David Seebach Illusion Articles

Through Abbotts Magic, David Seebach’s articles on illusions that first appeared in The New TOPS Magazine have been republished online for a new generation to read. There are a total of 104 articles that appeared from 1970 thru 2011.

This is a fantastic free illusion resource that you should check out!

His book “So You Want to Be an Illusionist” is a “must-read” title in my Recommended Books for Modern Illusionists.

seebach

David’s book gives you an overview of his decades of experience as an illusionist. He has owned and worked with many illusions built by top builders. In this spiral-bound book, he shares his experience and tips on working on these popular marketed illusions but does not reveal exact working methods or construction details. There are also nuggets of information spread out throughout the book. This is a good book for beginners but I do feel his approach, style and material may be considered a bit dated for today’s contemporary illusionist looking for mainstream relevance. But, with this caveat in mind, this book is still an invaluable resource and a fantastic introduction to popular marketed illusions.

Performing Magic & Illusions for Events

The event industry is likely the first industry that a budding magician or illusionist will find work in. Unless born into an entertainer’s family, it is unlikely that your first show experiences will come from theatre shows, cruises or casino showrooms. Probably, your first one hundred shows will come from events. For 80% of the professional and semi-professional magicians in the world, all of their work is from special events of all kinds.

Just like any working professional, I have worked every event imaginable, in the best and worst of conditions. At this point in my career, most off my event work is for high end corporate& special events where I present an event illusion show.

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The Purpose of Events

As an event entertainer, the first thing you must be well aware of and understand is that when you are booked to perform at an event, your sole purpose is to entertain and add value to the event.

The event is not being held because of you and the event does not revolve around your show. You are there to support the event program by performing the highest quality show for the guests and making the overall event experience memorable for the guests. Even if your show is the highlight of the event, you have to be conscious of the fact that you are not the (sole) reason why guests are attending the event. Naturally, this does not apply for celebrity entertainers whom an event might be organized especially for.

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Besides your show, most event programs will be full of different activities ranging from formalities like speeches, award presentations, video presentations and lucky draws to special items like other entertainers, performances by the company staff or games by the show host.

If you are performing for a corporate launch celebration dinner, the focus is on the successful launch of the company and the interaction of the new corporate team. If you are performing for a wedding banquet, the focus is on the union of the bride and groom. If you are performing for a family event, the focus is on creating activity and an event for families to spend time together and bond.

The implications of the above are that for event performances, you will not always get your preferred performing conditions or the ‘star’ treatment that you might expect if performing your own show in a theatre.

If you are one entertainer of several, you will have to share the stage and backstage with other entertainers. Technical resources (for e.g. lighting arrangements, staging configurations etc.) will also be shared and maximized to cater to the general needs of all the different entertainment performances.

Specific staging such as stage position, backdrop design, props and banquet seating arrangement will generally be given priority over your preferred setting.

At times, you will have to be your own ‘problem-solver’ as the client may not have time (or desire) to tend to your every need as he/ she has a dozen things to attend to.

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Performing Conditions for the Event Magician

Presenting a magic show at an event is vastly different from staging a show in a theatre or casino showroom. Each event offers different challenges to the Event Magician due to the dynamic and fluid nature of the event environment.

Performing conditions for the Event Magician are generally less than ideal. In fact, if you can present a good magic show consistently for events, you would have no problem staging shows for theater, cruises or showrooms. There are much more limitations in staging a show in an event setting than an entertainment or performance venue, since the latter is designed to accommodate shows & performances.

Event venues cover any establishment that opens up their place for private bookings. In most cases, the venue will be closed to the public if a private booking is made. Event venues include hotels, convention halls, clubs, pubs, restaurants, tourist attractions, museums, art galleries and boats. As mentioned most events are not centered and designed around your magic show.

The exception is, of course, if you are a highly celebrated magician who has been invited to perform for an event. In which case, to a certain extent, the entire event will be crafted to your performance needs. If your typical performance booking is of the nature just described, most of the material in this section will not apply to you.

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Depending on the scale of the event you are booked for, typical performing conditions for the Event Magician can include:

  • Limited Stage Size
  • Limited Backstage Area
  • Small Set-Up Area
  • Varying Degrees of Technical Support
  • Little Control Over the Position & Distance of the Audience
  • Difficult Access to the Performance Area from the Loading Bay

As an event entertainer, you are also expected to set-up and clear off stage as quickly as possible. As mentioned before, your show will seldom be the only activity in the event program. The event organizers will want the program to run as smoothly as possible with as little disruption and ‘dead-time’.

