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Many of magicdom’s regularly used terms are archaic, confusing, and obtuse. Tommy Wonder cited “misdirection” as a term that is fundamentally wrong and misleading. The term “direction” is more accurate, easy to understand, and is far more appropriate. Tommy Wonder was right.

Let’s look at other common terms that do not tell the full, or accurate story.
“Impromptu” and “unprepared” are two such problematic words. Many might define
“impromptu” in magic as performing with borrowed objects. Others might feel it is seemingly unprepared items, or merely what items are at hand.

And, what of magic with borrowed or unprepared things? Certainly, there is magic with borrowed items, and a huge amount of magic with unprepared items. But, is that really important? Or, if you believe it is, how important is it and why? In my experience, truly impromptu magic does not exist, and I believe that whether items are prepared or not is of little importance. Now that a few folks are shaking their heads with disgust and disagreement, let’s talk about why.

I’ve seen performers do rather extensive and effective sets, using completely the
“objects at hand.” Jack Chanin pops into my mind as one who was great at doing apparently so much with so little. Was that
“impromptu?” Not at all, to my way of thinking. There was a lot of work completed before the first ad hoc performance was ever presented. Yet, the feeling that “these things just happen around me,” is an extremely important concept for intimate performances.

Let’s take a look at a routine found in a great magic book: Dai Vernon’s “Impromptu Cups and Balls,” which was the Stars of Magic Series 5, No. 1, found on page 69 of the hardbound, compiled edition. Page 70 discussed the “preparation,” so already we are leaving the impromptu arena. There is a quote early on: “However, the use of every day articles, such as glasses wrapped in paper, heightens the effect from the spectator’s viewpoint because he realizes that no tricky paraphernalia is used.” While described with small paper balls, the description explains that olives can be used, or whatever might be handy. Have any olives in your pocket at the moment? Well, you must have three lemons or properly sized fruit merrily nestled somewhere in your pockets, don’t you? I am completely fruitless at the moment.

I’ll make a guess that Bruce Cervon (though I’ve never seen him perform his routine) uses shiny, classy sets of metal cups-and would not use plastic cups even if working the world’s largest Tupperware show! Most workers would not-for good reasons. I’ll also bet that Bruce seldom uses little crumpled up balls of toilet tissue in his routine-though there is hardly a more commonly used household article. I doubt that you would see Mr. Cervon perform in boxer trunks, though that would preclude
“tricky paraphernalia” from his performances in large measure.

There is a point to all of this. Forget the
“impromptu” nonsense. What is an important consideration is that props or other objects used are obviously uncontrived. Borrowed or not, it is the end picture that needs to be kept in mind before the show ever begins. I would hope that the end game is a picture resplendent with audiences thoroughly enjoying themselves, yet remembering that they have experienced the impossible.

A cup is instantly recognizable as a cup. A ball is a ball. Using elegant, classy yet recognizable objects can only add to the allure, intrigue, and elegance of your routine. It shows that you care, and your audience will care as well. The bell-like resonance of metal cups is a big step up from even the most melodic of all suitable Tupperware products. The borrowed nature in this instance becomes a small bonus at best.

The “no preparation” nonsense is worthy of a little examination as well. There is preparation to most any piece of performable magic. Before eyebrows raise themselves to an uncomfortable level, consider that both knowledge and practice are certainly preparation. Even when you are performing a baffling piece with no apparent objects, there is significant investment in time, study, rehearsal, and other efforts. Your mind may be your gimmick, your knowledge your tool, and your voice may be your main prop. Your hands are invaluable, but they have been well prepared!

There is actually some commonality of thoughts. It’s not that important if something is actually “impromptu,” though it may well prove most effective if it appears that way. It’s not whether an object is gaffed or not, but it is important that it is, looks, sounds, and feels that it is not. If it appears to be a gizmo, if it sounds like a gizmo, or smells like a gizmo, it probably is a gizmo. Worse yet-it may not be an altered item, but if your audiences feel that it might be, the magical experience we hope to create is lost in great measure.

