The Conversational Approach to Close-Up
My favourite walkaround opener...
... is saying "Hello!" 😀
Over the decades I've matured as a magician, and coincidentally as a person.
Once upon a time I was a sleight-of-hand "card guy," and my magic was very trick-focused. I'd have my planned sets for wowing the crowds strolling at corporate cocktail parties and banquets, whether they liked it or not!
My focus then shifted towards the stage and my book reading went from Hamman to Harbin. With stand-up magic the trick often takes a back seat to presentation.
In the last few years I've felt another shift in my magical gearbox. This time I'm shifting from a "look what I can do" razzle-dazzle presentation to a "let's see what we can do" collaboration.
Some days I worry I'm dangerously close to becoming a mentalist. 😮
As I think about my close-up repertoire now, the thing which excites me most about a new magic trick now is seeing the potential for how does this blend into the conversation?
Outside of a ticketed show, where somebody has made an effort to come see you, most magic performances are some degree of interruption. Strolling magic is the worst for it. You literally have to barge in and interrupt conversations all night long. Uggh.
Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with somebody who doesn't take a breath and doesn't actually care to hear what you have to say? That's the impression I get from most close-up magic performances.
One of my favourite opening lines for table-hopping comes from David Acer: "Hi, it's my job to interrupt you. How am I doing so far?"
I'm a gentler, calmer, slower magician than I was in my youth. I open with conversation. I introduce myself as a magician, which is a highly unusual thing for most people to encounter, and they inevitably ask questions.
I let the guests lead the conversation. I listen and follow.
They ask "how did you learn magic?" I tell them about getting the Klutz Book of Magic for Christmas, and, hey, "would you like to see my very first trick I learned, which forever changed my life?" With this they invite me to perform, rather than it being pushed upon them. (the trick, by the way, is a ring and rope routine)
Somebody jokes "can you saw my wife in half?" Sorry, my insurance doesn't cover that, but I can do the next best thing. "Diane, would you like to try your hand at being a Las Vegas magic assistant?" I perform my Drawn & Halved in which I cut a hand-drawn picture of the sectator in half.
"Can you teach me a magic trick?" I guage their genuine interest in learning, and if I feel it's a good fit then, yes, I do teach them a simple trick they can do right away (like the jumping rubber band) and gift them a copy of my *Magic Tricks You Can Do booklet for their homework assignment.
If I sense they're not a serious student, or not open to learning in this moment, then I can perform Jay Sankey & David Acer's "Count On It," a version of the Biddle Trick where the spectator plays the part of the magician and performs an amazing trick without knowing it.
When some person proclaims "Oh! I know a card trick! Can I show you?" I say "Yes, please!" and happily tell them which pile it's in and give an approving nod when my card is finally revealed. They always ask "do you know that one?" and I always say, "yes, that's a good one!" I share the spotlight because this event, this interaction, is for them... not for me.
My latest addition to the repertoire, I'm very happy to discover, is the perfect answer to the question "Will you tell me how you did that?" This truly is my favourite conversation to have, because we get to talk about the nature of mystery, and the fragility of astonishment. In my performances last week The Square Hole faciliated this discussion because I can present it first as an eyes-closed mystery, and then repeat it as an eyes-open puzzle and ask, "did you feel the difference?"
I didn't mean for this to be a pitch-fest of my tricks for sale. The fact is the routines I have fully fleshed out and offered as products were made to be solutions to my performance puzzles, as Chris Carey would say.
If you've done strolling magic before you've probably heard many, if not all, of these audience questions and comments. Perhaps you've come up with ad libs and jokes for them. I encourage you to take that response to the next level and use them to inspire your repertoire.
You don't necesarily need a trick for all occasions, but think about how you can use different presentations to guide the conversation towards what you have in your pocket.
LIke an improvisor you enter the stage with no preconceived intention. You let the conversation flow, and get carried away in the current.
What could you do when the conversation turns to:
- Gambling / cheating
- "Don't you try to steal my wallet!"
- Tarot or psychic readings
- "Do you believe in ghosts?"
- "I saw a magician in Las Vegas!"
- "My uncle used to pull coins out my ear."
- "I wish my son was here, he'd love this!"
- "Do you perform at birthday parties?"
Or any other questions/comments you've heard more than once. Learn from your experience and be prepared!