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Topic: Difference between "magic" and "a magic trick."
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Dec 28, 2018 12:16PM)
A few weeks ago I was putting together a demo video for a prop I built for Stevens Magic, and it led to some mental gymnastics.

First, I haven't performed magic for a long time, so I felt totally out of my element. Then I realized that this was a demo video for potential buyers, not a performance video for the general public. That took the edge off a bit, but I still found myself wanting it to look right. So, as I was practicing and rehearsing, and shooting take after take, I caught myself thinking about the difference between "magic" and "a magic trick."

When I was a kid, and probably like most of us, I thought in terms of tricks: I bought or learned tricks and did tricks, often starting by asking "Would you like to see a magic trick?" For several years, when I performed, I just did one trick after another; after all, they were "magic tricks" and that's what you're supposed to do with them, right? Later, after much reading on performance and showmanship, I put together a themed act, but it was still a bunch of tricks one after another: this time I just wrapped a common theme around them. So the drill all this time was, do a trick, get applause, do another trick, get applause, and continue.

Later, my cards-and-doves act was routined to avoid the perception of one trick after another. And that's when I started feeling like I was a magician doing magic, not a guy showing magic tricks.

About the same difference as a singer or musician getting up there after memorizing the song and just playing it flat, and another one making it sound like he or she feels and means every word, note, and chord. You can hear a really good musician or singer do the same song a hundred times and it still means something.

It was distracting as all-get-out, but that thought kept going thru my mind as I was working on that demo video: anybody can buy this (or any other prop), follow the instructions, and get some applause or respond to "how'd you do that?" But that's not "magic." Magic is making it look like this is happening right here and now, and there's no "how."
Message: Posted by: danaruns (Dec 28, 2018 01:00PM)
Good post. I'm not sure about all the semantics, so I'll defer to others.

For myself, I feel a difference between "magic" and "magic tricks" depending on how I routine them. For instance, I have a "breakfast gone wrong" theatrical vignette set to music. It has about 20 different magic effects in the 6-minute vignette, so that it feels like an organic flow from one effect directly through the others to the logical end, and doesn't feel like a series of different "tricks." So, perhaps some of the difference comes in the routining? Or maybe not. Just thinking out loud here.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Dec 28, 2018 05:07PM)
The transition for me came as a gift from an older magician and a special audience. Another kid (Jeff) and I were doing shows together --
mostly birthday parties, frat dinners and such. We alternated doing tricks -- thinking were clever in eliminating clumsy transitions and delays,
with one of us setting up the next trick while the other performed. We didn't rush and everyone had fun, but there was no routine or hint of "must be magic" memory.

This old magician Tim at the local Magic Circle never performed, but ask if the two of us would like to put on a show at in a town 60 miles away. He would drive us.
It was to be a dinner party for older couples who had asked specifically for a magician as after dinner entertainment. We figured no more experienced performers were available.
We had misgivings because few of our tricks were geared to a larger audience. He offered to help us prepare in the month ahead. We would be paid well! He had some books.

The night before the trip Jeff got sick. I knew how to perform all of his tricks but the timing would be way off. Besides, it was going to snow and my parents were concerned. I talked to Tim about having to cancel. Did not want to disappoint, but ... No, I was not nervous -- at 14 I could do anything!

Tim said something very special, "You forget that this audience wants magic and expects magic and knows that you are a magician. They know that you are young and inexperienced.
I gave them a list of four performers and they selected the two of you. Jeff will be with you in spirit. It is not about doing tricks. Never is!"

The planned one hour show went almost twice that. The audience was involved and provided all of the energy I needed. I found myself changing my "patter" to stories about them that I had learned during dinner. My new Long-Short rope routine had the local mayor subjected to cheers and boos. They were having fun and it was grand. Then I finished the C&R part with the knot sailing out into the audience. There was sudden silence. 30 couples and Tim just sat there looking at me with open mouths. Then Tim nodded to me and smiled.

