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Stellan
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Anyway, I would like to know exactly how important and crucial the subtext is for a magician. If we leave the subject of it's content aside and just talk about the amplitude. How strong it is. Is strong subtext mandatory for a successful magician? Is it even more important than the magic effects? Does a silent act have subtext? Did Channing Pollock have a strong subtext? Does your favorite magician have a strong subtext? Is subtext the difference between well known magicians and not so successful magicians? Is it true for a magic act as the text above says, that subtext lends real emotional and intellectual depth to any dramatic or literary work? Is it possible that the subtext affects the audience emotionally and intellectually as much or even more than the magic effects? Is it possible that when we think back on a magic act we are likely to remember the subtext and forget the magic effects quicker? Is it the amplitude of the subtext that counts?
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The Burnaby Kid
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Subtext, by virtue of it not being literal, requires interpretation on the part of the audience. A lot of good magic requires the audience to be very focused on what's happening at the literal level. They need to know where the ball is, whether the mouth-down cup is empty, why the wand is there, etc. Subtext of the type described in your quoted article (the "Not much" example) would be an aspect of presentation that I'd consider optional for good magic.

Subtext could be leveraged to lead the audience to interpret interesting things about the magician. For instance, Cardini was a skilled card manipulator, but his character in the Hotel Lobby act is a guy who seems a bit drunk, which, if absorbed as a detail, could make the constant reappearances of card fans more magical. Another example might be a magician and his female assistant, where everything about the way they move and interact suggests dominance of the man, subservience of the woman, which can take heat off the idea that it's the woman who's actually making all the magic possible.

Consider, though, that subtext is frequently about making regular things more profound. Making a coin vanish is not exactly a regular thing. This is one place where the story-tellers fail in their tricks, because they're trying too hard to attach meaning to things that are already difficult enough for regular people to absorb at the literal level.
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Al Schneider
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I would like to attempt to clarify something.
I gave a lecture at the Magic Castle.

I expressed my ideas on sleights by stating that one should do motions that make the hands to appear to move naturally.
After the lecture, an individual approached me and told me that what I was discussing was theater and I was discussing a well understood theater concept of sub text.

I appreciate Whit's comment that you cannot teach actors magic. They want to believe what they do but do not communicate magic to the audience.

What is going on here?

Another factor is that when I see magicians treat their performance as theater, it looks awful.
I am not slamming thespians here. When I see, as mentioned, actors do magic on the professional stage, it looks great.
My perception is that the guy(and his director) are not trying to do art but communicate something to paying customers.
I have also noticed that seasoned actors to not discuss their acting as art. They refer to it as a craft or trade.

I am a bit disturbed for the following.
I perceive that thespians see that everything is acting. "All the world is a stage."
Do thespians therefore claim that any attempt at improving communication is subtext?

I know how to do magic, I think. What am I missing?

Let's focus on this question: "Is the process of making a sleight natural adding sub text to the mix?"

Another way to look at this is as follows.
During a routine I move a coin from one hand to the other 10 times.
Two of those events are false moves.
Yet they are structured to appear as the actual moves.
Are the devices I used to accomplish this sub text.
If so, why are they not sub text when the same devices are done in actual moves.

Al Schneider
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Alan Wheeler
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The ostensible reason for an in-transit action is basic methodolgy, called "simulation" by Fitzkee. I do not think this kind of tactic needs to be called "subtext."

There may be larger, more strategic ways, though, that presentation can aid the magicical impact (by cloaking the method and by building up the effect), and here is whre subtext in its regular theatrical sense might be discussed in relation to magic performance.
The views and comments expressed on this post may be mere speculation and are not necessarily the opinions, values, or beliefs of Alan Wheeler.
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Jonathan Townsend
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The notions of text and subtext are literary.
What is the broad message that's to be transmitted?
How are the component elements of the message introduced?
How are the actions which convey the message executed?
Are there any incongruences in the props or actions?
Are there any incongruences in the props and actions in context of the performance?
If there are incongruences, do they remain constant or do they relate to the props or actions? If so how? That's subtext.

