Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 465

Everything I do

is dedicated to my wife Pattie


and our sons Monty and Robby
Also by Pete McCabe
Astonishing New Twists with Paul Harris' Reality Twister
Featuring Lubor's Lens

Pizza Every Day for a Month

Bowling Every Day for a Month


Scripting
Magic
by
Pete McCabe
and 26 other guys
45 scripts,
13 essays,
7 interviews,
and 1 flowchart
to make you a better magician

Copyright © 2007
Other copyrights held by the creators
of the individual scripts

Design Consultant Kay Kaminski

Proofread by John Lovick


John Lovick's notes proofread by Rich Cowley
The Benson book proofread by Shawn McMaster

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or


our entire intellectual-property-based way of life
will be completely destroyed
Printed in Canada ∙ Third printing 2009
You Already Script Every Trick You D o ....................................................2
How to Read This Book...............................................................................4
Scriptwriting 1 0 1........................................................................................... 8
Coins Across............................................................................................................................ 14
The Vortex • Pete M cCabe...................................................................... 15
Tom and Restored Card...............................................................................20
It'll Be A Miracle • Pete McCabe.......................................................... 21
The Invisible Deck........................................................................................26
It’s the Future • Pete McCabe................................................................27
Super Powers • Pete M cCabe................................................................34
My Tribute to Vernon • Pete M cCabe................................................. 39
Eugene Burger and John Lovick: A Theatrical Endeavor..................44
Gypsy Thread................................................................................................ 55

ct
om ta
ma se om
Cosmic Thread • Eugene B u rger......................................................... 56
.c on
@g ea .c

Human Thread • Eugene Burger........................................................ 60


il c
ic pl gic

Forming an Eternity • John Lovick......................................................63


a
em gi am

The Handsome Jack Lovemeter • John Lovick.................................66


ov ma hin
ag c

Developing Character: How do you do that?...................................... 70


c
:t bu .52

Card to Pocket.............................................................................................. 73
w
ma t ww

ol y

I Care • Pete M cCabe..............................................................................74


il o

Jonathan Levit: An Actor Playing the Part of a Magician..................82


e- ant

No-Script Scripting................................................................................... 97
W

The Add-A-Number Prediction..................................................................99


It Adds Up • Pete M cCabe...................................................................100
Marked Deck.............................................................................................. 106
The Human Galvanometer • Gary Ouellet...................................... 108
Echoes • Pete McCabe........................................................................... 116
The Cincinnati Kid • Pete M cCabe.....................................................123
My Favorite Things • Pete McCabe................................................... 126
Jon Armstrong: Going with the Flow ....................................................131
My Opening Act • Jon Arm strong......................................................143
Scripting for Effect................................................................................... 144
Triumph........................................................................................................ 145
All the Cards Turn Face Up • Pete McCabe..................................... 147
The Trick that Fooled Einstein...................................................................153
Grandma's Purse • Paul G reen ........................................................... 154
The Southwest M iracle............................................................................. 159
This is Reality • Kenton Knepper.......................................................160
Magician's Choice...................................................................................... 167
Hotel 52 • David Regal......................................................................... 169
Just Say Yes................................................................................................ 175
The Self-Cutting Banana........................................................................... 181
Yes! • Larry White..................................................................................182
Max Maven: Scripting Tricks..................................................................19 1
Drama........................................................................................................203
Gemini Twins.............................................................................................207
Mate for Life • Pete McCabe.............................................................. 208

ct
om ta
Teller: Entering Uncharted Terrain......................................................214
ma se om
.c on
@g ea .c
The Backstory...........................................................................................220
il c
ic pl gic

The 41-Cent M iracle................................................................................... 222


a
em gi am

Grandpa's Coins • Michael A m m ar.................................................. 223


ov ma hin

The Open Prediction..................................................................................228


ag c
c
:t bu .52

The Cassandra Quandary • Guy Hollingworth..............................229


w
ma t ww

Rafael Benatar: The Practice of Magic................................................. 237


ol y

Scripting Dealer Tricks.......................................................................... 250


il o

The Dark C ard............................................................................................251


e- ant

The Magic Red Card o f Mystery • Bob Farm er...............................252


W

Hot Rod.......................................................................................................260
The Birthstone Sampler • Pete M cCabe......................................... 262
Svengali Deck.............................................................................................269
Exhibit A • Jim Steinm eyer............................................................... 270
Chop C u p ................................................................................................... 275
Tomahawk Chop • Joe M. Turner......................................................276
The Fruit Cup • Pete McCabe............................................................ 282
The Koornwinder Kar................................................................................287
Joey's Hero • Bruce Barnett............................................................... 288
Michael Close: A Little Bit of Truth.....................................................295
Scripting and Repertoire....................................................................... 308
The $100 Bill Switch................................................................................. 309

Double Your Money Back • Pete McCabe.........................................310

The Eleven Card Trick................................................................................. 314

The Incredible Mystery o f the Tenth Card • Eric Mead.................316

I Must Be Cheating • Pete McCabe.................................................. 329

UnDo Influence..........................................................................................340

Watching The Detectives • David R egal............................................341

The Thumbtip Silk Vanish....................................................................... 350

The End o f the Rainbow • Eric Henning...........................................351

Wild Card....................................................................................................356

Seven-Card Monte • Larry Jennings...................................................358

c t
om ta
Scripting Counts..................................................................................... 364
ma se om
.c on
@g ea .c
il c
The Business Card Prophesy.....................................................................369
ic pl gic
a

Fortune Cookie • Mark Joerger.......................................................... 370


em gi am
ov ma hin

Two in the Hand, One in the Pocket........................................................375


ag c
c
:t bu .52

Repeat • Pete M cCabe.......................................................................... 376


w
ma t ww

ol y

I’ve Got a Surprise for You: Essay by Jamy Ian Swiss...................... 379

A Hell o f a Trick • Jamy Ian S w iss.....................................................391


il o
e- ant

The Five Senses • Jamy Ian Sw iss.....................................................4 02


W

Should We Order a Pizza? • Vic Sussm an...................................... 4 06

What it Takes to Be Happy • Séan O’Néill...................................... 4 09

Titles and Sentences................................................................................ 4 14

The Ace Assembly.......................................................................................419

When Magicians Play Poker • Pete M cCabe................................... 421

Mental Cheating • Pete M cCabe.......................................................429

Out of This World.......................................................................................439

Secret Powers • Pete M cCabe............................................................ 440

Adaptation................................................................................................ 448

Other Resources........................................................................................452
Thank You

Michael Ammar Guy Hollingworth Sé an O’Né ill

Jon Armstrong Gary Ouellet


Larry Jennings

Bruce Barnett David Regal


Mark Joerger

Rafael Benatar Jim Steinmeyer


Kenton Knepper
Eugene Burger Vic Sussman
Jonathan Levit
Michael Close Jamy Ian Swiss

John Lovick
Bob Farmer Teller

Max Maven Joe M. Turner


Paul Green

Eric Henning Eric Mead Larry White

There is an excellent chance that you are reading this book because o f the
outstanding magicians who have contributed to it— magicians who gave gen­
erously o f their time, their experience, and in many cases actual scripts with
which they make their living.
They did not do this for the reward I dangled in front o f them (a free copy o f
the book), and they’re already well-known and respected in the world o f magic.
They did it because they believe that scripting your magic will make you a
better magician. They all believe that scripting can make you more effective,
more entertaining, more dramatic, and most o f all, more magical.
This book would not exist without their excellence as magicians and as hu­
man beings. I f this book is no good, then I must really have dropped the ball,
because I got serious help on this project. This is a great time to remind every­
one that copyright and droit morale for all o f the contributed scripts rests with
the individuals who contributed them.

My deepest thanks, and your free book is in the mail.


You Already Script
Every Trick You Do

I
want to define what I mean by scripting magic. I do this partly because
I’m one o f those people who like to distill things to their most essen­
tial. But mostly because I spent an hour on my definition, and I don’t
want all that time to be wasted.

Scripting magic is deciding how you're going


to present a trick before you perform it.

When you think o f it this way, it’s hard to argue against the idea that you
should script every trick you do. In fact, i f you think o f it that way, you already
do script every trick you do. Even if you just narrate your actions, or read the
patter from the instructions (which may well be the same thing), that’s still a
decision you make before you perform the trick. I say this because I know a
lot o f magicians who think scripting means making up a story to go with each
trick— where the Jacks are the detectives, and the deck is the bank, and the
selected card has a curse on it— and then saying the exact same thing every
time you do the trick. That’s just one type o f scripting magic. You’ll be pleased
to know that not one o f the 45 scripts in this book have the Jacks as detectives.
Well, one— from David Regal. But only one!
The rest vary wildly, from simple to complex, from detailed scripts to basic
outlines. You can script every word you say. Or you can devise a loose structure
on which to improvise, as a conversation, You can create a script in a lot o f
ways, writing it in advance, or working it out in rehearsal or performance. You
can script just one key line, or a basic outline, or a beginning and end with a
flexible middle, or an entire presentation.
So the goal o f this book is not to get you to script your magic. You already
script every trick you do. The goal o f this book is to help you script your magic
better, so what you say during your tricks makes the trick more effective. It is
not hard to create a better script than the one that comes with the instructions,
or the one you improvise by narrating your actions. And i f you do want to nar­
rate your actions, you can create a script that will do so more effectively than
i f you were to improvise.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 2
The secret goal o f this book is to reduce the use o f the word “patter” within
the magic community. I hate this word— to call what you say during a per-
formance “ patter" completely misses its importance. My Webster's New Un­
abridged Dictionary gives this definition:

Patter (n): 1) to speak or mumble rapidly or glibly; 2) to recite mechanically or


thoughtlessly; 3) language peculiar to a group and not generally understood by out­
siders; 4) idle, meaningless chatter; the glib, rapid speech o f salesmen, circus barkers,
magicians, etc.

Do any o f these sound appealing to you?


What you say during your performance is your script. Whether you wrote it
in advance, or someone else wrote it and you're performing it, or even i f you’re
just making it up. Your audience doesn’t think o f it as patter— or maybe they
do, if you just chatter meaninglessly. They think o f it as your script. Your audi­
ence thinks o f it as a script. You should take it at least as seriously as your audi­
ence does.

Learn to do the sleight or secret move to perfection,


then spend hours on what to say.
Dai Vernon

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 3
How to Read
This Book

S
kim freely, as you would any magic book. But read this chapter first,
since it explains a few conventions used in the book, without which
everything else may not be so clear. I f you’ve never read a script, this
section will also help you understand the format.
This book has three types o f entries: essays, interviews, and scripts; each
script includes a background section, the script itself, and some notes.

Background
The Background sections vary considerably. Some talk about history o f the
trick itself; some talk about other presentations. Some talk about specific pre­
sentational challenges and/or solutions illuminated by the script. A few ex­
plain things that make the script easier to read.

The Script
This book uses screenplay format, which is explained in the next chapter.
Scripts are written from the audience’s perspective. This is one o f the most
important lessons o f this book. Sometimes the biggest benefit you get from
scripting is insight into the audience’s perspective. What do you want them
to remember? What do you want them to perceive? These questions are o f
paramount importance, and I know o f no better way to address them than by
scripting your magic.
Each script begins with a scene line that tells when and where it’s being
performed. These lines are easy to overlook, because they’re not particularly
interesting. But venue is important, and you will want to know i f the script is
meant for an informal or formal setting.
The next couple o f lines set the stage— is the magician sitting or standing,
is there a large crowd or just one person, things like that. These lines also in­
troduce the characters in the script, including the spectators. Sometimes the
spectators have specific names, which we’ll get to in a minute.
One frequent issue is scripts in which the magician interacts with the audi­
ence; for example, talking to the spectator when a card is selected. It’s obvious­
ly impossible to script these precisely and thoroughly in advance, and I didn’t
want every third script to begin with "(insert improvised selection process
here).” What I did— and I’ll try to remind you when it comes u p — is include
a sample o f the kind o f interaction that these sections are trying to generate.
So just think o f it as one possible way the beginning o f the script might go.
Also keep in mind that each magician will handle these sections differently.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 4
Characters
In each script, the part o f the magician will have the name of the person
who wrote the script. So if it's one o f my scripts, the character named Pete is
the magician. If it's Eugene Burger's script, the character named Eugene is
the magician.
I've worked with several magicians who, when tackling their first scripts,
wrote them in the third person, as in “the magician holds up a deck o f cards."
They're used to writing up tricks for publication, where you want the read­
ers to imagine themselves doing the trick. But i f you're writing a script for
yourself, it's a hindrance. One o f the goals o f scripting magic is to put more
o f your own personality into the script. The first step is to write the script
for yourself— not just “the magician." Make everything about the script as
personal as you can— starting with your name. You don't want the spectators
to think o f you as just “the magician,” so don't describe yourself that way.
Whatever you do, don't use “ I” to refer to the magician. The script is from the
audience's perspective.
Most scripts will have one or more audience members who speak, and the
names o f the characters will sometimes depend on the requirements o f the
trick. For example, you may have two cards selected, and you need the first to
be from someone on your right and the second from someone on your left. Or
you may have a trick for a couple, where the man and the woman have specific
parts. The names used in the script serves as a reminder o f these things.
The most common spectator name is Alex. Alex is used to indicate that the
spectator could be anyone, male or female, sitting anywhere. I f the script re­
quires a woman, you will see Eve; if a man, it's Adam. I f you need the person
to be to your left for some reason (usually to cover a move), it's Lee; to your
right is Ricky, someone in the center is Chris. Here is the list, in case you ever
need to refer back to it later.

Alex is any person, anywhere


Lee is any person to your left
Chris is any person in the center (across from you)
Ricky is any person to your right
Adam is any man
Eve is any woman

Dialog
It's very easy when reading a script to skip the “stage directions” and just
read the dialog. Don't do it. First o f all, these scripts don't have stage direc-

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 5
tions; they're action lines, and they’re very important. One o f the best things
you can do with a script is replace a line o f dialog with an action that accom­
plishes the same thing. For example, say you have a piece o f glass, and you
want to communicate that it’s solid. You can say "It’s solid,” or you can tap it
with something, and it rings like crystal.

The Play's the Thing


As you learn to script well, you will develop the ability to tell how something
will play in performance. This is impossible to teach, but not hard to learn if
you get some practice. And it's priceless— the most valuable experience I had
while working on Sports Night was getting to read all the scripts in advance and
then hear them at the table read (where they are first performed for any kind
o f audience). At the beginning o f the year I was constantly surprised when the
audience would laugh at lines that had seemed mundane when I read them.
By the 23rd episode, I had a pretty good idea how a script would play.
For example. Tom Burgoon did a bit in a show at the Magic Castle Palace
Theater, where he borrows a quarter and pretends to keep it— the stage m an­
ager brings out a metal bucket, and Tom throws in the coin. As the stage m an­
ager leaves, Tom asks “how we doing this week?” The stage m anager shakes
the bucket, jingling the coins.
How does this read to you? This shake o f the bucket gets a laugh. It gets a
laugh every time. I’ve seen it several times, and I've laughed every time. It’s
just funny. I f you can read that, and tell that it will get a laugh, you’re way
ahead of the game.

Notes
This section discusses method, including the setup, if any. All o f my own
tricks are explained, and most o f the contributed scripts, but not all scripts
have detailed methods. Some moves are mentioned but not explained; this is
not a book to teach technique. Moves are discussed if I have anything to offer
on them, or i f a specific handling is required. Many moves can be improved
i f you think about them from a scripting perspective; see "Scripting Counts”
on page 272.
There are also general notes about things that aren’t really moves, but you
have to do them a certain way, which you don’t want the audience to notice.
For example, the script may say “Pete puts the deck down,” because that’s all
you want the audience to perceive. But you may need to put it down a certain
w ay— face up or face down, near the edge o f the table, in position for some
move to come, etc. This will be included in the Notes. Basically the Notes are
a reminder o f everything you have to do to make the trick work, which the

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 8
spectators are not aware of.
The rule is, if you don't want your audience to perceive it, do not put it in
the script. This is actually pretty important. The script doesn’t just describe the
presentation from the spectator’s perspective, it describes the presentation as
you want the spectators to perceive and remember it. This, in many ways, is
the essence o f magic.
The most important part o f the Notes section is Adaptation, where you’ll
find ideas on making the script yours. In the scripts that I’ve written, I’ll
discuss choices you’ll face i f you want to perform it, and for the contributed
scripts, I’ll talk about how I would approach the trick if I were to add it to my
repertoire. Obviously with some scripts, like the ones I’ve written, you should
feel free to use any or all o f the script i f you want. Others, like the scripts for
the Gypsy Thread contributed by Eugene Burger and John Lovick, you should
not perform them, but instead see how they work, and why, and learn tech­
niques that you can use in your own scripts.
Don’t overlook the Adaptation sections. Learning to adapt a trick to fit your
personal style is a vital part o f developing a personal style. Seeing examples o f
other people’s adaptations helps you appreciate how many things you can vary.
Most magicians learn, say, a coin trick, and when they go to personalize it, they
change the moves. But what i f you replace the coins with poker chips, or brass
washers, or track-and-field medals? When Al Baker said that most magicians
stop thinking too soon, this is just the kind o f thing he was talking about.

We must neverforget that the details of presentation are what make a


trick. And study and thought brings us those details. The usual trouble is
that we don't bother to think long enough or hard enough.
Al Baker

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 7
Scriptwriting 101

The script is of ultimate importance


when presenting an effect in a professional manner.
David Regal

T
his quote is pretty typical o f what magic’s best thinkers and per­
formers have to say about scripting magic, as you’ll see for the next
4 0 0 -odd pages. I carry little weight in this company, so i f the other
guys don’t convince you, I sure won’t.
Still, although there are many essays on the importance and benefits o f
scripting your magic, there is precious little instruction on how to do so. I’m a
teacher and a writer (and scriptwriter), so I can teach you how to write a script
i f you don’t know already. It’s not that hard.

Perspective
The script describes everything that happens during the trick from the au­
dience's perspective. I f writing a script does nothing more than help you think
about your magic from the audience’s perspective, it will make you a better
magician.

The Script
Scripts are pretty simple. The sample on the next page is in what’s called
Screenplay (i.e., movie) format, which is also used by most TV dramas. This is
the best format for magic; Sitcom and Video format are both harder to read.
This is, also, an intentionally bad script that no one would ever write. But
you would be amazed how close many magicians come to this example in
performance. So that’s one benefit o f scripting m agic— you won’t be as bad
as this.
The first line, "Joe Magician reaches etc.” is called an Action line. Action
lines run the width o f the page, with a double return after every paragraph. I
set the spacing to 12 points after paragraph, so this happens automatically. But
then, I’m a geek. O f course, you’re reading a magic book.
Action lines include everything that isn’t dialog. You smile, the spectator
signs a card, we hear the sound o f a piece o f paper ripping— everything you
want the audience to perceive. And only include what you want the audience
to remember. I f you drop your hand to your side to turn over the top card
against your leg, don’t put that in the script. Don’t even put it in parentheses,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 8
Joe Magician reaches into his pocket and pulls out a red sponge
ball. He holds it up for everyone to see.

Joe
Here I have a sponge ball. If I put it in my
hand...

Joe puts the ball in his hand.

Joe
How many balls do I have in my hand?

Spectator
One?

Joe
Wrong! I have two!

Joe opens his hand, showing two red sponge balls.

Joe
One, two. You idiot! Ha ha ha ha ha.

to remind yourself o f the method. Your script plays a powerful role in deter­
mining what the audience experiences. I f you don't want them to experience
your methods, don't put them in your scripts.
Every action line is an opportunity to communicate something, so take your
time writing them. “ Pete puts the card on the table'' is pretty vague. “ Pete plac­
es the card on the table” suggests a little care is being taken. “ Pete slams the
card on the table” is even more suggestive. A great habit when writing Action
lines is to ask yourself how your character would influence your actions. I f I'm
nervous, I might flub a shuffle. If I'm smooth, the shuffle will be impressive
in some way. Action lines make characters.
To improve your Action lines, read good movie scripts. Many are available
online— most writers I know start at Drew's Script-o-rama (script-o-rama.
com). Make sure you get a script and not a transcript— this is crucial. A script
was written by the person who wrote the movie. A transcript was written by a
person who watched the movie and wrote down what happened.
Dialog is indented an inch on each side, with the same double returns as
in action lines. Character names are indented another inch (two inches total).
Not all scripts have dialog. Cast Away was a three-hour movie with about
twenty minutes o f talking. The point is, you don’t have to say everything. This
is another important benefit o f writing good Action lines: The more you can
show the audience, the less you have to tell them.
The most important step in writing dialog is reading it out loud, in your
full performance voice, with inflections, exactly as you would perform it. Most
people do not write the way they talk. Reading your dialog out loud is the only
cure.
This is a hugely important point. I have long suspected that the real reason
many magicians don't like scripting their performances is that they are not
very good at reading dialog. But often the problem is the script itself. I f the
dialog is not natural to you, you will sound unnatural when you say it. The
solution is to rewrite the dialog.
By the way, sometimes you will see “Pete (Cont.)” as a character name. In
a movie or TV script, any time one character talks, then there’s an action line,
then the same character speaks again, “ (Cont.)” is put after the character’s
name. I don’t use this convention throughout. There are many scripts in this
book in which only the magician speaks; rather than put “ (Cont.)” every time,
I only put it in when it would make things clearer.

Conventions You Can Blithely Ignore


Most TV and movie scripts use the Courier font. This is a pointless conven­
tion. Courier is a monospace font, for god’s sake, and it is not at all easy to
read. In this book the scripts are in Lucida, which looks nice. Palatino is prob­
ably the easiest-to-read font on your computer, so use that.
Also by convention, in a script you cannot use italics or bold, but you can
use underline. This is another stupidly pointless limitation. Use italics, bold,
whatever you want. Underline is the one thing you probably don't want to
u se— it’s harder to read.
Scripts all have an extra half-inch margin on the left side, so they can be
three-hole-punched and bound with brass brads. Your scripts won’t be long
enough to need this.

Software
Over the last 30 years I have used dozens o f word processors and three
scriptwriting programs. It’s easy to format a script with any o f them, so use
what you know.
If you’re using a word processor, set up two styles: Dialog and Action.
• Action is 12-point Palatino with full m argins (i.e., zero on left and right).
• Dialog is 12-point Palatino with margins 1 inch from the left and right. Put

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 10
a tab stop at the 2-inch m ark for the ch aracter's n a m es.
Se t up a command-key combination for each style, so you can switch back
and forth easily. And starting writing.

v anced tips
d
A
If you are comfortable with the more advanced features o f your word pro-
cessor, you can make things even easier for yourself:
• Set the “ Space after Paragraph” for the Action style to 12 points, so the
extra returns between paragraphs will automatically be taken care o f
• If you want to put the Space after Paragraph to 12 points for Dialog, you'll
have to use a line break instead o f a return character after the character's
n am e. I f you don't know what a line break is, don't bother with this.
• Turn on the paragraph format setting for “keep lines together” in both
your Action and Dialog styles. That way each paragraph will stay on the
same page. This makes everything easier to read.

Script Software
I've used these three:
• Scriptware: I used this program every day for several years and it crashed
at least once each day. Still, I kept using it, because it never brought
down my system, so I could start it back up in about three seconds, and I
couldn't afford a replacement. This is where I learned to hit command-S
every time I pause for a few seconds.
• Screenwriter 2000: This is what I use now. I have yet to find a feature that
it doesn't do and do well. I don't think it's ever crashed. And the company
has great support.
• Final Draft: A lot o f writers use this, and it's robust and full-featured. I
didn't like the interface, but that was 5 years ago.

The art o f writing is the art o f applying


the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair
Mary Heaton Vorse
The Real Work
The real work in scriptwriting, as in magic itself, is just that— it's real work.
The only way to get good at anything is to do it for a long time. To get really
good, make it a long, long time.
The first time you sit down to write a script, you may have no idea what to
write. One way around this is to put on a tape recorder and perform a routine,
then sit down and transcribe what you said. Then read it. You may be sur­
prised at how boring it reads. This is incredibly common. The good news is,
with a little scripting your magic will soon be much more entertaining, and
more magical to boot.
Now that you have a script, you can start making it better. Take every sen­
tence you don't need and eliminate it. Take every one you need and make it
shorter or more interesting. Take every line that narrates your action and re­
place it with a line that comments on the action, which will do the same job in a
more interesting way. Look out for long runs o f dialog with no action. There's
a good chance this will cause your audience's eyes to glaze over.
Let me show you how this can work. I took the sponge-ball script from
the beginning o f this article— the one where Joe Magician laughs at the idiot
spectator— and spent 15 minutes trying to make it better. The results are on
the next page, but don't look ahead yet. Actually, go back and read the original,
then read the description o f what I did, and then think about how you might
do the same things. Then see how I did it.
My first thought was to establish a premise, something for the presenta­
tion to be about. I started with the effect: The sponge is multiplying. Now,
I'm pretty sure sponges reproduce asexually. This becomes the basis o f the
presentation, and everything else flowed right from that idea, including the
“mood music” gag, which I really like.
You might not choose asexual reproduction. Some performers don't like to
emphasize that they're working with something compressible like a sponge;
these performers will definitely want to pick some theme other than the asexual
reproduction o f the common sponge. But pick something that appeals to you.
Anything that means something to you will make your presentation stronger.
I improved some o f the Action lines too. For example, “Joe puts the ball in
his hand” was changed to “Joe closes his hand around the ball.” This, I think,
is what you want the audience to rem em ber— not the transfer o f the ball from
hand to hand.

Beyond Scriptwriting
The only thing more important than working your script out in advance is
remaining fully alive to your audience. That interaction takes priority over any
script, and you m ust be ready and willing to leave the script behind and go
with your audience at a moment's notice.
The script will always be there when you come back.

C RIPTING MAGIC | 1 2
S
Chances Are...
by Pete McCabe

Joe
This is a sponge ball.

Joe holds up a red sponge ball.

Joe
Sponges reproduce asexually. That means
you only need one. If I put it in a dark
place...

Joe closes his hand around the ball.

Joe
A little romantic lighting...

Joe opens his fingers ju st a tiny bit.

Joe
...mood music.

Clears his throat.

Joe
(singing, to his fist)
“Chances are...”
(to audience)
It could work.

Joe opens his hand—there are two red sponge balls.

Joe
It worked!
Coins Across

F
or the first script of the book, I wanted to choose a very simple ex­
ample o f the benefits o f scripting. As you’ll see, there is no big story
wrapped around the trick, and the script doesn’t have any great jokes
or clever lines. It mostly talks about what you’re doing, so it’s almost
a narrative script. But there’s a big difference between a script like this and
one that simply talks about what you’re doing. In this script I mention what
I’m doing, and I comment on it, but I’m talking about something else. This is
where most narrative scripts fall flat; all they are about is what you’re doing. In
this script I only mention what I’m doing to clarify and dramatize the overall
point o f the script, which is the idea o f the vortex.
It is this structural device o f the vortex that makes this presentation effec­
tive. Many beginning scriptwriters focus on lines, and underestimate the im ­
portance o f structure. When I’m writing a script, the structure or hook comes
first. Occasionally a good opening line, or a good closing line (or, best o f all,
an opening/closing line combination) will pop into my head before I have the
structure. But I don’t write the script until I know what’s going to drive the
presentation.
The first presentation I used with this trick was very standard, with a script
that highlighted the cleanliness o f the handling (which is explained in the
notes). This was okay, but it was all about what I was doing. Then, about ten
years ago, I developed the "vortex” presentation you’re about to read, which
uses the exact same handling but creates a very different effect. The new pre­
sentation has six magical moments, by using the strategy o f breaking the pas­
sage o f each coin into a separate vanish and reappearance. More importantly,
the external reality o f the trick has changed, in a way that directs the audi­
ence’s attention away from the mundane details of the handling, and makes
the magical effect seem more real. This, I’d say, is exactly the goal o f any magi­
cal presentation.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 14
The Vortex
By Pete McCabe

Int—LIVING ROOM— Evening

Pete sits at a table, on which sits a small candle. Pete adjusts


the candle to the exact center of the table.

Pete
Magic requires energy. That’s why
magicians use a magic wand; it’s a source
of energy. In this trick, I use fire.

Pete places three quarters on his left palm.

Pete
I’m not strong enough to do this on my
own, but the flame creates a vortex— I’ll
show you.

Pete slowly closes his hand into a fist over the coins.

Pete
Three coins go into the vortex. But only
two come out.

Pete’s hand passes over the flame, then opens: only two coins.

Pete
The third is still in the vortex.

Pete stares as the flame.

Pete
Here it is.

Pete reaches into the flame and plucks out the missing coin.

Pete
Ow.

Pete slaps the coin on the table and blows on his fingers.
Pete
Little hot in there.

Pete shows the two coins in his left hand, then closes it.

Pete
Two coins enter...

His hand passes through the flame, then opens: only one coin.

Pete
...one coin leaves. The longer it stays in
the vortex, the hotter it gets.

Pete licks his fingers, then plucks the second coin from the
flame. He immediately slaps it onto the table.

Pete looks at the one coin remaining in his left hand.

Pete
People always ask, Why don’t you make
the last coin go visibly? I’ll show you.

Pete touches the coin to the flame, then puts it on the table.

Pete
That’s why. It’s much more magical...

Pete picks up the last coin from the table and holds it up.

Pete
...to do it invisibly.

Pete passes the coin through the flame, and it vanishes.

He licks his fingers, and plucks the last coin from the flame. He
places it on the table with the others.

Pete
That’s the energy in a vortex of fire.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 16
Notes on The Vortex
The basic idea of the vortex drives everything in this presentation. It justi-
f i e s the use of the candle. It motivates breaking each coin’s passage into two
s e p a r a t e magical moments. And the apparent heat o f the vortex justifies both
t h e slapping action o f the Han Ping Chien and licking your fingers, which
makes the final unnesting move easier. You can probably apply this to any ver-
s i o n o f Coins Across you already do.
I use quarters for this trick — and for all the coin magic I do — because
t h e y’re more ordinary. But this presentation has a certain formal style built
i nto it, so i f you bring out your special coins, it will still seem natural.

