The Extra Mile, the Last Mile, and the Only Mile

Recently, I’ve been working on a months-long research project of sorts. While I can’t go into a lot of detail, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s a lot of work, a long commitment, and definitely won’t yield anything concrete that would seem to justify the trouble. Recently I was catching up with a friend who I hadn’t seen in some time and mentioned it, and one of his first questions was “What made you want to do that?” Not in an accusatory way, or a dismissive one, but honestly wondering. And in that moment I realized I had never fully articulated even to myself the thinking behind it, so I wanted to lay it out here.

At first I thought it was that I wanted to go the Extra Mile. I wanted to really, deeply understand this topic in a way most magicians, and even most people who specialize in this area, don’t. But I realized it wasn’t that exactly. It wasn’t wanting to go beyond. It was that too often in magic I see people (myself included) with an idea, an interest, a method, a presentation, what have you, who don’t take it all the way. They get it to a workable place, they research it just enough to satisfy their curiosity, or practice it just enough to do it into a mirror, but never actually make it into what it could be. I realized I see that all the time and I didn’t want that to be me anymore. This research project was a way for me to prove to myself not that I would go the Extra Mile, but that I would go the Last Mile, and completely understand the topic, not just know enough to bluff my way through a conversation about it. Because that’s the thing about the Last mile: it’s the Only Mile. It doesn’t matter how far you have traveled or how far you have taken a project, if it never crosses that final threshold from “eh, it works,” to “yes, this is what this was meant to be,” then it still isn’t done. So this project is a promise, and a reminder, to myself not to settle for “it works,” and make sure that I always take things through to that Last Mile.

 — Z.Y.

Four Suits
Gifts & Sacrifice​​​​​​​: A Review of David Blaine Live

 

This is about my first time seeing David Blaine live.

I saw Blaine’s first live show in Arizona with J.R. We drove overnight and endured blistering heat and monsoon downpours to get to Fox Theatre in Tucson. I have to say it was definitely worth it.

To my bewilderment, that event was was the most emotional I’ve ever been in a magic show – ever. Not like that’s hard for me to be emotionally moved by anything but still…

If he didn’t already make sense to me on T.V. – he finally made so much more sense in person. And I haven’t seen him or magic the same way since. Here’s what prompted the thought.

I remember a friend of mine talking about being actually offended by the physical stunts he was pulling off in Real or Magic and his new special Beyond Magic.

From our conversation, what I gathered was: it seems selfish, to some people, to have the world watch a man put himself in impossible situations where he should’ve surely died or gotten hurt very badly. “How could he put people through that and call it magic?”, she asked in palpable distress waving here wine glass at the screen. “How could he put people and himself through so much pain, what is he trying to prove?”

I didn’t really know what to say to her, or how I could explain it in a way that sounds nuts and frankly so niche. I new I got what he was doing in a deeper unspoken sense, but I didn’t understand it well enough to explain it back to her. The only thing I could get out of me was that, “I don’t think it’s that simple”.

Fundamentally I couldn’t deny that this is a quality about Blaine’s magic can’t be ignored. People are captivated, yet also very polarized about his work and I think the best answer to them was in his first ever tour.

The first thing that was made immediately clear when you see him in person is that he, indeed, is inexplicably doing everything he is claiming to do. Which is the best and worst part for some people looking to debunk what his magic is about.

Is that magic though?

I don’t know that answer for everyone, but from what I did experience live: yes, wholeheartedly to me, it was.

He demonstrated that magic doesn’t exist just in clever sleights but believing for a moment that something impossible – that everything in life has proven to you should not happen without severe consequence – is happening right in front of you. He shows you exactly how he’s doing it but not in a magician-y way, he’s showing the actual way he did it.

And it doesn’t always go right, some of it is very unscripted. People can tell the difference between things going as planned and improv and that’s the thing that makes it real. He shows it go wrong too, even slightly, even if it is embarrassing, to show you that it’s happening and he commits to it.

Being physically present to see this show without editing, you feel what he goes through, you see him adapt and improvise to make it work. You empathize.

It forces you to ask the question what does it mean to me if it is real?

https://youtu.be/oLAs11gkqKE

“This is not a ‘Trick’”

What do you have to hold on if you know it’s not a trick?

In his own way, his sacrifice and commitment is his gift to show children, adults and any human that he will put himself through these tests of the human condition so his audience can experience something impossible and show you that magic can be in the reality that you embody.

He shows that the distinction between magic and reality doesn’t even matter in the first place.

It’s our choice to deny reality or magic that comes into our life, but when that needle is definitely coming through his arm and when you see him definitely put his plain self into a water tank and you try to hold your breath with him as long as you can... you feel the commitment, the work, the sacrifice all for this rare and beautiful moment you’re never going to see again – not quite like this.

