Oct 28

Hot News!

The popularity of this site has amazed me. In the past two weeks alone, there have been over 1000 hits to the site and the comments to me in e-mail have been overwhelmingly positive. So, in keeping with my altruistic desire to improve the craft of magic which we practice, I am increasing the level of participation in the study of the Dark Art of Conjuring.

I’ve created a new mailing list for those interested in discussion of the Dark Art of Conjuring. The list is for readers of this site who wish to discuss their ideas in a private environment which arrives in their mailboxes rather than having to visit a site to read the information. You may subscribe here until I delete this article: Necromancing Mailing List  or via the menu link to the left at any time.

The list will not contain any articles posted here but will be for the discussion of any aspect of the study and improvement of our collective skills in conjuring.

Oct 26

Tiger, Tiger, Before You Begin

It doesn’t take a wise man to tell you that everything has a beginning in this life. Even the tallest buidlings start out as a scrape in the dirt with a shovel. Thousands of hours later and perhaps a billion dollars later, a massive building ready to take on its assigned tasks and open its doors to the world. It’s a rare thing that doesn’t require a plan to succeed. Every now and again, an accidental happenstance becomes memorable and repeatable. It doesn’t happen often and it’s certainly not something upon which you can rely.

So, very careful planning must be made to create your memorable act from a box full of illusions that you bought from dozens of magic shops to confuse your competition. Oh, yes. Everyone does it you know. You buy the latest and greatest illusions and tricks to be one up on your competition. Whit Hayden told me once that he has been doing essentially the same act for the past 25 years. We’re on the same page on that one. I’ve been doing nearly the same act for as long as Whit. The obvious thing that goes through people’s minds when they hear that is, “Doesn’t your audience get tired of your show?” You might think so but in this case, the careful development of a full show routine and a set of segues between individual routines gives the act constant vigor and a built in renewability. I actually get customers who hire me because they like a particular routine. Most comment on how different it was from the last time they saw it. Careful routine develoment makes all the difference – literally.

Before you go off and toss your present act into the round file, I’ll make it clear that I don’t recommend everyone run out right now and take this advice of creating a show that can last 25 years. Whit will tell you the same thing as I will. It took a decade or more to actually forge the acts we do into what they are today. They work because of our trial and error, failures and successes. The constant tweaking of words, presentation, movement, timing, delivery and prop improvements didn’t happen over a slow weekend when we had nothing else to do. They were fine tuned during the hundreds or thousands of real world presentations and made into what are now signature pieces.

One odd thing I will mention here is the psychology of the viewer or the audience in magic. As a working pro, you will no doubt experience an epiphany of sorts at some time in your carreer. You will discover the real difference between a magician audience member and a lay audience member. When you do and then simultaneously discover that you cannot possibly evaluate your own show as a result, you will begin to understand the real issues with performing magic. A magician audience member looks at the technical subtlety and delivery of the performer. His ability to fool the magicain is obvious in the comments of magicians who review magic acts. “He blew my socks off!” ” He really fooled me and that’s hard to do!” A lay audience member who reviews a show will say something else. “What a great time I had!” “Everyone was having such a great time we hated for it to end!”

If you don’t see my meaning, stop reading this right now. I mean it. Go off and do something else. Go for a walk. Meet a new friend. Go fishing. Take the dog out for a walk. Take a college course. Do anything else but magic for a living.

The rest of you, pay attention. You must develop your routines in front of real audiences over a long period of time. Your basic routine will start as an idea in your mind, naturally, and work its way into a practial handling and presentation for a series of effects and you must use them in the real world on real people to see and gauge their reactions. Adjust them according the the reaction you get always striving to get the ideal reaction. Don’t try and define the ideal reaction. Watch for it and decide if getting that reaction is repeatable by doing what you did to get it the first time. As you can imagine, this is no easy job to accomplish. This is why it takes decades to fine tune a routine into one that can be performed for a lifetime. Not surprisingly, this is also why magicians don’t like seeing their routines performed by someone else.