Method
This trick is an extension o f G eoff Latta’s “Thumb Touch Coins Across"
routine from CoinMagic, to which I added a shell. When I first came up with
this idea, I was extremely pleased by how clean it is. You show three coins in
your left hand, close it and open it, and one coin is gone; the right hand slaps
the coin on the table. This is immediately repeated with no extraneous actions
whatsoever— no counting the coins from hand to hand or to the table, no
steals, no hands coming together, etc. The third coin is very clean, but it uses
an old gag so it isn’t quite as pure. But overall, I am not aware o f a cleaner
Coins Across routine. Most o f the credit goes to Geoff.

Performance
Start by showing three coins; two quarters and a shell.
Put the coins in your palm-up left hand; the shell goes last, overlapping the
coin nearest the heel o f your hand. Keeping the hand palm up, close it, nesting
the shell. Slowly pass your hand through the flame, and open it, showing two
coins, as you explain that one coin was sucked into the flame. The left hand
closes, and the right hand apparently plucks the coin from the flame and slaps
it down on the table. In reality, you do G eoff Latta’s Ultimate Han Ping Chien
move to produce the coin from under the shell.
Here’s how: After you open your left hand to show only two coins, you look
at the flame, as i f trying to see the coin left behind. The left hand closes, but
stays palm up. The tips o f the third and fourth fingers curl over the edge o f
the shell and lift it just high enough to clear the coin underneath. This also
creates a gap at the pinky side o f the fist. None o f this is visible to the audi­
ence, although it won’t matter, because after the fantastically clean vanish, all
attention is on the flame.
Reach into the flame with your empty right hand and act like you’ve grasped

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 7
a coin. Look at the coin you’re pretending to hold, and sm ile.
Now slap the (pretend) coin onto the table in front o f you. As the right hand
comes down, the left hand moves out o f the way to your left. The left hand
moves out from under the second coin, which falls onto the table under the
right hand. It helps i f the left hand moves very slightly downward first.
This palm up handling is G eoff Latta’s addition to the classic Han Ping
Chien move. It's extremely elegant and disarming; having your hands palm
up creates an atmosphere o f fairness. Practice this one well; your right fingers
should touch the coin, gently, before the coin hits the table.
Slapping the coin on the table is a great moment for a silent script. As you
hold up the coin to look at it, think "Got it” and then almost immediately
think “Hot!” I f you actually said these things it would completely undermine
the moment. But i f you just think them, and then blow on your fingers, it’ll
completely justify the slapping action o f the Han Ping Chien.
Leave the first coin on the table and repeat everything for the second coin;
open the left hand, showing two coins, close the hand (nesting the shell), wave
it through the flame, and open to show one coin. Repeat the H.P.C. move to
pluck the coin from the flame. This coin should be slapped down directly onto
the one already on the table. If not, adjust the coins so one slightly overlaps the
other. But to tell you the truth, i f you can’t do the move well enough to control
where the coin goes, then you probably should practice your Ultimate Han
Ping Chien some more.
Open the left hand, showing the last coin (the shell), and mention that ev­
eryone always wants to see the coin travel visibly. Demonstrate by touching
the coin (shell) to the flame, then placing it onto the two already on the table,
overlapping the uppermost coin to the right. After this classic but solid gag,
you apparently pick up the coin in the left hand, but really you nest the shell
onto one o f the coins and come away with nothing. The left hand moves into
the flame and “vanishes” the coin.
Lick your right fingers, then pretend to pluck the coin and lay it on the table.
As your hand moves away to reveal the third coin, you secretly unnest the shell
and move it to the right, half its diameter. The key to this unnesting move is
that the right hand moves from left to right as it approaches the two coins. The
right hand touches the coins and keeps moving; the thumb hits the back o f the
shell and lifts it up just long enough for the coin to move to the right, then lets
go as the hand moves aside. Your fingers will be extra tacky from licking them,
which makes this move easier.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 18
Adaptation
This is my script, s o you’re welcome to use any or all of it if you like. If
the Inst ( h o u r you’ll make is what object will you use to represent
I the vortex. That will determine, more than anything else, the tone of the pre-
I i r r i t a t i on . With a candle, this is actually an elegant piece. In a private setting,
I w i t h t he lights down low, the atmosphere is irresistible. But you can replace
I tin c a n d l e with just about anything— I've done this with a small pile o f salt
I on the table, and it played very well. The lesson, I think, is that having a clear,
I spec ific magical cause for the effect is more important than what that specific
I cause is.
One thing I've played with is some sort o f visual effect for the vanish o f the
I last coin. I tried stealing a small piece o f flash paper from my lap right before
I the false pick up o f the last coin, so it would vanish in a burst o f flame. This
I is a terrific climax to this routine. Now that I have two young children, I don't
I k e e p flash paper in the house, but this is definitely worth trying. A moment
like this can turn a great trick into something people remember for years.
Even if you don't use my script or handling, you can probably take any ver-
s ion o f Coins Across you already know and tweak it to break the travel o f each
? coin into a separate vanish and reappearance. I f you do, I think you'll like it. It
creates a strong moment between the vanish and the subsequent appearance
where the coin is in a sort o f limbo. Don't rush through that moment— it can
create a powerful atmosphere o f mystery i f you let it breathe.

References
“The Vortex'' appeared in AM/PM, Tom Cutts's underground magazine on
presentation.
Geoff Latta's “Ultimate Han Ping Chien” and “Thumb Touch Coins Across"
appeared in CoinMagic by Richard Kaufman, Kaufman and Greenberg, 1982.

Screenplays are structure.


William Goldman

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 19
Torn and Restored Card

L
ike the last script, this doesn't add a story o f any kind— it’s entirely
narrative. (Don’t worry— the Jacks will be detectives soon enough.)
All you talk about is what you're doing. Despite that it is really pretty
good at the three most important things a script can be good at:
drawing the audience in, dramatizing the magic, and finally, covering the
method. So I think this is a good example o f the benefits you can get from
scripting, even i f all you do is talk about what you're doing.
This script doesn't, strictly speaking, narrate what you do. It comments on
what you are doing, which is subtly different. This avoids most o f the prob­
lems o f narrative patter.
It’ll Be A Miracle
By Pete McCabe

Int— Home— Evening

Pete sits at the table with Alex.

Pete
What does it take to make a miracle?
Sometimes the simplest thing can become
a miracle if the situation is right. Let me
show you my favorite example of that.

Pete takes a deck of cards and begins running through them.

Pete
For this, I need you to sign a card...

Pete pulls out the Four of Hearts.

Pete
This is good.

Pete draws a circle on the card, then hands the card and a
Sharpie to Alex.

Pete
Draw your initials inside that circle.

Alex initials the card while Pete puts the rest of the deck aside.

Pete
Thanks. Here’s what’s going to happen.

Pete picks up the card case in his left hand. He takes Alex’s
signed card in his right hand.

Pete
I am going to insert... your signed Four of
Hearts... into the cardcase.

Pete puts the card in the case.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2 1
P e te
Ta ke it out...

Pete removes the card f r o m the case.

P e te
...and it'll be a miracle.

Pause.

P e te
Now, this is a pretty simple thing. Put the
Four of Hearts in the cardcase...

Pete puts the card in t h e case.

P e te
...take it o u t . . .

Pete removes the card f r o m the case.

P e te
How can th a t be a miracle? What could
make that s i m p l e thing into a miracle?

Pause.

P e te
I’ll show you.

Pete tables the cardcase and slowly tears the card into four
pieces. He picks up the c ard ca se and opens it dramatically.

P e te
Put the signed card... inside the box.

Pete drops each piece o f the torn card, one at a time, into the
box.

P e te
Take it out...

Pete opens the case and draws out an intact playing card.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 22
Pete
...a nd...

He slowly turns the card to the audience — it’s the signed Four
of Hearts.

Pete
...It’s a miracle.
I he End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 23
Notes on It'll Be A Miracle
This trick, called “Torn and Reboxed,” appeared in my One Man Parade in
the May 20 0 2 Linking Ring. You’ll need an Angel Case, a Paul Harris creation.
I asked Paul i f I could tell you how to make one and he said it’s cool.

Angel Case
You’re going to add an extra wall to your cardcase, held in place by the cel­
lophane wrapper. Open a new deck and leave the cellophane on. Then take a
duplicate case and cut out the front (thumb notch) side— the side that shows
the back design. Trim this so it fits under the cellophane on the original case,
with the edge o f the fake lining up with the edge o f the cellophane.
You can now hide something thin under this flap, then show the case emp­
ty. And when you’re not using it, it’s just your cardcase.

Method
This is an easy trick to learn— there’s only one m ove— and it’s really ter­
rifically clean.
To setup, take your deck and put the Four o f Hearts third from the bottom,
then case the deck. Take a duplicate Four o f Hearts, draw a circle in the center,
and draw in your initials. If you know the person you’ll be performing for,
write their initials. Then slide this card under the cellophane on the back (flap)
side o f the case, with the back out. The audience will not notice that your case
shows a back design on both sides. For ten years I kept an extra card in my
cardcase loaded in just this way, every single time I did magic. This includes
countless hours with magician friends, not one o f whom ever noticed.
In performance, take the deck out o f the case and run through it, as i f look­
ing for a good card for this trick, and remove the Four o f Hearts. A force is
wasted dead time here— since the card is signed, it makes no difference i f it
was selected or not.
Draw a circle on the selection and have Alex initial it. Take the card in your
right hand, and pick up the case in your left. Hold the case so the flap end is
to your right, and the thumb-notch side is facing up. Insert the signed Four
o f Hearts, face up, into the box. Pause as per the script, then remove the card,
taking it with the right thumb on the face and the fingers underneath. Put it
back in, continuing with the script, and remove it again. But this time, you’re
going to leave the signed card in the box and secretly pull the duplicate from
underneath. Your thumb touches the face o f the card, and underneath the
box, your right fingers contact the duplicate. Look up at Alex and deliver the
line (“ ...remove it...”); as Alex looks up at you, your hands tilt toward you just

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 24
a little, and you draw the extra card from under the plastic. The audience sees
you remove a Four o f Hearts with a circle and initials on it, and as soon as the
duplicate is clear, lift it up, which brings the back to the audience.
This is not hard to do if you practice in a mirror to get the timing right.
If you do twenty reps you’ll have the basic idea. It’s also covered by strong
psychological cover; you’re doing the exact same thing you just did seconds
before; it wasn’t interesting then and it’s less so now. Just make sure that when
you remove the card fairly the first time, you match the action o f the switch.
On to the miracle. Tear the card in half and half again. Now you can show
both sides o f all pieces freely; no one can tell that the initials don’t match
the original. Pick up the box, and this time hold it vertical in your left hand.
The right hand draws back the flap as the left first finger pushes against the
thumb-notch o f the cardcase, opening the false wall. Drop the four pieces in,
and close the flap, which locks the false wall in place.
Pause. This pause is 25% o f the trick.
Open the case and pour the restored, signed card on the table. Drop the
cardcase in your pocket.
The most important part o f this trick is your attitude. When you first put the
card in the case and remove it, you do it carefully and with full attention. The
second time you’re just demonstrating while you repeat yourself, so you don’t
pay much attention; all your attention is on your audience. The third time you
are careful again, but it’s too late— the move is done.

Adaptation
The “third time will be a miracle” hook can be adapted to a slew o f tricks. It
gives you a terrific motivation to do the exact same thing twice, while ensur­
ing that people will pay attention to the first time, when it’s fair, then not pay
attention the second time, when it’s not.

References
The Angel Case is in The Art o f Astonishment, Book 2 by Paul Harris, A-1
Multimedia, 1996.
Torn and Reboxed first appeared in The Linking Ring, May, 2002.
The Invisible Deck

hat most m agicians— and I — call the Invisible Deck is ac­

W tually the Ultra Mental Deck, which was invented by Joe


Berg. It is a simple variation o f Brainwave, which was popu­
larized— and maybe even invented— by Dai Vernon. Eddie
Fields applied the Invisible Deck presentation to the Ultra Mental deck; this
combination was popularized by Don Alan, so much so that the trick itself is
known by the name o f its presentation.
Perhaps because the trick itself is so perfect, there is not as much variety
in its presentation as you might expect from a trick done by every magician
in the world. Don Alan's “classic” script is so good that apparently everybody
decided to just do it pretty much verbatim. I wonder how many magicians
who say that they don’t like to script their magic actually perform Don’s script
for this trick.
The first choice most presentations o f this trick address is the specific ef­
fect. Did you reverse a card in advance as a prediction o f what card the specta­
tor would name? Did you magically reverse a card after the spectator named
it? Did the spectator divine the one card you had randomly reversed? A spe­
cific effect is necessary to turn the trick into something personal. That’s what
makes people remember the trick years later.
Here are three different scripts you can use with an Ultra Mental Deck, each
quite different. The first script that follows— called “ It’s the Future” — is de­
signed not for comedy, but to magnify the spectator’s sensation that they have
witnessed something deeply impossible. The second script is called “ Super
Power” and is a piece o f mentalism for kids, in which the kids demonstrate a
power they don’t know they have. This is always a powerful presentation strat­
egy, but is virtually necessary i f you want to perform mentalism for kids. The
third script uses a trick I call “ Flight Suit” to create a different, physically im ­
possible effect in which a freely selected card, untouched by the magician, van­
ishes from the spectator’s hands and flies to the deck. It’s a great trick— dead
easy, utterly clean, supremely m agical— but more important than the trick is
the presentation. It gives the audience a priceless sense that they are seeing
something special, and you can easily adapt it to any trick you already do.
Because “ It’s the Future” uses equivoque, there are a couple o f places where
the script breaks into two sections side-by-side, depending on the spectator’s
answer. It’s worth noting how the two different answers are brought back to
the same point in the script.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 26
It’s the Future
by Pete McCabe

In i -Living Room— Evening

Pete sits at the table, across from Alex.

Pete
Did you ever see something, in your
imagination, before it happened? It’s not
your imagination, it’s the future. I was
watching a football game, this is twenty
years ago, Giants against the Lions. Fourth
quarter, tie score, suddenly I could see, in
my imagination, Lawrence Taylor running
back an interception for a touchdown.
Next play, Lawrence Taylor runs back an
interception 97 yards for a touchdown.
It’s not your imagination, it’s the future.

Pete removes the deck from the cardcase.

Pete
I have spent many hours trying to do that
again, but a lot of it is beginner’s luck.
That’s why I need y o u —you’re a beginner.

Pete takes the four Kings and arranges them, beneath the table,
into a small packet, which he places face down in front of Alex.

Pete
Please don’t touch these cards—it would
compromise the experiment. I can tell you
they are the four Kings, and I’ll show them
to you soon.

The rest of the deck is placed aside.

Pete
For now, I’d like you to imagine four Kings
floating in the air in front of you. These
are the black Kings, Clubs and Spades.

Pete holds the imaginary pair of black cards in his right hand.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2 7
Fete
These are red, Hearts and Diamonds.

Pete holds up the imaginary red cards in his left hand.

Pete
Black... and red. Yes?

Alex
Yes.

Pete
Good. Thank you. Now, I want you to
imagine one pair—either color—slowly
floating down onto the table.

Alex watches the imaginary cards float down to the table.

Pete
Which pair floated down?

Alex Alex
Red. Black.

Pete smiles—maybe a little Pete smiles—maybe a little


impressed. impressed.

Pete Pete
Good. Now... Good. Now...

Pete looks at the tabletop. Pete leans in close toAlex.

Pete Pete
Here on the table are In front of your eyes are
two red Kings. Imagine two red Kings. Imagine
th e m —the Heart, the them —the Heart, the
Diamond. Put the black Diamond. Put the black
ones over there. Just ones over there. Just
look at the red Kings. look at the red Kings.

With his hands, Pete indicates two separate imaginary cards.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 28
Pete
Imagine you take away the King of Hearts
or the King of Diamonds.
(pause)
Which was it?

Alex Alex
King of Hearts. King of Diamonds.

Pete Pete
Take the King of (With a wave) Away the
Hearts—good. Imagine King of Diamonds. Put it
the King of Hearts, on the black Kings.
in your hand. Put the
Diamond away—put it
on the black Kings.

Alex puts the King of Diamonds on the black kings.

Pete
Now the King of Hearts is in front of you.
Turn it face down, and put it on the other
Kings. Tell me when you can imagine it.

Pete waits for Alex to see it.

Alex
Got it.

Pete
You didn’t see the way I set up the cards,
right?

Alex
Right.

Pete
You just imagined the black Kings, face
up on the bottom, the King of Diamonds
on top of them, and the King of Hearts,
face down, on top of that. But it’s not your
imagination. It’s the future.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 29
Fete cleanly spreads the packet of cards; they exactly match
Alex’s imagination.

Pete
Here they are; the two black Kings, then
the King of Diamonds on top of them, and
on top, one card face down... The King of
Hearts.

Pete turns up the face down card. The King of Hearts.

Pete
All right, now the more you do this, the
less of a beginner you are, so we’re gonna
cut right to the big finish. Imagine an
entire deck of cards—I want you to see
them in the air, in a fan, right in front of
my face.

Pete makes a framing gesture around his face with his hands.

Pete
They’re all facing you, you can see them
all. But one card is face down. Tell me
when you see a face-down card.

Alex
Got it.

Pete
Good. Now see that card turning to face
you. What card is it?

Alex
The Ten of Spades.

Pete
You can see all the cards facing you, and
one facing away.

Pete picks up the deck and begins to spread the deck in front
of Alex’s face. All the cards are face up.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 30
Pete
All facing you but one, just like in your
imagination.

A face down card appears in the spread. Pete removes this card
and holds it up.

Pete
Except... it’s not your imagination. It’s the
future.

He turns it to Alex. It’s the Ten of Spades.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 3 1
Notes on It's the Future
Much mentalism is presented as a demonstration o f a power the magician
has, which the audience doesn’t understand. This goes the other way, present­
ing a power the audience has, which they themselves don’t understand. Giv­
ing the audience power is always a good way to get them involved.
This is a good example o f what can happen when two tricks are combined
into one presentation. The routine builds in impossibility to great effect, and
the methods— equivoque and rough-and-smooth— cancel either other per­
fectly.

Method
I tried to make the equivoque section seem more impossible by expanding
the result. So instead o f me predicting the King of Hearts, I seem to predict
the order o f all four Kings, plus the reversed card. This is built into the equi­
voque process— all you have to do is point it out in your script. I also like
to have the spectators imagine a physical process— they’re not just making
choices, they’re moving cards around, putting them on the table, etc. I feel this
helps hide the forcing aspects o f the procedure.

Setup
Go to any magic store and buy an Invisible Deck. Take the Ultra Mental
Deck they sell you and remove the Kings. Separate the deck into odds and
evens (Jacks are odd, Queens are even) and put them in back-to-back pairs,
with all the odd cards facing one way and the evens the other. Hold the deck
with the odd cards facing up and insert the Kings face up at random locations
(don’t put them between two back-to-back cards). Put the deck in the cardcase
so when you open it, the odd cards and Kings will be face up.

Performance
Begin by uncasing the deck. Put the cardcase to your left side o f your per­
forming surface. Remove the Kings, then put the deck on top o f the cardcase.
This is important— you have to put the deck on top o f the cardcase every time
you do this trick.
Take the Kings below the table and arrange them, top down: face down King
o f Hearts, face up King o f Diamonds, face up black Kings. Table this packet.
In the first selection, Alex puts two Kings on the table. I f Alex puts the black
ones, you follow up by saying “put them aside,” as if that were what you meant
all along. I f Alex picks the red Kings, the black Kings are put aside, to get them
out o f the way. Either way the black Kings end up on the table to the side.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 32
Diamonds is eliminated with the standard request that the spectator “take
away” one card. If it's the heart, you emphasize that Alex took it. If it’s the dia­
mond, you emphasize that Alex took it away.
After the four Kings phase, Alex will name any card. At this point, there’s a
50% chance you will have to secretly reverse the deck. Here’s how: As you are
saying “You can see all the cards facing you, and one facing away,” your palm
down left hand picks up both the deck and the card box from above, and turns
palm up, which brings the box to the top. Casually put the box aside with your
right hand.
This is completely natural; it’s actually easier to pick up the deck and re­
verse it than it is to pick it up without reversing it (the same goes for putting it
down). Plus the script at that point keeps Alex focused on the mental picture.
Raise the deck to eye level and spread the cards. This is, from a presenta­
tional perspective, much better than spreading the cards at table level, with
people looking at them from above. It makes it much easier for people to see
what is happening, and keeps your face in the frame. Technically it’s better as
well, as you can just spread until you find the named card, without having to
use some system to remember which card it’s paired with.

Adaptation
The story about Lawrence Taylor is true. Thanksgiving day, 19 82 : 1 saw the
play in m y mind, and then it happened, exactly the same. Now, I’ve seen other
plays in my mind, and they didn’t happen. But I don’t talk about those in the
script.
You can pick a true story or make one up. Whichever you feel comfortable
with. You don’t actually need a story; you could just ask your audience i f this
has happened to them. It’s happened to almost everybody, so you shouldn’t
have a problem. But you should still be prepared with a story o f your own,
because it’s easier for the spectators to respond to your story than to put one
forward themselves.

References
I f you want a comedy presentation for this trick, you can learn Don Alan’s
script by reading Jon Racherbaumer’s book In a Class by Himself, or by watch­
ing just about any half-decent magician. While you’re at it, think about how
good a script Eddie Fields wrote that the name o f his presentation actually took
over the name o f the trick.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 33
Super Powers
by Pete McCabe

Int— Living Room— Day

Pete is surrounded by a group of kids. He looks at one kid


named Alex.

Pete
Alex, do you have any super powers?

Alex
No.

Pete
Do you know anybody who has super
powers?

Alex
Superman.

Pete
Superman, and Spider-Man too. I think
you have super powers, you just don’t
know it. I think you can magically read my
mind. Do you want to try?

Alex
Yes.

Pete removes a deck of cards and begins spreading them


between his hands.

Pete
These cards all have different names on
them. Here’s Monty, Pattie, Robby, Chris,
Lucy, Mary... Alex, here’s a card with your
name on it.

As Pete spreads the cards, one card is face down.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 34
Pete
And look—there’s ju st one name that’s
face down. Does anybody know what
name this is?

No one knows.

Pete
No one knows but me. The only way you
could know is if you could read my mind.

Pete turns the card face up: it says “Pete.”

Pete
This is my name: Pete. Alex, in a minute
I’m going to think of one of these names
and you’re going to read my mind? It’s
gonna be one of these, but don’t say your
own name, that’s too obvious. Okay? Now,
nobody look. That would be cheating.

Pete turns his back on the children and begins looking through
the deck fast.

Pete
(Fast) Let’s see, hmm, no, not that one, no,
nope, maybe, no, no no n o —hey! Don’t
look!

Pete peeks over his shoulder suspiciously, trying to catch the


kids spying on him.

Pete
That’s better. (Even faster) Hmm, no, don’t
think so, maybe, no, not that one, this
one? Okay.

Pete turns back to face the kids.

Pete
All right, Alex. Put your hands like this...

Pete dramatically puts his hand to his forehead. Alex does the
same.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 35
Pete
Now, tell me what name I turned over.

Alex
Joe.

Pete
Let’s see if you have read my mind.

Pete spreads the cards until he comes to the one reversed card.

Pete
If this says Joe, you definitely have super
powers.

Pete shows the card; it says “Joe.”

Pete
It says Joe! Let’s hear it for Alex the mind
reader!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 36
Notes on Super Powers
The script for this trick probably seems like nothing. And it certainly is very
simple. You could probably improvise this pretty easily. But there are a few
things working in it that you might not get i f you didn’t at least think about it
in advance.
The first is at the beginning where you spread the deck and find your own
name reversed. This helps communicate the basic idea o f isolating a card by it
being the one card reversed in the deck, which is neither a familiar nor obvi­
ous concept to most kids. The “preview” o f the effect really makes the magic
easier to appreciate— it helps the kids understand that it’s impossible to know
what card it was. Don’t forget the line where you make it clear that the kid
couldn’t possibly know which card it is, which takes the sting out o f their not
being able to answer your question. And don’t leave out the line where you
remind Alex to pick a name that’s in the deck.

Method
First, you have to make the props. Start with two blank-faced decks. Take
one and write, with a thick Sharpie, a different name on each card. One o f the
cards must have your name, and the others should be the 51 most common
kids names that you might encounter in your audience. Write in such a way
that you can read the name while spreading through the deck— you might
want to put the name across the card in large letters, and repeat the name
smaller where the index goes. Use colored markers, because this is a kids
trick, and i f you like, decorate the cards with stars, hearts, circles, etc. Now
write the same names on the other deck.
Take one deck and rough the backs. Put the cards in pairs, back to back, so
that all the names from A -L (or whatever separation gives you 26 names in
each half) are facing one way and the M -Z names are facing the other. You
now have a deck that can reveal any o f the names as the only one reversed. Put
this deck in your inside jacket pocket (or shirt pocket). Take the ungaffed deck,
reverse the card that has your name, and put it in the cardcase.

Performance
I usually interact more with the kids than is shown in the script. If Alex can’t
think o f anybody with super powers, I suggest Superman, Spiderman, etc. I f
Alex does claim magic powers, I ask what power, etc. That sort o f thing.
Introduce the cased deck, spread it, and find the card with your name re­
versed. Now you’re going to turn around and ostensibly reverse one card, but

SCRIPTING MAGIC
in reality you switch in the gaffed deck. This is the easiest deck switch you'll
ever do; the script motivates you to turn around and secretly manipulate the
deck in such a way that nobody can see what you are doing. While this is going
on, you are switching between talking a mile a minute and pretending to catch
them spying on you, both o f which are hilarious to the kids.
The most important part o f this trick is the section where the kid pretends
to read your mind. I f you choose a good kid, this will be hilarious. Don't rush
through it. Magicians have a tendency to rush through anything that isn't the
method. This is always bad, but ten times worse when you're performing for
kids. The kid reading your mind is the show.

Adaptation
The biggest choice you'll have to make is how slapstick you want to make
this, which will probably depend on the age o f your audience. The beauty o f
it is, even older kids who think your antics are lame will still be blown away
by the trick.
Smart kids may well guess that the reversed card has your name on it. If so,
congratulate them, and when you do the repeat, add something to the effect
that you're going to pick a random name, which is much harder, etc.
I have toyed with changing the effect to one where Alex mentally forces me
to turn over a given card. Kids are, if anything, even more enthralled by the
idea o f forcing adults to do their bidding.

References
The United States Social Security Administration website will gladly tell
you the most popular baby names for any year since 1880.
www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/
It's not necessary that your names be currently popular, and in California,
it's virtually impossible, since it is a quintessentially California thing to give
your baby a name or variant spelling no one has ever heard o f before. But
it is desirable that they be familiar to your audience. It helps to put in the
first names o f famous people, celebrities, athletes, etc. You'd be surprised how
these references will help the kids engage with the trick.
My Tribute to Vernon
by Pete McCabe

Int Magic Castle— Night

Pete sits at a table in the main bar of the Magic Castle, across
from Alex.

Pete
Twenty-three years ago, in this very room,
Dai Vernon did a trick for me. There was
no big presentation—he told me what to
do and I did it myself. But I remember
very clearly how deeply impossible it was,
because he didn’t touch the cards. I know
many magicians consider Dai Vernon the
greatest sleight-of-hand artist who ever
lived. But he didn’t touch the cards!

Pete removes the cardcase and place it on the table.

Pete
And so, having practiced magic as a
hobby for twenty years, I wanted to learn
that trick—so my audiences could feel
the same thing I did. It wasn’t in any of
his books, so I asked some magicians who
knew Vernon. And it turned out... no one
ever saw him do that trick.

Pete removes the cards from the case and places them face up
on the table.

Pete
It must have been a new trick he was
working on, and he died not long after. I
may be the only person who ever saw this
trick. I would like to perform it for you.

Pete looks through the deck and removes the Hearts, placing
them aside.
Pete
I never found out how Dai Vernon did it,
so this may not be the exact same trick he
did for me. But this is my tribute to Dai
Vernon.

Pete places the deck aside and spreads the Hearts on the table.

Pete
I’d like you to select any one of these
Hearts. Mix them if you want. Pick one up.

Alex picks up the Seven of Hearts.

Pete
Make the rest into a neat stack, if you
would. I’d do it but I d o n ’t want to touch
the cards. Dai Vernon didn’t touch the
cards, and neither will I.

Alex squares up the rest of the cards.

Pete
Now lift up about half the stack, turn your
card face down, and stick it back in the
stack.

Alex buries the Seven of Hearts face down in the stack of face
up cards.

Pete
Thank you. What you ju st did is exactly
what I did, 23 years ago. This is what Dai
Vernon did.

Pete waves his hands over the packet of Hearts, then over the
rest of the deck.

Pete
Actually, he was holding a cigar, but other
than that, that’s it. You picked the Seven
of Hearts, and put it back yourself. All Dai
Vernon did was wave his hands, and look!

Pete picks up the Hearts and counts them to the table.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 40
Pete
One two three four five six seven eight
nine ten eleven twelve. And the Seven of
Hearts is gone!
(Pause)
Where’d it go?

Pete spreads the deck: one card is reversed. Pete shows it to


t he audience.

It's the Seven of Hearts.

Pete
And that is my tribute to Dai Vernon.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 4 1
Notes on My Tribute to Vernon
This is a great exam p le o f a script that uses “narrative” patter and turns it
into something more th a n a simple narrated trick. This presentation grabs the
audience’s attention, and enhances their sense that they are seeing something
sp ec ial-w ith o u t any “sto ry ” being applied to the trick. The introduction com­
municates how im portant magic is to you, how seriously you take it, and how
hard you work for the audience’s enjoyment. These are incredibly powerful
messages.
By the way, I never m et Vernon. It’s plausible, but I made it up.

