm going to do is one I ^Twort that years, but that this will be the first time^ working on for several audience. Naturally the and;» perform it before »„

in on the unveiling " "U"St'0n wiU feeI Privileged ¡L £

they had seen me do on the Dick Cavett f miir,tii»«=d » trick recent TV appearance may be at that « ^ <°*whaf>rer my most must have been done by cïmera rlt Tu ™d ^ insisted 'hat it planned on doing it, SZ «?' ^i?*^ alth°U«h 1 ^ ''7°"™* photographyKtt» ^V** tonight to prove hat I don't actually wait fo ™me0ne 7 T ' d°n,t W ^ n Use this gambit and to make such a comment before

Ido is one (Ve performed on TV »not) * m,"ter whether the «

hospitality suites. I

M&uit lh,ng j ds y »^People oftCn ask me what is the most h ng I do, Its M Jjffi I Well iij ahow ym ^ ^

ta S: seed form ^ ^ I only attempt that I m g0U!g to ^ ^ a .But everything's been going so

" fiBd "ft together if it works."

(Hi the trick ie one of the easier ones 1 do, but it's amnzing Aet"Tto make the claim credible. Also, I perform the trick quite But because of the patter, whomever 1 perform it for feels 5ie"ve received a special privilege. Actually, I wasn't planning to 7 that last little secret with you, but you've been such great aders 1 just couldn't resist. (Wow, are we overtime! Better move on

Audience Interaction

The single most potent and generally moat accessible technique for riving youp performance a sense of spontaneity is to spontaneously Interact with the audience. You'll find that most of the biggest laughs you'll get in performance will come from comments you Hdlib. Realizing that your comment couldn't have been planned because it came in response to an unplanned occurrence, the audience will be that much more appreciative.

prepared Adlibs: The great secret is that adlibs can be planned to a great extent. If you perform with any regularity you'll quickly discover that you tend to get the same comments and responses from people, performance after performance. Often these comments and responses will tend to come at the same points in the performance. Some of these comments are so common that almost every magician is familiar with them. Every restaurant magician has had the experience countless times of introducing himself st a table only to hear "Can you make my check disappear?" Everyone who does card magic has heard, "I'd hate to play cards with you" Anyone who do., gambling routines has heard. «Why don't you and I go to has Vegas next week?" And we've all been subjected to, "Can you make my wife disappear?" ,

Other comments may be ones that only persona. Still others are elicited only ly

As I said, such comments tend to always y0„

the effect. Often they occur in response to . , always ask or instruction you always five a ^

particular effect. Sometimes its not wmetnmg " forraane„ after something he or she performance. Ut's label all these exp ^^ ^ ^ ^

The interesting thing shout these ^ ^ ^ ,fl ^ fir>t ons person involved always seems » mi — irlttating thing who ever said 01 did this to. yoa (la » ^ ^ ^ evMy0M who about the "make my wife disappear says it thinks he's the first one.) Even more important, the rest audience also thinks it's the first time it's happened to y0u. °f th* This means that if you've prepared a witty response or 1 comeback, the audience will interpret it as a great adlib Thevr they've witnessed something that is unique to the partfcjj went on performance they're seeing, which is just what we want. I recommend that you put together an adlib list. This is a list of cm liners that you have found effective in recurring situations. (Yes another example of planned spontaneity.) Most of these clever li»

will occur spontaneously in a performance. When you debrief yourself after the performance, write the line down. Add it to your adlib list or you'll forget it. Over time you'll accumulate quite a list of such lines. My own list contains almost a hundred lines.

In debriefing it's just as important for you to note a recurring situation that you feel you're not handling as well as you might. Give it some thought and try to come up with an adlibbed line or action to deal with it, because if it's happened, before, it 'll happen again. (If the recurring situation is one that you can't exploit—one that's creating a problem for you—you may just have to restructure the handling or presentation to prevent it from happening again.) Don't overlook the audience as a source of great adlibs. Many of the funniest lines in your performances will be ones uttered by audience members. Some of these are only funny when they come from the audience. However, many others would be just as funny if you had said them. When you hear one of these, add it to your adlib list so that next time you will.

The problem with the kinds of recurring situations we're talking about is that while they happen often, they don't happen every time. That's why it's vital that you review your adlib list from time to time. These lines have to be on the tip of your tongue at all times. Otherwise, youH miss a lot of great opportunities to make a performance special for the audience.

One reason magicians resist the kind of approach I'm recommending here is that they're fooled by great entertainers into thinking that a talented performer ought to be able to just go out and wing it, improvising a great performance. Let me tell you a couple of stories to introduce you to the reality of entertaining.

We've all seen Robin Williams while being interviewed on a TV talk show go out of control and do eight or ten minutes of crazy, improvisational comedy. Obviously, he's a wild man who never knows what he's going to do next. A reporter who was doing a piece on Williams once accompanied him to one of these TV appearances. In the green room before the show, Williams meticulously listed on what bits he planned to do and in what order. When he P d'd not deviate from thlS outline in nny wav

^ assocate who had studied his performance's a'ptct This por^n had seen Bruce perform night after night. He oCSi that out of every one-hour performance Bruce gave, about Z? ml„utes worth was improvised. The rest was prepared and never changed from night to night. u nevor

After each performance, Bruce would go over the five-minutes of improvised material On a good night, he might find that perhaps thirty-seconds out of he five minutes was strong enough to keep He would then add that thirty seconds to the next night's performance If it continued to get a good response, those thirty seconds would become part of the prepared show. If a legendary improvisational comic like Lenny Bruce, one of the greatest comedy talents of all time relied mainly on "prepared adlibs," shouldn't you also? Real Adlibs: With all this talk about planning, I don't want you to think I'm against real spontaneity. Some of the funniest lines you'll ever utter in performance will be totally unplanned. The trick'is to recognize the opportunities when they come along and know how to take advantage of them. The key to being able to do that is—you guessed it—preparation.

You need to be so totally in control of your performance that your antennae can be out and attuned to what's going on around you and your mind can be open to inspirations. If you're struggling to remember what you should say next, or trying to extemporize, or worrying about whether you'll screw up the next move, or trying to remember what the next move is, you'll never come up with a good adlib or creatively exploit a promising situation. The key lo spontaneous wit is an unburdened mind. Only when you're relaxed and in control throughout the performance will those wonderful, inspired gags pop into your head. You must have your patter memorized to the point where you could say it in your sleep. You must have your technique perfected to the point where every move is second nature. You must have rehearsed each effect to the point where every part of it is effortless.

We've all seen the opposite situation too many times. A mogicianjs so engrossed in what he's doing, so in danger of overwhjlmed by the trick he is ^¡^J ^

£££^n^sar¿crsumTehdeb^tdhe^ing match betweenhimself and his props.

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