The key to staging a successful event magic show is to be as self contained and professional as possible. The other is to ensure that you have a clear and comprehensive technical rider (list of technical requirements) that are met by the client or event organizer.

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The Event Audience

In a theatre show, paid admission or not, the audience is expecting to be entertained and is in the mood to be entertained. They would also be aware of the starring performer(s), even if they do not know anything about him/ her.

For an event audience, as far as they are concerned, they are there to attend an event, either at will or obligation. The entertainment is generally incidental and the audience would likely not know who you are unless you are a name act. If you are doing a public show in a shopping mall, you will not even have a ready audience and will have to stop, draw and hold ‘traffic’ for your show.

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For corporate events, the demographics of the audience can also be tremendously varied. In a large corporation, you can have a mix of production-level workers with a few tables of top executives. For international events, you may have an audience comprising of 20 nationalities with a significant percentage not being able to speak or understand English well.

For family events, you will have a mix of kids and adults. Skill and experience as an entertainer will be necessary to effectively entertain across the age group.

The nature of event audiences is that your show has to be designed to continually capture and retain the interest of the audience, more so than a theatre show audience.

Your show and material must be designed with the event audience in mind. If you are a general events performer, your show must be able to adapt to any audience or you must have different acts that cater to different audiences.

If you are an event magician or illusionist, you might want to check out my two-volume “The Event Magician” book available at  magic shops worldwide or direct from me here.

Buy my books/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014” upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

Evolve Your Magic & Yourself Before it is Too Late by ‘Magic Babe’ Ning

J C’s Note: 3 years ago, I wrote an essay called “The Magic Evolution & You”. Ning has expounded on this issue with her own thoughts, mirrored by her ever evolving magic, style & image. Just check out how much her magic and image have changed in just the last 5 years. Here is the essay in her own words:

Question: David Beckham, Madonna, Ellen DeGeneres and Leonardo DiCaprio… What exactly do they have in common?

These stars are all hugely successful mainstream artistes who have kept themselves in the spotlight by creating their own unique brand of entertainment (sports, music, comedy/ talk show, acting, etc) that hold a wide mass appeal. These individuals have also put much effort and thought in constantly revamping their style, image and chops to ensure they remain interesting and current to their audience.

As fellow entertainers, we magic folk can certainly learn much from our sassy commercial counterparts. Magic performers need to do the same constant evolution, prob­ably not at the same radical level but it is so very essential for your magic to be current, relevant and mirror mainstream pop culture entertainment.

Shift and dare to change, or be left behind in today’s fast moving world where the Internet is a double-edged sword. Like with any art or entertainment form, the image of magic evolves over time. The trend of today’s magic is incredibly different from the style magic from just last decade. If you are still performing for today’s audience in top hat and tails, producing silks from a classic change bag, or making a rabbit appear, you are unfortunately behind about three decades.

The recent movie, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”, poked fun at magicians and showed how “out of times” and “out of sync” they are with modern pop culture. In fact, the movie showed how lame magicians generally are. Sad… but true.

The-incredible-burt-wonderstone

The only thing constant in life is change, and I’m sure that you would have noticed that the image of magic worldwide has always been constantly evolving. Every two decades or so, there is a dynamic shift in the presentation of magic. The look of magic is usually set by the most influential magicians of that particular time. Top performers like Robert Houdin, Harry Houdini, Channing Pollack, Doug Henning, David Copperfield and more recently David Blaine & Criss Angel have all been responsible for creating the image of magic of their time.

If you acknowledge your show is not in line with modern audi­ence’s expectations of magic today, there is hope yet because you see the possibilities of growth. Set aside your pride and ego for a bit and challenge yourself to explore what can be done better, since you are a living reflection of the image of magic as much as any other magician.

Now, I am in no way encouraging or even suggesting that you should be a clone of David Blaine, Criss Angel or whoever that may be the hottest flavour of the time. Jumping on the fad bandwagon will just make you look like a carbon copy and part of the indistinguishable ‘me-too’ crowd. So, bad idea to be a cookie cutter! You owe it to yourself to be your own person.