Method
This is a handling I w orked up a few years ago. The fir s t draft was two Ultra
Mental decks, any card vanishes from one deck and appears reversed in the
other. In creating A Tribute to Vernon, I figured Vernon would streamline the
trick to one deck, which inspired this final version o f the trick, which I call
Flight Suit. Just another w ay scripting can lead to improvements in the trick
itself, and vice versa.

Setup
You need two complete Heart suits and 26 random non-hearts, all roughed
on the back. If you don’t have a bottle o f roughing fluid and can’t remember
that it’s just Tester’s Dull Cote, or maybe you just prefer to support your local
magic shop, buy two Ultra Mental decks and take the pairs apart.
Take a complete Heart suit, in order, and put each one back to back with a
random non-Heart card. Hold this half deck w ith the Hearts face up, and put
h alf the remaining non-H earts face down on top. Now put the rest o f the non-
Hearts face down beneath. You now have a 39-card Ultra Mental deck
can reveal any Heart as the only reversed card.
Turn this mini-deck so the non-Hearts are f ace up and distribute the other
Heart suit, face up, through the deck. Case th e deck and write Flight Suit in
pencil on the box. No one will ever see it.

Performance
At the beginning o f the trick, when you sp read this deck to remove the
Hearts, you will see 39 faceup cards, 13 H earts and 2 6 non-Hearts; the 13
face-down Hearts don’t show. Believe it or not , this is the hardest moment in
the trick, because you want to spread the card s confidently and casually, with
enough force to show all the face-up cards, bu t without separating any o f the
roughed pairs. What I’m saying is, you m ig h t not think to practice spreading

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 42
through a deck and removing the Hearts, but for this trick you really should.
Put the rest o f the deck down on the table, somewhere the spectators won’t
grab for it. If you’re standing, put it near your crotch. Nobody will grab a prop
if they have to reach for your crotch to get it.
The vanish o f the selected heart happens automatically. When you count
the packet, the face down selection clings to the face up card above it. This idea
is very, very old, and has been subtly used by many clever magicians. I am sure
Vernon could have come up with this idea, given his early experimentation
with rough-and-smooth.
Now pick up the rest o f the deck and spread them at eye level, faces toward
the audience. The hidden Hearts are visible to you, so when you get to the
selected card you just separate it from its back-to-back partner, in classic Ultra
Mental deck fashion.

Adaptation
I believe that any magician can use this basic presentational structure and
hook with any trick, from the smallest close-up miracle to the largest stage il-
ilusion. It can be played by any performer at any age, working in any style. And
it can make almost any presentation better, more interesting, more special,
and more magical.
You don’t really have to write a script and memorize it— you can just pick
any magician you’d like to pay tribute to, and improvise o ff the basic idea. And
you don’t have to pick a m agician— it can be your grandpa who did one trick
for you every year on Christmas eve, and you decided to track it down, and
none o f your magician friends had any idea how it could be done, and maybe
your grandpa invented one sublime trick, and you’re going to keep it alive.
You can also change the story with each venue you perform. You don’t ac­
tually have to use a magician whose life overlapped with yours. You can say
that Houdini was famous for performing this trick, and you’ve read detailed
reports o f the exact effect written up by the best magicians o f the day, who
were completely fooled, etc. And now, as a tribute to his memory, you’re going
to perform this effect, exactly as you’ve been able to recreate it.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 43
Eugene Burger and John Lovick:
A Theatrical Endeavor

E
ugene Burger needs no introduction to anyone interested in the the­
atrical presentation o f magic. He's a wonderful thinker and writer,
and one o f the most successful close-up magicians in the world.
Several outstanding books and DVDs show the depth and quality of
Eugene’s thinking on all things magical.
John Lovick probably doesn’t need an introduction. He’s written articles
and books, including SW ITCH , is an associate editor at M AGIC magazine,
created “The Reparation,” gives a great lecture, and his alter ego Handsome
Jack is a star at the Magic Castle. So, no introduction.
Both o f these gentlemen are experts in scripting magic. I interviewed them
together to see how their approaches to scripting agree and differ.

Pete all m y ad u lt life. I worked in the


First question is do you script ev ­ theater b efo re I worked as a m a­
ery effect, or ju st som e? gician, so using scripts is what I
know, and that’s how I’m com fort­
Eugene able.
I script everything.
Pete
John What is the biggest benefit you get
Everything, I sit dow n and write from scrip tin g your effects?
out what I’m going to say. Well— I
do a few effects w here I’ve worked Eugene
out the script in rehearsal and Well, it allo w s you to pause.
perform ance. But every word is (pause)
even tually w ritten down. And it allo w s you to build in p au s­
es. And it allow s you to ask rather
Pete interestin g questions. Years ago I
Did you alw ays? What made you did a lecture at the Magic Castle,
start? on tim ing. And about 20 m inutes
into it a little light went on in my
Eugene head, and I said "Eugene, y o u ’re an
When I becam e a p rofession al m a­ idiot. These people have nothing to
gician. And I re a liz e d — I had to tim e!” So I taught four card tricks,
take this thing seriou sly. everyb o d y was happy.

John Pete a n d Jo h n laugh.


I’ve alw ays scripted everything.
I’ve worked in theater basically

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 44
Eugene every show. Even if you don’t
If you have a sentence, you can record your sh o w — which you
a s k som e fascinating questions, should do — if you have it scrip t­
l ike what word gets punched in ed, at least you can go back and
that sentence? Is there a pause rem em ber the perform ance, what
In the sentence? Where does it worked and what didn’t, because
g o ? How long is it? What is your you know what you said. But if it’s
face doing during this pause? But all off the top of your head, you
If you’re ju st ad-libbing, doing it w on’t rem em ber a lot of it. So you
different every time, none o f these can’t rem em ber what worked and
questions are m eaningful. what didn’t. Having a script helps
you get better for your next per­
Pete form ance, because it helps you
And to have a pause, and to learn evaluate how good you were at
how long the pause is going to this one.
be, and w here it goes, you need a
script. Pete
So, have you noticed that the ben­
Eugene efits you get from scripting have
Yes, because m ost m agicians are changed over time? Do you get
jabbering. T h ey’re talking en d­ different benefits now than when
lessly, too much, too fast. And you were ju st starting out?
therefore, the whole thing gets
trivialized. It’s pauses that make Eugene
things serious. If you want to do a The benefit you get over time is
long pause, you could get an au d i­ recognition. I’m going to A u stra­
ence to be really quiet and right lia tom orrow. Part of excellence is
with you. But if y o u ’re ju st jab b er­ understanding that magic is a the­
ing all the time, they start looking atrical endeavor. If w e’re not go ­
at their w atches. Because w hat’s ing to put all o f our energy behind
going on isn ’t im portant. that, w e’re ju st going to be m edio­
cre m agicians. But if yo u ’re w illing
Pete to put som e energy into som e­
One reason I dislike the word p at­ thing, som e work, and thought,
ter so m uch is that sense o f con­ then you can excel. And you get to
stant, nonstop, not really im por­ go to nice places on other p eop le’s
tant, noise. money.

Eugene Pete
It’s called G esprache, idle chatter. John, have you noticed the sam e
Speech w here nothing is revealed. benefits, perhaps not as a fam ous
perform er like Eugene.
John
One huge advantage of scriptin g John
is that it helps you im prove with I have my own cult follow ing.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 4 5
Eugene laughs. want to c o m m u n ica te, and get the
trick and a script from there?
Pete
I'm a m em ber o f the Handsome Eugene
Ja ck Fan Club. But do you get more It’s alw ays different. Som etim es I
out o f scriptin g now than when start with a trick, and then I try to
you wrote your first script? w rite a script for it. Other times
I start with ju st a line. I had the
John line “Highlights in the H istory of
The first com plete routine I ever Christian ity... told with a deck of
put together w as the Linking card s” in my w allet for 9 years be­
Rings. I spent six m onths on it be­ fore I realized I could attach that
fore I w as even to Card Warp,
w illing to do it w hich I’d been
for the magic It's called Gesprache: doing for 15
club. I think it’s idle chatter. Speech where years. Now, be­
a beautiful trick cause it’s scrip t­
nothing is revealed.
and it’s one o f ed, I can dial it
the few tricks in down, if I want.
m agic where the secret is beautiful For instance, “H ighlights in the
as well. So I studied everything, I H istory of Religion... told with a
researched 3 -ring routines, 6-ring deck o f card s.” So we d on ’t put all
routines, 4 -ring routines, 5-ring the em phasis on Christianity. On
routines, 8-ring routines, and fi­ the other hand, when I did this on
nally decided the perfect number the Paul Daniels show in England, I
o f rings w as 5 . And then I worked did “Highlights in World H istory...
on finding som ething to say that with a deck o f card s,” not even
w as entertaining, id eally relevant. opening the religious box.
After six m onths I show ed it to the
magic club, and it got a much bet­ When you have a script, these
ter response than anything else kinds o f options are open to
I’d ever done. So, if I didn ’t know you. Because I think the game of
the value of scriptin g before that, the m agician is to create clever
I certainly learned it then. And it’s m ousetraps. And you need to
a lesson that keeps getting rein­ know what your audience will re­
forced, year after year. spond to. To do “H ighlights in the
H istory o f C h ristian ity” on nation­
Pete al television in England is getting
Where do you start? Do you take a h alf the people irritated with you
trick that ap p eals to you and de­ before y o u ’ve started. But if you
velop a script for it, do you start don ’t have a sense o f w hat y o u ’re
with a script, and figure out the doing, y o u ’re adrift. T h at’s one
technical details afterw ards, or thing scripting has alw ays done
do you start with an idea that you for m e— it gives me the track. And

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 46
you can go off the track if y o u ’re to get better, by letting you get
feeling particularly clever today. closer and closer to your goal.
But you know, som e days I don’t
feel clever. I feel really dull. And Eugene
so I ju st stay on script. At the end o f the evening, if I’m
not com pletely satisfied with the
John response I got, and I’ve ju st been
Paying attention to how the au d i­ ad-libbing this whole thing, then
ence resp on d s is very im portant. what do I do? Do I even know what
When I started to put together an I want to change? No! See, I believe
act, Handsom e Jack w as about as in audiotaping.
far aw ay from what I w as trying to
accom plish as could be. I thought Pete
1 wanted to do a certain kind of As opposed to videotaping?
act, with this kind of magic, and
this kind o f character, and I w as Eugene
heading off in this direction. And I’d like both, but the problem with
I would do m y show s, and certain videotaping is I can get caught up
things w ould work, so I would add in the pictures and m iss the story.
more o f that. I want my show
Before I knew it to be interesting
I was heading I f allyou're doing is even if all you
East instead of telling theperson something heard was what
West, and at the
end of the year
they can seefor themselves , I said. So when
I add the visu al
I was Handsom e why should they experience of
Ja c k — the exact listen toyou? the magic, it’s
opposite o f what going to be re­
I set out to be. ally good. But if
If y o u ’d told me at the start that it’s not in teresting on a verbal le v ­
I was going to be the male model el to begin with, there’s no base.
m agician, I would have said you There’s no solid foundation to the
were insane. Now, because I paid house.
attention to what the audience
was telling me, I’ve im proved to John
the point w here I perform regu­ Audiotape y o u rse lf perform ing,
larly at the Castle, and I’m invited w hether it’s a form al show, or ju st
to perform at conventions. a trick for you r brother. Then tran ­
scribe the tape, and read it. And
Pete ask you rself, if I w as not doing any
David Regal said in Close-up an d m agic, and I w as ju st saying this
Personal that scripting lets you as a m onologue, how w orthy is
decide w hat response you hope to this of putting in front of people?
get, so you can see if you get it or The thing about art, w hether it’s
not. Having a goal show s you how fine art or p erform ing art, y o u ’re

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 47
trying to com m unicate an idea or Eugene
tell a story. Ideally it’s an interest­ I’ve alw ays thought that you
ing idea or com pelling story. A lot have two choices: the potter or
o f m agicians are not really trying the sculptor. The potter works
to com m unicate an idea or a story, by building up, and the sculptor
th ey’re ju st p resen tin g an effect. w orks by chipping away. I’ve al­
Scripting lets you add another ele­ w ays worked on character d evel­
ment, another layer, to the effect. opm ent as a sculptor. What I’m
It gives you som ething to com ­ trying to do is un cover the person
m unicate. It gives you a reason to that I already am, not to create a
be show ing som ebody the effect, new person. Now, the person I al­
above and beyond “look what I can read y am I will am plify, and try to
d o.” A script allow s you to have a enhance some o f m y gifts, and de­
goal other than foolin g a person, crease som e of m y deficits.
which is only so interesting.
Pete
Pete John, from your descrip tion o f
I want to go on to character. I the w ay you developed Handsom e
wrote out a terrible question about Jack, it sounds like you w ere more
character, so I’d like you to im ag­ o f a potter.
ine that I ju st asked a really good
question about character, and ju st John
answ er that. Th at’s true. A lot of the hum or in
m y personal life w as se lf dep re­
John cating. And that’s the direction I
When I talk about character, ev ­ started when I set out to create an
eryone says “Well, you perform act, because that’s who I am. Hand­
as Handsom e Jack. I ju st do tricks som e Jack is the exact op p osite of
for my frien d s.” All the same rules that. It doesn ’t feel so m uch like a
apply, w hether y o u ’re perform ing deep part of me w as revealed, it
as a character, or as y o u rse lf for feels like som ething w as created.
frien ds. Consistency, naturalness, It w as a very su rp risin g p rocess.
stayin g in character, they all ap ­
ply. Even if y o u ’re playing your­ Pete
self, you have to know what kind Okay, process. In the real w orld,
o f person you are. You still have to do you sit down and w rite out a
choose tricks and a presentation script, then rehearse it, or do you
style that fits you. im provise first, then w rite it down,
or...
Pete
Eugene, you p erform more or less Eugene
as you rself. How do you infuse First o f all, I believe all good w rit­
your character into a scrip t— or ing is rewriting. That’s m y prem ­
does it happen autom atically be­ ise. So, the first thing I want to do
cause it’s you doing the writing? is get som ething down on paper.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 48
And then I want to go aw ay for a Pete
few days, and leave it alone, and So John, your process?
then com e back to it, with m aybe
fresh eyes. After I come back to John
It, I try tell the sam e story with as The point at which I sit down and
few w ords as possible. I’m really actually w rite it out varies. Som e­
into econom y of w ords. Because tim es when I get an idea it’s a full-
that gives you time for pau ses. form ed idea and it seem s to w rite
And som etim es the m agic hap­ itself. But if it’s ju st a vague idea,
pens in the pauses. I wrote an ar­ and I don’t know enough about it
ticle on m y w ebsite called “Editing to write it down I’ll go through it in
Scripts.” In this article, there are m y living room , and basically im ­
two scrip ts for the Bob Neale trick p rovise it. And after going through
13 at Dinner”; an earlier draft it a few tim es, I have a better idea
and a later one. And if you look w hat’s going on, and then I’ll sit
at them side-by-side, you could down and w rite the script.
see the air that w as taken out.
I’m really com m itted to econom y Eugene
of w ords. And I think that’s really And som etim es you don’t write it
a reaction to the kind o f m agic I out, do you? I w as ju st thinking of
see so often, which is ju st these the Voodoo Poker routine I do in
people talking too much. the show with Max and Tina. I’ve
never w ritten that script out, and
If you w ere to say to me, how can yet it is ab solu tely word for word
the average m agician im prove every show. Now the first time I
their work, well, real sim ple: don’t did it, I had a name for the doll,
talk so much, and slow down. and it ju st went in all these differ­
ent directions. And it was getting
Pete laughs, but one o f my prim ary in­
I think a lot o f people speed up b e­ tuitions is that not all laughs are
cause th ey’re nervous, and th ey’re good laughs.
nervous because they don’t know
what th ey’re doing, esp ecially if John
they’re m aking up what they say That’s true. An audience can laugh
as they go. throughout an entire show, and
still be very unsatisfied.
John
And th ey’ve seen the trick before, Eugene
and forget the audience h asn ’t. To Exactly. And so I ju st pulled back.
the audience it’s all new. It takes I didn’t give the doll a name; it
time to p rocess all the in form a­ w asn ’t going anyw here, it w as ju st
tion— to look at som ething, see a stupid cheap laugh. It w asn ’t
what it is, see the m agic effect, m oving the gam e along, I’m trying
then react to it. to get to that Am sterdam joke. If
you get to perform a lot, the ac­

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 49
tual writing it down isn ’t quite as Pete
crucial, because y o u ’re doing it Those are the best o n es.
every night, so you can tweak it
that way. Particularly because my Eugene
scripts tend not to be very long. “The Human T h re a d ,” which I did
If I have these en d less am ounts of in the show with Max and Tina, is
w ords, w here do I ju m p in? based on a script th at Max and I
w rote for the Shakespeare show.
Pete But m ost of the tim e I don’t do
What attracted you to the G ypsy either o f those. The version I per­
Thread? form the m ost is silen t. Because
at the average corporate party
Eugene Brahma, Vishnu, an d Shiva don’t
I saw it when I w as about 16 years quite work, any m ore than aban­
old, Fred Kaps gave a lecture in donm ent and all th ese existential
Chicago. It called to me. The origi­ things.
nal presentation w as about Vam­
pires. And the thread w as broken Pete
by biting it. M agicians would say to Pleasure and pain, happ in ess and
me, “How do you bite that thread?” sorrow, intense lo ve and tragic
And I w ou ld — not getting it— ju st separation ...
say “I bite it.” And then I had all
this dental work done, and I didn’t Eugene
have that place in m y mouth an y­ Right. So the version I perform the
m ore where I bit the thread. So I m ost goes like this: “You know,
stopped doing the trick for a year. one o f the things p eop le say to
And in those me is that I talk
d ays I w as also a great deal.
doing “Dracula The less trivia l I can be, And so my final
and the Soror­ the more zeroes I can add p iece of magic
ity G irls,” and to my paycheck. is done w ith­
so “Vampire-like out an y w ords.
teeth” w as a Well, there are a
callback to this earlier effect. And few w ords. This is yello w cotton
then one day, I w as thinking: this thread. And this effect is dedicat­
is one of my favorite tricks, and ed to the pyrom aniac deep within
I haven’t done it for a year. And each o f us. And I sh o u ld tell you,
Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva ju st it is an exam ple of p u re sleight of
jum ped in. But they d id n ’t jum p hand .” Now, w h atever that means,
in out of nowhere. Th ey jum ped who knows. But th at’s the eleva­
in after 15 years o f stu d ying Asian tion of it. And then I ju s t perform
philosophy. But once they were in, the trick silently.
the script wrote itself.
John
It creates interest righ t at the top.
Eugene and the rest of it fell in place. And
So there is a script, leading into this raises an im portant point. If
it, but the effect is perform ed s i­ a joke isn ’t funny, cut it! If y o u ’ve
lently. tried it three tim es and haven’t
gotten a laugh, take it out of the
Pete act.
So John, what drew you into the
trick? Pete
Eugene, what lead you to create
John a new presentation when Cosm ic
It's a trick I’ve alw ays liked. And Thread w as so su ccessfu l?
It never occurred to me to per­
form it, because I didn’t know Eugene
what Handsom e Jack would do A magic trick is like an opportu­
with it. And then for som e reason nity. And you can take a sim ple
I thought of the phrase “She loves magic trick and raise different
me, she loves m e... a lot.” Instead em otions. I don’t think you have
of she loves me not. Because to to give m agic m eaning, because I
Handsome Jack, “she loves me think m agic is already m eaningful.
not” ju st d oesn ’t e x ist— how could What you have to do som etim es is
any w om an not love Handsom e get out o f the way, so people can
Jack? And I thought to m yself, get the m eaning.
that’s funny. That’s good com edy.
I had heard about doing the G yp sy Pete
Thread with dental floss. And I So you don’t obscure it with a blan ­
liked the convenience of that, all ket o f w ords that have no m ean­
in a single self-contained package, ing of their own, and prevent the
and I liked the everyday-object a s ­ m eaning o f the trick from com ing
pect of it. So I worked up a p resen ­ through.
tation, where every time I’d break
the thread, I’d say “She loves me, John
she loves me a lot.” I did it for an Some people think scripting ju st
audience, and it turns out, “She m eans elaborate story concept
loves me, she loves me a lot,” in­ presentations. But scripting can
deed... is not funny. And that w as be finding a few lines to drape
the entire b asis of the routine. around an effect— not to narrate
it, but to make it echo in your au ­
Pete an d Eugene laugh. dience’s mind, so they’re ready for
the magic, and they experience it
John fully, and they rem em ber it.
So it w as back to the draw ing
board. When I tried to fix it, I came Pete
up with a more elaborate version , John, how did you end up w rit­
which had a series of jo k es in the ing a G yp sy Thread script for a
same style, which plays quite well,
p lay that w a s written by so m eo n e Eugene
else? If y o u ’re ju st starting out, don’t bite
off more than you can chew. If you
John have a trick that’s m ostly ju st ex­
The show is a m usical about the position, start with that. Clean that
invention of cinem a in the 1890 s. up. So that yo u ’re not en d lessly re­
I w as playing the ghost o f Robert- p eating yourself. Take your favor­
Houdin, and every once in a while ite card trick, and then ask your­
I would do a bit o f magic related self, line by line, is this helping the
to the them es o f the show, which trick, or am I ju st ju m p in g up and
were im m ortality, death, time, hu­ down, not going anyw here?
man achievem ent, invention, and
art. The w riters outlined in the Writing scripts isn ’t about coming
p lay that Robert-Houdin would up with fantastic story scripts; it’s
do a trick about loss here, one about im proving what you already
about time there, etc. It w as my do, and making it better magic for
jo b to come up with tricks that people, a better perform ance. Be­
fit. I plotted them all out, except cause this is a perform ance, and
I didn ’t have anything in my rep ­ that’s theater, and very few people
ertoire that I thought would work have the ability to ad-lib it. If you
for time. I looked at all these go and watch Lance Burton or Penn
tricks with clocks, and w atches, & Teller or Siegfried & Roy, these
and h o urglasses, and time travel, show s are absolutely scripted. You
and then I thought of the G ypsy watch Lance’s show and you think
Thread, and I thought there might this is really spontaneous. But I’ve
be a w ay to make it about time seen it a dozen tim es, and there
through the script. I thought about are very few unscripted moments.
how some people view time as a These are scripted show s because
continuous unbroken stream , and these are show s, for g o d ’s sake.
som e people think of time as bro­ And a show is about a script.
ken down into sm aller pieces, and
that becam e the contrast between John
the unbroken and broken thread. There w as a d iscu ssion on the
So this is one exam ple where I had Internet recently about scripting
the idea for the script first. Usu­ m agic, and som eone said, “I don’t
ally the trick com es first. use a script because it interferes
with m y spontaneity.” Well, noth­
Pete ing could be further from the
Last question: If you could give truth. If you watch a great actor,
one piece of ad vice to a m agician all their work is truly spontane­
getting startin g in scripting their o u s — and m ost actors have never
magic, what w ould it be? perform ed a single w ord, ever,
that w asn ’t scripted. By definition
good acting is spontaneous. The
great luxury about doing a magic

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 52
trick— as opposed to a p la y — is what to say, and so they ju st d e­
that you can go off script if you scribe what th ey’re doing.
want to. So the notion that using
a script is lim iting or confining is Pete
absolutely untrue. It’s like when som eone is giving a
PowerPoint presentation, and they
Eugene put up a slide with text, and then
The other half of that ad vice is they read the text off the slide.
this: don’t let failure discourage Well, you can read to y o u rse lf
you. Je ff McBride and I recently did much faster than the person can
a program for a group of teen ag­ read out loud. So you tune them
ers, and afterw ard we asked them, out.
"What did you learn here that you
can take home and ap p ly to your John
m agic?” And the num ber one an ­ Exactly. If all y o u ’re doing is tell­
swer w as, “Give y o u rse lf p erm is­ing the person som ething they can
sion to fa il.” see for them selves, why should
they listen to you? As Eugene said,
John when we talk about scripts, w e’re
If I could only give som ebody one not ju st talking about some really
piece o f advice, it would be to re­ interesting prem ise, some off-the-
duce the am ount of procedural wall concept, or som e poetic story.
patter in your Ju st think of it as
show. Take it a w ay to im prove
as close to zero Writing scripts isnt the tricks you al­
percent as you about coming up with ready do, in the
can. By p roce­ style you already
fantastic story scripts;
dural patter, I use. That’s all. It
mean the things it's about improving can be ju st a few
that describe whatyou already do. lines, so that e v ­
what y o u ’re do­ erything y o u ’re
ing. “Here I have saying is servin g
three coins. One, two, three.” Or a purpose, and contributing to the
“Here I have a rope, I’m going to trick. Because if it doesn ’t contrib­
cut it in tw o.” Now, there are tim es ute, it subtracts. And so, even if
when you have to do th at— when your script ends up being only
you need to em phasize a certain four sentences, each one of them
condition, or a certain num ber of helps the m agic.
props, you have to do that occa­
sionally. But as a general rule, a lot Eugene
of that is bad, and there are som e What John ju s t said is very im por­
shows w here 90 % o f what the tant. One o f the m ost im portant
person says is procedural. Th at’s principles is econom y. If you ju s t
m ostly because they h aven ’t spread a deck o f cards and m ove
scripted it, and they don’t know toward a person, they take a card

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 53
without you saying anything. A ny­ References
thing at all! But I don’t want to be Eugene's essay, “ Editing Scripts,”
“Hi take a card ju s t grab one ju st is at www.magicbeard.com.
grab any one ju s t take a card!”
That’s trivializing what I’m doing,
and in the process it’s trivializing
me. And the less trivial I can be,
the more zeroes I can add to my
paycheck. So there is a bottom
line, after all.

My main goal is tofascinate the audience into thinking that


they are dreaming, even i f this is only for afew seconds.
Juan Tamariz

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 54
Gypsy Thread

ne sure way to tell when a trick strikes at something fundamen­

O tal is to look at the variety o f different presentations that have


been developed for it. The Gypsy Thread is one o f the true clas­
sics o f magic. It can be performed for any audience in the world,
and— i f done w ell— will draw a powerful reaction.
When I'm teaching English, I often have students who have never analyzed
a poem and haven’t read or heard a poem since they began to read for them­
selves. I f I just give them a poem and ask them to analyze it, they don’t know
where to begin. But i f I give them two poems and ask them to compare them,
that they can do. It’s easier for the mind to compare two things than to analyze
one. The same is true with scripts. It’s revealing to see the different choices
two different magicians make for the same trick.
Here you have a unique treat— four different scripts for the Gypsy Thread,
two each by Eugene and John. They cover a fair range o f both style and sub­
stance, from sublime to eternal, history to comedy. When you read these
scripts, notice how little narrative there is. Only the last one, really, and that’s
only because it’s structured as a demonstration. Each o f these scripts has only
the words that add to the effect.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 55
Cosmic Thread
by Eugene Burger

Int— Theater— Evening

A single small candle, in a simple brass holder, on a beautiful


wooden box. Next to it, a spool of yellow cotton thread.

Eugene lights a match, and lights the candle. He blows out the
match and picks up the spool.

Eugene
Yellow cotton thread.

Eugene begins unspooling a length of thread.

Eugene
A single length, which will represent the
entire universe.

Pause.

Eugene
In the stories of ancient India, it is the
God Brahma who creates the universe and
all that there is. Brahma then retires...

Eugene breaks off the length of thread.

Eugene
...and the God Vishnu takes over. And
Vishnu sustains and preserves the
universe in every moment of its existence.

Eugene stretches the thread between his widespread hands.

Eugene
And then, at the end of time, the God
Shiva appears...

Eugene holds the end of the thread over the flame, which burns
through it, separating off a short piece from the whole.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 56
Eugene
...and dances the Tandava dance...

Again he burns a short piece off of the main thread.

Eugene
...a weird and terrible dance of fire...

Another piece is burned from the whole.

Eugene
...in which the entire material universe is
destroyed...

The last piece is burned in half, leaving the entire thread in


pieces in his hands.

Eugene
...in blinding light brighter than 10,000
suns.

Eugene draws away one piece and begins to slowly roll the
others into a ball.

Eugene
And the universe is no more. There is
only silence—vast cosmic sleep.

Eugene holds up the small ball of cut pieces of thread.

Eugene
And out of this cosmic sleep, Brahma
wakens himself again.

Eugene presses the ball onto the remaining single strand of


thread, where it sticks, hanging from the middle.

Eugene
He looks about, and seeing nothing—
nothing lovely or beautiful, he decides to
create the universe once more.

Eugene takes both ends of the single strand and slowly begins
to pull them apart. The ball begins to dance and bounce as the
string draws out longer and longer.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 57
Eugene
And creating it, he retires, pleased with
his eternal play.

Eugene holds his hands out wide, showing the fully restored
thread.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 58
Notes on Cosmic Thread
If you think about it, this is really a history lesson. I f my teachers had taught
like this, I’d probably remember a lot more history.
Note the pause at the beginning. It separates the trick that follows from the
preparatory action o f removing and displaying the spool o f thread. It’s very
important. Many tricks depend on some secret action that is done before the
spectators realize the trick has started. The Gypsy Thread isn’t particularly
one o f them, but I didn’t want to m iss this point, which is that the pause
makes this technique even more impenetrable. To the audience, everything
that happened before the pause is separate from the trick. In this case, the
pause serves to intensity the audience’s attention on Eugene, and what he’s
about to say. The reason it works so well is that Eugene has just announced
the intriguing fact that the thread will represent the entire universe. This line,
coupled with the pause, tells the audience that what they are going to see is
different from the usual magic trick, whatever that might be.

Method
Eugene’s book (see below) has his handling. Many other books have han­
dlings. They all work. Pick the simplest.

Adaptation
Obviously, you don’t want to do this exact presentation, because it is so
strongly identified with Eugene. This story works for Eugene because it means
something to him; pick one that means something to you. Pick a story you re­
ally like, and tell it as concisely and elegantly as you can while you’re doing the
trick. I’m pretty sure that’s what Eugene did.

