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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The April 2004 entrée: Wesley James » » Flourishes? » » TOPIC IS LOCKED (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Wesley James
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Tony,
An interesting hypothesis and test modality but I fear your test omits a critical factor that cannot be so readily included. As I have repeatedly stated, a great deal of the impact of flourishes and the concomittent conclusion of skill is based on the character the performer creates during their performance. If a performer like Martin Nash were to perform your test, I would expect audience reaction to suffer without flourishes. If the performer were Eugene Burger I would expect reactions to suffer with the flourishes.

As we say in the sciences, "If the protocol is flawed, so too is the experiment and the result." That said, it would be interesting, however impractical, to conduct such an investigation.

Wesley James
Jonathan Townsend
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Experimental design is a significant factor in the process of collecting meaningful data. Let's not forget the importance of informed consent.

And thank goodness you can do this kind of stuff in colleges with less fussing! :o)

If you don't mind my adding a tiny bit of anecdotal evidence to this discussion...

I showed the performance parts of Curtis Kam's last DVD to a layman. They were visibly excited by the display of card dexterity at the start of the sandwich routine. Eyes opened wide etc. This seems to have lent some sort of credibility to the performance. My guess is that there is some association of card skill and card handling in the average layman. Again it's just anecdotal and a guess about the internal workings.
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Schaden
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Quote:
On 2004-04-15 12:37, Tony Noice wrote:
.......We could ask a widely respected pro, one known for creating awe rather than admiration, to arrange a card program that was identical in every respect except that fifty percent of the performances would start with a normal shuffle and cut, and fifty percent with a one hand shuffle and cut. After each show, the magician would make notes on reaction, using his finely tuned radar from years of experience. He would do this for many dozens of performances so that the mental baggage of the spectators would tend to even out due to the effects of random distribution. When the results are tallied, would the few seconds of flourishes at the beginning of half the performances be enough to significantly affect the outcomes for the two groups? My gut feeling is that the TOTAL performance, combined with the spectators’ varying preconceptions about magic would be the primary determinants, making a small showing of skill in the first few seconds hardly noticeable. Thus both sets of performances would be essentially equal in terms of engendering a sense of wonder. I suspect Wesley would disagree with me on this but only carrying out the experiment would supply evidence one way or another....


This would work for a comedian but, not for a magician... How do you measure a spectators astonishment?

Lee
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Folks,
I have read all of the opinions whether to flourish or not to flourish; Good points on all sides; However, Mr. James was originally asked his opinion, and he truthfully and diplomatically responded; I would think that folks would at least be more considerate and keep in mind that he is our Special Guest of Honor;
BWind
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I don't think anyone was being inconsiderate -- just having a discussion. That's the point, isn't it?

-Jim
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Jonathan Townsend
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Wesley,

Can/would you offer an example where a handling sequence might have an integral place in a performance of a routine?

:o)
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Wesley James
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Gentlemen,
First, BWind, I have no problem with others weighing in on the flourish issue or any other. I believe my reasoning to be well considered but I'm always open to listening to the opinions of others. The more cogently presented the more persuasive the statement of that opinion is likely to be to me but even a rambling post, as some have been, can contain a nugget of useful thinking. I'm trying to cull the wheat from the chaff and, as it is "my week," stick my two cents in where I think I can be helpful. As I see it, no harm, no foul.

Jonathan, as sometime happens with you and I, I'm sure you know what you're saying but I'm not sure I do. Every sequence in every routine has an integral place. If it doesn't, it has no place in the routine. As it relates to flourishes, the situation or action of a flourish can be functional in the context of a effect/routine but, IMO, it carries a price that I elect not to pay. Others are free to make their own choices and pay their own prices.

I'm not at all confident I've answered your question but if I haven't and you can clarify it for me, I'll be happy to take another shot at it.

Wesley James
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Although I have a rule that I usually don't discuss anything with anyone named "mithrandir" or "Gandalf" or "Magicman1" or "Sleight_dude", I'll make an exception for you since you seem a decent fellow.

