Gospel Routine for the Square Circle Effect (By Duane Laflin)

Duane Laflin Blog

The Square Circle trick is a great trick…if handled properly. When not handled properly it can be pitiful. I encourage gospel magicians to use the Square Circle, but also challenge us all to make sure we know how to use it well.

Rather than about proper handling, this article is about the use of the prop in presenting a gospel lesson.  If you want to learn more about proper handling, it is one of the things we will demonstrate in the “Proper Handling Of Classic Apparatus” lecture at our upcoming Gospel Magic Day (June 8-9). We hope to video this lecture and make it available as quickly as possible.

The Lesson

“I have a collection of things to show you. These are things that remind us of all the blessings and benefits to be found in the life of a person who does not know the Lord. That’s right, if you do not know Jesus, here are the things you can be excited about!”

Indicate the outer square.

“I keep the things in this box.”

Lift up the box and show it empty.

“Can you see the wonderful things I have in this box. Are they not beautiful? Are they not exciting?”

Notice that the audience only sees an empty box.

“Oh, you cannot see anything.  My mistake.  I do not keep the things in the box, I keep them in this tube.”

Put the square back and pick up the tube. Show it empty.

“Yes, here they are. Look inside this tube. Isn’t it amazing how it is full of grand and glorious things. There is so much to be excited about!”

Notice that the audience is not impressed. They only see an empty tube.

“What?  There is nothing to see?  Maybe the things are in the box after all!”

Put down the tube and pick up the square again. Show it empty.

“No, I do not find the things here.”

Put down the square and pick up the tube again. Show it empty.

“I do not find the things here either.”

Put the square and tube (circle) back together.

“Actually, I did just show you all the grand and glorious things that fill the life of those who do not know the Lord…because there are not any such things. There is nothing to see because, without the Lord, life is not filled with blessings and benefits.  Without the Lord, life has no purpose and, in the end, will be totally wasted.”

“So let us talk about something different!  What do we find in the lives of those who do know and love the Lord?”

(Have some upbeat music begin to play.)

“There are those who think believers have nothing more to be excited about than do unbelievers.”

Show the square and tube as empty again.

“They think the Christian life is another empty experience, but they are wrong. They do not understand the true joy and blessings of knowing the Lord.”

Begin the production.  Use whatever production items you choose. Below is what I use and what I say…

Produce a large clown silk. “There is great happiness in knowing the Lord. I am not clowning around or joking about this. It is truly a happy thing to be a Christian.”

Produce a large butterfly silk. “There is the reality of a changed life. As a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, so the Lord changes us to make us better persons who can live life in a way that is worthwhile.”

Produce a rubber orange.  “Because the Spirit of God is in our lives, we can have fruitful lives. We can do many good things.”

Produce a thirty-feet long silk streamer. “There are the many promises of God.  Even when going through challenging times, we know God keeps His word and works all things for good. Let this beautiful streamer remind us of a rainbow. A rainbow is a reminder of God’s faithfulness. There is so much strength in life for those who know the true and faithful God!”

Produce spring flowers.  “What a beautiful thing it is to be a Christian!”

Produce a rubber apple.  “Did I already tell you, the Christian life is a fruitful life?”

Produce a giant string of flags.  “It is the greatest thing in the universe to be a Christian. This is a message we should take to all nations.  No matter who you are or where you live…everyone is a person whom God loves and all people can experience everlasting life if they know the Lord.”

End the production with the revelation of a large color Jesus silk.  “Most of all, those who are believers have Jesus Christ in their hearts and lives!!”

Finish the production by asking the audience, “Are you one who knows the Lord?  Have you invited Jesus Christ into your life? Do not wait any longer to experience the wonderful reality of the Christian life!”

Note: I keep the production moving fast.  Although much is produced and something is said with each production item, I still convey the full message in just a few minutes.  My opinion is, a short powerful presentation is better than an extended wordy presentation.

Second Note:  Often, about half way through the production, I pause to show the tube and box empty yet again. I might say, “There are those who do not understand just how great it is to be a Christian. They do not know about the many blessings which belong to believers…but the blessings are there!”  (Then the production continues.)

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Is It Time to Go Full Time? (By Duane Laflin)

Duane Laflin Blog

Not long ago I came across a Facebook post, made by a gospel magician, that went something like this…

“I recently lost my job. This led me think it may be time for me to go full time with my performing. I’ve been doing magic in my hometown area for quite a while. It might be time for me to go to the next level.  Pray for me as I make this decision.”

I have heard the same thought voiced in question/answer sessions at conferences of gospel magicians.

“How do I know when it is time to go full-time? Do you have advice to offer someone who is thinking about going full-time?”

I have advice. Although short and simple, I think it good. The advice is: Do not attempt to go full-time until the decision is forced upon you by too much to do and too little time in which to do it.

When you find yourself at a point where you cannot keep up with both your gospel magic opportunities and your present employment, then it is time to choose between one or the other. This is a safe and wise way to handle the decision.

Losing a job, or being unhappy in your current employment, is not good enough reason to make a major life change. As well, the fact that you have tried to do other things and nothing else has worked is not good enough reason. If one is going to leave a familiar lifestyle and toss everything into the magic basket, there should be two primary factors guiding the decision. The first is a clear sense that God is leading to do such a thing. The second is the application of wisdom to one’s current life situation. Some might say there is a third factor which is a combination of the first two factors: a trusting of God to lead by way of the insights wisdom provides.

Nearly thirty years ago, when my wife and I decided to take the plunge into full-time magic and ministry, we did not follow this advice. We did not follow it because we did not know it. On the magic and creative ministry side of things, we did not have mentors or advisors.

We had come to a place in life where we believed we were being led to leave the pastorate and focus entirely on creative ministry. At the time I was senior pastor of a large and fast-growing church. The situation allowed me almost no time use my magic. I had knowledge of gospel magic and a heart for it, but it was doubtful I would ever be able to do much with it if I continued in that pastoral role.

My position in the church was secure. I suppose many would think it an ideal place to be. Nevertheless, it came into my heart, and I deeply believe it was from God, that magic and ministry was to become our life’s work.

Deciding it was time to follow our hearts and do what we believed God was showing us to do, we moved on from the church.  We did this with no bookings on our calendar. I stayed busy with the church until the day we left. I did not apply myself to lining up work for what was coming next. This was done out of sincere belief that the church should receive undivided attention until we were gone. My confidence was “God will provide. The bookings will come.”

The day we moved on from the church our income stopped. Medical insurance, paid vacation and all other benefits stopped. In spite of my confidence, bookings did not come in right away. When they finally did come in, there were not many. (Even when one’s ministry is needed, it takes a while for people to become aware of the fact you exist and are available.) For us, this was a very hard time.

The following two years were extraordinarily difficult and stressful. We found ourselves under tremendous financial pressure. We had no supporters and no savings to fall back on. By God’s grace we survived, but I would not want to endure those years again.

If I could go back and do it over again, I trust I would again follow God’s call. However, I would not be so foolish as to leave everything behind with nothing new in place.

I now believe, when God led us to move on from the pastorate, His direction did not include our lack of preparation. There are many verses in Scripture which teach the need to think ahead. The Lord Jesus spoke of counting the cost before building a tower (Luke 14:25-33). We are to take an approach to life where we plan our way as we trust God to direct our steps (Proverbs 16:9).

It was not God’s idea for me to put my family in financial jeopardy. In my inexperience and naivety I did not understand how the decision to move into the new situation could be handled in a balanced manner.

Looking back, I believe the Lord would have blessed, and the church would have understood, if, while being faithful to church responsibilities, I had also prepared more carefully for the future. Along with giving the church full-time attention, I could have found time to concentrate on our needs too. In reality, I was giving the church too many hours and not giving proper time to my family.

By way of personal experience, and a study of Scripture, I have learned that God’s leading is accompanied by more than a desire, or a feeling of “being called,” to do something different. There will also be evident opportunity.

If you believe God is leading you to do something new, ask yourself, “Where is this new work I am to be doing?” Look at the gospel magic programs on your calendar. Are you busy? Will you be busy? If your situation changed, would you be more busy? Look at the invitations you are receiving to perform. Look at the response you get from booking efforts. If God is leading to go full time, it is wise to expect a see these things starting to crowd your present work schedule.

I am not suggesting one needs to wait until the calendar is full far in advance. I am not suggesting there will not be faith willing to step into the unknown. I am saying, relating to a decision for full-time in gospel magic or creative ministry, there should be enough things happening already that a tension exists between your regular job and your ministry programs. If God has something new for you to do, you will have new things to do. They will be making your life busier than it was before. If you choose to pursue these new things, a critical element of the motivation will be the realization you cannot continue to work in both arenas. One thing or the other must be chosen. When the decision comes upon you in that manner, it may then be time to go full time.

Faithful Christians should be willing to take on whatever challenges the Lord puts before them. However, there is a difference between challenges which come from God and challenges we unnecessarily bring upon ourselves. The decision to go full-time must be a matter of faith and wisdom in the face of opportunity. Not one without the other.

It Is Not Just About the Music (Magicians, this applies to you too!)

It's Not Just About the Music.png

In preparing for my speech at the recent gathering of the BGSSA (Branson Gospel Singers Songwriters Association) I came across a fascinating study. It had to do with the visual versus audio aspects of performance. Although primarily a lesson for musicians, it is something to which magicians and variety entertainers should give attention.