Consider for a moment, without pride or ego… When was the last time you revamped your act or added an act that elevated your performance so that it is reflective of current times? Have you been performing the same material for the past 10 years and not given it a commercial overhaul? And, I’m not talking about technical refinements or changing the colour of your cards/ silks/ birds/ canes/ parasols, so please, don’t even go there, unless you’re a jackass. Then I’ll personally come over to smack you in the face with your plastic appearing cane.

Thanks to globalization, our world is getting smaller and life seems to move faster every single day. Social media, the Internet, growth of new economies and countries influence pop culture trends and trends. There are fads and there are trends. Fads last months, trends last longer. Trends used to last around 5 to 10 years, now they last just 2 to 3 years due to the speed the world moves. Of course, this is dependent on your target market but I’m using international standards as a benchmark. People are easily bored and want to be wowed by the next ‘in’ thing.

What’s needed is to identify and pick elements, which reflect the current evolved image of magic as well as pop culture and infuse it into your style and/or act. Here’s some tried and proven things I’ve personally utilized in my commercial magic career, that you can also use to spruce up your unique image and brand of magic. Dedicate some soul-searching time to consider…

Choice of Material:

Is your choice of show material and props used considered current to your audience  If you are performing an act still using cassette tapes, Walkmans, old-fashioned bulky TVs, ancient typewriters, bulky mobile phones or other things that society has pretty much considered “retired”, your act will inevitably look dated. That is, unless you’ve structured your show to be themed in a “blast from the past” type of feel.

While some things may be respected as iconic and classic in magic, do bear in mind that while these are things magicians embrace, the rest of the world (i.e. mainstream public and media) may regard otherwise when they see top hats, canes, and rabbits. Don’t fall into this trap because when you follow the herd, you step on a lot of crap.

Structure of Magic:

Is the structure of your act just like everyone else’s? Certain acts have almost a template feel to them and the only difference (to the lay public) is just the magician performing it. At one time, everyone was doing doves, zombies and cards. Then it was the incorporation of canes, silks and snowstorms. Now, one of the magic fads is the CD manipulation act.

Can you honestly say you have a uniquely different product, or does your act/ show have the same formulistic structure that other magic acts commonly have? Can you change your act or show order, so it breaks the conventional rules or typical structures of magic shows? Award-winning mainstream movies like “Memento” and “Usual Suspects” did not follow conventional storytelling of film making and stood out from the norm. Use that for inspiration, to shine out!

Dressing:

What do you wear when you perform? Are you still in a 1990s Matrix-style black leather trench coat or god-forbid 1940s black tuxedo or even worse, painfully shiny 1970s sequined jacket? Are you in an obvious costume or dressed in something more normal? Where do you get your clothes from? A high-fashion retail outlet? A costumer? Does your mother/ wife/ girlfriend dress you?

Sure, I understand that magic attire has specific needs, but that is still no excuse not to have a current look that is fashionable or stylish. Consider what celebrities wear. Would they get their outfits from the same place that you do? I’m not asking you to shell out tons of money for designer wear and don’t be a wise ass about Lady Gaga’s Kermit the frog get-up *wink*

Hairstyle:

What do you sport? Does it feel dated? Is it the same hairstyle you’ve had since the 1980s? On the flipside, is your hairstyle too extreme for the general audience? If you are losing hair, do something about it! Comb-overs maybe only work if you do comedy, but you really don’t want your audience feeling sorry for you.

Grooming is important, and whoever said your hair is one’s crown­ing glory, really got that right. But! Here’s a tip from a female of the species. If you are seriously losing hair and can’t get a good wig or hair plugs, just consider shaving it all off. Grow a nice goatee, stay in good shape, tweeze your brows… You may just look sexy and badass. Women love that. Trust me!

Music:

Music is always an accurate reflection of the current time and a fitting piece of music for an act or routine makes a good act, great. Besides creating the perfect mood and feel for your magic, music also puts a time-stamp on your act. If you are do­ing a deliberate classical, themed, or period act to a time period, your music choice will be specific. However, if you are doing a general magic act or illusion, then your music needs to be up­dated every 5 years.

Please refrain from copying the music from other people’s per­formances, though you may find it perfect for whatever your intended purpose is (a similar act or otherwise). If I collected ten bucks every time I hear that particular soundtrack from string-quartet Bond blasting in a magic performer’s show or card manipulation act, and gave all the money to World Vision, I think my adopted kid in Mongolia can afford a PhD by now. LOL!

Script:

How do you write your lines, plan your story, and work on your all-important script? Where do you research jokes or lines?