Quote:
On 2004-04-14 22:20, mithrandir wrote:
Dear me, you do miss the point!


Actually, the only point I'm concerned about is the misconception that a flourish or two (like a ribbon spread or a fanned deck) destroys something in the eyes of your spectators.

Quote:
If you do not believe the end product of your skill and presentations can result in real magic, then of course, you will not produce real magic.


The thing is, even if you do believe you're producing "real magic," you're not. I don't use the term "real magic" as any sort of artistic metaphor for a "job well done" or "a beautiful performance." I use it only in the literal sense of a violation of natural laws.

Quote:
It begs the question then, if not looking to inspire the feeling that is REAL MAGIC, what are you looking to do with the art?


Wait a minute! Now you're on to something! I have no problem with inspiring the FEELING of real magic. I only object to people who BS their audiences with any sort of talk of them having actually done real magic.

I'm often asked, "How did you do that?"
My answer is often "Oh that? That was real magic." But I don't mean it, and my audiences realize this is a tongue-in-cheek answer. What I'm saying to them is, "Get over it, I'm not going to tell you how it was done." But if I ever have any "true believers" in the audience, I have no desire to perpetuate their delusion. (I have a problem with mentalists like Uri Geller and people like Jon Edward that allow people to believe in things that are demonstrably not true.)

So, in character I have no problems with telling people it's "magic" or that I've discovered a loophole in a law of physics that allows me to accomplish something. What I won't do is insult someone's intelligence by carrying on the charade of "real magic" after the performance.

Quote:
Or to you, perhaps it is not an Art? A mere display of skill? What are your goals, sir, I am curious.


Of course magic is an art. And a "mere" display of skill wouldn't be magic. But some displays of skill can be perceived as magic by your spectators, and that's what's important. To believe otherwise is foolish.

Jason
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Tony Noice
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Hey, come on guys, give me a break. I have a Ph.D. in theatre and have published dozens of peer-reviewed books and articles on the cognitive processes of performers and spectators. Also, I’ve been funded by NIH and NSF, and those peer reviewers are determined to find every conceivable confound because, for budgetary reasons, they have to reject over 90% of the proposals. So I think I know how to set up a valid experiment.

Wesley, I realize that you have to go through a ton of posts (you’re a hero in my book for taking this assignment) and you can’t spend time analyzing every word. But I did treat the character issue. Because of his Charming Cheat persona, Martin Nash would not fit the stated criteria for a main judge in this experiment. It must be a magician who is widely known for his desire to create a sense of wonder, not a sense of overwhelming skill. Eugene Burger would of course be ideal, as would Wesley James. Naturally, the usual scientific safeguards would have to be employed to make sure that unconscious bias does not skew the results in favor of the judge’s preferences. Basically, the experimental question is: Can a magician who is devoted to creating a sense of wonder still show enough skill in the first few seconds to stop the “My uncle does that stuff” nonsense, and nevertheless accomplish his main artistic task of providing the viewers with a wondrous aesthetic experience?

Lee, you questioned the feasibility of measuring astonishment. I think most intelligent professionals are pretty good at judging how well a performance went in terms of succeeding or failing to astonish the audience. However, if you doubt the validity of self-assessment, more direct measures are available. It is quite possible to assess internal states (like astonishment) by measuring the physiological concomitants of those states. Unfortunately, the equipment would be prohibitively expensive, and the procedure nightmarish. So I prefer my indirect but practical measure.

One more note to all who read this thread. May I suggest that you do as I just did and get yourself a copy of ENCHANTMENTS. Not only will you get a sensational book, you will have the indirect pleasure of buying Wes a few drinks with the royalties. God knows, he deserves it. Instead of just dashing off replies, he writes answers that amount to complete essays!
Wesley James
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Tony,
I thank you for your endorsement of Enchantments, despite not yet having read it. That's not meant to be facetious, I can use all the plugs I can get. I'm not being paid on a royalty basis but I do want Stephen to make money on the book in which he too invested a great deal of energy. Moreover, I do make money when people buy it from me and if this first volume is lucrative for Hermetic Press, Stephen is more likely to publish the other volumes.