References
This presentation also appears in Eugene’s book The Experience of Magic,
Kaufman and Greenberg, 1989. Eugene’s handling appears in Spirit Theater,
Kaufman and Greenberg, 1986.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 59
Human Thread
by Eugene Burger

Int — Theater— Evening

A single small candle, in a simple brass holder, on a beautiful


wooden box. Next to it, a spool of cotton thread.

Eugene strikes a match, and lights the candle. He blows out the
match and picks up the spool.

Eugene
Sometimes things that seem simple a re n ’t
so simple after all.

Eugene holds up the spool.

Eugene
A simple spool of thread.

Eugene begins unwinding the thread.

Eugene
A single strand. Like our lives, there’s a
beginning and an end.

Eugene breaks off the length of thread.

Eugene
And in the middle, there is happiness, but
also sorrow.

Eugene burns a short piece off of the main thread.

Eugene
There is pleasure, but also pain.

Another short piece is burned off the main thread.

Eugene
There are moments of intense love, and
times of tragic separation.

Another short piece is burned off.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 60
Eugene
Betrayal.

Another piece is burned off.

Eugene
Abandonment.

The final piece is burned off.

Eugene
When the bonds between us seem broken
forever.

Eugene slowly rolls the threads into a ball.

Eugene
We hope that’s not so. We want something
more.

Eugene presses the ball onto the remaining single strand of


thread, where it sticks, hanging from the middle.

Eugene
The human dream, the universal dream, is
a dream of magic—and transformation.

Eugene slowly pulls the ends of the single strand apart, until
he is finally holding the entire string, fully restored.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 61
Notes on The Human Thread
The Human Thread grew out o f a version written by Eugene, Max Maven,
and Peter Howard for a show at the Shakespeare Festival o f Los Angeles.

References
This presentation, along with Eugene's complete handling, is taught on vol­
ume three o f Eugene Burger's Magical Voyages video series, L&L Publishing.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 62
Forming an Eternity
by John Lovick

Int— Theater— Evening

The Ghost of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin appears. He steps to a


table on which sits a lit candle and a spool of thread.

Robert-Houdin
Time is man-made. That’s all, ju st “Time is
man-made.”

He picks up the spool.

Robert-Houdin
Some people view time as flowing
continuously in an endless stream...

He unspools a length of thread.

Robert-Houdin
...and some perceive it to be made of
distinct parts. Centuries...

He burns off a piece of thread.

Robert-Houdin
...decades...

Another piece is burned off.

Robert-Houdin
...years...

And another.

Robert-Houdin
...months...

And another.

Robert-Houdin
...weeks...

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 63
And another.

Robert-Houdin
...days...

And another.

Robert-Houdin
...hours...

And another.

Robert-Houdin
...minutes...

And another.

Robert-Houdin
...and seconds.

The final piece is burned off. Robert-Houdin picks up the pieces


and begins rolling them into a ball.

Robert-Houdin
Millions of moments...

He sticks the ball onto the single piece of thread, then slowly
draws the restored thread out.

Robert-Houdin
...forming an eternity.

Fade Out

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 64
Notes on Forming an Eternity
John wrote this for the Los Angeles premiere o f the play Laura Comstock's
Hay, Punching Dog. John originated the role of the Ghost o f Jean Eugene Rob-
ert-Houdin and created several magical sections, including this script. By the
way, John asked Eugene for permission to use the presentational device o f
burning the thread in the flame o f a candle.
This is the only script in the book that ends with a fade out.

References
Laura Comstock's Bag-Punching Dog, written by Jillian Armenante and Alice
Dodd, premiered in Los Angeles in July, 2003.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 65
The Handsome Jack Lovem eter
by John Lovick

Int— Night Club— Evening

Handsome Jack smiles at the audience.

HANDSOME JACK
I’ve got something here that can help each
and everyone of you with your love lives.
It’s the latest offering from the Handsome
Jack Institute. The Handsome Jack
Institute is dedicated to making you... a
pale imitation of me.

Jack holds up a small packet of dental floss.

HANDSOME JACK
What I have here that can help you with
your love life is: Dental floss. No, I’m
not talking about oral hygiene here,
I’m talking about something I call “The
Handsome Jack Lovemeter,” and here’s
how it works. If you are at all like me,
you are young and single and you loves
to mingle. You find yourself at a lot of
parties thinking, “I wonder if this chick
digs me?” Up until now your only option
was to write her a note that said “Do you
like me? Yes or no? Check one.” Well, now
with the Handsome Jack Lovemeter, you
can find out scientifically, and here is how
it works.

Jack pulls out a length of floss and cuts it off with the built-in
cutter.

HANDSOME JACK
Take a length of dental floss and as you
break it into small pieces you say, “She
loves me...

Jack cuts off a piece of thread.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 66
HANDSOME JA C K
...she loves me a lot...

A n o th e r cut.

HANDSOME JACK
...she loves me...

Another cut.

HANDSOME JACK
...she just wants me for my body...

Another cut.

HANDSOME JACK
...she loves me...

Another cut.

HANDSOME JACK
...she used to be a man...

Another cut.

HANDSOME JACK
...she loves me a lot...

Another cut.

HANDSOME JACK
...her husband does not.

John s to p s —there’s nothing left to cut.

HANDSOME JACK
Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
When this happens, and I get an answer
I’m less than entirely satisfied with, I take
all the little pieces and roll them into a
ball.

Jack rolls the cut up pieces into a ball, then sticks the ball to
the single piece.
HANDSOME JACK
I wander around the party, act natural, no
one notices. If I see a woman who catches
my eye, I just run the test again. And I
can run the test again, because I’m not
ju s t the president of the Handsome Jack
Institute...

Jack pulls out the floss—it’s restored.

HANDSOME JACK
...I’m also a client.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 68
Notes on The Handsome Jack Lovemeter
This is the version o f the Gypsy Thread that John performs in his standup
act as Handsome Jack, a part which has garnered him a nomination for Magi­
cian o f the Year every year he has performed it. I f you’ve never seen a picture
o f John, some o f the comedy o f him as a male model may be lost on you.

References
Lonnie Chevrie o f Texas came up with the remarkably practical dental floss
version o f the Gypsy Thread, which is detailed as “ String ’em Up” on the DVD
Wanted!: The Outlaw Magic o f Lonnie Chevrie, Volume 1.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 69
Developing Character:
How do you do that?

T
he following question was asked in one o f the online magic fo­
rums recently. I can't remember which one, but it doesn't matter;
the same question comes up regularly in all the beginner-oriented
forums:

Does anybody have any good one-liners for when someone asks,
“How did you do that?”

The standard responses come up just as often. You can say “Very well,
thank you.” Or you can ask “Can you keep a secret?” and when the spectator
says “Yes,” you say, “ So can I.”
These are both terrible answers, but who cares what I think? I’m not a pro­
fessional magician. But I am a professional writer. And I can tell you this: i f I
were writing a script and one o f the characters was a magician, and I wanted
the audience to immediately dislike this character, this is what I would write:

Spectator
How did you do that?

Magician 1
Very well, thank you.

This is what I would write to make the character twice as unlikable:

Spectator
How did you do that?

Magician 2
Can you keep a secret?

Spectator
Yes.

Magician 2
So can I.

I wouldn't have to include any further notes about the character. The actor,
the director, the guy working craft services— they'll all know the magician is
a pompous ass. I f I really wanted to make the magician out to be a bad guy,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 70
I'd have him take the spectator aside, as if to whisper in secret, then say “ So
can I” in an extra loud voice for other people to hear. The only thing I could
do to make a magician seem less likable than that is to have him mistreat his
animals.
Seriously, I could write:

Spectator
How did you do that?

Magician 3
F_ck you! (Storms off)

Magician 3 would be more sympathetic than either o f the first two. Because
at least he’s dedicated. The audience might think he’s some kind o f tortured
artist, and they might want to see him redeemed. But the first two aren’t inter­
esting— they’re just jerks.
When you perform, what you say is your script. Whether you write it out
in advance, make it up as you go, or pull from your bank o f one-liners, what
you say and do is your script. And as any scriptwriter knows, your character is
revealed by what you say and do.
When you think o f what you say as a script, you immediately realize how
terrible all these “one-liners” are. The best way to deal with a question like
“ How did you do that?” is to take some time now — before the question is
asked— and script an answer that will reveal your character the way you want
the audience to see it.
Here are a few possibilities to get you started:

"I practice a lot."


This deceptively simple answer has a lot going on under the surface. It im ­
mediately makes you more human and sympathetic, and keeps the spectators
from thinking they could do the trick i f they only knew the “secret.” And it
subtly reminds the audience how hard you work for their entertainment.

"Did you like it?"


When the spectator says “Yes,” you can say, “ Let me show you another one.”
I f you don’t have another trick to show them, just say “Thank you” instead o f
“ Let me show you another one.” Either way this answer is good because it in­
directly acknowledges the question as a compliment (which it is).

These answers are both good, but they don’t really have that much character
in them. These next few responses are character specific, so they won’t be ap-

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 7 1
propriate for everyone. But they do show how you can in fu se your character
into every aspect o f your act.

"M y grandfather taught me that trick when I w a s ten years o ld ."


This creates a priceless connection between you and the audience. You can
follow this by talking about your grandfather, and the way you talk about your
grandfather will tell your audience a great deal about you. I f you like, you can
follow this up with "Here, let me show you the trick my grandmother taught
m e.” I guarantee this will intrigue the audience.

"I know, I've been banned from every casino in Las V egas."
Another line that treats the question as a compliment, this could work for
a "Charming Cheat” character like Martin A. Nash. This line can be a little
egotistical, but i f you deliver it with a hint o f sadness, the audience will almost
feeling sorry for you.

"I practice all the time—my shrink says it's a good idea to keep my
hands busy."
If you're one o f those funny, slightly crazy people— someone like David
Acer, say— you can get a good laugh with something like this. By the way, i f
you’re not one o f those funny, slightly crazy people, saying a line like this will
not make you one.

The best answer I’ve ever heard was by the lovely Argentine magician Alba.
She carefully structured her routines so that every magical moment was pre­
sented as the spectator’s doing. At one point one o f the assisting spectators
asked, “ How did you do that?” and she immediately replied, "You did it.”
More important than any o f the lines you might read here or online or any­
where else is to think about what your answer to this question reveals about
your character. Everything you say reveals something about your character.
Everything.
I still believe that the best way to deal with this question is to keep your spec­
tators from asking it. All you have to do is make what you did more interesting
than how you did it. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to write a compel­
ling script for every trick you do.

An earlier version of this essay appeared in Genii Magazine, October 2002.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 72
his script is for a double-Card-to-Pocket trick called “Casual Travel­

T ers,” which appeared in my One Man Parade in the May 20 0 2 issue


o f The Linking Ring. This is a great trick. I can say that because I
claim very little credit for it. I only took three existing moves and
put them together. So as you read the script, don’t overlook the trick.
In this script I introduce m yself as the Magician Who Cares. This is played
tongue in cheek, mostly, but the part about me caring— and by implication,
other magicians not caring— is definitely based on reality. This script uses
self-deprecating humor, which is not everyone’s cup o f tea, but i f you like
it, feel free to use any part o f this routine. I don’t perform professionally, so
you’re not taking anything away from me.
But i f you don’t like this character, don’t dism iss the script. Instead, notice
how everything— the comedy, the handling o f the trick, and even the magical
clim ax— are all integrated into a single whole. That’s because everything is
derived from the character. The more o f your character you integrate into your
work, the more your work becomes a whole, where all the components rein­
force each other. If you do a variety o f tricks with a variety o f props in a variety
o f different moods, with a consistent, distinctive character, your act will seem
like a consistent whole. But i f you do similar tricks, with similar props and
similar presentations, but your character changes every trick, the result will
seem like an incoherent mess. I f you perform tricks using the “patter” from
the instructions, this is almost certainly what will happen. So, if you want your
act to be a consistent whole, you really have to let character drive everything.
You can still choose which tricks to perform, but you can’t really do a trick
until you know how your character would do it.
Earlier in this book I mentioned that every trick you do has a script. Even if
you make it up on the spot, it’s still the script for that performance o f the trick.
The same is true o f character. You may say that you don’t play a character,
and you may be right. But you still have a character, and your audience will
perceive, and interpret, and respond to your character. It’s incredibly easy for a
few poorly chosen words to give the audience a completely wrong impression
o f who you are. Conversely, it’s very easy for a few well-chosen words to com­
municate that character to the audience quickly, easily, and entertainingly. The
results may astound you.
In this script you perform for two spectators; Ricky is on your right, and Lee
is on your left. This ensures maximum cover for one move.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 73
I Care
by Pete McCabe

Int— Living Room— Evening

Pete stands in front of his friends, Ricky and Lee.

Pete
The problem with most magicians is that
they don’t care. For example, a magician
will pull a quarter out of your ear. But
do they let you keep it? No! It’s your ear,
it should be your quarter. When I pull a
quarter out of your ear, it’s yours.

Pete reaches into Lee’s ear, and pulls out... nothing.

Pete
(to Lee)
Sorry.
(to both)
I really want to convince you that I’m
different from other magicians. And so I’m
going to perform... a card trick.

Pete brings out a deck of cards.

Pete
For this trick I need to have two cards
selected, and I’ll tell you why: I’m not that
good. Okay? I need at least two chances.
What I’m saying is, if I find either of your
cards, the trick is over.

Pete shuffles, almost spilling the cards.

Pete
Still, I care—right? Remember that, if I
botch this trick.

Pete spreads the cards face down.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 74
Pete
Most magicians, when they ask you to
pick a card, spread the cards face down.
Do you know why?

Ricky
No.

Pete
Because they don’t care.

Pete closes the spread.

Pete (Cont.)
They don’t care if you have a favorite
card, or if you want to take a look at the
cards, see which one looks good to you.
They don’t care.

Pete shakes his head sadly.

Pete
I care.

Pete spreads the cards face up.

Pete
I spread the cards face up. Because I care
about you, Randy, in a very personal way.

Ricky
Ricky.

Pete
Ricky. And...

Pete waves at Lee.

Pete (Cont.)
...the rest of you. Now Ricky, if you see
any card you like, just say “Three of
Clubs!” or “Nine of Diamonds!” Whatever
it is.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 75
Ricky
Seven of Spades.

Pete
Except, “Seven of Spades!”

Ricky
Seven of Spades!

Pete
That’s excellent. The Seven of Spades;
here it is.

Pete shows the Seven of Spades in the middle of the spread.

Pete (Cont.)
Favorite card, or ju st looked good?

Ricky
Just looked good.

Pete
Intuition—I like it. I’m going to leave it
right where you found it. Because I care.

Pete turns to Lee and resumes spreading.

Pete
Lee, I care about you, not like other
magicians, blah blah blah... okay?

Lee
Okay.

Pete holds the spread in front of Lee.

Pete
Sing it out.

Lee
Jack of Hearts!

Pete
The Jack of Hearts! Here it is.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 76
Pete shows the Jack of Hearts around.

Pete
Now that is fair—you could have picked
any card.

Lee nods. Pete closes up the deck and turns it face down.

Pete
Now, Ricky, I can’t control your mind, can
I? Say no.

Pete gives Ricky a look, as if exerting some mind control.

Ricky
No.

Pete
No! Lee, can I control your mind? Say no.

Lee
No.

Pete
See? I can’t control your mind. But I can
control the cards.

Pete riffles the deck with his thumb. Then he reaches into his
pocket and brings out Lee’s Jack of Hearts.

Pete
Your Jack of Hearts. One out of two—the
trick is over!

Pete turns to Ricky.

Pete (Cont.)
Ricky, I’m, uh...

Short pause.

Pete
I’m sorry I didn’t get your card.

Long pause.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 7 7
Pete
But I’ll tell you what, I’ll do a different
trick. Is that a quarter in your ear?

Pete reaches into Ricky’s ear. Again nothing.

Pete
Nothing. All right— I care, so I guess I
have to try.

Pete turns his head aside in concentration, then holds up the


deck and riffles it with a dramatic flourish. Then he shakes his
head.

Pete
Thought I could get it without looking.

Pete looks at the deck, and riffles one more time. That’s better.

He takes the deck in his right hand, shows his left hand empty,
and reaches into his left pants pocket and pulls out Ricky’s
Seven of Spades.

Pete
Hey, I got em both! That just goes to show
you: if you care... wait a minute. What’s
this?

Pete reaches into Ricky’s ear and pulls out a quarter.

Pete
Really.

Pete reaches into Lee’s ear and pulls out another quarter.

Pete
I think these are yours.

Pete gives Lee and Ricky the quarters.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 78
Notes on I Care
I love doing this trick. The first card is very magical, and the second is abso­
lutely astounding. This trick, more than any other I know, repays the time you
spend learning the sleights required. The combination o f the sleight-of-hand
you use for the first phase, (when no one knows what to expect), and the easy
subtlety o f the load for the second phase cancel each other perfectly.
I've done this trick for years without the bit about producing the quarters
at the end, and still do i f I don't have two quarters on me. I really like the way
they put an exclamation point on the presentation, but they are optional for
sure.

Method
Basically, you control the two selections to the top, palm Lee’s card, and as
you produce it from your right pants pocket, you load Ricky’s card from the
deck straight into your left pocket. You can use any control or palm. I use the
spread cull from a face-up deck, and Vernon’s Topping the Deck palm; these
moves are not too hard, but they are not too easy. To cull two selections from a
face up spread takes practice, but it’s not that bad. Topping the Deck will take
some work— I practiced an hour a day for a month before I used it in public,
and about three months before I could do it without thinking about it. But
when that time is done, you have a deadly miracle o f a classic trick, which you
can do anytime, anywhere, with almost any deck.
Honestly, the biggest drawback to this routine is that it’s hard to do while
wearing a sportcoat. You have to kind o f sweep the jacket back so you can do
the load o f the second card, which is hard to do inconspicuously.

Setup
Put a quarter in your left and right pants pockets. This is actually option­
al— i f you don’t have any quarters, just leave that part out.

Performance
I always begin by sticking both hands in my pockets, as if looking for some­
thing, which I can’t find, but no big deal. Then I do the trick. This opens the
left pocket up, so the card can be loaded easily. Don’t forget this step!
Do the intro, until you get to the point where Ricky has chosen a card. Cull
Ricky’s card under the spread as you turn to Lee; this turn o f attention covers
the cull thoroughly. As you say, “You could have picked any card,” spread a few
more cards, and cull Lee’s under that cover. I acknowledge that culling two
cards requires practice. But it’s not that hard.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 79
I once wrote a long article about the advantages o f having cards selected
from a face-up spread and controlling them with a cull, o f which I will only
inflict a summary on you.
• The selection is unquestionably free (so no need to sign the cards).
• You don't have to worry Alex might forget the card or deliberately misname
it to screw with you.
• Alex doesn't have to worry about remembering the card (very important).
• The handling is entirely natural and appears completely moveless.
• The audience will be completely convinced the selections are in the middle
of the deck.
• You create a “We’re on the same team” atmosphere (priceless).

I think these advantages are fairly well demonstrated by this routine. I f the
way you control selections does not have all these features, perhaps you might
want to try the face-up spread cull.
However you get the selections to the top, you’re going to palm the top card
o f the deck. In my experience, you can divide magicians into three groups:
1) those who use the one-handed top palm, 2) those who use Vernon’s Topping
the Deck palm, and 3) everybody else. Virtually every good magician I know is
in one o f the first two groups.
I use Topping the Deck. To me, the greatest benefit o f this palm is that if I
do it competently, it can not be seen— even i f the spectators are burning my
hands. So when I’m doing the palm, o f course I use misdirection to draw at­
tention elsewhere. (In this case I turn to Lee, to ask her if I can control her
mind, which draws all attention to her.) But when it’s time to do the move, I
just do it. I don’t have to wait until the spectators look away. I don’t even look
to see i f anyone is burning m e— I just turn to Lee and do the move. I f you
haven’t experienced this, I can’t tell you what a psychological boost it is not to
worry about whether your misdirection is going to work. I f you don't think
about it, the spectators will never sense it.
With the card securely palmed, riffle the deck with your left. Now you're go­
ing to produce the card from your right pants pocket as you load Ricky's card
from the top o f the deck into your left pocket. Start by reaching into your right
pocket to produce the palmed card. Begin to draw the card out slowly, and as
you do, turn to the left, so Lee can see the card coming out o f your pocket. As
this happens, the deck in your left hand enters the left pants pocket and you
thumb o ff the top card. This is very easy, and extremely well covered by the
misdirection o f the card coming from the right pocket, and by the turn to the
left, which is well motivated. While you're removing Lee's card, pull out your

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 80
pocket a little with it. Show Lee's card and return it to the deck, then push your
right pocket back in; this is w hen you finger-palm the quarter, on the off-beat.
Now, turn your head, so you're not looking at the deck, and riffle it with your
thumb. Then shake your head, and deliver the line “Thought I could get it
without looking.” If you underplay this completely, like a small confession, it's
a strong but subtle confirmation that the card hasn’t gone yet, which makes
the climax unbelievably powerful. It works because it seems to be something
you wouldn’t normally want to admit. But you have to do it in such a way that
it looks like you don’t care i f anyone hears you or not.
Regardless, casually show the left hand em pty— I like to hold it up for si­
lence, which serves the additional purpose o f heightening the tension. Reach
into the left pocket, finger palm the quarter, then remove Ricky’s card. It
comes out facing the audience, so go extra slow, since you don’t have the built-
in drama o f removing the card back out and then showing the face.
At this point you have a quarter finger palmed in each hand. Reach behind
Ricky’s ear and produce one. Shuttle pass it into your left hand, then reach
behind Lee’s ear and produce the other one.
I f you really care, you’ll give them to your spectators.

Adaptation
The “magician who cares” thing can be taken out o f this trick and applied
to any trick. Probably it would be better if you came up with your own identity,
but you can do a lot worse than the magician who cares. Then take any trick
in your repertoire and see how you would change every line, every moment,
every step o f the plot— everything— to fit the new character. Even i f you don’t
end up using that character or that trick, everything you do after that will be
better for the exercise.

References
Topping the Deck is in Select Secrets by Dai Vernon, published in 1949 by
Max Holden.
The spread cull goes back to Hofzinser. It’s in Volume 1 o f Card College, and
a million other places besides.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 8 1
Jonathan Levit:
An Actor Playing the Part of a Magician

Un prestidigitateur n 'est point un jongleur,


c'est un acteurjouant le rôle de magicien.
Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin

w hen I first saw Jonathan Levit's name on the bill at the Mag­
ic Castle, I didn't really want to see him perform. Because,
quite frankly, he's an ass. I saw him on The X-Files (the one
where Ricky Jay gets killed), and you could just tell what a
self-centered jerk he was. But David Regal told me Jonathan had a great show,
so I went. Turns out he's the nicest, most humble guy you could ever want to
meet. He's not an ass at all. What do you know, he's an actor.
At one point in Jonathan's show, he's talking to a spectator, and doesn't
notice that he accidentally shuffles h alf the deck face up into the other half
face down. After the shuffle he cuts, revealing a face-up card, which stops him
in his tracks. He cuts a few more times and discovers that there are a whole
bunch o f face-up cards mixed into the face-down deck.
Then comes the moment o f truth. He looks to the audience, and asks
"What's going on?” And people helpfully tell him that he accidentally shuffled
half face up and h alf face down. He digests this information, then says he can
fix that, snaps his fingers, and spreads the deck to show it is all face down.
I know maybe twelve magicians who can actually pull this off. Jonathan
actually has to get distracted by something the spectator says, every time, at
the exact same point in the trick. It is not exactly easy to make the audience
understand what happened, much less get them to believe it.
Now, it is a cliche that audiences love to see the magician in trouble. Well,
maybe— i f they don't like you. But i f the audience likes you, they don't like
to see you in trouble. When Jonathan does this, people are not happy that he
has screwed up. Because they like him. Despite the fact that, as anyone who
watches The X-Files can tell you, he's obviously a self-centered jerk.
Scripting your magic brings many benefits you can't get any other way, but
it requires its own work as well. The more you script your magic, the more
you want to be able to perform a script. In other words, you have to be an actor
playing the part o f a magician. So I thought I'd ask Jonathan, who is in fact
an actor, how he develops and integrates his acting skills into his magic. He
generously and graciously agreed. He really is the nicest guy.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 82
Pete ence on the stre et— everythin g I
A lot o f m agicians talk about what do has to be big.
Robert-Houdin said as though
it w ere a theoretical issue. But I Pete
think it’s the ultim ate practical Even in the m iddle o f the show,
ad vice for m agicians. Unless you y o u ’re still trying to bring more
actually have m agical pow ers, you people in.
are only acting as though you do.
If you want to be a better m agi­ Jonath an
cian, you need to im prove your Exactly. So when I began to study
acting skills. acting, in Los Angeles, 8 or so
years ago...
Jonathan
I agree with that. Pete
So, street perform er for 14 years,
Pete from 12 to 26 , and you sudden ly
Good. Because otherw ise this in­ decided to becom e an actor.
terview is over.
Jonathan
Jonathan Right. I w as w orking for Quark, liv­
I’ve been on stage for m ost of my ing in Denver, Colorado. And when
life. I’m used to perform ing. I’m anyone w ould ask me what I was
used to being overt. And I came going to do for a living, I would
out here and started to stu d y the­ say “I’m going to be on a sitcom .”
ater and acting. And when I start­ Of course. And after sayin g that
ed, all my acting w as very big. enough tim es, I realized they don’t
m ake sitcom s in Denver, Colorado.
Pete So I m oved out to Los Angeles, and
Because on stage, it has to be. the first thing I did w as start to
stu d y acting. So what happened to
Jonathan me w as, everythin g w as big. And
It all came from my experience be­ when y o u ’re acting for television
ing on stage as a m agician. or film, you need to bring e v e ry ­
thing in, make it sm all. And that
Pete w as counter to what I knew for the
You were doing m agic first, before past, at that point, 16 years. So I
you becam e an actor? started to change the w ay I acted,
which in turn changed the w ay I
Jonathan perform . Now, there’s a cohesion
I’ve been doing m agic since I w as of those two. My perform ance still
8. So that would be 26 years. I seem s big, but it’s actually sm all­
started off as a street perform er at er, and more controlled, and more
the age of 12 . And so everythin g focu sed. I’m more out there, and
w as big. I’m w orking for an au d i­ m ore extrem e than I used to be,
but it’s more focused. So I’ve m ar­ don’t ignore the bagel. One of the
ried the two. most im portant skills of an actor,
and this ab solu tely carries over
Pete to magic or any other perform ing
I wanted to talk to you about act­ art, is: Don’t ignore what happens
ing techniques, because the first to you on stage. I have a script,
thing that happens when p eo­ and I follow the script. But I leave
ple start to script their m agic is the script all the time to respond
they realize w hat Robert-Houdin to the audience. You can’t be con ­
m eant— they need to be able to fined to your script, to your show,
perform a script. And that takes to the routines, to the point that
skills and techniques that m any you have no flexibility. Because
m agicians don ’t study. You need if you have no flexibility then it’s
to get better at the things an actor boring, for you and for the au d i­
is good at. ence. But more for the audience.
Because they can tell. So being
Jonathan relaxed, being real, and not ignor­
Absolutely. ing the b a gel— not ignoring w hat’s
happening around you. And don’t
Pete ignore what happens in the au d i­
So, what are the m ost im portant ence. The close-up room at the
skills for an actor, and of those, Magic Castle holds 22 people. And
which are the m ost im portant for every show, I w alk out between
a m agician? those curtains and I have no idea,
usually, w ho’s in the audience. No
Jonathan idea w ho’s sitting at m y table. No
Don’t ignore the bagel. idea w ho’s sitting in front o f me.
And that m eans every show has
Pete the potential o f being drastically
This is exactly the kind of so p h is­ different. And as it turns out, e v ­
ticated acting technique I was ery show is d rastically different.
hoping for when I set up this in­
terview. Pete
Most of the time, un less it’s one
Jonathan o f the five best m agicians in the
One of m y acting teachers w as in a world or som eone who m ay die
show, and at one point there were soon, if I’ve seen a m agician three
three scen es going on at the sam e or four tim es, I’m probably going
time on stage. And in one of the to skip the show. But I see you e v ­
scenes there w as a bagel, and the ery time you work, because I know
bagel accid en tally got hurled into I’m going to see som ething that’s
one of the other scenes. And the different and fresh every time.
actors in that other scene ju st went There are very few perform ers
about their b u sin ess, as if there who fall into that category.
were no bagel. So the point is,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 84
Jonathan The A m azing Jo n ath an — not me,
And that com es from being real, the other o n e— is a character. He
and being relaxed, and not ignor­ has m om ents with his assistan t
ing w hat’s going on in the room. If that are very real, and very under­
y o u ’re real... m any m agicians fall stated. And it’s a real m oment that
into the trap of being “a m agician,” happens every single night.
sayin g stock lines. So it’s im por­
tant to know who you are, and to Pete
know your character. And be real, At 9:23 exactly.
which kind of contradicts “know
your character,” so let’s talk about Jonath an
that first. My character is an exag­ Right. And that w as a problem for
gerated form of me. It’s the guy I me, w hich did not get cured until I
want to be m ost of the time. Your started stu dying acting. I w as ju st
character might be som ebody to­ a wild gu y on stage, with no focus
tally d ifferen t— John Lovick is and no understanding of who I was.
Handsom e Jack. E verybody has a So I could make people laugh, but
different character. it w asn ’t a refined character. And
the audience knows th at— they
Pete know when th ey’re w atching a
There w as a great Vernon Touch perform er w ho’s at one level, and
article from an old G enii, and it a perform er w ho’s at a higher lev­
w as a list of fifty el, and one of
different char­ the differences
acter identifica­ You have to commit is the character.
tions for m agi­ even to thefaults Are we w atching
cians. Like “Mr. a piece o f the­
of the character
Electric” for Mar- ater? Or are we
vyn Roy. Every and not be afraid. w atching ju st a
one had a char­ The audience guy w ho’s goofy
acter so distinct and does m agic
will appreciate it.
that with two or tricks? Teller is
three w ords you a perfect exam ­
could sum up that character. ple. You totally accept this guy
who d o esn ’t speak. And you are
Jonathan brought into his world. So when I
And th ey’re on stage. Rem em ber started acting, I becam e more fo ­
as a m agician, y o u ’re on stage cused, more refined, and m y char­
acting as a m agician. And Robert- acter started to evolve. And what
H oudin’s quote is all im portant. I found out w as that it really was
Because y o u ’re an actor, with a me, but an extension of m e— the
character, who does cool stuff. guy I wanted to be. Outgoing, con­
And y o u ’re trying to entertain, fident. I could act like I w as all the
and ideally fool, an audience. But things I wanted to be. So if you can
ultim ately you are a character. figure out who you want to play,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 85
and if you can com m it... you have into his world, and we accept his
to commit. faults. You have to com m it even to
the faults of the character and not
Pete be afraid. The audience will ap p re­
And before you can commit, you ciate it.
have to have som ething to com m it
to. Pete
If everything he does com es from
Jonathan his character, then it’s like it’s not
You’ve got to com m it to what even his fault. I can even be sym ­
y o u ’re doing. You can’t be tenta­ pathetic, because I know it’s ju st
tive. You have to commit to the his n ature— he can’t help it.
character and the script. And be
that guy. Jonathan
If you com m it to it, the audience
Pete w ill at least feel th ey’re seeing
Do you find it easier to play a v er­ som ething real. Even if they don’t
sion of yo u rse lf, or a character believe the character is really you,
that’s different? Maybe it’s not as they still experience it as though
nerve-racking if y o u ’re playin g it were real.
som eone else.
Pete
Jonathan So how do you com m it? I think
Actors love to play som ebody one of the reasons a lot of m agi­
else. Because it allow s us to be cians don’t use acting techniques
more fre e — we don ’t have to face is that a lot o f acting technique
ou rselves. And sounds too the­
as a m agician, I o retical— it’s not
think the sam e I f you don't im m ediately ob­
thing holds viou s what you
true. I p refer to
scriptyour show, do in the real
be an extension it's hard to go w orld.
o f m yself. But much beyond
if you can to­ Jonathan
making each trick
tally com m it to Th at’s really
a character, you stronger than the last. hard to answer.
can do it either It’s alm ost an in­
way. Fitzgerald, nate thing. But,
that’s Gary O’Brien’s stage name, if y o u ’re free, if you can be stan d­
is a good exam ple. He com m its ing in front o f a group of stran g­
to his character, and som etim es ers and be free, and not ignore
the character is so goofy, we don’t the bagel, not ignore w hat’s go ­
think we w ould like the character. ing on around you... We’re very
But because he com m its to the constricted people. We’re closed
character so fully, we are brought off. We’re afraid, either to offend