What Whit discussed is an insightful observation that when most actors play the part of someone who's an entertainer type magician, they miss the nuance of the character moving between the "i'm using real magic" and "i'm pretending but you can't see the trick" in such a way the audience knows he's not either a storybook wizard or a charlatan - but something closer to a standup comic attempting to amuse the audience by way of amazement or astonishment.

Not that actors can't play wizards or charlatans just fine - but when they try to make a entertainer type magician character work they usually miss the multiple levels of audience engagement, the occasional peek of the performer from behind the tricks to wink at the audience. That's not a thing which is simple to put into a script or for a director to describe.
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Alan Wheeler
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If what Jon writes is true--and it does make sense--then most movie and play versions of entertainment-type magicians would either be overly ridiculous (too much of the wink) or overly serious (too much of the charlatan or storybook wizard).
The views and comments expressed on this post may be mere speculation and are not necessarily the opinions, values, or beliefs of Alan Wheeler.
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Donal Chayce
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As per the Wikipedia treatise that Pop provided, subtext can also apply to the thoughts and motivations of a character as well. I think a character's subtext directly intersects with the character's backstory.

Once I teased out my character's backstory, much of his subtext was also revealed. Knowing his subtext and his backstory makes the processes of choosing material, routining, scripting, costuming, etc. much, much easier. And I think that applies to the physicality of the character; i.e., his posture and stance, the way he handles the props, the way he performs the sleights (e.g., does he reveal or disguise how skilled he is in handling the cards?), etc. So I'd say that yes, making a sleight look natural contributes to the character's subtext. But what looks natural for one character may not look natural for another.

I suspect, but I'm not (yet) certain, that these subtext and backstory choices offer up a tool for supporting and, at times, strengthening the experience of magic (and by that I mean Whit's Dilemma or Al's Virtual Magic) for the audience.
Jonathan Townsend
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Just saying that an actor/director can help with character congruence work but...
also that they are not so much for realtime audience feedback practice as they usually work on their side of the fourth wall and don't do much when they break the wall with tightly scripted asides that don't require feedback.
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Jonathan Townsend
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A bit YES to Al for reminding us that theater folks talk about their work as a craft.

Getting back to subtext; Stories have subtext. Characters have history, motivations, mixed motivations, quirks, habits, fears, agendas, goals, things they know how to do and things are willing to try and do... but not subtext.
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Stellan
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You seem to know something about this, Jonathan. Can you tell me how irony and tongue in cheek are related to subtext? Do you think that the structure of a trick can contain subtext, like a sucker trick? A sucker trick has a subtext, hasn't it?
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Al Schneider
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I'm sorry, I am a bit slow here.
My hope was to establish one little step here that in doing a sleight, adding something that is a normal occurrence is not subtext.
Can I get firm consensus on that one point.
I just got overwhelmed with all the other advanced talk.
I am really trying to get this concept.
I need to start with someplace solid.
Just the slow way I work.
They told me in school my IQ was under 100, so I must be careful.
I am slow of study and thought.
Maybe this question is to elementary for this thread?
Al Schneider
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Stellan
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Quote:
On 2011-08-31 04:19, Al Schneider wrote:
My hope was to establish one little step here that in doing a sleight, adding something that is a normal occurrence is not subtext.
Can I get firm consensus on that one point.

I think that is right. Based on:
Subtext is something that the spectator has to interpret.
There has to be a discrepancy between the overt text and the subtext. They can not just be in line. The subtext must say something else and add another dimension to be understood.
A gesture, however, can be subtext or part of a subtext.
Possibly the spider vanish is an example of subtext within gestures only.
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tommy
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What is the subtext designed to do?

Is it designed to reach those that are programmed to receive it?

Is it a code in other words?

Is it the magic of symbolism?

Does it evoke a message only in the mind of the ones initiated?

What is the subtext of a wand?
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Stellan
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Quote:
On 2011-08-31 07:28, tommy wrote:
What is the subtext designed to do?

As I understand it: It is designed to add depth and make an act or text more interesting and meaningful.
Quote:
Is it designed to reach those that are programmed to receive it?

