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Brad Sheppard
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As magicians we are often attracted to great manipulation acts - cards, billiard balls, etc. Lately, I've been trying to think about magic from the eyes of a spectator. What do contemporary audiences think about traditional manipulation routines? Are they no longer interested in traditional standards such as cards, silks, linking rings..?
For those of you who are performing, what are your thoughts? How do we honor the traditions of magic yet entertain today's audiences?
I look forward to hearing your comments.
Michael Baker
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The sleights required to do most manipulation are sometimes confused with the definition of magic. Some acts merely display these skills as if the sleights are what should be applauded. As magicians, it is easy to get caught up in this mindset. The better acts understand that sleights are supposed to be hidden. So, evaluate an act as to whether you think it is merely a display of skill, or if those skills are being used to entertain the audience.

Cardini's act did this beautifully. Tina Lenert's "Mop Man" act did this in a completely different way. Watch Topaz perform with the bells and sunglasses. He draws you into the simple plots that he constructs, and makes you care about the actions and the results. Watch Jade perform. The magic is akin to a dance. It transcends the skill. This is how any modern manipulator can take the magic from the past and address a modern audience with it.
~michael baker
The Magic Company
JNeal
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As Michael points out, there is a tendency to present manipulative skill as 'the end product'...skill for it's own sake , similar to juggling. And there is a limited market for this. In order to appeal to a larger audience, the skill should be in service of a greater good...creating the illusion of magic. Every generation alters this formula somewhat, by adapting to contemporary tastes. But in all cases, the most popular performers and the ones who 'connect' the best, are the ones who don't rely exclusively on the tricks to carry the act... they find a way to use the material to express their personality.

In show business, above all... a unique personality is the most valuable commodity, and the smart performer finds a way to make it appealing to contemporary tastes.

As far as traditional tricks (such as silks, linking rings, etc;) a great performer can still make them viable, rather than hackneyed.
Regards-
J.Neal
visit me @ JNealShow.com
Brad Sheppard
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Excellent points. It's about entertaining and sharing your personality. Thanks Michael and J
RJH
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Some magicians say that billiard balls should not be performed, because he thinks that the lay audience knows what a she*l is. I can say that this is total crap. Starting from tomorrow I will be performing my billiard ball act (3mins) in front of a lay audience for 2 times a day for 7 days. I will come back to this post if I notice some things!

RJH
Bill Hegbli
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Brad, go back and read 'all' of what has been said. Don't just pick a something and take it out of context and think that is what the person said. You totally missed the points made in the posts. Maybe you can understand simple language. Finger flinging is not interesting by audiences, but magic is and will catch the eye of the audience.

Fan a deck of cards, making a perfect fan, but they see your fingers move and your other hand give assistance. That is nothing, they say to themselves, I could do that.

Now I walk up and show a pack of cards, the cards start to move in a circular fashion. Only the cards moving gradually and evenly showing only each corner pipe. They are stunned, how did the cards move like that and form a circle. I can't do that, it looks like magic.

Another example, today every young manipulator on YouTube is producing cards from their hands. But, they are not magically Pulling Cards Out of The Air! You can see very plainly they are just popping one card after another from its position. Not any magic their. But when a card is actually pulled from thin air, with not indication as to where it came from, that is puzzling magic.

You can honor the traditions of magic by simply understand what magic is, and how to perform it for audiences in an entertaining way. Now a look at what I can do, and you can't, attitude. Learning the proper methods, adjusting them to fit your body and needs, and practice and then rehearse a full routine or trick, not just a move.
Brad Sheppard
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Bill, I am not sure how I missed the points. We all agree that an effective magician takes the audience on a journey and aims to creates "wow" moments. Although skills and rehearsal are very important, it all comes down to entertaining our audience.
Bill Hegbli
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Brad, that was not your original question, as I read it, and I believe Michael Baker as well. Unless you did not know what your asking, your question was manipulation vs. manipulation magic. There is a difference as Michael pointed out. A manipulator is a show off of his skill. Manipulation Magic is using manipulations without the audience knowing that a learned skill is being used, over a mechanical method.

