This is a follow-up to the post here.
Thanks for your emails and feedback on the piece.
I should first clarify that my observations were made based on what I saw professional-level illusionists performing and what I think they should be doing instead. There is not the same level of expectation for new, aspiring or amateur illusionists because they are new to the game. But, professionals who make a living on magic and are a representation of our industry should be held at a much higher standard.
Also, different artists have individual aspirations and artistic & commercial goals. So, my observations were made in reference to the commercial creative artist who is looking for mainstream commercial success.
However, some did not fully understand my ‘essay’. My point was not a proposal to just perform new and original illusions in a bid to push the art forward and for illusionists to differentiate themselves from each other.
With the exception of the likes of Copperfield, Penn & Teller and Franz Harary, there are very few in the world who can present almost an entire show of original illusions.
My proposed solution to “Why Do Illusionists Perform the Same Illusions?”recommended that, as far as possible, new illusions should be featured in an illusionist’s show program. If not, and also the main point of the entry, at least present illusions with some originality through:
1) The redesign of a ‘standard/ common’ prop to make it look different
2) Through the presentation of the illusion. The presentation can encompass, characterization of performers, the motivation, logic, choreography, story plot and entertainment value.
If you watch American Idol, one of the recurring comments the judges make is for the contestants to be original. And the application of originality here is not to sing an original song or composition but to present any song in a unique way, sing it in a different style, add a melodic twist or change the arrangement so that a song is relevant to today’s audience. At no point do the judges insist or even suggest that the contestants sing original written songs.
While this is no guarantee of success, time has shown that the contestants who do well in the competition are those that perform never-before-seen interpretations of a known song. However, it is a given that they need be perform commercially appealing interpretations and their vocals must be excellent.
To reiterate – that was my point in my entry “Why do illusionists perform the same illusions?” My point was not to insist that all illusionists should invent new illusions but rather they need to think how they can reinvent a ‘standard/ common’ illusion so that it is different and not so ‘me-too’.
If fact, I would go so far to say that you do not need to invent or perform a 100% new illusion effect to be successful. David Blaine revolutionized close-up magic (or magic in general) by performing the same time-tested close-up effects that magicians had performed for decades. But, he brought originality (as perceived by the general public and media) by presenting the effects stripped of elaborate presentations and in a different environment.
In addition, I am in no way implying that differentiation is more important and negates the need for presenting great magic. It is essential that the differentiated illusion be great magic. In fact, the quality of the basic illusion effect is a given not a goal.
But for the art and industry to progress forward, there is also a need to push the envelope more and not be contented with just doing great magic. I feel the thought process should be to strive towards presenting great magic that has individualism and is relevant to your audience.
To further illustrate what I was proposing in terms of bringing originality to illusions, here are examples, past and present:
The Thin Sawing/ Wakeling Sawing
While different in method, the visual image and props use are similar enough for laymen to feel they are the same illusion. Doug Henning and Andre Kole were the first to present the Thin Sawing as a double sawing with two girls in different costumes. Subsequently, the two bottom halves of the girls were switched so that when the girls were restored, they were restored mismatched.
The Wakeling Sawing brought back the original intended presentation of the sawing a girl in half by involving audience members, straps and a streamlined set of props. Kalin & Jinger’s fine presentation brought this illusion to the masses and since has been ‘adopted’ by many others around the world.
Sam Powers performing his version of the “Thin Sawing”
The Sub Trunk
With the acknowledgment of all the Sub Trunk-inspired exchange illusions, I’m confining this example to be specific to the classic Sub Trunk effect/ handling.
Siegfried & Roy presented it with a double costume change and the production of a large cat as a kicker. The Pendragons, of course, ‘owned’ the illusion with their switch + revelation handlings with just a front cloth. Some performers such as Tim Ellis & Sue-Anne Webster and Fielding West have added comedy to the standard illusion to include a cross-dressing costume exchange.
Copperfield built an entire attic scene story-based illusion sequence which ended with a motivated Dekolta Chair on a table. Many tried to follow suit but lacked the intricacies and theatrics to make it work as well. Nicolas Night & Kinga did an amazing job with a similar premise but with their original spin that made it different and work. More recently, Han Klok kills with a lighting-fast vanish that I think he will no doubt attribute to the skills of Zarina Potapova.
Mark Kalin took the original Wakeling double spiker, altered the design and added in the transposition kicker. Hans Klok adapted the Kalin design and added in the kicker of the appearance of a second girl and successfully made it is own. Now, just about every European illusionist and many from China and India have ripped this version off. Adding a third girl appearance does not make it original in my book. It is like performing Lance Burton’s Dove Act but claiming it is different because you add an extra bird.
Sean Alexander performing the “Fire Spiker”
When Kevin James released his Snow Animator, everyone added it to their show, with the exact same patter and presentation with the napkin and snowflake and music. It amazes me to learn how many magicians never saw snow as a kid. But, Copperfield adapted the routine and took it a step further in scale so it did not look so ‘me-too’.
I actually developed a routine using the Snow Animator but does not have a snow presentation at all. It is called “Diary of Dreams” and is detailed in “Illusionary Departures”.
Zig Zag Lady
My closest original illusion design to Zig Zag Gal, is Seven by Half. The updated design of this illusion can be found in “Urban Illusions”. While, it was not designed as an exact alternative for the Zig Zag, the obvious Zig Zag influence and premise is evident. So, I do not think it is a stretch of the imagination that Seven By Half is a reinvention of the Zig Zag.
Chris Murphy from Oz Illusions redesigned the classic Zig Zag so it look more modern and quite different.
Rand Woodbury has a great enhancement in Illusionworks that you should check out. However, it does require a significantly modified Zig Zag and an extra ‘table’.
As it has been said before, everything old is new again. Entertainment trends like business is cyclical.
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