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 86
som ebody else, or to expo se our­ card s? All those little details you
selves. And as m agicians and per­ can put in — that’s com m itm ent.
form ers, y o u ’re on stage for the You see m agicians who go in and
sole purpose of expo sin g you r­ out o f the ch aracter— th ey’re a
self. And if yo u ’re w illing to ex­ certain character one moment,
pose y o u rse lf com pletely, then it and then in between tricks they
becom es much easier to com m it. are different.
Now you sit down and say, “Who
is m y character?” My character Pete
m ay be a sm arm y guy, m aybe he’s My favorite moment from the sit­
a bum bling fool. And he doesn ’t com Taxi is an episode that has a
get anything right, and he drops flashback to when Jim Ignatowski,
things, and he’s not com fortable the drugged-out reverend, w as in
with anything. And everyth in g be­ college. And in the flashback he’s
com es part of that. You sit down com p letely d ifferen t— he’s an ut­
and ask y o u rse lf what difficulties ter bookw orm , uptight, anti-drug-
you w ould have. And everythin g gie type. But he also looks differ­
thing you do in the act can reflect ent, in a w ay you can’t quite put
your character. your finger on. His girlfriend keeps
telling him to lighten up, and she
Pete tries to get him to eat a pot brow n­
So one w ay to im prove your level ie. And ju st to please her, he takes
of com m itm ent is to take every a bite, and then he says “Now can
mom ent o f your show and figure we p lease go stu d y?” And then, a
out how your character would m om ent p asses over him, and his
deal with it. Because that’s one of face changes from Christopher
the asp ects o f com m itm ent; not Lloyd to Reverend Jim . His cheeks
that you leap into everythin g in sink, his jo w ls m ove down, the
extrem is, but that you ap p ly your eyes go dim. And then it’s over,
character to every detail o f every his face goes back. A n d— first of
asp ect o f the show. all, it’s hilarious. But if you think
about it, you realize that when he
Jonathan p lays Reverend Jim , he’s holding
Com m itm ent is not ju s t being his face that way. For 75 ep isodes,
over the top. Com m itm ent is com ­ every single second he w as on
m itting to the character. It’s being cam era, he held his face that way.
w illing to put in the tim e to think T hat’s com m itm ent.
of ev ery aspect of the show. How
w ould m y character deal with that Jonath an
situation? How is my character go­ It’s brilliant. Physicality is very
ing to have a card selected? How is im portant. Who is this charac­
he going to find it? How is he going ter? How does he walk? How does
to bring the deck out o f his pocket he behave? How does he handle
to start the show? How’s he going his p rop s? How does he handle
to open the pack and take out the the people that he deals with on

SCRIPTING MAGIC
stage? How does he handle his Jonathan
w ords? That’s his character. Those It com es from scriptin g how your
things all make up your character. character behaves, how your
And so you have to understand character interacts with the au ­
your character and be totally com ­ dience, with your props, your
mitted to every part of the show physicality, and with your w ords.
for that character. A bum bling idiot w ouldn’t talk
in an upper class way. He might
Pete try to, but he’d bum ble it. So the
You have to be w illing to go two have to match, otherw ise
through every m om ent of he show your character is unbelievable.
and say “How w ould my character
do that?” And the audience w ants to be­
lie v e — they want to be taken into
Jonathan som eb ody’s world. That’s w hat
And that’s much easier to do if you they want. But if th ey’re ju st w atch­
have a script. Because you know ing a guy throwing out some cool
what all the m om ents are. If y o u ’re tricks, that’s not going to do it.
im provising, and you don’t know
w hat’s going to happen, you have Pete
to figure out how your character That’s not a world they want to be
will respond to everythin g right taken into.
there on the spot. If you have a
script, you can go through, point Jonathan
by point, before you get up there. You see a m agician that does trick
And create the character you want, after trick after trick, and th ey’re
as it is revealed by the script. never more than a m agician that
does trick after trick after trick.
Pete You could put any face on the
I’ve seen som e m agicians who, if body, and it would be the same
they don’t plan their character in show. But you see som eone who
advance, the character that com es is a character, and it takes it to a
out spon taneously is not alw ays new level.
the best possible choice.
Pete
Jonathan I know some m agicians who fear
Character is so im portant. that once they learn the script,
th ey’ll be less able to respond to
Pete things that come up. That if the
This is another thing that people bagel com es by, y o u ’re less able to
say is im portant. And it is, but respond to it.
how do you really start d evelop ­
ing a character? Where does it Jonathan
come from , in practical term s? You’re m ore able. When you know
your script well enough that you

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 88
can com e back to it, then you can them to relax. If th ey’re sustained
go off on any tangent you want, and at a constant level, whether it be
still get back to the big finish. But low or high, then th ey’ll get bored.
if you d on ’t have a script, y o u ’re But if they have a moment to re­
much more afraid to diverge, to lax, and a m om ent to get excited,
be real, to respond to the bagel, then both m om ents will be stro n ­
because you might not be able to ger. And also, y o u ’ll have m ore op ­
pick up the trail again. You have to portunity to deceive them.
start from a base. If you don ’t, you
w on’t know the through-line o f the Pete
show. A show that has a through- It’s a lot easier to get aw ay with
line, a show that has an arc, is som ething during those low m o­
much m ore entertaining than one ments.
that d o esn ’t. And the only w ay to
get a through-line, an arc, is to Jonathan
have a script. That’s right. Magic happens on the
off beat. So to have an off beat,
Pete your show first has to have a beat.
You’re not ju st talking about h av­ I saw a m agician this evening, and
ing a build, where each trick gets the audience was rough. They
stronger than the last. w eren’t givin g him much. But b e­
cause he had his script, he knew
Jonath an he could bring the show to a su c­
That’s correct. You do want each cessfu l conclusion.
trick to build, but it’s not the sam e
as a through-line. Building is the Pete
first thing you do when y o u ’re put­ So in addition to allow ing you
ting a show together. And, if you to respond to what the audience
don’t script your show, it’s hard gives you, a script also allow s you
to go m uch b e­ to deal when the
yond m aking audience isn ’t
each trick stron ­ Magic happens giving you an y­
ger than the last. on the offbeat. thing.
An arc is the
evolution of the
So to have an offbeat , Jonathan
character in the
your showfirst The script is
show. Now the has to have a beat. like a secu rity
show itse lf m ay blanket. With a
get heightened, script you know
and m ore dram atic, but it’s also an you can alw ays do an entertain ­
evolution with ups and dow ns, and ing show. Because you never know
peaks and valleys. We want to get what the audience is going to give
the audience excited, and we want you. If you rely solely on the au d i­
them to relax, and we want them ence, you can get into trouble. But
to get excited again, and we want if you have that script, and y o u ’re
com fortable enough with your she was ju st starting to cross over
character, you can go outside the that line where she was gonna be
script, and interact with the au d i­ a p roblem — you had to do som e­
ence. And that’s when it’s more thing. And you ju st looked at her
fun. That’s w hy I try to make m y and said, “You’re so drunk!” And
show different every single time. it w as a great moment, because it
You want to be aware, and sen si­ w as as honest as you could p o s­
tive, and ob ser­ sibly be. The
vant of w hat’s audience broke
happening in the Anything thatyou doy up com pletely,
audience. If you if you make it real, and it totally
pretend there’s it's more interesting. brought her back
a wall betw een to your side. She
you and the au ­ la u g h e d — yo u
dience, then it’s boring. U nless didn’t say it m eanly or an y ­
yo u ’re on a stage, and y o u ’re p re­ thin g— and it w as ju st enough
senting a piece of theater in that that she didn ’t make trouble any
way. more. She w as still drunk...

Pete Jonathan
But in m ost perform ing situ a­ It didn’t make her sober.
tio n s— esp ecially the perform ing
situations m ost am ateurs come Pete
a c ro ss— y o u ’re not up on a stage ...but it brought her under con ­
doing a show. trol.

Jonathan Jonathan
There’s more interaction. And so, These are the m om ents when
the w ay to make that interesting is y o u ’re out there. I like to think of
to make it unique and special for my magic act as I’m a guy w ho’s
that p articular audience. And the hanging out with all these people,
w ay to make it special is to pull and I’m doing some cool stuff, and
the audience into the show. Now I’m ju st as am azed as the audience
they becom e part of the show. So is. So we are both going out for this
if som ebody m akes a com m ent, ride, and I don’t know w hat’s going
respond back. If som ething hap­ to happen, and w e’re taking this
pens on stage, respond to it. ride together. I’ve had instances
where people in the audience will
Pete be sitting there, and their arm s are
I still rem em ber the best line I ever crossed, and they look stern. And
heard for dealing with a drunk I’ll look at them and ju st say, “You
spectator. You were in the Close- look p isse d .” And at that mom ent
Up room, and one of your a s s is t­ they laugh, their arm s becom e un ­
ing sp ectators was w ay drunk. folded, and they sm ile. And now
And the show w as going great, but they’re part o f the show. So you

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 90
ju st accept and acknow ledge that a script. Because it gives you that
they’re there, and you don ’t ignore secu rity blanket that m akes it s a f­
them, but respond to them, and er for you to go with the audience.
make them a part of the show. You can lose y o u rse lf in the m o­
ment, and if nothing com es o f it,
Pete you can still pull it off, and finish
There’s som ething about honesty, strong. Being available is another
about ju st responding to what asp ect of this that’s applicable to
happened. You don’t have to have m agic. You have to be as w illing
a clever line. I mean, y o u ’re not to allow things to happen to you
going to read one of those books as the audience is to allow things
of one-liners, and turn to the to happen to them. Then you both
chapter on drunk hecklers, and can experience it together.
see, “You’re so drunk.” But it’s so
much better than any canned line. Pete
Because people can tell if som e­ If som eb ody says som ething, and
thing’s a line. And to respond the you im m ediately make it part of
w ay you did, they knew that it was the show, the audience knows
not a line — it w as actually your th ey’re seeing som ething that the
genuine response. For the entire last audience didn ’t see.
audience, it totally cem ented the
m om ent. They knew that you were Jonathan
there, with them, fully. It’s special to them. And again it’s
not ignoring the bagel. A friend of
Jonathan mine w as in a show recently, and
Be in the moment. Th at’s another it w as a Passion Play. And during
big acting concept. the crucifixion, a wom an from the
audience w as overcom e by the
Pete story. She ju m p s on stage, crying
This is another one o f those things “No! Don’t take Je su s!” All the ac­
that you tell your average am ateur tors on stage are stunned, and no­
m agician, and even a few p ro fes­ body has any idea what to do. But
sional m agicians, “You really need one g u y — an extra, basically, p la y ­
to be in the m om ent,” and they ing a Roman Guard — stepped up,
nod, but the next time th ey’re per­ stopped her, and took her away, off
form ing, they don’t know what to stage. His character took over, and
do differently. So what do you do, did w hat he would have done.
in practical term s, to be in the m o­
m ent? Pete
He w as a hero. That w as probably
Jonathan the highlight of his run.
Look around, and be w illing to in­
teract, and react to what happened. Jonath an
And one practical thing you can Yes. Some people in the audience
do to make that easier, is to write d id n ’t know if that was part o f the

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 9 1
show, because that’s what a Ro­ to your diaphragm , in your ab d o ­
man Guard w ould have done. His men. And feel your diaphragm e x ­
character took over. pand and contract. And that is the
proper w ay to breathe.
Fete
The more you w ork on your char­ Pete
acter, the easier it is for you to re­ Now you can talk m uch longer.
spond to those m om ents.
Jonathan
Jonathan One, I can speak deeper. Because
Because y o u ’re more com fortable I’m not back in m y throat, here.
being in your character. And if you And two, I can project more, it’s
are alive, and you are available to not getting caught up in my throat.
your show and to your audience, Houdini played the Hippodrom e
w onderful m om ents come to you, without am plification. Learning to
and you can add them to your breathe is p robably the m ost im ­
script to make it better. But you portant physical skill for a m agi­
have to be available, to tell when cian. I used to breathe im properly,
you have a chance to respond. from my lungs. Pavarotti does not
And you have to be willing. And, breathe from his lungs.
you have to have a script.
Pete
Pete When I took singing lesson s in col­
Let’s talk about the physical skills lege, the first two hours w as ju st
of the actor: voice and m ovem ent. breathing.

Jonathan Jonathan
When I started as a street per­ When you w ork the Castle, you
former, I w ould hurt m y voice might do 24-30 show s in a week.
every night. Because I would be If you don’t know how to breathe,
yelling, from m y throat, instead yo u ’re going to hurt your voice by
of speaking from my diaphragm . the end of the week. I would say, if
When I started to train as an actor, you learn nothing else about vocal
I learned how to breathe. When production, ju st try this exercise:
you first pay attention to your Lie on the ground, and think about
breathing, y o u ’ll probably find your breathing. And when y o u ’re
it’s com ing from your lungs. But talk in g— any time, on stage and
when y o u ’re breathing properly, o ff— think about you r breathing.
it’s your diaphragm that expands,
not your lungs. A great exercise is Pete
to lay down on the ground, flat on My form er room m ate sings on
your back, close your eyes, and Broadway, and he studied with a
breathe, and im agine the breath cantor who taught him an exer­
com ing in through your nose, and cise where he w ould sin g — single
im agine it goes all the w ay down notes, or even ju s t hum m ing— but

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 92
on the inhale instead o f the ex ­ Jonath an
hale. I found this m ade a huge Think about how you follow
difference in my tone. He gave me through on your sw ing when you
two sessio n s of this, and m y voice p lay golf, or tennis. You need fo l­
Im proved dram atically. It felt so low through in your voice, to get
weird to do it. My head w ould start to the last person in the last row.
bu zzing, and after m aybe five sec­ If y o u ’re speaking to the front row,
onds I would start coughing. Soon volum e-w ise, and also w here your
the coughing stopped, and I real­ m outh and face are focu sed, then
ized that the b u zzing w as a good your sound d oesn ’t have a chance
thing. And in two sessio n s my to travel up to the top of the the­
singing voice was richer. ater. But if you raise your head,
and you project to the back wall,
Jonathan you know y o u ’ll get everybody.
Most people don’t learn this. So if you follow through on your
T h ey’re never taught how to voice to the last person in the last
breathe, how to sing, to practice row, that is a big help. I used to
on the inhale. com e out on stage, and my head
w as held down, so I w ould ignore
Pete everyb o d y in the room. A lot of
Vocal production is not ju s t a m at­ m agicians, esp ecially close-up
ter o f volum e, and endurance. It’s m agicians, will look down at the
the range o f sounds y o u ’re able to table. And when they speak to the
exp ress, and your ab ility to pro­ table, nobody can hear them. You
duce exactly the sound you want, need to lift your head up, and fo l­
and to produce it every time you low through.
need it.
Pete
Jonathan I never heard it put that w ay be­
The w ay you say a line, a w ord, the fore.
tone, the inflection, can change
the m eaning. It can make it funny. Jonathan
Some people can take a line that I n ever put it that w ay until ju st
isn ’t funny, and make it funny by now.
the w ay they say it. And if you can
do that, and do it consistently, Pete
y o u ’ll increase your su ccess. But So, w hat does this all add up to?
volum e is still im portant. You hear
m agicians who talk softly, and it’s Jonath an
hard to hear them. And that’s no What it all adds up to is, take an
good. acting class. I recom m end every
m agician take an acting class. In
Pete an acting class y o u ’re going to
So how do you w ork on that? learn about physicality, behavior,
and voice. When you take an act­
ing class, y o u ’ll be nervous to do vous, and it will help you to learn
a scene. Because it’s som ething to be available, and open, and
yo u ’re not fam iliar with. But when expose you rself. We were talking
you start scriptin g magic, that’s about this ea rlier— actors expose
more what y o u ’re doing. One rea­ them selves. Most m agicians, even
son scriptin g m any flam boy­
magic can be ant perform ers,
scary to som e Before you can be are very closed
m agicians is b e­ somethingyou’re not, off. And m agi­
cause they don’t you have to learn cians that can
think th ey’re
very good at per­
how to be whatyou are . expose them ­
selves, and be
form ing a scene. open, are much
Th ey’re good at getting up and d o­ m ore interesting p erform ers. So
ing a trick. And it’s true, they’re not take acting classes, and im prov
that good at doing a scen e— only classes too.
because they haven ’t done it. But
that d oesn ’t mean you should Pete
ju st do som e tricks. It m eans you I’ve spoken to more than a few
should get good at perform ing a m agicians who tell me they im ­
scene. And you get good at it by provise their p atter— because
doing it. “scripted patter sounds stale.” So
I ask if they take im prov classes,
Pete and y o u ’d be am azed how m any of
If you can do a scene, and have them have never even considered
people take it as natural, all your it. I mean, if you like to im provise
magic will be m uch better than if your perform ances, great. But
you can’t do that. don’t you want to be good at it?

Jonathan Jonathan
Anything that you do, if you make Every m agician should take an im ­
it real, it’s more interesting. And prov class, even if you script e v ­
in an acting class, you learn to erything, ju st so you can respond
make it real. If you take any script to the audience.
and read it like a script, you can
make it boring. But if you take Pete
the same script and make it real, I took an im prov class when I lived
you make it interesting. And that’s back in New York, and I rem em ber
w hy y o u ’re an actor, playing the the first rule is Accept Every Offer.
part of a m agician. Because if you And one night I w as w atching you
don’t act it properly, it’s not real, in the close-up gallery, and a w om ­
and it’s not interesting. So an y ­ an had cut her card back into the
body should take an acting class, deck. And she kind o f interrupted
and when you take the acting class you and asked, “Can I shuffle?”
you will be scared, you will be ner­ And you said “Sure.” And I knew

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 94
you did not want her to shuffle, lost it. If y o u ’re in your head, you
but you had to accept every offer. can’t experience everything that’s
It d id n ’t even occur to you to say happening to you. Now as a m agi­
an ything other than “Sure.” cian, you have to be able to think
about w hat’s happening down the
Jonathan road a n d be in the moment. That’s
Im prov classes are so im portant. w hy it’s harder to be a m agician,
You learn to go with the flow, and som etim es, than an actor.
go with the moment, and not be
afraid o f it. That’s one thing that Pete
im prov does for y o u — it m akes We talked about voice, but what
you not afraid. There are m any about m ovem ent. Any tips on how
perform ers and m agicians who m agicians can im prove their phys-
are afraid o f w hat’s going to hap­ icality?
pen. I still get nervous, but I’m not
afraid anym ore. When I com e out Jonath an
from the curtain, I’m not afraid to The w ay to do that is ju st pay at­
com e out. I can’t wait to com e out. tention to your body, and the w ay
Because I don’t know w hat’s going you achieve that is, by doing the
to happen, and that’s the fun of it. tricks y o u ’re most com fortable
And that’s the whole idea o f taking with. A lot of am ateur m agicians
im prov classes, y o u ’re in a safe learn a trick, and show it to their
environm ent where you can learn frien d s, and then you kind of run
these things. out o f audience, so you learn a
new trick. And when you do that,
Pete it’s really hard to get good enough
My favorite im prov gam e is the at a trick that you can do it w ith­
one-word story. Two people get out thinking. But when you can
up on stage and im provise a story, do a trick on autopilot, that’s
and you alternate w o rd s— each when you can pay attention to
p erson says one word at a time. To your body. Mostly it’s doing the
me this is the essen ce of improv, tricks you have the m ost exp eri­
because you have to be ready to ence with. The more com fortable
m ake a choice, but if the choice you are doing the trick, the less
falls to your partner, you have to attention you have to pay to the
be ready to in stantly drop your m ethod, the more you can pay at­
idea and follow their choice. tention to your body.

Jonathan Pete
You don ’t really want to make that That sounds like practical advice.
choice in your head until you ab­
so lu tely have to. You want to ju st Jonathan
be in the moment. You can either And I w ork out. But what I con­
be in the moment, or in you r head. centrate on m ostly is my posture.
And if y o u ’re in your head, y o u ’ve I w ork on that every day, w heth­
er I’m perform ing or not. If you References
slouch on stage, it’s awful. If you Here are a few acts from Vernon’s
stand up straight, they will listen list. Which do you want to see?
to you.

Pete The Suave Deceiver


Time for the last question. U sually The Mastermind o f Modern Mystery
I ask, “If you could give ju st one Past Master o f the Black Art
piece of ad vice to som eone start­ The Magical Milliner
ing out scripting, what would it The Despair o f Monte Carlo
be?” But I’m going to ask you, if
The Wizard o f the West
y o u ’re talking to a m agician who
wants to expand their acting ab ili­ The Prince o f Magic
ties, what w ould be your one piece The 2nd Funniest Man in the World
of advice? The Human Card Index
The Dippy Mad Magician
Jonathan The Man with the X-ray Eyes
I’d say, be real. Be honest. That’s
The Enigma
the first step toward being an ac­
tor. The Dizzy Wizard
Merely a Magician
Pete The Aristocrat o f Deception
Being honest is the first step to The Seer o f the South Sierras
pretending? The Coney Island Faker

Jonathan
Before you can be som ething My favorite is The Despair o f Mon­
yo u ’re not, you have to learn how te Carlo. By the way, a milliner is a
to be what you are. Then you can maker o f women’s hats. And no, I
be anything you want. have no idea who that was.

The magic o f drama is infinitely more powerful than the magic o f trickery.
It is as available to the conjurer as it is to the actor.
The only difference is that actors take it for granted,
whereasfew conjurers are even aware that it exists.
Henning Neluis

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 96
No-Script Scripting

E
ugene Burger does two shows every year for audiences that speak
no English— one o f the experiences that taught him the value o f
not talking all the time, o f letting things speak for themselves. As
Eugene says, the biggest problem most magicians have is they say
too much that is unnecessary. We repeat things which we didn’t even have to
say the first time. “I have here the four A ces— one, two, three, four.” Rafael
Benatar calls this “magic for the blind.” Well, there’s no better way to find
out how much o f what you say is unnecessary than to perform silently. You
will see what you can communicate without saying anything. And there’s a
big benefit that’s not immediately obvious: when you perform silently, you’ll
automatically choose your most direct, easy-to-grasp effects. That’s probably a
good thing for your repertoire just by itself.
Once you cut all the things you don’t really need, you can put in some genu­
ine interaction with the audience. Talk as much as you want! Just don’t say the
stuff you don’t have to say. Find something better, something that makes the
effect more compelling, or interesting, funny, moving, thrilling, scary, spooky,
or anything you like. But only say things that make the trick better than it is if
you don’t say anything.
Performing silently also helps you appreciate non-verbal communication.
Dai Vernon was a master at this. Often you have a double which you need to
turn over onto the deck, so you can deal the top card to the table, switching the
cards. Vernon advised to notice some dust on the table. Then turn the double
face down as your right hand brushes the dust aside. Now you deal the face­
down card to the dust-free spot on the table. This is a great example o f script­
ing a moment, making it more effective, without any dialog.
What’s particularly subtle about this is why it works. The first instinct is
that it works because it motivates turning the cards over on top o f the deck.
But it doesn’t motivate anything, really. There’s no reason why you have to
turn over the card on top o f the deck before brushing the dust away. What
happens is a moment where the audience doesn’t quite know what you’re do­
ing, and then they find out, at which point they stop paying attention to what
you are doing. They figure it out for them selves— that’s a big part o f why this
works. All that’s necessary is that the audience notices something that they
don’t yet understand, and they figure it out for themselves. That process occupies
their mind and makes them stop wondering why you turned over the card on
top o f the deck.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | $7
I f you would like to see an object lesson in what you can com m unicate with­
out talking, watch any movie by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

The Non-Script Script


You can perform without a script, while still getting a lot o f the benefits o f
scripting. What you do is create a hook, then give it a structure, which gives
you something to talk about with the spectator. So you introduce the subject,
in a way that keep the trick moving where it needs to go, but you don’t try to
script your lines. You say your piece on the subject, and get the spectator to tell
you what they think, and then— this is the key part— you listen to what they
say, and respond to it. In fact, i f you really want to get carried away, you don’t
even start by saying your piece. Just ask the spectator a good question, and
then go from there. The question is, what’s a good question?
That’s a good question. I think a good question is one the spectators will
enjoy answering. Whether that means a playful question, or a good setup for
a funny line, or something genuinely interesting, or meaningful, is up to you
and your audience.
Multiple-choice questions have a built-in limiting mechanism. I f I ask you
what you think about life, it will be hard for me to control how much o f an an­
swer you’re going to give. But i f I ask whether you prefer Vanilla or Chocolate,
you answer, we discuss your answer, and then it’s over. So we’ve interacted,
but I kept control o f the situation. And multiple choice tests are always fertile
environments for comedy.

Three Examples
The next group of scripts all use structural devices to generate audience
interaction. This is a subject very near and dear to the heart o f former Boy
Wonder Jon Armstrong, so after the scripts you’ll find an interview with Jon
on this subject, and a trick from his professional repertoire with a script built
around a flowchart.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | S8
The Add*A-Number Prediction

I
n most prediction effects, the thing that is predicted is arrived at in a
random manner. And for good reason; i f I predict your phone number,
for example, you’ll just believe I somehow learned it in advance. So a
prediction almost has to be o f a random event. But in general, when you
have something chosen randomly, you give up the chance to have it be mean­
ingful. So with this script, I wanted to be able to use a random number, which
I could not possibly know in advance, but a number that means something to
the spectators, so I can learn a little about them, and gives me a way to interact
with them. And I include m yself in the process o f generating the number, so
the audience can learn a little about me. Actually I start with me, which makes
it easier for the audience to join in.
The approach turns the random-number-generating process, which is often
pure dead time, into a valuable opportunity to interact with the audience. And
it does it without you having to script your lines. Just talk with the spectator.
Because interaction is at the heart of the trick, the script that follows will
be just one possible performance. I’ve tried to give some indication o f a few
o f the possible variations, but in reality what you say will vary considerably
depending on what Alex says. So think o f this more as an outline or a sample
than a script.

SCRIPTING MAGIC ] 93
It Adds Up
by Pete McCabe

Int— Living Room— Evening

Pete sits with Alex and Chris. On the table is a business card,
folded and paper-clipped together. Pete takes out a note pad
and pen.

Pete
I usually drink a Coke for lunch, almost
every day. Sometimes one at dinner, I’m
trying to cut down. Still, I probably drink
about four hundred and nine Cokes every
year. It’s amazing how it adds up.

Pete writes 409 on the pad.

Pete
Do you drink Coke?

Alex
Sometimes.

Pete
How many Cokes, would you say, did you
drink last year?

Alex
Maybe fifty-five.

Pete writes 55 on the pad.

Pete
If I had your restraint, I’d keep a lot more
of my New Year’s resolutions. Chris, do
you drink Coke?

Chris
Diet.

Pete
Really? You don’t look like you need to
diet. Maybe that’s because you d on’t drink

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 100


409 Cokes a year like I do. Okay—how
many Diet Cokes did you drink last year?

Chris
Seven hundred nineteen.

Pete
(writing)
Okay, seven-nineteen... Smart move Diet
Coke. All right...

Pete mumbles to himself as he adds the numbers on the pad.

Pete
Nine plus five is fourteen plus nine is
twenty three, carry the two, two plus five
plus one is eight, four plus three is seven.
Alex, check my arithmetic please.

Pete tears off the sheet of paper and hands it to Alex to check.

Pete
If I added right, the three of us drank one
thousand one hundred and eighty-three
Cokes in the past year. That right?

Alex
Yep.

Pete unclips the paper-clipped business card.

Pete
Before the show started, I predicted how
many Cokes the three of us had drank. I
predicted one thousand... one hundred...
and eighty-three.

