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Topic: Pet peeves
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Aug 5, 2006 02:52PM)
When I came up with the idea for this column last year, I decided I was going to focus on theater and design (which is what I do for a living), and discuss how these fields can apply to magic. However, inspired by several recent threads and by Bill Palmer’s “Pet peeves” column, this morning I decided to change tacks a bit and, just for fun, list some of the things that often make me ask out loud, “What is wrong with this picture?”

I’m going to try very hard to not copy any of Bill’s items :) so as not to get accused of plagiarism. :) However, since Bill is apparently still working on his own list, it’s possible that we will post similar items. :( If that happens, all I can say is that galaxy-class brilliant minds occasionally agree with each other… ;)

Oh, man, pass the hip waders and VapoRub, please… it’s getting deep here...

Anyway, here’s my list, in no particular order:

1. Packet tricks, where the performer pulls out a few cards, proceeds to do a miracle, puts the cards away, and then pulls out another few cards. If someone insists on unleashing these tricks on me, I wish they would put the packet on top of a regular deck ahead of time, then pull out the entire deck and count off the cards required. This way, I can at least pretend to believe that he took the cards off a regular deck instead of out of a little plastic envelope with the name of the trick printed on it.

2. Bill mentioned this one, but I have to pick up on it (see? :) ), simply because I was guilty of it for years when I was first starting out. “Here we have an ordinary silk.” Huh????? What the heck is a silk, and what’s ordinary about it? It took me a couple of years to learn how to look at the audience and notice their faces, but, when I finally did, I never understood why they looked puzzled when I used that line. And who’s “we?” As someone said in one of the threads here just last week, “Do you have a mouse in your pocket?”

3. The Chinese Linking Rings. What’s Chinese about them any more? For all anybody knows nowadays, those rings could be Brazilian, or Norwegian, or Australian – or American. Or just rings. The show “Modern Marvels” on the History Channel just came to mind. Hmmmm...

4. The Chinese Sticks. Again, what’s Chinese about them? The red tassels? Replace the tassels with something else and they can become anything you want. When I bought my plastic, black-and-red sticks about a million years ago, I couldn’t figure out what made them Chinese, so I did what was logical for a twelve-year-old: I painted phony Chinese characters on them. To this day I don’t have a clue if those characters said something or not.

5. The table set up with eight or ten props, and the performer who picks them up one at a time, demonstrates it, and puts it back. Always reminds me of the guy at the department store demonstrating kitchen gadgets. This type of staging goes back to the 1800’s: we see it in books from the Professor Hoffmann era, and even before then. Magic was different then, the audiences were different, and entertainment was different.

6. The same table, set up with eight or ten props that have nothing to do with each other visually or thematically. One is “Chinese,” another is “Arabian Nights,” another is circus blue-and-red, and the one next to it is a nondescript varnished mahogany. Sitting among it all is a chrome sphere with an equator line around it (a miniature Death Star?), and a purple cloth behind it. I was guilty of this too for a few years; it never occurred to me to look at this stuff from the viewpoint of the audience.

7. Waving silks up and down after producing them. I did it too – I just figured it was what you were supposed to do with a silk. One day, practicing in front of a mirror, I finally saw what the audience was seeing; I then said something quite a bit stronger than “What the heck is that all about?” and stopped doing it.

8. Props that are out of character for the performer. About twenty years ago I attended a lecture by a very well-known international performer, a guy who had a fair number of effects on the market. He was doing something with a few small colored silks and balloons and explaining how to make up the thing, which involved sewing this or that. Suddenly, without the slightest hesitation or change of tone, he said something to the effect that he had his wife do the sewing, because “sewing is women’s work.” It took me about a year’s worth of self-control to avoid jumping up and saying, “Sure, and playing with those little colored silks and balloons is manly work.” Sheeeeesh...

9. The Helicopter Card. Just the other day I was at my niece’s house, and her eight-year-old said he had seen the trick and knew how it was done. I’ve seen this done at Houdini’s shop in Vegas, and the guy actually did a very good job of it, but my main problem with it is that it goes on too long. It’s like the dancing cane: do something with it and move on to something else. After the initial surprise has passed, people are just going to start looking for the whatchacallit.

10. Zombie and the dancing cane. Here again, the routines are usually too long. The first time I saw Zombie was on TV when I was about ten or eleven years old. I had goosebumps for a week (okay, maybe five minutes). That was magic! The guy made the ball float, go under the scarf, sit on top of it, vanish and reappear, and that was it. Nice, short, and very very dramatic.

I’ll have a few more to add to this as I think of them.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Aug 6, 2006 10:55AM)
Here’s a few more...

11. Three-legged stands with a flat top. At least I haven’t seen anyone using the black velour with the gold fringe for a while, but most of these things look silly nowadays. With shops like IKEA, Pier One, Home Decorators Supply, Design Within Reach, and similar places, there’s no need to resort to something that was in style a century ago. I’ve even seen better-looking stands at Target.

12. The boxy “night club” table. Ditto, especially if it’s a “generic” box. I can see a birthday party performer turning one into a circus crate or something in character with the act, but most of these things look like nothing else in the galaxy. If you really need a box table, take a look at DJ suppliers and contemporary furniture – there are far more attractive things out there.

13. Doves with clipped wings or ribbons hanging from their legs.

14. Modern illusion bases. A base, if one is needed, should look like nothing more than a simple platform with wheels, i.e., the only way to get the box from offstage to center stage. If it needs legs, fine, then legs with casters. Otherwise make it look like it was meant to be ignored. Better yet, make the box look like it doesn’t have a base: just the casters on the bottom of the box. If you need help with this, pick up a few books on the history of furniture and a couple on classical and Renaissance architecture (Vitruvius and Andrea Palladio are good places to start) and see how the proportions work.

15. I don’t have any problem with amateur or hobbyist magicians (I haven’t performed in front of an audience in over thirty years), but one of my pet peeves is the Uncle Joe type who goes to a magic shop, buys a standard trick, shows it to his eight-year-old nephew, and then gives it to the kid as a gift. Granted the kid will play with the thing for a day or two and then forget about it, but Uncle Joe totally missed the point. I think it’s so funny that so many things that were originally intended for adults have become “for kids:” the Sherlock Holmes stories, Dracula, Frankenstein, and their friends, the stories behind several of the Disney animated movies, even the original [i]Fantasia[/i]. I have to wonder how many adults nowadays are missing the point – the thrill, the adventure, the thinking, the fun – of some of the old classics just because we think of them as “for kids.”

16. Square Circle and Temple Screen loads. I did these for years too, and I still cringe when I think about it. Lots and lots of colored silks (random colors, of course) which look big when open, but obviously pack into nothing. Items that are obviously collapsible or that nest in each other. A conglomeration of unrelated items. Loads that go on and on for several minutes. How much better to pull out a few items that relate visually and thematically to the act, and then just move on to the next effect.

17. I see this now and then, and it looks really funny from the standpoint of a viewer. The magician is introduced, he walks out, and the first thing we see is some kind of flash and something appears in his hands. We don’t get a moment to meet the guy, or even to know that he’s aware we are watching him. He just ignores us and goes right into his act. Top-notch comedians, singers, and other “stand-up” entertainers take a moment to acknowledge the applause and the audience, to smile, to imply, “Hey, here I am,” before starting their routines. You can even do this with a silent act. If you don't even give the audience the courtesy of letting them meet you, why should they care what you’re doing?