Minimalist Patter

Sep 7, 2022
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3
Hi Folks,

Something I've discovered about myself is that generally speaking I dislike 'traditional' magician patter. I think most scripting of magical effects comes across as someone trying to shoe-horn in a forced emotional resonance, symbolic element, or story. It is also often overlong and wordy, and the claims of magical or psychic powers, or superhuman skill, often seem laughably silly. I (and I'm only speaking for myself) find that such presentations detract from the trick and make the magic less enjoyable. Sometimes such an elaborate presentation can work well, if delivered by a consummate performer with a superb script in the right stage setting and context, but for the vast majority of magicians I've seen it doesn't work (for me) at all. This is doubly true in casual magic situations where someone familiar is showing a trick to friends - traditional patter is even less welcome in that context.

Additionally, I've met plenty of people amongst my family, friends and colleagues who think like me and who tell me honestly that they dislike such patter. They want to be astonished and puzzled by a direct and strong magic trick, not listen to obviously false and boring anecdotes or tedious 'waffle'.

However, many guides to magic, and many magicians, seem to give advice that tricks should be scripted with elaborate words, emotional hooks, narratives, jokes, and various claims to supernatural agency. And also when I try and explain that whilst that may work for many, and that is totally fine, there are people like myself and my friends who dislike that style and prefer something more minimal, some magicians tell me that is because we haven't seen a good performance yet, that if we heard a good enough script we'd prefer it, that patter is essential to magic tricks and tricks presented without such an emotionally heavy script are not really magic, and that me and my friends should neither perform nor watch magic!

My questions based on those points are:
a) Are there any magic resources which discuss scripting from this minimalist, casual style?
b) Does anyone else feel like me, or am I a rare bird?
c) Is it wrong to enjoy magic presented in a more basic and bare fashion?
d) Is it wrong to present magic as a direct demonstration of an astonishing puzzle/trick rather than as part of a story or as the result of some mysterious power?

Thanks :)
 

JoshL8

Elite Member
Aug 5, 2017
363
372
WA state USA
For stuff specifically about scripting magic…check out ‘Scripting Magic’ by Pete McCabe. Your script should sound either like; you, your persona, or your character and that book helps build character defining lines that are natural. It explains why certain lines/words are better for different reasons like; venues or personalities, by giving examples of the good and bad. Scripting Magic 2.0 has scripts AND also the tricks, it’s a good jumping off point to personalize your own script for an effect.

And for what it’s worth, I generally don’t use the same scripts (or tricks for that matter) with friends as I do with strangers.

a) see above
b) I think you are hitting lots of the same topics that others run into, like performing for friends versus strangers and how that differs.
c) everyone enjoys magic for their own reasons. It’s fine.
d) not wrong.…but there are some pitfalls of that being the feeling you are eliciting from the participants. “How did you do that?“ could mean 1) ’there is no way that’s possible!’ or 2)’you did something tricky and I want to know what’.

Aiming for presenting a performance as a puzzle or skill demonstration could be creating an environment thats versus rather than co-op. That style of presentation can be pulled off (gambling demo for instance) and may work with friends… but for the masses who have no connections to you it’s a minefield. If you are a teen you can get away with this somewhat…a 45 year old dude….not so much. It’s also the area many new performers are at…that area of presentation is the most common and is saturated with mediocrity.

Books like Maximum Entertainment and The Books of Wonder discuss ‘tricks/puzzles’ versus ‘magic’ pretty decently.
 

WitchDocIsIn

Elite Member
Sep 13, 2008
5,828
2,918
The comment about, "we haven't seen a good performance", is likely true.

The vast majority of magicians are, unfortunately, not great performers. Too much focus on learning technical skills and not enough focus on learning how to engage with the audience.

And let me tell you - as someone who largely moves in the Bizarre Magic circles, I am no stranger to seeing wildly over written scripting. One of my favorite jokes was told to me by David London - "How many bizarre magicians does it take to change a lightbulb? I'll tell you, but first I'd like to tell you about my dear aunt Mildred......"

I think it's less helpful to focus on script length as a guideline, and far more helpful to think about audience engagement. The length of the script isn't that important if the audience is engaged and hanging on every word.

Derek Delgaudio's "In And Of Itself" (which I believe is currently available on Hulu) is an excellent example. The video is 90 minutes long (I do not know how long the actual show was) - I think he does 6 actual 'routines' (in that he actually does a trick of some sort) and the rest is all talking - mostly stories. It also has two of the most powerful original ideas I think I've ever seen, but that's partly beside the point.

This show is a terrific example of engagement. The audience is fully invested in the show, even though the vast majority of it is talking.

From personal experience, I've had a lot of positive feedback from my scripting. My first solo show was 45 minutes and was maybe 6 routines. I sold out half the run, and that was in direct competition with two far more well known magicians. My favorite piece of feedback was, "It's like a magic show for intelligent people."

But here's the thing - I learned how to tell stories long before I learned how to perform magic. So I know how to keep a script interesting, and I know how to tell stories so they are engaging. My litmus test for a performance is "Would this be interesting if there was no magic?"

Unfortunately most magicians I have seen perform, have focused entirely on learning the methods to tricks and have put very little effort into learning how to genuinely perform in an engaging fashion.

