Just Getting Started in Magic?

I have heard it a number of times over the years and every time I hear it I feel bad.  It is when someone says,  “Oh, I tried magic, but gave up on it. I just couldn’t do it.”

That statement troubles me for two reasons.

First of all, I’m sorry to learn that a person has given up on the fun and wonder magic can provide.

Second, I am peeved that the person probably received bad advice, was sold cheap props, or had both things happen. This led to belief that “I can’t do magic.” The problem was not with the person, it was with inferior equipment and the frustration that resulted from not knowing how to move forward at the right pace.

The matter of cheap props and inferior equipment is a sad reality in magic. In this age of the internet people are accustomed to doing a search to find who sells items at the lowest price. Knowing this, there are sellers who try to have the lowest prices irregardless of quality. Especially when it comes to magic props, the lowest price is not always the best deal.

It is easy to understand how a person would think, Why should I purchase a Change Bag from one seller at $35.00 when there is another seller who offers Change Bags for only $7.00 each?

What the person does not understand is the huge difference that can exist between a low priced Change Bag and a higher priced Change Bag. Change Bags are not all the same.

I was recently at a magic convention where a dealer in the vendor room was selling Change Bags for $7.00 each. At the end of the convention he had several left. His display was located right next to ours. He leaned over and said, “Hey, want to buy these from me. I will sell all of them to you for only $3.50 each. You can easily double your money, or you can mark them up to $10.00 each and they will still sell.”

I refused the deal. He was surprised, He said, “How can you turn down such a low price?” I said, “I don’t sell junk.” He didn’t like my answer.

I didn’t really care that he didn’t like my answer.  Over the course of the convention I had been disturbed by repeatedly hearing his sales pitch that, “This is the best price on a Change Bag you will ever get. Everyone needs a Change Bag. Get them from me!”

I knew this Change Bag did not work properly. The lever was hard to move and, when the switchover was made, the bag did not fully line up under the hoop. Uninformed customers would not know this. They would not understand they were getting a bad version of an otherwise wonderful prop. Trusting the person who sold it to them, they would likely assume this is what a Change Bag is supposed to be. When trying to use it and having trouble they might then also assume, I can’t even make a Change Bag work, maybe magic isn’t for me. I was distressed to see people purchasing something with which I knew they would have a bad experience.

Apart from the matter of ethics and integrity, magic dealers who sell inferior props and equipment are robbing themselves of future customers. Having a bad experience with a magic trick will rarely lead a person back to the same business to purchase something else.

The lesson is: Value quality above price. Price can quickly be forgotten. The quality of your purchase will stare you in the face for a long time. Be careful to research what you intend to buy and be careful to acquire good props. Well-made magic tricks make it much easier to find success in doing magic. It is hard to feel good about performing when your equipment is mostly junk and you know it!

Even if you do not always get the lowest price, in the long run, supporting reputable businesses that stand behind their products is the best way to go.  If you want to do good magic, invest in good equipment!

Then there is the issue of moving forward at the right pace. Another thing some magic dealers do is work hard to make a sale without concern about the buyer’s ability to actually perform what is sold. They will push a card trick onto a customer that, if a person can already do advanced card sleights, truly is a great trick. When a beginner purchases such a trick, but does not know the required moves, the conclusion I can’t do magic may come quickly.

Relatively early in my magic career I visited a magic shop and watched on unscrupulous demonstrator in action. He showed an amazing trick. customers jumped to purchase it. What the customers did not realize was the impressiveness of the trick was a result of the demonstrator working behind a large counter. The barrier allowed him to secretly drop things down and out of sight. He could let things fall all the way to the floor and no one would notice. Those who bought the trick were not likely to be standing behind such a counter when trying to perform the same trick. Without the giant hiding place, not only would the trick not be impressive, it would be difficult to do at all. Customers would be disappointed in their investment. The demonstrator obviously did not care whether or not his customers would have success with what he was selling them.