A Social Psychologist of University College London, reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shared findings showing people are much more influenced by what they see than what they hear.

This conclusion was based on a study involving twelve-hundred volunteers, including professional musicians and novices, who were asked to evaluate recordings from the top three finalists in ten international singing competitions. Some of the volunteers were given only audio recordings. Some were given only video recordings. From the recordings,  whether audio only or video only, the volunteers were asked to pick who they thought were the actual contest winners.

The group given audio only was able to correctly identify a contest winner less than one-third of the time. Their success rate was less than 33%.

This was a surprise. Before the experiment began, more than 83% of the test group had said, “Audio is the key criterion.” Almost all participants were confident, that for a singing competition, it would be easy to pick out the winners just by hearing individuals sing. This did not turn out to be true.

An even bigger surprise came from the group given video only. They heard no vocals nor any sound, yet more than 50% of the time, just from seeing silent video, this group picked the actual contest winners. Their success rate was 53%.

About this unexpected discovery the Social Psychologist Chia-Jung Tsay said, “These findings point to a powerful effect of vision-biased preferences on selection processes even at the highest levels of performance.” (In simpler words…”Audiences are more impressed by what they see than by what they hear, this even applies to comparing super talented performers.”)

About this same study, Daniel Levitin, a Music Neuropsychologist at McGill University in Montreal, said, “For pianists or violinists who toil for countless hours on competition repertoire, the study may be sending a message: go see a stylist or a wardrobe consultant.”

Look again at Mr. Levitin’s observation: “Go see a stylist or wardrobe consultant.” His opinion of the lesson to be learned is, even if it is a music competition, winning may have more to do with style than talent! (An additional observation, reported after the release of the study, was that many musicians were frustrated by the results of the study. They want to think it is all about the music when it turns out it is really about how the music is presented.)

What does this say to other kinds of performers such as magicians? It reinforces a concept some know, some do not know well enough, and some do not seem to understand at all: How we look matters. Wardrobe matters. Gestures matter. Expressions matter. The way a performer dresses himself and presents himself matters.

It contradicts the attitude of more than a few amateur magicians that it is the trick that matters. As long as the trick is good, everything else will be fine. These individuals tend to work hard on moves and technique while neglecting personal appearance and showmanship. They see no problem in wearing street clothes on stage while trying to do a magic show. As far as they are concerned, “Since I am doing some really good tricks, the audience will have no problem viewing me as a magician.”

The study suggests the need for an opposite focus. If performers do not dress for the occasion, the audience may find it hard to take them seriously. The magician will be evaluated as “a guy who can do tricks” rather than a “competent” or “professional” entertainer.

This is not to advocate sloppy moves and weak tricks. The lesson is about the validity of the need to “dress for success.” If we really want to get more shows, especially if we hope for higher-level performance opportunities, we need to “look the part.” Knowing how to properly stand and move, and making the effort to “look good,” is critical to a performer’s career.

If a magician is frustrated by the fact that he can “Do some really great magic,” but no one wants to book him,” maybe it is time to think more about what Chia-Jung Tsay termed “vision-based preference.” The overall look and image of one’s show does matter!

Why not do our tricks extremely well and have great style? Why not practice our “moves” and work on our image? When we excel in both areas we increase the likelihood of being viewed as competent and professional. As well, we will set ourselves up for greater work opportunities and compensation.

Practical application…

  • Maybe it is time to invest in a new costume rather than in a new trick
  • Maybe it is time to read a book on showmanship rather than one on card sleights
  • Maybe it is time to add music, or more and better music, to a show
  • Maybe it is time to clean and refurbish some props
  • Maybe it is time to rehearse a full presentation, rather than just checking to see if we can remember how a trick works

10 Things for Gospel Magicians to Consider in the 21st Century (By Duane Laflin)

10 Things for Gospel Magicians to Consider in the 21st Century

Almost everyone has heard this common definition of insanity: Insanity is when you keep doing the same thing, in the same way, while expecting different results.

Strangely enough, although almost everyone has heard the definition, rarely does anyone think it applies to themselves. Many understand the need to change in order to achieve different results. Few seem to think they personally must change, in order to make things different or better.

I’ve seen it often in churches. People in congregations continually voice concern that “Our church is not growing” or “Our church is losing its young people,” yet those same people insist on doing things as they always have been done.

I have seen this in the world of gospel magicians. In particular, I’ve seen it with the organized Fellowship Of Christian Magicians. Concern is voiced over, “Look at how many members we have lost” and “Look at how few now attend our national convention,” yet there is a strong push to keep things the same as they always have been.

We live in a world that is continually changing. If we do not change with it, we get left behind.

Some will suggest that change is compromise of belief and principle. They say, “God’s Word does not change. Gospel truth does not change. Therefore we must not change.” They resist change and excuse themselves by saying, “The results of our work are up to God. We just do what we do and let Him take care of the rest.”

Such a suggestion indicates erroneous thinking. It is absolutely correct that God’s Word does not change. we must not compromise His truth. It is also true there is a Christian responsibility to apply wisdom to the circumstance of life. This includes being willing to adjust to changing culture. There are times when Christians must readjust methods and alter familiar behavior.

In the book of II Corinthians 9:19-23 the apostle Paul said,

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

The apostle was saying he adapted to the needs of the people he was trying to reach. When the situation changed from dealing with Jews to dealing with gentiles, he changed how he did things. His statement, “To the weak I became as weak,” suggests, along with a change of methods, he was even willing to adjust his attitude and lifestyle when it helped him be more effective.

There is no such thing as one method of evangelism and outreach that works in every situation for all kinds of people. (Another great example is how Jesus Christ healed people. He used different methods to get the same results.) Those who serve the Lord must continually seek the Lord for wisdom and direction as they look for ways to convey the same, unchanging truth, to a constantly changing world.

If gospel magicians are going to be effective in these modern times (the 21st century) they must pay attention to how the world has changed in this century. If they have not done so already, it is time for some to adjust their thinking.

Here are several things, in light of changing times, that gospel magicians must especially consider to be effective in ministry.

#1. Gospel magicians must educate themselves about tools relating to digital technology.

This is the digital age. Nowadays, when churches book a performer, they typically ask for video to help promote the event. As well, rather than asking for printed materials to be sent, they want a short bio, posters and/or pictures in digital form. It is time for gospel magicians to have such things available. The attitude of I am too old to learn computer stuff needs to be set aside or we will be set aside. Those who are serious about remaining effective in ministry must be willing to learn new things.

In context of a performance, CD players and even CDs are becoming a thing of the past. (Cassettes are even farther in the past.) A phone, laptop, or other digital device is now the expected means of connecting to a sound system. Along with new means of playing music, technology has brought greater precision into how things are played. It is easy to create a playlist. It is easy to go directly to whatever songs need to be played. It is easy to pre-set the volume for a song. A person who shows up with an outdated music player and wants to fast-forward or rewind to find things, will be looked upon as out of touch with the times and one who probably is not credible.

Another way digital media has changed things is the visual aspect of teaching and performance. It has become common for churches to have large screens for showing video. It has become common to project whatever is happening on stage up onto these screens. Gospel magicians must learn how to comfortably accept the presence of cameras and projected images. They must learn how to use such things to their advantage. Powerpoint or Keynote presentations have become readily accessible tools. For many congregations, having something up on a video screen, to accompany a lesson or message, has become so familiar there are those who will feel something is missing if it isn’t there.

On a practical note, like all magicians, this is an age when gospel magicians must be careful not to announce the proper names of whatever tricks they intend to do. If the proper name of the trick is used, people will look it up on YouTube to learn the secret.

#2. Gospel magicians must pay attention to political correctness and the sensitivity of society against intolerance and prejudice.

This is not about compromising our message. It is about building bridges rather than barriers. This is not about failing to tell God’s truth. It is about understanding there are things which do not need to be said. There is no need to chase people away by way of open criticism of celebrities and government leaders. There is no need to chase people away by way of a politically charged statement. Even if a speaker is confident he or she is right in the criticism, is it helpful or necessary to voice the criticism?

There are gospel magicians who, on stage, think they appear clever by making disparaging remarks about politicians and political issues. They do not seem to understand, even if much if the audience agrees with them, there may be some who are alienated. If a performer is there to share Christ, rather than run for office or lobby for a vote, why risk alienating anyone?

Apart from politically oriented comments and critical attacks on celebrities, there are other things a person can say, which do not need to be said. There are things which have potential to be divisive or offensive. Personally, I am not a health food nut. I think the current craze to “eat organic” and feast on things such as kale and tofu is silly. I have learned there are those, actually more than I expected, who do not view such things as silly. If I, during the course of a program, make jokes about such things, I can turn part of an audience against me. Why would I do such a thing? If my aim is to connect with people, why say things that might turn them away?

It should go without mentioning there should never be discriminatory behavior or remarks. God loves and equally values all people, no matter what color or ethnicity. The testimony of the gospel magician must be that of caring for everyone.