It all hits you as you sit at the edge of your velvet seat, you want to scream,

“I believe in your sacrifice, I believe your art. The will of people is magic in itself. Please come out. Please.

I believe you.”

-- H.A.

 

Magic Live 2018 (What To Do) + 1 Year Anniversary (Thank You!)

Dear Reader -

This just in y'all, did you know we recently passed our 1 year anniversary (last month)? It's been a crazy time here on the site and out in the world with the 4 Suits team. I'd just like to thank everyone for their support this year, online and irl, all my fellow teammates, and all the people who allow us to make this happen -- here's to more magic! 

We'll also be at Magic Live this upcoming year, and wearing some sort of obnoxious branding that will ID us. The Jerx has done some fun challenges to "code in" to being a reader of their site in the past, and if you'd like to say hello to us in a secret way... well... ah screw it just say you read the site and we'll be extremely giddy that it isn't just all our mothers logging in from various VPNs trying to make us feel better. 

Cheers y'all,

-- J.R.

People Stopped Looking

I was talking with a mentalist this week. 

How weird is it to be hired for the exact same gig yet both come with an entirely different set of props, skills, and presentations? 

This kind of is an addition to some of my previous thoughts on mindreaders. 

There’s something about the inherent trust and connection when it comes to the idea of mindreading, in direct opposition to the contrarian chase of the magician by an audience member. 

I had guests come to me talking about the person who’ll read their mind. When I work with many other magicians, the guests ask me about the other guy who’ll show them tricks. That’s an important difference. 

Whether it’s embraced or pushed against is completely up to you. 

— J.R. 

An Open Letter to a Friend & Magician No Longer Here

Now, I know that we get a lot of people that don’t know me (J.R.) in person. So it’s a bit strange for me to write what follows (a semi-private yet magic-related matter) on this public site, but I think there is some value in sharing it with the world, and keeping the private information private, and the public public. The magic magic.

 

Dear L.P. --

You left us all here just the other day. You went away, you moved. We won’t have any more conversations again, and I won’t bump into you at the Castle anymore. It all seems so surreal, because I just saw you the other day and everything was fine, but you moved on just a couple days later.

I met you when I first began performing magic, I distinctly remember the moment we first met outside of that fundraiser in NoHo. D.B. was there as well. I remember you performing the absurd fork routine and myself loving it so much that I asked you if I could perform the routine myself. Graciously, you said yes, and asked me to improve on it someway and share those improvements back with you and the magic community.

I kept track of your successes on various shows and at various venues across the states. I did my best to keep in touch. I still remember you jumping off your bike after riding out to see my very first full-length show in the Fringe that year. I still think about your support of a fellow magician, and your sincere interest in something beyond me personally, your sincere interest in magic itself.

Every time we talked, every time we engaged about magic, it was always about that, it was always about the thing of absolute importance -- it was not about us -- it was about the magic, the experience for everyone else. This performance trait is recognized through some of the words I’ve heard others speak recently in your absence, it was part of your character to me, and to many your fellow performers.   

I was looking forward to talking with you more as I settled back down in LA, and I’m genuinely sad that we won’t be able to continue our talks. But I’m extremely thankful for everything you’ve done already, and for your positive impacts on the world around you while you were here.

This is one of the first times I find myself in this situation, and I almost don’t know what to say.

The only thing I can think of, is that I hope you’re well wherever you are now.

I hope to talk to you again, someday.

With all my love, and magic, thank you for sharing yours with me, and with all of us,

-- J.R.

 

Jax Ridd
(Cr/D)uel Reality

Duel reality effects in magic are some of my favorite, and it was only upon recent reflection that I realized one of the first I learned (though certainly never performed, if that is even the right word) is one presented by R. Paul Wilson in "The Real Hustle."

As a quick aside, I think most magicians can learn more from this series than they can from the majority of magic books. Although it teaches basically no moves, it is filled with example after example of the psychology required to lure somebody into a moment of astonishment and surprise. Obviously in the show's context this surprise is bad, but the concepts are the same those used in magic effects.

The particular effect I was reminded of was his BH Wallet Scam. You can watch the video (it's about 6 minutes) to see the basics, but the core concept is one of dual reality. The performer (or con man) sets up the audiences (the marks and the waiter) so that they will interpret his actions, and more importantly their own actions waiving to the waiter), in two completely different ways. Not only that, but it shows how far you can get with a very, very small duel reality. If Wilson can get an entire meal out of a single waive, imagine what you can get in a magic context.

--Z.Y.