Unfortunately, many magicians tend to use the exact same lines and this is evident if you attend magic conventions or magic production shows. It does get old quickly for an educated audience and that obviously, works against the performer. Ensure that your jokes are “fresh” and your script is topical. Throwing in current buzzwords are good if they are in context because people like that.

That’s something the most successful comedians and speakers use, so it’d be wise to follow in their footsteps.

 Case Study

As I think it is always important for one to practice what they preach, I thought I would share with you my own process that I have used to evolve my image and magic as my stage character, ‘Magic Babe’ Ning.

When I first started out professionally, I was pretty clueless about most things. Dressed in a dark trench coat, I wore a white long sleeve shirt and black leather pants.

Early Ning

Subsequently, I swapped my conservative top for something a bit more showy. It was a bareback silver sequined number that is held together only by 2 strings. One tied to the back and the other at the nape of the neck like a halter. Obviously, it sold sexiness much more than the previous costume and I used it because my skill sets to agents and bookers were already established. Every year, I changed my wardrobe to keep it fresh; from a sleek black corset, fitted with boning within to a sexy red vinyl corset to a black sequin bare-backed top, which I had professionally customized for a better fit.

Linking Coat Hangers

Earlier last year, I had my long tresses chopped off, a big sacrifice since most women regard long hair as a symbol of femininity, and instead I had my hair layered short with shocking purple streaks. I was completely comfortable being in my own skin. My attitude oozed that, and that gutsy part of me was reflected. FLY Entertainment, my artiste management company, supported the move and the media and fans loved it. Comments started coming in that they liked the fresh change. Now, my hair is actually hot pink! Something, I’ve always wanted to do at least once in my life.

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Besides my image, my material has also evolved over the years. The illusions I perform with my partner J C Sum are constantly being tweaked, whether it is a change in choreography, update in illusion design or update in music. We also add/ replace one or two illusions every two years to our show.

My favourite illusion “Crystal Metamorphosis” went through multiple changes over a 3 year period. An illusion we are quite known for “360 Sawing” has gone through two complete redesigns to make it even more deceptive. You can watch us perform the 2nd version in the recent NYE 2011 taping of Le Plus Grand Cabaret Du Monde in Paris and the 3rd & current version that we performed on Italy TV.

le plus2009 – 2011 Design

Italy TV

2012 – Present Design

However, my personal solo acts have also evolved since over time. I started with softer acts like a cut & restored rope performed under UV light and a linking coat hanger routine. Now, I perform more edgy acts such as a razor blade act, but with the addition of eating a torch of fire. I also added a “Human Block Head” routine (nail up nose) but with a 4” drill bit. This fits my more matured and edgy image.

For the longest time, I performed my “Straight Jacket Striptease” routine with a custom burgundy straight jacket. The routine has now been improved to a double straight jacket routine where I’m strapped up in two regulation-looking straight jackets. I still perform the “striptease” part but with two jackets “wink”.

straight jacket striptease

straight jacket striptease

For the sake of your pursuit in magic and for the sake of the art, please evolve!

Best of luck with your journey of evolution in magic!

If you enjoyed this article, you can check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014” upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

The Successful Illusionist

Anyone thinking of embarking on a career (whether full-time or part-time) as an illusionist will no doubt dream of bright lights, their own stage, in their own theatre or perhaps their television special. In short, making it big as an illusionist.

The ‘luck factor’ plays a significant role to becoming successful. For purposes of this discussion, let us suspend our belief and exclude luck as a factor.

So, what makes a successful illusionist?

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Illusions

The basic techniques and methodologies of illusions, are less likely to be huge factors. But the presentation and application of the illusions will be. There will be new innovations and discoveries but that has always been the case.

One constant that I think (hope) that will come back with the next thing in illusion is motivation and good story-telling in illusion performance. (I don’t consider ‘cheesy’ plots where the magician is ‘captured’ by bad guys and put into a box etc necessarily good story-telling unless it is performed WELL in the right context and the right theatrical environment.)

Good close-up workers (not necessarily the new-age ‘Street Magicians’) strive for credibility and motivation for all the actions. There is story-telling, from subtle to elaborate, in practically every effect. All illusionists should read Darwin Ortiz’s ‘Strong Magic’ and apply it to their illusion performance craft. Of course, I recognize the need for ‘no-brainer’ visual bubble gum in the context of a larger show. But, I do not think 50 illusions performed in succession make for a good presentation of illusion.