Again, I am not referring to compromising or failing to express biblical truth. I am talking about other things performers might say which are not biblical nor necessary. What we think about a national leader, what we think about a certain liberal or conservative agenda, and what we think about a current craze, is not an essential aspect of the gospel. We do not need to announce ourselves in favor of the border wall or against the nuclear treaty with Iran to reach people for Christ.

We are talking about new times and a new generation. I grew up in a culture where people were often admired for bold talk and willingness to announce their opinion about anything and everything. These individuals were seen as strong and tough-minded. There were many who would willingly follow the leadership of such individuals. Nowadays people are more cautious. Nowadays, if someone says something, people pull out their phones to check the accuracy. Nowadays, if someone spouts off an opinion, people know they can go to the media and find other equally credible persons who spout off the opposite opinion. Nowadays the statement, “You can believe it because I said so” just doesn’t work.

Those in ministry have always needed to rely on the authority of Scripture. In this new century, along with strong reliance on the power of God’s Word, there must also be extra care to avoid non-Scriptural issues which may antagonize rather than win an audience over. More than ever, gospel magicians need to “stay on message” which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and plain biblical truth.

#3. Gospel magicians must be careful about remarks and behavior which can be viewed as sexist.

This is especially the day and age to pay attention to how the opposite sex is referred to and spoken about.

Not long ago I was at a event where an older gentlemen who professed to be a Christian, approached some attractive young ladies and said, “I don’t care about being politically correct. If I want to tell a woman I think she has great legs, I’m going to do it!” Then he proceeded to give his evaluation of the looks of the young ladies. His words were intended to be complimentary, maybe even flattering, but the ladies were appalled. They did their best to keep their distance from him for the rest of the event. Had he tried to share some spiritual message with them, there is no way they would have listened. The man’s behavior was just plain stupid. Unfortunately, he did not see it as stupid because he was remembering a time, long ago, when a man may gave been able to say such things and get away with it.

References to a woman’s weight or figure are not acceptable. Jokes about women being silly are not acceptable. I once heard a preacher say, “I think just about every woman I know talks so much you would think she was vaccinated with a phonograph needle.” The congregation laughed. His attempt at humor did not seem to bother anyone. Nowadays, it would bother people.

Society has become much more concerned about any words or actions, from men or women, that can be interpreted as sexual harassment. Gospel magicians must be aware of this concern and wise about what they stay to or about the opposite sex…and about how they touch a member of the opposite sex. This applies to what happens off stage and on stage. If a member of the opposite sex is to be spoken to or touched, it must always be in an unquestionably appropriate manner.

Some may think such attention to being gender-sensitive and politically correct is foolishness. The attitude would be, Who cares what others think, I am going to say whatever is on my mind! I am going to act in the same way I always have! In response to that perspective I ask yet again: Why alienate the very people we are there to reach? If allowing ourselves to be more sensitive to what others are thinking and feeling makes us more effective in ministry, why not take a more careful approach in how we do things?

#4. Gospel magicians must treat volunteers from the audience in a polite and Christ-like manner.

From the early days of the past century a kind of magic was promoted that involved getting laughs at the expense of spectators brought on stage. Put-downs and belittling remarks were often used in the name of humor. (Such as asking someone to hold out a hand then saying, “Not that hand, the clean one.” Or looking at a person’s apparel and saying something such as, “I see you dressed yourself today…must have been in a hurry!”)

Beyond insults, it was not uncommon for magicians to take physical advantage of a person who had come on stage to assist. (Such as spilling water on their heads or asking them to get into awkward positions.)

Near the end of the past century this began to change. Magicians became aware of the need to be considerate of volunteers. With the advent of the 21st century, such consideration must continue and be magnified. A practical reason for this is the present-day concern with bullying. If a magician is not careful, he will appear to be a bully by taking advantage of those who have trusted him by way of their willingness to join him on stage. Once the audience deems a performer a bully, his ability to minister to them is over.

This should be automatically understood by the gospel magician. The thirteenth chapter of the book of I Corinthians wonderfully describes the love Christians are to exemplify. A key aspect of that love is kindness and well-mannered behavior. Apart from what people think is or is not funny, and apart from what other magicians typically do, the gospel magician must demonstrate the love of Christ in every action. Being on stage does not give one the right to misbehave. Let 21st Century gospel magicians never forget that before they are magicians, they are Christians!

#5. Gospel magicians should use stories to teach.

The fact that many in the 21st century have grown up in a media intensive environment seems to make them especially responsive to engaging narrative. There can be no doubt that stories have the power to increase interest and comprehension. Giving young people the facts about how illegal drugs can harm their lives may do little to change their choices. Telling them a story about someone who’s life was ruined by such drugs may lead to a life-changing decision.

It is one thing to teach, “Encourage others.” It is another thing to tell of a woman who was planning on committing suicide. She decided, before she ended her life, to go to the beauty salon and have herself made up to “look good” one last time. While at the salon, a hairdresser commented to her about every day being a new day and the fact that, no matter how tough things are, “the sun will come up again tomorrow.” The hairdresser had no idea what the woman was going through. She was simply, as was her habit, sharing a positive approach to life. The suicidal woman went home with the words of the hairdresser on her mind. In the end, she decided she too would wait for the sun to come up tomorrow. When it did come up, she went back to the salon to thank the hairdresser for literally saving her life.

A story like that will make the point much more powerfully than just telling people, “You may never know the difference your words might make.” As well, the lesson of such a story is very likely to be remembered.

Another truth about the new generation is it is used to commercials which convey messages in just a few seconds. Often, within those few seconds, a story is told. This means people are used to brief stories. It is good for gospel magicians to tell stories. It is not good for gospel magicians to be guilty of long-winded embellishments. The challenge to be a story teller is not about performing with more words than action. It is about mastering the art of telling good stories in a direct and to-the-point manner.

Tell a brief story about someone who’s life was changed by the gospel of Christ. Tell a brief story about how a biblical truth guided a person to find success. Tell a brief story about the consequences of sin. Tell a concise story that illustrates whatever concept you are seeking to convey. Near the end of a program, share a short yet powerful story that helps people know how to respond to the truth you are presenting.

#6. Gospel magicians should be prepared to work with large audiences.

The kind of gospel magic primarily demonstrated in the previous century was good for small church settings. Gospel magicians did not need to worry much about the visibility or size of their props and actions. A reason why is, up until 1955, most protestant congregations were small. There were some exceptions to this, but the rise of the megachurch did not occur into the second half of the 20th century. (A megachurch being a congregation of 2,000 or more.) It was not until the 1980’s and 1990’s that many such churches came into being. Now large churches are much more common. In 2010, the Hartford Institute’s database listed more than 1,300 protestant churches in the United States with 2,000 or more members. According to the same data, approximately 50 Protestant congregations now have an average attendance exceeding 10,000 per Sunday, with the highest recorded at 47,000 in average attendance (Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas). On any one weekend around one in ten protestant churchgoers in the US, or about 5 million people, attend a church service in a megachurch.

While it is true that most churches are still small (there are certainly far more churches in America today with less than 100 members than those with 1,000 members or more) the fact must be faced that, in general, churches are getting larger.

A concept relating to this, vital for gospel magicians to understand, is larger churches are often the ones looking for attention-gaining attraction-oriented programs. They are aggressive about reaching people. They have grown large because they focus on how to capture the interest of those who are non-churched. They are the ones who are likely to contact a gospel magician or Christian illusionist about making a presentation to their congregation. When contact is made, they will want to know can you handle our situation. In particular, they will want to know if a gospel magician can maintain the attention of a large group and if what the gospel magician does can be seen and heard by a large group.

A wise gospel magician will think in terms of preparing for audiences that may number several hundred people or more. If the gospel magician is serious about pursing the doing of programs in many churches, he or she will need to think in terms of working with audiences that may number 1,000 or more. Gospel magicians should become intentional about playing as big as they possibly can.

This does not mean it is necessary to have big stage illusions (although having some available for use does seem a good idea). By way of video projection and cell phones small tricks can be enjoyed by large audiences. The props themselves do not have to be large, but the gospel magical should think through and have ready a program that will work for a large audience. Their must not be the assumption that the programs I do today will take place in places similar to the church I grew up in. Nowadays a person who grew up in a country church of 75 people may well end up in front of an audience of 750 people, or even 7500 people.

A key to “thinking big” is the development of strong showmanship skills. A small audience, that may contain a good number of people who already know the performer, will be patient with a performer even when his or her presentation is sloppy. A large audience becomes disinterested and distracted much more quickly. A large audience will contain few people who are already “friends” with the performer and ready to give him or her some slack. They will have high expectations. They will be looking for quick confirmation that the performer is credible. To hold the attention of large groups it is critical to understand timing, emphasis, production value and stagecraft.

In the previous century many gospel magicians were content to be “doers of tricks.” As they showed their tricks, they shared their faith. The average gospel magician did this kind of thing in front of small groups. Showmanship was not a serious concern. The important thing was good intentions, a little bit of fun, and a spiritual message. Nowadays, much more than in the past, gospel magicians need to be “communicators” and “showmen” with the ability to share with many people at once. There must yet be good intentions, fun and a spiritual message, but there must also be skill in commanding the attention of an audience.

#7. Gospel magicians must forget about having a big set up or a lot of tables on stage.

