Showmanship and Presentation—-Final Excerpt

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Now how do you combat this “defensive resentment”? One method not for everybody is to have something sympathetic about you. If you are a youngster doing magic, not too precocious, you can often bypass the adult spectator’s defensiveness. He ALREADY feels superior by virtue of age and consequently does not feel threatened. He will feel sympathetic towards you and this gives you a distinct advantage. Similarly, if you are handicapped in some way you should not feel ashamed of exploiting this to win sympathy and disarm the spectator’s natural defensiveness.

Another way is to be humble-this is very soothing to the ego of the audience. If you have an air of conceit the spectators will doubly resent you. If you are modest your audience will build you up.

One way if it suits your personality is to affect an air of dithering or even incompetence. This can take the form of absent-mindedness or naivety. This will make the audience feel superior and more sympathetic towards you. However, as I have stated this style has to suit you.

Another method is to be friendly and human. You can even offer to teach them a simple trick if the situation warrants it. Get people to like you-their subconscious resentment will vanish if you are pleasant and HUMAN. I place special emphasis on appearing human; if you can do this, even making a slight mistake without appearing too incompetent, you disarm the spectator’s defences and he will grow to like you and liking you will help him to like your magic.

I once saw two mind readers appearing on  television within weeks of each other. One seemed ot give a far more polished performance than the other, doing what seemed stronger tricks, less long winded patter, and all the telepathy worked whereas the other fellow seemed to have a high failure rate. Yet strangely the slick performer did not get half the reaction that the less polished mind reader did. The reason I think was that the first telepathist was TOO impossible, TOO perfect and TOO slick. He had to fight all that “defensive resentment”. The second mentalist on the other hand seemed to have trouble getting his clairvoyance to work. However, when something did go right it got a sensational reaction from the audience. This, I believe was because the failures generated sympathy; the “defensive resentment” evaporated and when something did work it  caused an enthusiastic audience response.

A little more advice and then we’ll pass on to the next chapter.

1. If something goes wrong-never apologise. You will look weak and audiences dislike weakness. Rather, just make a joke about it and pass on to the next trick quickly. Very often people won’t know anything has gone wrong anyway if you follow my earlier advice of not explaining what is going to happen before it happens.

2.Try and see things from the audience point of view. This is not easy but it will help you considerably if you develop the ability to do this. You will be able to entertain people more effectively if you can attune yourself to their likes and dislikes.

3.Try and involve the spectators in your tricks. With many items you can do this automatically. Sometimes, however, you will have to use your imagination. Get them to blow on a card or shuffle the deck, ask them a question-but BRING THEM INTO IT.

There is a lot more advice I could give but there is no more space and perhaps it is best to learn by experience anyway, but I do hope the preceding guidance will be of value to you.




Showmanship and Presentation—-Final Excerpt

Showmanship and Presentation–Contd

The third type of onlooker is the one who tries to see “how the engine works”. He will try hard to figure out the secret and will look upon the trick as a challenge. He will attempt to assuage his inferiority feelings by bringing all his intelligence to bear upon the method by which the mystery is worked. From this type of spectator we often find magicians in the making. Since they don’t know how the trick is done they will often satisfy their ego by taking up magic themselves. Now THEY can mystify people! I’ll let you into a secret; that’s how I became a magician! I would see magicians on television and get so annoyed that I didn’t know the secrets that took up magic myself!


Now we come to the fourth type of spectator who fortunately is reasonably rare. This you should be thankful for because he is the hardest to entertain. This delightful fellow will be completely expressionless throughout your exhibition. He will assume a poker face and there is no way of telling whether or not he likes what you are doing. His “defensive resentment” causes him to be on his guard; he will not allow you to attack his ego by fooling him. If you meet this specimen do not be put off. By persevering you can often get him to crack and show a little reaction. Even if he remains blank faced it doesn’t mean that he is not enjoying your show. It’s just that his ego won’t allow him to show it. If you do your best you could find that your applause comes afterwards. This often takes the form of old poker face spreading your reputation to OTHER people who haven’t seen you. He won’t tell YOU he enjoyed himself-that would undermine his ego-but he WILL praise you and the word will often get back.

Showmanship and Presentation–Contd

Showmanship and Presentation-contd


I mentioned earlier a subconscious (in some cases, conscious) resentment that laymen feel towards magicians. Actually, defensiveness is probably a better word than resentment although both feelings are there to some degree. In most cases this is not manifested by impoliteness since the feeling is involuntary and even the spectator is probably unaware of its existence. This “defensive resentment” is a psychological state based on the fact that one’s self esteem is deflated by the very idea that another human being can perform actions that cannot be explained. This by itself implies superior ability on the part of the performer and tends to signify the inferior brainpower of the spectator thus posing a threat to the ego.

There are, I believe, a number of ways to combat this defensiveness but before I explain them perhaps it would be wise to show how audiences behave as a result of this feeling.

Broadly, I find that people react in four different ways to a magician, one of which as we have already discussed is by heckling. This happens in a minority of cases and to lesser or greater degrees.

The most common reaction and thankfully the easiest to deal with is the good natured spectator who will relax his defences and, providing the performance is good, laugh and enjoy the magic with all the gusto at his command. The threat to his ego is still present, but I believe a certain kind of subconscious reasoning happens in his mind. It goes something like this; “This fellow is extremely clever, I can’t even begin to figure out how he does it so I’m not even going to try!” By doing this he placates his ego. After all, he’s got a good excuse now for not knowing how the tricks are done; he hasn’t tried to figure them out! By giving up before he starts, he cannot be defeated. He’s not taking part in a battle of wits so he can relax and enjoy himself.

He may even go so far as to identify subconsciously your abilities with his own. In other words his inner reasoning goes like this:- “This fellow is as clever in his field as I am in mine. Since I am endowed with certain abilities this fellow this fellow must be brilliant too!” He will then confirm his own reasoning my making such remarks as, “It’s absolutely fantastic how you do it” Actually he’s praising himself on a subconscious level by admiring the performer. He sees a fellow genius and justifies his inability to figure out the tricks by deciding that the magician, like himself, is on a plane higher than the ordinary mortal. Since they are BOTH members of a superior persons club there is no reason for the spectator to feel resentment since it is now decided in his subconscious mind that he is just as clever as the magician.

The reasoning in the above paragraph may sound a bit far fetched and theoretical to the reader but I do believe from experience that this type of reasoning takes place in the dark recesses of the spectator’s mind. And we believe that he is totally unaware, on a conscious level that it is happening

Showmanship and Presentation-contd