Watching other magicians, it would seem that the one element that is so crucial to the art of Illusion and magic is that of misdirection. So many magicians now a day are so caught up in the “show” portion of magic, and watching their angles, that it just seems that misdirection is a lost art. Many of us know what misdirection is, but we have yet (I am including myself in that ‘we’) to harness the true potential of this lost art form.
We live in a time that Film, and digital technology seems to have diminished the importance of misdirection. IF we look back at the greats of magic, Houdini, Thurston, Blackstone, they were the true masters of deception and misdirection. They held their audience in the palm of their hands, they built the foundations for today’s modern magicians, and a few of those magicians have mastered the art of misdirection.
I remember about 20 years ago, a friend of mine and I went to Las Vegas, the magic mecca, you would think that all of the magicians performing there were worth the time to see, many of them were, but they all did the same thing, trying to one up the next magician using the same illusion. I remember feeling disappointed watching these magicians, it felt as if they were all getting on stage and saying to the audience “Look what I can do”, though some of the illusions they performed were indeed incredible illusions, created by the illusion master himself Jim Steinmeyer, the illusions were indeed very incredible to watch. But the performance of the magicians just lacked something, the performances lacked memorability, they were not very entertaining to watch. At the time I was just really starting to perform magic on my own, instead of designing routines for my friend, I really started to watch other magicians to see what I liked in performances and what I didn’t like. Like I said some of the performers did a good job, but the overall job of their shows…..I walked away not really even remembering the names of the magicians I had just seen. There was even a magician there that used full on nudity of all of his assistants in his show….On this topic…my opinion from that day on has and always will be if you have to resort to using sex and nudity in your show as a magician, then you are not a good magician. I don’t care if you are a Vegas performer, or a closet amateur magician. Sex and nudity in a magic show is just flat out ridiculous and not needed; all I remember of that show is his levitating dove routine. That was very cool, but the rest of the show, I cannot remember any thing he did and can’t remember his name even if you were to ask….in other words…it was just a very bad show; I even fell asleep during that show.
Now to get back to my original point of misdirection; There is no need to go to the extremes of having your assistant flaunt herself in her birthday suit or even close to her birthday suit, or even really using your assistant as the misdirection for every single illusion that you perform. So the question is “how do we use misdirection?”
In essence Misdirection is making your audience see what you want them to see, and when to see it. Misdirection is used in every aspect of magic, from the french drop to vanishing the Statue of liberty. Misdirection is the foundation in the art of illusion and magic. Yet so many of us magicians have yet to harness misdirections true potential. I remember after my Las Vegas trip with my friend thinking to myself, why? Why did all the magic shows that we saw end up in the trash bin of my mind, thrown away as a do not remember this moment in time?
I grew up watching David Copperfield on television, he like so many of today’s magicians is the reason why we got into magic in the first place, luckily my friend and I were able to see his show the night we left Vegas to head home, and I was thoroughly entertained, walk away from his show truly amazed and wanting more. So what was the difference between his show and the others that I cannot even remember? This question of what the difference is got me fired up, I wanted to find an answer to satisfy my own thinking, but also to better hone my own performance.
The first clue came to my mind in the long drive from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City that particular night. I remembered it was around 1988, I had taken my mother to see David Copperfield, it was the tour, were David debuted the Flying illusion. My mother being in her early 50’s was giddy as a school girl; she wanted to see David Copperfield live for so long, it was an early Christmas gift to her. She was completely amazed by the magic and illusions that David performed that night, and when it came to the Flying, both she and I were floored by the experience. For days (and even up to this very day) when my mother talks about the flying she says something that really makes me smile. She tells everyone “…Then he brings up all of these people to witness the trick on stage, he takes one of the girls in his arms and flies with her over the stage and then out over the heads of the audience…” It cracks me up every time I hear her perspective on that night, even though David never left the stage and flew out over the heads of the audience in her mind that’s how it happened. That was my first clue to my question…..perspective.
One of the definitions of perspective is “The state of one’s ideas, the facts known to one, in having a meaningful interrelationship” this definition got me thinking again about misdirection, so over the years, when I have gone to a David Copperfield show, I have pulled aside a few of the audience members and asked them what their feelings were about David’s show. They all have a basic answer and to paraphrase that answer it is “I felt it was a one on one show”. That makes me wonder, how in the world does someone get 2000 audience members to walk away from their show feeling like it was a one on one experience?
One thing that I have learned in the time of doing magic is that it is far easier to fool an adult than it is to fool a child. The reasoning behind this is that the adult brain gathers information in pieces kind of like a puzzle, and then it takes some of those random pieces of information and then forms a logical answer… Think of it as the typical stereo type of a man putting something together saying “I don’t need the instructions”, if there are extra pieces, then that is what they are extra, we throw them to the side. Whereas a child takes all the information he/she sees and uses simple logic to form a conclusion, i.e. if the coin is not in one hand then it must be in the other. This is where the foundation of misdirection comes into play and why it is crucial to magic.
With the adult mind, when it gathers the random bits of information to draw a conclusion, there are gaps in that information, misdirection fills in those gaps, creating a new perspective of the individual that you are performing for. You alter their perspective by using misdirection there for altering their perspective of reality. You are forcing their brain to believe what the eyes have seen. By using misdirection in its true potential, you are making them see things that are not there.
When the I.B.M. Convention was in Salt Lake City, I was talking to an older magician, and he said something that made me add to my quest of what the difference was between Copperfield’s show and the others I had seen. He simply said “It is not what the person sees that is magic, it is what they don’t see” It took me some time to really get the gist of what he was saying. By using misdirection and altering the perspective of your audience, you are taking the magic off of the stage and into the minds of the audience, that is where the real magic takes place in their head, as their brains races to find the logical conclusion of what it just witnessed it takes those pieces that you inserted into their thinking and it confuses the logic process, and they draw the conclusion that the assistant just got cut in half, or the coin really did vanish from sight and reappear, or David Copperfield flew out over the heads of the audience, when in reality he never left the stage area.
So after all of these years of trying to find the answer to my question of what the difference is and why misdirection is so important to magic. When you use misdirection to its fullest, you are not just making your audience look where you want then to look and see what you want them to see. You are pulling your audience into your show, you are making them part of the show, part of the experience. When using misdirection properly, you are breaking what is known as the fourth dimension on stage. Your audience becomes part of the illusion; they become part of your show.
This is where David Copperfield has become a master in making a 2000 member audience feel like they have just had a one on one show, he draws them in, makes them part of his world. The audience doesn’t feel like it is David up on stage saying ”look what I can do”, By using misdirection, David alters the perception of the audience making them feel like they are participating in his show, even if they are not.
I myself am still learning how to master misdirection beyond the basics; I can only hope that one day I will be able to master misdirection and have my audience feel like they just had a one on one show, until then the only way to truly get to that point is to practice, practice, and practice. With that goal in mind I can hone and perfect my own show……….