Another thing which has drastically changed since most of the 20th century is how churches do their music. Up until the 1980’s the average American church had an organ on one side of the stage and a piano on the other. A single song-leader would stand behind a pulpit to lead the congregation by way of his voice and arm movements. The singing would be from a hymnbook. The concept of a “praise team” or “worship team” was new and not welcomed by many congregations. Choirs were familiar, but usually located in a choir loft or designated space separate from the main church platform.

21st century churches have drastically changed this approach. Now it is rare to find churches that yet use only a piano and organ. In many churches organs are no longer used at all. There are not nearly as many choirs as there used to be. In this day and age, church platforms are filled with guitars, drums, a keyboard, a bass and other instruments. Mic stands are spread out in almost every available place. Rather than a single song-leader, there will be a group of people. Rather than hymnbooks, there will be a projection screen or a projector which puts the words to songs up on a wall.

What does this mean to the gospel magician? It means he or she cannot plan on setting up a variety of equipment on stage before a presentation begins. Mic stands, music stands, cords and musical instruments will be in the way. It may even be a problem to put up a backdrop because it will interfere with the light path of a projector.

What must the gospel magician do about this? He or she must adjust. It is time to learn how to play big while having a quick setup. It is time to learn how to work from tables and equipment that can be easily rolled on and off stage.

An example of this aspect of needed change is the use of the old-fashioned suitcase table. It is something a gospel magician unfolds and puts in place previous to a program. Some props can be kept safely inside the table, but usually other props are carefully balanced on top such a table. The magician must then watch carefully to ensure no props are accidentally bumped or moved by people passing by. Nowadays, the assumption should be made that, if such a table is in place on stage, it will get bumped. If it does not get bumped or moved around, there will be musicians who are unhappy with the magician for invading their space and hindering their musical presentation. It would be much better for the magician to work with a different kind of table, such as one with an open top, which can be rolled on immediately before his performance and otherwise be kept out of the way. Ideally, if a table is needed, the magician should be able to bring it on stage with him as he makes his appearance.

Note: In the past century there were magicians who took pride in how many tables they would use on stage. Along with side tables, it was fashionable to have a central table which looked similar to a small pulpit. This table would often have a special design or logo on the front. For most situations, this is no longer a good way to do things.

It is possible to do a good program while starting with a clear or nearly clear stage. As well, it is possible to end a program with a minimum of clutter on stage. It is time for gospel magicians to learn how to do this. Many modern church situations require it. (Putting props on castors, working from open top tables, creating a staging area apart from the main church platform and bringing things on and off from the area, working from bags and boxes that can be used to carry props on and off stage quickly are all part of accomplishing this goal.)

#8. Gospel magicians must learn to “do the time” and no more than the time.

This is another matter which has become a larger concern because of another aspect of ministry which became “new” toward the end of the last century. This aspect of ministry is now firmly in place for this century. It is the idea of churches having multiple services. There was a time when the common expectation was for church services to start around 11 AM on Sunday morning. Now there may be services at 8 AM, 9:30 AM, 11 AM, etc.. (Churches also may now have services on Saturday evening.)

The reality of multiple services requires a congregation, in particular its leadership, to stay on schedule. If an early service goes overtime, it hinders the services that follow. Out of respect for child care, Sunday school class time, transportation needs, moving people in and out of the auditorium and getting the church platform organized for each individual service, all services need to finish at a predetermined time. This has created a more serious focus on time and careful planning than what churches seemed to have had in the past.

As well, it seems the larger the church, and the more aggressive a church is about having many fruitful ministries, the greater the concern for doing things in a timely manner. Nowadays there are churches which exactly schedule every aspect of what they do. A chart is made that allows three minutes for the first song, one minute for the opening prayer, five minutes for the announcements, etc., until everything adds up perfectly to the planned service length. (Whether or not a believer approves of this approach, the reality must be faced that it has become the approach for many. Not all, but many.)

What does this mean for the gospel magician? If a church leader says, “You have ten minutes,” the performer should do no more than ten minutes. If a church leader says, “You have twenty-five minutes,” the performer should do no more than twenty-five minutes. If a performer is given forty minutes, then forty minutes is all he or she should do. If the performer goes beyond the given time, and extends a service longer than originally planned, that performer is not likely to be invited back again, nor will the program receive a good recommendation.

It has always been a good approach to do things in an “on time” and “within the time” manner. It is part of being professional. Even so, in the 21st century it has become more important than ever. Now, when people look at the time they do not see clocks with hands moving over a round space. They see specific numbers telling them the precise moment. Precision is an expectation. Gospel magicians should practice and discipline themselves to know precisely how long their presentations are and how to craft them to fit whatever the expected time frame might be.

#9. Gospel magicians must except the reality that personal appearance is associated with credibility.

In spite of the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” people typically do make decisions based on the first thing they see. This has pretty much always been true. Nevertheless, it is a critical concern in this postmodern time.

The prevalence of visual media means the public is aware of trends and imagery. When style changes, people know it. Near the end of the 20th century, the style for magicians changed from tuxedos with ruffled shirts to open collar shirts and a sport jacket. By the end of the 20th century, “with it” performers were going on stage in jeans and untucked shirts. This transition, from tuxedo to untucked shirts, took more than thirty years.

When the 21st century began, it took less than twenty years for a transition from untucked shirts to tucked in shirts, then to suit jackets and even a neck tie to reoccur. In this year (2018) entertainers (this applies to the entire entertainment world) seem to be returning to fancy suits and rhinestones. It appears safe to assume styles will keep on changing quickly as this new century continues.

There are always those who defy the trends and get away from it. It is not a requirement to be dressed in a current style to be able to communicate with the modern generation. However, in general, for the sake of credibility, it is needful to remain somewhat close to current expectations. If one appears to be “out of touch” with current society he or she is liked to be judged as “out of touch” in message.

There is a tendency, it seems especially so for Christian leaders, to remain in whatever style they chose while in their early twenties/thirties. If wearing a suit and tie for church events was the thing to do at that time in their life, they lean toward always wearing a suit and tie for church events. If blue jeans and an untucked shirt was what they learned to do for church events, they tend to always want to be wearing jeans and such a shirt.

In the past, gospel magicians have tended to do the same. Many still have the tendency. There are those who wear the same costume on stage today they wore twenty or more years ago, or even back when they first started performing. (Some may do this because they are thrifty. They don’t like spending money on new costuming!)

It is better to understand that, when possible, we should look like we understand modern culture, style and expectations. One way to achieving this “look” is by dressing in a manner consistent with the present entertainment or teaching world (depending on your personal emphasis). When our appearance suggests to an audience that we understand the culture, our audiences are more likely to assume we understand them and therefore our message is something for them. There is a definite connection between effective communication and the one who is communicating having the look that he or she “knows what she is talking about.” Gospel magicians need to look like they know the people to whom they have come to minister.

Note: Gospel magicians who see themselves primary as teachers or preachers will not have the same style of apparel as those who see themselves primarily as magicians and entertainers. (That is, magicians and entertainers who yet share their faith.) Those who are primarily entertainer/magicians will be more flamboyant. Those who are primarily teachers/preachers will be more conservative.

#9. Gospel magicians must be sensitive about modern day taboos.

In the 1970’s and even early 1980’s there were magicians who would use the following joke: They would start a card trick, then look out over the audience and ask, “Is there anyone here who does not like card tricks?” They would pretend like someone said, “Yes.” Next they would pull out a handgun loaded with blanks and fire it in the direction of the person who supposedly had spoken. This was followed by the words, “Is there anyone else here who does not like card tricks?”

In light of present culture, it is hard to believe such a stunt ever got a laugh, but there was time when such an action occurred without objection. Many thought it clever and humorous. In this present day, a magician who would do such a thing would likely face legal repercussion including arrest.

As times change, so do the feelings of people about a variety of things. In the early days of the 20th century magicians could get away with pulling a rabbit out of a hat and holding it by the ears. Later in the 20th century, no one wanted to see a rabbit held by the ears. Nowadays, there are many who do not to see a rabbit, or any animal, used at all in a show. Society has become extremely sympathetic to anything which indicates an animal might be made uncomfortable or abused.

Does this mean it is time for gospel magicians to take rabbits and doves out of their shows? Not necessarily. In some circumstances, and some local regions, there may yet be no problem with the use of animals. On the other hand, there are circumstances, and local regions, where a show using animals may be publicly protested. If not publicly protested, there will be private complaints sent to those who book the show. (Consider how, in this 21st Century, major circuses have either closed completely or found it necessary to avoid public outcry, to take elephants and exotic animals out of their shows.)

A gospel magician may continue to use livestock, but should assume there will be times when it is not good to so. He or she should design a show that can be strong with or without animals. It is not wise to have as one’s only “closer” an effect that requires a dove or rabbit. The occasion may come when public sentiment, or even actual regulations, will not allow it. On such an occasion another, equally strong, “closer” should be available for use.

Another issue about which the world has drastically changed is the use of fire in a show. During most of the 20th Century tricks with fire, tricks with lit candles, and tricks with flash paper were used without concern or restriction. Toward the end of the 20th Century public awareness of tragedies caused by fire in crowded venues put strict rules in place.

In this 21st century most places have rules against the use of fire. There is a trend for churches to no longer use real candles in weddings and at events such as Christmas eve services. Battery operated LED lights have taken their place. In almost all theaters and pubic auditoriums the use of fire is strictly forbidden unless a representative from the local fire department is on hand to supervise. There is an expectation for this representative to be financially compensated for his or her time on the scene.