Those who sell magic have a responsibility to care about the ability of purchasers to perform what is sold. I applaud magic dealers who provide video instruction to ensure their customers will find success. I greatly appreciate magic dealers who try to assess a customer’s experience and skills before suggesting the purchase of a particular prop. I am thankful for magic dealers who have made the commitment “not to sell junk” and I wish more would make such a commitment.

On the part of customers, it is wise and necessary to “begin at the beginning.” Entry into the performance of magic tricks should involve doing things which are simple. Start with things you are confident you can do. There are many easy tricks which are nevertheless wonderful tricks. This is much better than trying to “start at the top.” It will encourage you to keep on learning and eventually advance to more difficult things.

As well, do not make the mistake of rushing out to buy an item just because you see it used by a famous magician on television, or a professional performer on stage. If you do not have the knowledge and abilities of the person you see, the trick may not work for you.

As exciting as it is to try to immediately know everything there is to know relating to magic, and to quickly acquire fancy clever props, keep in mind the need to “get there from here.” Build a foundation by learning the proper use of basic props and apparatus. Become familiar with the standards of magic (Change Bag, Ghost Tube, Square Circle, Drawer Box, etc). Start working on fundamental sleight of hand moves such as the French Drop and Thumb Palm. Master things like this and then move to the next level. Those who take this approach typically find magical success. Better yet, the fun of doing magic stays with them for years to come.

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Make a Production out of Using Silks and Streamers (By Duane Laflin)

A few years ago in one of our shows, I dug out a prop I had not used for several years.  It is a production box, called the “Hank Box,” made by Joe Eddie Fairchild.  It allows for a huge production of silks.  We created a presentation, using that prop, that played extremely well.  In fact, it may have been one of the most impressive features in the show.

The key to using a prop like the “Hank Box” to create a great effect is in the display of the items that are magically produced.  

This is a very important matter to understand.  It is not enough that we can bring a lot of things out of a space that seems to be empty.  The way we bring those things out, and the style in which we show them to the audience, is critical to the strength of the trick.

There is an often told story relating to a past convention of the Fellowship Of Christian Magicians, where a well meaning gentleman made an immense production of silks from a large drawer box.  He showed the drawer box empty at the start of his presentation, then simply opened it up and pulled out one silk after another.  He had packed it as full of silks as possible.  

As each silk was produced, he spread it out between his hands so the audience could see it, then dropped it into a laundry basket.  He did this again and again.  It did not matter if the silk was a solid color or if it had a picture on it.  He solemnly displayed it, then put it into the basket.  This went on and on and on.

As the routine progressed, the legend is that his production went on for more than ten minutes, but no one knows for sure, people in the audience began to laugh.  This performer commented out loud, “I don’t know why this is funny”.  People were laughing because, the longer the routine went on, the more absurd it became.  The trick itself was not entertaining.  It was truly boring.  The humor came in because the man did not realize it was boring and he seemed to have no clue as to the fact that what he was doing made no sense.  His act was so ridiculous, it unintentionally became funny.

It may have been the largest ever production of silks from a drawer box, but no one cared.  Instead, the man’s attempt at great magic became a story to tell over coffee when laughing about foolish things magicians do.

I do not mean to put down the man.  I’m sure his heart was in the right place.  He did not understand this important adage for magicians:

“Do not do it just because you can.”

The object in a silk production is not to produce as many silks and streamers as possible.  It is to make their appearance as entertaining as possible.

Recently I found myself once again commenting about the negative attitude some magicians have about props.  There are those who look down their noses at anyone who uses a Square Circle, Mirror Box, Genii Tube, etc.  They seem to think if one is a real magician, he will not need to resort to performing with apparatus.

I briefly even put my response to this kind of thinking on Facebook.  There are many great magicians who use props.  Johnny Thompson uses a Genii Tube in his act.  Drew Thomas, who is involved in the largest magic show in the world to be performed on a cruise ship, uses a Square Circle.  Marvyn Roy used a pared down version of the “Organ Pipes” in his sensational act.