Your question did not have anything to do with being effective. And both can share their personalities. These qualities fall under the heading of Showmanship, not manipulations.

Your original example is weak as well. What if you perform a Billiard Ball routine without using a shell, of which there aren't any being used. Then what does your audience think, do you stand up and say, "Hey guys, just in case you think I am using the shell, I know you all know what I am talking about, I am not." Or do you create impossibilities where it would not be possible to do the handlings without a shell.

In the end, it is personal choice as to if you want to do classic manipulation or manipulations with the assistants gimmicks. There is also Dove Manipulations, Candle Manipulations, Fire Manipulations, Torch Manipulations, Watch Manipulations, Clock Manipulations, and on and on.

Today, it looks as if magic is very dead, and no one is interested in live entertainment at all. How long this Internet hypnosis will last is anybody's guess.

One thing is for sure, you have to be ready when the call comes. If someone calls and says, we want a magician who can pull cards out of thin air. You cannot say, I will be ready in year for your next event.
Anatole
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The critical phrase in Brad's question is "great manipulation acts." Any act that is "great" is likely to be appreciated and received well. Cards, silks, linking rings, and billiard balls in and of themselves do not automatically generate a strong response from an audience. How a performer presents routines with these props makes all the difference in the world.

Injecting comedy in a manipulation act in today's venues might make an audience more likely to appreciate and enjoy it. Examples are:
1) Levent's Billiard Ball Routine
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdGnGVwaTto
Levent chooses to present the routine with light patter rather than straight mime, and the audience loves it.

2) Charlie Frye's Card Manipulation Act
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaOX-GMwhqs
is another example of how comedy enhances the entertainment value of a magic act.

3) Denny Haney's Card Manipulation Act
Denny injects a lot of comedy into his standard show, but reserves a few minutes in the show for some serious card manipulation.
Some audiences watching a magic act think to themselves that the trick is in the props and that anyone who has the props can do the tricks. But when they see someone do a manipulation act they recognize that here is someone who spent considerable time acquiring a special skill and learning to present it in a pleasing manner.

Some of the greatest manipulation acts of the 20th century injected comedy into their performances. Cardini's whole act was based on a comic premise--the inebriated magician. Fred Kaps's FISM act had generous doses of comedy. But both performers made their reputation with relatively standard magic effects.

----- Sonny
----- Sonny Narvaez
Bill Hegbli
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Again, I have to say, that 1st and foremost it is the "Skill" that counts. If you are manipulator and you are flashing, dropping, and it is apparent where the items are coming from or going to. Then it does not matter how your routine is perceived or if you are trying to be funny or not. Nothing matters if you do not have the skills and methods perfected.
Dick Oslund
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In 1948, I bought John Booth's "Marvels of Mystery". --Mainly because it promised to deliver PRESENTATIONS, not just the "mechanics" (how the trick was done). At 16, I began to realize that, although I could DO the manipulation of cards, coins, balls, etc., the manipulation was certainly not inherently entertaining.--it was a demonstration of skills! I could fool the audience, and entertain them "somewhat", but, it would take a few years -- and a "few" shows, to learn how to make "juggling" become "magic" --and, further, how to make the "magic", FUNNY AND ENTERTAINING!

It took awhile, (and a "few more" shows) to learn that, even though I could use the presentation (and the patter) that John had used in his night club act,I was NOT John Booth! I was a 16 year old, trying to be "swayve & deboner"! So! I wisely (???) dropped the patter, but foolishly continued trying to be "swayve & deboner". I even bought "white tie & tails", and a cane to table! My multiplying balls (Booth's routine, because it needed no 'droppers") was done silently to NO music! (There was only 78rpm records then!). Sunday school shows, PTA meetings, Lions Club Ladies Nights did not provide even a pianist! I did talk aome of the tricks (6 Card Repeat! --it came WITH patter!) Other tricks in my "repertoire" were performed with descriptive patter, and some one liners from Orben's patter books. The local folks were kind. I was the only act in town!

