I recently watched “The Scoundrel’s Touch” DVD put out by Whit Hadyn, Bob Sheets and Chef Anton. It is basically the 2nd volume of a complete treatise of the “Three Shell Game”. (BTW, look out for my “Ultimate Shells” review that I’ve been working on for a few weeks. It will be the most comprehensive objective review of the most popular shells on the market.)
The last chapter of the DVD examined the psychology of the street hustler and showed an amateur video of a real con man in action using a version of the “Three Shell Game”. It was a real education into an operator’s ability to understand his audience (victims), psychological direct them and essentially cheat them of hundreds of dollars.
In the discussion of the real con in action, Whit & Chef proposed a paradigm shift in the thinking of magic from the current approach. They explained how the thinking of magic for the past century was changed through the publication of “Expert at the Card Table” by Erdnase. Considered the most influential text on card techniques and magic (often referred to as the “bible” of card magic), this shifted magicians focus on perfecting technique as the primary goal of the conjuror.
However, technique is only one aspect of the presentation of magic and to focus exclusively or heavily on technique along will not allow a magician to grow as a magical performer. Even with the next shift in magic approach (Vernon’s proposition of naturalness in magic), it still drew heavily on the techniques of card magic and the perfect execution of sleights. Jean Hugard even went so far to suggest that “Expert at the Card Table” was a bad thing for magicians. Could this be one big reason why magic is not as mainstream as other entertainment and art forms?
Whit & Chef proposed to approach magic from the point of view of the con man, pitchman and shell game/ monte operators. The reason is because they construct their cons, presentation, techniques and psychology based on how their audience thinks. So, everything is designed with the audience’s psychology, not just in mind, but as the basis for how a routine is structured.
I agree with Whit & Chef to a large extent that for the next growth in magic, magicians (collective) focus needs to go beyond technique. To me, a strong fundamental mastery of technique is essential but when it reaches a certain level of mastery, if you neglect the other aspects of magic performing, your growth will be stunted. It must be noted that the modern masters of magic (Vernon, Marlo, Slydini) primarily performed for magicians. AND, “Expert at the Card Table” was written as a card mechanics manual and not a card magician’s manual!
However, if one is performing for a mainstream (AKA lay) audience, the technique-alone approach is not adequate. I’ve always stressed that once technique reaches a certain level of mastery, it makes no difference to the commercial audience. That is why I consider mastery of technique and skills a given … as does the mainstream audience. A mainstream audience watches a magician WITH the assumption that he is skilled and they expect to be deceived and “fooled” by the magic.
What they are expecting is to be entertained with something different or to experience something new. They also are interested in what appeals to them and what they can relate to.
The countless magic clones who try their best at making parasols and canes appear while dressed in modern tail costs that look like Jason Bryne’s and long messy hair that covers air their face miss the point completely. They totally do not know what the mainstream audience wants. A century ago, it was the black tailcoats, top hat and rabbit out of the hat. 100 years later, there is not much progression except in the change in colour & style of the tailcoats, change from top hat to hair style and rabbit to “magic stick”.
The magic geek inside magicians is our best friend and worst enemy. The friend allows us to create magic effects that will amaze an audience but the enemy prevents anyone outside of the magic circle to actually care. It takes great effort on the part of the commercial magician to think like the mainstream audience and design magic that would appeal to a large demographic of people.
I often find myself coming out with (what I consider) a fantastic idea but ony to realize that no one besides myself and a few other magic geeks care or see the difference with something similar in that has been done before. One reason is because the idea is exciting to me because of the “new” magical method or technique developed.
Ning has a great mind for knowing what the mainstream audience wants. While a magic geek herself, she has the ability to detach the geek side of her when assessing an illusion idea or show. She understands what appeals to the audience that counts and focuses her time, resources and effort to developing those specific areas. This is why she has been able to craft a position of being the most successful mainstream magician in Singapore, in a relatively short period of time.
Our approach to all our mega illusions is no different. We have been lucky that the mainstream audience has embraced them and we have always managed to intrigue, captivate and surprise people with our stunts. The way we go about designing the mega illusions is to see what has been done before, more importantly, what seems to appeal to people.; then, we either try to do something completely different. If not, we innovate on something that has been done before to make it different or take it to a completely different level.
Our upcoming 8th stunt is (hopefully) going to be an example of that. We have already done a number of teleportation acts, set a world record, predicted the 4D lottery and Ning has set the standard for dangerous mega escapes in this part of the world. But this time, we are going to attempt to raise the bar, quite literally.
Illusion method and technique-wise, this particular mega illusion utilizes a combination of principles that we have never used in a mega illusion before. While I have designed different illusions that use most of these magic methods, this is the first time I’m incorporating these particular methods in one illusion. But, while the mega illusion methods are sophisticated, they are not our primary focus. We crafted a concept that we felt would appeal to the masses – for people who have never watched us before and for people who are familiar with all our work.
Stay tuned for more info!