Four Suits
Talk to Me

Yes, you, magician, comic, Person-on-stage-requiring-my-attention. I'm giving it to you – all of it. In fact, I may have payed good money, silenced my phone, tried my damnedest not to scroll through my social feed, dragged my friends out to do something different just to be here to see you, Person, in the spotlight.

We could have seen your act on youtube, instagram, netflix or broadcast television. But we came out here to see you, here. Talk to us somehow.

Once your start talking at me and not with me, you have lost us, both the volunteer, audience and yourself. We are now a crowd of bodies in a room watching patter dribble from your lips.

"Patter is Death." - Jay Sankey, BENDING THE REAL.

Magic happens when you are able to take unexpected moments from the audience and turn them into gifts. That only happens when you know your act well enough; your hard work actually speaks to us and you'll get a response. If patter is your crutch, it will keep you crippled and distant from the people who came to see you.

Let's say I took a risk to be a prop in your act and I volunteered myself, have the confidence to be human – take that risk with me. Ask me something, directly, honestly, I'm already here for you. Learn something about me in hopes we can learn something about you.


The only difference between a Performer and a person yelling into the void, is the ability to earn a crowd as their audience.


Artist performing to a crowd, talk to me. Tell me what you have to say.

 

— H.A. 

dear readerJax Ridd
Joel McHale on Magic | "Teller-izing"

So the other day I performed for this guy. If you don’t know him, Joel McHale is a comedian and actor, and somehow labelled with the “Observational Comedy” genre tag within the Comedy taxonomy on wikipedia.

True to the genre, he was very funny, very charming, and commented A LOT on what was happening around him. Now, you take that man and show him magic, and some funny things are bound to happen, such as what follows...

One moment that hit me right in the middle of the interaction is when I asked if he had a favorite number, to which his response was, “No, I’m not an idiot.” which was actually pretty damn accurate. And honestly, I’d been performing this particular routine (shoutout Robert Ramirez) for about a week at this point in time out in the world, and had this not been brought to my attention by Joel, I probably would’ve continued saying the same nonsensical phrase that I ran across while learning it.

No one has a favorite number.

Shit, while even some people may have a “lucky” number, it’s still all very silly to ask for either of those by name when in fact all you’re trying to show (as the magician) during this point of the magic effect is that different stuff can happen with different numbers, and it doesn’t have to be of the magician’s choosing. “What’s your favorite/lucky number?” is a completely arbitrary phrase that’s inserted in there, and by it’s nonsensical nature, it only has the chance to take people out of the effect, and disengage them from the situation.

To be a little more direct, I arrived at my currently used phrase -- probably to be updated in the future -- : “Go ahead and say any number besides Seven or Zero.” I’m coining this reduction/simplification of a piece of magic dialogue to be “Teller-izing” the effect, named after Teller’s own reasons of not including any verbal scripting within his effects. After hearing Teller talk about this idea a few times (yes, he talks outside of performance), I find his main argument to be like spreading out a deck of cards in front of someone while saying “Pick a card” is just redundant, because both the physical action and the verbal action are showing the exact same thing. Better to just spread the cards out and gesture, without saying a word. Or, leave the cards on the table, hand them to the participant, and ask them to pick a card themselves. But in both of those situations, there’s no redundancy, and there’s no silliness.

-- J.R.

 

Where Are We Going?

I think of magic as moving in three directions, and they all include the dissolution of “traditional” magic. I see this dissolution as a good thing because to me the idea of performing a "magic show" always seemed kind of silly, as "magic" is not a strong enough through-line to constitute a full show or artistic work. When you see a piece of theater there is an overarching plot. When you see an art exhibit there is a unifying idea. But a lot of magic shows are basically just "I have a series of impossible things that I want to show you," and that is not in and of itself enough of a through-line to hold a show together.

Basically, magic is a tool. It allows us to bend and change and shake and play with other people's realities in all sorts of interesting ways. Doing a show whose through-line is just "magic" is like saying "I'm going to shake up your reality just because I can." It can be fun, but it lacks (literally) a purpose. On top of that, things seen inside a theater and formal performance often lack a resonance with people's realities outside of that theater, so the shake-up isn't that deep or long lasting.

Instead, magic must be put in service to other ideas. Instead of saying “this is a magic show," I want to see an art exhibit that uses elements of magic philosophy and method to heighten the experience and make its impact on the viewer's reality more potent. I want a theater piece that uses magic methods to accentuate the fact that a character is supposed to feel surreal or unconnected to our common rules of life. Maybe the best way to represent that is that they literally float off the stage, and if so magic-as-a-tool is ready to step in and provide that extra layer of experience. Now instead of a levitation just being a “wow how is he doing that” moment, it is in service to the creation of a character. This blending of magic into other artistic form is the first direction I see magic as going. We have already seen examples of this with things like Teller's production of The Tempest, and with magic's long relationship with film special effects.

