Read an Excerpt
A Book of Magic for Young Magicians
The Secrets of Alkazar
By Allan Zola Kronzek, Joseph K. Schmidt
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1992 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MISDIRECTION passing through
Much of your success as a magician will depend on your ability to perform certain actions in full view of the audience, without anyone becoming aware of what you are doing. This is not accomplished by being secretive or quick with your hands. In fact, quick movements are among the easiest to detect. Rather, it is done by cleverly directing the attention of the viewers away from the secret action and toward something else. This is called misdirection. It is one of the most powerful and important tools a magician has. By understanding how it works and how to use it, you can influence not only what the audience sees, but also what they believe.
When I first began my studies with Alkazar, he gave me a set of principles concerning misdirection. They are excellent observations and apply to nearly all the magic I have ever done.
THE PRINCIPLES OF MISDIRECTION
The key to misdirection lies in learning to control attention.
The audience will pay attention to what moves. They will also pay attention to what makes noise.
What doesn't move and doesn't make noise doesn't attract attention.
The audience will always look where the magician looks.
The magician must never look at what he wishes to conceal.
The audience will treat as important what the magician treats as important.
The audience will treat as unimportant what the magician treats as unimportant.
The magician nearly always treats what is important as if it were unimportant. Likewise, he treats what is unimportant as if it were important.
Now, let's look at some of these ideas at work. The following trick is an ideal place to begin because the misdirection is built right into it. It is easily done on the spur of the moment and is one of Alkazar's favorites. He calls it Passing Through.
While seated around the dinner table or at a restaurant with friends, Alkazar announces that he is going to perform a miracle. He is going to cause a coin to pass through the table. He borrows a quarter and places it on the table. Next, he covers some handy object—a salt shaker, for instance —with a napkin and places it on top of the coin.
Alkazar places one hand under the table to receive the coin. He utters some magic words and orders the coin to pass through the table. He then lifts the shaker to show that the quarter is gone. To the wizard's surprise, nothing has happened. The coin is still there.
But wait. Alkazar suddenly notices that the coin is heads up instead of tails up. No wonder it didn't work. The magician turns the quarter over, covers it with the salt shaker, and again utters some magic words. But once again, the magic fails.
By this time the audience is beginning to wonder. Is Alkazar really a magician? Of course he is—and now he proves it. "There is a very powerful spell I don't use often, because it can be dangerous," he announces. "But this is no time to be cautious."
Again he covers the coin with the salt shaker. "Atoms and molecules," chants the mystifier, "by the power that is mine, I order you to make way. Oomash Kavasi Zid!" Without warning, Alkazar slams his hand down on the napkin and, instantaneously, the salt shaker passes through the table and is immediately brought up from underneath! What has taken place is an impossible demonstration of one solid object passing through another. As for the quarter, it is still lying on the table under the now-crumpled napkin. Alkazar returns it to its owner with a smile and says, "Sometimes the powers of magic surprise even me." He then begins another feat of mystery.
What makes this trick so stunning in Alkazar's hands is not merely the secret, but the way in which he uses misdirection and surprise to throw the audience off guard. Here's how to do it.
Place the borrowed coin on the table a foot or so in front of you. Take the salt shaker and cover it with the napkin, explaining that the penetration of the coin must take place out of sight. Squeeze and mold the napkin around the top and sides of the shaker so that the shape of the shaker is clear. Make sure the napkin hides the entire shaker, especially at the bottom, where the napkin spreads out onto the table. (See Figure 1-1.) Then take the napkin-shaker combination and place it on top of the coin.
Place your left hand under the table to receive the coin. Your right hand should hover a few inches above the shaker. Make a magical pass, commanding the coin to penetrate the table. Pause. Appear somewhat puzzled, and bring your left hand up from under the table. With your right hand, lift the shaker-napkin by grasping it near the very top between your thumb and middle finger, and bring it toward you so that it ends up slightly past the edge of the table and an inch or so above it. What you are supposedly doing is showing that the coin is still there, so make sure you look at the coin and pay no attention at all to your right hand. Glance at the spectators, and then "realize" that the coin is wrong side up. Lean forward just a bit, and with your left hand turn the coin over. At the exact time that you are turning the coin, lower your right hand slightly so that the napkin touches the tabletop, loosen your grip, and allow the shaker to slip out of the napkin and fall into your lap. (See Figure 1-2.) Watch only the coin. Then take the napkin, which has kept the shape of the shaker (magicians call a hollow form like this a shell), and place it back over the coin as if the shaker were still inside. Release the napkin.
