We live in a world exploding with mind-bending new technologies. And very few of us are able to explain in detail, the art and science behind these wonders. But I hardly ever hear someone ask, "How does that work?"...unless I've just performed a simple magic trick!
I try my best to present my magic, as something more than just 'puzzles to be figured out.' But when people inevitably ask, "How did you do that?" here are a few replies I've given over the years...
#1:"I have a few theories, but I'm still not sure." (Or, "I was hoping you could tell ME.") I really like the humility of this playful reply, but some people DO find it a bit annoying.
#2:"I didn't do it. Your mind did." It's honest and accurate, but it tends to just inspire more questions.
#3:"If I told you I'd have to kill you." As hack as it is, this reply almost always gets a good laugh from people. And it's a fun way to let people know, you have NO intention of telling them how you did it.
#4:"Shhh! It's a secret." This is one of my personal favorites, because I can deliver it in a great many ways.
Like many younger performers, when I first started exploring the art of magic, I was very focused on the 'secret methods.' But in the past couple of decades, I'm far more interested in the presentation and psychology of my performances. And I've discovered that, the less I focus on the 'secrets' of my tricks, the less other people ask, "How did you do that?"
Another marvellous indication of just how much our audiences are willing to follow our lead. Let's lead them somewhere interesting!
I recently toured Europe for a few weeks, presenting a series of lectures, and running some intensive workshops. And there's nothing quite like having to TEACH something, to get you thinking about it. Here are a few thoughts I returned home with...
Our magic and mentalism tricks don't really happen in ours hands. They HAPPEN in the minds of our audience. Which is why it's critical to perform tricks designed to inspire their imaginations. Because their imaginations are like the ultimate 'secret assistants' who make our tricks seem even more amazing.
Performing effects with truly intriguing objects, is one way to spark people's imaginations. Add to that, emotionally engaging presentations, and your performances are going to be even more powerful.
And the experience will also be more memorable. So your tricks will 'last longer' in the minds and imaginations of your audience.
The other night after a lecture, a magician showed me an effect. Or at least that's what I thought he was going to do.
Instead, he had me pick a card, return it to the pack, then after some extremely fair shuffling, he fanned the deck and pulled out my card. His eyes asked, "What do you think?"
"Do you know how I did it?" And in that moment, my mind took two small and unenthusiastic steps towards the postulating of possible methods for what I had just witnessed. ("Crimped card, Si Stebbins with a peek . . . ")
Then my brain just stopped dead, and muttered to itself, "I just don't care." It was a lifeless puzzle. I had no interest whatsoever. And for just a moment I imagine I felt like so many of the people to whom, as a younger magician, I would present my equally dull puzzles.
Totally lacking in the performer’s emotional investment, such lifeless puzzles fail to inspire any strong feeling on the part of the audience, and are thus a kind of end in themselves.
Just as the language of logic is perfectly accurate to the degree to which it does not attempt to say anything about the world outside of logic, so too do puzzles possess an isolated and even incestuous quality.
Mysteries on the other hand, resonate with implicit far-reaching values and meaning. Rather than an end in themselves, they are a means to a fuller appreciation of the hidden relationships in the world.
You might ask, "How can a mystery yield appreciation if, by definition, a mystery is an unexplained event?" By reminding us that there are things that are unexplainable which we nonetheless care about. And in this reminding, our appreciation of the value of mysteries is heightened, while our awareness of their omnipresence is deepened.
While puzzles are presented. The mysterious is ultimately invited.
So the other night, I was hired to entertain people at an engagement party happening in an elegant bistro in Toronto's West End.
And instead of 'getting right to work' the moment I arrived as I usually do, I arrived a little early, and while sipping (half!) a glass of wine I truly just 'hung out.' I chatted with people, nibbled hors d'oeuvres, and really felt like I was just another guest at the party.
Then after about 20 minutes, I was chatting with a few people and (right in the middle of the conversation) I slipped a pack of cards out of my pocket and started doing some flourishes in a VERY low key manner. And the entire evening really just built from that small, 'unintroduced' and 'unperformed' magical spark. I can't express to you the degree to which I did NOT feel like a hired entertainer!
I gave myself more permission than usual, just to follow conversations away from my unusual skills, and towards whatever people really felt like chatting about. Even during the magic and mentalism effects, I would open things up for other small things to happen.