The issue is not the use of apparatus, it is how it is used.  When Marvyn and Carol produced silks and streamers from the nested tubes, they swirled them in the air and moved back and forth across the stage.  It was a choreographed production that played well enough to be featured as part of Liberace’s traveling show.  When Johnny and Pam Thompson bring a streamer out of the Genii Tube, it goes across the stage, behind the stage, then comes out again from the other side.

Too many magicians, in particular those who are only hobbyists and amateurs, think that a production is all about volume.  Their approach is, the more I can bring out of this box, the more amazed the audience will be! 

It is definitely true that the larger the production in comparison to the size of the apparatus, the more impressive the trick.  However, this only works when the production is done in a pleasing manner.  Here are some key things to consider about producing silks and streamers:

  1. Pace.  The production needs to keep moving and, as a general rule, needs to happen fast.  In this, do not forget that a change of pace can be good.  Therefore, after quickly revealing some silks and streamers, you might want to slow down for a few moments to create extra emphasis on the idea of “how much more can be in there?”  Then speed up again for a climax that has some punch to it.
  1. Size.  If the streamers are long, this should be emphasized to the audience.  It is ideal to have someone help you stretch them out.  A volunteer can be recruited to do so.  Instruct the person to take one end of the streamer and walk down the aisle or up into the balcony.  When the audience understands how long the streamer is, the impression is greater.  The same thing applies to large picture silks.  If you are tall enough to display them between your arms, that is fine.  Otherwise consider having someone take one corner and spread out the silk.  If you have an assistant, this can be done with flourish.  If there is no assistant, it is still good to find a volunteer who can come on stage to help with this (maybe the organizer of the event could do so, it is a good way to give him or her extra attention).
  1. Variety.  The saying is, “Variety is the spice of life”.  It is a familiar saying because it is based on truth.  Repetition of the same or similar things becomes boring.  If the first few streamers you produce are multi-colored, next bring out one that is a solid color.  If you are producing beautiful pattern silks, interrupt the sequence with a really ugly silk or funny picture.  After producing some long streamers, bring out one that is short and do a double take as if “How did that get in there?”  Make changes to keep the production interesting.

It also needs to be said that audiences do enjoy the color, pace, and size of a big silk production. It has been referred to as “candy for the eyes”.  It is fun to see because it is exciting and beautiful.  Do not let someone convince you that modern audiences are not interested in production effects.  When such effects are done, as they should be done, they receive a marvelous response.

Another factor to consider about production effects is the time it takes in preparing them.  This is one reason why many magicians do not do them.  The routine we designed for the Christmas show, with all of us working together on it, took at least ten minutes to set.  Doing this once isn’t bad, but when it is done for repeat performances, it gets old.

However, it is worth it!  It is effort that pays off.

I remember an occasion when Fukai and I were sitting backstage, getting ready for a big stage show in Singapore.  It takes Fukai two hours to set his act.  The silk act I was doing in those days took more than one hour to set.  I think a reason why Fukai and I became such good friends is, over the years, we sat next to each other for so many hours back stage, getting our acts ready.  Fukai commented that everyone else was out relaxing, while we were preparing.  I said something like, “Where did we go wrong?”  Fukai said, “No, we did it right.  How many magicians do you know who get to perform around the world?  Not many.  We do what we do, because we are willing to do the extra work to prepare!”

There are plenty of lazy magicians who never achieve their potential.  We do not need to be among them.  So what that it takes extra work to fold the streamers and pack the silks.  If the result is spectacular, let’s go for it.

The conclusion in this is, huge silk productions still play great, as long as they are done in an entertaining style!

Listen to the Music (When Planning Your Show) By Duane Laflin

A few weeks ago I put together a show for a new venue. I was to present an hour of magical entertainment to guests at a resort. In preparing the show I sat down, as I usually do, and wrote out a possible running order.  Based on things I have done in the past, while guided by the desire to try a few new things, I put together a plan that looked good to me.

I stepped away from my intended plan for a couple of hours, then came back to it to see if there were refinements to be made. I usually do this. I have discovered, if I prepare something I think is good, then stop looking at it for a while, often, when I come back to it, I usually see something to change for the better.

