Monday, December 22, 2008

Inducing Challenges

So I had a great Holiday gig the other night, performing for about 20 lawyers and their spouses at a country club. I was standing with my last group of the evening and opened with one of the effects I've been flooring the rest with all night—"Ballet Stunner" (my take on Paul Harris' "Color Stunner"), where after a classic Triumph effect, the deck visually changes from blue to red.

As the crowd went wild, the lady on my left screamed "Change it back! Can you change it back to blue?!"

Hmm, that's not a response I've ever gotten before, nor one that I was prepared for. "We'll see..." was all I could muster at the moment. I continued with the set. Amidst conversation and laughter during the set, I was able to prepare to meet her challenge to "change the deck back back to blue," but I wanted her to bring it up again. I let a little more time slip by and sure enough, she said, "So, can you change it back before you leave?"

"Perfect!," I silently screamed to myself. I slowly waved my hand over the red deck, and it changed to blue. She and the group of six went nuts!

It was a great moment, but something that can't happen all the time. Or can it? In Pit Hartling's superb book, Card Fictions, he has a wonderful essay on the topic of Inducing Challenges. These are moments you purposefully design into your performance to "trigger" the audience to pose a challenge. The challenge might be something like, "Let me shuffle the cards," or "Can you make the card appear in MY pocket?" or in my case, "Can you change the deck back to it's original color?" As Hartling stresses, these moments must appear unrehearsed and spontaneous. This leads to extraordinary moments that go far beyond the effects themselves—it implies that you could, in fact, do anything. Wow! Hartling lucidly explains the various motives that drive audience members to pose a challenge, and the related tactics you can use to induce them.

In my example earlier, I had not premeditated the challenge to do a second color change. But I realized I had everything I needed to still make it happen. And what a powerful moment it was.

The best part?...Moments like these don't have to be random and unlikely; you can plan for them to organically occur. I'm now engrossed in Card Fictions and reviewing my repertoire with a different lens to identify moments I can trigger to
involve the audience, tap into their curiosity and heighten the magic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ladder to Mastery

I just finished watching the new John Carney Master Sessions, volume 1. Inspirational and educational on all levels. The explanations were particularly captivating, as Carney managed to transport me in history through the evolution of his presented effects. There's also a section where Carney offers insights on learning - which is the topic of today's post. In comparing DVDs to books as learning tools, he believes they are both necessary; but with books comprising the vast majority of knowledge out there, books have the power to propel our learning in unprecedented ways.

As students in magic, we never stop learning. We've probably all gotten started in similar ways...being captivated by a trick in our youth, but knowing nothing about it, or how to do it. We were at ground zero. This is where lay audiences reside.

But we became curious—we dived into a magic kit (in my day, it was ordering something from Marshall Brodine on TV). We got our feet wet, experimented and officially became apprentices—in pursuit of knowledge, even if our proficiency and ability was low.

But we didn't stop there. We couldn't. We made the effort and commitment to deepen our knowledge—reading, sharing, refining, and reading some more. And since magic is a performing art, we replaced the mirror with a live audience, eventually reaching a level of expertise—one that combines both highly developed knowledge and competence.

But, through continued experience, there comes a point where our competence extends beyond our consciousness. It's a state where we perform without conscious effort and with automatic ease. We'll call it mastery. You may have already reached this level in at least one aspect of your magic—perhaps in performing the Pass without consciously telling your fingers what to do. And often, your fingers begin teaching you a thing or two about stuff not even you knew you knew.

Caution. If you feel you've reached mastery, don't stay there for long, or else you might get stuck on an endless plateau where learning eventually ceases (think an EKG that flat lines).

So where to from here? It's time to add another rung on the ladder and start again at ground zero. It's where something can peak our curiosity, perhaps from watching a new effect that fools us, giving us a rush that transports us to the childlike feeling we had when we first got into magic. And even though we're back at the level where we "don't know what we don't know"—at least we know where we are. What great spot to be in. A rebirth. Putting ever-growing curiosity into action and moving through a cycle of constant learning and continuous improvement—the ladder to increasing levels of mastery.

I find myself on various rungs of the ladder. But no matter where I am, there's always a desire to move up. So where are you on the ladder? Answering this question is a great way to get a firm footing and take the next step.

There's a lot of knowledge out there on this topic. I found this site particularly informative.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lost and Found...Again

"Lost and Found" is one of the stand out effects from my Brainstorm DVDs, and continues to be a high point in my shows and lectures. The effect is an extension Steve Hamilton's "Clearly Vanished," Peter Duffie's "Clear and to the Point, and Roy Walton's "Jefferson's Jest." In all of these effects, a card vanishes from a clear sleeve (and perhaps reappears somewhere else). It's incredibly magical and intriguing. But is that the end? What if the signed card could be made to reappear back inside the sleeve? In 1999, I developed "Lost & Found," which features a quite devious solution to do just that. And I've been flooring audiences with it for 10 years now.