I also performed more flourishes, and dared to create much longer pauses and silences around 'magic moments,' than I usually do. In addition, I found myself digging deep into my repertoire and really mixing-up my sets. And the variety warded off that all too familiar feeling of a 'walking through a routine.'
And even when I made a few 'mistakes' ("There are no wrong notes."-Miles Davis) I responded in a totally chilled fashion. When I forgot to load a card into my pocket for Carlyle's 'Card To Pocket,' I loaded the palmed card into the pocket while pretending to show people an 'invisible card.' And when I linked a borrowed finger ring onto a borrowed spoon 'Stirring Silver') and BIG TIME flashed a few people looking over my shoulder, I just turned to them, winked, and said, "That was for you."
The result? I felt closer to the people, and further from the idea of a 'Magician.' And I guess ultimately, more like a fuller version of...me! And as for the responses to the magic, people screamed more, laughed more, and asked for more business cards than usual. It was so exciting!
Looking back, I think it had a lot to do with how UNdramatically I first slipped my toe into the 'performance waters.' It was also a reminder about the dangers of having too detailed an idea of what exactly I'm supposed to be doing, and how I'm supposed to BE at a gig.
More than ever, I really focused on being relaxed and helping people FEEL GOOD. And the magic tricks, well, they were just one of many tools I used to make that happen.
It was a great night!
What's it like to lecture and perform at the world's largest magician's convention? AMAZING. I started flying over to the UK every few years when I was just a teenager and I always have a marvellous time. The magicians are so friendly, and they have enormous respect for the art and science of magic.
The British people also have such a love of the English language. Playful, creative and smart. So much fun!
My Saturday afternoon lecture was 'standing room only' and was attended by well over 500 serious students of magic. Extremely humbling and inspring. And after the lecture, when a long line-up of my awesome fans 'suddenly appeared' for autographs, photos and 'quick chats' it was extremely flattering.
My good friend and crackerjack convention organizer Derek Lever promised to have me back at the Blackpool convention in a few years. I can't wait!!!
It's been almost a full year since I launched the InsideDeception magic + mentalism training site and I couldn't be happier with the results. My goal was to create an especially friendly and welcoming learning resource for people of all ages interested in the art + science of deception, and thanks to an amazing collection of passionate members the site has become extremely popular.
One of the big goals was to maintain an extremely high 'information standard' when it comes to posted comments. We've all visited chat rooms and forums where you have to wade through dozens of pages of 'chit chat' and poorly-written personal opinions in order to find a 'golden nugget of practical + valuable information.'
But on the InsideDeception training site, members are encouraged to 'think before you post' and only add a comment to a video if they feel it is of sincere value. So every single video on the site (there are over 250 to date!) features many comments about handlings, routining, presentation, etc. Which means there is information of real value on every page.
And we're lucky enough to have many full-time, professional performers as members, so you can image the 'real world quality' of many of the posted comments.
After almost a year of hard work, this past weekend we held our first ever 'OPEN HOUSE' on the InsideDeception website and the results were truly humbling. Hundreds of 'deception fans' visited the site and watched many of the exclusive training videos on the 'Student' level as our free guests.
Since then we've been getting a stream of rave reviews and many new magic enthusiasts have joined as fresh members.
You gotta love it when a 'passion project' becomes a popular destination.
Feeling very lucky,
PS. Here's the link to the training site. Click on the 'Free Trial' tab to watch 4 free training videos.
Wow. What a crazy time of year! I'm swamped with live shows, creative meetings, in-studio tapings, posting new content + staying in touch with members on my InsideDeception training site, attending school stuff with Maddy and Mason, and trying my best to hit a few 'date nights' with my awesome wife Lisa.
And on top of all that, launching this new product site AND trying to get my butt to the gym. And even without the use of my 'psychic powers' something tells me you are probably just as busy as well.
I love this time of year (especially as the snow starts to appear on the streets of Toronto) but it can be more than a little overwhelming if you don't pace yourself and take time to recharge those 'emotional batteries.'
Thanks so much for stopping by this new site. It is a BIG improvement over the 'old one,' but we are still trying to work out a few kinks. So please, if you spot anything a little strange, don't hesitate to use the CONTACT form and give us a heads up.
From all of us at Sankey Magic, happy holidays!
Wearing pajamas as I type these words,