This means a 21st century a magician who wants to to feature tricks involving fire is foolish. He or she is crafting something that will have limited use. In many situations it will not allowed to be used at all.

In the least, in this modern day, if a gospel magician wants to do something with fire there should be a “backup plan” for the same effect so it can be done without fire when necessary.

Another place where change began in the previous century and yet needs to be understood in this present day is showing proper respect for foreign cultures. There was a day when it was popular to decorate magic tricks with supposed “Chinese” designs. Magicians would make references to asian signs and names, often not even knowing what the signs and names meant. There were a number of magicians who had an actual “Chinese act” which was separate from their regular magic act. In context of this act the magician would don oriental robes and speak in a sing-song manner. “Back then” such a thing could be done. Today, it would not work so well.

A gospel magician, who wants audiences to be open to his message, will understand the need to avoid anything with potential to be offensive to another culture. If one owns props decorated with a Chinese or oriental motif, it would be good to redecorate the props with non-culture related symbols. In this day and age, anything that seems to make fun of, or minimalize, a race or group of people will be a barrier to effective ministry.

On a practical note, although not offensive, a gospel magician should be aware of the fact that messy tricks such as those with confetti can be disturbing to audience members who worry about the mess made and how it is going to be cleaned up. To keep positive relations with clients and venues, gospel magicians should plan on cleaning up after themselves. If a show makes a mess with paper, mouth coils, water, confetti, etc., gospel magicians should pick up after themselves or vacuum things up when the show is over.

On a positive note, it is interesting to notice how the attitude toward card tricks has changed. Early in the 20th century, almost all churches frowned on tricks with playing cards. Toward the end of the 20th century, many churches were fairly comfortable with card tricks. In this 21st century, apart from extremely conservative and fundamentalist groups, card tricks are usually accepted. (Even in some conservative and fundamentalist churches card tricks will be greeted without offense.)

#10. Gospel magicians must have a commitment to excellence.

In the past, many people might only see one or two gospel magicians in their lifetime. When they did see a gospel magician, they would have nothing to compare the magician to. He or she would be the best they had ever seen, because they had not seen much. The very novelty of being a gospel magician would be enough to attract a crowd and generate excitement.

In this 21st century, via YouTube, other applications and social media, people can compare anything they hear about or see with other things heard and seen. As well, they are accustomed to reading reviews about options they contemplate. Facebook is a place where opinions about shows and other experiences are constantly voiced. Gospel magicians may not find themselves rated like other consumer offerings would be, but they can be sure opinions about their work will be published. If the performer is sloppy, the fact will be broadcast and soon well-known. If the performer is skilled and effective, this too will be broadcast and soon well-known.

There has always been a need for those who minister through gospel magic to do so with excellence. The 21st century need for this is greater in the sense that repercussions caused by a lack of excellence come faster and harder. If a gospel magician does something silly, if he or she makes a mistake through lack of practice or by ignorance of their craft, video of it is likely to soon go up and become viral. Those who oppose the gospel may use it to mock the faith. A performer who hopes to have a career in gospel magic may have a difficult time recovering from the message of ineptitude unintentionally created for himself or herself. Essentially people will say, “Since this person clearly does not know what he or she is doing, this person must also not know what he or she is talking about. How can anyone take this person seriously!”

The other side of the issue is postmodern people connect competence with credibility. This present world pays star athletes big money to endorse products often entirely unrelated to the athlete’s special skill. (Such as a basketball player who is a spokesman for underwear. Playing basketball wonderfully does not make one an underwear expert!) Nevertheless, for no truly logical reason, the assumption is, since this person is so good in a sport, the person can be trusted in whatever he or she endorses.

Gospel magicians will find their efforts to communicate greeted with greater trust and receptiveness as the quality of their performance increases. The effort to become skillful as a magician and showman can translate into being a much more powerful communicator.

In the past, gospel magicians, in particular the International Fellowship of Christian Magicians, has exhibited little quality control over their work. Sloppy, uncouth and lame presentations have been allowed, and occasionally even smiled upon. (An example is a time, at a national FCM conference, when the wife of the president of the organization was asked to come on stage then lay on her back. She was wearing a dress and totally unprepared for what she was asked to do. Although uncomfortable, because she did not want to be a spoilsport, she cooperated. A juggler then stood over her body and juggled, while making jokes. The jokes were not off-color, but they bordered on disrespect for the woman and her husband. The woman certainly was in a disrespectful position while on stage. No one stopped the performance. No one apologized for the performance. No one disciplined the performer. It was laughed off as, “just one of those things our members do.”) In this new generation such a thing cannot be allowed.

No longer can a “good-old-boy” mentality be the face of gospel magic. To reach people in the 21st century we must have their respect. To have their respect, we must respect our own craft and ministry. This is accomplished by insisting on gospel magic being well-represented. For it to be well-represented, individual gospel magicians must work hard to do whatever they do extremely well. Organizations of gospel magicians must demand that those who teach and perform at their events meet high standards.

Conclusion

Gospel magicians must be earnest and intense about making the message of the gospel and God’s truth heard and understood.

For gospel magicians the message must always matter the most. There must be clear vision for the truth that goes beyond all tricks and techniques. Gospel magicians are not to be about the doing of “tricks.” They are to be about effectively showing people biblical truth and the way to know salvation through Jesus Christ.

Note

Special thanks to Kerry Kistler for his motivation to write this article and to Dr. Chris Beck for his suggestions about concepts to be included within the article.

Does Every Trick Need a Gospel Message?

Does Every Trick Need a Gospel Message?

This no longer seems to be a controversial issue among gospel magicians, but there was a time when it was a major concern. In times past one regional conference of the Fellowship Of Christian Magicians even made a rule about it. They said, “No one will be allowed to lecture at our conference unless his tricks involve biblical lessons.” This excluded Christian magicians, who specialize in good clean entertainment, from being presenters at their events. Fortunately, this policy only stayed in place for a few years, but for a time it was a dividing point relating to the organizers of that conference. Basically they were saying, “If you do not preach with your magic, you do not teach at our event.”

I understand that the intentions of those who were saying “message magic only” were good. I also realize their thinking was shortsighted. It is important to understand that, beyond what a magician might be saying, tricks themselves can have an important and powerful purpose.

An example of this is the idea of a preacher telling a joke during a sermon. Is it okay for him say something that is not a direct quote of Scripture? Is there occasion for a preacher to say something humorous? Can it be helpful for him to tell a story about daily life? Can present day examples help people listen better and better understand a lesson?

I think most would answer “Yes” to such questions. We understand that good communication involves gaining and maintaining the attention of an audience, along with giving them familiar references to ensure the message really does apply to them.

The situation with the tricks of a gospel magician is similar. A trick can be like the joke a preacher will tell at the start of a sermon. It does not illustrate a Bible verse, but it gets the attention of the audience and begins the establishment of rapport. Other non-message tricks can help a gospel magician further connect with the audience. They also can enhance his credibility. As this happens, a situation is created that promotes good listening.

A simple term for this is “winning the right to be heard.”  If people are to take a speaker seriously they must trust the speaker and consider his words worth hearing. Some tricks, although presented with no message whatsoever, nevertheless give the message that this speaker knows what he (or she) is talking about. This speaker has done his homework. This speaker will not waste your time. This is someone you can trust.

Another angle on this matter is the importance of a speaker being likable. If an audience likes a speaker, they are usually inclined to like what he might say. A speaker who entertains them will have them yet paying attention when he teaches and preaches to them.

Obviously the greatest concern of the gospel magician will be for tricks/illusions which powerfully convey a Bible message. However, a secondary concern, and something which must not be overlooked, is having the ability to “wow” people and make them smile, laugh, clap and cheer.  A happy audience is almost always a receptive audience.

Learning how to present exciting and entertaining non-message tricks is a tool for making message tricks even more effective…by way of putting the audience in a positive and responsive mood.

The Significance of Showmanship (By Duane Laflin)

Blog Post_ The Significance of Showmanship

What is the secret to getting repeat bookings?

What is the secret to getting referrals that result in many more shows?

What is the secret to having audiences wonderfully excited about the opportunity to experience your performance?

What is the secret to long term success as a variety arts entertainer?

What is the secret to getting sincere  and enthusiastic applause, and even cheers and occasional standing ovations, in response to your shows?

Consider Taylor Hicks, the season five winner of the television program, American Idol.  Almost everyone would agree that Taylor was not the best vocalist in the contest.  Other competitors, such as Katharine McPhee  and Elliot Yamin, were considered superior singers.  Nevertheless, in spite of Simon Cowell’s repeated assertion that “it is a singing contest,”  Taylor won the competition.

How did he, as one who was not the best singer, win the contest?  It happened because the contest was televised.  Audience voters did not just hear his voice.  They experienced his presentation of a song.  Taylor knew how to move and dance.  He was truly fun to watch.  He knew how to sell his presentations.  He handled interviews in a likable manner.  He had the ability to make people care about him and want him to win.

This is an important thing to understand and remember.  Those with the most talent are not necessarily those who experience the most success in show business.  Because it is “show business”, it is “showmanship” that makes the crucial difference.  A great showman with lessor talent will do much better than a great talent with lessor showmanship.