Pete unfolds the business card. It says “1,183 Cokes.”

Pete
It’s amazing how it adds up.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 10 1
Notes on It Adds Up
I’m very pleased with the opening. I’m a big believer in the value o f do­
ing things for a little bit over a long tim e— this book would not exist other­
w ise— and so this expresses me well. And I find a perverse satisfaction that
the specific example is drinking Coke, which is the opposite o f what I really
mean when I’m talking about the value o f doing things for a little bit over a
long time. This, I think, also expresses me well. This line then repeats itself
nicely as a button on the end o f the routine.
This is how a lot o f routines come together, in my experience.

A Brief Digression On Opening Lines


There should probably be an entire essay in this book on opening lines, but
this one sentence will have to do: A line you can recall in your last line is worth
trying as a first line.

Method
Magicians have created dozens o f methods that can be used for this effect,
from double-writing gimmicks to nail writers to billet knives to stooges. If you
don’t yet have a personal favorite method for this trick, find one you like and
adapt it to this script. It’ll be easy— the structure is very flexible.
You may like this one, which I published as "The Dream Number” in my
one-man parade. It actually won the Howard Bamman award for best trick in
The Linking Ring for the year 2002, which I mention only because I don’t get
that many chances to bring it up in casual conversation. As with most o f my
creations, “The Dream Number” is a combination o f two other magicians’s
creations; in this case Al Koran’s “The Gold Medallion” and Jay Sankey’s “Pa­
per-Clipped” switch, which appears with Jay’s kind permission. “The Dream
Number” is that relative rarity, a mentalist trick that requires sleight o f hand,
although everything is so well covered that it’s quite easy to learn. The result
is a super clean effect with no unnatural moves or unnecessary handling, and
one in which nothing is written down that doesn’t need to be written down.

Setup
Take a business card and write an easily remembered number on it— some­
thing around a thousand or so— followed by “Cokes.” Fold it in half, blank
side in, and clip it closed with a large paper clip.
Take another business card, fold it in half, write “Cokes” on the bottom half,
and unfold it. This will be called the duplicate.
Take a 6 x 8-inch note pad— not spiral bound, the kind where, when you

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 102


ti*ar o ff a page, a stub o f the top page stays behind in the binding. Tear off the
first few sheets.
Take the duplicate business card and put it under the top page o f the pad.
I’hen slide it up until it wedges into the binding at the top o f the pad. It should
be held in place pretty safely, and concealed by the top sheet. Write a few
things on the top sheet.
Put the notepad and pen somewhere handy.
I like to take out the paper-clipped card and put it aside, as though I haven't
started the trick yet. The final switch is slightly better covered if the audience
does not know that this is a prediction, so I act as though the clipped card were
not even part o f this trick— I say “This is later” under my breath, to myself.
Then the trick begins.

Performance
Bring out the note pad and the pen. Introduce the subject o f cokes, and
when you are ready to write down your number, tear o ff the top sheet to start
with a fresh one. The duplicate business card is now on top o f the pad.
Now you write down your number o f Cokes, and then those o f the two other
spectators. In the script I've given a brief example of how this can go, but o f
course it will be different every time, and usually longer.
After the numbers are written down you total them up. But as you are writ­
ing the total down on the pad, you also write it on the pre-folded duplicate
business card. The first few times I did this effect, I tried very hard to disguise
the fact that I was writing the number twice. Gradually I came to realize that
I was worried for nothing. This realization actually helps, because the most
important thing in making this deceptive is your casual attitude. Just add up
the ones column, and write the number on the card, then write it again on the
pad while you're saying “carry the one'' (or the two, or whatever). For the last
number, write the number once (on the pad), give the pen a shake, as though
it were skipping, and write the number again (on the dupe). Don't say anything
about it. Just shake the pen.
After the numbers have been totalled, tear o ff the top sheet, so you can hand
it to Alex to verify. This is the point where you secretly refold the duplicate
business card and steal it into left hand finger palm as you set the pad down.
Now, if the total happens to match the number you wrote on the folded, pa-
per-clipped card on the table, let Alex open it up and faint dead away. The other
9 9 9 times, you'll have to switch in the folded card in your left hand, courtesy
o f Jay Sankey's “ Paper-Clipped” switch. Jay generously gave me permission
to describe this great utility move that is easy to do, very casual looking, and

SCRIPTING MAGIC [ 103


ditches the switched-out card in a natural and well-motivated way that leaves
you completely clean.
The folded duplicate card is finger-palmed in your left hand. Pick up the the
paper-clipped card between right first finger and thumb. The crease should be
on the bottom edge o f the card, with the clip sticking up from the top. The left
hand reaches up to take the paper clip with the left thumb and first finger; the
prefolded card, still hidden in finger palm, goes on the audience side o f the
preclipped card.
The lower right corner of the prefolded card slides in between the right
first finger and the preclipped card, so the right hand can grasp the card being
switched in. The left thumb presses the paper clip against the left first finger,
and pulls it up; the thumb also presses the preclipped card, and it comes away
too, leaving the duplicate card right where the clipped card was.
Put the paper clip in your pocket, ditching the original clipped card with it.
You are now clean. Try not to smile too much.
Reveal the number and take a bow.

Adaptation
The first thing you can do is replace “How many Cokes did you drink in
the past year” with a different question. The trick is to pick something that is
random but also means something. This is not that hard, but you can’t just
pick anything; i f you ask people for their street address, for example, that’s g o ­
ing to be random, but won’t mean anything. Here are a few questions that can
generate interesting interaction with the audience:
• How many CDs (or DVDs, etc.) do you have?
• How many people have you kissed?
• How old is your house?
• How many pairs o f shoes do you own?
• What is the number o f your favorite radio station?
• What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven in a car?
I have an idea for this routine that I really like, but I haven’t been able to
make it work yet. You total the Cokes you’ve each drunk in the last year, and
it comes out to 1,183. Alex reads the prediction, which says 1,184— You m issed
by one. But when the audience looks at you, you are holding a Coke, which
you’ve somehow produced, and you toast the audience, thus correcting the
prediction.
I really like the idea o f a magical production to climax this piece o f m ental-
ism, although I know this idea fills some magicians and mentalists with hor­
ror. But I think the timing is very subtle. I wouldn’t want to have the audience

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 104


set* the prediction is o ff by one, then look at me, then to save m yself I produce
a soda. I would want the audience to realize the prediction is off by one, and
when they look at me I am already drinking from a soda is just mysteriously
there.

References
“The Dream Number” appeared in The Linking Ring magazine in May
20 0 2. Did I mention I won a prize? Cause this is pretty much my last chance
to bring it up.
The Gold Medallion appeared in Al Koran's Professional Presentations, writ­
ten by Hugh Miller and published in 1968 by Harry Stanley.
The “ Paper-Clipped” switch originally appeared in “* & $ @ !” in the book
300% Sankey, written by Richard Kaufman, and it’s also taught on one o f the
Sankey-tized videos. But the best way to learn it is Jay’s recent DVD called
Paper-Clipped! which covers in great detail every aspect o f the original playing
card routine, along with five typically clever Jay Sankey effects using the switch
with bills, business cards, and more. If you like this move, get the video at
www.sankeymagic.com and tell Jay I sent you.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 105


There are some really clever tricks that use marked cards in indirect ways
no audience would ever suspect. That’s good, because marked cards are one o f
the very few magical methods whose existence is known by virtually all adults.
It is generally accepted that the worst possible trick you can do with a marked
deck is to have someone pick a card, read the mark, and then name the card.
But it’s also the best trick, because it’s the most direct, dead easy method pos­
sible for producing the most direct, powerful effect. You just have to keep the
audience from thinking o f a marked deck.
In this chapter we will see four scripts for the exact same trick o f naming a
selected card. They all use different versions o f the same basic strategy to keep
the audience from thinking o f a marked deck, which is: to present something
more interesting for the audience to think about. Each creates it’s own alter­
nate reality— a specific magical explanation for what’s happening.
Don’t limit yourself to these four examples. This is an extremely easy trick
to make up versions of. I f you’re having trouble getting started coming up with
ideas for scripts, get yourself a marked deck. How are you learning the card’s
identity? Can you read minds? Do you have a sixth sense? Can you track the
position o f every card in your head through all the shuffles? Pick something.
In my experience, pseudo-explanation tricks work better the more specific the
fake explanation is.
Once you pick your alternate reality, that drives everything. When I claim
I am calculating the echoes o f the original deck order in the shuffled deck,
I try to act like I’m doing that. Many magicians don’t really try to do this at
all— they just pretend. And the audience reacts as though the person were
pretending. They get bored, and to occupy their minds, they try to figure out
the trick.

Four Scripts
The first script that follows is by Gary Ouellet. Gary was an excellent writer
o f magic and one o f the most successful producers o f magic on television o f
his generation. I had several email exchanges with Gary, mostly involving me
asking him for permission to include something he created in a trick I was
writing up, which he always gave generously. Before we got the chance to meet
in person, he was taken, far too young. I’m glad to help keep his work alive.
His script has a classic structure that just works.
After Gary’s script are three o f my own, each o f which explores a different
way to create a believable magical atmosphere. I had been playing around with

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 106


a marked deck for about a year or so, and one day, while driving to the Magic
Castle, the idea for “ Echoes” popped into my head. As soon as I got there, I
performed it for several people, magicians and otherwise. Everyone was totally
sucked in by the premise and fooled completely— even a few magicians who
knew that I'd been working with a marked deck. I f nothing else, this demon­
strates the power a meaningful presentation can have in providing cover for
the method.
A couple o f weeks later I thought o f the idea behind “The Cincinnati Kid.” I
shared it with Jon Armstrong, who had recently acquired a Boris Wild marked
deck, and he used it to great effect while working the bar. Then finally I came
up with “My Favorite Things,” which is my personal favorite and the one I
think is best suited for the most audiences. However I have added a climax to
“Echoes” which, in a formal setting, provides a great finish.
Ultimately, each works best for a different combination o f person and audi­
ence, and they’re all easy to remember, so you can pick the best version each
time.

I f you will make it easy on yourselfand make it easy on the audience,


you will be in control o f what you are doing. Then both you and the
audience will be comfortable. Your usual self will come through and
your performance will have some appearance of naturalness.
To be natural it is only necessary to be sincere.
Ross Bertram.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 10?


The HumaflGalvanometer
by G a r y OKQllet

Int— Living Room— Evening

Gary to sse s adeck onto the table in front of Alex.

Gary
Tal^these cards and have a look at them;
theyare all different, right? As a matter
of fact, we can use your deck if you
want—they’re ju s t ordinary cards. Okay,
plea.se shuffle them.

Alex ssh u ffle s the cards.

Gary
Before we start: are you a good liar?

Ale< Alex
Y««es. No.

Gaif Gary
W ee’ll see about that! Good—that makes my
job easier!

Gary
It isimportant that the card you select
is tiiily random, not one you would
consciously choose. So I want you to deal
caids face-down upon the table until you
feel like suddenly dealing one card aside,
fact down as well. Go ahead.

Whiles Alex deals through the deck and deals one card aside,
Gary tu rn s his back.

Gary
Non want you to select one other person
froflthe audience to come up and be
yoif witness. Only you two will know the
identity of the card. So it won’t be your

SCRIPTING M AGIC(C | 108


word against mine! Your witness must say
nothing, give me no sign at all.

Alex points to Pat to be the witness.

Gary
Okay, go ahead, peek at the card, show it
to your witness and no one else, and place
the card back into the middle of the deck,
then place the deck back inside its case.
All done? Good.

Gary turns back to Alex.

Gary
Now, are you satisfied that the card you
chose is truly a random choice and that
only two of you know the card? If not we
can start again.

Alex
I’m good.

Gary
Great. Now, I am going to ask you
questions, such as: Was it a red card? Or,
Was it an even number? And no matter
what I ask, you must always answer
“No.” Sometimes you will be telling the
truth, obviously, and sometimes you
will be lying. I am going to try to tell the
difference by listening to your voice, by
looking at you intently. So try to lie like a
champion.
(to the rest of the audience)
You, ladies and gentlemen of the
audience, can try, as I do, to see if you can
tell when Alex is lying.
(to Alex)
Are you ready? Remember, to every
question, answer “No.” Was it a red card?

Alex
No.
Gary
Was it a black card?

Alex
No.

Gary
Concentrate, but always answer “No.” A
red card?

Alex
No.

Gary
A black card?

Alex
No.

Gary
A red card?

Alex
No.

Gary
A red card?

Alex
No.

Gary
I think it was. I think it was a red card.
Was it a Diamond?

Alex
No.

Gary
A Heart?

Alex
No.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 10
Gary
A Diamond?

Alex
No.

Gary
A Heart?

Alex
No.

Gary
A Heart?

Alex
No.

Gary
You gave yourself away, I’m afraid. It’s a
Heart.
(To the audience)
Did you notice that, ladies and
gentlemen?
(To Alex)
Was it a num ber card?

Alex
No.

Gary
A picture card?

Alex
No.

Gary
A number card?

Alex
No.

Gary
A picture card?
Alex
No.

Gary
A picture card?

Alex
No.

Gary
Your nose is growing. Was it the Jack of
Hearts?

Alex
No.

Gary
The Queen of Hearts?

Alex
No.

Gary
The King of Hearts?

Alex
No.

Gary
The Queen of Hearts?

Alex
No.

Gary
The Queen of Hearts?

Alex
No.

Pause.

Gary
The Queen of Hearts?

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 1 2
Finally, Alex starts laughing.

Gary
I think you are lying to me, my friend!
Witness, what card was it?

Witness
The Queen of Hearts.

Gary
The Queen of Hearts!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 13
Notes on The Human Galvanometer
This may be the easiest script in the entire book to remember. After the
initial spiel to set up the lie detector premise, all you’re doing is reading off the
colors, suits, and values o f cards. So i f you’re not used to performing scripted
material and want to give it a try, this is a great place to start. Because your part
is so simple, and so simply constructed, you have maximum leeway to liven up
your performance by acting, should you have the talent. Each time you ask a
question you can adopt a different tone, or attitude. You can be slyly trying to
catch Alex out. You can be humorously making fun o f the impossibility o f the
situation. You can be taking it all very seriously— which may be the funniest
approach o f all.
By the way, note how Gary tells Alex what to do before they begin, and then
repeats this when the trick begins— twice. Does this seem like overkill? It is
not. It’s the most basic form o f professionalism for you to make sure the spec­
tator gets it right. More important, it’s a courtesy to the spectator.

Method
When you first read this script, it seems as if Gary asks if Alex wants to use a
different deck. But he doesn’t, really. He says out loud that he could use Alex’s
deck, but he doesn’t actually ask i f Alex would like to.
You don’t, by the way, need to use a marked deck. You can take any shuffled
deck, glimpse a card, and force it. Or you can offer a free selection and glimpse
it. You can glimpse a card, then try to classic force it, and if you m iss the force,
glimpse the selection. Or just use a stacked deck, and glimpse the card next
to the selection.
Notice how the action line says “While Alex deals through the deck and
deals one card aside, Gary turns his back.” This is definitely what the specta­
tors remember. O f course you don’t turn your back until Alex has dealt the
card aside, but the audience remembers your back being turned when it mat­
tered.

Adaptation
One o f the interesting features o f this script is that i f you perform it, you
will almost automatically adapt it to your own personality and character. You
may like to replace a few o f Gary’s lines— like "Your nose is growing,” for
example— but most o f the lines o f this script have no built-in interpretation.
It’s all how you play it.
I f you like, you can have Alex keep the selection, somewhere you can’t see

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 1 1 4
it. That way at the climax, instead o f asking the witness to confirm the card’s
identity, you can pick up the card and show it to the audience. This is probably
preferable, as your timing will be better than your spectators’. If not, perhaps
they should be doing the tricks.

References
This script appeared in Gary Ouellet’s “ Fulminations” column in Genii,
March 1991. The basic idea goes back at least as far as 1951 and Al Baker’s
“The Lie Detector” from Pet Secrets, which is reprinted in The Secret Ways o f Al
Baker, The Miracle Factory, 2004.

Meaning is the best misdirection.


Kenton Knepper

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 115


Echoes
by Pete McCabe

Int—Living Room—Evening

Pete sits at the table with his friend Alex, shuffling a deck of
cards.

Pete
Echoes never die, really. Anytime energy
goes out, it bounces off something and
comes back. It doesn’t come back as
strong, so it fades. But it never goes away
completely. It ju st gets so faint we can’t
hear it anymore.

Pete takes the deck and spreads it face up on the table.

Pete
This deck is in a random order, mostly.
But it’s not completely random. Because it
started in new deck order, and since then
it’s been shuffled, I d on’t know, hundreds
of times, probably.

Pete picks up the deck and gives it a few more shuffles.

Pete
And every shuffle, the original order gets
fainter and fainter, but it never goes away
completely. No matter how many times
you shuffle, an echo of that order will
remain in the deck. I’ll show you.

Pete spreads the deck face down across the table.

Pete
Alex, if you would, please touch any card,
but don’t move it out of the spread, th at’s
crucial.

Alex touches the back of a card.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 116


Pete
Okay, leave that one face down. But we’re
going to turn up four cards on each side.

Leaving Alex’s card face down, Pete turns over four cards above
and below it. Pete looks at the cards for a few seconds.

Pete
Well, it’s a Club.

Pete begins repeating the names of the cards surrounding the


selection, to himself, over and over.

Pete
(to himself)
Let’s see, Three of Diamonds, Four of
Clubs, Ten of Spades, Queen of Spades.
Three of Diamonds, Four of Clubs, Ten of
Spades, Queen of Spades.
(pause)
Three of Diamonds... Four of Clubs... Ten
of Spades... Queen of Spades. The echo is
very faint, but that must be the Seven of
Clubs.

Alex reaches for the card.

Pete
Or maybe the Eight. But probably the
Seven.

Alex turns over the card. It’s the Eight of Clubs.

Pete
Let me do that again. You shuffle this
time.

Alex shuffles the deck.

Pete
Because this probably looks like a card
trick. You shuffle, so you know... Great.
Thank you.

Pete spreads the shuffled deck across the table.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 1 7
Pete
Touch any card—doesn’t have to be from
the same part of the deck. It’s not any
easier or harder. It’s the same echo.

Alex touches a card.

Pete
See if we can do it with just two cards.
I usually close with this, but I got four
cards pretty well, so let’s go.

Pete turns over two cards on either side of the touched card.
He draws his breath in sharply, as if he does not like what he
sees.

Pete
It’s... a black card.

Pete studies the two face-up cards. He takes a deep breath, and
tries to relax.

Pete
(very calmly)
If you force it, you get nothing.
(pause)
That is either the Four of Spades, or the
Jack of Clubs. It’s the Four of Spades.

Alex turns over the card—it’s the Jack of Clubs.

Pete
Damn.

Pete turns over a few more cards above the selected card. Then
he turns over a few cards below the selection, where he finds
the Four of Spades.

Pete
(to himself)
Below?

Pete frowns—he does not understand what went wrong.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 1 18
P e te
Well, I hope that was close enough that
you’ll let me try one last time.

Alex
Of course.

Pete
Shuffle three more times.

Pete gives the deck to Alex, who shuffles three more times.

Pete
Spread them across the table.

Alex spreads the cards across the table.

Pete
Touch one.

Alex touches one.

Pete
Now don’t turn over any cards. Count all
the cards above the card you touched.

Alex counts.

Alex
Eighteen.

Pete
So you touched the nineteenth card in the
deck.

Alex
Yes.

Pete
Okay. You could never do this first, just
count to a number, tell you what card that
is. But because I’ve seen, what... half a
dozen cards during the last few phases.
And I know where every one of them is in
the original deck order.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 119


Pete takes three rapid breaths in and out, then one last huge
breath in, which he lets out very slowly. Suddenly it comes to
him, and he looks up with a smile.

Pete
It’s the Nine of Diamonds.

Pete turns the card around. It’s the Nine of Diamonds.

Pete picks up the deck and begins shuffling.

Pete
And because the original order is still
echoing around in the deck, if your
fingers are very sensitive, it is possible to
reverse the effect of all the shuffles that
have come in between, including the four
or five shuffles you gave.

Pete spreads the deck face down across the table.

Pete
Echoes never die. If you listen hard
enough...

He slowly turns the spread over. The entire deck is back in new
deck order.

Pete
...you can still hear them.

The End
Notes on Echoes
This is just tantalizingly possible. That’s the key— people want this to be
true. But to have this work for you, you have to act as though you are doing
exactly what you say. You do not have to be a great actor. You’re not pretending
to experience the depths o f hum an emotion. You’re just pretending to make
some calculations. If you want to be a method actor, actually do some calcula­
tions. Divide 363 by 7, in your head. By the way, studies show that when people
do math in their head, they tend to look up and to the right.
This script invites the audience to be profoundly silent at the end, so it may
not generate loud applause. But the profound moment will resonate long after
the applause would die down. You’ll get that applause back at the end o f the
show, with interest.
Echoes is a great script for people who do not have a great deal o f experience
acting. The acting requirements are really very straightforward— you can do
it, and i f you can’t, you can learn how. But the acting is vital to the trick. You
can’t pretend, you have to act as though you were actually doing it. A lot o f
magicians, when they come to a moment that requires acting, just pretend to
be doing the thing. Audiences can immediately tell the difference. And, by and
large, they’re not interested in watching people pretend.
So i f you’ve always wanted to try acting, to see what it can do for your magic,
grab a marked deck and give this a go.

Method
I f you use the (optional) new-deck-order climax, you’re obviously going to
have to switch decks, then do a few false shuffles until you want to reveal the
climax. I’ve used a deck shell for the switch, so the stacked deck is concealed
on the table during the entire routine. All the best deck switches I know are all
based on scripting. In this trick, you act as if the trick is over. At that point, you
could just put one deck in your left pocket and pull the other one out o f your
right pocket, and it would fly. In fact, the best deck switch I know pretty much
works exactly like that.

Adaptation
The climax is optional. I’ve done this without it, and the final phase, where
you determine the card just by its number in the deck, is a good finish.
In this presentation, you are actively calculating the cards. So you could
bring out a calculator and start hitting some numbers, then name the card.
This will provide its own level o f just-barely believability to what you’re do-

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 121


ing. But only if you genuinely use the calculator. If you just press buttons
randomly people will very possibly think you're just being stupid. (Not that
there’s anything wrong with that.) But actually doing a few calculations can be
surprisingly effective.
By the way, there is a whole genre o f calculator bits where you enter a num ­
ber in the calculator and then turn the display upside down and read off a
word— with a 4 m aking an “h,” and so on. So, for some cards the calculator it­
self can name the final card. For the Eight o f Hearts, you can enter “48 ” on the
calculator and when you turn it upside down it will say “ 8h.” This only works
for the 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 o f Hearts and Spades, but this limitation could be
overcome if you had a script that needed it.
Finally, i f you use the calculator, you can g aff it to hide the deck for the cli­
max. Despite what you might think, they still make calculators big enough to
hide a deck o f cards.
The Cincinnati Kid
by Pete McCabe

Int—Living Room—Evening

Pete sits with his friend Alex.

Pete
There’s a scene in the movie “The
Cincinnati Kid;” Steve McQueen plays a
great poker player, and this woman, the
love interest, asks why he’s so good. He
says, “I’ll show you.” He has her pick a
card, and then he looks at her and says
“Three of Clubs.” And she nods, like that
explains everything. But I th o u g h t—that
doesn’t make sense. Do you play poker?

Alex
I used to play in college.

Pete
So you know that if you just pick a card
at random, not even the greatest poker
player in the world can tell what it is. The
card doesn’t mean anything. Only when
you’re drawing to a hand can an expert
read your tells.

Pete begins running through a deck and removing a few cards.

Pete
Did you win, when you played?

Alex
I broke even.

Pete
My dad told me: The definition of a
gambler is someone who says “I hope I
break even— I need the money.”

Pete shows the cards he removed: the Six, Seven, Eight, and Ten
of Hearts.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 123


Pete
This is your hand. Okay? You’ve got
an inside draw to a straight flush. Now
shuffle the deck, give it a cut.

Alex shuffles and cuts the cards.

Pete
Now, deal yourself one card, onto your
hand.

Alex deals the top card onto the four Hearts.

Pete
Now, I want you to imagine that you’re
playing poker, and you’ve just drawn one
to an inside straight-flush draw. Go ahead
and see what you’ve got, but don’t give
away anything about your hand.

Alex slowly squeezes out the last card. Pete watches closely.

Pete
Okay, square up the cards and put them
down.

Alex puts the cards on the table. Pete keeps watching, closely.

Finally, Pete relaxes, satisfied.

Pete
Okay. At first, you thought maybe you
got the flush, so it must be a red card,
but then you didn’t get it, so it must be a
Diamond. And you didn’t get the straight,
but it did make your hand better, just...
not that much better. You must have
paired up. But you were mad that it was
the lowest card you could have paired, so
it must have been the Six of Diamonds.

Alex shows the c ard —it’s the Six of Diamonds.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 124


Notes on The Cincinnati Kid
In this script I’ve written in a brief exchange about Alex’s previous poker
experience. In an informal situation we could talk about poker for quite some
time.
Obviously this routine will only play i f both you and Alex are pretty conver­
sant with poker. Alex has to know poker to appreciate what you’re doing, and
you have to know poker to be able to improvise a credible explanation o f what
thought process you are detecting. Credibility is the reason this script plays.
I f you recited a list o f fake tells — “your left eye twitched, which means it’s a
Diamond” — It wouldn’t be nearly as effective. By describing Alex’s thought
process, you make the trick about Alex, rather than the poker hand. And you’ll
find that quite often at least one o f your comments will match very closely
what Alex was thinking. You only have to get one such comment right on and
the effect on Alex will be tremendous. And even if you get them all wrong,
only Alex will know, and when Alex shows that you have nailed the card, ev­
eryone else will assume your analysis was equally right.

Adaptation
For some reason this seems to me like more o f a standalone trick than
“Echoes.” Still, having come up with the restored-order climax to “ Echoes,”
I have considered how to put a climax on “The Cincinnati Kid.” The most
interesting approach I’ve come up with is forcing the Nine o f Hearts, so Alex
manages to fill the inside straight flush. But I can’t figure out how to integrate
that in what I already have, so maybe it's one o f those tantalizing ideas that
doesn’t really work.
One night, while Jon Armstrong was trying this at the Magic Castle, he was
talking with a spectator and found that the man was more familiar with black­
jack than poker. Jon immediately improvised a version where they were play­
ing multiple hands of blackjack, and Jon read the man's tells when he looked
at his down cards. This man got a unique customized performance from Jon
Armstrong. That's one benefit o f using a marked deck— it’s easy to adapt the
presentation like this on the fly.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 125


My Favorite Things
by Pete McCabe

Int—Living Room— Evening.

Pete hands his friend Alex a deck of cards.

Pete
1 want you to pick out your three favorite
cards. Now, I know a lot of magicians.
And you can ask a magician his three
favorite cards, and he’ll actually have
three favorite playing cards. But you are a
relatively normal person, and so 1 believe
that you will not have three favorite
playing cards, or one, even. So I want
you to go through the deck and pull out
whatever three cards appeal to you most
right now. Okay? You’re not necessarily
saying that these are your...
(air quotes)
...“favorite” cards. But I do need you to
pick three cards that appeal to you the
most right now. If you pick three random
cards this will not work.

Alex pulls out three cards.

Pete
Put your favorite here, second here, third
here.

Alex places three cards on the table.

Pete
Now, if I can name your favorite card,
that’s pretty good. But most people’s
favorite card is pretty obvious, like the
Ace of Spades or Queen of Hearts. Second
favorite card is much harder, although
sometimes it’s ju st the other of those two.
But if I can get your third favorite card,
that would be a miracle.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 126


Pete rubs his forehead to get ready.

Pete
And so, let me ask you this: What is your
favorite flavor of ice cream?

Alex
Rocky Road.

Pete
How long has that been your favorite?

Alex
Long time.

Pete
You know, no one ever says vanilla, but
it’s the best-selling ice cream in the world.
Cup or cone?

Alex
Cup.

Pete
Interesting—what kind of toppings?

Alex
Strawberry syrup and whipped cream.

Pete
Yeah, that wouldn’t work in a cone, would
it? Nuts?

Alex
No.

Pete
Well, those are all popular answers. In that
case, I believe that this will be the Queen
of Hearts.

Pete turns over Alex’s favorite card: the Queen of Hearts.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 12?


Pete
As I said, that’s not that h a rd — the Queen
of Hearts is a very popular card. The
second card is much harder. Unless it’s
the Ace of Spades, but I can already tell
you didn’t pick the Ace of Spades, because
it’s too obvious. Let me ask you this: What
is your favorite day of the week?

Alex
Saturday.

Pete
And your favorite month of the year?

Alex
December.

Pete
Because of the holidays, or snow?

Alex
The holidays.

Pete
What’s your favorite hour of the day?

Alex
Eight to nine PM.

Pete frowns.

Pete
I had you, until the hour. That just means
I need your second favorite card to be
either a Diamond, or a Nine. If it’s the
Nine of Diamonds, then I can not only tell
you what your third favorite card is, I can
tell you your PIN number.
(pause)
If it’s a Spade I’m completely screwed.

Pete turns over the second favorite: the Eight of Diamonds.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 128


Pete
Close. Okay, I’m pretty sure 1 know what
your third favorite card is, but let me ask
you one last thing: What is your favorite
song of all time?

Alex
“Somewhere” from West Side Story.

Pete
I’ve always loved that song, but I love it
even more now, because it confirms what
I suspected: Your third favorite card is the
Three of Clubs.

Pete turns over Alex’s favorite card. It’s the Three of Clubs.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 129


Notes on My Favorite Things
This is my favorite o f these three tricks. Actually, the presentation in
“Echoes” appeals more strongly to my personal aesthetic sense; the notion o f
patterns hidden in randomness, o f echoes that grow fainter but never die, the
idea that you can extract meaning from chaos. But I understand that these are
fairly esoteric subjects. To many people these ideas are mathematical and a
bit confusing— they’re things the average person hasn’t thought much about.
“My Favorite Things” will resonate with more people.
I also think it’s better because it involves the audience more directly. You
can see that just by comparing the scripts — “My Favorite Things” has more
lines by Alex than either “Echoes” or “The Cincinnati Kid.” In an informal
setting you can talk about Alex’s favorite month, or ice cream topping, for ten
minutes, and then go back to the trick.