The books mentioned in the previous post are generally what I would also recommend. But also - study performers outside of magic. Comedians are experts at holding a crowd with nothing but words. If you can find a good story teller, watch them and see how they do things. Ren Faires are a good place to find them.

Now - on the subject of minimalism. This can also backfire. If the audience doesn't care about what they are looking at, then just saying, "Watch, watch" isn't going to engage them.

There's a commonly used phrase, "The magic should stand for itself." Which is the idea that a trick should be good enough that it's entertaining without really any script at all. Personally, I disagree with this sentiment. There are very, very few tricks out there that can stand completely on their own. However, there are many stories that (when told well) stand on their own just fine.
 

Stu-pendous

Elite Member
Nov 1, 2010
256
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Perth, Australia
www.facebook.com
For myself while performing walkarounds I started noticing that I didn't like using scripted patter because everything sounded forced. I wanted more casual feel to my performing. Because if I was focusing too much on patter I was not putting everything into the trick itself.

Once I started more improv style it all came so much easier for me. The same routines all felt more natural, and that eased itself into my stage persona as well. I was able to be more loose and enjoy the whole time much more that way. So as far as resources for minimalist patter I'm not sure, but something that you just have fun and get comfortable with.
 
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Sep 7, 2022
33
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I understand. But for me, and those in my social circle who think like me, want to see magic tricks when we choose to watch magic - if we wanted a good story we'd watch a play or film etc.

I appreciate that for many people that sort of presentation is what they wantand enjoy, they want the patter and so on. But I'm really looking for something else.

Yes, ttue, for such a minimal route, the trick really does have to stand or fall largely on its own. And that is something to be aware of: that only strong material will pass muster within such an approach.
 
Sep 7, 2022
33
3
"Aiming for presenting a performance as a puzzle or skill demonstration could be creating an environment thats versus rather than co-op. That style of presentation can be pulled off (gambling demo for instance) and may work with friends… but for the masses who have no connections to you it’s a minefield. If you are a teen you can get away with this somewhat…a 45 year old dude….not so much. It’s also the area many new performers are at…that area of presentation is the most common and is saturated with mediocrity."

Yes, that's a good point. This isn't an approach I would try with a show or with the general public, I assume the way I view and enjoy magic is a minority view. But since I'm predominantly only doing magic for people I know in casual settings, and who I know like this more minimal style, it's that style I want to hone. I appreciate there's many magi whose minimalist presentations are mediocre (or worse), but I don't want to be that if I can help it. That said, I'd rather watch a mediocre direct presentation than a mediocre, or even above average, traditional patter-filled presentation.
 

RealityOne

Elite Member
Nov 1, 2009
3,686
4,014
New Jersey
A lot of "patter" is often banal. It does seem forced and scripted. In those cases, it does detract from the magic.

A well written script answers the question, "why should I care?" If you want your magic to have an impact beyond being visual eye candy or, as Paul Harris calls it a "moment" of astonishment, you need to answer that question. If you perform for family and friends, it is perfectly fine to do tricks that speak for themselves. Often, that leads to the audience to engage in the expected game of "he is trying to fool us, so I'll try and figure it out so that I'm not a fool." The reason? Because there is nothing to focus on except "how did he do that?"

My style is to marry strong effects with strong presentations. The combination better meets the goal of entertaining the audience that either the effect or the presentation standing alone.

My favorite piece of feedback was, "It's like a magic show for intelligent people."

Mine was "this is a different kind of magic than I've ever seen." I've actually had people ask me after the show to repeat part of my presentation for one effect because they wanted to remember it to tell their husband.

I like Larry Haas's book Transformation because it talks about the effort required to take a "trick" and turn it into a "presentation piece." That isn't what you are looking for, but it is a good guide to figuring out good presentations.
 
Sep 7, 2022
33
3
Absolutely. Most patter is banal. I hate it. The vast majority of magic acts I've seen could do with some very serious editing.

As for avoiding the 'how did they do that?' reaction, I think that depends on audience as much as presentation. People like me and some of my social circle will always seek to know how it was done. It's just how our brain works. We enjoy thinking about it and knowing it if we can. It's not about wanting to not being fooled, it's about enjoying the puzzle aspect and appreciating clever methods. I appreciate most people aren't like that.

Strong effect with strong presentation is totally the answer. But what counts as a strong presentation will vary person to person; context to context. For me, and many of those in my social circle, a good presentation will be minimal and direct. That wouldn't work for many others or in other contexts.
 

WitchDocIsIn

Elite Member
Sep 13, 2008
5,828
2,918
I have a friend that's an engineer like that. Always tries to figure things out.

When he saw my show, his feedback to me was, basically that near the end of the show he realized he hadn't been questioning anything I said or did, he just accepted it and enjoyed the show.

There are definitely people that puzzle everything apart but I think that number is smaller than even those that do it consider it to be. I have consistently received feedback along these lines - that usually when the person goes to a magic show they sit and figure out the tricks instead of just enjoying the show, but at my show they just enjoyed the experience.

I figure the reason for this is not that I'm some amazingly good performer, but that I purposely write my scripting to respect and engage the audience's intellect.
 
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