Clearly Better
So, I recently had another "what if?" moment. What if I attached a strap to one end of the sleeve? It would allow the sleeve to more closely resemble a luggage tag (which fits with the "airline" presentation). I could even begin my having the sleeve hanging from a suitcase. But here's the real benefit. By leaving the strap on throughout the effect, you could actually hold the strap during the vanish and reappearance. Whoa! For those of you familiar with the effect, think about it. During the last phase, as the participant is pinching the empty sleeve between two Jokers, simply pull the end of the strap. Emerging from the spectators fingertips, inches away, will be the sleeve with the signed card clearly inside. Normally, you would have to pinch the extreme edge of the sleeve itself. The addition of the strap not only makes the procedure easier, it strengthens the magical moment. The strap works great during the initial vanish too; just tug on the strap while retaining the Jokers in the other hand. You will be left with a pretty picture of the sleeve hanging empty from the strap.

Give it a try. Just punch a hole at the bottom of the sleeve and lace on a spare camera strap. The strap does not interfere with the handling. Just perform the effect the way you always do.

I recently shared this idea at my latest lecture in Detroit, and the magicians dug it. I hope you do too. If you're in need of some more sleeves, they are available on my product page. Enjoy!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Napkin Approach

In the marketing/development world, we sometimes summarize a road map to desired outcomes using a “napkin.” We call it a napkin because it includes the things you might jot down across the table from someone to articulate your message succinctly, visually, spontaneously and with room for dialogue.

So what would you write down or draw on a napkin to define who you are as a magician? A napkin forces you to be focused and brief – and to have a dialogue with yourself. This process will hopefully better define your “BRAND.”

What does YOUR "brand” look like? What sets it apart from others?”

Remember, a brand is not a logo or is a promise! And everything you do must be focused on fulfilling that promise to your audience.

I decided to take the napkin approach myself recently. It started off with a quick sketch, which I then articulated in more detail by typing my outcomes, priorities and strategies. I’ve never really shown this to’s just something to help my keep the “John G brand” on track. If you're curious, here's what I came up with. I wonder what you'll come up with.


THE CASE (Why me? What do I offer?)
To deliver extraordinary moments through close-up magic (primarily playing cards) that offers a distinctive combination of artistic handling, creativity and engaging presentation.

DESIRED OUTCOMES (What do I want my audience to say or feel about my performance?)
- Astonishing/remarkable
- Beautiful to watch
- Entertaining
- Creative
- Memorable

MY PRIORITIES & STRATEGIES (My main three areas of focus with specific strategies)

Priority 1 - DEFT TECHNIQUE: Exhibit the skill and confidence of a virtuoso
  • Approach with sureness & control
  • Light touch, smooth and fluid, grace and finesse
  • Practical handling that can be done slowly and deliberately
  • Naturally-choreographed and justified actions
  • Supplement dexterity with subtlety

Priority 2 - SOLID PRESENTATION: Presentation is designed to strengthen impact
  • Focus on scripting/performance
  • Craft act toward audience
  • Structure effects to reveal "extraordinary moments"
  • Relevant topics; not contrived
  • Natural props
  • Original ideas
  • Clever methods
  • Cohesive sets; thematic
  • Designed to surpass the expected
  • Capitalize on what you CAN show; camouflage what you can't

Priority 3 - RAPPORT: Engaging presentation that connects with people
  • Listen to them
  • Be authentic
  • Draw from genuine experiences
  • Use quick wit
  • Exhibit class and modern charm
  • Involve them as partners in creating the impact
  • Enjoy the magic WITH them
  • Mirror their level of enthusiasm
  • Tap into their interests
  • Respect their intelligence
  • Use "conversational misdirection"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The search is on

So I've read every page of Joshua Jay's new book. "Magic - The Complete Course" is remarkable piece of work. Although the target audience is the general public, there are absolute gems within these pages.

Of the many effects that caught my eye is "Ovation Position" - a wonderful opener that ends with the production of a drink. So the search is on to find a glass (actually durable plastic) that will travel well and be available for future performances. While virtually any glass will work, I'm looking for a tall, tropical looking one. It's visually appealing, and would be a great addition to my Postcard Act, during the imaginary flight to Hawaii.

So that's where my head is at today. If you haven't checked out Josh's book, do it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Upcoming appearances

THE SESSION 2009 • Gloucester, England • January 17-18, 2009

I will be a among select international performers at one of the UK's most prestigious magic conventions. In addition to sessioning with magicians worldwide, I'll be performing and lecturing material from my DVD and lecture notes. I'll also be participating in a benefit close-up show for charity while I'm there. For more information, click here.

Just back from the MOTOR CITY CONVENTION

I recently returned from performing and lecturing at the 12th annual Motor City Convention, where I got to share the stage with Geoff Williams, Eric Jones and Kozmo. It was great hooking up with my fellow TSDers and making new connections. The lecture and workshop were very well recieved. One highlight of the the 2-hour workshop I presented was a new effect, Ballet Stunner (based on Paul Harris' superb Color Stunner). I have a rough clip on my YouTube page here. I'm still making some really cool refinements, but you'll get the idea.


Welcome. Is that how to start a blog? This is my first. But I hope to make it a place of interest; a place of inspiration...for my fellow magi anyway.

It's a place where I plan on sharing magical thoughts of the day - or week. If there's a new effect in the works, you'll learn about it here. If there's a fine nuance I've added to the performance an old effect, sure, I'll share that as well. Some things may be of high interest, while others may seem trivial; but I'm sure there will be something for everyone.

In the end, it's a place that I hope catapults creativity and elevates the magical art. Feel free to join in, comment and discuss.

So, welcome. Thanks for letting me begin what I hope will be an ongoing discussion.

There's lots more to come.