All tricked out and nowhere to go - How do you build routines?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by kennethcmerrill, Nov 28, 2016.

  1. The question is pretty self-explanatory, but to give a few more details: I'm wondering what process you fine folks use to build your routines, from selecting effects, establishing a theme (if there is one), writing patter, etc.

    I have a couple effects that I like to perform together, and I even have some rudimentary patter to justify what I'm doing for those, but overall I feel like I'm just throwing out "tricks" with no direction or reason or anything. It puts the whole performance in a very bad way--usually baiting people into trying to figure out the "trick."

    I've tried selecting effects I feel build on each other conceptually. For instance, I have one routine that goes Do As I do --> a very similar effect but without looking at the faces of the cards --> Invisible Card. I tie it all together as a test of luck/coincidence--how far can we push it?

    But I watch a lot of routines that aren't conceptually cohesive at all: it's a mind read, then a transposition, then a hustle/poker effect--it seems like it's all over the map. On the other hand, maybe seems like this might be a better way to go so the audience doesn't get tired of seeing the same concept with variations performed a couple times in a row?

    So, how do you decide which effects will go together, and how do you go about writing your presentation for those effects?

  2. I am of the personal opinion that character is the basis for the answer to all of these questions.

    So for me, I generally start at the end and work backwards. Sometimes I'll see a product and a routine will just pop into my head, but usually I think of an effect I would like to create for the audience to experience, and then figure out what the best premise for that would be, and then decide on which method(s) or trick(s) best display that premise.

    I think a theme is important, as it gives cohesion to the performance and helps develop the story arc of the show. Just because something fits a theme, doesn't mean it has to be repetitive. For example I do both Through and Through as well as a Animal Trap routine. Not in the same show generally, but they are both based on the idea of mind-over-matter for me. However, Through and Through is a fairly serious routine played out without much in the way of jokes or banter. But the Animal Trap is a more comedic routine with a fair amount of joking and banter. I could (and have) done them in the same show without it feeling repetitive. Just because something shares a theme doesn't mean it has to a variation of the same routine.

    When writing scripts I tend to research the premise for a bit, then form an amorphous idea of what I want to say in general, then just word dump a few pages of possible script. Then I read over what I wrote up, and refine it and trim it down until it clearly illustrates the concept I want to convey and any instructions I need to give, using as few words as possible. That's a concept I got from Eugene Burger. I will often write up a first draft of the script and then pair it down significantly further while rehearsing, as well.

    I know some people don't agree with me, but I think this is one of the most beneficial aspects of developing a solid character. When you really know your character then writing a script is easy - you just write down what that character would say in that instance. Choosing material is just a matter of doing what that character would do. When something is not working out, then maybe it's time to reconsider that routine. Maybe it doesn't fit the character properly.
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  3. I've come to the conclusion that it is very difficult to use presentation as the glue to build routines. When you have two or three effects that you want to stick together it always seems forced and the presentation actually detracts from the routines because of how strained the links between the routines are.

    The idea of a routine should be developing a cohesive series of effects that are performed in sequence to create a cohesive whole. That definition is apparant if you look at classic routines - an ambitious card, linking rings, cups and balls, wildcard, three-fly, etc. Each of those involves a series of effects that are interelated.

    Much of the magic sold today tend to be "stunts." Quick, simple, singular effects. That type of magic doesn't lend itself to any in depth presentation. What you get is three effects that are glued together with a strained presentation.

    I think in terms of doing a show since most of my performance is parlor-type performances. My show has 5 to 10 performance pieces. Each performance piece is around 5 to 6 minutes. Most of the pieces only have one or two "bits" of magic with a lot of persentation and a lot of build-up.

    For example, I use Eric Ross's Election with a couple as a compatability test that asks the question is it better to be the same or different. The presentation takes on a life of its own because I play off the responses I get (you can imagine that a couple in their 20s, a couple in their 40s and a couple in their 70s will have completely different responses). Ultimately, the answer is the same, but different if you know the effect. The reaction from the audience is enjoyment of the back and forth with the volunteer couple and a sharing of the bewilderment of the couple when they reveal they picked the same cards with different backs.

    So my advice is to develop a strong presentation for each effect. Part of that is seeking out effects that are capable of supporting a more detailed presentation.

    In my shows, I realize that what ties the routines together is my character. I've struggled to develop coherent shows where all of the effects make sense in a single context. It is next to impossible. The best I've done is the outline of a kids show that were the magician's wife and assistant is kidnapped and the magician must travel across the world with a talking bird to rescue her (and yes, this was developed before the Illusionists movies). Instead, my character is what ties the show together.