It is designed to reach as many as possible of the audience. It is part of the performance and the expression you want to achieve. However, there may be people that don't get it. But it could be designed for example to reach only the adults in a family show.
Quote:
Is it a code in other words?

I don't think that is the right word. It is more communication on a different level. A message within the message. It is not hidden.
Quote:
Is it the magic of symbolism?

I don't think so.
Quote:
Does it evoke a message only in the mind of the ones initiated?

No, it is intended to reach everybody who reads the book, sees the film or act. It is part of the artistic expression and aimed to give it more depth and make it more emotional and intellectual interesting, thereby making it more memorable and involving.
However, as many artistic works often have a social or political subtext, you may have to be an adult or have certain experience and maturity in order to fully get it. In that sense you have to be initiated.
Quote:
What is the subtext of a wand?

A wand is a wand. It is no or has no subtext as such. There have to be a text (or context) for a subtext to exist.
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Brad Burt
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Quote:
On 2011-08-31 04:19, Al Schneider wrote:

My hope was to establish one little step here that in doing a sleight, adding something that is a normal occurrence is not subtext.
Can I get firm consensus on that one point.
I just got overwhelmed with all the other advanced talk.
I am really trying to get this concept.
I need to start with someplace solid.

Al Schneider


I agree for the following reason: There is no subtext when nothing has happened. A sleight is by definition not just an unseen action, but more accurately an "unperceived" action. Subtext is by definition active, perceived BELOW the major action or arc of the routine.

Two examples:

1- Guy places coin in hand, picks up wand with other hand and taps the coin laden hand. Without looking where the wand is placed on the table, hand opened to show the coin has vanished.

2- Same actions above except when the wand is placed down performer looks at an obnoxious spectator and slams the wand down on the table hard OBVIOUSLY angry.

In one above there is no subtext. The plot is easy and straight forward: The vanish of a coin. If there is a subtext at all it's enveloped in the overall concept of just wanting to blow peoples minds and derive entertainment thereby, but that's more over all context than subtext.

In two above there is a very real subtext: Anger at someone in the audience who is upsetting the magician or audience or both. The slamming down of the wand is NOT a normal action of the performer. The force and reason for the force are not concurrent with the normal flow of the routine.

It seems to me that subtext has to be something discernable outside of the normal and obvious flow of the routine. And, more importantly the INTENT of the routine. Let's say the intent of the routine is to ENTERTAIN with a capitol "E". As the routine progresses folks start to notice that there seems to be a message unnecessary to the 'point' of the magic being offered and the message is political in nature. The subtext here could be: I'm not just a magician, but a 'teacher' also and you folks really need to know about this, but if I just came out and said it overtly then I would be in trouble with management.

And, so, subtext can creep in either overtly or covertly depending upon the self awareness of the performer.

My point at one level is that it seems that you can purposefully place subtext into a routine or it can show up generated by the performers own pathology, etc. If the performer is self aware enough he can examine any routine as it progresses to see what is being said or implied by action(s) at both levels and take action to either enhance or abort.

But, I don't see how a 'sleight' in and of itself for instance could ever imply anything as in effect a 'sleight' does not exist in what is perceived by the audience. All that's perceived is the ultimate effect/affect.

Best,
Brad Burt
tommy
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Well if a subtext can be designed to reach adults only it follows that it must be a code that only adults know. How the adults know the code designed to reach them only is by way of initiation, for how else can they know what the children don't?
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