As bold as this move is, absolutely no one will realize what has just gone on because of the superb misdirection. From the very start, the audience has been led to believe that they are watching a coin trick. This causes them to think the napkin and the shaker are unimportant (Principle 3). The turning of the coin holds the audience's attention at the very moment the shaker is being "stolen" (Principles 1, 2, and 3). And, finally, the replacing of the shell causes the spectators to assume that the shaker is still there.
Continue by attempting once more to pass the coin through the table. This time, when you lift the "shaker" to show the coin, don't move it far from the coin. Then cover the coin again. To conclude the trick, say a few words about the very powerful magic you must use. As your left hand goes under the table, secretly pick up the salt shaker from your lap and hold it under the table, directly under the shell. Do this by touch alone. Under no circumstances should you look at your left hand or the shaker. Slam your open right hand down onto the shell and smash it flat against the table. Immediately bring the shaker up for all to see. The illusion of passing through is perfect.
Here are eight important tips on this trick from Alkazar's Black Notebook:
1. Just as you must make the coin seem important to the trick, you must make the salt shaker seem unimportant.
2. Always handle the shell as if it really contained the shaker.
3. Learn what kinds of napkins will hold a shape. Stiff paper napkins are ideal. Newspaper is an excellent substitute.
4. Never lift the shell so high or tilt it at such an angle that the audience will be able to see inside.
5. Never rush through the coin part of the trick. Act as if you genuinely expect the coin to penetrate the table.
6. Keep the shell even with or slightly below the edge of the table when you release the shaker. If you do so, the maneuver will be impossible to detect.
7. Work on the timing of the coin turn and the shaker drop, so that you do them simultaneously and without hesitating or fumbling.
8. Add or subtract from the trick whatever makes it work best for you. Many magicians steal the shaker on the second peek. It's a matter of choice.CHAPTER 2
THE HANDLING sweet deception
One rule about performing magic is so simple and obvious I'm not sure I should even mention it. But I'm going to anyway, because, like so many obvious things, it is easily overlooked. It's this: In order to create magic, you must know what you are doing.
That's it. That's the whole thing. But knowing what you are doing means more than knowing the secret of any particular trick. Anyone can know a secret. What a magician must know is a total performance. You must know how to introduce a trick, how to build interest in it, how to handle props, how to direct or misdirect attention, and generally how to do the dozen or so things necessary to turn tricks into magic.
So how do you begin to know a trick? The first thing you must do is read the description of the effect. Effect is magicians' jargon for what appears to happen, or what the audience sees. Be sure to read the directions through a few times, to get the general idea of how the effect is produced. Next, with the necessary props in front of you, go through all the steps, or "moves," necessary to create the effect. Learn the order of the steps so thoroughly that you will never forget what comes next. Then go through all the steps again, this time paying very close attention to every detail.
In rehearsing a trick like Passing Through, you must know exactly how you should hold the napkin-shaker, where you are going to move it, and when you are going to let it go. Magicians call the way they approach these details the handling of the trick. Different handlings can be used to produce the same effect, and you must develop and learn yours so that you can do it exactly the same way every time, without thinking. You will have plenty of other things to occupy you during a performance, so the handling should be completely second nature.
When deciding your approach, consider the ways in which you can build misdirection into the handling. Also, try speeding up or slowing down various parts of the performance to see which tempos work best.
Practice each step of the trick separately, then work on the trick as a whole. Try to make everything flow. Practice until it stops being fun, take a rest, then practice some more.
Once you are satisfied that your rehearsals have given you something worth showing, take the trick out in public and polish it. Don't expect it to go perfectly at first. It probably won't. But keep at it. It is only by showing the same effect to different audiences that you can (1) learn how long it should be, (2) get the timing of each part right, (3) find and eliminate the dull spots, (4) overcome your nervousness, and, most important, (5) realize how something so simple can fool so many intelligent people.
Only when you have done all of this will you really know what you're doing when you present a trick. And then you will be unshakable. Your performance will seem spontaneous and unrehearsed. And you will be a magician.
Now try adding Sweet Deception to your repertoire. Alkazar often presents it as a follow-up to Passing Through. Done well, it's a knockout.
After returning the quarter to its owner, Alkazar explains that he doesn't use such powerful magic words often, because sometimes they summon spirits from another dimension, and these spirits can take days to go away. In fact, the magician remarks, the spirits are present at this very moment. The spectators seem doubtful, but Alkazar offers to prove it.
Noticing a bowl of sugar cubes on the table, the performer asks someone to pick out a cube and unwrap it. "I want you to think of a geometrical figure," the magician states. "It can be a circle, a square, a star, anything. When you have it pictured clearly in your mind, draw it on the cube."