I chose to say, "I thank you Mayor Simpson. If you will return to your seat the magic will begin." And it did. Everything I did was magic. Every move and gesture brought gasps and applause.
Comments afterwards were about magic things I never did at all - or hadn't planned on. On the long, snowy drive home Tim talked to me about "having an audience in the palm of your hand."

I lost four lbs that night if that means anything. I quit doing kid parties and put together a routine of effects based on audience involvement. That is where the magic is!

I don't plan on doing tricks. I work at creating conditions in which magic can happen. If an audience expects magic to happen it will. If they don't, it won't.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Dec 28, 2018 08:59PM)
Agreed George, to say magic is a performing art almost completely misdirects the listener. it's interesting how we interpret what we see - or when.

No small challenge to keep the trickery [i]in background[/i] so the audience can have magic in their narrative of what's happening. If it's out of sync they are watching some kind of demonstration accompanied by sounds. Just for fun (and rehearsal only, please) try doing a routine narrating actual mechanics - or if you're working look at a backstage video but focus on the props rather than audience reactions. A world of difference between our backstage stories and the show from audience perspective. From audience side it's about effect. From backstage it's all method and much more work than expected :) .
Message: Posted by: tommy (Dec 28, 2018 10:35PM)
It seems to me what transforms magic effects into works of art is the presentation of them. That is to say the fictional story, the entertainment, which calls upon the imagination. The magic effects alone do not call upon the imagination but rather on the rationale. Cardini’s act, I think, is a good example of transforming great technique if you will into great art by way of storytelling.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Dec 28, 2018 11:25PM)
Getting past technique to effective trickery... and then to entertainment is quite a journey.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Dec 29, 2018 08:52AM)
Having an audience in the palm of your hand, as funsway mentioned, is so important here: it's how you lead them to the experience of something special. Great singers, musicians, comedians, actors, and others (including movie and stage directors, some salespeople, teachers, and yes, even a few politicians) do it. It's how effective managers manage and top leaders lead.

It's the difference between sharing a common experience and "did I fool you?"

As funsway also said, people expect it: when they invest time in watching an entertainer or an entertainment, they expect to be entertained. And BTW, I don't buy for a millisecond the idea that magicians are different from other entertainers as far as the general public is concerned. If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and poops like a duck, then it's a duck.

I finally learned how to do this when I was doing my cards and doves act. One of the bits was vanishing a dove, and over time I figured out how to set up the audience, lead them down a path, "tell them" what was going to happen, and make it happen. All in a few seconds and without saying a word, since it was a silent act done to live music. Eventually the response became a moment of silence, then a collective gasp, and then huge applause. I led them there every step of the way. Given the comments I used to hear after the show, they experienced magic.
Message: Posted by: BeThePlunk (Dec 31, 2018 02:05PM)
[quote]On Dec 28, 2018, funsway wrote:
I quit doing kid parties and put together a routine of effects based on audience involvement. That is where the magic is!

I don't plan on doing tricks. I work at creating conditions in which magic can happen. If an audience expects magic to happen it will. If they don't, it won't. [/quote]

Great post, funsway!
Thank you,
Message: Posted by: longhaired1 (Jan 1, 2019 07:56PM)
The simplest way I can express is a magic trick is to magic what a song is to music.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 2, 2019 05:36AM)
The trick is the secret method and the last thing one wants to show.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Jan 2, 2019 06:44AM)
[quote]On Jan 2, 2019, tommy wrote:
The trick is the secret method and the last thing one wants to show. [/quote]

good one, tommy. I am reminded of ...

“A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Message: Posted by: WitchDocChris (Jan 2, 2019 08:47AM)
A magic trick is something that is watched, magic is something that is experienced.
Message: Posted by: BeThePlunk (Jan 6, 2019 06:29PM)
[quote]On Jan 2, 2019, WitchDocChris wrote:
A magic trick is something that is watched, magic is something that is experienced. [/quote]

Great way to say it! Words to repeat every day.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 6, 2019 10:29PM)
How exactly does one experience a magic show without watching it?