HERE FAITH SEEMS TO NOT ONLY HAPPILY COEXIST WITH SKEPTICISM, BUT DEMANDS IT, HENCE THE INTERMINABLE, MYSTERIOUS, AND COMPLEX MOVEMENT BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN REVELATION AND CONCEALMENT. COULD IT FOLLOW, THEREFORE, THAT MAGIC IS EFFICACIOUS NOT DESPITE THE TRICK BUT ON ACCOUNT OF ITS EXPOSURE?
— MICHAEL TAUSSIG

The second direction that I see is a move towards is a more authentically social experience of magic. By this I do not mean social media. We have all had the experience of hanging out with some friends, maybe in a park or at somebody's garage or backyard, and someone has a guitar or other instrument with them. They never stand up and say "I will now perform for you. This is my rendition of Free Bird." Instead, as the conversation passes, they start strumming a few chords, maybe they hum a little. Somebody notices and maybe they hum along. Maybe someone else recognizes the song and says that they enjoy it or sings one of the lyrics, and before you know it everyone is sort of taking part in the music; it's not just that the person with the guitar is performing it's that everyone is experiencing music, and experiencing musicality, together. That's what I'm talking about. That represents to me a much stronger way of experiencing magic in a casual setting. As opposed to standing up and saying "I will now present Houdini's coin miracle" (or more likely “Hey, pick a card…”), you casually sit and flip a quarter as you chat with your friends. Eventually, during a lull in the conversation you flip it high and call heads, and when it lands you're right. You flip it high again and point to your friend. They call tails. When it lands they too are correct, and so on until the experience has unfolded. Instead of presenting this as a performance, it's an organic outgrowth of the social interaction. This allows the participant to be more authentically invested since they never get the feeling or have the understanding that they're being "tricked", but instead that they're taking part in a fun strange moment. Additionally, like with the music, they aren’t just watching, they are taking part, not as a spectator, but as a participant. This is more possible now than ever given the greater number of people who practice magic and the greater availability of magic material.

The last direction I see magic moving is to fill something of a social void. This is going to take some explaining, so bear with me. People think of spiritualism as having died in the 1930s or 40s with World War II, the growth of science, and the postwar boom, maybe with a minor resurgence in the New Age movement. But I think they fail to understand the extent to which some level of unsatisfied belief still exists in the American population. This connects with a general decline in the religiosity of the American population and an increase in the percentage of people who identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Basically what we have is a growing body of people who believe, but don't know what to believe. Currently the people filling that void are either the remains of established religion, with all its attendant flaws, or charlatans and con artists who are willing to use that belief to make a quick buck and not because they actually have any authentic interest or understanding of it. I think magic is uniquely positioned to step into that space. A lot of magicians I know will have resistance to this because they see magic as long having filled the role of debunking false mediums and hucksters. While that's certainly true, and should continue to be true, in the modern world, or more realistically the postmodern world, magic can step into a new role where it provides more meaningful spiritual experiences that are open about their artifice. Basically, you can be honest about the fact that there is artifice involved without devaluing the experience and the meaning that it gives, not just in an entertainment setting, but in a spiritual one as well. This is fundamentally a post-modern view, and must be handled extremely carefully to ensure that it does not inspire or support belief in untrue things, while still providing meaning, but I think that this is possible. The connection between magic and spirituality is old and strong, from tribal shaman using sleight of hand in healing ceremonies to mediums using billet work to contact the dead. The difference is that one allows a nuanced understanding of the fact that artifice is involved while the other decries those who claim their powers are anything less than 100% genuine.* Magic can help create a new, more honest avenue to reality-altering spiritual experiences.

These three directions, the application of magic to other art forms, the more authentic  social experience of magic, and the use of magic to provide honest spiritual experiences, all point to the fact that, at its root, magic is about bending and shaping people's realities, and that for a long time magic has been directly applied with that as its only goal. Now it is more fully coming into the understanding that magic can be put into service of larger goals than just entertainment, such as art and spirituality.

-Z.Y.

*For more on this idea, read Michael Taussig’s essay “Faith, Viscerality, and Skepticism: another theory of magic,” which is an excellent entry into the body of anthropological work on magic, both historical and spiritual, in history.

Four Suits
Vapid Card Juggling: Collected Thoughts on Cardistry

Cardistry is just showing off.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a huge amount of time, practice, and patience that goes into it, but most cardistry now is more like to gymnastics than magic. Some magicians despise cardistry, claiming it’s not magic, but they miss the point: it’s not trying to be. Up to now, almost all cardistry has been a search for its own artistic form, and it only gets clumped in with magic because they both use cards.

