Substantive Meaning

I'm sure you've had the experience countless times of having so who has just learned that you do magic say to you, "So you'r^ magician! Can you make my wife disappear?" And if' you're 3 restaurant magician, you've undoubtedly had the experience e° ° more times of having a patron say to you, "So, you're a magician! cln you make the cheek disappear?"

These gags get tiresome so quickly that it's easy to ignore the™ without realising that, beneath the corny humor, the layperson is telling you something very important. He is saying, "If you're really » magician, why don't you do something useful?" Why so many men seem to feel that making their wives disappear would be a useful lung is a question we'll have to leave to the daytime talk shows.

zwuZn want to mak£ tlleir wlve£ °n the that pe0ple tend to imme<hately react to the hSn»5 yOUr? 3 magidan ^ suggesting, in however w!th vow ma™~: at you should d° something of practical value

"¿XoweTrcr ?ccrtaMy what they d°*they had to S3» ZT' Us yOU s°me«ng very important about how significant =„j C st™n( ani memorable. Do things that seem eiertencL M,e?orilf11 tmms of alienee's real-world

"So, you're a magLLVr ^ ^ ^ a laW«eon to >™' Magic that ha T Put a cigarette through a quarter?"

■neaning." In thisTg„Tr E^f™nce I will term "magic with "ho, in his wonderful h u 'ollo»'ine the lead of Henning Nelms onderful book Magic and Showmanship, first coined

Mth the term and the concept. Let's look at some of the mosl B„ Sources of meaning you can invoke m your magical prestation.


This 11 a aource of mear"ns that 1 exPblt in a great, deal of my work I ndeed, anyone who does a lot of card magic will find ,t difficult u, „void coming to grips with thw issue. When laymen gee a disck of cards the first thing that pops into their minds is not ace assemblies anil oil-and-water routines. What they naturally think of first is card

»ames since' oi cour3e' t,hat'3 what card8 wore invented for-ii fact rijdt we magicians need to be reminded of from time to time. And the most important (i.e., meaningful) kinds of card games are the ones on which money is wagered. If you want to show an audience something meaningful with a deck of cards you can do no better than to show them how it's possible to win money in card games. Additionally, opportunities can arise to exploit gambling meaning in effects using props other than cards. 'The Three-Shell Game," the "Endless Chain," and coin guessing games are a few examples. Some creative thinking might produce other examples. I think this is a very undeT-explored area in magic.

Today, virtually everyone in our culture gambles in some way. For some, it's all-expenses—paid high roller junkets to Las Vegas; for others it's a couple of bucks on a lottery ticket. It may be penny-a-point gin rummy at the country club, Friday-night poker with the guvs or church bingo with the ladies, but very few people completely resist the lure of gambling. What's more, even those few souls who've never gambled are intrigued by the subject because gambling, and the large sums that can be won or lost at it, is so often played up in the media.

The public's fascination with gambling can be exploited two ways in magic, through gambling routines and through magical effects with a gambling theme. This distinction is one that many magicians fail to grasp but audiences understand instinctively. In a gambling routine you're offering a serious demonstration of how it's possible to win at gambling; the keynote here is a sense of authenticity. One good way to achieve it is to actually do "the real work." At the same time, there is nothing wrong with doing a pseudo-demonstration as long as i possesses a feeling of authenticity. In other words, it doesnt nave bn authentic, but it does have to seem authentic or the audience win Bense they are being conned and react adversely. What this means is that a gambling routine must have a ga«»| feel rather than a magic feel. You don't want to pull out a magic

Darwin Ortiz in order to change your four aces into a royal flush. q, cian8 do things almost that ridiculous m gambling routi ' wav to avoid this problem is to acquire some background £ on'gambling so your routines w,ll incorporate Proper^S procedure and gambling terminology. eambl^

\ magic effect with a gambling theme is another matt*r n Dingle's "Roll-Over Aces" is a good example. No layperson i8 'Jr* think that this is a demonstrate of exactly how cheats opcratT*10 game. Yet, the fact that the trick has a gambling connection tU,a the production of, first, the four aces, then four royal flushes, wtff? the effect more impact.