Target Market

This is the single most important factor in making a particular style/ presentation the next thing in magic. If you are working only out of a small market segment, no matter how original and commercial the style is, it is unlikely it will catch on. The ‘next thing’ means it has to be seen by many and then perceived to be good and the rage.

Like it or not, mass media markets (Television, Internet, Movies, Radio?) are generally what make the style of today. If you are going for any mass media market, being right up there with the latest in pop culture and trends is a must. Predicting what the next trend will be a lot trickier. Movie and music genres/ styles can give an indication of what might work. Examining financial successes over the past twenty years might allow for some educated guesses. Entertainment trends, like fashion and business, are cyclical.

However, it is also highly possible to establish oneself in other mainstream markets first, then crossover to mass media markets. This is generally the route many have taken as well.

What is your target market for your type of illusion show? Cruises, Showrooms, Music Concerts, Resorts, Special Events? What are the hottest shows (out of magic) in your respective market? Can magic emulate those formulas or use magic to elevate that formula?

Take advantage of the medium to create something different. In recent years, that is what has happened with magic on TV. The medium has been used to great advantage (or deception) to create an apparent new type of magic.

Many successful magicians all over the world have become the best because they created the ‘next thing’ within their respective market segments.

Differentiation

This will help narrow what the next thing will be; as it is a certainty that the next thing will not be a ‘me-too’ act. The ‘me-too’ syndrome is just as prevalent in magic, as it is in other entertainment forms. The true fact is; there are so many illusion clones out there. I personally do not understand the phenomena but I accept that it happens. Ethics aside, I find it difficult to see how one can except to get wide success by being a dime out of a dozen. It think there is a market for one clone of another act but multiple clones?

Again, please understand that I’m speaking from the point of view of working outside a small market – as this is relevant to the quest of creating the next thing in grand illusion. If you are working for laymen within a fixed population threshold, yes, it makes no difference if you look the same and perform the same stuff as another person outside this market. However, if you are looking to make an impact at a national or international level, you will be judged by experts in the entertainment field; world-class talent brokers and show producers. Trust me when I say that good agents/ producers have literally seen it all… or at least, anything worth seeing.

Just to illustrate this, here are some specific illusions/ presentations that make informed individuals thing we ‘magicians/ illusionists’ are just the same.

Packing Crate-style Sub Trunk – 9/10 illusionists feature this. Origami and Interlude are close seconds and thirds as well. I’m not knocking the illusion, it is a brilliant illusion but everyone does it and not all well, unfortunately. I think it is fine to do it in your show amongst other illusions but don’t put it in your promotional material. (Again, I stress, I’m not knocking the illusion. I’m just stating this in the context of the discussion).

I don’t perform the Sub Trunk for this reason – because everyone is doing it and it will be too embarrassing for someone to point this out. How do you answer this question: “Why do all you magicians perform the same ‘tricks’?” I guess a possible answer is: “Just like musicians, we perform various classics with our own interpretation. While they look the same, they do feature our own unique styles and presentations.” The problem is, not many see magic as a mainstream art as we do, thus would not take that answer as a credible one. Another ‘problem’ is inherent with the magic art. Secrecy is a what separates magic from any other art form. The thing is, most laymen also think that the secrecy is kept among magicians as well, especially in the area of grand illusion. They do not naturally assume we know each other’s secret methods. Thus, it is surprising to them that we can perform the same illusions. But, I digress.

Kevin James Snowing Routine  – Specifically, the tearing of the napkin paper into the snow flake, his story about a child’s first impression of snow and snowing method/ effect (animator). Or Peter Samelson’s Snowing Presentation with the traditional snowstorm & fan. Again, both a beautiful, logical and motivated piece but has lost its novelty. For the record, I’ve personally seen the exact presentation performed on videos and live performances by magicians/ illusionists in the UK (3 performers), US (12 performers), Singapore (3 performers), Hong Kong, Australia and several from Europe. I’m sure there are many more out there.

The ‘Copperfield’ Look – The tucked out shift over T-shirt can be seen on many performers trying to look the same. Sigh…

The Sentimental Grandfather Story – Everyone has a grandfather who inspired them with the first magic effect they learnt etc. Some can pull it off, most cannot. Not because they are incompetent but it is just not their style. They are doing it because others are doing it.