When I enlisted in the Navy and got acquainted with the old EdMar Magic Shop in Norfolk, I joined the local Ring (103). Earl Edwards had a phonograph in the upstairs meeting room, with a curtained platform. One night I put on the tails and did the golf balls. The members thought I was a "god"! (Most of them did "boxes, tubes and change bags") I had added Percy Abbott's "PERPETUAL BALLS" to the "xxxing" ball routine.

An agent "gave" me a tryout date. Then,he said, "If you can make 'em laugh, I'll get you work." I dumped the "swayve & deboner" concept, and learned to talk, and he got me work. I've never looked back.

I began to realize that the "Perpetual Ball" bit, got much more reaction than the "xxxing" balls. I dumped the "xxxing" balls. I had finally realized that they were a skill demonstration (which the audience appreciated, but, the Perpetual Balls were GETTING THE LAUGHS!) Soon after, I dropped the white glove card fan productions, and the DOWNS p**m Misers Dream, and the "xxxing" balls!!! I kept the fancy card SHUFFLES and put the coin PAIL back in, as I could get LAUGHS with them. I had finally "gotten the message"! Manipulative skills CAN be ENTERTAINING (AND GOOD "MAGIC") and NOT JUST "DEMONSTRATIONS" OF JUGGLING SKILL.

That dollar I spent with Percy Abbott in 1950, was one of the best dollars that I ever spent!

Michael Baker, Jonathan Neal B***n, Bill Hegbli and my dear friend Anatole have made the point quite well! I've only added a few "real life" stories to serve as examples.

Dick
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George Ledo
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Let's think about this a bit differently, and responding directly to your question, i.e., "How do we honor the traditions of magic yet entertain today's audiences?"

The answer is to look at other forms of entertainment. What makes a singer great? An actor? A musician? A comedian? The same things make them great today that made them great in "the old days:" a mastery of the techniques and a unique personality.

Frank Sinatra once said the the secret of his success was to sing great songs. Well, IMHO, he was being either flip or (unbelievably) modest. I can get up on a stage, in front of 2,000 people, with my unique personality, and sing a great song. And I guarantee you that the entire 2,000 people will walk out within three bars. So the material itself is not the answer, and neither is the material plus the unique personality.

People expect that someone who passes himself off as a professional will have mastery of the techniques: that a singer can sing on key, that a comedian will know how to deliver a punch line, that a pitcher knows how to pitch, that a quarterback knows how to pass and rush, and so forth. But the ones who make it to the top are also perceived as real human beings -- unique human beings -- and that they have something to say. You can love them or you can love to hate them, but they're still unique. You can love what they have to say or hate it, but they're still saying something. It's all part of the business.

So how do you entertain today's audiences while honoring the traditions of the craft? The same way Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and many other entertained their audiences with their craft: master the techniques and have something to say.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
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Dick Oslund
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P.S.

Jay Marshall, Karrell Fox and other old pro's I've known, were all highly skilled,and could DO some great sleight of hand magic, but they regarded "finger flinging" as "masturbating on stage". Performers like Cardini, Fred Kaps, Johnny Thompson (and many others) aren't/weren't finger flingers! They are/were MAGICIANS who know/knew how to sell their personality and skills without just "demonstrating" SKILLS! "They made the magic "happen" in the audience's minds.
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Michael Baker
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I don't want to immediately jump to the conclusion that the OP did not understand the points being made, although it is possible, as we have all seen people do that on these forums, by jumping to conclusions or only hearing part of what was said (usually what they want to hear). It is also possible that he either doesn't have elocution skills, or the time to reply with a fully-fleshed post. Thus, I won't make assumptions.

I disagree that the skill is the primary factor of importance. This is just one of many tools that comprise the whole package. Case in point... the first book I ever had on magic taught a lot of sleights with cards, balls, etc. The illustrations were well done, and I learned to do most of the sleights very well. I was also quite young at the time. But, the book did not tell me how to use those skills. It was not until I learned how to construct a routine did I find a use for the skills I had acquired.