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  4. What Christopher said here should be your first starting point. Figure out who your character is, try to jot down as many details about them as you can even if they aren't relevant later, and then begin to write a script.

    As a film maker, I know that script writing is a process that varies for everyone. I typically try to build up my environment first and ask the question where is my character located? (i.e. stage, restuarant, bar, streets for magicians). I then try to think of what the characters interaction in this environment will be. Will they talk to people or will they remain solitary? Do they walk around and examine the environment or do they immediately interact with something. Something to consider when drafting your scripts.

    Another point I'm missing is make sure you know the story you want to tell. This seems obvious in film making but in magic we often forget to tell a tale and instead just let all the magic do the talking for us. That is not a good practice. An example of what I try to do is to have my show revolve around the theme and story of imagination. The reason I picked this theme is an attempt to put the audience at ease to relax and use their imagination as I'm performing in hopes of taking the way of the challenger narrative (i.e. I'm going to fool you and you can try to guess the method). The story begins with them asking to use their imagination, I then demonstrate how powerful imagination can be, and then I finish with the entire audience able to fully use the powers of their imagination.

    Once your story and environment is developed, you can figure out how you are going to craft your routines to tell the story. So in my imagination example I would have spectators imagine themselves interacting with invisible objects and then suddenly those objects can become reality (i.e. Invisible Card, Invisible Deck). I also make the point that imagination can allow me to alter anything I want and then go into money and pseudo-hypnosis routines.

    The last thing I want to mention is my philosophy of performing and crafting routines: everything must be justified. You need to have a reason for everything that you do so that the audience will buy into the story rather than a guy just up there with his magic props doing cool stuff. Even in street magic, I try to have a reason for everything I do in my street routine (if you dig deep enough on the forums on here it should be posted here when I was asking for busking advice).

    Best of luck!
  5. First of all, I want to say thank you for your thorough and well-worded responses. I knew I could count on you three at least to lend me some good advice in this area. The point about persona hits the nail on the head, and I have to admit I'm still figuring things out in that department. I've only ever really performed for friends and family, which is not great for developing a persona, since I feel awkward trying to modify my personality in front of them. At any rate, I have two directions I'm considering with my character, and I think it will take a little while to figure out which is best.

    But this discussion has brought on another question: what exactly is a "routine"?

    David listed some routines like Ambitious Card, Linking Rings, Cups and Balls, that are essentially the same effect performed multiple times with slight variations of method or presentation. The variations allow for tension and impossibility to build to a climax, but really it's the same basic transposition or penetration performed again and again. This kind of routine is more natural for me to wrap my head around. For instance in the routine I listed in my OP, I'm essentially just asking the spectator to select a card from the deck, and then I reveal that I have chosen or predicted that card as well--and I do that in three different variations.

    But on the other hand entirely, we have Hugard and Braue laying out routines at the end of RRTCM that seem to have no cohesion between effects at all! The first routine at the back of the book goes: Topsy Turvey Cards-->Now You See It-->Obliging Aces-->Do As I Do-->Card to Pocket-->Three Cards Across. I had an idea of mastering all of the routines in RRTCM as a way to get back in shape with magic, but as I started to look hard at the routines, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to glue all the effects together in a way that flowed. Hence why I came here.

    Maybe this is another discussion altogether, but how do you define a "routine"? And how do you transition from one routine or effect to the next if there really is no conceptual link between the two?

    As always, thank you gents for your wisdom.
  6. While I'm not ready to reveal my dream street routine for busking (I don't have all the necessary materials yet and I'll probably do a YouTube lecture on it later), I'll share with you my current Tyler Scott set consisting most of my own creations and working material. This will hopefully give you an idea of how to transition from one effect to another.

    I start off by asking to borrow some change. I then take a penny and have the spectator sign it (presumably with an "x"). I then tell them I'm going to demonstrate an ancient feat of magic of passing an object through my hand and ask them to hold out there palm to catch it. I then perform Doubting Thomas and a penny lands on there hand. It's not on the side with the "x" so I apologize for messing it up and then proceed to passing the coin through my hand again. Once again the coin is not on the side with the "x". In frustration I rip up the penny with the "x" on it since I had been performing Break by Uday Jadugar in a combination with Doubting Thomas.

    Starting off this way has left me something special, I have borrowed an object from a spectator and then I just performed two miracles with said borrowed object, and then I get to leave it with the spectator as a permanent reminder of what I have just done. What's great about this is right from the get go a spectator is actively participating in not only Doubting Thomas but Break as well since I invite them to catch the coin and to try and help me tear apart pieces together (they won't be able to though;)).

