A Hand Is Not A Table
Quick show of hands—how many of your prefer the term "strolling magic" over "walk-around magic?" Personally, I'd like to see a third option. For 21 seconds, I thought "intimate magic" might work, but people seemed to misunderstand me when I asked them if they'd like to pay me for a night of intimate magic. Anyhow, "walk-around magic" sounds as ridiculous as "sit-down singing," and "strolling magic" sounds slightly better, but the words feel very mismatched. Hmmm . . . what if we combined the words "strolling" and "walking?" That's it! Stalking Magic. I think we have a winner.
This is all beside the point, though.
Regardless of the term we use, there are a lot of magicians who, when performing their strolling set, ask their semi-captive audience members to hold out their hands so they can use them as a table for various objects either used or unused. I believe there are many reasons to rethink asking the spectator to hold anything.
First, I would suggest that we only put things into the hands of spectators to effect a magical moment that belongs in their hands. Implicit in the previous statement is the idea that not all magical moments belong in the hands of the audience. That is, there are only certain moments that truly feel at home in direct contact with the volunteer.
This may seem like a counter-intuitive revelation, but let's ask ourselves where magic wants to be, and not merely where we can make it fit.
Secondly, is the act of handing them the object motivated? If we are going to hand them something just to take it back and effect the magic moment in our hands, then why place it in their hands to begin with? (An exception would be allowing people to examine an item before you get started, but then again, why should someone need to examine ordinary objects?)
Consider this: If a card is turned face down while in your possession, then given to the spectator to hold, and then later taken back from them face down, nothing has happened in their hands. As such, was it magically necessary or beneficial for them to have held the card in the interim? It could even be argued that the magic is diminished by giving them the card to hold, and if that card had been placed on a table instead, the climax may have been amplified by virtue of having left the card out of their hands. I feel we should examine this idea just a bit further.
If an object is placed into the hands of the spectator, it is continuously in their stream of perception. That is, it is connected to their senses continuously. If it is removed from their hand before their perceptions are shaken, called into question, or otherwise magically affected, then there is no magic moment "in their hands." The only magic is that you transformed a person into furniture temporarily. But, if the card was tossed on a table instead, that object is allowed to go to a place somewhere between full sensory awareness and no awareness. And that is a place where anything can happen, provided it stays somewhere between the two. A bit of a nebulous idea, to be sure.
Think of what you want to accomplish in their minds after you are long gone. As they are recalling the trick to their friends at a later time, you want their reaction to be, ". . . and it happened in my hands!" Unless you are going to get this from the routine, or unless you can put into place a structure and a series of events that causes them to mis-remember where the object was at a certain point, then you are being a bit discourteous to the spectators in asking them to hold your things for you. Imagine any other social scenario where you would be comfortable with a stranger approaching you and your friends and, in the course of interacting with you, asking you to hold his briefcase, then this jacket, then his phone, &c.
At best, this sort of behavior cheapens the experience. For example, imagine seeing a magician remove a pack of cards from his pocket, take them out of the card box, and then hand the box to one audience member to hold. He then removes the four aces, hands the balance of the pack to another spectator to hold, and starts performing "Twisting the Aces." During the trick, he hands the cards to the helper and, while manhandling her movements, finally gets her to give the cards a face down twist before quickly taking them back and revealing the aces. Do any of the spectators feel like their involvement was necessary in this scenario? Or is it more likely that they feel like an unpaid personal assistant for five minutes?
I can hear someone protesting, "But I can't hold everything I need for the trick in my hands when I'm doing walk-around!" Then you have two options. The most obvious is, don't do that trick. There are tens of thousands of tricks. Could it be possible that trick is a poor choice for strolling magic and you are perfectly capable of finding a much better trick or routine for this environment?
The second option is to work near a table. If you have some control over the environment (and simply knowing your environment before the performance will go a long way toward this), then you may see that there are elevated tables near the sides of the room. So, when you are in that area, certain routines will fit, and when you are in the rest of the venue, you will have material more suited for that environment. I know, it's all so self-evident when someone else is writing it, but how often do we still see magicians try desperately to convert a solid routine that requires a table or a stage into one suitable for mingling magic? Let's face it. There are requirements and constraints to walk-around material. Not everything will adapt well to strolling magic.
In closing, this is simply a reminder to find the right material for the environment, and to not use people as furniture—unless it's naked sushi night. Then it's OK.
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