The same is true for building magic (or any workshop project for that matter). One can have all the best tools, and understand what they do. But, there are further skills to be developed before one might produce anything worthwhile.

All the "tools" of any trade must be there and in-line. In magic these would consist of your ability to perform sleights, the quality and reliability of your props, your personality, etc. But, there is something more.

If I was to state what I think is the most important thing in taking any magic skill and bringing it to your audience in a way they will appreciate it, it would be "relevance". Whatever you do, must be relevant to the audience.

"How do we honor the traditions of magic yet entertain today's audiences?"

How do we make them appreciate our magic? Give them a reason to care.
~michael baker
The Magic Company
George Ledo
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Quote:
On Jun 30, 2014, Michael Baker wrote:
"How do we honor the traditions of magic yet entertain today's audiences?"

How do we make them appreciate our magic? Give them a reason to care.

Well said.

Care, however, is a funny word in the entertainment world. You can care about a character by liking him, or you can care about a character by hating him. Either way, you're engaged; you're responding, you feel something.

In the case of a story, you can "like" it, or it can make you angry, or sad, or depressed, or any number of other emotions. Here again, you're responding -- you're "caring."

What's deadly is when a story, or a character, or an actor's portrayal, is so shallow, one-dimensional, and blah that you don't feel anything. You're not engaged, and you have nothing to respond to. We've all seen movies, plays, or whatever, that "we couldn't get into," or where the actors were not believable. We were left with nothing.

The problem with a lot of magic performances nowadays is precisely that there's nothing to them besides the tricks. It's a momentary novelty, or a momentary wow, but, unless you happen to be a magic geek, it leaves you empty. There's nothing to care about.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
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Nick W
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What does honor the traditions of magic mean Brad?
Anatole
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There is admittedly a trend nowadays toward what is known as XCM--extreme card magic--that focuses on fancy card cuts and such and is therefore only an exhibition of skill. Most of that seems to me to be more confusion than conjuring inasmuch as no magical effect is provided, just fancy/contorted cuts and shuffles. I do a very simple routine of some fancy cuts and shuffles to comedy patter--the Charlier Pass (aka the Jewish Cut because of "the Passover"*), the Russian Shuffle (springing the cards), the Butterfly Cut, the Juggler's Cut, "The Cow Pasture Shuffle," and the one-hand faro shuffle. I conclude the flourish sequence by having a card selected and losing it in the deck with some cuts and the "Slop Shuffle"--ending with the selected card being the only card still reversed.

Audley Walsh's "Long Distance Side Spinner" from Tarbell is a great flourish, but I use it for a routine that makes it more than a flourish--mainly to reproduce the four aces after losing them in the deck. So again, it is a pretty flourish enhanced by a magical effect--or a magical effect enhanced by a flourish. So although it is a blatant exhibition of skill, it is still magical. I add a comedy touch to the Walsh card spin routine by spinning the last ace behind my back (thank you, Johnny Hart), which means that when I catch it, the back is toward the audience. I glance at it before turning it around and miscall it saying, "Whoops! This is the four of hearts!" Then I blow on the face of the card pretending to change it to the last ace and then turn it face toward the audience.

Back in the 70's I appeared on a TV talk show in South Carolina with Slydini and Rick Johnsson. Slydini did his paper napkins and box effect. Rick did the Spooky Key. I did my one-hand cuts and shuffles followed by "Wolfgang the Mind-Reading Puppet." At the end of the TV show the hostess summed up the episode and commented on the different styles of magic we presented, referring to Rick and Slydini as more or less serious, straight magicians and me as a comedy magician.