This is often seen in the world of magicians, clowns, and variety entertainers.  Some of the most skillful magicians who have ever lived, have not been able to make a living with their magic.  The reason is, in spite of their abilities to master difficult moves, maneuvers, and techniques, they have never learned how to lead audiences to enjoy watching them demonstrate their skills.

In contrast, there have been magicians who were only adequate in matters of sleight of hand and tricky maneuvers, who have enjoyed sensational success in their careers.  This is true because, although they were not great technicians, they were great showmen.

The same thing is found in clowning.  There are clowns who, in clown competitions, win grand prizes for their costumes and first prizes for their makeup, yet find themselves unable to make audiences laugh.  They look great, but they are boring. They have mastered the tools of the clown, but not learned how to entertain as a clown.

Other clowns, with mediocre makeup, and costumes that sometimes border on the pitiful, have been able to bring laughter to audiences around the world.

The ideal would be for performers to be incredibly adept in technique and skills while also being superb showman.  Sometimes such a performer comes along.  What a thrill it is to see such a person in action.

However, if a performer cannot excel in both, showmanship and technique, the thing that will save him is showmanship.

Without showmanship, whatever the level of technique may be, it is still likely that the performer will fail.

Final thought on the matter:

It seems many performers never get better.  They just get more paraphernalia, more props, more “stuff.”   Their problem is they acquire new things but do them in the same old way.  Their real need is to learn new and better ways of using the “same old things.”   A better show is not the result of better things (although they may help to a degree).  It is the result of better showmanship.  Ask yourself:  Have you ever learned showmanship?  Or have you only purchased new and more equipment?

Here is a Routine for You! (By Duane Laflin)

Routine_ Color Changing Ball to Square

This belongs in the category of “dusting off forgotten treasures.”  I certainly did not invent this trick, nor did I create the routine.

I am offering my way of doing a thing that I learned from others. In particular, Hank Moorehouse, was a person whom I saw use this trick many times.  Hank had a great knowledge of magic and showmanship.  He was also extremely practical.  He liked this trick and encouraged other magicians to use it for this reason: it works great!

In spite of its simplicity, the effect is a winner.  In my opinion, it is an effect that also fits into the category of being often overlooked. This may happen because of its low price (cheap so some think it must not be very good), and the fact that many magicians are exposed to it when they first start in magic.  There is initial excitement about it, then, as they progress in their careers, it gets left behind.

This trick should not be “left behind.”  If you have forgotten about it, dig it out again and use it.  If you have never been exposed to it, here is how I use it.

What happens?

The magician offers a demonstration of “the hand being quicker than the eye.”  He places a red ball into his hand and does an apparent tricky move.  He asks the audience to guess the location of the red ball.  They guess and get it right.

The magician seems disappointed so he tries again.  Again the audience gets it right.

The magician tries one more time.  This time, to the surprise of all, the red ball seems to have completely disappeared.   Rather than a red ball, the magician now has a black ball in one hand and a giant red square in the other. Where is the red ball?  In his pocket!

Secret

The Color Changing Ball To Square is a cleverly designed prop.  Basically the square is hollow and, when turned inside out, looks like a ball.  At the start of the routine a black ball is hidden within the “inside out” square.

During performance the “inside out” square is reversed.  This reveals the black ball and, at the same time, captures the red ball so it becomes hidden inside the square.

This description of the secret may seem complicated, but the trick is easy to do.

Required

The prop known as Color Changing Ball to Square.

Setup

Turn the square inside out so it looks like a red ball.  As you do this, allow the black ball to be hidden inside the reversed square.  Put the extra red ball in your pocket.

Presentation

Show the red ball (actually the inside out square).

“Here is a demonstration of sleight of hand.  You may have heard the saying, ‘The hand is quicker than the eye.’  We will discover if that is true.  Keep your eye on the red ball and watch as I do one tricky move.”

Pretend to use one hand to put the red ball into the other hand.  Be sloppy about this and retain the ball in the original hand.  Make sure the audience catches you doing this.

“Where is the red ball?  Is it in this hand or that hand?”

The audience will guess correctly.  Act disappointed about the fact that they figured out what you did.

“I will try it again.”

Again perform a sloppy pretend transfer of the ball from one hand to the other.  Allow the audience to catch what you are doing.

“Now guess.  Is the red ball in this hand or than hand?”

Again the audience guesses correctly.  Again you act disappointed.

“It seems the hand is faster on some days that it is on others.  This must be the other day, the slow day.  I will try it one more time.”

Again pretend to transfer the ball from one hand to the other.  However, this time turn the square inside out so the red ball is hidden and the black ball is released.  Keep the square in one hand and the black ball in the other.

Allow part of the square (which is red) to stick out from your hand so it appears to be the red ball.

“Guess which hand has the red ball?”

The audience will guess that it is the hand in which they see the red sticking out.

“Actually, this is not the red ball, it is the big red square!”

Show the red square.

“What about this hand?  Over here we have the black ball.”

Show the black ball.

“What happened to the red ball?  “It is in my pocket!  All I can say is, maybe the hand truly is quicker than the eye!”

Note

To some degree this is a “sucker” routine in that the audience believes they are catching the magician and seeing his secret.  My opinion is that the emphasis on the “hand being quicker than the eye” keeps the routine from being a put-down of the audience.  Instead it is a fun challenge with a surprise, but happy ending.  I have used it for many years and always to a positive response.

How’s Your Energy? (By Duane Laflin)

Blog Post_ How's Your Energy?My biggest concern in structuring a show is how it will “feel.”  By way of observation and experience I am convinced that even great tricks become unappreciated if they are used at the wrong time and place in a show.  Every trick and routine must be analyzed in light of the energy associated with it, and in light of the energy that was previous to it.

It is vital to understand that a show is not about how many good tricks the audience will see.  It is about how they will feel as they see the tricks.

I recently witnessed a troubling example of this in our local church.  A missionary came to share with us about his work in China. For reasons I do not understand, he decided to tell his life story, before actually talking about what he does overseas. The sharing of his life story took forty minutes. Our pastor usually only speaks for thirty-five minutes.

By the time the missionary finally got around to telling about what he does when overseas, no one cared to hear about it.  He had worn out and bored the congregation to the point that they were just anxious for him to say “amen” so the service would be finished.

His description of his work in China had no impact on our church because his presentation was poorly designed.  I’m sure what he does is a good thing.  I know that, if it had been presented properly, everyone in the church may have been interested and challenged by the mission.  Instead, the only thing remembered about the man is “he talked too long and said too little.”  (We hope he does not come back again.)

With the missionary, his message was lost by way of poor structure to his presentation. For magicians, our magic can be lost when our shows are structured poorly.  There is a sense in which we can make the same mistakes made by public speakers.  There are plenty of people with good things to say, yet nobody hears those things because of how they are said.  There are magicians who are not appreciated because of how they present their magic.

Essentially, the same things that a good speaker does to keep his presentation interesting, are things magicians need to do to keep their show interesting.

Here are some things I consider seriously when trying to ensure that a performance will have good energy:

  1. The show must start fast

There may be a place for talking to the audience in a casual and friendly way during the course of a program, but that place is not at the start.  In terms of energy, a show needs to start with “high energy.”

Think about production shows you see on television.  Do they start with someone seated in a chair and talking, or do they begin with upbeat song and dance?   They almost always begin with song and dance.

Consider well-produced sporting events.  Do they have a gentle beginning where competitors quietly step into view, or do the competitors enter the arena with smoke and fire being released while rock music plays in the background?  The bigger the event, the bigger the fireworks and excitement at the beginning.

My rule of thumb for the start of a show is simple.  “Say little and do much!”

  1. Do not let laughs get too far apart

Humor offers a unique kind of energy that keeps people happy and interested.   A good speaker will use jokes, in strategic points in his message, to keep the audience with them or to draw their attention back again.

I am not a comedy magician and most of my shows are aimed at portraying a classy and skillful image. Even so, I know the power of laughter.

Professional comedians often talk about taping their performances and then checking the time between laughs.  They know laughs must come quickly and often.  There is debate about how many “laughs per minute is good,” but it is not uncommon for a skillful comedian to hope for at least three or four laughs per minute.

Magicians do not need to focus on “laughs per minute” because we have other tools to entertain the audience.  Along with laughs we get “wow”, “aha”, “no way” etc..  Then too, we have interesting props and visual displays for people to enjoy.

I do not worry about “laughs per minute,” but I do want to get “laughs often.”  Basically, I do not want to go much more than five minutes without something funny being offered to the audience.  It may only be a quick joke or a brief comedy action, but something humorous needs to be put before the audience in an ongoing way.

Part of how I plan a show is by spacing out places where I know people will laugh.  It may be because of something I say, it may be because of something I will do, or it may be by way of what spectators will do when participating.  I want to make sure that laughs continue, here and there, throughout the show.

  1. Do not expect the audience to think too much.

People will concentrate to follow a clever mentalism routine and they will listen as you pose to them pieces of what becomes a magical puzzle.  In small and well-paced doses, this can go well.