What is more likely is that whether you disagree or agree, but questioning what has gone by without a close look will produce benefits. It will hone and sharply define what you seek to create as a magical experience. You opinions may change, or become more firmly believed in. Either way, everybody wins. Without a vivid concept of what your performance should be, it is hard to get there. Couldn’t many of us benefit by taking a fresh, hard look at what we are doing, and then characterize everything that we do in terms of our individuality and specific performing environments?

It is worthy of your time, effort, and study to crisply define, in your own terms, what we have taken for granted for far too long. Perhaps you feel that the traditional magic-related terms have not deviated at all, and the literature you have studied is not flawed. That is a possibility.

Randy Wakeman
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Harris Deutsch
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Thanks for sharing your experience and strength on this topic.

Whether doing impromptu magic or an
improvisational routine as part of Comedy Sportz, much more is going on then meets the eye.

When doing lines, or magic routines, I have to connect with the audience so that I put energy into the routine, without sounding
and looking like this is the 1000 time I have done it. Making it look fresh and
polished is a balance I try for.

Some things seem impromptu. An example was after doing a short routine with the 4 queens, a spectator asked if I could do something with the kings.

Little did he know that I had just switched the kings in. To him and the audience it seemed very impromptu.

It was a very "magical moment".

In this instance it was just luck.(coincidence or perhaps a higher power wanting to remain anonymous.

Thanks again Randy.

You are appreciated.

Harris Smile
Harris Deutsch aka dr laugh
music, magic and marvelous toys
Hal Weaver
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Not that it affects your central argument, but I saw Bruce do a cup and ball routine on a tv show about Vernon. He used coffee cups (or maybe tea cups). I don't remember whether he used olives or balls of dollar bills or just paper, but whatever they were, they were something equally mundane.

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Plainfield, ILLINOIS
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That would make sense, if Bruce was paying homage to his friend and teacher, Mr. Vernon.

Many things portrayed as "impromptu" are anything but. The Boy Scout's motto applies . . .

Now, to borrow those olives in the trade show booth . . .
Rodney Massey
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For those of you who enjoyed that post as much as I did, purchase Randy Wakeman Presents for both wonderful reading and diabolical card magic.
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Dear Randy,
Excellent post/essay; where to begin?

Okay, it's my oppinion that every thing in life that is presented to someone, whether it be you presenting a portfolio for your boss or presenting a magical effect for someone, is prepared. There's no such thing as unprepared in this realm. Even when you speek, you must first think of the words which is obviously preparing to speak.

It's the period after you think of the words, the period when the spectator is waiting to hear, that will determine whether your audience considers your thoughts/words to be legitimate. After a person asks you a question that is not extremely in depth, doesn't require a great deal of thought, such as, "Did your sister steal a cookie out of the cookie jar?" should you sit there and think for thirty seconds, then reply 'No', you would have inevitably aroused a great deal of suspicion as to whether that was a legitimate answer.

It's the same with magic, I've found. If after being asked to present one of your remarkable magical effects, you sit there for awhile, this would include changing the subject, and don't immediately perform; the spectator will undoubtedly feel that you hesitated and all that makes your magical effects magical will have been lost.

Therefore I agree with you when you say that it's the end result that counts, but your audience will not be impacted by just the end result, you must properly begin first. And after you begin, whether it be a stage routine, stand-up or close-up, should you have hesitated at all in an unnatural manner, the spectators will feel too uncomfortable and emmotionally unattached that they will not care about the end result. They may act immpressed, but it's just because they feel sorry for you.

Thus, the definition of 'immpromptu' is derived. The act of presenting things without hesitation and as if you had no prior knowledge. So if you really think about, as long as your prepared and the spectator asks 'YOU' to do magic, every effect can appear to be immpromptu and that much stronger, assuming that the effect has no hesitation either in the beginning or end, because how magical would it be to Frodo and the other hobbits if Gandalf, while fighting an enemy, had to call a 'time out' so that he could adjust the hidden flame thrower concelled in his sleeve? Sure it may have seemed magical to the hobbits, but all faith was lost the minute Gandalf hesitated.

Please offer any insights you have to this philosophy, as I respect your thought process. Thanks for the intellectual post and I look forward to reading more from you.
Your fellow magi,
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Great post, Randy!