In my close-up act, I sometimes use a coin roll to "hypnotize" a young lady--whereupon I tell her that she is "under my complete control." I vanish the coin and tell her "Actually, it didn't vanish. You just think it did because you've been hypnotized." I snap my fingers to "wake her up" and show her that the coin never vanished at all. (On one occasion when I told a young lady that she was under my complete control, she ad-libbed: "You wish!" While she's under I do the comedy card force of a reverse card fan telling her: "I want you to look at any card you want to in this fan--but no matter how hard you try, you will see only the Seven of Diamonds!")

*I sometimes repeat the Charlier Pass by cutting only a single card in the cut process--i.e. just the tip... I can't remember where I picked up that bit!

----- Sonny
----- Sonny Narvaez
Bill Hegbli
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Michael Baker, I did not say the "most important" thing was learning the moves. Again, I said, "Again, I have to say, that 1st and foremost it is the "Skill" that counts." There is a difference between "Number 1", and the words "most important". Meaning "Number 1" at the top of the list.

I was not going to list everything it takes to be a performer of manipulation. My only comment was that the very 1st thing is to learn the moves and technique, as you verified with our own story.

When I was longing to learn how to produce cards out of thin air, what I was searching for was the proper technique. Without that, I could not even begin. So I finally found the Chavez School. In addition to the proper technique, they taught the other parts, stage presence, and a routine, along with showmanship.
Michael Baker
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Quote:
On Jun 30, 2014, George Ledo wrote:
Quote:
On Jun 30, 2014, Michael Baker wrote:
"How do we honor the traditions of magic yet entertain today's audiences?"

How do we make them appreciate our magic? Give them a reason to care.

Well said.

Care, however, is a funny word in the entertainment world. You can care about a character by liking him, or you can care about a character by hating him. Either way, you're engaged; you're responding, you feel something.

In the case of a story, you can "like" it, or it can make you angry, or sad, or depressed, or any number of other emotions. Here again, you're responding -- you're "caring."

What's deadly is when a story, or a character, or an actor's portrayal, is so shallow, one-dimensional, and blah that you don't feel anything. You're not engaged, and you have nothing to respond to. We've all seen movies, plays, or whatever, that "we couldn't get into," or where the actors were not believable. We were left with nothing.

The problem with a lot of magic performances nowadays is precisely that there's nothing to them besides the tricks. It's a momentary novelty, or a momentary wow, but, unless you happen to be a magic geek, it leaves you empty. There's nothing to care about.


Agreed, and thank you for further defining that.

In speaking of "care", the performer should of course structure the "care factor" to suit his motivation. It is unlikely that the average solo performer would deliberately attempt to .pi$$ off his audience, although a villain can be a welcome addition to a drama.

I mentioned relevance as what I think is the the primary thing. The performer must connect with the audience. There must be something coming from the performer and performance that the audience can relate to. This is at the heart of sustaining interest. Initiating interest is simple. A gun shot might do that. But how does one keep and hold interest? The audience has to understand the importance of what is happening, because it matters to them, even if only for the sake of satisfying curiosity.

We sometimes hear that Fitzkee's writings are out-dated, especially his lists of audience appeal factors. This is only true because some of the things on the list are no longer important to a vast majority of people. However, the concept of the list is still as true as the day he wrote it. In regard to the OP question, this might mean looking for things that appeal to a modern audience. Then hold these up against the manipulation items in question. What could be done with cards, coins, silks, balls, etc. that your own audiences might find appealing? Start by asking who you are most often working for. Design the act that might best appeal to them. Try very hard to avoid being a repeat of what they have already seen... especially if they have seen the same thing many times.

Honor the traditions of magic by taking it to the next level. Letting something stagnate is hardly what those who went before us would have hoped for.

There are no magic formulas here. Every performer should study that and come up with his own fill-in for the blanks.
~michael baker
The Magic Company
Brad Sheppard
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Thanks Michael and others for the exceptional advice. Taking a classic piece of magic and transforming it to appeal to today's audience is how we keep our craft entertaining and relevant. I agree that we must hold our audiences attention. We have all seen performers that are caught up in their "look what I can do" mentality. It all comes down to being original and, as you said, "taking it to the next level."
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