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Stellan
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Perhaps it is wise for the application of subtext to magic to distinguish between subtext belonging to the theatrical or dramatic aspect of the performance serving the emotional and intellectual needs and subtext serving the magical effects of the performance as suggested by Maskelyne & Devant.
The subtext belonging to the first serves the dramatic expression creating the context for the magic and the latter serves the magic effect. Example of this could be gestures implying there is something sneaky going on, like putting the egg under your arm in the egg bag routine. The aim here is to strengthen the magic effect and it belongs to the structure of the magic effect.
Example of dramatic subtext within the intent to entertain could be saying something with irony or tongue-in-cheek, dropping an ace from your sleeve or doing something silly with a straight face.
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Brad Burt
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Quote:
On 2011-08-31 12:14, Stellan wrote:
Perhaps it is wise for the application of subtext to magic to distinguish between subtext belonging to the theatrical or dramatic aspect of the performance serving the emotional and intellectual needs and subtext serving the magical effects of the performance as suggested by Maskelyne & Devant.
The subtext belonging to the first serves the dramatic expression creating the context for the magic and the latter serves the magic effect. Example of this could be gestures implying there is something sneaky going on, like putting the egg under your arm in the egg bag routine. The aim here is to strengthen the magic effect and it belongs to the structure of the magic effect.
Example of dramatic subtext within the intent to entertain could be saying something with irony or tongue-in-cheek, dropping an ace from your sleeve or doing something silly with a straight face.


But, how is most of the above different from "Misdirection"? I've sat and gone through most of my major routines and maybe I'm just so simplistic a performer that the insertion of more complex subtext is beyond me. Maybe it's there and I just don't see it. But, the only subtext I could find in ANY of 10 or so routines was 'I want to fool the crap out of you and hope it's entertaining at the same time.' Beyond those simple goals I couldn't find any.

But, then as noted in my post above, I have no particular need to do anything else, even pathologically. I have no subtle allusions to political, philosophical, religious or other issues. I don't believe that 'subtext' generally is all that subtle. Subtext always seems to me to be 'hidden agenda'. And, so, IF whatever subtext is found in a routine does not directly SERVE the routines overt purpose then it's a waste of time and energy. That's the problem as subtext can so often be in service of the ego and or sub rosa desires of the performer. This is where knowledge of one's self is so important. WHY am I inserting 'X' into this magical conversation? What is it's purpose vis-a-vis the movement of the routine to a conclusion? HOW does it serve the routine/effect/affect???

I don't care in one sense IF there's some overt subtext. I just want the person responsible to KNOW that it's there and WHY? I mean what do I care..it's his or her routine. But, on a personal level I want whatever I'm doing to serve ONLY the purpose of the magic and nothing else. I want what goes before the finale to pack as much power into the finale as possible. From reading the discussion to this point it 'appears' and I could be totally wrong in my assessment, that much of what is called subtext is gratuitous and unnecessary.

Another point: I have tried to think of any way possible that actual subtext could be used as 'misdirection' and I can't think of any. Every verbal construct that I use that has misdirective capacity is always overt and first level presentation material. If there is anyone who could give a solid example of how it might be done I would be both grateful and interested.

Best,
Brad Burt
Al Schneider
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Stellan, Brad
I appreciate these answers.
I think they are direct enough for me to grasp.
I need to think of these.
Al Schneider
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Stellan
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Brad, when I posted the first post in this thread I was thinking of the subtext as belonging to the dramatic expression of the performance. I believe this is the interesting point here. Gradually I have realized that there can also be a subtext belonging to the construction of the magic effect. This, I believe, is in no way different from "misdirection" and other well known strategies for creating a magic effect. Still this could be of interest, but not what I intended to be the main topic here.

Let me put it this way. Gazzo is a strong and memorable performer. A lot of people are doing exactly the same routines as he does. They execute the moves and magic effects in the same way as he does. The subtexts in the routines are the same. Still there is a difference in impact of the performances between Gazzo and the others. If somebody who mastered the routines fully for the first time performed them in public the difference in impact betwen his performance and Gazzo's would be like an abyss. What is it that makes the difference? Is it his patter? I don't think that is only about that. It is how he uses the subtext to fascinate people.

He masters the subtext thereby involving the spectator emotionally and intellectually.

We look at subtext somewhat differently, Brad. I hope someone who is more familiar with the concept can enlighten me if I am beside the target. I see he subtext more as an opportunity, a tool, something to use in an artistic expression and in magic maybe foremost for character driven magic. Then there could also be unwanted subtext serving other needs, but that is more a lack of artistic mastery.
"There is no reality, only perception."
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