I perform both magic and Cardistry. Being on both sides, I’ve heard how people do one or the other and why they don’t perform them together. I totally get why that is. While Cardistry may not be magic, people can be more astonished by a card flourishes than by your hardest sleight. We’ve all had the experience of finishing a little magic routine only to get a bigger reaction from the card spring at the end..

This points towards an interesting distinction: though magic can leave a deeper impression, cardistry is often more impressive. Cardistry performed live is usually very “look at me and what I can do.” It is a super sexy, visual medium, but it lacks a major element of interaction, and of connection, which magic can provide. 

I want to bridge that gap. I’ve often been fiddling with my cards and people will look over my shoulder and say, “I could watch you do that all day.” So I wondered, is that actually true? Could you watch a live 45 minute show of just Cardistry? Would it be more like magic, or like dance? And can it provide a deeper impact? I’m working on what that would look like for me, performing Cardistry live for people in a real life, strolling, and even on stage. It’s early days, but I’ll let you know how it goes. Stay good.

 --  A.D.
 

Four Suits
BlogCast Ep. 1: People Love what We Hate

We're kicking off a brand-new series called the BlogCast on Our Youtube Channel

Here's Episode One: People Love what We Hate (inspired from a meeting in Vegas). We later dive into some ideas on unifying art and commerce. Check it out here or on the channel.

Cheers,  

-- J.R.

Why are we here? Where do the rabbits that get pulled out of hats come from? How much mayonnaise can you actually fit in a Gucci handbag? Some of these questions are answered in this, the first installment of the Four Suits Magic Blogcast!
Every New Idea Faces Rejection

Dear Reader, 

Some light philosophy and creative motivation for you... 

From a Text Exchange between J.R. & T.N.

J: Dude I just thought of a crazy thought

- Imagine new ideas, and how there’s always negative feedback or confusion

- That’s because it’s a new idea. If everyone accepted it from the beginning, it means they would’ve somewhere in their mind have already thought of it.

- So if it’s a truly new idea, no one will have thought of anything like it, and they’ll immediately feel like it’s strange and foreign and reject it

T. THAT IS SO TRUE

- dude

- New ideas ALWAYS face rejection first

- Like it’s the first response it almost like challenges them as [they] come into existence 

Lately we’ve been embarking on some new projects, and completing some segments of projects began previously. (I’d say they’re all done by now, but that would be a lie, but segments of them are done, so I’m just putting the goal line a little beyond these segments.) Point is, we’ve been starting some new things, and additionally, introducing the new ideas built into them.

Funny thing happens when a new idea is introduced: people generally have an aversion to it.

This aversion could be expressed as rational thought, and it’s almost a danger that these aversions are so logical; sometimes these negatives are enough to delay one’s embarkment onto a project, which is fine if your aversion is due to prudence and further research, as long as the emotional element of a rejection stays behind with the rejection itself.

Here’s the issue: there’s risk to everything. Everything has the inherent ability to fail. Nothing is a 100% success. The point of criticism isn’t to think about the negatives, it’s to make the negatives non-existent while continuing to focus on the positives. I don’t think I know anyone who finished something while focusing a majority of their time on the negative aspects of any given project.

What T.N. said is true: Initial rejection is an extremely important part of the creation process. Initial rejection stops everyone who isn’t willing to push beyond.

Every idea, every product, every world-changing thing you have in front of you faced rejection at it’s most vulnerable moment: right now.

 — J.R.

dear readerJax Ridd
Shortest Distance from A to B: a detour

A while back, when I was starting to get into mentalism, I spent a long time thinking about a bunch of the classic mentalism methods (mostly billet switches and c-tears). One thing that always kind of puzzled me was why they had gone so out of fashion. In the eighteen- and nineteen-hundreds there had been people who literally made entire careers out of pretty much just a good billet switch. Now I was hard pressed to find anyone who even practiced them. (This is certainly partially due to who I hang out with and how magicians interact, but that is a discussion for another time.) At the same time as I was wondering this, I was also trying to come up with new clever uses for these old techniques, and it was this pursuit that I think led me to an answer for my first question, and that is this: it is pretty hard to make effects that use those methods feel like anything other than exactly what they are. By this I mean it’s hard to make a c-tear effect feel like anything other than a question of how you secretly read what was on the paper you tore, or a billet effect that doesn’t just feel like a question of when you secretly looked at the billet they write (if not the complete idea of a full switch and peak). There are certainly effects that use these methods in clever, oblique ways, but much of the published material on these methods definitely falls into a category of effect I started calling “Shortest Distance from A to B”.