Perhaps in my efforts to keep up with the posts on the Café I failed to recognize that you were qualifying the performer as part of your proposed test. My bad. That qualification goes a long way toward validating your protocol.

It seems to me, however, that your call for a test presumes I've never done flourishes, which is not the case, but that question was never asked.
Because of my gambling lectures some significant number of those for who I at some point performed magic were aware of my skill from having attended my gambling lecture. There weren't many flourishes in the lecture but anyone viewing it would clearly understand that I am skillful. I was never able to create the same level of engagement in a magical world in those that had witnessed my gambling lecture as in those who had not. I do not suggest that those who experienced my magic after having attended the lecture didn't enjoy it--I surely think they did. I do, however, fear that my known skill inhibited the audiences ability to "suspend their disbelief"--in the sense that Coleridge used the phrase.

Moreover, at one time, early in my professional experience, in an effort to avoid the uncomfortable experience of approaching people who might have no interest in my magic, but for whom I was being paid to perform at cocktail parties, I tried standing in one place and performing flourishes to attract those who might have some interest. This experience also yielded less than optimal responses. I found myself having to deal with the challenge mentality to a far greater extent when my skill level was known. As a professional I was able to deal with it but I do believe it mitigated against their receptivity.

Admittedly, both these audience configurations, by virtue of their behavior: choosing to attend a gambling lecture or walking over to a man doing flourishes, are skewed from a random sampling. In a manner of speaking, so are many audiences that witness a magic performance. I believe all these performances experientially support my conclusion for me. I'm not willing to project my experience onto anyone else, though I can't help but strongly suspect that similar dynamics would be operative.

I'd be happy to participate in an experiment of the type you propose if the subjective evaluation factors could be minimized, to make the results more pure. If you know how to bring together the circumstances for such a test, count me in.

Wesley James
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Quote:
It must be a magician who is widely known for his desire to create a sense of wonder, not a sense of overwhelming skill. Eugene Burger would of course be ideal, as would Wesley James.


The "experiment" you propose is flawed beyond redemption. Apparently you have not seen Eugene Burger perform extensively for laymen, and have not addressed the issue of how to gift someone with instant dexterity they do not possess.

In the case of Wesley James, you can not meddle with long-proven conviction and personal style. To ask Mr. James to inject what he has consciously abstained from for so long, based on a broad, well-reasoned approach-- is fundamentally unnatural.

The combinatorial force of an individual's personality, style, and relationship with a variety of audience cannot be quantified-- nor arbitrarily tinkered with. The give and take between audience and performer, the aura, the venue is no laboratory. If it is sterile and sanitary, it is artifical. It is also infinitely variable, as no two audiences are identical. Even the same audiences are not identical, based on seemingly unrelated items as the time of day, traffic conditions, and whether it is raining outside.

Nor are blatant exhibitions of skill injection and skill extraction particularly worthy of detailed analysis. What is worthy of all the attention and effort we can muster is a clear vision of what we want our audiences to experience, and the best way to join with them to complete that journey.
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I don't think Eugene Burger would be confused with 'Uncle Charlie' whether he did flourishes or not. I tend to agree with Jason England but I also agree with Wesley James. Wesley has a very reasoned approach. He does not presume that what works for him is what everyone else should do. He suggests careful consideration of every aspect of one's performance. I have never seen Mr. James perform but I have no doubt that he very quickly distinguishes himself as a performer that deserves your attention and not a performer that is easily confused with 'Uncle Charlie'.

I think Eugene Burger is a brilliant performer but I have no doubt that if I tried to perform in his style it would reek of bad cheese. I aspire to perform like Tom Mullica or David Williamson but thank God not everyone does.
Wesley James
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Bravo, Randy. I knew I liked you for some reason.