    From there I talk about how amazing it is that you can take a borrowed object and completely alter it's properties like that in an impossible way. I would then say something like "For instance let's take your empty water bottle for example. Just try to crush that sir/ma'am." They won't be able to at first but I then go into No Pressure only this time it is the spectator that alters the object after I have magically granted them the ability to do so.

    I would then talk about how it's truly magical that we can use such an ability to destroy an object but it would be even more amazing if we could restore an object. From here I have a number of different options depending on the route I want to take. If I want to keep on the general organic magic route that I've been on I could then do Healed and Sealed 2.0 or Uncrush by Eric Ross. Both of those effects would make sense in terms of the story I'm crafting about destroying and restoring things via magic (especially Uncrush after a spectator had just crushed their own tightly sealed water bottle). Or another route I could take is either Counterfeit by Wayne Houchin or Regeneration by Blake Vogt. This continues the story of destruction and restoration but now has made a doorway into card tricks.

    I would then either go into an ambitious card routine with a signed card since they are used to signing their future souvenirs by now or I would go into my Camper routine. If I hadn't chosen to go down the card route I would have to continue using general organic magic effects that relate to Healed and Sealed 2.0 or Uncrush. Something like quarter through bottle would make sense here since I did both Doubting Thomas as well as two water bottle effects.

    Now all I would need is a strong closer. I may finish with my top secret project I've been working for competitions or I might try to close on a strong effect that has to meet a certain number of requirements. It has to wrap up the story that I've been telling, it has to be big, it has to be memorable, and it has to be the best effect I've performed yet. Something along the lines of Torched and Restored by Brent Braun combined with Pyro by Adam Wilber as well as a smoke gimmick such as VAPR would add a lot of flash to close the routine. You can also really play up the story you have been trying to tell with that and close it on such a memorable note.

    I can't really give you a good definition for routine other than something you do consistently in a row. Perhaps others can give you a better definition but it may be subjective to many people. I do hope that this small little set list will get your creative engines running on how to string together effects that go hand in hand. It's amazing what you can do when you take different effects and match them to a similar theme. It should give you a solid 10-15 minutes worth of interactive entertainment with your audience.

  7. Yes having consistent definitions is a good thing. Personally, and I really don't know if anyone else thinks like this, but a routine to me is a trick or series of tricks that are scripted and blocked together to seem like they all are part of the same thing. So you could do an ACR which is just, "I take the card and put it at the bottom and pop! It's at the top!" - that's a trick. But if you do an ACR while, say, talking about persistence predation, where the card trick is only there to demonstrate the concept of the script, that's a routine. A routine can consist of multiple tricks which have been arranged to look like one continuous method. This is a good way to unconsciously eliminate possible methods, too - if you seem to maybe be doing a palm, for instance, and then seem to repeat the exact same procedure but casually show both palms empty, people will remember that as your hands being empty the whole time. It doesn't generally occur to people that you might be changing the method mid-way. When I do my Energy Transfer routine, I use methods from at least three people as well as stuff I came up with myself.

    Tricks and scripts are used to make routines, routines are used to make acts, and acts are used to make shows.

    At first this confused me, but then by the end of your post I get what you're saying. This is why I don't start with the tricks and then make a presentation around them. I start with a presentation as the foundation, and then use the tricks to highlight what I'm talking about. The presentation is the storybook, the tricks are the pictures. I should re-emphasize, I am a bizarre performer. In my hour long show I do maybe 6 routines. The vast majority of what I do is backed by history, philosophy, or spiritual themes. Or it's hypnosis.

    So the part where you're holding the whole show together with your character is also what I do to a large degree. I have a general theme for the entire show, but each routine has its own theme which relates to the overall theme. That way I can give a lot of texture while still maintaining a coherent arc throughout the show. So it's not that all of my routines for an entire show have the exact same theme, it's their their themes line up with the overall theme.
  8. I would use the same definition but instead of "same thing" I would use "same overall effect." I think that what @TylerScottIllusionist is talking about is a set which I would describe as a series of effects performed in succession.

    Those also would be "sets." I think the focus is the ability to go from one effect to another without changing decks. So the routine focus is more about design of the order of effects than a logical presentation of the effects together. The Roberto Giobbi Card College Light, Lighter and Lightest books have sets of card effects "routined" together for similar reasons.