“A to B” effects are literally just the most direst, simple, and often obvious application of their method. (Have a way to switch two billets? Have your effect be that two billets switched places! How did it happen?) So many mentalism texts boil down to the quickest way to have someone write down a piece of info, you to secretly look at it, and then tell them what it is. I think this is a fundamentally flawed way of approaching mentalism. Effects like that tend to be unsatisfying for the participants and therefore rarely get the reactions the magician wants. This is because, aside from the fact that having the participant write down their thought is, as Derren Brown would say, an unaddressed visible compromise (why do they have to write it if you are going to read their mind!?!?), the focus on speed of method tends to cause a push towards speed of effect, which loses sight of the importance of process, and with it story.

Method speed (the overall time the method actually requires) impacts effect speed. As these techniques pushed towards faster and faster methods (“…allowing you to have switched the billet before they have even recapped the pen!”) so to where they pushed towards faster and faster effects (“Don’t waste any time with superfluous stuff. If you know the thought, reveal it!”). But here’s the thing: with a very few exceptions, mentalism effects should not be done quickly. First of all, you have already had billets taken, written, folded, and moved around (giving you an opportunity to switch, tear, etc). The effect is already not going to feel “quick.” Additionally, if you do a mentalism effect fast, chances are you skimped on the most important part: the actual “mind reading.” No matter how fast you switch the billets, you have to show the participants the supposed process of you reading their minds. Otherwise all they saw was a magician write down something he wasn’t supposed to know (just about the ultimate form of magic-as-puzzle*). If the process you give them is quick and half hearted then no matter how deceptive the method, the effect is basically just a puzzle. No matter how fast the real process is, give the pseudo-process its due time and space.

Tied up with the question of mind reading process is the story you place it into. (I mean story as in context, not literal Sam the Bellhop or Exclusive Coterie story presentation.) When I started mentalism it was all about finding new methods (and I do still love learning about clever new techniques), but now almost all my time is spent thinking about presentations, and there the magical literature is sadly lacking. I have half a mind to write the presentational equivalent of 202 Methods of Forcing, but it’s just a list of presentation possibilities with zero discussion of method. There are enough clever mentalism methods out there to achieve juuuust about any effect (if you find one you can’t crack just drop us a line, I literally love figuring shit like that out), but what we really need more of are compelling ways of presenting those effects. We have 202 ways of secretly finding out their thought, now we need 202 ways of telling them how we found out their thought. The best part is, those presentations would each basically just be short stories that connect to weird, interesting, and fun magical moments. And while the magic literature might be lacking in those, luckily the rest of literature is not.

So next time you are stuck on how to create an interesting mentalism effect, set down Corinda for a minute and pick up a novel by Neil Gaiman or Victor Lavalle, listen to a modern folk-opera version of a Greek myth, or read a ghost story that might just be about the big brass key you bought from an old lady at that yard sale last week.

--Z.Y.

 

*The other contenders in my book are card tricks without real presentations and impossible objects without pseudo-creation story. But card tricks without presentations still have the implied art of sleight of hand, meaning while they are a puzzle they are also an impressively dexterous exhibition, like juggling, even if a hidden one. Impossible objects are literally puzzles, but since they are physical they take on the aspect of a kind of art-piece that you can just look at and contemplate, and (depending on the object) have the same idea of implied dexterous skill (people can guess you disassembled the Rubik's cube and re-assembled it in that bottle). Mentalism without process doesn’t imply the same display of skill (even if it still required it) and doesn’t allow the same kind of physical appreciation since it’s not static.

Four Suits
Performing High

Sorry for the lateness on this one, but you'll understand why when you get through it...

Some of you may have clicked on this title thinking about the lovely interplay of energy and circumstance during a performance which provides both the performer and the audience a “rush” of sorts which could be considered a “high”, but no, this is about the other kind.

THE FOLLOWING POST IS FOR 21+ XXX RATED MATURE HUMANS ONLY.

You might ask, J.R., why would you perform in such a manner? Didn’t you, J.R., perform drunk one time during your hour-long one-man-show and completely bomb that shit? Yes, I would say, I did in fact I did bomb that shit, and why would I perform in an altered state again? Because it’s LEGAL for everybody in Cali now, baby. And “California knows how to party” as Roger Troutman may say. (I knew the lyric, but had to look him up, admittedly.)

I organized some buddies of mine to perform with me, B.A. and A.D., and this post is written hereby as a mini-guide partially for regular people, and partially for magicians, on how to perform high, what works and doesn’t work, and some short snippets of what happened.

Regular Things First:

Y'all, it was lit. Here are some things people said about the show: 

*Clapping* - Everybody

*Coughing* - Most People

The format was exactly what it sounded like. You get high, we get high, we do magic, you see magic. It's amazing. I would show you a clip on here, but then that would ruin the mystique. If you're in the LA area, you should just come to the next one. 