Suppose that, at the end of the effect, you were to spread the f01 packets and. instead of four royal flushes, you were to show f0Ur card packets running from nine to ace in suit sequence. This would actually be harder than producing the royal flushes. You would have produced twenty-four cards in sequence rather than twenty cards in sequence. Yet the trick would have less impact because the climax would have less meaning. It's the fact that royal flushes are significant in poker that gives the trick's climax power.

When using a gambling theme for a magic effect, the presentation can even be completely tongue-in-cheek and still be effective as long as the audience realizes that you don't expect them to take you too seriously. Irv Weiner's "Soft Dice" is a good example. Irv talks about playing craps in his apartment and having the downstairs neighbors complain of the noise of the dice rolling across the floor. He then shows the audience the solution he came up with: dice made of sponge rubber. He now launches into a spongeball routine with these "dice"

in which each magical effect somehow relates to his misadventures as a craps shooter.

No one in the audience seriously thinks Irv or anyone else has ever wagered major sums of money on spotted cubes of sponge. Nevertheless, the presentation gives the effect a meaning missing from most spongeball routines. There is now a point to everything that happens; the audience can relate what's happening to then- own experiences.

Ut'e return to the matter of actual gambling routines. I could write a book just on how to properly present this kind of material. (I won't; I dont intend to create professional competition for myself.) However, ve seen so many magicians make really fundamental errors in this area that I think a couple of basic observations are .n order.

r,ve, spoken of the need for the performer to have ence 2n?K kn0W,ed8e' il's important to remember that not all audi-members possess a great deal of knowledge about gambling. One

Strong Magic kcy to success in this kind of work is to structure your routines so That they'll captivate knowledgeable gamblers, yet still be easy to understand even for complete non-gamblers. They should not require any technical knowledge on the audiences part. Even people who've never played cards in their lives know that four aces or a royal flush ore good poker hands. Stick to those kinds of hands. If you're going to demonstrate cheating at bridge, don't deal yourself a perfect no-trump hand. Only a bridge player will know that's a good hand. Deal yourself all thirteen spades in numerical order. Even a non-card player will instinctively appreciate that this is an awesome achievement, while the bridge players will still be bowled over.

If a routine does require some background knowledge on the audience's part, be sure you provide that information in your patter. When you come up with a routine that is equally riveting to a group of nuns or a group of Las Vegas pitbosses you know you've got a winner. (See the Card Table Artifice section of Darwin Ortiz at the Card Table for some good examples.)

Second, always remember that the great strength of a gambling routine is that it's relevant to the audience's experience. Don't do anything that distances the presentation from their experience. The classic example of this mistake is the magician who decides to present a gambling act and immediately runs out to buy a Mississippi riverboat gambler outfit. All that a period costume will accomplish is to tell your audience that they shouldn't take you or what you're doing seriously. It's all just make-believe.

The spectators know that they've never played cards with anyone dressed in a bowler hat, string tie, and garters on his sleeves; therefore, what you're going to show them has nothing to do with their lives. They know that people don't dress that way in the real world today. Therefore, what you're going to show them must not have anything to do with the real world today. If you're thinking of wearing period costume for a gambling act, save your money and just hang a sign around your neck saying, "Don't take me seriously." Third, the better you understand the psychology of gambling routines, the better you'll be able to sell them. Gambling routines are unique in that they exploit the audience's fears and their wishful fantasies at the same time. The spectator will think, "My God, imagine if I ever found myself sitting across the table from someone like him in a game. I'd never know what hit me." At the same time, he'll be thinking, "If only I could do the things he can. I'd be on the next plane to Las Vegas. My money worries would be over. And wouldn't it be great to teach a lesson to that loudmouthed buddy of mine who

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