Small improvements were made and I was satisfied. It appeared it would be a good show.

The next step in preparation was to create a playlist for the show music on my laptop. I did this, then did a quick listen to the songs. I did not listen to each song all the way through, but did listen briefly to how each song began and how each song sounded in relation to the music before and after it.

During the process of listening to the music, I realized several things about the running order needed to be changed. Some tricks/routines were not in the right spots after all.  Guided by the music, I made changes and ended up with a show order that seemed better.

When I actually did the show, the show order was right.  The person who booked me was pleased with the show and the audience was enthusiastic in expressing their appreciation. Everything went well. The occasion was a magical success.

I think it important to notice that the music of the show essentially had the final say in how the show would go.  I never doubt this concept: If the music doesn’t feel right, something about the show is not right.

Here is why I believe the music must have the final say in relation to the running order of a show: Hearing the music of the show is the best way to sense the structure and pace of a show before it actually happens.

How a show is paced is critical to a successful performance. There must be variety and novelty. There must be particular strong points in a presentation. The music one intends to use with a show mirrors the emotional character of the show itself.

When listening to the music in order to evaluate the structure of a show I pay attention to the following…

  • Do too many songs sound the same? Even though they may be different songs, if the tempo and length of the songs are similar to one-another they will seem the same to an audience. I do not want three songs in a row, actually I do not even want two songs in a row, that seem alike. Relating to an entire show, my hope is each routine will have a unique personality of its own. For each routine to have a unique personality, each song used must have a unique personality or “feel” as well.
  • Does listening to the soundtrack hold my attention? If I cannot stay focused on my own soundtrack, and if I am not personally entertained by it, the show will not be strong to hold the attention of the audience. I’ve learned this by experience. If the show is going to be great the soundtrack must be great.  If a soundtrack bores me, the show will bore others.
  • Are there songs which suggest humor? There needs to be music in several key places that indicates the audience will be smiling, maybe even laughing.
  • Is there, somewhere near the end of the show, a song that seems especially beautiful? As the end of a show nears, I want to have a place in the performance where I know hearts are likely to be touched by what is happening. A beautiful song is key to this occurring.
  • Do I like my opening music? This is an obvious matter, but sometimes it gets compromised. Because it can be a challenge to find a terrific opening song, there are occasions where one settles for ‘this will do’ when it should be ‘this is great.’ There are times when, after listing to my opening music, I realize I need get back to the research process and work harder at finding ideal music to get a particular show started.
  • Does my closing music offer an “exclamation point” kind of feeling to the performance?  Does it provide a punch and level of excitement that signifies a full and complete experience has been provided?

On the one hand this is a simple thing: Listen to the music of your show before actually doing the show to evaluate the strength of the show.

On the other hand it can be a challenge. If the show is to be an hour long, this means you need to give nearly an hour to listening to the soundtrack. It may be difficult to find time to do this.

I suggest putting a potential soundtrack into your phone, iPod, MP3 player or even on a CD.  Listen to it while you drive or workout.  Let it play in the background while doing chores around the house. If you hear things you do not like, make changes. If you do like what you hear, it will lead to being more familiar with the show itself (by way of ongoing mental review as the music is heard) and thereby prepare you for better performance.

Final thought: For a show of major importance (such as a theatrical illusion show) I always review the soundtrack multiple times while preparing for the performance. For some shows, I have done this repeatedly over the course of many months.

For a show where less is at stake, such as doing something simple for a local venue, I probably will not listen all the way through every song on the planned soundtrack (especially when I already know the songs well). Nevertheless, I will listen to at least the beginning and end of each song in relation to the songs before and after. This helps me be sure the flow of the show is what it should be.

What Audiences Want (By Duane Laflin)

As this article begins I must admit frustration. While researching a speech for musicians, I came across a fascinating blog written by a man who coaches country singers on how to put on a great concert. I copied a statement from the blog and moved on with my research. Later, when reviewing the copied statement, I decided I should learn more about the man who made it. For reasons I cannot figure out, I was unable to once again find his blog. I used every search term I could think of, but nothing worked.