I had originally intended to go from my last article into one on story board development. It was a good plan which I modified after I got a few e-mail messages from dedicated readers of Necromancing who needed a bit more background into basics of routine development than is available from traditional magic oriented sources. The best advice I can give at the moment is to look into books that deal with script writing or screenwriting. This really is a complex art you know. It takes a lot of work to get from learning that wonderful effect and presenting it as if it were your very own to an audience who believes it is your very own.

Oct 20

Tiger, Tiger – Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote about how crafting words can influence the minds of observers. In the case of the poem, The Tiger, by William Blake, the reader has an image based solely on the words of the poet. We as performers have an advantage as we set the stage ourselves for our imagery. We do our best to provide props and stage settings to create an atmosphere of mystery. We can enhance that atmosphere by our words.

One of the concepts of directing our audiences’ attention is creating an inescapable box for them which doesn’t allow any retreat from where you led them in the mental sense. If we lead them through their own thoughts to a place that is derived by them in their own minds, there is no escape. The late Eugene Poinc, a master of wordcraft, was so skilled at this that the Learned Pig Project has memorialized his web site and will keep it alive as long as Marco allows his site to exist.

Let’s use an example based around a human skull. You can buy a plastic skull from a medical supply house or costuming shop just about anywhere in the world. Applying some makeup, paint and glue to attach some mosses, dirt, doll hair and bits of what looks like dried skin can take the skull from a clinical and sterile looking display item to a prop worthy of the association with the pure evil you wish to create. How creepy or disgusting you make it is up to you. Once you have the prop, the easy part is done. You now must impart some signifigance to it in the minds of your audience.

You can use a pedestrian, overly simple descriptive route and hope it sticks. That’s the easy way out and the one that most average performers use. Opening a box, removing the skull and holding it up while hoping for shock value falls far short of being entertaining by itself. “Behold, the severed head of Madame de Fronde brutally murdered by her lover.” Now, that might work for a group of 10 year old girls wanting to be scared (no offence intended towards 10 year old girls) but the highly sophisticated audiences we stand before today are used to seeing the special effects guys doing their best work on the wide screen and TV. Simply holding up the skull as if performing Shakespeare won’t cut it any more. It becomes a handbook of what not to do.

You must choose your plan, plot and words with the precision of an attorney who is trying to save his own life. You must lead your audience’s minds collectively towards a conclusion that appears to come from within them but which you have guided them to remorselessly.

The Hook: Dramatic license is very imporant here. A background of music being sung by a hauntingly beautiful soprano voice will help create the mood. Classical music sources abound with the voices you need. As a very low volume background you do a voice-over that begins with a bit of a reminicsence.

“The amazingly lovely song you hear was sung by a not so famous soprano nearly 80 years ago. We are priveledged to be able to hear it today, reproduced from old recordings. But she was more known for her spectacular end rather than her career in voice. You see, the beautiful lady lost her heart to a man.”

This sort of hook begins to set the story into the minds of the audience. The fact that it happened 80 years ago means they can believe themselves to be far more sophisticated than the singer. After all, she lost her heart to a man. How old fashioned is that?

The Lead: You must draw them further into your trap here. Remember, this is a cunning plan that you have laid out and you need to execute it ruthlessly or it fails. You continue your theme.

“In her thirtieth year of life she failed one night to appear at what was her most notable role. It seems she’d lost her head over the man who owned her heart. A body was found without a head near where she lived. She must have intended to appear as she was costumed for her part. Her lover never confessed and there was no evidence to convict. The crime remains unsolved today. Madame de Fronde died at the hands of an unknown fiend.”

Ok. We now have them waiting for the next part of the story. Everyone knows that cold cases can be solved – they see it on television all the time. It’s a natural place to which they have been led.

The Bite: It’s time to lead them into the box from which there is no escape.

