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Paul Menzel
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Boise, Idaho
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A question for those of you who have developed Gospel routines: Which approach do you find works better, trying to fit a message to an existing effect in your repertoire, or choosing a topic and finding an effect to illustrate it?

To me, it seems that the first approach all too often leads to the, "This is your brain... this is your brain on drugs," type of presentation. While this may work at times, it becomes a bit of self-parody when every effect begins with, "This item is Jesus. And this item is sin." (This problem is not unique to Gospel magic. It seems many people venturing into "story-telling" magic find it necessary to use Harry Houdini as a central character. "This is the Houdini card/coin/sponge ball, etc.") It's almost as if we think the effect has to be gospelized in order to be acceptable.

But if we work in the opposite direction, looking for effects that illustrate a topic, mightn't it be easier to avoid the cliched presentations and ultimately make both the magic and the presentation stronger?

I think of the contrast between Eugene Burger's presentations for the Gypsy Thread and Card Warp. Sure, his Inquisition Card Warp story is interesting, but it can't help but be a little silly because imagining one card as a person, another an instrument of torture, is a real stretch. We go along with it and it's entertaining, but doesn't have the impact of the Hindu Thread story. In the thread effect, he simply relates the story, illustrating it with the actions, and doesn't need to state overtly, "This represents this."

Is my point clear or am I rambling?

Basically, I am wondering: Which is your approach and do you think one approach is more likely to result in a stronger presentation than the other? I've stated my opinion, but that comes from thinking about developing routines, not from years of experience.
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Profile of KingStardog
This is a very good topic, Paul. When I try to work up effects, they are weak and lacking in message to prop linkage. Something I did do was to buy a Gospel story book for kids thinking I could work my effects in a chronological story order. This type of show is very difficult for the effect to message linkage. The entire group that I ended up with focuses on the plan for Salvation. I found it is a better use of time for me since I do not perform Gospel Magic as often as a regular working pro.
...think not that all wisdom is in your school. You may have studied other paths,but, it is important to remember that no matter who you are or where you come from, there is always more to learn.
Darrin Cook
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Good question, Paul. Just the other day I read a gospel presentation that made me wince and cringe in the privacy of my own home. As you said, someone can take a Scotch and Soda and present it by saying, "This half-dollar is Jesus, and this 20 centavo coin is sin..." How to avoid this? Several ideas come to mind:

1) Start with the story/idea. If you start with a compelling story/idea, then it will drive your effect, or complement it. The Bible is filled with great stories that go beyond the simple salvation message. I'd say search the Bible for a compelling story.

How about Jesus turning water into wine? That the party is about to bomb because they've run out of wine? That Mary has enough faith in Jesus that she suggests he help out, and he responds, "Hey, what do you want from me?" Then guy tasting the wine says, "Most people serve the good wine first, then serve the ****** wine or the watered down wine after people are a little tipsy, but you've saved the good stuff for last." What's the message of this story?

2) If you start with the effect, skip the obvious presentation. The color changing silks is often done with a sin/salvation patter-why not illustrate the story where one of the prophets causes a hand to turn leprous and then whole at will, or Jesus heals a leper, or the Nile changes to blood, etc.

3) Choose effects where the message is implied. The Hindu thread or torn and restored card powerfully speak of salvation and healing without clubbing the viewer over the head. The audience is able to grasp the symbolism at a subconscious level.

4) Do strong magic. Strong magic and strong presentation go hand in hand. Too many gospel magicians are trying to get powerful performances out of silks and a change bag. I think you really need to do drop dead, floor 'em magic to deliver the impact of the Biblical message.

5) The more you know magic, and the more you know the Bible, the more material you have to draw from. If all you know is a thumbnail sketch of salvation and Scotch and Soda, your magic and message will be cliche.

Magic isn't easy, as far as putting together strong effects with an engaging presentation. All of the great routines are honed over countless hours and many performances. Having a higher purpose doesn't exempt anyone from having to do the work and pay his dues.

5) "Knock, and the door will opened." By asking the question, "How can I effectively convey my message?" you are on your way to an answer.
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Excellent question Paul. I have found that when I try to fit a Gospel message to effect, I often convict myself of primarily wanting to perform the "neat trick" and rationalizing a means to perform it.

I am most comfortable with first focusing on the message and then determining IF I have an effect that will visualize and strengthen the message.

