After how many ambitious card phases is your audience convinced that you are really good at bringing a card to the top of the deck? In my experience, the answer is two. If they are super skeptical, they may require a third demonstration, but usually they are satisfied after two. This is to be expected. They have come to understand the premise after the first phase, and then they get to watch as closely as they can for the second phase. If they are fooled both times, then they will be convinced that you are really good at bringing the card to the top of the deck. If this is the case, the thought in their mind isn’t “I want to see that one more time,” it is “Okay, next trick!”
So why is the typical ambitious card routine 5-7 phases long? I think it is three main reasons:
We don’t listen to our audience enough to realize that the trick has become redundant
You can tell when the plot has run thin. When they lean back and take disinterest, when you sense that forced politeness in response of you offering to show them “one more time,” or when they say something even more overt, such as “Why, I’m not going to catch you!” These are signals that it is time to move onto the next miracle.
We become enamored by new phases which disprove methods only magicians would suspect
This is where a lot of the extra fat comes from. I’m going to push it into the middle, this time you push it into the middle, this time we will put it even deeper in the middle, this time I’ll show you I’m not switching the card, this time I will do it without looking, etc. These phases and methods are useful to have in your repertoire, however they shouldn’t be a standard part of the routine. If no body says “Wait, I think you switched the card,” don’t perform a phase where you clearly debunk this theory. Don’t run when you’re not being chased.
We insert unnecessarily weak phases up front
A lot of routines are structured to begin with less convincing phases in order to build up to, and highlight, the absolute “killer” phase(s) at the end. To defend this structure is to argue in favor of wasting your audiences’ time with poor magic. Do only the best phases.
My full ambitious card routine is 4 phases (technically 3 and a 1/2). The card rises twice face down, and then twice face up. However, half of the time I find myself omitting the face-up phases due to waining interest.
The strongest phase is the second one by far. The subsequent face-up rises are mere eye candy by comparison, which is why I have no problem cutting them if I feel that the audience is satisfied.
Cutting out excess fat from multiphase routines is an ongoing process. Currently I am reintroducing a ring-and-string routine into my work. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured out exactly how many phases that one should be for me!
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