If instead, an entire show is about thinking hard to appreciate mysterious happenings, most people will not like it.  The bottom line is, they are not there to “work” they are there to have fun.  If our tricks require them to focus, pay attention, and mentally follow things through, that becomes work.  If we ask them to do too much of this, we quickly lose them.

It is true that some extremely skilled entertainers are able to pull off mentalism shows that last an hour or more.  However, when is the last time you heard of a mentalism selling out a big theater or even a showroom?  (It can be done, but those who do it are exceptional.)

It seems a small segment of the population especially enjoys what might be called cerebral entertainment.  They are those who will buy tickets to see a mentalist.  A much larger segment of the population will turn out for a rock concert.   Rock concerts fill stadiums.  Mentally stimulating shows do not

Why? Because rock concerts are exciting and fun.  People are not asked to think at a rock concert. They are expected to relax and “enjoy the ride.”

Almost always, magicians are hired to provide entertainment.  We are not hired to help people expand their intellectual acumen, we are hired to add to the enjoyment of an occasion.

In practical terms, this means I want to present a show that allows people to “enjoy the ride.”  I try to keep things simple and fun.  If I realize, after putting together a preliminary running order for a show, that I have two or three slower paced and thought provoking routines in a row, I will change that.  A little bit of “thinking” is good.  For an entertainment program, a lot of “thinking” is usually bad.  It is better to mainly feature excitement, laughter, surprise, and astonishment.

Note

I believe this is a place where many magicians make mistakes and it is why people do not get much enjoyment out of the shows these magicians present.  The magicians put too much stock in “how hard something is to figure out.”  They load their shows with complicated mysteries thinking this will make the presentations extra impressive.  Most people would rather see fun mysteries than they would complicated mysteries.  They would rather view things that quickly cause them to think “wow” than they would view things that involve concentration and computations.

  1. Be careful about repetition

To me, this means I must be careful that tricks do not seem alike.  Obviously the Cut and Restored Rope and Professor’s Nightmare are two different tricks. Yet, to an audience, they both may be mainly perceived as rope tricks.

Whenever possible, I do not want to do two rope tricks in a show.  If possible, I want each trick in a show to be significantly different from all the other tricks in the show. When occasions come where I must do several tricks that involve similar props (such as tricks with silk handkerchiefs), I try to put as much space as possible between the similar tricks.

I would much prefer to have my running order by something like…

A trick with silk

A trick with rope

A trick with steel rings

A trick with a coke bottle

A trick with giant cards

A trick with a table

…than for it to be…

A silk trick

Another silk trick

A third silk trick

A rope trick

Another rope trick

A silk trick

Even if the tricks are good and the effects are different, too many tricks involving the same kind of thing are not good.

Note

It often is not possible to do a show, especially a long show, without some similarity in props and effect.  I have seen great performers, such as Andre Kole and David Copperfield, do several things in their shows that seem alike.

It is possible to keep an audience happy while doing similar things in the same show, but it is not easy. Most of us do not have the skills and charisma to pull it off successfully. If we are not careful, a crowd’s perception of “sameness” will lead them to think our shows are boring.

  1. Listen to the soundtrack

This is the easiest and best way I know to check the energy of a show.  Create a playlist for the show, then listen through it.  It may not be necessary to listen all the way through every song, but listen to each song long enough to get the feeling it gives, then click to the next song and assess the next feeling that comes (songs create emotion).

If you find you have several songs in a row that feel the same and sound the same, you know a change must be made.  Several songs of a similar nature mean the show will be slowed down and people will tire of the presentation.

Does a song seem too long?  Then the routine it will accompany may be too long.

Does a song go fast when at a point in the show when you would rather have a sense of contemplation?  Then the show sequence needs to be adjusted.

If you can put together a soundtrack that you truly enjoy listening too all the way through, then the show  should be enjoyable for the audience to experience.  If your own soundtrack bores you, or you find it hard to keep paying attention to it, then the show will probably be like that for the audience.

Routine for You: Giant Three Card Monte (By Duane Laflin)

Routine_ Giant Three Card Monte

This is another routine that fits the category of “professional presentation.”  It involves a prop that is comparatively expensive ($159.00), yet, in light of the value it offers for those who truly want to work with their magic, it is a bargain.

Even those who do not do many shows will find the prop to be a great value (if it fits the budget).  It allows for an entertaining routine that is amazing and fun.  Beyond that, it fills an expectation most audiences have that the magician will do some kind of big trick with cards.

Note

This is a trick some have avoided because they believe it should be done with an assistant who can help hold the giant cards.  I do perform it with an assistant and know of others who do the same.  However, an assistant is not necessary.  What you are about to read explains how the trick can be used by a solo performer.

What happens?

The magician shows the audience three giant cards.  Two are identical (King of clubs).  One is different (Queen of Hearts).

A guessing game is played with these three cards wherein the cards are turned so the backs are toward the audience and the audience is then asked to find the location of the Queen card.

The audience never finds the Queen.  After the game is played three times, the magician reveals that the Queen has completely vanished.  All he has are three cards that are exactly the same (King of Clubs).

How is it done?

This is a time when an incredibly good trick is also incredibly easy.  The cards are gimmicked so they change by themselves when turned end for end.  In other words, each of the three cards can either be a King of Queen.  It all depends on which way the card is turned over.

There is nothing complicated or difficult about the handling.  Anyone can do it.

Required

Note

The key to doing the trick as a solo presentation is having a place to stand up the cards.  Dollar Stores almost always carry “plate stands” which are small wire holders that allow plates to be displayed in an upright position.  They work perfectly for standing up the giant cards.  You only need two of the stands because the third card will be held in your hands.

Setup

Turn the cards so that two of them are Kings and one is a Queen.

Presentation

“It is time to play a game.  It is guessing game, actually a gambling game that teaches us a good lesson.  The lesson is, do not ever take the gamble called ‘Three Card Monte.’”

Show the giant cards.  Show each one individually.

“The game is played with only three cards. That is why so many people are deceived by it.  They think, How can I not win when the game only has three cards.

“What makes it seem even easier is two cards are the same.  The game is played with a King of Clubs and another King of Clubs.  Only one card is different, the Queen of Hearts.

“Here is how the game happens.  The gambler puts the two Kings on display, but turns them so the backs only can be seen.

“Next, he takes the Queen and switches her with one of the Kings.  Like this.”

Put the two Kings on the stands with backs outwards.  When you do this, turn one of the Kings so it becomes a Queen.

When you exchange the Queen with one of the Kings, turn her so she becomes a King (back is outwards so audience does not see this.)  Switch the Queen, which is now a King, with the King that you turned into a Queen.

“The gamble happens. Onlookers are asked to bet a dollar they can find the queen.  People always do it because they think, iI is obvious, I know right where she is.

“However, onlookers always get it wrong!”

Show that the Queen is not where expected.  In fact, she is back again in your hand.

Repeat this another time. Move the cards around and, in the process, turn them over as necessary so the Queen is not where expected.  Ask the audience to guess the location of the Queen and they will be incorrect.

The third time you do this, turn all the cards so none of them will be a Queen.  Ask the audience to guess the location and show them there was no way they could get it right.

“You see, the gambler cheats.  The chosen card will never been seen for actually…there is no Queen!  That is why it is not good to play Three Card Monte!”

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Babies (By Duane Laflin)

Blog Post_ Don't Fall in Love with Your Babies

Forgive the title of this article.  If applied to daily life and family, it certainly is bad advice.  However, when used to point out an important concept relating to show business, it can be extremely helpful.  Performers tend to have babies.  This means they have a trick, joke, idea or routine that they bring into their performance with passion.  They are excited about it.  It is likely to be something that is original to them.  They probably have invested in it by way of time, effort, and money.  It is something they like very much.  They might love it.

The problem is, it may not be something that is right for the show.  Worse yet, although the performer views it as a wonderful thing, it may be flawed.  Even great magicians do, on occasion, have bad ideas.  When an idea is one’s “baby”, it is hard to recognize and accept the possibility that it is not worthwhile.

My wife loves babies (real ones).  I do not believe she has ever seen a homely baby.  I have.  Actually, I have seen some babies that I thought looked totally unappealing.  Mary has seen these same little ones and sincerely said, “Isn’t she beautiful!” Or, “Isn’t he cute?”  (In such instances I have learned to keep my opinion to myself.)  I do have a big place in my heart for babies and children, but I guess I see them differently than someone who has actually given birth.

The simple point in this is that some people are less likely to see imperfections than others.  Typically the people who are least likely to see a fault or detriment are those who have the biggest emotional attachment to whatever is being viewed.

In applying this matter to show business, it is good to consider a statement attributed to Lance Burton, “More important than what you put into a show is what you take out of it”.  He was saying that subtraction has more to do with enhancing a show than does addition.

I have faced this matter before.  In putting together the preliminary script for our 2013 version of Grand Magic, a new illusion called “Funnels Of Mystery” was placed into the early part of the first half of the show.  I worked hard to come up with a clever segue into the presentation of this effect and also figured out a neat way to follow it with the “Vanishing Ketchup Bottle” trick.  In conjunction with the Ketchup Bottle, we came up with a line that seemed smart and funny.  I would comment about needing to go backstage to “catch up” with my assistants and prepare for what would come next. (Ketchup – “catch up”)

I was absolutely sure this was a good thing and basically viewed it as a non-negotiable part of the script.  The “Funnels Of Mystery” would definitely be in the first portion of the show.  The “catch up” line would definitely be funny.