“Last year, an old Victorian house on the same block where Madame de Fronde stayed was dismantled to make way for more modern structures. In the attic, this box, large enough for a hat but oddly perfumed with the scent of old lace and long dead gardenias. How this came to be in the house in which I lived so many of my childhood years remains a mystery but as the last remaining member of my family, it fell to my hands.”

Opening the box, you pause and look at the audience while reaching inside. Lifting out the skull, you continue.

“Could this be . . .? Is this our lovely voice? Can there . . . will there . . . be justice after all this time?”

The Illusion: I’ll leave this bit up to you. My thoughts run towards the Disembodied Head illusion where there appears a speaking head on a pillow inside a box resting on an ornate table. I’d place the skull back in its box, move it to the table and do a very spooky incantation to reanimate the head and allow it to speak to the audience for the first time since the day the woman was murdered. The means and execution of this are easy to accomplish and published elsewhere.

Getting from concept to complete routine is not done casually. In fact, something called a storyboard is needed to start the process which I actually finished here. Unfortunately, without seeing this process as I have described it here, a storyboard discussion is hard to follow. Thus, you get the cart before the horse with this installment.

On some future date, the storyboard will be described for you.

Oct 19

Tiger, Tiger . . .

William Blake’s immortal poem is a powerful example of how words can paint a picture that is undeniably real in the mind of the reader or listener. It opens like this.

The Tiger – By William Blake

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry

The ruddy orange of the tiger’s body color and the supple moves of the tiger walking through the forests of Asia are burned into the mind’s eye by those words which do what a camera does today. Remember, this was written in the early 1800s for an audience who had only seen paintings of tigers. We have the benefit of countless tiger documentaries from which to draw our imagery and connect our memories to those words. The reader of the day had probably never seen a real tiger much less knew any real fear from the fierceness of the beast. When they started making their way into zoos and circuses, the images in the public’s mind started to match the words of the poem.

As magical entertainers, our words can paint a picture which we assist in making real by our props or performance. Who can ever forget the beauty of the effect and the powerful emotions the audience exhibits when watching The Artist’s Dream?

Our words can have a very high degree of influence on our audience and their perception of our performance. Call it what you will, misdirection or redirection, our words can box and frame the thoughts and perceptions of an audience just as quickly as they can ruin an effect. The old adage of “practice makes perfect” applies here most undeniably. We’ve all seen the most horrid magician in the world perform by saying, “I now place this silk into this ordinary box with two doors on the front and two holes on the side.” I don’t know about you but no box I ever owned had two doors on the front of it unless it was quite outside of the ordinary. Thus, the world’s best magician would frame words to the audience and box them into a believable situation for placing “a colorful cloth into this hand crafted, hand painted and exquisitely decorated box conceived as a ‘must have’ accessory for decorating your home.”

It can be something as simple as that which changes an ordinary trick into a routine that will completely captivate, if only for the moment, your audience. When dealing with the darker side of magic and your audience control, some very specific things need to have your attention. Tomorrow, I will give you some advice on this particular skill.

Oct 17

Magnetic Madness

Is there any doubt as to the importance of cell phones (called mobile phones here in Australia) to the average human being? I can safely say that now as more than half of the world population is able to at least own a phone. For the record, there are more mobile phones here in Australia than there are residents of Australia. That means some of us have more than one!

In times past, seeing a person walking down the street mumbling to themselves was a sure sign of madness or insanity. Today, it means they have Bluetooth(tm) enabled. Have you ever had your cell phone ring during a performance? I put mine on silent ring but lately I've simply left it off stage. You see, I have one of those strong magnetic catches on the cover which grabs my stage props at the worst possible time. There's nothing worse than seeing a photo of yourself with one of your linking coat hangers dangling mysteriously from your belt area. Fortunately, I caught that during my video taped rehearsal and stopped wearing my phone ever after while on stage.

It does give me an idea for close up, though. How about you? can you imagine how easy it would be to hide out a magnetic item on that innocent looking phone on your belt? Think about it. Everyone seems to have a phone somewhere on their person these days. Why not carry yours on your belt?