Are the above examples only apparent because we are learned students of the illusion craft and are aware of all that goes on in magic. Not really, because these examples (except for the last one) were highlighted to me by an international show producer.

To understand the business/ commercial upsides of being different, Jack Trout’s ‘Differentiate or Die’ is a very easy must-read.

Longevity

This does not really answer the question but it is something to consider. While working towards being the ‘next thing’, which can be a hit & miss thing as mentioned above, it is wise to consider longevity in the business. Translating a short-term fad into a sustained success can be a challenge given today’s ever-changing world.

It is possible to do very well with a ‘safe’ style that has a long shelf –life with sustained appeal but is unlikely to be the next BIG thing. But, that is not the topic of discussion anyway.

I guess the key for all is to present good magic, preserve, work hard and constantly innovate. Remember, what is often an overnight success or tomorrow’s trend has actually been in development for the past decade.

Related article: Why do Illusionists Perform the Same Illusions?

If you enjoyed this article, you can check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014” upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

6 Thinking Hats for Illusion Show Production

Creativity guru, Edward De Bono uses his 6 thinking hats approach as the basis of his creativity techniques. This is not a direct application of De Bono’s work to illusionists but I adopt a similar approach when choosing illusions and material for our shows.

“Revollusion” is one of my original illusions that features a large industrial fan as the central prop and is one of the most popular illusions featured in my book “Urban Illusions”. You can watch the illusion online here.

I had worked on an illusion with a giant industrial fan for quite a few years, starting in 2003. After years of conceptual designing, I finally built the illusion that took about 4 months to put together. It was one of the most complex builds because it of the combination of mechanical and electrical engineering coupled with the actual illusion design. Weight, stability, safety and power were all things we had to factor in while building the illusion.

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Putting the fan assembly and illusion structure together int he workshop.

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Testing the stability of the structure and workings of the illusion in wood before replacing all panels with aluminum.

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Completed prop moved to the studio for rehearsals

When Ning and I presented the illusion in our permanent illusion show “Ultimate Magic” that ran for 13 months, the illusion sparked a fairly intense debate on a local magic forum. The question some magicians and magic enthusiasts seemed to think is very important and need to know the answer to is: “Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration?” They seemed to be against the possible notion that it is a penetration illusion because it did not look like traditional fan illusions they have seen on YouTube.

I wrote a response in the thread, not as a rebuttal or clarification to anyone. I respect and believe everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. That is the point of a forum. But, unfortunately some points of view expressed by several were not entirely sound because they were not founded on good logic.

I wrote the post because I thought there would a small handful of people reading it who are looking for help in producing a show, choosing magic for their act or simply improving their craft. Sharing my thought process may help offer different points of views that these aspiring magicians did not consider. This ultimately may help them achieve their personal goals in magic.

So, “Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration?”

While I personally do not understand why this is a subject of debate, the answer is dependent on which “me” you ask. Each “me” will give you a different answer, based on that “me’s” different thought processes and needs. Some answers are identical but are arrived at in a completely different path. In Edward De Bono’s system, the purpose of applying the six thinking hats in creativity is to look at problems with different “hats” on to think from different perspectives to brainstorm ideas from all angles. This is the similarity of my approach here but I use different kinds of “hats”.

So, here are my thought processes when applied to the Revollusion illusion.

The Artist

As an artist, the goal is to create a piece of work that is open to interpretation by the viewer. Everyone experiences a piece of art differently. Magic is difficult to be interpreted in different ways, as it is hard to create magic that is vague yet clear in effect. After all, as Dai Vernon remarked: “confusion is not magic”.

So, “Revollusion” is a fantastic illusion from this point of view because it apparently inspires different interpretation, conflicting thoughts and healthy debate. Wow! A goal for many artists.

Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is up to the spectators to decide for themselves. And no one can or should interpret that definition for them or influence them otherwise. But, in reality, based on experience and feedback, no lay audience even questions the differentiation of the effects. In addition, all artists know they cannot please everyone.

The Magician

The magician’s goal is to create wonder and the art of astonishment (Paul Harris’ profound singular philosophy). Magical idealists perceive themselves as merchants of wonder (a term coined by the Princess of Monaco) and their only goal is to evoke that feeling of impossibility, amazement, and wonder in their audiences. To put simply, to make them go “wow”.

