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.


Song_girl said...

Inducing challenges, triggers from the audience...sounds much like what we have learned from Tom Suddes, the ultimate "napkineer."

It is so interesting to see how connected your magic and marketing are and how they follow similar lines. Then again, it's the same artist listening, watching, and waiting for cues to proceed.

It's all about full attention and presence. Great stuff, John!

Justin said...

Hey John,
Really like the blog.
It's intresting to find out how a real 'worker' thinks.
Keep it up