It seems to me our magic must not only be watched but it must be watched very carefully.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Jan 7, 2019 02:15AM)
[quote]On Jan 6, 2019, tommy wrote:
How exactly does one experience a magic show without watching it?

It seems to me our magic must not only be watched but it must be watched very carefully. [/quote]

You are playing with us again, tommy - or shifting the meaning of "magic," "magic trick" and "magic show" for some hidden purpose.

Certainly, most magic tricks must be observed for astonishment to occur. There are exception for those with limited vision. Sound and tactile impressions are important also.

but "experiencing magic" - having the "dilemma" come into play, is not a function of "seeing tricks." It occurs in the mind - even sometime later,
or in the telling of a story of a magic effect or even by touch alone. "Experience" of anything is not limited to "seeing."

You are correct in that most magic effects require the focused attention of the observer to understand the flow of events, avoid confusion and create the proper anticipation.
But that only supports the astonishment part. The later story of "must be magic" is an "experience" of faulty perception, psychological ploys and desire to have magic occur.
These are the real secrets involved, "tricks" if you will. We use gimmicks and gaffs and contrived props to assist in creating the illusion that something inexplicable happened.
These are tricks. Things that we know that the spectator does not is a secret/trick. A sleight might be called a trick. None of these are seen, or should not be.

The concept of "What is a magic show experience" is a valuable theme to be explored. Perhaps you can start such a thread.
For one thing, is an effect observed on YouTube really an experience of magic at all? or just the experience of the technology.
How many people today have ever seen a magic show? or had an 'in person' magic experience?

How can an observer "watch very closely" when a video only offers a limited view of events under the direction of the cameraman?

Even in a live magic show, many factors influence the individuals' "experience," and the possibility that "must be magic" occurs.
Who are they with? Why did they come? The heckler nearby? The waving of phones and cameras. The uncomfortable seat. The hand on your knee.
Perhaps you observed the stage being set up or a friend telling you "how it was done." Many distractions as part of the experience of a magic show.

Where does the "experience of magic" come in? If at all? Methinks it comes from expecting magic to occur and "seeing" only provides evidence to support the desire.
How does a magician create that desire or expectation? That is the rub.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 7, 2019 04:07AM)
We are only ever talking about things which relate to Our magic here or ought to be.

Food for thought

This is the area to discuss creativity, theory, and psychology in our magic.

The experience of "our" magic comes in, normally upon the audience in effect seeing that which they know isn't true, proven true. The audience must pay attention to the magic experiment and watch very carefully. Everything we do matters: one can't miss a bit by looking away for a while or it would spoil it.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Jan 7, 2019 07:49AM)
Mostly true, tommy. Except that you defining/restriction of "our magic" is an opinion only.

Here we discuss the "creativity, theory and psychology of magic." not to include the word "our" by yours or anyone's definition.

Many of the forums on the Magic Café' have no place in my definition of magic at all, but may for others.

If you are referring to the classic book "Our Magic" was not written for magicians at all, but for lay people to appreciate what the two authors were up to in their stage performances.
It in no way defines what any other performing magician should do, or what they should theorize about.

That not withstanding, this particular thread is about the perceived difference between "magic trick" and "magic" for magicians who care to offer an opinion.

Your attempt to get us to "look away" from that theme can only spoil it.

I happen to agree with your bias here in that one's perceptions of these terms should be within a greater framework of audience engagement and how to sustain it,
but don;'t feel any need to force that bias on anyone else. My objective is to learn from the thoughts of others here. Even you.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 7, 2019 02:49PM)
"This is the area to discuss creativity, theory, and psychology in our magic."

That is what it says under the heading.

If you do not know what the management means by "our magic" then ask them to define their terms.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Jan 7, 2019 04:54PM)
Yes, tommy, but you posted "The experience of "our" magic comes in" - meaning the term has a special meaning of you --
a drum you have beaten many times. You also capitalize "Our magic" above.