When I see dozens of eyes (some days hundreds) open wide and several mouths open 6 days a week when I rip away to cloth the reveal myself at the climax of “Revollusion”, I know I have achieved that magic goal.

Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is not important, the question the magician asks is “Is it good magic?” which in the strictest fundamental sense means: does the illusion create an experience of wonder in the audience?

The litmus test to that question has got to be the reactions from the audience you are performing for; in my case, a lay paying audience. If the experience of wonder is not created, the reactions from the audience will be muted (polite applause at best). You will also catch audience members exchanging glances with each other with raised eyebrows of uncertainty. When you are greeted with a spontaneous ovation consistently, you know that the magic is good. And the job of the magician is done.

Can the magic be strengthened, improved etc? Of course, nothing is perfect. If it is perfect, it is not magic, it is a miracle. But the measurement of the strength of the illusion bears no context in this intellectual exchange.

The Illusion Designer

As a designer, my goal is to design original illusions that will work in real world conditions. I essentially design for my own shows although many of my illusions are described in my books for other illusionists to build and perform in their shows. The designer’s goal is to try to create something new and unique. This, in turn, differentiates the illusions that we present in our show, which in turn helps us stand out in the industry.

The truth is, many illusionists perform the same illusions worldwide with the exact same props and presentations, many times pirated. Currently, I see John Taylor’s “Suspended Animation”, Mark Kalin/ Hans Klok “Fire Spiker” (in fact, most of Klok’s repertoire), Jim Steinmeyer’s “Origami” and Dan Summer’s “Compressed” being performed in practically every illusion show. So, personally, as far as possible I try to avoid all these common illusions, especially at this stage of Ning & my careers.

There are very few fan illusions being performed. The most popular is “Windshear” created by Jim Steinmeyer/ Andre Koke and built by Magic Ventures. I think it is a sound illusion that can be very dramatic and exciting if presented well, but too many performers worldwide currently perform it, again many pirated.

Other proprietary fan illusions being performed include Andre Kole’s “Jet Turbine” that Brett Daniels, Jan Rouven and Erix Logan perform, Steve Wyrick’s “Walking through a 747 Engine”(designed by Steinmeyer) and “Copperfield’s “The Fan” (designed by the in-house Copperfield team). Franz Harary has a brilliant rotating fan that he appears from. Andrew Mayne also described a fan illusion in his “Solo X” book.

So the design goal was to create a fan illusion, without reinventing the wheel. So, I created “Revollusion” an illusion using a giant industrial fan but with a departure in the traditional effect/ presentation. It is designed as a penetration/ appearance; specifically described as the surprise appearance from a fan.

To find out what our audiences thought of “Revollusion”, we conducted a survey several times with this specific question to the audience members. “If you were to describe the act with the giant fan to a friend, how would you describe it?” All the answers were along these lines “J C appeared from the fan”, “J C came out from the fan”, and “The fan was inspected and turned on Suddenly, J C appeared out from no where from the fan”. This gave us quite an affirmative answer on what the general lay audience perceived the effect as.

For the record, only magicians or educated magic audiences have questioned whether the effect is a penetration or an appearance. And this is simply because this group of people has a preconceived notion that illusions with fans must be a walk-through, because all other illusionists who present such illusions do a walk-through. But, it is because ALL other illusionists do that, did I purposely design a fan illusion that did not have a traditional walk-through that is almost expected.

As the designer of an illusion for the target audience being a lay commercial crowd, my goal was achieved after learning the perceived effect from laymen. Of course, if my intention were to design the illusion for magicians at a magic convention, I would have failed miserably, as evidenced by feedback from magicians here.

Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is both.

The Show Producer

The job of the show producer is to weave all the different illusions and acts together, design the music, create the show order and basically create THE show as an entire full experience for the audience. All elements of the show must be viewed in the “big picture” as they must fit together to create a good show.

“Revollusion” is great for the show in the context that it is fills the stage, looks impressive, is very dramatic and visually spectacular. It has audience interaction (as how we perform in in the live show, TV was choreographed just for TV), visual elements, and a strong magical effect. It is also very different from the other acts performed in the show and as a bonus is different from any other fan illusion that other magicians might be performing.

Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is not important. What is important is that it fulfils its function in the show as a big highlight that gets strong reactions from the target audience and is talked about after the show.

The Business Manager

Show Business is two words. A professional illusionist who wants to earn a living doing magic has to be continually booked and paid to do shows. In other words, he has to pay attention to the business, as much as the show. While there are many reasons why some illusionists are more successful than others, two determinants are the scale of the show and the originality of the illusions.