    A routine is more seemless and doesn't appear to be different effects tied together. I use David Regal's Clink (invisible coins tossed to a glass where they appear as the are caught in the glass). I've added a three-fly routine as an introduction before vanishing the coins as I hand them out to the spectators. So the audience sees me making coins disappear from one hand and appear in the other and then I make coins disappear as I hand them to different spectators and they reappear as the spectators toss them into the glass. As you said, it looks like the same premise -- the coins disappear, reappear, disappear again and then reappear under unique circumstances - but the effects are different.

    Another example would be the Omni Deck. Although the routine looks like an ambitious card the first couple of times it seamlessly leads to the entire deck turning into a plastic block. So that has two different types of effects.

    I'll take what you said to another level of definition. Tricks are the method or methods used to produce an effect which is what the audince sees. A single trick or a series of tricks (i.e. a routine) can go into an effect. Presentation is the script, the blocking, (movement), the expressions, etc. that go into presenting an effect. When you combine tricks and presentation you come up with a performance piece (Larry Haas's definition from his book Transformations). Great examples of presentation pieces can be found in Peter McCabe's Scripting Magic, Larry Haas's Tranformations, any book by Robert Neale, Roberto Giobbi's Confidences (especially his letters from Einstein routine) and Steinmeyer's Conjuring book and column in Genii.

    A number of performance pieces go into a set or a show. A set is usually three shorter performance pieces done in sequence typically for table hopping or strolling magic. A show is five or more longer performance pieces done in sequence. The transitions between the performance pieces in a set are more logical and require some presentational glue. Take a set about going to the casino -- you do a poker dealing effect, an effect with dice and then an effect using the chips you won. But the transition doesn't have to be a lot as long as it makes sense.

    Really, this is a matter of trying a bunch of different things until you find out what works for you.
  9. I have the most experience in Kids shows and adult Close-up Magic. For both, I start with my strongest effects and then use my personality and scripting to keep their attention for the rest of the performance. None of my individual tricks are connected unless I'm doing a theme show like when I perform at Christmas, like a pirate or a Super Hero. When I work with kids the most important thing tying it all together is the energy in the room and keeping it at a relatively high level. When I perform for adults it's my sense of humour/ personality. it doesn't matter what trick I'm doing next people are either laughing or on the edge of their seats.
  10. Thank you again for all of the thorough and very helpful answers!

    This is along the same lines as my thinking. I was surprised to see the routines in RRTCM be so disjointed in terms of the type of effect. I imagine there may be some presentation out there that could glue them all together satisfactorily, but David is probably right in that the authors were simply trying to provide a simple path through a variety of effects based on logistics more than storytelling. Many magicians have done the same and seen great success, but I am definitely more interested in actually telling some sort of story.

    I've always been the type to try and cover all my bases before I go out in the wild--magic doesn't really lend itself to that, does it? haha

    Thanks for chiming in Chris! This is obviously a very different approach from the others talked about here. Do you mind sharing how you use your personality and scripting? I'm mostly curious how you segue from effect to effect when none of them are conceptually connected.
  11. Yes, this is what I meant.

    I am also a fan of what I refer to as the "spaghetti" method. Throw it against the wall, see what sticks. I bounced around quite a few styles of performance before settling into what I do now. A lot of different scripting attempts that were ... bad ... until I was able to figure out what kind of scripting I was comfortable with.

    One of the possibly odd ways of refining a script or presentation I use is this - I write up my script and such, and then when I test it out, I just leave out any part that feels a little embarrassing. I have also found that sometimes forgetting part of my script is an easy way to cut the fluff.

    I think there's only so much you can do before you actually step on stage with a routine. You can block it out, script it, rehearse it - but as soon as you step on stage you'll realize there was something you didn't think of, or some line that doesn't actually work for a real audience, or something else. Being able to adjust on the fly is very important.
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  12. I don't know how to describe it more than I just did, the audience can sense I want to have fun and they want to have fun with me. For my close up work I really look up to Jaun tamerez and Dani Daortiz. It's the same sort of style and feeling but it's my version of it. I'm not saying i'm even close to being Juan, but when he does an effect it doesn't matter what it is, the more he gets excited the more you get excited. Being overly excited suits me and my personality really well. Juan typically opens with Mnemonicosis which is a crazy strong effect and then this allows him to take the audience on a ride of emotions with his magic once he has them hooked and the same for Daortiz, 5 minutes after watching him start he blows you away and you realize you give up with figuring anything out and just buckle in for the ride. lol
    Daortiz is crazy live... like nuts. I can't even... I hope to someday be half that good... my freaking hero.

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