Why I can't teach you misdirection!
Conjurer's Coffee Break - Episode 017
- Hello and welcome back to another episode.
- As some of you might know, as well as performing magic, I also mentor magicians, both in person, and online.
- Recently, a few of my students have been asking me about misdirection.
- I love that they are interesting in taking their magic further and adding an extra layer of deception to their performances, over and above simple self working tricks, but one thing I have noticed is how difficult it is to teach misdirection.
- It's such a dynamic thing, like comic timing, that has to be felt, or sensed rather than prescribed.
- Non-magicians often have a misconception that magic is about having 'fast hands' whereas the truth is that you don't need to do the move fast, you need to do it at the right time.
- And when is the right time?
- When they're not looking.
- Alright, that's a massive over simplification.
- Misdirection isn't about asking someone a question and meeting their gaze, nor is it about a loud clatter of plates on one side of the room that causes everyone to look away.
- Remember if people think they've been misdirected, they have a method for your trick.
- "You made me look away", is as bad as someone saying, "I can see the coin hidden there in your hand."
- I hope that like me, even though you might not reach it every time, you're aiming for magic, and not just great tricks.
- I have a line in one of my routines, where I say, "The magic only happens if at the end of it, you can say, I didn't look away. I was watching the entire time."
- And guess what, when I say that, you can be damn sure they watch pretty closely for the next few moments.
- So, perhaps a better question is, how do you make someone look away without them feeling like they have.
- And the answer, is off-beats, whatever that means, right?
- Well, if an on-beat is a moment of focused attention, which we might create by saying, "watch..." or "if you pay close attention..." or even just slowing our speech and moving a little closer,
- then an off-beat is a moment of inattention, one example where this occurs is when the audience thinks the trick is over.
- Think of the moment in the cups and balls, when you reveal all the balls have jumped from your pocket to the middle cup,
- and under the cover of that revelation you "make your magic move" to make a lemon appear.
- OK, for fear of revealing too much, I'm going to leave that there.
- Hopefully, you know what I'm talking about.
- So, let me say it again, misdirection is a dynamic thing. You have to feel it.
- I can't give you the shortcut. You'll only ever pick it up by performing.
- Just as with learning a musical instrument, or learning to type, or learning a magic trick, you have to build up the muscle memory.
- The only difference is, that it isn't a physical action with your hands, but with your whole body, and your attitude and with timing.
- You have to do it for real.
- You can't say you're a great cook, because you've read a few recipes.
- You have to do the thing for real. You have to burn a few cakes, and think, "well damn, my oven must have been too hot."
- It's the same with magic. I have royally screwed up and retreated with my head held low.
- I'm also doing that right now with stand up comedy.
- But you don't learn anything from great gigs, except maybe you're amazing and your ego is massive.
- I believe that, success in many cases comes from those who are willing to go through multiple failures, to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
- Take a listen to my previous episode on confidence. It's the same sort of thing.
- You improve by doing it for real.
- That's so true for misdirection.
- And hey, this ties also in with everything I've been saying in previous episodes, about the idea that magic is about people, right! "people are more interested in people than things."
- I'm sure you're sick of hearing that by now, but it's true.
- A performance, is a real, live, thing, that happens in the moment.
- To be a great magician, you have to connect with others.
- Otherwise, you're performing at people. That's boring. Why waste the opportunity of interaction that a live show gives you.
- For me, misdirection is tied to the way that I perform. It's conversational, and that's disarming. It's natural and loose. It feels like nothing is happening. Until it does.
- I know, I know. I'm not explaining much, but that's the point. You have to figure this one out for yourself.
- The resources, I always recommend are two small 20 page, or so, booklets, by Gary Kurtz. I think they are both out of print, but perhaps you can find a magician friend who has a copy, or there might be one in your magic club library.
- I'll leave links in the notes part of the blog post that accompanies this episode, but they are called.
- Misdirection and Direction
- and, Leading with your Head
- Here's a quick quote from them that backups what I've been saying:
- "The only way to develop a finely tuned sense of the off-beat is by performing and feeling your audience's attention on you at all times."
- OK, I have one practical tip, and that is if you have a very misdirection reliant move, let's say "changing the top" then what I normally do is create a routine that uses the move, and then add it into my performing repertoire as something I perform for only one person.
- It's easy to 'feel the attention' of one person, than it is to keep track of six people. You can work up to that.
- When I started I also created lots of misdirection games. They weren't magic, per se, but helped me to learn the fundamentals of being around people and influencing them to focus on what I wanted them to.
- I don't know if this episode has been useful. I hope it has.
- As I always say, my podcasts are jumping off points, to start a conversation, or help you think further about a subject.
- At the very least, I hope this one has given you some inspiration. If you've mostly stuck to self working routines and misdirection has felt like a bit of a big mountain to climb. I get that. I used to feel like that too. But you can do it.
- Just take it one step at a time. Be comfortable with the idea that things will be uncomfortable for a while, maybe a long time, and if you keeping trying to figure out a way through, you'll get there.
- As ever, you can find out about every episode, plus about my magic mentoring at edsumner.com/magicians.
- There's also a blog post on my site for this episode, and you can leave any comments or questions there.
- Don't forget to share the podcast with friends and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from.
- Until next time, thanks for listening.
Additional Show Notes
- An additional though that occurred to me after recording this, is that not only is misdirection like comedy timing, it's also like learning a language. There are rules that you read in the book, that don't apply when you're out on the streets. Magic, and especially this aspect of it, is sort of like that. You have to learn through experience.
- Another further thought, and probably because at the time of writing, I just did a stage show yesterday, but misdirection (and direction) also applies on stage. In my example from yesterday, it in involved using a magic wand and the stance of my body to direct the audience to what I wanted the audience to focus on, rather than just pointing with my finger which might have been a bit lost on a large stage.
- And one final thought. Pickpockets. Learning a few pickpocket routines, will help to sharpen your misdirection skills. I didn't think of this, because I don't really consider it magic, but maybe it's something you want to try.
- Here are the links to booklets mentioned:
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