I would say that the term "impromptu" only refers to the impression the audience has. If it looks impromptu to the audience, it certainly is impromptu, no matter how much time you spent preparing, practicing, rehearsing and setting up. The key issue here is that all of this is unknown to the audience. To them, it is impromptu.

Gregory Wilson shared some thoughts on this in a lecture I attended recently. He has a friend -- also a magician -- that he goes out to eat with every once in awhile.

Gregory told us how he would drive to the restaurant before the time they were supposed to meet. He would then bribe the waiters, "set up" the table, switch salt packets and things like that. All of which he did to present better "impromptu" effects. (Only problem was his magician friend started doing the same, so sometimes they would meet each other at the restaurant 15-30 minutes before time.) Smile

Anyway, Gregory's point was: Be prepared. Also when you do seemingly impromptu material.
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When I was in high school (so, so long ago...), I was a competitive public speaker. My specialization within the various categories of competition was "Extemporaneous Speaking."

"Extemporaneous" is often listed as a synonym for "impromptu" in dictionaries and thesari, and I tend to agree. However, don't try for even one second to tell me that an extemporaneous speaker is "unprepared!" The measure of extemporaneity (now there's a word-of-the-day for you) was not the degree of preparedness of the speaker, though that was certainly a factor in his/her success, but, rather, the spontaneousness of the act of speaking. In a typical extemporaneous speaking competition, each speaker would be given a random topic; then we would be given somewhere between half an hour and an hour, depending on the nature of the competition, to write a 3-5 minute speech on that topic. As resources for writing the speech, we had the library of the school in which we were speaking, as well as any information we brought with us. Some teams would bring literally filing cabinets full of resource material; some of us would bring next to nothing -- I usually brought a deck of cards. Smile The speech would then be presented to judges and any other spectators with no other speaking aids than a single 3 x 5 notecard -- and some competitions did not allow even that.

What's important here as, in my opinion, the defining factor in determining the "impromptu-ness" of the speech was not the degree of preparedness of the speakers. Some of them brought fully-written speeches on a variety of topics and just picked what they needed on the spot. Some made the whole thing up on the spot based on their general knowledge of the topic. The common element is not the preparedness but the "on the spot" nature of the activity.

Let's say I'm at a gathering of friends and someone asks me to do some magic. Consider three scenarios:
1) The person hands me a deck of cards as they make the request.
2) I pull out my own unprepared deck and launch into an effect.
3) I pull out my Invisible Deck and go into the standard routine.
Which performance scenario is more impromptu? I would argue that from the spectator's perspective, they may well all be equally impromptu in that all three resulted in instantaneous, on-the-spot magic at someone's request. The performer may feel, however, that the borrowed deck performance was the most impromptu, whereas the Invisible Deck routine was the least.

Like an extemporaneous speaker, I can bring into any given moment a filing cabinet full of gaffs and gimmicks . . . or just a deck of cards . . . or just my own head full of knowledge of the art. The simple ability to respond instantaneously to a request for magic is the determinator of my ability to perform "impromptu magic" -- my degree of skill and overall preparedness to do magic is the determinator of my success in entertaining those who asked for it.

I guess what I'm saying, in brief, is that it's perfectly possible to be prepared to do impromptu magic. In fact it's necessary to be prepared. The degree of that preparedness depends on the magician.

Currently, I am not fully equipped to do impromptu magic. This is simply because all I do are card tricks. While I try to have one or two decks on me at all times, it's not hard to catch me without one. If someone asks me to do some magic and there are no playing cards within reach, I have no choice but to hang my head low, shuffle my feet in embarassment, and hope I can meet the request by quietly making myself disappear. Now, this is my bad...and it's a problem I'm currently working to overcome.

The thing is, I used to do more than card work, but I "specialized" myself into contextual paralysis. I'm currently exploring coin and rubberband work -- viva la "everyday objects"!

However...having said that, what do you do if there are no coins or rubber bands around? Look for small animals to levitate? Dead flies to reanimate? What's an impromptu magi to do?

