Twisted Pipes

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Part 1 of 4 on Make Big Reactions!

Last week, the underground water line into my house developed a leak and water was flowing out into the street. I got a little muddy, but I managed to fix it. Okay, some of you right now may be thinking the Sleight of Hand Man is a little out of his league playing the role of Handy Man. You may be right. But I’ve had just enough adventures in my life to not be afraid of these things and when I dug up the pipe, I immediately knew something looked a little off…

See that contortion in the white pipe where it takes two 90 degree turns headed out of the water meter, that’s not suppose to be there. Then the sprinkler line coming off the side, it shouldn’t be connected there either. All of those twists created stress on the water line. In fact, if those turns were not there, the leak would have never happened!

“So, what do these twisted pipes have to do with magic performance?”

I’m glad you asked. So many times, we have an effect, a beautiful idea that we wish to get across to our spectators, but from the very beginning of our delivery, there are interruptions and stresses on our presentation that keeps the audience from experiencing all the wonder we have to offer. They are little things that distract and diminish the maximum impact because they impede the flow of the trick right from the start.

Having those twists at the start of my water line, was not unlike a cluttered introduction to a trick. It’s added “stress” that delays getting to the good stuff. These twists in the water line are like commanding everyone’s attention to watch a trick and then saying, “Wait a minute, let me find it. It’s somewhere here in my pocket. Hold on…” 

In those extra add on moments, your captivated audience is set free. I creates attention leaks. From then on, you will have unnecessary work to captivate again.

Even a performer who’s approach is intentionally slow or environmentally slow, should desire to captivate the audience’s attention with the least amount of resistance. The buskers on the street who I have most enjoyed and witnessed collecting the most tips understand this concept. 

Let’s follow this example. Many street performers try to build a crowd before they start the show. There is probably going to be a delay, but they keep the show moving forward. One by one people are pulled into watch. All the little antidotes, small tricks, and jokes they share are captivating people, including more people, and creating curiosity about what will happen next…Anything disruptive, such as moments of prolonged silence while setting up a trick, the performer leaving the center of the ring for a water break, or a beat cop showing up (twists in the pipeline so to speak) would encourage the people on the street to keep walking along and miss the show (leak out if you will). They would never see the big finish. And in the busker’s case, never drop a tip in the hat!

For most of us, I believe it’s ideal to have moments of amazement within the first breaths of chatting with the audience. We should seek ways to astonish or captivate our audience quickly. Once we have their attention, then we can set your own pace. 

Houdini’s generation granted him hours to accomplish an escape. They would patiently wait for him to appear from inside of a locked safe. Our culture may only give us two seconds. 

There are so many distractions commanding attention these days. Make yourself the biggest distraction. Command attention at the start. When the audience is completely focused on you, bigger reactions are sure to follow.

Approach a table with confidence, prepared to entertain them. Have lines rehearsed and ready to repeat on cue. Be ready to have a direct, unhindered start. But be in the moment and engage with your audience. Make yourself flexible if your rehearsed line is not ideal for the situation and you need to leave script…I wish the water pipe into my house had been a little more flexible to save the hassle of fixing that leak!

How many times do spectators ask to see something again? Someone may say, “I missed it. I wasn’t paying attention. Show me again!” …What if that is the performers fault?

Take some time to evaluate how you start a performance. Even if you just perform on video. ESPECIALLY if you just perform on video you will want to edit out anything before the trick that doesn’t belong. For example, if you are setting up hand positions or fiddling with your phone’s camera for even 3 seconds before you start the magic, it’s costing you views! Fumbly starting videos don’t typically go viral. It’s just a delay, it’s just a kink in the line, and it looses the audiences’ attention minimizing payout.

I removed the twists in my water line and it now runs straight to my home, hopefully solving the leak for good. In your magic performance, make a straight and clean start, eliminate stress that causes attention leaks, and see how your magic gets bigger reactions!

Is there anything distracting you can or have eliminated from the start of a performance? Share below!


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1 comment

  • Eric Summers

    Jeff – great thoughts! I don’t have anything recent, since I am just getting back to performing. However, during my small stage/birthday party days I had an upbeat show with doves, ropes, comedy. This was during the pre-smart phone days, so I was at it for a while before I had someone film my show (with one of those 25 pound VHS cameras). As soon as I watched the show, YIKES! I realized the audience was spending way too much time looking at the top of my shiny, balding head as I was getting the next prop out of my case, or getting rid of them. Not good for the attention span, especially with a kid audience! I totally reworked how I retrieved and ditched my props. I really think that made a difference. At least the glare off my head wasn’t blinding the audience anymore! :-)

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