“Revollusion” is not the biggest illusion around but is not considered small by any means. Its sheer size makes it impressive and a marketable highlight of the show. Once again, for bookers who have seen traditional fan illusions, this stands out as different. Although honestly, more than a handful of clients see all fan illusions as the same. Just as they see any illusion where a girl goes into a box as all the same. But I digress.

The fact is, an illusion like “Revollusion” gets bookings and draws people to the show.

Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is not important, as long as it brings in the $!

The Storyteller

I view myself as a storyteller and try to have all my illusions/ acts tell a story. Some may not be as apparent as others but all my routines tell a story. There is always a beginning, middle and end. Ning had the good fortune of attending Oscar-winning screenwriter Syd Field’s master class last week. He stressed the exact same thing when writing a screenplay. He also stressed the importance of creating a dramatic premise. Many movies have same dramatic premises but are dressed differently, with different characters.

To give no-brainer clear cut examples:

  • Take a guy, put him in a building with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Die Hard” (Bruce Willis).
  • Take a guy, put him in a ship with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Under Seige” (Steven Siegal).
  • Take a guy, put him in an airport with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Die Hard 2” (Bruce Willis).
  • Take a guy, put him in a sports stadium with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Sudden Death” (Jean Claude Van Damme).

Same dramatic premises, different characters (referring to both the human characters and locations)

So consider this: A magician shows a box (opening = introduction of characters). He then shows it empty and asks a spectator to examine it. (middle = occurrences and incidents). He then makes a girl appear from the box (End = resolution and conclusion). Illusion? The Tip Over Trunk. Does that sound like a fundamentally sound illusion act? No doubt, most will say “yes”.

Now, take the above dramatic premise and substitute the box for a giant industrial fan. A magician shows a giant fan (opening = introduction of characters). He then shows it all around and asks a spectator to examine it. (middle = occurrences and incidents). He then makes a girl appear from the fan (End = resolution and conclusion). Illusion? Revollusion. Does that sound like a fundamentally sound illusion act. If you agreed to the above, your answer will have to be “yes”.

Some magicians (and only magicians) ask a very strange question, why does it have to be a fan? Why not a wall of fire or a brick wall or a sheet of cloth? Because, as a storyteller, I chose to use a fan. It is, after all, my story. Another storyteller may choose to use a brick wall. Questioning the reason of the use of a fan is like questioning why Die Hard was in a office building. Why not a condo? A school? An army camp?

Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is whatever the audience perceived it to be to enjoy the story. If I engaged them with the dramatic premise and execution of the story so that they were entertained, that is all that matters. The fan and effect are just vehicles to tell an interesting and memorable story.

If you have bothered to read this far, you would have gained some insight into how I think about magic and my show. You will also probably realize that in the case of “Revollusion”, in my opinion it is not really important what the effect is defined as. Although, surveys showed what the lay audience thinks the effect is. And this serves as a non-absolute but general guide.

When I choose to put an illusion/ act in the show, whether it is an original design, marketed effect or licensed illusion from another creator, I wear all the above hats to achieve multiple goals with a singular act. In the case of “Revollusion”, its existence in the show fulfils the objectives of all the different “mes”.

This is NOT the right way or ONLY way to approach illusion/ act selection. It is is MY singular approach that I personally feel is as comprehensive and sophisticated as I can make it within my abilities and intellectual faculties. And, it has served me well and allows me to avoid being a starving professional illusionist.

Of course, I can’t claim all the credit. The process is refined with feedback obtained from people I trust. By that, I mean, I only seek people who understand my goals, context of performance and are in a position to give constructive criticism. This is in no way suggesting that the people I do not ask for feedback from are inferior in any way. It simply means that that is not their area of expertise and experience.

For e.g., If I’m looking to build a plane, I will look for an aeronautical engineer; a baggage handler will not be of use, even though they are both in the aviation industry. Likewise, if I need flight information, I will seek a customer service officer from that airline; the most qualified or experienced engineer will do little to help. It is not expected or even reasonable to expect that someone not qualified in a particular field be able to give answers that they are not trained to answer.

I actually have more “mes” but I think this is enough for now

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Looking beautiful on stage… and Ning looks not too bad either.

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In performance, my hands punching out through!

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I’m thinking… “Man, those lights are bright!”