Alkazar offers the volunteer a dark lead pencil. After the figure has been drawn, he takes the cube, and, without looking at the design, drops it into a glass of water, where it begins to dissolve.
"Now, please hold your hand above the glass," the magician says. "You'll probably feel a tingling sensation in a moment, but try not to move. May we have absolute quiet."
During the silence, Alkazar moves his hands mysteriously around the glass but never once touches it.
"Spirits," he finally says, "we have drawn for you; now draw for us!"
The conjuror claps his hands, or whispers a half-heard chant.
"Please turn your hand palm up so that we may all see."
The volunteer does so, and there on his palm the audience sees the exact same shape that he drew on the sugar cube!
As with most tricks, the secret of the effect is quite simple. But, as most magicians know, the simplest of things are often the most difficult to detect. Here are the basic moves.
1. While the volunteer is drawing on the cube, secretly wet the ball of your right thumb. You could openly lick your thumb and probably no one would notice. It's easier, though, simply to move the glass of water to the center of the table, and at the same time allow your thumb to get wet by touching the inside rim.
2. Have the volunteer give you the cube, or place it drawing-side down on the table. Take it between the thumb and forefinger of your hand, and drop it into the water without looking at the design. (See Figure 2-1.) While doing so, secretly press your thumb (the moist one) against the drawing, and, after dropping the cube, keep your thumb hidden under your fingers as you withdraw your hand. The reason for hiding your thumb is that it now bears the imprint of the drawing that is on the cube.
3. Ask the volunteer to hold his hand over the glass. Pretend it's very important for him to hold his hand in exactly the right place, and ask him to raise it an inch, then lower it half an inch. Pretending he still doesn't have it right, reach over, take his hand, and raise or lower it. As you do this, briefly press your thumb against his palm, transferring the drawing. (See Figure 2-2.) Say something like, "Now hold it right there," and withdraw your hand, again keeping your thumb with the imprint out of sight.
4. As you ask for silence and give your final instructions, lower your right hand beneath the table and quickly wipe the lead smudge from your thumb. Finally, bring both hands forward, make some magical passes (to show how free of trickery your hands are) and complete the effect.
I have a few splendid tips from Alkazar, but first let me suggest you work on some of the things that will help you know this trick. How and when are you going to wet your thumb? Where will the spectators' attention be while you are doing this? What handling are you going to use to pick up the cube? And, most important of all, do you know this trick well enough to perform it without thinking?
From the Black Notebook:
1. When you tell the volunteer how to hold his hand, he will generally ask, "Like this?" At that moment, take his hand, move it slightly up or down as you transfer the imprint, and say, "No, like this."
2. Once the imprint has been transferred, tell the volunteer to make a tight fist. This makes the revealing of the drawing more dramatic.
3. After the transfer, when the volunteer's hand is in place above the glass, ask him if he feels a tingling sensation. This puts additional time between the transferring and the revealing, during which the volunteer often forgets that you ever touched his hand.
4. When doing magic with common objects such as salt shakers, sugar cubes, napkins, or pieces of paper, always make it seem as if you are using these things simply because they are handy. Any others, it should seem, would do just as well.
5. An alternate performance: With an audience of seven or eight, when the mood is right, present Sweet Deception as a seance. One person draws the figure but shows it to no one. The magician drops the cube into the glass. A different spectator places his hand above the glass and makes a fist. Everyone else joins hands. The first person announces what he drew. Everyone concentrates on it. The fist is opened and the drawing revealed. Fantastic!CHAPTER 3
SECRETS the stamp collector
"Hey, how did you do that?"
Everyone asks. Friends, teachers, parents, visitors from out of town—they all want to know how it's done. Say, "It's magic," change the subject, or continue your performance. But whatever you do, don't tell.
Protecting the secrets of magic has always been one of the sacred duties of every serious magician. Magicians tell other magicians and set their ideas down in books. But no magician ever reveals the modus operandi (the way an effect works) simply to satisfy the curiosity of a spectator.
There are several reasons for this. First, the more the public knows about the devices of magic, the more difficult it becomes to use these devices successfully. Second, revealing the secret diminishes the audience's appreciation of the magician's craft. Audiences assume that "the secret" is the essence of the magician's art. Even a few magicians believe this. However, as Alkazar taught me, it is always the performance, never the secret, that determines great magic.
Excerpted from A Book of Magic for Young Magicians by Allan Zola Kronzek, Joseph K. Schmidt. Copyright © 1992 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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