Therefore, I cannot tell you more about the man. I wish I could. His blog was well written and clearly he was a credible source. I know nothing else to say about him.  Nevertheless, I want to share his statement. I felt it an extremely important insight.

He was talking about the need for those who do concerts to understand why people are in attendance. He said,

“These people did not come to just hear you sing. If that is all they want, they could hear you on the radio, download your music, or purchase your CDs.”

He went to explain that people attend concerts for a relational experience. Specifically he said,

“People come to a concert for three reasons: They want to be captivated and engaged, they want to experience a moment, and they want to have their lives changed.”

This observation was consistent with everything else I found in the research process. Whether an academic journal or the opinion of a common individual posting  response to an open query, again and again the answer to the question, “Why do people go to live shows and concerts” is “for the social experience.”

People go to shows to be part of something that involves other people. They are there in person (rather than staying home and watching a digital device) because they value an experience involving other human beings.

This is a profound concept for performers/entertainers to understand.  Many entertainers, whether magicians, musicians, or something else, believe people come to their performances to experience their talent. Magicians tend to think, They are here to see my tricks!  Musicians believe, They are here to hear me sing.  Actors assume, They are here to watch me act.

Such are incorrect assumptions. People do not attend so they can see what a performer is able to do. They attend for sake of the human interaction that accompanies and surrounds what the performer is able to do. The performance is important as a catalyst and sustainment for what should be a wonderful social experience, but the performance is not what the event is really about. It is about the experience the performance creates for the people who are there.

To understand this better, I return to the three reasons for attending a live  concert, as expressed by the man in his blog.  According to him, the first reason people attend is to be captivated and engaged. What does this mean?

I. TO CAPTIVATE AND ENGAGE

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “captivated” as: having one’s interest or attention held or captured by something or someone charming, beautiful, entertaining, etc.  This definition makes it clear that captivation involves two parties. The one who is captivated and the one who is doing the captivating. This is a relationship.

The same dictionary defines “engaged” with the following three words: involved in activity.  Involvement is much different than spectating. When someone says, “I don’t want to get involved,” they are saying they want to remain at a distance. The person who says, “I want to be involved,” is desiring to be right in the middle of what is happening.

What should this mean to a performer? He or she must not make the mistake of simply viewing audience members as spectators.  It is much better to view them as participants. Since they come with a desire to be captivated and engaged, we should work to captivate and engage them. It is a mistake to only focus on how they will watch or listen. The questions we must ask ourselves is What kind of experience am I creating for them? And am I helping these persons feel part of something special?

This matter goes beyond having a couple of audience participation tricks in a show. It is a great to do things that bring volunteers on stage, but volunteers are only a small representation of the larger group. If volunteers are involved, but the rest of the audience remains disengaged, the performance will not be as effective as it could be. There must be an effort to make the entire audience feel they are part of the occasion.

How is this achieved? It is not as difficult as one might think. Fundamentally it requires making specific points of connection with the audience. Here are some practical suggestions as to how to do it…

