The Writing of an Illusion Performance

When most illusion designers design illusions, they figure out the illusion method and work out the technical specifications of the illusion apparatus. They usually have a bare bone presentation that follows the structural effect of the illusion, but that is the most depth the presentation writing will go. Some designers go an extra step and think of a full routine to give motivation and credibility of the illusion. Jim Steinmeyer is a genius at this.

However, no designer can create a sophisticated illusion presentation for performers without knowing the stage characters of the performers. In fact, even if they did, it is a different skill & mind set to write a presentation that makes sense for the character and makes good entertainment.

Being the performers, designers and writers for ourselves for most of our illusions, we develop the illusions and presentations based on our performing personas. Like all good movies, TV shows and plays, the action and story is advanced based on the responses and interactions of the characters. As such the question to ask in order to advance a scene is not, what can we make this character do? But rather, what will this character do if being placed in this situation? In illusion performance, we seldom see such thinking go behind the presentation of an illusion. Generally, the emphasis is on what can we make the illusionists do to create the desired illusion effect.

One of the ways Ning & I differentiate us as illusionists is by advancing our stage characters as a duo as well as individuals. As of late, we have worked hard developing proprietary illusions as well as seldom seen acts. But the plots in illusion are generally the same. Just like the notes used in a piece of music are generally the same but it is how you use them that makes all the difference in the world.

So, creating our illusion presentations based on the developing of our characters at a deep level have not only helped us grow as performers but bring a distinct quality to our performances. This also becomes the thread that weaves our entire show together as a presentation with synergy and not a collection of illusion pieces. We perform a full 60min – 75min show and not as a 8min specialty act, so the requirements and techniques use to hold an audience’s attention is very different. It cannot just be flash and flair.

Creating sparks of fire, producing handkerchiefs and birds are great for a short stage magic act but you need much more texture to engage an audience for an hour. That texture can only be created by the performers’ characters and personality and how those personalities shine through the individual performances.

Here is an example of how we think about writing and presenting an illusion performance. This is what we have developed for our new “360 Sawing”.

Concept & Premise

Our goal was to present a sawing type illusion but that would be different aand fresh on multiple levels. For a couple of years, I presented “Modern Art” (Vertical Sawing) with a dancer and when Ning came on board, we presented it with a reversal of roles. Instead of the female being cut, I was the one being divided instead. Ning never ever really liked the illusion, not because it is not an inherently good effect, but because it is way too common. That is completely true and for that reason, we took out the illusion from our reportoire last year.

The reversal of roles made our presentation of the classic sawing a girl in half plot different but the sole purpose was not just to change it around for the sake of being unique but rather to give strength & dominance to the traditionally submissive female character.

We were on the lookout for a replacement for Modern Art and found so in the form of Shadow Vision. It is not a traditional sawing as there is no sawing so to speak but it is a surreal dividing illusion. We have many presentation handlings that make this illusion different from the original. And, I will be the one being divided up by Ning in the spirit of our style of sawing-type illusions.

But, while Shadow Vision was a replacement for Modern Art, its not the new 360 Sawing; that is something completely different. We are currently rebuilding another illusion which is slightly closer to the traditional sawing in the sense that there are blades involved and the girl is the one being cut up. But, it is still completely different from the traditional sawing type illusion, as described below. The following is written in 3rd person because that is how we write when we script our shows.


In our 360 Sawing presentation, while the female character (‘Magic Babe’) is the one being cut up, she is still the dominant one in the illusion performance. Traditionally, the female will be the submissive one and ordered into the prop to be masochistically cut in half by the male magician.

In this case, the female is strong and has an almost ‘femdom’ attitude. She invites the male character (J C Sum) to put her inside the prop and gives him the chance to take control over her. For the actual ‘sawing’ itself, he uses modern tools to divide her and the 360 element makes the illusion visually unique. 

When the doors of the prop are reopened, the female character bursts out in control. She is cut & restored not because of the male character’s powers but by her own magical prowess. She is the magical being, allowing the male character to have a chance to be in control for those few minutes.


The entire illusion is very modern, urban and industrial. ‘Attitude’ is what drives the dominance of the female character. Choreographed movements, interactive and an unspoken script will convey the dynamics between both performers.

The central prop is built very industrial in nature with lots of stainless steel, and black and white graphics. No cheesy colourful motifs. It also starts off being covered by a paint-splattered tan cloth. Accessories include very trendy costumes, a metal grinder to be used on hardened steel and a welder’s mask.

The music style is edgy Rock with a strong rift and a definitive ending. I edited and mixed two different tracks together to create the singular soundtrack for the illusion.


The illusion presentation and style works because of our defined stage characters. The dominant female makes sense because that is ‘Magic Babe’s’ character and she has the sass, confidence and looks to pull it off. It cannot work for a traditional male magician/ female assistant team. But, hopefully, it illustrates the depths we go to to create an illusion presentation that is different. The unique illusion prop becomes a bonus in this case!

Look out for photos as the illusion develops.

About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
This entry was posted in Design, Show Production and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Writing of an Illusion Performance

  1. NewToMagic says:

    I wonder how do I translate that to close-up magic? I think it would be relevant if I start thinking of myself as another character when performing and think of why I would perform a certain magic eg ACR. I got a feeling if I plan why I do a certain thing, like a back story why I do that, my magic would improve. But maybe I’m thinking too much. 😀

  2. BeMyAngels says:

    360 sawing seems to be going to be something great. i enjoy magic whenever the female gets to be the one in charge. its always good cause most of the shows everywhere you always see the male magician being incharge of everything. haa. 😀

  3. ZY90 says:

    this article is deep man. i had to slowly read and reread and digest. otherwise catch no ball. lol.

  4. Whodunnit says:

    With this much planning involved in getting 360 sawing ready, i cannot wait to see it in action. i can already imagine Magic Babe going in and getting cut and getting out fully healed. just dont know where the 360 comes into play.

  5. Khai85 says:

    Talking in 3rd person is always fun! Have you ever gone for a day and tried talking in 3rd person the whole day? ha. People will look at you like ur crazy. 🙂

  6. Ming says:

    I will definitely lookout for pictures of this magic illusion cause I like seeing Magic Babe Ning in action! hehe…

  7. cardistry2007 says:

    I personally like the way how you and Magic Babe do illusions differently where the male is not always the one incharge or the lead. Most shows always have the magician who is Male cut up their female assistants. Magic Babe is a breath of fresh air.

  8. Aaron says:

    that sounds really difficult.. it’s like writing a script designed specifically for a person. that’s something i really can’t do.

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