The Art and Science of doing nothing while you perform………

During the last 20 years I have had a goal in my performance of magic, that goal is to make it look as though I am doing nothing at all. This leaves me free to look as though all I am doing is reacting to what is going on. This is a much tougher goal than one thinks at first sight but well worth exploring.

if you are performing magic the first thing to eliminate is any appearance of doing moves or magician type things. I have vigorously commenced in this direction by discarding the desire to conceal anything. When I want to steal a prop to assist in my work, for instance ‘stealing’ a folding half dollar to stick in the neck of a bottle, I make it a point to find the correct psychological moment to put my hand into my pocket in a natural manner and simply remove the coin.

There was a time when I used to load the half dollar into the top of my jacket sleeve and then, at the correct time, after showing my hands empty I would allow the coin to drop from my sleeve into my hand. A neat maneuver but totally unnecessary, and while marginally cleaner in some ways, it adds three things to the performing mix that I am now delighted to avoid;

1  A potential disaster like the coin hitting my shirtsleeve in the wrong manner and dropping to the ground.

2   Showing my hands empty when nobody thinks there is anything in them to begin with.

3    Making two moves when all you really need to do is no move.

There was quite a debate amongst close-up magicians at the ‘Magic Castle’ back in the seventies as to whether a card worker should appear to ‘shoe-offy’ with his handling of a deck of cards or should handle the deck rather clumsily as though he was incapable of doing any ‘wiz-bang’ moves. It was always clear to me that the answer lay in between the two extremes and was totally individual to each particular performer’s personality. This is an extension of that thinking.

The more carefully you study your movements the more naturally you can eliminate the unnecessary ones. Why ‘show’ a hand empty when you can ‘gesture’ with it and prove it empty without making a big deal about it. If you work too hard at making sure the audience knows that your hand is empty they start to wonder if you have something palmed there.  If you have something in palmed in your hand and just hold the hand naturally, then you haven’t aroused any suspicion. Don’t hide if they aren’t looking.

This is just one tiny example that I have explored in some detail but the same principle can be utilized in many situations. Doing things in this way does also causes the performer to look at his act in an overview rather than a trick-by-trick manner. To do this you are going to need to be comfortable having your hands in your pockets during your performance and if this seems strange, then you are going to have to sequence your actions so that you secretly remove the coin from your pocket while placing something else into it.

The only time I ever make any ‘magician type moves’ is when I am doing nothing at all—-and then I am almost always doing it to make fun of the kind of gestures that some magicians make during their show. The best kind of magic just appears to happen. Don’t try to make it look tougher, harder or cleverer than it need be, just let the magic speak for itself.

If you think for a moment that any audience (other than kids) are not aware of the accumulative effect of what you are doing then you are probably underestimating them. By concentrating your efforts into an integrated style of presentation you are achieving a much more sophisticated performance than by letting the trick (or move) dictate the manner in which you perform that particular effect. Is most of this subliminal, YES and all the more powerful because of it.

This approach to eliminating the unnecessary so you can simplify the necessary is to me the equivalent to the way a good comedian ruthlessly cuts every word in a joke that is not absolutely necessary to making it funny. Oh, that leads me directly to eliminating every statement in your show that doesn’t get a laugh or add to the effect—-but that’s another column though.

~ by Nick Lewin on August 22, 2011.

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