  • Ask the group questions that allow them all to respond. Questions such as “What city are you from?” or “What state are you from?” work well. They suggest that people in the audience have an identity that matters. It is not uncommon to hear good entertainers say, “Shout it out if you are from Iowa! Shout it out if you are from Kansas! Shout it out if you are from Indiana!” It is a technique to get people involved. If is not likely that different states are represented, try distance. “How many of you live within one mile of this place?” “How many come from within five miles?” How many live more than five miles away?” Then say, “Whether you have come from near or far, we are so glad you are here!” Have them clap and cheer for themselves because they made the decision to attend the event. Personally, I like to use humorous questions such as “How many of you are seeing me for the very first time and how many of you have seen me before?” Or, “I am curious about how many of you do not like to raise your hands, so please raise your hand to let me know you do not like to raise your hand.” The purpose of this kind of thing is to engage the audience and make them feel there is a relationship between themselves and you. When you say something to which they respond a two-way   or “back and forth” connection is established.
  • Recognize special events such as birthdays and anniversaries. This is a common technique used in a show-town such as Branson, Missouri. A performer will ask, “Are there any birthdays today? Or “Are there any anniversaries today?” If so, he will recognize the individuals and have the group sing to them. Some may wonder, Why does he, a big name entertainer, take time to find out about a common person’s birthday? Actually, on the entertainer’s part, it is brilliant strategy. It creates true fans. People see the performer as one who actually pays attention to persons in the audience. Another angle is to try to find out something such as who has been married the longest. “How many have been married ten years, twenty years, thirty years, etc.”  As people respond to this kind of thing, or witness it happening to people they know, they feel a sense of recognition. The performer is paying attention to them. He seems to want to know his audience. This is appreciated. It helps people feel part of what is going on.
  • When working with youth the “Sit Down If” game is a great tool. This game begins with everyone in the audience standing up. Then, as questions are asked, people are to sit down if the answer applies to them. The performer will say, “Sit down if you have never seen a Ninja Turtle Movie.” “Sit down if you ate a banana within the past week.” “Sit down if you have ever eaten rattlesnake or alligator meat.” “Sit down if you tried to get a kiss on a first date.” “Sit down if you have ever been grounded because of how messy your bedroom is.” Questions continue until everyone is back in a seat.  In the process, people learn about one another and get a chance to laugh at themselves. (This requires preparation of a good list of interesting and fun questions that apply to the particular audience. it is worth the effort.)
  • Use “Warmup” and “Wake-up” techniques. Many magicians like to use the bit where people clasp their hands and, in imitation of the actions of the magician, try to turn their thumbs up. (The magician tricks them in this.) The value of this is it being a group experience. Everyone participates. There is a sense of common identity. (There are many such physical action techniques. If you are not aware of them, books are available that teach them.)
  • Singers can add songs to their set list that call for the audience to sing along or sing out an answer. This literally makes the audience part of the show. There will be at least one place in the show, maybe several places, where the entire audience is making the music. A magician or comedy entertainer is not likely to have a “sing-along,” but he or she can do things that lead to a vocal response from the audience. Classic “turn-it-around” tricks such as the Hippity Hop Rabbits are great for this. Kids will definitely speak out. If the audience is more sophisticated, it is still possible to do something that calls for people to say, “Ooh and aah.” I have a routine the plays like an old-fashioned melodrama where people make sound effects for various things that occur. It goes over well and definitely aids in establishing a sense of a group/social experience.
  • Laughter, happening in context of an audience, is a social experience. This is why, even if not comedian, performers should hope to have several places in their shows where people laugh. Laughter is an instantly recognizable group response. Everyone (or almost everyone) is doing it. It is a way of saying, “I get this! I am part of this! I relate to this!” It is a form of communication and relationship.

The purpose of this article is not that of teaching specific audience involvement techniques. Therefore the list above is long enough for now. I trust the point is obvious. Rather than performing for an audience, an good entertainer works to build a relationship with the audience. At all costs the sense must be avoided that the performer is in one place (on the stage) and the audience is in another (in the seats). The performer cannot be someone who is simply being watched or heard from a distance. There must be the feeling that we are all in this together and here we are, instant friends, who are having a good time in the same place!

II. TO EXPERIENCE A MOMENT

The second thing the man who wrote about putting on a good concert said was people attend to “experience a moment.”  This is another vital insight.  A great performer will have places in his or her show where “moments” are especially likely to occur.

The matter of “having a moment” has worked its way into modern culture as a common expression. Essentially it means the mundane and routine has paused as something special is happening. There is a sudden awareness of life, beauty, and value.

In spite of the expression “having a moment” being a popular term in current culture, it really is not a new idea. The ancient Greeks understood and identified it. They had at least two different notions of time. There was CHRONOS which was viewed as the actual measure of time and there was KAIROS which was significant time. You might say KARIOUS was reference to occasions when one is particularly aware of being alive.

We all should understand this. There are moments in our lives that stand out. We know, at that instant in time, that something is different from the usual. We likely realize we will look back on the particular moment and long remember it.

