Simple versus Easy

In his ‘Bloomeries” DVD set prologue, Gaetan Bloom made a casual statement on how he looks for simple but not necessarily easy effects to perform. This is a profound statement that I think magicians are aware off but do not consider as a primary guideline when developing their routines or shows.

The best effects/ routines in the world are simple. The plot and effect are clear and the routining is logical and motivated. Just think of the most memorable or talked about effects. For TV magic (which tends to be the most talked about especially among laymen), it is the contextual seemingly impromptu setting that also plays a big part in making the magic memorable. But, putting that aside, the effects are also very simple to the audience.

The effects are not convoluted and if it is multi-phased, each phase logically lends itself to the next. Of course, it is usually, the strongest phase that gets remembered. That is why, you seldom hear people talk about complicated routines which involve multiple steps to achieve a minor effect or has a long series of phases that do not necessarily connect to each other.

The distinction that magicians must make is between “simple” and “easy”. A simple effect refers to the clarity and focus of the magical effect and the journey it takes to achieve the effect. Easy refers to the methodology, technique and secret backstage necessities that are required to achieve the effect.

The former is the perception of the audience. The latter only concerns the magician and the audience is rightfully unaware of the ease or difficulty that is needed into creating the effect.

Many magicians put emphasis on the “easy” part instead of the “simple”. One one end, you have magicians looking for the easiest method to accomplish an effect since the audience does not know any better. On the other end, you have magicians who want to use the most complex and/ or difficult method possible because it impresses other magicians or they get a personal satisfaction of pulling off a routine with a difficult method.

The correct approach is to determine which method makes the effect the simplest and cleanest to the audience. For example, while performing an easy method can achieve an effect but a more difficult method allows your hands to be cleaner and allows the audience to examine the props used, then the more difficult method here would be the better choice; because ultimately the magic will register stronger to the audience.

If a difficult method does create a stronger effect but you cannot pull it off smoothly, a poor performance (in the worst case exposure) will ruin the effect for the audience and reduce the simplicity because the audience will be distracted by your uneven performance.

My personal approach is to determine how to create the simplest effect for the audience and do whatever it takes or costs to achieve that effect. At least, at the starting point and creating phase, I do not limit myself to method or budget. However, when the “ultimate” method/ approach is developed, I then have to weigh practical issues that determines the final method.

In fact, in the last few months, I’ve been forcing my mind to have a paradigm shift in the way I approach my magic, specifically for close-up & TV work. A lot of people closer to me or have interacted with me recently know that I have been reworking a lot of my close-up/ street magic effects for some time. Not just my older routines but new routines for upcoming TV projects and of course for semi-regular close-up professional work.

Traditionally, my routines for close-up or designs for illusions are generally very practical. This means virtually all my material could be performed anytime, any place, any time. While this approach has tremendous high value for the working performer, the effects tend to be lacking at times in terms of the level of impossibility which current audiences almost expect from top level performers.

One of my most successful creations in this field (IMO), but by no means perfect, is the magic Ning & I presented in the season finale of “M for Magic”. We presented a simple but by no means easy routine. It must have resonated well as the video has garnered almost 3000 views in just one week and feedback from friends, clients, peers and the industry has been great. If fact, popular magic newssite, iTricks also picked up on the video! We approached the magic so that audiences would feel it is fresh, different from most magic they have seen and most importantly, showcase our personalities.

I think all my newly approached routines are very simple, although maybe multi-phased, each phase is very simple. And trust me… I don’t think the routines will be considered easy. I’m not just talking about the technical sleights as there are many other magicians who use much more difficult techniques than I do BUT, the combination of intricate routining and prop management makes the routine difficult. Often the simplest effects are the most difficult because it takes greate difficulty to create the simple.

Recently, I posted a picture of the coins (Morgan Silver Dollars) I use for my new in-construction “3 Coin Routine”. Judging by the amount of response I got, I conclude that magicians are like fish and are attracted to shiny objects. 😀

The “3 Coin Routine” (working title) is my attempt to combine my “Silver Teleportation 2.0” routine with another favourite “International Passage” to form a single cohesive , mutliple-phase master routine that can also be performed modularly if needed. It is a simple, crystal clear to the audience, but by no means easy or inexpensive. It has a routine that has evolved since its first incarnation in 1993!

I can tell you that in some phases, it looks exactly the same to the general lay audience, but the workings are much more difficult. So, why go through more difficulty, if the effect is as simple and clear to the audience with an easier method. The reason is that the difficulty allows a slightly higher level of simplicity and allows a much cleaner presentation when it matters – for the TV camera or extra discerning audiences.

When you are developing your next effect or routine,  do not start by considering the ease or difficulty in creating the magic. But rather, focus on the simplicity in effect and in the journey. This means also ensuring the journey is entertaining and enjoyable for the audience. The next step is to research on all possible methods to achieve the effect then shortlist the best methods to achieve the simplest effect.

Once you have decided on the methods, do your best to execute the method regardless of cost or difficulty. If the methods are really out of your means at this point of time, either abandon the routine or work on putting yourself in a position to execute the ideal method. That might mean you need more practice or developing your magic fundamentals to enough your skill level is up to par. Or, it may mean you to find a way to fund or obtain a certain expensive something needed to accomplish the method.

Remember, simple NOT easy!


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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