Wesley James
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There is nothing wrong in aspiring to perform like one's own self, is there? Don't we sometimes make it far, far more difficult than it need be?
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Wesley's original answer (that you should consider the question of "to flourish or not to flourish" in the context of the character) was right on the money.

What I can't abide is the notion that some people have that flourishes are a de facto detriment to the overall performance, or a de facto detriment to the impression of having seen magic in the minds of our audiences. It just isn't so, as countless professional performers for decades have proven.

As far as I'm concerned, Darwin Ortiz wrote the definitive essay on the subject and included it at the end of his book SCAMS AND FANTASIES.

Jason
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Quote:
What I can't abide is the notion that some people have that flourishes are a de facto detriment to the overall performance, or a de facto detriment to the impression of having seen magic in the minds of our audiences. It just isn't so, as countless professional performers for decades have proven.


Naturally, I disagree. The professional magicians are hardly so numerous as to prohibit their counting. What has never been proven with any degree of certitude is that flourishes automatically add anything at all to an audience's experience of "magic."

Whether one chooses to tolerate it or not, there is no reason open displays of skill automatically add anything positive-- and can spell death to specific type of acts, such as mentalists.

Common sense, if there is such a thing, dictates that a thoughtful performer will take the bother to attempt to understand what exactly is being added or taken away when allowing open skill demonstrations. For many years, "magicians" have enjoyed the "oohs and ahhs" from demonstrating a second deal-- yet some (apparently) cannot fathom why they cannot possibly baffle their audiences with the same.

In that context, it is nothing more than cheap exposure. The audience is given vivid demonstration of technique that they absolutely do not need to be educated about. Once so tainted, there is no easy path to recovery from it. If one truly feels they need the crutch of a one-handed shuffle to distinguish themselves from Uncle Bob, they really must a lack of faith in the strength of their work.

In the preface to 1946's Card Control, Arthur Buckley wrote:

"It hardly seems necessary to say that a sleight is not intended to be employed for the mystification its execution affords, but rather as a subtle artifice secretly employed to bring about a magical climax."

Anything that impairs or prohibits that 'secret employment' is just plain bad. I believe that Hofzinser created magic for his audiences; I also do not believe that the distinct lack of flourishes in presentations attributed to him were in any way due to happenstance.
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Quote:
On 2004-04-16 00:24, Tony Noice wrote:
....Lee, you questioned the feasibility of measuring astonishment. I think most intelligent professionals are pretty good at judging how well a performance went in terms of succeeding or failing to astonish the audience. However, if you doubt the validity of self-assessment, more direct measures are available. It is quite possible to assess internal states (like astonishment) by measuring the physiological concomitants of those states. Unfortunately, the equipment would be prohibitively expensive, and the procedure nightmarish. So I prefer my indirect but practical measure....


Hahaha I like the phase physiological concomitants. All spectators show 'concomitants' of ashtonishment in different ways. Some people scream, others run away and some people just stare with a blank face. You really can't judge the spectators astonishment by your-self but, instead of working with fancy tools, why don't you just ask your spectators? Instead of flat out asking them about the issue of skill, you can subtly put it in a question. When I was a semi-layman I saw Greg Wilson on tape. He could be considered to have a 'flourishly' style. As I watched him skill never crossed my mind because I was so entertained and amazed by his magic. I think flourishes can be balanced out by a preformers charisma, magic and magician to spectator connection.

But, I agree with Randy's last post... Flourishes might not add to the magic but, they do bring about a certain image some magicians might want.

"For many years, "magicians" have enjoyed the "oohs and ahhs" from demonstrating a second deal-- yet some (apparently) cannot fathom why they cannot possibly baffle their audiences with the same."

A good example is on the Ortiz video "At the Card Table vol 3". I thought his preformance of Ultimate CardShark was boring because it was a basic stroking of his ego. However, another observer would find this very entertaining. Different strokes for different folks?