A personal example. My favorite efffect is a rope routine from Tabary's Vol 1 video. It was a difficult routine to learn and I have several secular themes (safety, motivation etc.) that I have scripted for it. It is a "killer" routine, and I love to do it. For 2 years I have been trying to develop a Gospel message for this routine, but it just wouldn't come and at first I was frustrated. Now I see that what I was trying to do was showcase myself instead of HIM. More often than not this is what happens to me when I try to force a message into an effect.

On the other hand I am most successful when I get an inspiration for a certain message it then often, not always, seems that a particular effect will come to mind with a new handling or change in presentation.

I also believe that not every effect you do in a Gospel presentation has to have a message. It may be best to open a presentation with a good secular effect to establish your abililty and style to the audience.

I agree with both Paul and Darrin that too many weak Gospel performances are of the "This Red (Silk, card, sponge ball... whatever) is the blood of Jesus" type. I want to jump up and yell "No it's's a red silk!!"

Somewhat deserved criticisms have been made toward some Gospel magic performers who are not practiced, polished, or prepared. They do a terrible disservice to the craft and more important to the Gospel. I think that many of these poor performances come from trying to fit the message into the effect, combined with poor preparation.

I have been fortunate to see many professional Gospel magic presentations at FCM conventions and know what a marvelous tool magic can be to assist in the presentation of the Gospel. But I believe the message has to come first, then the effect - if it enhances the message.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing."
Paul Menzel
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It's nice to see that I am not alone in my thoughts on this matter. Doug, your statement quoted above is so profoundly true and applies not only to Gospel magic, but every area where Gospel and art meet.

It's seems so far that we are all in agreement that beginning with the message/story and finding an appropriate effect produces better results. Of course, there are some effects that just fit perfectly with a given message. As Darrin said, knowing the Bible, as well as magic, helps bring these two together.

For example, the first time I saw Eugene Burger's Hindu thread presentation, it struck me that the presentational style would work very well for and lend itself quite naturally to the story of Rahab (Joshua chapter 2). The performer could introduce the story as a red thread is unwound. Then, as s/he talks about the lineage from Rahab to Jesus (Matthew chapter 1), the thread can be broken upon the mention of various names in the genealogy. Restore the thread, speaking of the direct bloodline, and relating Rahab's red cord, which represented salvation for her and her family, to our salvation.

In this case, the magic is used as an illustration and does not overpower the message, while it also avoids being trite.

Other thoughts?
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I think it is a very good question also and one I have bounced back and forth with myself. I consider myself a new performer still and am trying to work out a routine. I have catalogued what I have in terms of gospel magic (as well as secular effects and tricks) and have looked at it from the perspective of what is missing? What other messages would I like to present that I do not have an effect or effects for? I admit it isn't easy to fill in the missing blanks with effects. At least it hasn't came to me yet, but I know there are resources out there and I am a member of the "LAFCM" Los Angeles Fellowship Of Christian Magicians and there are some good folks there too.

I have done several childrens shows, birthday type shows. I have done some things in my church for the children's church as well as for other churches. I haven't done an entire "gospel" type of show yet, i.e. an approx 20-30 minute routine in an appropriate setting, etc. I have been asked to come back and do a show for a Lutheran Church where I did some things before in their service (just prior to the Pastors message on "Miracles vs. Science").

I will be a part of their summer kick off program for their youth and they want me to do a 20-30 minute type of show. I have time to adequately prepare and I am working on it even now.

I realize most of this belongs in a different thread probably, but I only mention it because I am new and yes I could mess up here or there or maybe not come across very polished... Who knows??? But I would hope that I wouldn't feel the weight of being to blame for putting magic and gospel magic in general in a bad light or worse yet... "doing a terrible disservice to the craft"!!! Smile

Just a few words from the less experienced but trying to be more experienced.

Thanks again for the post, Paul, good question and I will be checking back for other replies.

"A miracle is something that seems impossible but happens anyway" - Griffin

"Any future where you succeed, is one where you tell the truth." - Griffin (Griffin rocks!)
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Profile of amazingboz
Now this topic reaches out to all magical pattering and presentation. When I attempt to deliver a message it is the effect I utilize and then work on the patter and backgrounding. Sometimes the quality of a few chioce words at the right time will long outlive the performer or performance!

We must bring the spectator to the clean refreshing water, but it is then their chioce when and if they will drink.

Gods blessing and only goodness,
AmazingBoz Smile
Simon Williams
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This is a question that has excercised me for some time.