We know what the Café; staff means by the range of forums offered under the flashing sign, many of which do not indicate "magic" to me at all.
If you embrace their definition of "our magic" that includes juggling, math puzzles, paper folding and more.

So, when you talk about "magic show" and "magic experiment requiring attention" you apparently mean something else - which is why you put it in quotes.

I am interested in your thoughts, tommy - about the difference between "magic" and "magic trick." Anything to offer on theme?
Message: Posted by: ChrisPayne (Jan 8, 2019 06:21AM)
Funsway wrote
"If you are referring to the classic book "Our Magic" was not written for magicians at all, but for lay people to appreciate what the two authors were up to in their stage performances.
It in no way defines what any other performing magician should do, or what they should theorize about"

This sent me scurrying to the book, this was something I had not registered before. I'm not sure it is quite clear cut. The preface accepts that the public will read it. But it is also aimed at equipping "an artist in magic"

Great book by the way and it really answers the difference between magic and a magic trick. I hadn't realised that they held similar views to Penn and Teller - that secrets of how tricks work have little do with magic performance.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Jan 8, 2019 09:10AM)
Not well known, but a number of those old books were written for the general public. I've never seen a clear explanation of the rationale behind it, but that's how it was.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Jan 8, 2019 09:43AM)
Some of the rational may be echoed in Whit's "wink" and concerns of performers such as Arnold Furst as to "removing the fear."
Others have suggested always including a simple trick the audience can figure out, or even teaching one as Jeff McBride does.

We want the audience to understand that what we do is pretend at magic, as apposed to those who claim to do magic for power or profit --
then loose themselves in a dilemma in which no other conclusion except magic can fit. In 1900 there were many con artists working to "help"
folks confused over advancing technology and religious/spiritual conflicts - and with more free time for outside entertainment.

Today's audience is different. Their concept of magic has been mangled by Hollywood and marketing of new products. It is a compliment, of sorts,
to claim that anything exiting is "magic," but makes it more difficult for a magician to practice his art. The maxim "know your audience" is almost impossible.
Sadly, what worked for magicians decades ago may not be relevant or practical today. We now learn that many in an audience may addicted to entertainment itself
and care little about skill or astonishment of any "wink."

From my perspective, most magicians today to not care about magic -- only tricks. Card tricks seem to be growing in popularity -- maybe because spectators know they are tricks
rather than more astonishing or artistic effects. On a video the wink cannot be seen anyway.

Just opinions, of course. While I do not think that magic is completely dead, it is hiding for a time when both performers and audience appreciate the distinction between
"magic trick" and "magic." For now I will consider it to be magical when an employee shows up for work on time or a politician follows their oath of office.

I wink at most everything these days. Better than crying.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 8, 2019 10:34AM)
"IN OFFERING this book to the public the writer uses no sophistry as an excuse for its existence. The hypocritical cant of reformed (?) gamblers, or whining, mealymouthed pretensions of piety, are not foisted as a justification for imparting the knowledge it contains. To all lovers of card games it should prove interesting, and as a basis of card entertainment, it is practically inexhaustible. It may caution the unwary who are innocent of guile, and it may inspire the crafty by enlightenment on artifice. It may demonstrate to the tyro that he cannot beat a man at his own game, and it may enable the skilled in deception to take a post-graduate course in the highest and most artistic branches of his vocation. But it will not make the innocent vicious, or transform the pastime player into a professional; or make the fool wise, or curtail the annual crop of suckers; but whatever the result may be, if it sells it will accomplish the primary motive of the author, as he needs the money."