Adaptation
Obviously, you can replace all the questions I ask Alex with your own ques­
tions: What is your favorite movie, car, soda, vegetable, bread, condiment,
Beatle, food, animal, color, TV show, shoe, etc. Most people will have a ready
answer for any o f these categories, but you can also ask people questions that
will require them to think. For example, what is your favorite knot? Most peo­
ple don’t have a favorite knot, and many might not know the names o f differ­
ent kinds o f knots (square knot, slip knot, granny knot, shoelace knot, double
knot, etc.). So you explain the choices, and ask them which they like. I would
avoid asking people what their favorite number is, in case they say seven and
one o f their favorite cards turns out to be the Seven o f Hearts.

The more relevant the effect is to their lives,


the less the audience is concerned with the method.
Bob Neale

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 130


Jon Armstrong:
Going with the Flow

I
was talking with Jon Armstrong about scripting, and he told me that
instead o f scripts, most o f his tricks work o ff a flowchart structure.
This is a very powerful and advanced form o f scripting, and I was very
happy when Jon agreed to include his flowchart, which follows the
interview.
Flowchart scripting is extremely demanding, as you have to switch tracks
without skipping a beat. This technique is usually the province o f the profes­
sional, as it requires consistent work to keep the options going in your head.
O f course, Jon Armstrong works pretty damned consistently— he’s only 32
and he’s been working professionally for 17 years. And not just kid shows; his
first steady gig was at DisneyWorld’s Epcot Center, and he recently won Close
Up Magician o f the Year from the Magic Castle.

Read this first


The following interview makes more sense if you know Jon’s opening trick,
which he published in his Thoughts from a Former Boy Wonder lecture notes.
The title o f the trick is “ My Opening Act” , which is an illuminating way o f
thinking all by itself. Just to make this clear: This is the opening trick with
wh^:h Jon has earned his living for 15 years now.
Take a deck, a Card-in-Wallet wallet, and a rubber band. Select a couple
in the audience— boyfriend and girlfriend, married, first date, but a couple.
Have Adam shuffle the deck and put the rubber band around it. Take back the
deck and have him peek a card, making sure Eve does not see it; hold a break.
Glimpse the selected card. The rubber band doesn’t interfere with the break
and makes the peek easier, because the deck squares itself.
Spread through the deck, find the peeked card, and “produce” it in some
magical fashion (or just cut to it). Now ask Eve to guess what card Adam is
thinking of. If she’s right, it’s a miracle (but read the interview— most magi­
cians play this lucky break very poorly). If not, show the card you removed,
verifying that you read Adam’s mind. While this miracle is sinking in, cull the
card Eve named, palm it out, and produce it from your wallet.
Don’t let the rudimentary nature o f this description fool you. Remember:
This is the trick Jon uses to open paid shows, which is often.
I sat down with Jon in the Magic Castle library to talk about this trick, and
how it reflects Jon’s philosophy o f scripting and performing magic.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 13 1
Pete Jon
In this book, I w ant to c o m m u n i­ I really was. I had a re stau ran t
cate the m a n y w a y s in wh ich y o u thing, and I w a s lu ck y I g re w up
can u se s crip tin g. I think th e re ’s an in Orlando, so I had a them e p a rk
u n fo rtu n a te s te re o ty p e that s c r ip t ­ gig. I w a s a little lu ck ier than m ost,
ing m e an s w r itin g a sto ry in w h ich b e c a u s e m o st p e o p le d o n ’t h ave
the Jo k e r s are the d e t e c t iv e s — and th em e p a rks in th eir b ac k yard . I
before I fo rget, I w ant yo u to do g re w up with them . I v ie w m o st
the trick w h ere the Castle Board o f s to ry m agic as a wall that h a p p e n s
D irectors are the d e tec tives. b etw een the a u d ie n c e and the p e r­
form er. That wall is not a n eg ativ e
Jo n w h en y o u ’re on stag e, b e c a u s e
I c a n ’t do that. The w a lls h ave pe o p le e x p e ct the p e rfo rm e r on
ears. stag e to h ave an air that th e y ’re
pe rfo rm in g for you .
Pete
Got it. This will all get cut out later. Pete
In an y event, I w a n t to s h o w p e o ­ T h e y ’re in a s e p a ra te w orld than
ple that a n y b o d y can u se s c r ip t ­ y o u are.
ing, even if y o u hate tricks w h ere
the Jo k e r s are the d e tec tives. Jo n
Exactly. T h e y ’re on stage, in light,
Jo n y o u ’re in the a u d ien c e, in the dark.
Working as a p ro fe s s io n a l card- But that wall s h o u l d n ’t be th ere
on ly m agician fo r the last s e v e n ­ in clo se-u p m agic, w h ich is s u p ­
teen y e a rs ... p o s e d to be en g ag in g . So to talk
at so m eb o d y , I think pu ts the a u ­
Pete dience off ease, as o p p o s e d to at
How old are y o u ? e a se with w h a t ’s g o in g on. B ecause
y o u ’re s p e a k in g at them , and th ey
Jo n know y o u ’re s p e a k in g at them
I’m thirty-two. with a s to ry that is re h e a rs e d , and
t h e y ’re b eing told s o m e th in g that
Pete o th e rs h ave b een told, and th ey
So more than h a lf y o u r life, now. b ec o m e a n u m b e r in their mind,
the ex p e rie n c e d o e s not see m as
Jo n u niqu e or original.
Well, I w o u ld s a y the first three
y e a rs, w h en I w a s still livin g at Pete
hom e with m y p a ren ts, I w a s n ’t T h eir part in the s h o w is in the
m aking a m a jo r living. great ch oru s, w ith o u t a real
name.
Pete
(laughs)
But w o rk in g p ro fe s s io n a lly .

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 132


Jon have to be a story trick— even if
And I think that’s terrible. I think yo u ’re ju st narrating the actions,
the best thing about close up m ag­ like so m any m agicians do, there’s
ic is that it breaks down barriers, still a wall. The person is not en­
and it draw s people in and gives gaged with you. If they sudd en ly
them a feeling that som ething is turned into a mirror, you w ould
happening, an experience. And to, ju st keep going.
by rote, tell them som ething that’s
ob vio u sly a story, you lose som e­ Jon
thing there. I’ve never en joyed True. But it’s much easier to know
that. There are exceptions. But it that y o u ’re being perform ed at
takes the right type of perform er, when y o u ’re being told a story.
who has already engaged the au­
dience, has already m ade a direct Pete
connection where they feel that At least narrative patter is about
yo u ’re doing this for them. And w hat’s actually happening at the
then, hey, ju st like you are talking time.
to you r frien d s, you know, a week
ago, this thing happened, let me Jon
tell you about it. And then I think Exactly.
yo u ’re allow ed that. But to start
out w ith a story trick, and then Pete
another story trick, and another, So what do you do to draw your
then y o u ’re perform ing at your audiences in?
audience, and not for them.
Jon
Pete My goal is to really make them
But you don’t have to use scrip t­ believe that this is the first time I
ing ju s t to tell stories. have ever done this.

Jon Pete
Right. Scripting can seem organic, Rafael Benatar said that he often
it can give a deeper m eaning to instructs his m usic students to
what is going on. But with a lot of perform a piece as though you
story m agic, the audience can tell were m aking it up as you go.
that th ere’s a loss of connection
with the perform er. Jon
I want everythin g I do to seem as
Pete though... I’m dem onstrating this,
That can happen with any trick I ob vio u sly have skills, w hich I’ve
if y o u ’re ju st reciting m em orized practiced, but as far as what I’m
patter. Even if y o u ’re doing the saying, how I’m saying it, w hy I’m
patter that came with the trick, sayin g it, that all happens in the
if you perform it like you m em o­ moment. With me it all depends
rized it, that’s a wall. It d oesn ’t on m any factors. I’ve never ac-

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 133


tually sat down and written out Jon
any of this. With me it has alw ays The point is that with scripting, to
been like a flowchart; a m ultiple me, it’s alw ays been like an organic
answ er p rogressio n thing. There script. I never say the sam e thing,
were these books when I was a kid hard and fast. Even the lines that
called choose you r own ad ven ­ I say every time, I’ll say them in
ture, and y o u ’d get to a part and a different way. T h ere’s a line that
it would say “Do you turn right or I say where I stick a card on my
left? Turn to page 75 or 76 .” forehead. And I say, “That’s not a
trick, that’s ju st sp it.” And the cen­
Pete tral inform ation I’m trying to get
This is before the days o f com put­ acro ss is, by the w ay that’s not a
ers, I’m gu essin g. trick, that’s ju st spit. See? I’ve ju st
changed it again. Som etim es I’ll
Jon say, “Oh, that’s not a trick, (points)
(nodding) That to me has alw ays Spit.” And I alw ays change it a
been a w ay to make things seem little bit each show. Because that
more organic. You genuinely re­ w ay I’m saying it like it’s new, like
spond to their resp on ses. I’m ju st com ing up with it. And it
keeps the line fresh. That’s one
Pete w ay I keep my scrip ts organic. And
You have to. then actually genuin ely resp on d­
ing, and m aking m y act such that,
Jon yes, I’m going to do this trick, and
I hate with a p assion when the m a­ it’s going to go from point A to
gician asks an audience member, point Z, but all o f the m idpoints,
or the audience as a whole, a q u es­ how that’s going to happen, are
tion, and then runs through an y ­ alw ays going to change per show.
way, no m atter w hat the answ er is. Because I don’t know what reac­
Alm ost not even listening to the tions I’m going to get, I don’t know
answer. I hate that, because that w hat I’m going to say.
totally tells the audience the m agi­
cian doesn’t care what they think. Pete
A lot of m agicians, when they
John Lovick pipes in from the bring som eone up from the audi­
cheap seats. ence, that person ju st w atches, ex­
cept they’re w atching really close.
John Lovick T h ey’re not doing anything, they’re
What if you don’t care? ju s t sitting there watching. When
Rafael Benatar brings som eone up
Jon from the audience, the trick is all
Well then that’s your act. about the interaction betw een him
and the spectator. T h ere’s no room
Lovick sets off a flash pot and for a big story, because the inter­
disappears. action fills the trick com pletely.
It r ra lly forces you to engage the they’re in credibly sm art, and I’m
spectator. not as sm art as they are.

Jon Pete
I try to m ove even one step fu r­ And if they say... what w ould be
ther f rom that. What the audience lower than m agician?
m em ber does will affect w hat I
d o so much that if you w atch my Jon
•h o w four tim es in a row, the show If they say...
will be different. Little differen ces,
biKXer differences, but different. Pete and Jon try to think of
Alw ays. W hatever they say, w hat­ something lower than magician.
ever they do, that becom es inte­
grated into what I do. Because I Pete
wa nt it to be real. ...that they are confined to a m en­
tal hospital.
Pete
It’s kind o f like y o u ’re doing an Jon
I mpr o v routine, where the au d i­
(laughs) Yes. Or, let’s say they w ork
ence calls out what your in co m p u ters— then I have no idea
jo b is, ex­
cept here it’s not what th ey’re
so ob vious that talking about,
That wall
t h ey ’re m aking th ey’re ju st talk­
decisions. You shouldn't be there ing gibberish.
Ket started, and in close-up magic, It’s beyond me.
w hatever they which is supposed Some people I
say, y o u ’re go­ would revere.
ing to go with
to be engaging. Some people I
that, even if they would cast as
don’t know that they’re d eterm in­ an antagonist, this person is try­
ing the show. ing to m ess me up. Like a cop, or
a law ye r— a law yer is an excellent
Jo n villain.
Right. And unlike an im prov per­
s o n who really does com e up with Pete
things off the top of their head, As is often the case in life itself.
I then take this inform ation and
input it into all the different sce­ Jon
narios that I have for m y act. For And they p lay along, and you make
exam ple, if I say what do you do your referen ces based on that. For
f or a living, and they say th ey’re exam ple, in m y opening trick, two
a doctor, this person is o b vio u s­ people are involved, and I say
ly sm arter than my character. So to the man: I want you to shuffle
I’m going to treat this person like the cards and put a rubber band
around the deck. And that’s the

SCRIPTING MAGIC
first situation: does he do it grace­ the rubber band around the deck,
fully? Does he do it sloppily? And I say I want you to tell me when to
from that particular bit o f stim uli, say stop, look at a card, and the
I make my com m ents accordingly. entire time I’m focu sin g my atten ­
tion and my eyes at his girlfriend.
Pete And there’s a m ajor section o f the
You have a bank o f com m ents to script here which depends en tire­
pick from. ly on what she does. She could be
very much into me, she could be
Jon playin g flirty, or, she could be the
I alw ays have a bank, and what will opposite. She could be extrem ely
fit with this character that I’ve put uncom fortable. And then I have
the spectator in. But I hate I hate I to ju d g e every single response
hate I hate, again, w here they’re al­ that I make, from this. And p lay
w ays going to say the sam e line. A with it at that point. T h ere’s a line
guy will take the that I say, which
deck of cards, I f you watch my show needs a legiti­
and gracefully mate response.
wrap the rub­
four times in a row, I say “Is it okay
ber band around the show will be different. if I look at yo u ?”
it. But yet they Little differences, bigger M ostly they say
say “Hey, this is yes. Som etim es
differences, but different.
the motor skills they say no. And
portion of the Always. if they say no I
program .” No! have to take that
The guy ju st m ade you look like respon se. I can’t ju st go “No come
a moron, because he did it grace­ on, seriously, look at m e.” So if
fully, and you say your line, which they say no, I might say “Oh, I re­
makes no sense. alize my m asculinity is a little too
m uch for y o u .” I p lay that kind o f
Pete stuff. But m ost people say yes, and
I’ve alw ays thought that anybody then I say, “Do you like it?” Which
w hose com edy is based on putting gets a laugh.
down the audience will fail if the
audience turns out to be better Pete
than the m agician is. You only have that line if they say
yes.
Jon
And even if it’s not a put down, if Jon
anything doesn ’t je ll with what ac­ Exactly.
tually happened, I alw ays feel the
audience knows it. At that point Pete
they’ve been jarred out of reality, This is where a lot of perform ers
and they know th ey’re in a show. So m ake a m istake— they have a line
the person shuffles the cards, puts they like, because it gets a laugh,

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 136


and they say it even when it’s not don’t p ress it on her, I get creeped
appropriate. And it d oesn ’t get a out by the situation as well. What­
laugh those tim es anyw ay, b e­ ever em otion she feels, I feel.
cause it’s only funny if the wom an
reacts a certain way. But th ey’re Pete
not w illing to give up their great So you make her do som ething,
line for the few spectators who and then you do what she does.
aren ’t com fortable with it. You put her in control of the situ ­
ation, even though she d oesn ’t re­
Jon alize it.
Exactly. Plus at this point in the
routine, y o u ’ve established that Jon
they’re going to respond. They That w ay she doesn ’t feel like I
respon ded to the first request, so am im posing m yself upon her in
they’re going to respond to this som e w eird way.
one. At that point, they either
creep away, or they get into me. Pete
Now I have lim ited their resp o n s­ You put her in control, but sh e’s
es to two choices. only got one decision to make, and
there are only two choices. It’s not
Pete like y o u ’ve given up control com ­
Fight or flight. pletely, and who knows what sh e’s
going to do.
Jon
Very rarely do I get the sto n e­ Jon
faced thing. T h ey’re going to react So, the man peeks the card, I ask
in som e way. If she leans back, the the person “w ould you be so kind
reaction will be som ething like as to shuffle the card s,” they shuffle
“You should ask my h u sban d ,” or the cards, and then I say, “Now if I
boyfrien d, or w hatever. And my w as to tell you sir, what your card
resp on se to that u su ally is, I look was, w ould you be im p ressed ?”
at the guy and I go, “I could take And I listen to his response. If he
him .” says “No,” I say “Well, if that w on’t
im press you, I w on’t tell you the
Pete card — she w ill.” If he says “Yes,” I
That’s a great line, because the rea­ say “Why that’s gre at— I like you,
son it’s funny is your character. sir. You know w h at— because I
like you so much, I’m not gonna
Jon tell you the card. She’s gonna tell
Or, if she says yes, she does like you the card .” So I take the per­
it, then she gets all flirty with me, son ’s resp on se, and I respond to
and I get all flirty back with her. that, but we end up back w here I
So that m akes sense. Or, she gets a want to be.
little creeped out. And then, I want
her to feel good about this, so I

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 13 7
Pete Jon
Ju st a single split, and then col­ Exactly. Now let me tell you what
lapse back. happens m ost of the time. Most
o f the time I have this card on my
Jon forehead, and I have been playing
Now I take the m an’s card out of up to this mom ent like the wom an
the deck and put it on my head, is going to name the peeked card.
that’s the w hole spit thing we So she says “The Three of C lubs,”
were talking about earlier. Then I and I say “Yes or no, sir, was your
say “Please be so kind as to name card the Three o f C lu b s?” And I ask
the card this gentlem en is think­ him a question that he can answ er
ing o f.” She g u esses the Three of only yes or no. I don ’t want him to
Clubs, I look at him, and here’s say “It w as the Six o f D iam onds.”
the big m om ent. There’s a 1 in 52 So he says “No.” I pause, like I have
chance that this is right. There’s a no idea what I’m doing. And I look
1 in 52 chance that I’ve hit the m ir­ over to the wom an and say “Sorry
acle of m iracles. And I play every lady, yo u ’re w ron g.”
single mom ent up to this question
like it alw ays w orks, every single Pete
time. And I do that for two rea­ And that kills.
sons. Because if it does work, I’m
not surprised. I’m not caught off Jon
guard. They know you got lucky. Because I have played it up to
No m atter what you think, laym en that moment as if it w ere going to
know that som etim es you ju st get work.
lucky.
Pete
Pete Without that, it w ouldn ’t be fun ­
That’s their first thought in a trick ny.
like this: You got lucky.
Jon
Jon So if she gets the card, it m akes
Most m agicians never think about sense, and if she d oesn ’t, it m akes
what to do if the spectator gets it sense. Now at this point, I say
right. They figure that since it’s “What w as your card sir?” And he
a real m iracle, they don’t have to says it’s the Ace of Diamonds. And
d ress it up. Not true. I say “that’s am azing sir, because
I have the Ace of Diamonds right
Pete here, on my head. Ta da, thank
The audience can ’t tell the differ­ you. (pause) You know I feel p ret­
ence between a real m iracle and ty bad about you, there, Mary. Be­
one yo u ’ve created. You have to cause you did name a card, I don’t
dram atize them both the same. want you to think I’m m aking fun
o f you. But here’s the thing. You
thought this whole thing was the

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 138


( ard on-the-Forehead trick. But I know exactly what you were go­
It w asn ’t. It w as actually a clever ing to do. That’s w hy there’s two
ruse. See, before I even cam e out cards h ere,” and I draw the back
here, I took a card out o f the deck card down into view. And that
and put it here in my w allet. Then I kills. I alm ost want them to say
zipped m y w allet up here on three the Ace o f Spades, so that I can
sides. Inside my wallet happens to get the two card reaction, because
be a card. You could have named that d estro ys them.
tiny card you wanted to. But you
couldn ’t — heh heh, no. Because Pete
this w hole time, you have been my You could say that no m atter what
little puppet. Doing exactly what I card they say. “Six of Diam onds?
wanted you to do. And that’s w hy There’s a whole book of tricks u s­
you nam ed the card that I have in ing the Six of D iam on ds...”
here, the Three of C lub s.”
Jon
That’s the content. But that also You could do that. Again, that’s all
ends in different w ays, too. It used the variab les that this trick could
to be, when I ask this person to have.
name a card, som etim es they say
the Ace of Spades or the Queen Pete
of Hearts. And I can’t say “no, get Exactly. If you wanted to try som e­
another card .” Because that tips thing like that, the structure al­
off^he ending. So I made the en d­ lows for that.
ing m odular. Here’s what I do.
They say “Queen of H earts,” I say Jon
“You know, a lot of people name One time, the spectator said Ace of
the Queen of Hearts. Give me a Spades, then the Queen o f Hearts,
hard on e.” They name the Three and then a different card, and
of Clubs, and then changed to
now, as I’m go ­ a fourth card.
ing through the Most magicians never And as I’m go ­
deck, I’m actu­ think about what to do ing through the
ally culling the if the spectator gets it right. s p e c t a t o r - s h u f­
cards. And now fled deck, the
I cull both the
Theyfigure that since it's a Ace o f Spades
Queen o f Hearts ,
real miracle they dont and Queen of
and the Three of have to dress it up. Hearts are one
Clubs from the two on top. I
Not true.
deck, and load culled the other
them into the two cards, I’m
w allet. And now, when I unzip the done, and they all go into the w al­
w allet, I pull out the two cards as let. “And this entire time y o u ’ve
one. And I say “This w hole time been m y little puppet. That’s w hy
y o u ’ve been my little puppet. And there’s not ju st one card here,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 139


there’s one, two, three, four.” And I may say "And as super pow ers
they all in stantly knew what w as go, that’s pretty lam e.” If they get
coming. That w as aw esom e. that...

Pete Pete
And you d evelop ed this structure When I saw you in the Close-up
not by w riting it down in advance Room they got that.
but by p erform ing the trick thou­
sands of tim es. Jon
“As super pow ers go, that’s pret­
Jon ty lame, (pause) Th at’s Aquam an
Thousands and thousands o f lam e.” That’s the last one. Now I
tim es. I w as the resident m agi­ never go past that. Som etim es the
cian at Epcot. Basically I would audience will laugh on that last
get there around 4:30 in the a f­ line, and I don’t think they even
ternoon, and leave at around get it, but th ey’re reacting to the
9:30 at night, and I spent the en ­ geeky character.
tire time doing card tricks.
Pete
The last part of this organic scrip t­ The right timing, and character,
ing is what I call knowing when to and rhythm of a line, can make
shut up. T h ere’s som ething fu n ­
a moment at the ny even if y o u ’re
end, after I’ve re­ The lastpart of this sayin g non­
vealed the w om ­ organic scripting sense syllables.
an’s card in my is what I call I m ean, it’s fun ­
wallet, w here I nier if it m eans
say “That’s right,
knowing when to shut up. som ething, but
I can make w om ­ it can still be
en do w hatever I w an t.” And there funny even without any m eaning,
are four parts to this. The first part ju st with the right tim ing, charac­
is: “I can make w om en do w hatev­ ter... the right setup, m ostly.
er I w ant.” And som etim es there’s
a laugh right there, but som etim es Jon
it isn ’t im m ediate. The second line And that’s me. I’m a comic book
is “...as long as it’s nam ing a card .” guy. I’m really into the stuff. To
Now the tim ing depends on how me, that’s my favorite line in the
the audience resp on d s to the first show.
line. If they’re all over the first
line, I’ll wait for the laugh to d is­ Pete
sipate, which m akes the second Of co u rse— it’s the only line that’s
line play. But if there is not a big com pletely you. It’s not doing an y­
laugh on the first line, the second thing other than exp ressin g your
line hits im m ediately. Depending ch aracter— it’s not starting a trick,
on the reaction to the second line,
or coverin g a m ove, or anything Jon
related to the trick. That’s the idea behind it. There are
peaks and valle ys with the charac­
Jon ter. It’s not like I am high-energy,
Brad Henderson w ould call that crazy m anic guy the entire time.
an aesthetic line. And it is. It’s a
purely aesthetic line. Brad alw ays Pete
m akes fun o f me because I pur­ Final question I ask everybody: If
p osely put in, into everythin g that I w ere ju s t starting to learn how
I do, um s, stam m ers, and pauses. to use scriptin g to make m y m ag­
Because I want them to think that ic better, what advice w ould you
this is the first time I’ve ever said give me?
this, and that I’m aw kw ard, and
I’m nervous, and I don’t have good Jon
stage presence. And that’s all part Listen to the audience.
of the character. Now it d oesn ’t
stay that w ay all the time. Because Pete
that w ould get really aw ful to Not ju st when you ask them q u es­
watch. tions...

Pete Jon
Ned Flanders says “I like Woody Listen to them alw ays. I have sto ­
Allen m ovies, except for that ner­ len from m y audiences for the last
vous fella that’s alw ays in them .” fifteen years. My audiences have
You p lay a great character, because said the funniest things, the m ost
people can im m ediately id en tify it poignant things, made the best
and relate to it. But tw enty m in­ points. They have truly w ritten a
utes o f concentrated interaction lot o f my act. Because I’ve listened
with that ch aracter— w ithout that to what they sa id — I’m not talk­
wall we were talking ab o u t— can ing about feedback, or notes after
be a lot. a sh o w — but what they are doing
right in the middle. The whole su ­
Jo n perhero line came from a guy after
So the character even tually gets to a show who said “So, y o u ’re like
the point where he calm s down. the Don Ju an of women, but ju st
for card trick s.” And from that I got
Pete the idea that I could control w om ­
If you start off nervous, and ten en, and I started thinking about all
m inutes into the show the au d i­ the w ays that would make sense.
ence can sense you calm ing down, And that becam e “I can make w om ­
they w ill feel frien d ly toward you, en do anything I w ant... as long as
because they can tell that y o u ’re it’s card trick s.” And that’s where
feelin g frien d ly toward them. That it cam e fro m — som ebody actually
b u ild s the relationship. said that.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | M i
Pete
So what y o u ’re sayin g is, if you
want to script you r act, you don’t
even have to script it yourself. Ju st
listen to the audience, and th ey’ll
script it for you.

Jon
(laughs) I think y o u ’re being a lit­
tle literal there, Pete. But serio u s­
ly. Take a fram ew ork that w orks,
and talk to the audience, and m ost
im portantly, listen to them.

The End

Even i f you were doing everything by real magic,


you would still have to stage it. I f you were able
to actually make an elephant disappear by the touch o f a wand,
people might still remain indijferent i f you dont stage it properly.
Henning Nelms

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 142


My Opening Act
by Jon Arm strong

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 143


Scripting for Effect

ne o f the biggest benefits o f scripting your magic is that it can


make the effect much clearer. And not just to your audience; to
you as well. Although some tricks benefit from an understated
approach, in which you let your audience fill in the details them­
selves, there's little doubt that to present any magic effect clearly, you have to
have a clear idea in your mind, at least, o f what you are presenting.
Let's take the simplest example: I place a coin in my hand and open it a
second later to show that the coin is gone. The question is: what happened
to the coin? At a recent lecture, the wonderfully creative Tom Stone asked
this exact question to a room full o f magicians, and received a room full of
different answers. One said the coin was destroyed, so that now it no longer
existed. Another said it was made invisible, so you just can’t see it. A third
said it transported to another place, so the coin itself is unchanged but only its
location has been altered. Another said the coin had been absorbed into the
magician’s skin. No one said he had hypnotized your mind, so you can’t see
the coin anymore, but that’s another perfectly good answer.
As Tom pointed out, this great variety o f effects makes a bit o f a mockery of
Dariel Fitzkee’s list o f 17 basic magic effects. There may be only 17 impossible
things you can do, but there are an infinite variety o f effects you can create.
What you say when you perform the trick changes how the audience inter­
prets what they see.
The next four scripts take this idea to progressively greater heights, in which
the script creates an effect that you do not actually perform. We get an inkling
o f this technique in my version o f “Triumph,” in which the script is part o f the
method, turning a standard color change into an impossible reverse. But the
idea is taken to the limit by David Regal, Paul Green, and Kenton Knepper, in
which the script is the method. In these three pieces, you do nothing magical
whatsoever, but the scripts make the audience think that miracles have oc­
curred. This is an incredibly powerful tool for concealing methods and mak­
ing magic seem really impossible. I f the audience isn’t correctly interpreting
what actually happened, they’re obviously not going to be able to tell how you
made it happen. It also makes possible some effects that can’t be created any
other way, as you will soon see.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 144


■■...r'| his is one o f my favorite personal examples o f scripting for effect.
At the climax, you do a standard color change. But the audience
sees a face-down card turn face up. By adding this idea to the clas-
JL . sic Triumph plot, you get a bonus magical moment that both ex­
tends and greatly enhances the primary effect o f the righting o f the deck. This
approach also makes the magical effect clearer and more specific, or in other
words, more real.
Here's how it works: First, you have a card selected and returned to the
deck, and shuffle half face up into half face down; in reality, the deck is all face
up except two face-down cards: the selection in the middle and an indifferent
card on top (we'll see how you arrive at this position in a minute). Now you do
the Erdnase/Houdini color change, which secretly replaces the top, face-down
card o f the deck with the second, face-up card. The effect, created by the words
you say in combination with the move, is that you have turned the top card
face up simply by waving your hand over it. You now spread the deck to show
that all the cards turned face up, except for one— the selection.
This is a great triple climax. First, you get a visual shock o f the card turning
face up, then a mind-bending realization when the entire deck turned face up,
and the selection is the perfect climax. This apparent result is so very far from
the physical actions you take that it seems supernatural.
I use a similar idea in my Ambitious Card routine. For the second-to-last
phase, I insert the card face up in the deck, but I really put it second via tilt.
Then I do the color change, but because o f the script the effect becomes the
card rising through the deck. I f you do the ambitious card and this color
change, try this— you'll like it.

The Greatest Opening Line of the 20th Century


I struggled with the opening line o f this script for a while. The basic script
is very narrative. It doesn't literally narrate the actions, it comments on them.
But there's no larger story or deeper meaning; you're showing the audience a
trick. You can add anything you like to it; the scripting technique o f changing
the effect can be used with any style you like. Just don't be limited by the rela­
tive simpleness o f my particular example.
I started using Eugene Burger’s line: “How would you like to see the great­
est card trick o f the 20th century?” When I first learned this, it was still the
20th century, and when the 21st century began I changed the line to match.
But one time, in 20 0 3 , 1 said 20th century by mistake. A spectator said “ Don’t

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 4 5
you m ean 21st?” And I im m ediately replied that because the 21st Century was
only a few years old, the best card trick so far is not nearly as good as the best
card trick o f the previous hundred years. I liked this so much that I now say
“20th century” every time. Aside from inciting interest before the trick starts,
it gave me a great last line that transitions into the next trick. An entire act
could be structured around this simple prem ise— the best card trick o f the
18th century, then the 19th, 20th, 21st, etc.

