We talked about how our members feel about certain card plots, and which ones they hate, last week. We got a lot of great feedback from you, and we told you we’d get Ellusionist’s creative director Eric Jones to weigh in. But before we tell you what he said, gotta tell you a story.
After a long day of meetings in January, talking about different projects and future plans, the Ellusionist crew was starving.
Because several of us were just meeting for the first time during our January planning meetings, we also had an itching for some adventure. We hit the road and drove to the Pier area of San Francisco. Surprisingly, not many restaurants were open, but we finally found a great seafood place: Nick’s Lighthouse. The tables were cramped and small, but the food was outstanding.
All through the ride, and through the beginning of dinner, Eric Jones was lost in thought. He was thinking about a problem, he said.
Later, as Lee McKenzie, Jake Steele and I talked about card plots, Eric said that he hated the card-at-any-number plot (in a nutshell: A chosen card is found at a chosen spot in the deck. Often abbreviated as ACAAN.) But after saying that he hated it, he performed a-card-at-any-number routine and blew us all away. It involved the three of us and Eric barely touching the deck. All of us were FLOORED.
Not bad for a guy who hates ACAAN routines.
“I’m not a fan ot any card at any number specifically because it is NOT magic,” Eric said. “When you think about the different effects possible in magic, such as a vanish, production, teleportation, etc, ACAAN doesn’t fall into any of those categories. It is simply a coincidence. The way most ACAAN routines are presented, it is a BORING coincidence at that. No audience involvement, No magic moment.”
The same goes for the oil and water routine, a plot that many magicians have tackled since Dai Vernon first performed it.
“While Oil and Water CAN be magical, its is often seen, in my opinion, as a puzzle,” Eric said. “Most presentations leave the audience questioning what they saw, and not in a good way. They walk away saying, ‘So … that’s it?'”
So why bother with routines you hate?
Eric proved why during that Monday night at Nick’s Lighthouse.
He proved it again on Wednesday, after our last day of meetings and during our last night in California. As David Mitchell and I were jamming by a firepit, Eric approached with a smile on his face. “Figured it out,” he said. He then performed a version of Oil and Water that is classic Eric Jones. It’s a version that, according to forums I’ve read, has impressed plenty of people at lectures he’s given over the last few months.
“I personally believe that there are NO bad plots in magic, and no bad effects,” Eric said. “Sure there are bad presentations, and some performers are not able to effectively communicate the effect to the audience in a way that is engaging, entertaining and fooling all at the same time. So I often tinker with traditional plots like the aforementioned to see if I have what it takes to make a trick that falls flat play I think they can. Sometimes I have success, others I fail, and fail miserably.”
That raises the question: How does a magician know when to invest time into a plot they hate? In other words, how do they know that their reason for hating a plot is legitimate, and that their dislike is truly objective? Audiences help decide that question, Eric said.
“If i’m presenting an effect that I think could play strongly and it falls flat, there is a process that I
use that usually leads to my thinking that the effect has inherent issues,” he said. “An effect gets no reaction. Well, perhaps you flashed. They saw how the effect was done and aren’t impressed.
“NO FLASH? OK, then perhaps I stumbled through the performance and need more time.
“NO? THE HANDLING IS ADEQUATE? OK, perhaps I need to make the performance more engaging. I will study those who came before me, how they handled the routine and why it seemed to work for them and their audiences — provided they ever performed the routine they published.
“If I’ve tweaked the routine to match my character, changed the handling to streamline the effect, and master the timing and the effect still falls flat, the reason could be that the routine simply won’t work in my hands. This will never mean that NOBODY should do the effect, but it would be a reason why I wouldn’t do it.”
In a nutshell, Eric knew what he didn’t like about an Oil and Water routine and tackled those shortcomings into something that worked for him. He created something that looks less like an oil and water trick and more like an Eric Jones effect. No wonder he was excited about it.
“I guess I did get a bit excited about the oil and water. It was a handling that solved several problems for ME. It allows the magic to happen in the spectators hands, because they literally do all of the work. It has a couple of funny moments that make the routine a bit more dynamic than the usual.
“However, it created more problems. It can’t be a stand alone piece. It needs to be the closing effect rather than an opener or a middle. The spectators have to follow your instructions to the letter, which can be difficult for performers who already have trouble communicating to their audiences. While these aren’t problems for ME, if I decided to publish this routine anywhere, I’d have to address these issues. But, its all about finding ways to enjoy tricks I hate isn’t it?”
Check out Eric’s take on a double-decker transposition: Entrapment.