Three Maxims

Over the years I’ve created a few maxims for myself: general go-to principles for whenever I run into a problem. Here are three of them which may be of interest.

If It Doesn’t Work Alone, Make It A Transposition

ORIGIN: Masuda’s WOW is an outstanding visual change of an indifferent card into a signed selection. It plays well enough for most magicians, but for some reason it never received the reception I felt it deserved when I performed it. People smiled and nodded, but didn’t go crazy wild.

I wanted people to go crazy wild.

So I changed the plot from an transformation into a transposition. The audience member’s signed selection is dropped to the floor and is covered by the audience member’s foot. The next card in the deck (Six of Hearts) is placed in the card protector. A simple wave, and the two cards change places.

And the people go crazy wild! I have since applied the same type of thinking to moving pip cards and other transformation effects, with consistant results.

WHY IT WORKS: Visual changes are striking and cool; I love them. But they do lack a mystery and feeling of magic to them. They are a little too perfect. A transposition allows for two changes, meaning you can make one visual and striking, and the other more mysterious. In my above example, audiences react very strongly to seeing the six visually change into thier signed card, but the bigger reaction is the Six of Hearts being under thier foot.

HOW YOU CAN USE IT: If you aren’t happy with a transformation, make it a transposition. Make the first change the more visual of the two.


If The Transition Doesn’t Hold Em, Dovetail It

ORIGIN: Dovetailing is a street performing technique where you introduce elements of the next trick before completing the previous one. A simple example would be passing out two linking rings for examination before finding the card you already had selected.

I dovetail alot. My full Pier 39 show features a dovetail in every transition. My close-up opening features a handful of dovetails to help convey that I’ll be doing more than one trick for the group.

WHY IT WORKS: Every magic trick is a story, and once the story is over it gives the audience a chance to mentally check out. By dovetailing, you are beginning a new story before revealing the ending to the previous tale. Once you do finish the first trick, you and your audience are already invested in the next piece. They have no opportunity to check out, or, (in the case of street performances), walk away.

I give alot of thought to transitions, and I am very liberal with my dovetails. It is an effective tool.

HOW YOU CAN USE IT: If you find audiences mentally check out, walk away, or get distracted during a particular transition: try dovetailing the two tricks. Again, the easiest way to do this is to introduce the next routine’s props before reaching the previous trick’s climax. You can also select the volunteer for the next trick, billboard the next trick (meaning talk it up big), borrow something from the audience, etc.


If You Can’t Think of Something to Say, Just Take a Beat And Smile

ORIGIN: Actors, comedians, and variety performers have been doing this for forever. In performance a “beat” is a moment without action. The exact length will vary depending upon the overall tempo of your show and speech. Think of it as a pause which is just long enough to be understood as significant.

I use this tactic all the time.

WHY IT WORKS: You are the leader of your show; everybody looks to you for perspective and direction. When the unexpected happens: a kid naively shouts a double entendre, a woman accidentally flashes the front row, a man answers his phone while onstage helping you, a bird carpet bombs your outdoor stage, understand that everybody will naturally look to you for the response.

You have the next line, and it better be good.

If you have a line or action already cued for such situations, you’re home free. If you can think of something witty right there, even better. But even if you just can’t think of something to say or do, you still have to do something.

Taking a beat and smiling at the audience is an action. It doesn’t ignore the craziness that just occurred, and acts as a graceful recognition of the unpredictability of live performance. Not saying anything and just taking a beat is a form of leadership. Even though it is silent, you retain control and will, more often than not, get a laugh.

HOW YOU CAN USE IT: Next time you are speechless, own up to it. Smile for a beat and throw a glance to the audience. It’s a incredibly human thing to do.

Another perk of this tactic is that it buys you time to think of something else to say. Maybe that extra two seconds is all you need for the perfect comeback. Remember that in improv the most obvious and honest choice is usually the right choice.

If you still can’t think of anything just shrug and return to your script. You’ve responded with your beat of silence already.







Know somebody who needs to hear this? Please pass it along to them!

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

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