A few years ago I attended a playoff football game with my son David. We both wore orange Denver Bronco stocking caps. It was very cold (about ten degrees).  When the game finished with a Bronco victory, we stood together to clap and cheer. It was a “moment for me.” With my son next to me, in the midst of the raucous crowd, feeling somewhat dwarfed by the huge stadium, the full experience came together as a spot in time when I was super aware of one of the treasures in my life (the father-son relationship).

People who go to concerts and shows hope, in context of the performance, to experience such a thing. They may not consciously identify this desire, but it is there. They want it to happen.

After one of the shows on our recent tour a man came up to me with many kind compliments. While expressing his excitement about our levitation effect he said, “It wasn’t just an amazing illusion…” He briefly stumbled for words then continued, “It was  beautiful. I was so glad to see it.”  That same night, while doing the same illusion, I saw two ladies rise to their feet with tears in their eyes. They stood and clapped their hands while crying, as they watched the effect. They continued to do this throughout the routine. For them, it was a moment.

I confess, on that particular night, our entire Grand Magic team felt the same moment. I don’t know what was different about the performance, but something extra special occurred. (Maybe our view of the “moment” occurring for audience members result in a “moment” for us too.)

It may be the most common time “moments” are experienced is when children say or do something wonderful. As the floating table rises in the air a child can react with such wonder that a “moment” is created for everyone. During the “snowstorm” trick, children who raise their hands in the air with joy to feel the snow around them…can make a moment for all.

Actually, sometimes when something goes wrong a “moment” results.  Early in our career, while I was moving a prop across the stage, a leg broke off it and it crashed to the floor. Mary was inside.  When Mary stuck her head out of the prop with a funny expression on her face, and pointed her finger at me as if I was in trouble, a wonderful moment was created. Everyone there knew they were seeing something never seen before and not likely to be seen again. They were “there” when it happened. It was unique and memorable experience.  (A lesson to learn from this is a mistake may not be a bad thing. If handled properly, it may strengthen your relationship with the audience.)

In relation to this concept, for a performer the critical question is, “How do I make moments occur?”

The first thing to understand is they cannot be orchestrated. In other words, you cannot say, “Such and such is the time and place in my show where the moment will happen.” If it is planned or scheduled, if it is a matter of manipulating the audience, it will not be a genuine experience.

I remember an occasion, when visiting a new church, where a worship leader started telling the congregation how they should feel during a song. We were instructed, “As you sing, you must feel yourself being drawn close to the Lord, you must feel your heart being overwhelmed with His love, etc” It seemed the worship leader spent more time telling us how we should feel during the song than was spent on the actual singing of the song.

This did not work for me. Feelings are a non-volitional response, not something people tell themselves to do. In terms of worship, feelings must result from our focus on praise and love to God. They must naturally come out of our hearts.

It would have been better for the worship leader to simply let everyone sing and, if the song was the right one and led in the right way, on its own it would have caused the people to feel they were drawing closer to the Lord.

This means we can create places in a show where moments are likely to occur, but we cannot create the moments themselves. It is wise to analyze show structure with this question in mind: Where are the places in my performance when people might gain a special insight about beauty and value in life? Where in my show  does something happen which might especially touch a person’s heart? Effort should be made to ensure a performance provides opportunities for “moments” to occur.  Then we hope they will occur.

Here are some practical ways to provide opportunities for “moments.”