I've never seen a clearer explanation of the rationale behind it.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Jan 8, 2019 11:21AM)
[quote]On Jan 8, 2019, funsway wrote:
From my perspective, most magicians today to not care about magic -- only tricks. Card tricks seem to be growing in popularity -- maybe because spectators know they are tricks
rather than more astonishing or artistic effects. [/quote]
Even back when I was a high-strung teenager wanting to become the next WGM, I thought that a lot of "the guys" who did only off-the-shelf tricks, including off-the-shelf card tricks, were just being lazy: a cheap and quick way to "become a magician." Given a lot of what I've seen over the past 20 years or so, I still think the same way.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 8, 2019 12:55PM)
"Just as resolutely as he avoids children, Jay declines opportunities to perform for other magicians. This habit has earned him a reputation for aloofness, to which he pleads guilty-with-an-explanation. According to Michael Weber, he has a particular aversion to the “magic lumpen”—hoi polloi who congregate in magic clubs and at conventions, where they unabashedly seek to expropriate each other’s secrets, meanwhile failing to grasp the critical distinction between doing tricks and creating a sense of wonder. One guy in a tuxedo producing doves can be magic, ten guys producing doves is a travesty. “Ricky won’t perform for magicians at magic shows, because they’re interested in things,” Weber says. “They don’t get it. They won’t watch him and be inspired to make magic of their own. They’ll be inspired to do that trick that belongs to Ricky. Magic is not about someone else sharing the newest secret. Magic is about working hard to discover a secret and making something out of it. You start with some small principle and you build a theatrical presentation out of it. You do something that’s technically artistic that creates a small drama. There are two ways you can expand your knowledge—through books and by gaining the confidence of fellow-magicians who will explain these things. Ricky to a large degree gets his information from books—old books—and then when he performs for magicians they want to know, ‘Where did that come from?’ And he’s appalled that they haven’t read this stuff. So there’s this large body of magic lumpen who really don’t understand Ricky’s legacy—his contribution to the art, his place in the art, his technical proficiency and creativity. They think he’s an élitist and a snob.”


What was the difference between your dove act and the others George?
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Jan 8, 2019 01:45PM)
Not sure what you're asking, tommy, but here goes.

My act was based on the Chavez/Pollock model, which was fairly common back when I was doing it. I started with the idea, then read a ton of books and magazine articles (this was before DVDs) on card manipulation, silks, doves, and so on, and created several variations or original bits of my own. Then I practiced and rehearsed for months before going on for the first time. So my act wasn't "different" in the cosmic scheme of things, but it was something I created on my own to suit the type of act I wanted to do and my own personality.

BTW, what I said about the act suiting my personality -- and I wrote a column on that here in the Café -- was mostly due to 1) realizing that I wasn't Channing Pollock and would look ludicrous trying to be him, and 2) thinking that a few other guys about my age who did copy his persona looked equally ludicrous. I was a nineteen-year-old kid in white tie and tails performing silently to live music, and what you saw was what you got.

For the most part, I performed for the general public for the reasons stated in the clip above and because they paid me. The few times I did perform for a club, yeah, people wanted to know where I got this or that, and were sometimes puzzled or unhappy when I said I came up with it myself. And yeah, I also had a bit of a reputation for aloofness for the same reasons.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 8, 2019 05:48PM)
Thank you. I think Pollock was special. It seems to, that his act was well balanced, with his magic and looks being as beautiful as his personality was mysterious, which his many imitators could never match.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Jan 9, 2019 07:16AM)
As I recall Pollock said that his mysterious personality came about by chance, from him having stage freight and being too scared to smile until it was over.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Jan 9, 2019 10:01AM)
I haven't heard that one. :) But hey, it worked for him.

Actually, that was one of the things I decided right up front to change with my act, and it wasn't so much the smiling as the interaction with the audience. Back then there were some good books on showmanship written by pros who did this type of act, and I studied them closely. Nelms didn't do a thing for me (he was a theatre director, not a pro magician), but a few others had some good pointers.

Channing was a regular on Ed Sullivan and Hollywood Palace back then, and I was always glued to the screen waiting for someone to invent an affordable recording device. :)