Some cookbooks dictate that magic isn’t fun: that it requires a hefty sprinkling of comedy, story, music, character, pseudoscience, sex appeal, or white tigers to make palatable. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Others assert that magic is profoundly enjoyable, and any extra sauces or spice would be a detriment to such a fresh pleasure. Let your ingredients speak for themselves.
I just picked up a prime cut of Signed Bill in Lemon from the market. How shall we season it?
KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS
Both theories are correct. Magic served raw is very entertaining. The taste of sheer astonishment is an exotic and thrilling one. We want another bite. And then another. This hunger is universal.
The problem is most of your magic show isn’t magic. In fact almost none of it is. If we strip our Bill in Lemon of all its presentation, cut away any jokes and wash it clean of character, we find it consists mostly of fatty exposition. The only magic in it is that first image of the bill inside the cut lemon, and the final identification of the signature. That’s it. The rest of the trick is borrowing a dollar, having it signed, burning it (for our example), introducing the lemon, and cutting it open. Our audiences have to chew through all the unpleasant procedure before they get to that first sweet bite of magic.
Our job as chef is to make this exposition taste better. We can sweeten it with comedy, or make it hearty with character. Zest it up with sexy assistants and music, or do something more homestyle with sheer charisma. Just don’t leave it raw: all gelatinous and unappetizing.
Again, most of your magic show isn’t magic. Maybe 5% of what happens in your show is magic. That means only 5% of your show is fun. The rest is work. So yeah, we have alot of marinating, spicing, and plating to do before we can serve something edible.
Unless you are a manipulation act. Then you’re serving sushi. For the rest of us, grab your aprons.
First thing we need to do to our Bill in Lemon is trim off as much fat as we can. We need to figure out how to make all of the procedure as lean as possible so there’s as little of it as possible.
The key here is efficiency, with a weighting toward speed. What is the fastest way to borrow a bill from someone? Should he be onstage before or after he gets his wallet out? Can we have the envelope and lighter already out of the case? Are there two procedures we can combine to save on time? It is so important to answer these questions before we take the stage. It’s embarrassing and time consuming to be running around the kitchen looking for lemons and knives. Any procedure which can be streamlined, should.
However, it’s important not to go too knife crazy with your trimming. Every step of Bill to Lemon is important to the plot and we don’t want to sacrifice clarity. If you hack it up too much, the audience won’t understand what’s going on and you have no magic trick.
Now that we have our Bill to Lemon trimmed and efficient, it’s time to add some flavor. This will be our presentation, which applies universally to the whole trick and will do wonders to make much of the exposition more interesting to our audiences’ taste buds.
A trick’s presentation can be driven by character, situation, setting, story, history- pretty much anything. Perhaps our presentation is an exhibition of improv magic, using a bill, lipstick (instead of a marker) and a lemon. Perhaps it’s a game between the magician and the lender of the bill. Is it a statement about corporate America and the planet?
Your choice in marinade will be the most profound taste you leave your audience with. It defines your style and separates your execution of Bill to Lemon from others they may have experienced. It unites the trick with you, but does the least to address the specific problems of the trick’s procedure.
Every trick has certain areas which require extra zest. In our Bill to Lemon, we have to wait for an audience member to walk to the stage, which is boring. The audience must watch him sign a bill. Forgettable. They must spectate as a man puts a bill into an envelope. Mundane.
How can we spice these moments up? There are lots of solutions to choose from. We could tell the audience a joke as we as we wait for the bill lender to join us onstage. We could educate the audience about what it really means to defraud currency while he’s signing the bill. The envelope could have something funny or ominous written on it which is revealed right at that moment.
Notice how that last example maintains the clarity of effect but makes the boring moment more interesting? Our spices should never be so distracting that the audience misses important steps of procedure.
Few magicians use spice as much as they should in their work. Be a passionate chef, and spice up every step of procedure. Always be giving the audience, as a whole, something pleasing to sink their teeth into. The person examining an object has something to look at and a job to do, but Grandma Sitting In The Back is stuck just staring at her plate. You want to always be serving something flavorful, especially during boring procedure.
Our Bill to Lemon is looking downright delicious. We’ve carved off all the fat, bathed it in a novel presentation, and spiced up all the boring parts. Every single moment is entertaining and pleasurable. We’ve succeeded in transforming that tasteless 95% of our trick into something mouth watering and satisfying. Now it’s time to serve it to our audience by putting it into the show.
But do yourself a favor and never forget that it is that last 5%, the magic, which should be the real star of the plate. Don’t mistake that silence following the first glimpse of the bill in the lemon as dead time. Don’t follow up the reveal of the signature with the spice of a quick joke. Over-seasoning the magic part of a magic trick robs your audience of the pleasures of being amazed by a good mystery. Let your prime ingredient speak for itself, and add plenty of sugar to help the rest go down.
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