  • Do some things involving children that, rather than being wild and crazy, are gentle and tender. It can be as simple as saying, “Would it not be wonderful if, after all the flowers fell off this stem, they could grow back again?” Then let the flowers grow back (blooming bouquet) and watch the child react. While speaking of finding wonder in life, allow a child to discover something inside a box previously shown empty, or see a torn up piece of paper suddenly completely restored. This might turn into a special “moment” for everyone
  • When children come on stage, take time to get to know them. Get down on their level  and ask questions such as “Where are you from?” “Do you have a pet?” “What is your favorite thing to study in school?” Don’t get too personal and don’t let this go on too long, but give the child a chance to say something spontaneous. The unscripted answers of a child, at times, are precious and priceless.
  • Work hard to have beauty in a show. Not everything needs to be “slam, bang,  sensational.” Not everything has to be “Isn’t this the most amazing thing you have ever seen?” Instead some things can simply be wonderful to see. A silk fountain is an example. Although a trick, I am not sure people look at it and think how is this happeningas much as they think wow, isn’t this marvelous to see. If the music is right, and the setup is right, the opening of a silk fountain can be a true “magical moment.”
  • Add a personal story to your show. Taking a moment to speak about your own life,  especially if you can reference overcoming a challenge, may create a moment when people think more deeply about their own lives.  (This is another thing which must be done with discretion, but, when handled with taste and good sense can be very effective.)
  • Never discount the power of beautiful music. Music must be more than sound or background. It must be more than a loud playing of currently popular tunes. It should speak to the feelings and emotions of the audience. An exquisite song with classical beauty, in contrast to harder hitting songs likely used at other parts of a show, can lead people to thinking/feeling in different ways. It may be that, more than anything else, great songs have the ability to create great moments.

Time to move on to the third thing the man said about why audiences attend live entertainment events.

III. TO HAVE THEIR LIVES CHANGED

As one involved in ministry, I found this statement surprising. Fundamentally, I hope, as a result of my programs that lives are changed. Here is a secular person saying such is exactly what people want.

In exploring this idea from the secular angle it basically means people are hoping to see the repetitious nature of normal life interrupted. A constant cycle of activity, like a hamster in a wheel, can lead to a feeling of meaninglessness. There are many who have jobs which are not particularly fulfilling. People get up in the morning, go to work, work hard, come home from work, fix supper, watch tv, go to bed…to get up the next day to do the same thing again. If this is all their lives seem to be about, they begin to feel insignificant. More than a few people do feel insignificant.

Going to a live event changes the routine. It indicates life is more than being a hamster on a treadmill. Therefore, within the live event, people want to feel alive. They must not be bored, for they are already on the edge of being bored by life itself. Shows and social interaction are to remind them I am a person with feelings, goals and dreams. I am someone who can laugh, cry and love.

It is a tall order to try to provide audiences with such a message, but it can be done. To accomplish it, the performer must view his or her work as being for the benefit of those who come to experience it. The performer who is on an ego trip, who is there to show-off and get applause, will never be as effective as the one who is there to share the joy and wonder of life.

How do we work in a way that can be life-changing?

  • Make sure to enjoy your own work. If we are bored by what we do, or if we act as if our main concern is our own moves and tricks, we will not communicate the idea of life being an adventure and a great and wonderful thing. Enter every performance with personal appreciation for what you have to share. Don’t lose sight of the privilege which is yours to put on the show.
  • Make sure to enjoy your audience. This is a crucial thing to remember. Do not take an audience for granted. Do not treat them as if they are just a painted picture of people in seats. Make eye contact. Notice smiles. Smile back. Don’t be afraid to go slightly off script if someone says or does something to which you can personally respond. Remind yourself that the people who are there should matter to you just as much and more than what you do matters to you.
  • Take care of your body. When you come into a show tired and stressed, it is much harder to enjoy the situation. When a performer does not enjoy a situation, an audience can lose its joy. Sleep well. Eat right. Take care of your heath. Come into the show with energy and enthusiasm. To convey excitement about life, you must possess excitement about life!

CONCLUSION

The subject is “live entertainment.” As magicians, clowns, and variety entertainers this is what we are about. We are not those who people watch via video. We are there in person and they are there in person. Therefore, we must pay attention to persons and personality. The tricks we do, the jokes we tell, the routines we perform are not ends in themselves. They are tools.  Our shows are not about how great we are, they are about how great we can make others feel. Our shows are not about our abilities, they are about how our abilities convey emotion, meaning and a sense of life to others.

To be successful, we must seriously focus on the relationship we establish with our audience as the show takes place.

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.)

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?