Dear Friends in Magic,
I hope you are doing well as spring begins and vaccinations are underway. In-person shows are starting to open up, along with a second wave of even higher quality Zoom shows. So, let’s begin with…
A BIG IDEA
In my last installment I shared three things I have learned about performing excellent magic through Zoom (review them here). This “Big Idea” was so popular I’ve decided to share three others that, in my view, rise to the same level:
1. Our hands and props should feel like they never leave the frame. In the early days of Zoom magic, performers discovered the power of the frame as a way to ditch and switch props. The problem is that the Zoom frame is so obtrusive the technique can be fairly obvious to viewers—both consciously and subconsciously. As Jeff McBride puts this point, “The moment the props leave the frame, the magic is over.”
This doesn’t mean we can’t use the technique; it means we have to figure out ways of doing so that doesn’t feel like we are. For me, this means nothing gets placed down out of the frame in front of me. (Everything goes on a side table.) It means half of a hand stays in view the entire time. It means the other half of that hand is out of the frame for a fragment of an instant. And it is essential to remember the frame is smaller than we think: on one edge—top, bottom, or right, whatever the viewer decides—the row of screens is the frame, so we must block our hand movements accordingly.
2. Avoid using any camera technique in a show more than once. When it comes to sleights and gimmicks, most magicians understand audiences are likely to “tumble” onto them if they are repeated. Thus, we avoid using the same force twice, the same ditch, the same palm, the same control, the same box with a secret compartment, the same hidden device. There are exceptions, but this is a pretty good rule to live by. And it extends to Zoom camera tricks as well. But, oh, boy: how many focusing or panning switches have I seen online? Way too many, and frequently repeated in the same show. In Zoom magic, most of the old rules apply. If they see or even feel the method, the trick is over. And for me, personally, when many magicians are using a particular trick or technique, I like to head in another direction.
3. Every technical glitch is a reflection on us. In the early days of Zoom, technical problems were common and easily excused. Fourteen months later, audiences are less forgiving—especially if they have paid for the show. Whether they happen to the performer (sound break-up, pixilation, video stuttering) or with one of the audience members (background noise or someone sleeping on screen), they tarnish our reputation. In practice, this means we must hire at least one experienced technician to run the show, instruct the audience, and ride the screens. And there is no need to hide them away. They are part of your team, and they make you look like a pro. (But please make sure they are well-groomed and look at the camera when they speak!)
There you have it! In total, six basic principles I have learned to improve our Zoom performances. I hope these observations are helpful to you and serve your shows. Because even though in-person venues are opening up, Zoom presentations are here to stay.
IN THE STUDIO
The big project in my studio is executing the post-writing processes to get Eugene Burger: Final Secrets ready for the printer. This involves making final corrections, editing the videos, and working on the art and photos that will be in the book. Recently, Jay Fortune completed all the illustrations for the routines and for the “icons” that will appear on title page of each chapter. Here is a sneak preview of one of those icons; see if you can guess which of Eugene’s famous routines it represents!
Of course, the big question is when Final Secrets will be released and how you can get it in your hands! I don’t know the answers just yet; the book needs to get a bit further along in design for those things to get settled. But don’t go anywhere: I will have the complete details in my next newsletter. It is almost time!
The other thing going on in my studio is… I am packing it up! As some of you may know, Marjorie was recently called up to a national-level leadership position on behalf of higher education in Washington, DC, so we are moving there in early June. Let me say how proud and happy I am to support her as she undertakes this opportunity!
On my side of things, there will be no shortage of performing opportunities in DC and up the seaboard, and I can participate in our online shows, courses, and programs as easily from DC as Memphis. And I am only plane flight away from just about any city in the world. So, we were not looking to leave Memphis—we have loved our time here—but onward we go!
IT’S NOT MAGIC, BUT…
On March 1st, Mystery School Monday was dedicated to the topic of “Collecting Magic.” In my preparations for the show, I was pleasantly reminded about some of my own most meaningful magic collectibles. If you wish to watch this excellent episode with special guest Gabe Fajuri, you can see it here.
At the same time, because of our impending move (and downsize), I am reconnecting with the other side of collecting magic. That is, deaccessioning books and artifacts when it is time for them to move on. Eugene Burger was an inspiring model in this: he simply gave books and items away to friends who he felt would enjoy them!
I have certainly done some of that, and it is a pleasure. But I have also rediscovered the incredible magic of… eBay! I used eBay to sell collectibles in its early days—before PayPal even existed—and it was already good. But today? Oh my: eBay is a lean, mean magic deaccessioning machine. You create your listing, take photos with your phone, touch a button to upload the photos and, seven days later, you get paid!
These past several weeks, I have become deeply impressed with eBay’s functionality. Obviously, the company has dedicated extensive resources to make its operation smooth and simple for buyers and sellers. For a few examples, there is an immediate automatic payment function, sellers can purchase their postage directly from the site, and the traffic on my items has been robust. Everything has sold and done so at significantly higher prices than I would have guessed.
It has been enjoyable to remember that collecting magic and deaccessioning it is a natural cycle that keeps us fresh and healthy, like breathing in and out and the dual movement of the heart. Wherever you happen to be in the cycle—whether overstuffed with accumulation or barren and uninspired—I have re-discovered that eBay is your friend!
HAPPENING AT THE PRESS
We are still riding the waves of excitement about Bob Neale’s new book relased in January, Magic Inside Out. In conjunction with the “Deep Study” of Bob’s work that I taught online in February, we stocked up at the Press with some little known, unusual items Bob has released over the years.
If you haven’t seen these items yet, please visit our site, click on “Our Authors,” and click on Bob’s name: you will find several exclusive items—“The Everyone Symbol Deck,” “Which Came First?” and 444 and Three More—as well as Frog Tales, Zoo Story, and The Impossi-Bill Braid. About this last item, George Parker has been using this incredible, impossible object—made in-show and given away—for over fifteen years. It is really something!
I should also mention that finally, after many years, Juan Tamariz’s masterful Five Points in Magic has been re-printed, and we now have copies in stock. In fact, we have Juan’s entire Trilogy—essential works for any magician.
Finally, we are busy creating four products that will be released with Final Secrets. Each of them will provide the “special something” that Eugene used for four routines in the book. We are excited to be making these available so you can work on these routines (along with the others) when the book comes out!
Thanks for stopping in at the Press. We appreciate your business, when that serves your needs.
My best to you during this lovely season of rebirth. And remember: next newsletter I will have all the details about Eugene Burger: Final Secrets. Please stay in touch and feel free to share this installment with any friends and family who might enjoy it.
Dean of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School
Publisher, Theory and Art of Magic Press