With the matter settled, I continued to work on the rest of the script.  I eventually got it all lined out and on paper, it looked fine.  However, in the back of my mind, there was a nagging feeling that something was out of place.

The nagging feeling was strong enough that I kept returning to the script to see if some kind of snag or error would appear.  I listened to the show’s soundtrack again, even though I had already listened to it numerous times, thinking this might help me identify a weakness or error.  No problem became evident.  I decided the nagging feeling was to be ignored and I should go ahead with the script as planned.

Then I went out on our stage and tried to walk and talk through what I had in mind for the show.  We played the music for every routine, and verbally worked through all transitions and speaking portions of the program.  Even though, on the level of the individual parts of the show, everything seemed good, the overall show was coming out to be too long.  In particular, the first part of the show was supposed to be fifty minutes in length.  It was coming in at sixty.  This confirmed that the script was not good enough.  Something about it had to be changed and something in it had to be removed.  Once again I analyzed the script and could not figure out what to do.  It seems foolish now, but for a while I thought, “Maybe we should just go ahead and let the first part of the show be sixty minutes long.  Everything seems so strong.  I cannot see any problems.”

It took a long drive across the country (as part of a lecture tour), and listening to the soundtrack of the show yet again and again, to finally identify and accept the flaw.                    The “Funnels Of Mystery” did not belong in the first half of the show.  The segue I had planned to introduce it was not necessary.  Also, if the illusion were to be used in the second part of the show rather than the first, we could dispense with the “Vanishing Ketchup Bottle” trick and accompanying joke.  By making these changes, the first segment of the show would be cut down to fifty minutes and the pacing of the overall program would be much improved.  This adjustment was made and the result was amazing.  Suddenly, when walking, talking, and thinking through the show, everything seemed perfect.  Once we did something about my “baby”, the problem was solved.

In itself, there was nothing wrong with the “Funnels Of Mystery”.  It is a wonderful illusion.  There was also nothing wrong with the “Vanishing Ketchup Bottle” trick.  It would have fooled the audience and garnered a laugh.  The problem was with me.  Like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole, I was forcing a good trick into a bad place.  I was forcing another trick into the show that did not need to be there at all. Fortunately, my poor judgment became evident in time to make proper corrections.  “The Vanishing Ketchup Bottle” and the “catch up” joke was not in the 2013 version of Grand Magic.  The trick is great and I like the joke, but the show was better without them.  The “Funnels Of Mystery” was in the show, but in the second half rather than the first, and with a different segue and transition than what we originally planned.  This too made the show better.

I had to admit that my great idea was not as great as I had originally thought.  I had to throw out “my baby”.  This is not an easy thing for anyone to do.  Nevertheless, there are times when it must be done and it hurts our careers if we do not do it.

Here are a couple of practical thoughts on the general matter.

1. The right trick at the wrong time is the wrong trick. 

Many years ago I decided to join a community choral group that was planning to sing Handel’s Messiah for a Christmas concert.  I have no formal musical training and cannot read music.  However, I do have a pretty good ear.  This meant, once I heard the notes of the songs, I could sing them on pitch, but since I could not understand the written score, I did not always know when the notes were supposed to be sung.  On several occasions I sung out when it was not appropriate to do so.  On one such occasion the music director kindly said, “Duane, the right note sung at the wrong time is the wrong note”.  This meant I needed to learn the score.  It was not enough to be able to make a good sound.  It had to fit properly with everything else that was going on.  The music director was not very impressed that I could sing on key.  What she wanted was for me to blend and harmonize with the other singers.

The application of this to magicians is to understand, in terms of a program, that it is possible to make a mistake in positioning a trick.  To rephrase what the music director told me, “the right trick at the wrong time is the wrong trick“.  The pacing of a show is of tremendous importance.  If a trick does not properly fit the energy and mood required at the point in the program where it is used, the trick will be ineffective.  Even an awesome trick may have its impact reduced or entirely lost.

It should also be kept in mind that, not only can a good trick be in a wrong place, there are times when a good trick does not belong in a show at all.  A show is an entity created by a series of individual tricks and routines that work together.  The better the individual pieces of a show fit with one-another, the better a show will be.  It isn’t great tricks that make a great show, it is the making of great choices about great tricks that makes a great show.  There are occasions when a great choice means a “baby” must be tossed out.  We must not let our love for a trick cause us to put it into a place where it does not belong.

2. Do not let the cost of a prop determine its placement in a program.

Especially when a prop has come our way at a high price, it is hard to admit to ourselves that it should be left out of a show. This is another thing I had to deal with in developing my show.  I decided I could save myself money, rather than having a professional builder do it for me, by building an illusion on my own.  After a trip to the local building supplies store, and the investment of hundreds of dollars, I went to work on the project.  It took a lot of time and labor. When finished, the illusion did not operate as it should.  It looked fine and most of it was functional, but a couple of things were wrong and I did not have the ability to fix them.  It took me a month to be able to say, “I have to toss it out. It is wasted effort”.  Tossing it out meant a loss.  It was essentially “money down the drain”.  However, if I had refused to toss it out, the quality of the show would have been compromised.

A willingness to turn away from where money has been spent (hopefully not too much), and moving on from that, can be a benefit to a show.  The expense of an item can make it a “baby” and thereby lead us to giving it unmerited prominence.  It is wise to allow ourselves to forget about price tags and focus instead on the degree of entertainment mystery we are able to create.  If something stays in the show, it should be because it makes the show better, not because it cost a lot.  If something needs to be removed from a show, in spite of the investment it represents, it should be removed.

3. Do not let the degree of difficulty determine the placement of a routine in a program.

Another daunting challenge for most magicians is being willing to recognize and accept it when, after practicing long and hard to learn something difficult, audiences do not care to see what we have learned.

This seems to most commonly be true about card manipulations.  Because a performer has put tremendous effort into mastering back-palming, and other card moves, he wants to spend a significant part of his performance doing these things for his audience.  The truth is, more than two or three minutes of card productions, fans, etc., is almost always a mistake.

Beyond the matter of working with cards, I think nearly all magicians who take time to learn sleight of hand maneuvers want to use them extensively. They assume that, because the moves are technically advanced, they must also provide advanced entertainment.  Such is rarely the case.  If one magician does a coin trick with gimmicks that do most of the work for him, while another magician creates the same effect by pure sleight of hand, most audiences will not know the difference.  Methods are not what matter.  Effects and entertainment value are what matter.

If we work hard to create an effect, so hard that the effect becomes one of our “babies,“ then discover that the effect is met with mediocre or weak response, we need to take the effect out of the show.  We must not let the fact that we have diligently gone down the wrong path cause us to remain on that path.

4. Remember that when good material goes out of date, it is no longer good.

I recently heard a magician say, “And I give the bag two taps, one hot and one cold”.  There was a time when this might have been a clever line.  This would have been in days when people referred to the sources of water in their homes as taps rather than faucets.  The magician’s audience consisted mainly of young families.  Very few people in the crowd understood the reference to “taps” and no one laughed about it.  It was obvious that he had been using the line for many years.  Unfortunately, he did not understand that the line no longer had value.

About twenty-five years ago I worked a line into my show about the entertainer Michael Jackson.  It was not a “put-down” or joke at his expense.  It was a funny take on his stardom at the time and it got a big laugh.  This comedy line was my “baby“.  I always looked forward to the place in the show where I would say it.

As time went by, positive response to the joke diminished.  The big laugh was no longer there because Michael Jackson was not in the news like he once had been.  I realized this and had to let  my “baby” go.  The line was removed from the show.  (I confess that I probably told the joke a few more times than I should have.  I really disliked giving up on it!)

There are not many jokes or funny expressions that are timeless.  Patter is something that needs to be constantly assessed and updated.  A good performer understands that what works this year may not work next year.  It may not even work in coming months.  When jokes and funny lines get diminishing returns, they should be retired.

5. If something does not seem right about the show, do not assume that your favorite routine is not the problem.

Church groups are familiar with the expression “sacred cows”.  This means there are certain subjects that are not open for discussion.  Minds have been made up about these things long ago and there is nothing to re-examine.  The problem with “sacred cows” is that sometimes there is something wrong with them.  The fact that people refuse to look at them again means needed corrections cannot be made.

A magician must not have any “sacred cows”.  He should be willing to change any aspect of his show that might need to be changed.  It should not matter that “This is how I have always done it”, or “When I did it like this in the past everyone loved it“.  If a time comes when there is a better way, we should pursue the better way.  Even if we think, Everyone expects me to do this, or I am known for this particular routine, if moving into new and different territory means making improvements, we should be willing to go the new direction.

I am not suggesting that our favorite or signature routines should be viewed as the first things we need to change.  It may be that such things will never need to be changed.  I am saying that we must not allow them to be untouchable.  In terms of show business, we can’t fall in love with “our babies”.  As long as we conduct ourselves ethically and stay true to our core values, we should be willing and open to making any adjustments that our performances require.

Conclusion

The greatness of a show is more important than the greatness of individual tricks, routines, and jokes.  Decisions about parts and pieces of a show must be guided by how smaller things affect the big picture.