Favourite Moments:

  • Discovering the reality, hilarity, and problem of different tolerances in the same room.

  • Forgetting to start the timer for a set.

  • T.R. sharing a home-made item that was beyond normal.

  • The venue turning into a giant closed-system where water could almost evaporate and turn into rain in a never-ending cycle.

MAGICIAN STUFF

Step 1:

Don’t attempt hypnosis or any “mind” effects. It may seem tempting to you, but unless you find a way to completely work around the fact that people will be forgetting shit they did just five seconds ago just normally, (including you), then you don’t have shit to work with.

Step 2:

Make everything visual as possible. Dumb your set down as much as possible. This is probably the only place where magic with sponges makes any sort of sense (imo). You don’t have to test it out by being high while performing it first (but it probably helps if you have, see Rule #3), just make it real dumb and visual. You know that thing where the fidget spinner sticks to your finger? Yeah, that one would kill (note to self).

Step 3:

Stick to what you know. Stick to routines you can do in your sleep, because you’ll be pretty close to sleeping up there. And it’s only funny for the audience if you can pick yourself up where you left off. One of my favorite moments from my set was when I was in the middle of a very well known routine, forgot my place, and because there were a couple magicians in the crowd, they just yelled out whatever I should be doing next. I paused a moment, and then just did what they said, and it worked. A great moment of magical deconstruction. And being lit AF.

I think that’s pretty much it, but it reminds me of some rules we’ve been establishing within the Four Suits Magic Collective, and I think I might base a future blog post on those, because it’s entertaining, informative, and because I do what I want.

Thank you for coming -- 

More of these events coming in the future.

-- J.R.

P.S. -- House-keeping note, we’re implementing a RSS feed / blog reader system soon with the site revamp coming up for our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY. Did you get us a present? Thanks to those of you who wrote in telling us about this and waiting patiently for us to almost-never do it.

What it’s Like to Work in Magic

What it’s Like to Work in Magic

It’s been a good 7 years or so since I first started working with Magicians.  When I tell people, I almost always get asked the generally bewildered, “wow…what’s that like?”

It's pretty damn special, I'd say but it's a much harder than any artistic medium I've ever worked with.

That's a sweeping generalization, I agree. I can’t help but point out Magic as an outlier in the performing arts, I realize I am heavily biased because I’m spending a disproportionate amount of time with Magicians with aside from designers and filmmakers. In my observations over the years and being the quiet spectator at many heated “definition of Magic” debates, the similarities and differences are starting to surface more distinctly about why working in the field of Magic is so different from other performing arts.

Here’s my small attempt articulating what's a stake when working in Magic by observing the motivations of a Magician and their metaphoric cousin, a Comedian in effort to illuminate the obstacles at hand and what is gained when performing in a spectacular, yet equally unforgiving discipline.

The Intention to Perform

The Comedian

I heard a comic once say that a good Comedian exposes the truth in clever ways. This is a great reinforcement of a general evolutionary psychology theory that laughing is how Bonobos ⎯ one of our closest animal relatives ⎯ respond to the stimulus of learning something. Sure, those are monkeys and we’re the evolutionary marvel of the Earth’s history ⎯ how dare you claim we still act our primitive ancestors! Well, it’s because we kind of do. It’s the reason Seinfeld is the most successful and longest running comedy shows ever. The premise is 4 friends just going through their everyday life in New York City and the punchlines are these self-aware moments of insanity about the nuances of everyday interaction. It’s a show about nothing, yet it exposes the truth that underlies our day-to-day that we overlook. When we recognize this truth, we laugh; the more the truth resonates, the harder we laugh – the more we learn about ourselves.

Ever see a bad comic? A kind of innate rejection occurs that often manifests as a biological response, like gut twist of empathetic anxiety or an eye roll, maybe a squirm of visceral shame. When Comedy sucks, it’s painful, much like when you’re sitting through a disingenuous moment but when Comedy is good, the high from a good laugh is delightful and addictive.

The Magician

A Magician practices exposing the truth and then bends that truth right in front of you. When experiencing magic the Magician leaves the audience with a choice: do you accept the limitations of your reality or will you, for a moment, believe mine?

To fool people in a way that they’ll enjoy it is a bold way to live. To not be the ‘Asshole Magician’, as Derren Brown says, you have to fool them in a way that doesn’t feel deceitful or malicious but wonderful, which makes it even harder. To make matters worse, not only are you bending reality for the audience, you have to be confident enough to believe that what you’ll show them is presumably better. Basically, you’ve got to be quite the cheeky, charming son-of-a-bitch that people won’t hate.