I do not like to force a gospel message into an effect as it comes across as crass or excruciatingly sweet. So much 'Gospel Magic' appears to be made like this. I feel it often cheapens the Gospel and Magic.

The most difficult 'trick' to perform is to make our script a vital and enhancing part of our act.

Over the past year our church has put on several Sunday evening, Café evenings. This is a relaxed atmosphere, sat round tables with drinks and nibbles provided by properly attired waiters. The programme is a mix of entertaining music, drama, puppets and I normally provide the magic! There are normally 3 short talks given by our minister. These have proved highly effective at getting people into the church building. So far I have just done some magic for fun's sake but this Sunday (16th) I want to present a message at our 'Love Changes Everything' Café.

I have decided to perform the Hindu Thread talking about how often love can hurt. We hurt ourselves and others. But there is a love that can take all that pain and change us. I will perform it without saying, this thread is me, etc... but simply perform it with my script. What do you folks think of this? Any tips?

I will let you know how it goes.

(Gosh what a long, rambling, topic-drifting post!!)
Paul Menzel
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I think it is great that you have been able to perform magic "for fun" in this setting. Instead of being forced to apply a message to every effect you want to perform, you are in the position of when and how to incorporate a message with the magic. This seems to me that it would make it that much stronger.

Please be sure to let us know what feedback you receive from the audience, especially by way of comparing your other presentations with this. I look forward to hearing your results.
Simon Williams
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A follow up to my post above:

I performed 2 spots last night (I was also compere). In the first part I did Technicolour Prediction which actually went over very well and created a few laughs.

The second spot was the Gypsy Thread. I used the thread supplied by Camirand and was also able to use UV light which enhanced the effect immensly. I have been longing to perform this effect for years so I was quite nervous as I wanted it to go well. I was very pleased with the results. It is definitely one I will use again. The whole tenor of the evening seemed to switch on this effect, moving from general ideas about romantic love to the love we can only experience in a relationship with our heavenly Father. I received several very positive comments afterwards which was very encouraging.

I just hope and pray that God will use it for His glory.

So, to answer your original question Paul, start with the message, then use the effect that best illustrates it.
Steven the Amusing
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Joe Turner made a point once about how he used props... you don't need to say "this is" if your script works.

For example, I've just posted an idea under "Sponge Balls" in this Gospel section.

The sponge ball represents the body, but I don't say that! Instead I merely say as I hold up the ball "our bodies are vessels of the Holy Spirit". By motioning with the ball as you say "our bodies" and leaving a slight pause you've effectively conveyed that what you're holding represents a body.

I am not claiming that that routine or any other I do is free of awkwardness. But Joe's suggestion has taken me a step in the direction of being free and flowing without being "arbitrary" about the assignment of roles to objects.

It certainly helps to use objects which NATURALLY associate with the role we are illustrating. For example, if your message is that we are bruised by life, don't use a bowling ball or a coin - use a banana or something delicate.

Those who have seen Chicago (which I don't recommend) will get an idea of how objects can illustrate things very powerfully without ever saying so. Those who watched the "Cell Block Tango" (refrain: "he had it coming") will remember the red scarf that was used to illustrate the blood/violence. It was patently obvious from the context.

I normally work to create Gospel messages from effects rather than the other way around. Sometimes - as has been mentioned about the Gypsy thread - this is relatively simple. Sometimes it requires a change in the props or the handling. The problem is, sometimes it just DOESN'T work. Hopefully I know to leave things alone at that point.

As was noted earlier, having a good knowledge of scripture, and a good knowledge of effects provides the best way to find the proper marriage of the two - provided the scripting is competent!

My effect "The Redeeming King" was truly a labor of love and inspiration - it was also my first Gospel effect. I used some well worn magic principles to work out the idea I wanted to get across. The idea is: we have a Savior who died in our place. While the effect is still evolving, I had in mind the basic idea: a person is changed by the action of the Lord Jesus. Further, I wanted to be able to do the effect with a secular audience.

I wanted to use cards to illustrate the point. Jesus, being both God and Man should naturally appear like the others yet be different (thus he is a card with a red back while the others are blue). I also elected to have Jesus be represented by the King of Hearts - for obvious reasons!

Most everything else is "framing" for this effect. [Please note, the newer, more revised version is available to my subscribers only].

I don't claim that this effect is somehow
"spectacular" - in fact, I welcome suggestions. I merely put it forward as an example of the process I have used.
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