The key is, I think, to prepare yourself by learning utility techniques that do not rely on a certain "thing." The French Drop, for example, does not have to be done with a coin. There are many, many other examples, I'm sure. Our ability to do impromptu magic must go beyond the stuff we carry around. In the same manner that, as an extemporaneous speaker, I had access to all the material in the library and could do well by just combining what was at hand with what was in my head, as an impromptu magician, you have at your disposal whatever is within reach, as well as whatever is in your head.
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Hey Caffeinator, try Gregory Wilson's "On the Spot Video"
"Master of the Obvious"
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David Juraschek
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Borrow a shoelace and do ring on string stuff.

Crush some napkins and do cups and balls or a paper tear.

I agree with the notion above about utility moves - including not only the french drop, but a wonderful and oft overlooked gem: lapping.

The more we can learn to thing as everything around us having wonder-full potential, the better we'll be at apparently impromptu magic.

I think that this is one of the cruxes of Jeff McBride's 24X7 concept.

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To explain where I stand here are the first two paragraphs from my manuscript "The Edge Of The Stage" (c) 1988.
We will begin by defining impromptu magic as that form of theatrical conjuring that is, or has the appearance of being, spontaneous. Impromptu magic seems to be improvised, yet it differs from improvisational magic in that it is rehearsed and practiced in the form it will take during presentation.

For the purposes of this essay we will make only minor distinctions between those effects that require some form of preparation and those which can be performed when the requisite props only are at hand. It is of little consequence to those for whom you perform that you must be wearing a sport coat in order to make a cigarette disappear.

I'd suggest that it matters a great deal to an audience if when they see cups and balls being performed with cups which have no obvious "real world" use. The fact that they can't tell what's tricky about them doesn't matter if they think there is something tricky about them. Something Erdnase wrote about not suspecting let alone detecting comes to mind.

When you say:
Forget the “impromptu” nonsense. What is an important consideration is that props or other objects used are obviously uncontrived."

Laymen know they don't know. So there's no guarantee of somthing being perceived as "obviously uncontrived" to a layman. Have you ever listened to laymen explain how a trick was accomplished after the magician had left?

Real people do perceive a difference between magic done with things at hand vs. something taken from your pocket. A cups and balls routine done with glasses wrapped in paper is a sure way to amaze laymen... IF the situation is right.

The the right situation for that particular effect is when some insists on seeing something and you don't have anything with you. Then the fact that you constructed the act in front of them adds to the effect in a way that a set of Paul Fox cups never could.

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Get the book 'magic with your head' by Mac King.
Full of great and impromptu magic.
Werner G. Seitz
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On 2002-08-04 22:04, RandyWakeman wrote:
In my experience, truly impromptu magic does not exist, and I believe that whether items are prepared or not is of little importance. Now that a few folks are shaking their heads with disgust and disagreement, let’s talk about why.

There is a point to all of this. Forget the
“impromptu” nonsense.

I better stay out of this, because most, if not all what you mentioned, reflects my own thoughts !
And they are not popular amongst those doing *impromptu* magic...

I'll though add one more thing.
Doing any magic, to me, is to strive to get the MOST out of it, I dislike settle for less.
Less in this case also means, I want to use props - and here I don't mean apparatus, but coins (shiny ones) ball for f.ex a chopcup that I can handle optimal - and not some paper with a 'ma****' manipulated inside, a suitable silk when a such one is needed instead of a too smal and stiff borrowed one..aso.
I want to get the most out of it, and that I can't by using stuff lying around somewhere, sticky, dirty *material* laying around in a bar or somewhere else..so I prefer to be *prepared* .
That's all I want to say, this issue is far to controversial to say too much, one could go on and one and still it's just talk..everybody has their own opinion and I know well there are ppl around able to work *impromptu* and doing a very good job...
Learn a few things well.....this life is not long enough to do everything.....

( Words of wisdom from Albert Goshman ...it paid off for him - it might
as well for YOU!!!- My own magic is styled after that motto... Smile )
Pete Biro
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Last two times I saw Cervon work close up he used white coffee cups for a great C and B routine.
STAY TOONED... @ www.pete-biro.com
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Your original post is interesting.

Have you read Micheal Webber's introduction to Lifesavers?

Theories are a little similar.
Parson Smith
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