Why do illusionists perform the same illusions? is one of my most popular blog entries for magicians. Regular readers will know that I feel there are a dozen or so illusions that are just too common and overly performed by both semi-pros and top-level illusionists around the world.
I developed a simple test to see what are objectively the overly performed illusions. Basically, if you do a YouTube search and find more than 15 videos of the near exact performance/ presentation or prop (whether pirated or not) of the same illusion – it is too common. It would be safe to assume that these 15 YouTube videos represent just a percentage of the actual of people out there performing the same illusion with the same presentation.
I spent less than 30min and found more than 15 videos EACH of the following illusions – Sub Trunk, Fire Cage, Twister, Interlude, Origami, Fire Spiker, Compressed, Modern Art, Bowl-a-Rama, Snowing, Suspended Animation, Elevator and Mini Kube Zag.
If you do feature the above illusions as highlights in your show and you are not the best in the world in presenting them, you might want to think your approach. It is hard to beat Hans Klok presentation of “Suspended Animation” or his or Mark Kalin’s “Fire Spiker”, Copperfield “Elevator” or “Snowing” or The Pendragon’s “Sub Trunk”; so unless you can, you need to think how to make the illusion different or better in another way. Or, you might just want to trade in these illusions for something more unique.
I’ll give two examples of illusions where different performers have made the illusion presentations unique and perfect for their presentation style. They have not done anything extraordinary to the physical props but have changed it slightly or made additions to make it work for their presentations.
The first illusion I would like to discuss is the “Origami” illusion created by Jim Steinmeyer. While I know a lot of magicians consider this the perfect illusion, I personally never fancied it. I suspect many magicians are more in awe with the method and ‘neatness’ of the illusion presentation more than the actual illusion itself. I do think the general lay audience considers this just another ‘girl in box with swords’ illusion. But, I digress, this is not the point of the discussion.
Maybe one reason I do not like the “Origami” is because too many people perform it and it is always with the same presentation. I cringe everything I see an assistant come in with a kimono and oriental fan, because that seems to be the only way magicians think this should be performed. Please. Stop doing this. It does look cheesy, especially if the theatrical setting is not established or congruent with such a presentation.
Paul Gertner is best known for his FISM-winning “Steel Cups & Balls” and most may not know him as a corporate illusionist. He uses the “Origami” as a metaphor for creativity. In this context, his patter and script works perfectly with the illusion. Check it out:
Elliot Zimet is based out of New York and does a hip-hop inspired show. As far as I know, he has been working on his “Origami” presentation for just a few years and it has developed well. He performs to music and dancers that fit his intended image and style. He uses Greg Frewin’s version of “Origami” (which is a nice innovation) and it does not look oriental in any way.
While the video work is not ideal and ‘dubious’ at one point, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that this can be performed well live. If not, he is obviously working towards that direction which is great.
“Interlude” is also created by Jim Steinmeyer and was originally called “Permeability” and renamed by The Pendragons as “Interlude” who performed it exclusively for several years. In fact, this illusion and “Metamorphosis” helped define them as masters of physical grand illusion at the height of their career in the mid 80s and early 90s. Because “Interlude” was performed by The Pendragons in their distinct physical way for so long, when it did go onto the open commerical market for other professional illusionists, most were modeling their performance after The Pendragons.
Granted, there is not much variance in performance handling in this illusion as the prop design is as such, so thought must be put into how to add to it or give motivation and logic for the presentation.
Erix Logan is an Italian illusionist who has a long career on cruises and showrooms. He has many inventive innovations to existing illusions like his Scissors “Impaled” illusion. He performs a straight dramatic presentation like The Pendragons did and many others do. But, he has added a nice addition to the illusion which adds a small convincer to the illusion.
Siegried & Roy were Las Vegas’ golden magicians as they pioneered the concept of a Las Vegas production magic show until Roy’s tragic career-ending accident. I will be doing an entry on them in the near future so will talk about them in detail next time. Suffice to say, they are the personification of the Vegas glitz and glamour show that we have come to know. They were also the pioneers of using big cats in illusion shows.
What makes their “Interlude” different is that there are two male illusionists performing it with one female talent who does the passing through. In this case, she is playing a character and the stage setting reflects and gives reason for the character. And there is more as you will see.
Barry & Stuart are one of the few comedy magic teams in the world from the U.K. They have had much success with their TV shows and bear minor similarities to Penn & Teller in the way their acts are presented. Often with dialogue and interactive comedy bits, their innovative plots underline the presentation of what may be considered standard effects. This not only makes their show incredibly entertaining but also intelligent and distinct in its own right.
Here is their comedy presentation of “Interlude” which gives motivation and logic to the illusion. (The user does not allow the video to be embedded, so follow the link to watch it.