This is why when you see bad magic it momentarily destroys your soul of joy and wonder and it leaves you empty, betrayed and annoyed. It takes a lot out of people to be open enough to trust a Magician to deceive them in a way that will be worth it. A bad effect will not only extinguish the audiences’ trust, they will carry the impression that anyone who shows them a variation of that same effect will also be terrible. A Comedian may have a bad night and ruin a delivery of a joke but jokes can be reshaped, recycled and recontexualized. A Magician shows a terrible trick, that trick is now a symbolic experience for the audience because the significance is placed in the subjects they manipulate, whether it be objects or even people. The next time that same audience encounters that same trick in a different presentation, there’s a good chance the bad taste of that memory will rear itself. This memory flavors the experience, the skepticism brews in their mind and it’s the responsibility of the Magician to make sure that this effect will turn the ever-present skeptics into believers, even for a second. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

That moment is what we do it for. It’s what all of those hours of obsessing over details, practice and mania over ‘perception’ in all its forms amount to. And when it really works, the practitioner will even surprise themselves.  

Let’s not forget that Magicians, sadly, are not super humans with extraterrestrial abilities; if they were, this whole thing would be a lot easier to do. It’s the fact that these skills even appear to be otherworldly in quality and at the end of all of it you realize, they’re just a person like anyone else but with very, very niche interests. As humans, we have very serious flaws in perception and cognition and we all are naturally prone to them, this is why things like misdirection and optical illusions are so powerful when done right. To create a moment of “magic” is to use these cognitive processing limitations to our advantage to create something seemingly impossible. A Magician, in spite of these cognitive limitations, must successfully manipulate the perception of their audience to see something different, knowing they won’t be able to perceive their method ⎯ this a little more than an act of confidence. It takes a very specific kind of person to be sure enough about their ability to defy the crowd’s perception and impress a new reality upon them when they themselves have the same limitations.

Underlying all the theory, technique, charm and the inevitable pretentiousness, we’re all a bunch of monkeys gathered around each other watching another monkey show us how to open a coconut with a rock. We laugh, scream and run away and back again as we realize that we’ve all played with rocks before but not like this. This is new and astonishing and now we’ll never look a rock the same way again. Maybe, we learned something about ourselves or how the world isn’t always as it seems.

-- H.A.
 

Magic & Security

“Magicians guard an empty safe.” - Jim Steinmeyer

Dear Reader -- 

Why do many magicians enjoy the idea of picking locks?

There’s a strong connection between the practices of security and magic. Z.Y. has made some comparisons between a mentalism effect where a mentalist gains private information to use during the course of an effect, and a criminal gains similar private information to use during the course of a con. I mean, I’ve definitely put/taken things from pockets only to give it back/reveal it later. With these sort of use-cases in mind, a person might argue that magicians are just about the most pacifist white-hat community out there, using wildly deceptive practices all for the purpose of a “magic trick”. To that, I say, well, yes, we probably are.

"Maybe we guard an empty safe just because we like to look inside it every once in a while?"

Then the question I’m still asking myself is why the hell we’re still so interested in hardcore thievery practices like picking

Realistically, so few of us are going to work on an escape act that uses these actual principles, but yet somehow there’s enough demand for their to be an upcoming picking event at a well-known magic society in LA (the inspiration for this post). Dude, none of us are ever going to use these skills realistically, except maybe, maybe, to get back into our own houses or boxes if we lose our keys. But hey...maybe that’s enough? 

Or maybe it’s enough for us to be using our hands for the simple practice of unlocking something, just like practicing something with sleight-of-hand gives us the satisfaction of being able to unlock an idea or presentation previously unattainable without said mechanical practice? 

Maybe we guard an empty safe just because we like to look inside it every once in a while?

Or, we could just be strange.

-- J.R.

P.S. -- Probably just strange.

Vinny DePonto w/ some Visual Poetry

Dear Reader, 

Why do people like Mind Readers?

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times -- it speaks to a human condition to hear and be heard for who we truly are, unbeknownst to others... a  desire and danger to share our earnest secrets with someone else -- a showtime confessional. 

Vinny DePonto explores his response to this question in his latest promotional video. He’s a stand-up guy doing some good work:

The video is extremely poetic and visually beautiful. For some reason, it also reminds me of the closing of a poem, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann: “...With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

Cheers,

-- J.R.

David Copperfield (Magician) Dad-Dicks Government Employee

You liked that title, didn't you?

In this "This American Life" podcast, Ira Glass and David Kestenbaum discuss some of the methodology behind effect creation, with a discussion of Penn & Teller's Red Ball effect, and David Copperfield's Statue of Liberty effect, during which a tale is told about David pulling off some dope ass silver-tongued social-engineering -- it's amazing. 

If you have an hour to spare, listen to this episode. If you don't have time to spare, you'll just have to imagine what happened.

-- J.R.