Table Talk

David Rowyn is a magician from Twitterville (how’s that for specifics) who writes a pretty nifty blog at davidrowyn.posterous.com. His writing and existence have only recently come to my attention, and while I do not agree with everything he theorizes, his words and thoughts are nonetheless inspiring, thought provoking, and usually in line with my own views towards our art.

In his most recent post “This Is Not A Table,” Rowyn addresses fumbling magicians who turn “interactive audience members” into mere furniture. It’s a great topic because it’s something which can really muddle a performance, yet our audiences would never bring to our attention. Our audiences are too kind to us. Lets not treat em like furniture.

What follows are a few of my thoughts on the subject. If you have yet to read Rowyn’s article (it’s a quick read), please check it out and come back to read my thoughts.

Okay, here we go:

First off I’d like to point out that there are major advantages to having audience members hold/examine props. It legitimizes that the props are real, eliminates suspicion of a switch, keeps those audience members focused on the performance (perhaps against their will, but even still), signals that there is more to come from the prop/performance, and aids in transitioning from effect to effect (much easier to grab a pack from a spectator who’s holding it than to fish around your jacket pocket and introduce the prop).

But the main advantage of having spectators hold objects is that you can create an improvised table, even for a split second! This is what Rowyn’s article is really addressing. You can do tricks which require a table. So, in defense of casting your audience as furniture, it does allow you to bring a much larger repertoire to the table (I know I know, but I’ve cut all the bad puns from my act, so you get to suffer them here).

So that’s the defense of making people hold stuff. And let me point out, those are some pretty compelling, real world, result making reasons right there. If you can master the art of making people hold stuff to capitalize on it’s advantages, you will probably do a better close-up set. You’d do a better show, and your audience would be polite and never say a word about being used as furniture. However, you will also suffer as an artist, for all the reasons Rowyn laid out.

I think the reason so many magicians make audience members hold objects for pointless reasons, even momentarily, is out laziness. Laziness in planning, perception, and listening.

Laziness in Planning:

Up until I read David Stone’s fantastic book “Close-up” (On my Essential List for your library), I viewed all walk-around shows as the same. Mind you, I’d been performing magic for about 13 years at this point, and been booked for my fair share of walk-around shows at receptions, cocktail parties, restaurants, chamber meetings, wine tastings, etc. But they were all the same, so I prepared the same.

For me, David Stone was the first to shine light on the rather blatant difference between performing in a cocktail situation and a banquet / restaurant situation. Have you thought about that? There are dozens of little differences such as dealing with a mobile audience, having a set timeframe to entertain everyone in, and having to perform for people at eye level or below you.

Most relevant to our discuss is this: in cocktail situations your audience will usually be away from tables with one or both hands full, and in banquet situations your audience will be seated at a table with both hands free.

Wow, with that information wouldn’t a smart performer know exactly what type of material to prepare?

But many of us do not. This is laziness in planning. We should prepare different material for cocktail and banquet shows the same way we prepare different material for stage and close-up shows.

Laziness in Perception:

This is what Rowyn’s article spends a lot of time on. We don’t’ pay enough attention to how our actions are perceived by the spectators. Sure we understand that this shuffle needs to look real, so we practice and do our best to make it appear so, but do we spend enough time making sure that our petting zoo of props isn’t perceived as disorganized and amateur?

Real magicians (both literally and in reference to the working pros) don’t had out objects only to take them back without a clear and defined reason. Either it’s an object which really needs to be examined, or the spectator really does need to hold onto the object because magic is going to happen right here, right now, in their hand!

Look at your own walk-around repertoire, routine(s), or arsenal and figure out where some fat can be cut. For example, for years I used to do sponge balls in cocktail situations. Now to make one ball jump from one hand to join the one in the other hand, you have to momentarily have both your hands free. For years I used to have and audience member hold our their hand and act as a table so I could show both hands empty, and do the move just like I had a table. Things were fine. The audience never complained.

Now here comes David Stone again, and on his Real Secrets of Magic set, performs his sponge ball routine in a cocktail situation. But, being David Stone, he has eliminated the need for a spectator’s hand by instead placing one sponge in his jacket’s lapel pocket. Its only there for a second, in full view, while he pulls his sleeves up, and then he’s off into the routine.

Smart guy.

Laziness in Listening:

I’ve mentioned throughout this article that the spectators will never complain about being used as furniture. That is a lie. They will complain, just not outright. They will be polite and they may make little jokes, or they may not say anything but show dissatisfaction at having to hold onto this piece of rope instead of sipping their Cabernet.

But most magicians fail to listen to their audiences and therefore I am correct in saying that you will never hear your audience complain about begin used as furniture.

Don’t be lazy. Listen to your audience. Some of your best lines, insights, stories, and solutions will all come directly from your audience. I bring a show note sheet to every performance I do. I fill it out in my car before I drive away. I write down every trick I did, how it was received, and I write down new lines, notes on new people I met, and I write down the things my audience said which stuck out.

Try it next show. You’ll learn a lot.







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