If you don't like that idea, here's another one that would put a magnet on your belt. Go here and look at the variety of rare earth magnets available.  http://www.kjmagnetics.com/ Buy a small, thin one and glue it to your belt. Cover it with some vinyl tape of the proper size & color and you have the miraculous magnetic holder of your dreams. Even if you don't wear a belt, you can open the cloth along the beltline from inside the waist and insert a magnet there. Women often don't wear belts and this is a good way to create a very innocent means to deliver something magnetic into your hand.

Fold a note with a memorized serial number into a paper clip and put it there. Exchange it at your leisure with a borrowed bill of the same denomination. A recent post on the alt.magic newsgroup offered magnetic cards for sale. Aside from the normal questioning of the seller's having made them "professionally" or not, the cards could be used as a force card, placed in an envelope and fairly mixed with other cards which are also placed in envelopes. The act of bringing them near to the hidden magnet one by one will allow you to find that card no matter how fairly they are mixed.

So, use that noggin of yours and come up with ways to use this easily hidden device.

Oct 16

Gray Elephant Telemarketer

I received a phone call on my home line just now. We never get business calls on that line. The person on the other end asked for the business owner. I replied, “I’m sorry but the business owner has died.” The rest of the call went like this:
Caller: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps you can help me.”
Me: “You don’t understand. He just now died. The phone rang. He stood up, grabbed his chest and fell down. What do I do?”
Caller: “Uh, uh, uh . . .”
Me: “I don’t know what to do. I’ve never had this happen before. He’s just laying there on the floor.”
Caller: “Maybe call an ambulance?”
Me: “I can’t. I’m on the phone now.”
<click>

My wife says I’m mean. I say I’m just creative. Who cares what the telemarketer says?

I did an old Max Maven bit to a telemarketer once. I had him writing things down and making his list based on the clever work of Max’s Gray Elephant in Denmark Q&A. Max is one of the most brilliant minds in mentalism and dark conjuring. Almost any of his effects can be modified to make them appear original.

One of my personal goals is to never perform anything just like someone else. Oh, I do some of the old standards of magic but I do my own, very special version in every case. Max seems to create things that lend themselves to being made into what appears to be new material. If you’ve never read any of his stuff, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of anything he’s done.

What are you waiting for? Go on and browse the web searching for some of his material!

Oct 15

Chalk It Up

When is the last time you saw anyone use chalk in their daily life? Even school teachers are using whiteboard markers and dry erase pens today. Young children only know what it is because they still use it on sidewalks to play hopscotch or other games. How do we as magicians or mentalists justify the use in these modern times of PDAs and paperless offices? It’s a challenge, all right.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine came over and gave me a wonderful antique locking slate from his collection. My first thoughts after thanking him profusely for this wonderful gift was to wonder what I was going to do with it. I don’t know about you but I can’t simply have one of these in my possession and not use it at least once. Ideally, I would incorporate it permanently into a routine that I could use when the mood was just right. The only sticking point was how to introduce the chalk in a practical and natural manner.

I remember as a child my father marking my height against a door jamb in our family home. To not damage the paint, he used chalk which somehow miraculously stayed on the pastel green paint for years and years. There were four sets of marks for all of us and somehow we all knew which marks were ours. It was great fun and makes a great anecdote but it’s not a practical use of chalk today.

Doodling on the slate, I started playing Tic Tac Toe and the image reminded me of playing darts at the local pub, keeping score on a . . . hold on! The score was being kept on a chalk board! That was my answer! All I had to do was move the discussion and patter I used into the area of a venerable, old fashioned game of darts. It would even be quite fun to have a spectator throw darts on stage and have their score predicted on the slate and sealed in an envelope. The ideas are starting to come now and it won’t be long before I have a routine in place that will make use of this aged but still useful piece of magic apparatus. I’m going to heat up the kettle and have a cup of Earl Grey while I contemplate the rest of this possibility.

