This is the start of a series of articles on the topic of subtleties for magicians. There will be even a few thoughts on the topic of “Framing”, which is a well-documented, respected (and often commented on) topic in modern society. It is used in politics, economy and human interaction. In magic, framing can be helpful in establishing a magical atmosphere, and it can help to guide the audience along some preplanned thinking paths.
With these articles, I want to dive deep and discuss the theoretical concepts of using subtleties in magic, specifically silent convincers, but I will also try to make up some ready-to-use “formulas”, or concepts we magicians can (and often should) use in our presentations. Therefore, the title of this essay. It will be a collection of proven, workable “hacks” for misdirecting the thoughts of the spectators, helping us to hide our secret workings.
I will open up many different ways of using subtleties in magic. These I will call the “silent convincers”, the word subtlety is often used in that context. So I will not only give examples of verbal framing but also of some actions or settings.
In my experience, silent convincers are by far the strongest weapons because the subject is convinced to arrive at a specific conclusion by itself. In magic, we create a false reality, and things are more than often not exactly what they seem to be.
Let Them do the Work
Suppose you do a trick with a coin purse. I will take Albert Goshman’s classic routine “Card to Coin Purse,” as it has some beautiful framing built-in. In effect, a signed card ends up folded in a small coin purse, which has been in full view on the table the whole time.
Important for the trick is that everybody is convinced that this purse is empty. You could start the trick and simply state: “I have here an empty coin purse.” Fine, but not so clever. It provokes the audience to doubt your claim and demand proof. A pretty stupid and not too helpful approach.
We want the audience to be convinced that this purse is empty, but we want them to come to that conclusion by themselves. We want them to be convinced this purse was empty at the beginning, otherwise, the effect is weakened.
How could we manage that?
Albert solved this in a brilliant, yet simple way. He had two expensive and interesting looking gold coins in the purse! He put the purse in front of a spectator and asked her to open it and remove the content. “Please take that purse, open it and remove everything that’s inside.”
First, let’s take a look at the wording. Simply stating “this purse is empty” is not enough. It only creates suspicion and a challenge. Better is to verbally implant the idea of emptiness in the spectator’s minds.
“Please take that purse, open it and remove everything that’s inside.” Much better! With this action, the focus is shifted towards the two golden coins, which are far more interesting for the spectators than the purse. The act of having the spectator remove “everything that’s inside” implies that besides the two coins the purse is empty. There is nothing in it. That’s the silent proof, but you didn’t say it, the spectators themselves came to that conclusion. And the assisting spectator even acts as a witness for the others, doing the action of taking the contents out of the purse.
At the end of the routine, this is even reinforced by the question: “You remember there were two golden coins inside this purse, do you?” which she answers in the affirmative. Again, the emptiness of the purse is reinforced by her. Everybody can follow and remembers that things were like that. Therefore, the surprise of the folded card appearing in this purse registers even stronger.
I remember Juan Tamariz in his “Paris Act” applying this strategy. He has the spectator open the purse and take out what’s inside. Without saying this implies the purse is otherwise empty.
This also belongs to the subject of showing something empty: the better and more convincing way to prove the emptiness of a container is to have someone remove all the contents. The “Let Them do the Work” is a fine principle that is far beyond the usual wording and “displays of emptiness,” unfortunately still used by so many magicians.
[to be continued]