Thanks,
Lee

Lee
Tony Noice
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Hi Wesley, Randy, et al.
Amazing the number of interesting and stimulating posts this topic has generated!
Randy, your post of April 16 (1.40 AM) raises many valid issues but they are premature since they would apply only to the implementation stage. The purpose of framing a question as a testable research hypothesis is to start discussion and gain input. Usually, dozens of ideas are floated in the experimental sciences for each one that is actually carried out. I said Eugene Burger would be ideal in terms of his well-known desire to create wonder. Other factors that might arise could certainly eliminate him, as well as vast numbers of other potential candidates. For example, one would need to find a qualified magician willing to volunteer very large amounts of time. This requirement would undoubtedly cut down the potential pool enormously. Then, the experimenter would have to make sure that the magician had the technical chops to perform the flourishes perfectly. Apparently you feel Burger would not fall into this category. (I’ve only seen him in the Parlor of Mystery at the Castle and in his all-night lectures at conventions, performances that did not demand any manual dexterity.) Wesley, of course, would fill the bill perfectly. Randy’s next point was that many magicians would be unable to tinker with their natural style. Very true, but, once again, I think Wesley has enough scientific curiosity and objectivity to pull off such an experiment if he wished. That is, he would be able to give his all to a performance with or without flourishes (regardless of his preference for the latter). Finally, you seem to feel that the variability of audiences would doom such a project. If this were true most of the progress in the behavioral sciences in the past 20 years would not have taken place. There are fairly precise tools to control for individual variability. Briefly, you do a pilot study to determine an “effect size” followed by a “power analysis”. This procedure tells the experimenter how many trials will be needed to even out the effects of human variability on the selected dimension. Unfortunately, this makes or breaks many promising experiments. If the number of trials is
do-able and cost-effective, the project continues; otherwise it is abandoned.


However, I was never trolling for experimental
subjects. All the initial research question was designed to do was generate discussion by framing the issue in testable terms, and it seems to have accomplished that. Of course, Wesley, if you want to give it a try, start collecting data, and I’ll have it analyzed. (Gotta keep those grad students busy). Come to think of it, Wes, you knew me in the days when I was doing Cardini type stuff in resorts, clubs, and cruise ships. This must seem like a weird metamorphosis.


Note to Jonathan Townsend, I don’t think informed consent would be a problem, but then again, you never know what some deranged Intuitional Review Board would ask for.
Jonathan Townsend
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I like the idea of an experiment. Not so sure about the loaded preconceptions about 'widely respected' ...

Taking a simpler tact using 'magic clubs' of students learning from teachers etc... one could teach some students a trick using a flourish and some a version without the flourish. Both teachers would be telling the students the obvious lies so they would be out to 'prove' their preconceptions before the laity.

Then ... bring in the audiences... also students with the idea that they will score 'how magical' the performer was.

This seems a workable outline for simple, repeatable, and hopefully elegant data collection. The averages over a few thousand audience response forms might be telling.

Sometimes we forget that one of the muses is cool about experimental design and willing to help on occasion when asked. Smile
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Wesley James
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Tony,
Yes, I remember those days. You may recall that I was performing my "Experiments in Danger" act at that time. I'm no longer sticking my arm in bear traps, chewing up razor blades--with or without thread--or catching bullets. My, how times change.

As for the experiment, I think Randy has a very valid point. Weaving the flourishes seamlessly into a performance would require a fair amount of consideration. I do think it could be managed such that it would not be much of a factor, but a factor it would be. If you can get the budget, I'll make the time.

With that clear, the results, whatever they are, wouldn't be likely to alter my feelings about my experiences but they might persuade me that other factors were responsible for the differences in response I've observed in my own encounters. Since it isn't likely the test is going to happen, I'm left to apply Occam's Razor to my observations. They have served me well thus far and spared my audiences from watching a grown man magically-masturbate in public. They have to be happy about that.

Wesley James
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