Sample Chapter from Duane Laflin’s Book “Anatomy of a Gospel Magic Show”
The introduction of a program is extremely important. It must be planned with great care. As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.
A good introduction achieves several things.
First it lets the audience know who you are.
The master of ceremonies has already told them your name. The introduction is where you become a person to them. The people will immediately assess your attitude and capabilities–and they will decide whether or not you are worth listening to. Frankly, within the first few minutes, maybe within the first few seconds, of a presentation; most people make up their minds about the quality of the entire program and decide if they are going to like it or not.
Secondly, an introduction can and should give the audience a sense of their responsibility.
This is sometimes overlooked. People don’t always know how they should react to a performer and his or her presentation. This is especially true of a gospel magic program.
Is it acceptable for them to clap in response to what you do? Is the program meant to be fun? Is laugher appropriate? How serious are they supposed to be? Should they relax and enjoy themselves or should they sit quietly as if listening to a sermon?
The gospel magician needs to have some method of communicating to people what is expected. He may directly tell them it is OK to clap, laugh, etc., or he may have some clever technique of letting the people know what to do without verbalizing it. This is where audience participation exercises known as “warm-ups” come in. In my book LAFLIN’S LAUGH-LINES I have published a collection of warm-up gags that work well for me. David Ginn, the prolific author of magic books, has written a great pamphlet type book on the subject.
Here is an example of one of my favorite warm- ups: I ask the audience to do exactly as I do. I then stretch my arms out directly in front of me. The audience does the same. With a loud count of “One”, I clap my hands. The audience follows along and claps a loud “One”. I then say, “Ah”, and spread my arms back apart. The audience does the same.
Then I shout “Two”, and clap my hands again. The audience does the same. I again say, Ah”, and spread my arms back apart. The audience continues to do as I do.
Next I shout, “Three”, and swing my hands toward each other, but I do not clap–instead my hands swing past each other. The audience is trying to keep up and thinks I am going to clap, so most of them will clap their hands. I then laugh and say, “I told you to do exactly as I do!”. There is usually much laughter from the audience at this point.
“Let’s try it again,” I continue. Stretching my arms out I shout “One”, and clap my hands. The audience does the same. I say, “Ah”, and stretch my arms apart. Then I quickly shout, “Two”, and swing my hands toward each other, but I let them miss. I do not clap. The audience will realize too late that my hands miss each other, and most spectators will clap again. Once again, there is laughter.
With a smile I say, “Well, some of us got our hands together at the right time, and some did not. However, we are now all together, and it is the right time to enjoy ourselves and learn something about life in the process. Let’s go ahead and put our hands together in applause to say we are glad we can be together for this program!”
Notice that this warm-up encourages laughter, directly leads the audience into participation, and lets them know applause is acceptable. A big speech on the subject has not been necessary. A little bit of “business” and fun has informed the audience about their role in the program.
By the way, remember to smile and enjoy the warm-up yourself. To a large degree, the audience will form its attitude about the program from the attitude it sees in you.
You should also remember that some churches have given their congregations the impression that having a good time during a church service is improper and inappropriate. They may not mean this–usually they don’t–but they still have given such a message via their sober emphasis on “reverence“. The gospel magician is then faced with the challenge of convincing the congregation that the program is spiritual and God- honoring, even though it involves a lot of fun. It takes thought and careful preparation to accomplish this.
The gospel magic program’s introduction also needs to accomplish a third objective: identifying this thing called “magic”.
It must not be forgotten that many Christians have been misinformed or never properly informed about the difference between the effects of the modern-day magician and sorcery. They will sincerely suspect that magic is a from of occult activity and possibly even a work of Satan. If their fears and suspicions are not put to rest, the program will not be spiritually effective. It may even result in problems. Remember the teaching of Romans chapter fourteen about not leading a brother to stumble. We must do our best not to offend the conscience of other believers.
My conviction is this: It is wise and necessary to show the people that although it is called, “magic,” it is nothing but visual puzzles and illusions. Although mysterious, it is a natural and normal thing. It uses principles from God’s creation in a fun and amazing way.
There are a variety of methods for doing this. I do not believe a secret of magic should be exposed to meet this end. It is possible to give people a simple explanation of the difference between illusion and sorcery that quickly puts them at ease without “showing how it’s done”. Please take this to heart. If the “how-to” of magic becomes public knowledge, the tricks themselves will no longer be tools for gaining the interest of the audience. If one feels obligated to reveal the workings of magic, it would be better to forget about it altogether and go back to standard object lessons. There is no need to ruin this means of ministry for others. Beyond that, such a thing would be unethical. Learning the secrets of magic to begin with is allowed on the assumption that the one learning will not expose the tricks of the trade to the general public. Yes, there are better ways to deal with the issue than by exposure.
For instance, I often ask the question, “Is the hand quicker than the eye?” and do something with my hands (such as using a thumbtip to vanish and reproduce a silk) to give the idea that the mystery is produced by skill, not by some strange power. While I perform the effect, I comment about “illusions” and make it clear that I have nothing to do with the occult. One of my favorite lines is, “I don’t play with ouiji boards and I don’t even know my horoscope! Everything I do in this program is only a trick or surprising object lesson. God is the One who really does the impossible. I am only a man with some unusual visual effects to make a point.”
A fourth result of a good introduction is establishing in the mind of the audience the fact that you are a skillful performer.
It is very helpful to an overall program to have the audience convinced from the start that you are well-versed in your art and good at what you are doing. There is also nothing wrong with getting people excited about your ability to show them something astonishing.
Whenever possible, it is good to include a fast and flashy effect at the start of the program. It is especially good to do something that apparently happens in your bare hands. If the audience gets the impression in the beginning that you can do amazing things without any special props, it will be less likely to suspect that the boxes, tubes, and cages you bring out later are gimmicked. People will assume it is your knowledge and skill which are creating the mystery. It is better to have them assume that than to have them thinking anybody could do what you do if they owned the same strange props and contraptions!
By the way, it does not require unusual knowledge and skill to use a trick box or tube. But only a good performer can make the working of a prop into an entertaining and meaningful event.
A fifth thing that should happen during the introduction is the making of a definite statement about the fact that you have come with a message.
You are a gospel magician. Therefore the assurance must be given about your commitment to the gospel. We have already discussed how people need to be convinced about your abilities as a magician. It is even more important that they view you as a Christian who is serious about proclaiming God’s truth. The message of the gospel is the greatest one this world has ever heard; it is the greatest message you have ever heard. Let your enthusiasm about that message–and the Christ who is the center of it–be powerfully evident.
The apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…” (Romans chapter one; verse sixteen). The gospel magician is to be an unashamed ambassador as well. This doesn’t mean that a program should start with a heavy-handed emphasis and preachy statement. It does mean that there should be no apology for the fact that the presentation is more than another magic show–it is gospel magic.
My experience as been even non-churched, non- Christian audiences appreciate the honesty of a performer who makes it clear from the outset that he will talk about his personal beliefs during the performance. It is far better to have people know who you are up front than to have them think they were “tricked” into hearing the gospel when it comes out later in the program.
So a good introduction can accomplish much. It is well worth the effort to give your program the best beginning possible. Select a few tricks and maybe some jokes to give the audience a definite sense of who you are, why you are there, what you are able to do, what your “magic” actually is, and how they should respond.