And then I’m going out to my storeroom and rummage around in some old trunks I haven’t been in for years. What fun!

Oct 15

Rolling Your Own

Whether to buy or create has always been the choice we have regarding performing magic. It’s easy to browse the catalogs dreaming of what each effect would look like if we were the performer instead of that guy holding the prop in the picture. When it comes in the mail delivered to us, it becomes yet another fancy colored, sparkling box being shifted around on stage for the intented amusement of our paying audiences. If you buy the latest and most popular trick out there in magic land, you will be one of many who are performing this same effect for different audiences. It’s no wonder that many who see the average magician perform can’t even remember his or her name. Believe it or not, average is the point. There’s nothing noteworthy about being average.

To stand out in magic, you must create. That’s not an option or a far off wish. You MUST create magic. You either do it or you become the mediocre magician that you hate to watch. You can try to convince yourself that using red scarves instead of white sets you apart. You know it doesn’t. So, what do you do when you feel as if all the good stuff has been created and that there’s nothing left for you? It’s easier than you think.

Modify and adapt. That’s the simple answer. Let’s take the humble Egg Bag, for example. It’s been around for nearly 100 years and entertained millions. Max Malini, Charlie Miller, Dai Vernon, Johnny Thompson and Tony Slydini are among the notables who have performed this vernerable standard of magic. I’ve seen their act performed word for word and action for action by performers today who have discovered the magical effect that this trick has on audiences. They who rediscover and perform the routines of the past are nothing but untalented mimics. Sorry, but the truth needs to be told.

Why not use the Egg Bag to far greater effect by making it original? Have you thought about making a Christmas stocking with a pocket inside? Using a shiny, chromed ball instead of an egg would turn that effect into a masterpiece! Routine it with a set of multiplying chrome ornaments and you would turn it into a signature piece for yourself. How about a black velvet egg bag with a large, golf ball sized acrylic diamond in it? Telling a story about a jewel thief and the policeman who was searching him would be very unique and mysterious when the gem appeared and disappeared.

And that’s just the Egg Bag. There are thousands of effects out there waiting for a creative brain to make them unique and truly magical. In the immortal words of the great Paul Harvey, “Stand by for more!”

Oct 15

Neurolinguistically Speaking

I can’t really say enough about this well known but often misunderstood branch of psychology. Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been around for centuries but it took two men, Bandler and Grinder, to codify and explain the reasons for the use and the workings of NLP. If you don’t have a copy of Frogs Into Princes on your book shelf, you’ve simply missed the start of it all.

Stage performers, production directors, stage managers and floor managers at performances have all innately understood the use of psychology in ensuring that their audiences were in exactly the right place mentally and emotionally during performance. Anyone who ever saw the great Harry Blackstone, Sr perform has seen the practice of NLP carried to the perfect level encouraging, no – forcing, the audience to believe for just a few moments that real magic was happening in front of them. His words and actions were a perfect marriage of control that engaged spectators at a fundamental, root level which gave them no choice but to be in awe of what they witnessed. They used to call it showmanship. Those who know better define it as the rudiments of NLP.

Oct 15

To Forum or Not?

At the moment, I have not set up a forum but would entertain the idea if enough interest was shown. There are certainly enough magic related forums out there and I would not be interested in becoming just another one. This isn’t simply vanity addressing this issue. It’s a matter of watering down the intensity of discussion on a forum that wasn’t necessary. So, comments are welcome on this one. Should I install a forum for readers?

Oct 02

It Begins Here

Some magicians like the performance of magic using comedy and some like using the dark and mysterious. Audiences like both. Don’t be fooled into believing that your desires always match those of your audiences. Always be adaptable; never predictable.

There’s a time and place for every type of magic. This site is dedicated to those who wish to cultivate a meaningful presentation or one that brings heightened levels of mystery into the performance of conjuring. Welcome.