This is a really great article by my favorite Las Vegas journalist and buddy—Mike Weatherford.

Building the illusion
If you want to create a new magic trick, bring some plywood. But more important, bring a good idea. And patience.

“When you’re doing something that’s actually not been done before, you have to take it incrementally, step by step,” Teller says.

Two new segments of Penn & Teller’s Rio show originated with the duo appearing on David Letterman — back when he was still on NBC.

The current opener hails back to them snatching Dave’s expensive watch and making it turn up in the innards of a fish. The watch is now a cell phone, simply because one day Penn Jillette said, “If we could do a trick with a cell phone, then the opening line of the show could be, ‘Would you all take out your cell phones and please turn them on?’ ”

A gruesome variation on the classic sawing-a-lady-in-half typifies the duo’s dark humor. Teller was the victim on Letterman’s show, but the current version reflects “the idea that magicians have been abusing primarily female assistants for a terribly long time.”

Once an idea moves beyond kitchen table chatter, “Then the real work starts,” says Teller. For the sawing, more than a year of work: “Build the first one in cardboard or at least plywood, just to get some idea of what the thing would look like. Then do it in progressively more difficult materials.”

Criss Angel says his new motorcycle materialization (as chosen by an audience member) was “a painful process to go through and a meticulous one.” Variances in lighting would reveal how it functions. “You get dead center, front row and it looks beautiful. But then you go to the extreme angles or the upper part of the house and it looks different.”

“You can do it as much as you want in the warehouse, but until you get it onstage and look at it under the lights, you can’t tell,” he adds.

But Teller says never to abandon a good idea. A few years ago, Penn & Teller opened their show with an escape in which the audience was given a choice to watch and spoil the secret, or close their eyes to preserve the illusion.

“We got the idea for that when we were driving to the Minnesota renaissance festival around 1976. But that’s all we had,” Teller says. “It’s a delicious idea, but when you think about it, it’s really hard to come up with a trick that would go with that, that would make that work.”


~ by Nick Lewin on August 22, 2011.

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