Handling
Don’t overlook the Triumph handling explained in the Notes section. I
worked it out about five years ago and it has proven very effective. It’s very
clean, not that hard, completely in-the-hands, and looks very magical and sur­
prising. This is a great trick to have as the one trick you can do i f someone
hands you any deck. And even i f you don’t like the script or the handling, if
you do the Erdnase First Transformation, Two Hands, (which I am told was
actually created by Harry Houdini), or i f you’ve always wanted to do it, do not
miss the section in the notes for a tip that makes this move easier, more reli­
able, more flexible, and better looking.
All the Cards Turn Face Up
by Pete McCabe

In t -Living Room— Evening

Pete spreads a deck of cards between his hands and offers one
to Alex.

Pete
Would you like to see the greatest card
trick of the 20th century?

Alex
Sure. But isn’t this the 21st century?

Pete
Yes. But the 21st century is only a few
years old. The best card trick of the last
seven years isn’t as good as the best from
a hundred years before. Take any card
you like, show it around. I w on’t look.

Alt x takes the card and memorizes it.

Pete
Now, I’m gonna put your card, not in the
middle, but in the middle of the bottom
half.

I’ete puts the card back a quarter of the way up from the
bottom.

Pete
Because I’m going to turn the top half face
up, and I d o n ’t want to see your card.

Pete turns the top half of the deck face up.

Pete
Some magicians can shuffle the cards in
tricky ways, so I’m just gonna mush them
together, but you can see, the face up and
face down cards are really mixed.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 4 7
Pete smushes the cards together, then cuts the cards several
times, showing face up and face down cards.

Pete
I’m going to wave my hand over the top
card of the deck, which is face down, and
when I do... it tu rn s face up.

Pete waves his hand over the deck and the top card turns face
up.

Pete
And not just the top card —all the cards
turn face up.

Pete spreads the cards— they are all face up.

Pete
Except for one...

One face-down card remains in the face-up spread.

Pete
...which is your chosen card.

Pete turns over the face down card to reveal the spectator’s
selection.

Pete
And that is the greatest card trick of the
20th century.
(pause)
Here, I’ll show you the greatest card trick
of the 21st century. Or would you like
to see the greatest card trick of the 19th
century instead?

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 148


Notes on All the Cards Turn Face Up
One thing I like about this is how the script justifies the exact handling
rrcjuired. There's a moment where you have to cut the deck at the right spot,
and the script motivates your being careful, without making that seem like
part of the method— in fact, it makes it sound like something you’re doing to
br extra fair. This script also perfectly motivates the first part o f the double ac­
tion required to do the Erdnase transformation. As you say “I’m going to wave
my hand over the top card...” you do part one o f the move, where you secretly
out jog the top card. Then you say, as i f it were just a casual reminder "...which
is face down,” and that’s when you draw the right hand back, apparently to
•how the top card, but secretly to draw the second card out.

Method
Start with any shuffled deck. Spread the cards for a selection, and then
break the spread at the selected card. As you close up the deck, turn the left
hand half face up as you close up the right hand spread on top o f it. This is the
spread half pass, a very underutilized move. I think it’s by far the easiest and
best-covered way to do a h alf pass. In this case, as you close the deck you turn
to your left, so you don’t see the spectator’s card, and your right hand naturally
and completely covers the move. The most important thing is not to care at all.
Don’t pay any attention. (This means, by the way, that you need to practice the
move until you can do it without paying attention.) You don’t need to worry:
the spectators are either looking at the card, or looking at your eyes, to make
sure you aren’t looking at the card. Nobody cares about the deck. The only time
your attention should return to the deck is after you have taken back their card
and are inserting it into the deck.
Take the selected card and insert it, face down, about a quarter o f the way
from the bottom, as per the script. Now you need to pick up all but one o f the
face-down cards. What I do is lift up at the natural break with my thumb, then
drop one card off. It’s okay to look at the deck here, since you are openly trying
to make sure that you cut the deck above Alex’s card. Turn the cut-off cards
face up and shuffle them, faro style, into the face down cards. However don’t
do an actual faro shuffle— just m ush the cards together. Make sure the face
down card atop the left hand h alf ends up on top.
Now you’re ready. The spectators think you are holding a deck that’s mixed
face-up and face-down. In reality 50 cards are face up, with the face down
selection in the middle and indifferent card on top. At this point you cut the
cards several times (don’t complete the cut, just put the cut-off half back each

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 143


time), showing some cards face up and some face down. During this, you can
cut to the face down selection any time, using the natural back-to-back break
above that card. But if that doesn't work for you, just hold a break.
At this point all you have to do is turn the top card face up and then spread
to show that all the cards are face up, except for one, which is the selection.
This is a common position in Triumph handlings, and there are a variety o f
interesting scripting solutions to the problem o f reversing that card. Eugene
Burger openly turns the top card over, as though this exerted a voodoo-like
effect on the rest of the face down cards. I use the Erdnase Transformation,
First Method, Two Hands. This is originally a color change, done to change
one face up card into another. But one day it occurred to me that i f you did that
same move here, you would change the face down card into a face up card. In
this context, and with a little bit o f scripting magic, I could make the audience
interpret this as a card turning face up. This magic moment would resonate,
and then expand when the audience realized that all the cards turned face
up, which they would then interpret had happened at the same time that they
"saw” the top card turn face up.

Erdnase First Transformation, Two Hands


If you don't already do this move, this book is not really going to be the best
place to learn it. Card College and Carneycopia both have great descriptions,
and apparently it's in Erdnase. (Who knew?) However, for completeness sake,
we'll start with a basic description o f the original move.
Hold the deck in dealing position in your left hand. Pass your right hand
over the top o f the deck, moving away from you; the pad o f the pinky touches
the top card and outjogs it for about half its length (this happens secretly; the
right hand covers the outjogged card). Now the right hand pulls back, reveal­
ing the top card— it looks as i f nothing has happened yet. But as the right
hand pulls back, the heel o f the hand pulls the second card back toward you,
until it clears the top card (you'll feel a tiny click). Now slide the second card
forward over the top card, at the same time as your left first finger pulls the
(formerly) top card back flush with the deck. Lift the right hand, revealing the
transformation.
One o f the most common difficulties that arises when learning this move is
trouble outjogging the top card with the pad o f your pinky in a way that looks
natural and works cleanly and consistently. Often the top card will drag the
second card with it; in this routine that's not a problem, but in some others
it's a disaster.
One day I stumbled on the following finesse that completely solves the out-
jo k in g problem, and opens up new applications for the move as well.
Get a Greek break, or Altman Trap, under the top card before you start. If
yo u're not familiar with the Greek break, hold a deck in dealing position and
yet the flesh o f the base o f your thumb under the inner left corner o f the top
i .11 cl. Do this secretly, by the way. The card is flush with the deck on the far and
ri^ht sides, which are the only ones visible. The break at the near left corner
is perfectly hidden.
This tiny change makes outjogging the top card a breeze. Instead o f press­
ing down with your right pinky, you catch the raised inner end of the card with
the heel o f your hand, which carries it forward. No friction is required, and the
fingers o f the right hand can be completely relaxed, waving about in a magi-
cal w ay— whatever you like. Best o f all, you can’t m iss and accidentally push
either two or no cards forward.
Unless you want to. I f you get your Greek break under two cards, the same
change can bring up the third from top card— or fourth, fifth, etc. The break
makes pushing o ff the right number o f cards dead certain, and opens up a
world o f new applications o f this move.

The J a y Sankey Interlude


After I came up with this I used it for a couple o f years and it proved invalu­
able. I wrote it up and sent it to Jay Sankey, who is the most prolific user o f the
Hr&nase/Houdini change o f anyone I know, and he said he hadn’t seen anyone
do it that way. I felt pretty good. It’s not every day you can come up with a fi­
nesse on a hundred-year-old standard move.
Then one day recently I was at the Magic Castle library, and on a whim I put
on Jay’s “45” video, which is the only magic video I’ve ever seen that is com­
pletely cross-cultural. There’s no language— nothing is said or written on the
screen, nothing. It’s a testament to the power o f Jay’s direct, visual magic.
Suddenly I see Jay doing the Erdnase/Houdini change with a Greek break.
I was utterly baffled— I certainly didn’t believe Jay would ever steal my idea,
but he was doing the move I had sent him, which he hadn’t heard of. I checked
the date o f my email, and it turns out “45” came out before I sent it to him! My
email, it turns out, was confusing enough to cause Jay to disavow the move
he had published just the year before. The real problem was that I focused on
how the Greek break makes the move easier and more certain. Jay is one o f
the world’s foremost exponents o f this move. He doesn’t need any technique
to make it easier or more certain. Jay, I’m sure, was more interested in the pos­
sibilities o f being able to bring up the 3rd card. In any event, Jay certainly gets
first credit for this idea, which he generously agreed to let me include.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1S 1
An Expansive Moment
After the top card turns face up, spread through the deck to show all the
cards face up. Push off the first three or four cards as one, keeping the face
down card in second position from showing. When you get to the face down
card, outjog it and keep spreading until you have shown the whole deck. This
is a great moment. The visual effect o f the card turning face up is striking,
and when the audience realizes that the entire deck was affected, the magical
moment expands in a wonderful way. Now turn the outjogged card face up to
show the selection.

Glean Up
The trick is over. The audience is applauding, the crowned heads o f Europe
are amazed and amused. Take the selection and drop it face up on top o f the
deck. Now take the top two cards and turn them face down. As you do, you
notice that something’s not quite right— it’s no big deal. Turn the top three
cards face up, which fixes the problem. Done. Just don’t pay any attention to it
and your audience won’t either.

Adaptation
Here’s the ambitious application o f the Erdnase transformation— the one
that first lead me to the Greek break. Get a Tilt break under the top card, and
insert the ambitious card face up into the break. Square up but don’t drop the
tilt break. Now do the transformation, using the tilt break to make it easier.
This produces a visual rise that makes an extremely effective phase in any
ambitious card routine.

References
The Erdnase Transformation, First Method, Two Hands is from The Expert
at the Card Table, by S.W. Erdnase.
Eugene Burger’s line about the greatest card trick is discussed in his essay
“Creating Interest” in Intimate Power, which is included in Mastering the Art o f
Magic, Kaufman and Company, 2000.
Carneycopia by Stephen Minch, L&L Publishing, 1991.
Jay Sankey’s “45” DVD, produced by Sankey Magic, is copyright 2003. My
email to Jay is copyright 2004.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 1S2


The Trick that Fooled Einstein

his trick, which is as old as the hills and almost as old as the val­
leys, is one o f the all-time examples o f script-as-method. Nothing
impossible happens. Nothing unlikely or even unusual happens.
What happens is this: You tell the spectators that you have $2.54 in
change in your pocket, and then you count it out to prove that you do, indeed,
have $2.54 in change in your pocket. Ta da!
O f course, you don’t actually say "I have $2.54 in change in my pocket.”
You say it in such a way that this simple statement o f fact is interpreted as a
magical divination o f a truly random number. And yet, Al Koran performed
this trick for none other than Albert Einstein, and fooled him completely. So I
think you can say that this is a good example o f the power o f scripting, i f it lets
you take a simple mathematical trick and fool Einstein.
Paul Green graciously contributed his script for this classic trick, which he
uses to make a very nice living as a professional magician. Paul works corpo­
rate and private parties and was nominated for 2005 Close-Up Magician o f the
Year at The Magic Castle. Most magicians know Paul through his DVD on the
Classic Force, and from his In the Trenches DVD series.
Paul’s inspiration was Barrie Richardson’s version o f this trick in Theater of
the Mind, which you should read. Thanks to Paul and Barrie.
Grandma’s Purse
by Paul Green

Int—Corporate Party—Day

Paul is working Alex’s table. Paul proudly displays a small


change purse.

Paul
This is from my Grandma. She told me if
I carried it, I would always have a great
trick to share.

Paul shakes the purse; the coins jingle. He turns to Alex.

Paul
Do you have any change in your pocket?
Bring it out and hold it in your hand.

Alex digs out a handful of change.

Paul
Please extend your fingers.

Paul touches Alex’s extended fingers for a moment. Then he


picks up the purse and weighs it in his hand.

Paul
In ju s t a moment, I am going to tell you
three things. Two of these things will
mean nothing, but the third statement is
impossible! First, I have as much money
as you have. Second, I have as much as
you, and I have twelve cents more than
you do. Finally, I have as much as you, I
have twelve cents more, and my leftovers
combined with your random amount of
change will make exactly...

Paul shakes Alex’s hand and listens to the change rattle.

Paul
...two dollars and forty-two cents.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 154


Paul tips the coins from the purse onto the table.

Paul
How much do you have?

Alex counts.

Alex
A dollar thirty-five.

Paul
A dollar thirty-five. I told you that I would
have the same amount as you, but that
means nothing as I have a lot of change
here.

Paul counts a dollar thirty-five from his pile on the table back
into the purse.

Paul
I told you th at I would have twelve cents
more.

Paul counts another twelve cents from the table into the purse.

Paul
This means nothing as I have a lot of
change.

Paul scoops up the rest of his pile.

Paul
I told you that the last thing I said would
be im possible—I told you that my
leftovers...

Paul shakes the change in his hand.

Paul
...mixed with your random total...

Paul takes the spectator’s change and adds it into his hand.

Paul
...would make exactly $2.42!

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 155


Paul starts counting, building the pace until he reach $2.00,
then slowing down until he drops the final coin onto the table
as he says, triumphantly:

Paul
Two forty two!

Applause.

Paul
I guess Grandma was right about the trick.
It was worth everything I paid her!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 156


Notes on Grandma's Purse
flu* structure o f this script is very interesting. In this trick you make three
pm lii tions. The standard approach to this kind o f situation is to present the
three predictions as increasingly miraculous. What Paul does is deliberately
downplay the first two predictions, all the way to nothing. The effect, paradoxi­
cally, is to heighten and dramatize the final prediction. The ordinariness o f
tlx* first two predictions reinforces the underlying fairness o f the procedure,
wliu h makes the final revelation that much more startling.

One Word
Notice Paul’s use o f the word “leftovers.” This word makes the trick easier
to follow, reduces the sense that math is involved, and reinforces the idea that
the* amount remaining in Paul’s hand (after matching Alex’s total) is random.
Often a single word will make the difference between a trick that works and a
Iru k that sings.

Method
The purse has $2.54. That’s pretty much it.
In performance, you take away from your purse money to equal the spec­
tator’s money, then you subtract another 12c, then you add back the specta­
tor ‘s money, which replaces the money you took out. So no matter how much
cha nge the spectator has, the final total is always i2<£ less than was in the
purse. Since 2.54 - 0.12 = 2.42, that’ s the amount you predict.

Setup
Take a small change purse and fill it with $2.54 worth o f coins. Make sure
u have a good mix o f change that includes at least 2 dimes, 1 nickel, and 9
nnies. Otherwise, i f Alex has, say, 44C, you won’t be able to remove coins
exactly matching Alex’s total, and still remove 12 cents.

erformance
Start by asking Alex to bring out his or her change. If necessary, Paul will
have several people combine their change. Mostly, Paul talks with Alex about
the amount o f change. One o f the nice things about using change is that you
can have a little fun with the spectators without worrying that they’ll take it
seriously. For example, i f Alex has no change, you can make a joke about times
being hard, etc., and it won’t be seen as a put-down because not having change
is not associated with being poor.
The rest o f the trick works itself by following the script, but you still have
to perform it well if you want to get the maximum effect. In particular, note

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 15 7
the shaking o f the money as Paul pretends to be making his “ prediction."
He stops, right before the final prediction, for one last shake. He doesn't say
anything, just stops and gives one last shake before he commits to his predit
tion. If you tell people what you are doing, some o f them may not believe you.
But i f you let people figure out what you are doing, they will never question
themselves.

Reset
O f course this trick resets — Paul is a professional. Count out the specta­
tor’s share o f the money ($1.35 in the script) and return it. Put the rest in the
purse.

Adaptation
The first question you have to ask yourself in performing this trick is: How
are you doing it? Paul plays it that he is sensing Alex’s total by the touch of
his fingers. But you could easily have your three predictions written out in ad­
vance. You could follow this up with a story about a dream you had last night,
etc. But you don’t have to include the dream story— just bringing out the pre­
diction written down in advance makes this a different effect than listening to
Alex shake the coins.
Because the underlying principle o f this trick is so simple, you can take the
presentation in a lot o f different ways. One idea that appeals to me is to reen­
act Al Koran doing the trick for Albert Einstein. The spectator plays Einstein,
which is a situation rich with laughs, and I can present a little info about Al
Koran. A little research into Einstein and Koran will yield loads o f interesting
facts you can use to enrich your presentation.

References
“The Trick That Fooled Einstein” is from Theater o f the Mind by Barrie Rich­
ardson, 19 9 9 .
Paul Green is best known for his Classic Force and his In the Trenches DVDs.
You know all these three-DVD sets that would be great i f they put the best
tricks on one DVD? That’s what In the Trenches is.
Koran’s version o f this trick is called “Jackpot Coins.” The first appearance
o f this basic trick in an established magic book is in the 1930s, in Sandu Writes
Again by Paul Stadelman.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | I S 8
The Southwest Miracle

I
T T “ enton Knepper has for years been a pioneer in scripting magic.
f His Wonder Words series opened the doors to many techniques
that can be used to make your magic more inexplicable, more ef-
fective, and more memorable.
I saw Kenton do this trick at the A-i Convention at the Capital many years
and I was one o f a room full o f magicians who were utterly baffled by it.
And once I learned how it was done, I was even more impressed. It’s just a fan­
tastic demonstration o f what scripting can do. There really isn’t a trick— just
a script that creates a deep sense o f wonder and mystery. I was very pleased
w h en Kenton agreed to let me include this script. What better example o f the
power o f scripting could there be than an impenetrable mystery that has no
sec ret moves or gaffs?
This is the updated version o f this script, which appeared on the Desert
llrainstorm Series video, Volume One. So i f you know this from Wonder Words,
don't miss out on the improvements.
Wonder Words has generated much controversy in the magic world since its
release. This is good— nothing revolutionary has ever appeared without vio­
lent disagreement. (There’s an old saying: I f nobody hates what you’re doing,
maybe it’s because you’re not doing anything.) Most o f the controversy has
surrounded the subject o f NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming. This is also
good— people should subject big ideas to intense scrutiny.
But the controversy seems to cause some magicians to miss the point of
Wonder Words, which is this: the words you say during your performance have
a profound effect on how the audience experiences your show, and how they
remember it the next day— or week, month, or year. Regardless o f how you
feel about NLP, the techniques Kenton teaches— direct, practical, real-world
techniques— can make your magic better. So argue about the theoretical as­
pects o f linguistically programming someone’s neurons all you want. But if
you want to unlock the full power o f scripting your magic, you will definitely
want to study Wonder Words.

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 159


This is Reality
by Kenton Knepper

Int— Theater— Evening

Kenton stands alone on stage.

Kenton
A lot of times, when you see a mentalist
you see someone who gives you the
impression that only we, perhaps, read
minds. And of course that isn’t true.
You’ve all experienced times in your own
lives when you’ve used the very same
abilities and powers that we have. So I
like to remind people from time to time
w hat’s within them. And 1 heard that we
had a very famous person in the room
this evening, who is actually one of the
great visualizers in the United States. And
so I’m very, very pleased... what is your
name again sir?

Alex
Alex.

Kenton
Alex! That’s right. Will you please welcome
Alex, the great visualizer!

Alex joins Kenton on stage.

Kenton
All right, Alex, in all honesty, we didn’t
talk about this in advance, or set anything
up ahead of time. Because really, Alex is
going to do all the work.
(to Alex)
They’re not going to believe this.
(to everyone)
And what’s interesting about this is, it
really depends on all of you visualizing as
well. I know it sounds a little kooky, but
afterward you’re going to ask Alex what

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 160


happened, and he will tell you it’s because
you visualized it. Now, we’ll use a pack of
cards.
(to Alex)
As a matter of fact, 1 want you to do this,
so 1 don’t touch them or something. Just
put your hands behind your back, hold
on to the deck, there. And I’ll turn away a
little bit.

Alex holds the deck behind his back.

Kenton
Will you ju st reach inside the case, Alex,
and remove ju s t one card. Don’t let me
see it.

Alex opens the case.

Kenton
Can you remove ju st one? Good. And
show it to them, if you would. Make sure I
d on’t see it.

Ale\ brings out a card and shows it. It’s the Three of Clubs.

Kenton
Got one? Make sure they can see it. And
then reverse it, turn it over upside down
and stick it back in there somewhere.

Alex does so.

Kenton
Good—then close up the box. Very good.
Tell me when you’re finished and you
have it all in there. Oh, you’re really
working, you’re shuffling them up too?
That’s excellent. And you can bring them
back out if th ey ’re all sealed up.

Alex brings the closed card case from behind his back.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 16 1
Kenton
Now this is also important, because in
a moment you’re really going to do this
with visualization, but 1 wanted you to
check one more thing. Show your left
hand empty, if you would. Now, not to be
crude, just reach into my pocket. Because
I want you to verify—in a moment I’ll
need you to reach in there and actually
feel the deck of cards being in the pocket
instead. All right? So ju st give it a shot for
a second. Just reach in and imagine you
feel— I know, but just imagine, don’t do
anything, mind you.

Alex does so.

Kenton
Okay, can you kind of get a feel for if the
deck were there?

Alex nods.

Kenton
All right, bring your hand out, and show it
empty.

Alex shows his hands empty.

Kenton
Good! I don’t want them to think we
did anything—yet. Now this is very
important. Because now I need you to
visualize that the entire deck is actually
going to transport itself through space.
(to Alex)
See, already they’re looking at us kind of
odd, Alex. That’s okay—this is the fantasy
part. Because what we’re doing will set
something in your mind so you’ll believe
it later. Ready?

Alex indicates that he is ready.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 162


Kenton
Actually see the cards leaving. Can you
see them?

Alex nods.

Kenton
Nothing in there. Nothing at all.

Alex nods.

Kenton
Excellent. Now imagine the deck really
being in the pocket. Excellent. You ready?
You see, so far this has all just been
visualization.
(pause)
This is reality.

Kenton tears the card case in half and crumples it—the cards
are gone!

Kenton
The deck is gone! Okay, now wait. Show
your hand empty, Alex.

Alex shows his hands empty.

Kenton
Reach in the pocket. Go ahead— now,
y e s—take out what’s in there now.

Alex reaches into Kenton’s pocket and removes... a deck of


cards!

Kenton
Yes. Now wait a minute, this is not
absolute proof yet. Because you reversed
a card, you turned one card upside down.
What was the card?

Alex
The Three of Clubs.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 163


Kenton
There should be one card that sticks out,
because it’s reversed.

Alex runs through the deck. One card is face out. It’s the Three
of Clubs.

Kenton
And you can tell that Alex actually
focused on this card, seriously. Because
he didn’t focus on any other card—the
rest are all blank.

Kenton shows the rest of the deck—all the cards are blank.

Kenton
And when you ask him how he does it, he
will tell you it was visualization.
(to Alex)
Isn’t that right?

Alex nods.

Kenton
It was all in your minds. Thank you! Let’s
hear it for Alex!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 164


Notes on This is Reality
What I love about this trick is that it has no method.

Method
lake a card case and put four small slits in the sides with an X-acto knife,
so you c an tear it more easily later. Take the Three o f Clubs from the deck and
put it in this case. Take a blank deck, put a duplicate Three o f Clubs reversed
in the middle, and put that in your pocket.
Now perform the script as written.
Alex and your audience will have entirely different experiences. Alex will
think that it was all just a demonstration o f visualization. The audience will
think they have witnessed a miracle. When you say "Can you remove just
one?” — Alex will think, yep, that’s all I can remove. The audience will think
Alex is choosing just one card from the deck. (It’s a great idea to track down
the Desert Brainstorm video, and pay particular attention to the exact timing,
tone, and inflection o f this line.) When you tell Alex to reverse it and put it
back, to the audience it seems as i f it would only make sense i f there’s a whole
deck there. The line about Alex shuffling the cards seems, to Alex, like a joke,
but to the audience it strengthens the idea that there’s a full deck in the box.

Improvements
The improvements Kenton has added since the original appeared in Wonder
Words are instructive. One is the use o f a blank deck. This gives an extra cli­
max, but it also creates an atmosphere o f mystery to the moment. Blank cards
can shock an audience, in a way that magicians have a hard time understand­
ing.
But the biggest change is the emphasis on visualization. This makes it vir­
tually impossible for Alex to accidentally give the game away. It creates a situ­
ation where any reaction by Alex is appropriate to the audience’s reality. And
if Alex should realize the false impression all this is giving to the audience,
this realization will come quite slowly, by which time Alex has already been
cooperating for a while.
Kenton follows three principles to keep Alex from giving anything away
afterward. First off, he structures the routine so that Alex is the star. Second,
he treats Alex well during the trick, so Alex will treat him well after. And finally
he says "When you ask Alex how he did it, he’ll tell you it was visualization.
Isn’t that right?” And Alex nods. Kenton actually gets Alex to agree to keep the
secret, as part o f his script.
Adaptation
This “visualization exercise” hook can be added to many, vastly different
tricks. It doesn’t have to be the overall point o f the trick; you can throw it in as
a subtle convincer very effectively.

References
The first version o f this trick appeared in Wonder Words, Volume One; the
updated version here is on volume one o f the Desert Brainstorm video series.
Speaking o f which, Kenton has recently released the complete Wonder Words
audio program on CD, giving his fascinating and unique material the high-
quality, long-lasting, easy-to-access format it deserves. In fact, as o f this writ­
ing you can go to www.wonderwizards.com and order the entire set— 3 vol­
umes on 12 CDs — at a hefty discount. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeat­
ing here: support the people who create the magic you love. Kenton’s work is
among the most ripped-off in all o f magic. Don’t buy a rip-off o f his work on
eBay— buy from wonderwizards.com or a reputable dealer.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 166


M
agician’s choice— or equivoque, as it is also called, with vary­
ing degrees o f confidence in the pronunciation— is for most
magicians the first piece o f scripting they learn. It’s one o f
very few magical techniques which must, to some extent, be
scripted before you perform it.
Much equivoque depends on specific clever wording, which can be inter­
preted in two different ways after the fact. For example, I have an orange and
a lemon, and I want you to choose the lemon. So I say “Would you choose one
for m e?” Now, if you pick the lemon, I say “You chose the lemon,” as though I
had meant “Will you do a favor for me and choose one?” But if you pick the or­
ange, I say “You chose the orange for m e,” as i f I had meant “Will you choose
a fruit for me to have?” Either way, you end up with the lemon.
Much time and effort have been applied to crafting subtle ways to say natu­
ral-sounding things that can be reinterpreted in natural-sounding ways later.
This obviously works; you can do absolute miracles with nothing more than
equivoque. Magician’s choice can be used to increase the impossibility of a
bewildering variety o f tricks— which fruit a vanished dollar bill will appear
in, for example.
Most equivoque scripts focus on the selection process, which makes the
magic clear but often produces less-than-compelling theater. Tricks that use
Magician’s Choice multiple times usually require that the spectator be un­
aware o f the exact nature o f the selection process, since the magician needs
to be able to change it on the fly. It’s hard to make an effective multiple equi­
voque process where, when it’s over, the spectator feels that he or she under­
stood the process the whole time.
Obviously it works. Magicians have been using Magician’s Choice for just
about as long as there have been magicians and choices. But that doesn’t mean
you have to stop there.

Deckuivoque
When I was a kid, my sister put a deck o f cards on a table and asked me a
series o f questions, from color to suit to number, until I finally ended up with
the queen o f hearts. Then she picked up the deck and dropped it on the table,
and when it landed, the queen o f hearts was face up on top. I was astonished.
Looking back, I’m still pretty astonished that my sister knew both Magi­
cian’s Choice and the air-pressure turnover when she was 10 years old. Fortu­
nately she’s forgotten both by now, and I can fool her with the same trick.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 6 7
Fire
Larry Becker had a great idea. He had Alex imagine burning a deck of cards,
choosing which cards will burn— first by color, then by suit, forcing a desired
suit. Any card in that suit was selected, and revealed using a multiple-out sys­
tem (Larry originally applied this to Kolossal Killer III, and later his Versadex
wallet). Ken Krenzel took the concept further, forcing a smaller group o f cards,
and placed the imaginary fire in an apartment building. He also used the idea
o f a dream to introduce the effect. David Regal carried this idea to its logical
extreme by forcing one specific card. Dave also added the lovely touch that his
dream was interrupted when he woke u p — something everyone can relate
to— so Dave has the spectators decide how the dream ends.
The combined Becker-Krenzel-Regal approach is a terrific example o f the
technique o f magician's choice. It puts the choices in the context o f a story— a
big step forward in presentation versus procedure-based versions. It gets the
audience involved, since they're taking part in telling the story, making mean­
ingful choices that build directly on each other. There's an automatic build
in dramatic intensity as the flames close in on the final card, in a way which
perfectly mirrors the magical structure o f the trick. And there is never any
confusion— the audience feels that they understand the process as a whole,
even while it's going on. You burn all the cards but one— simple, elegant, clas­
sic. Finally, this story does away with the need to reinterpret your statements
after the fact. The interpretation you give to all the spectators's answers is the
sam e— they are choosing which cards to burn, and the cards they choose get
burned. This is a great example o f how scripting can enhance an already great
magic technique.

The Disposable Deck


The final piece o f the puzzle was provided by David Regal, who took the
hotel fire equivoque and added his own wonderful Disposable Deck as the per­
fect climax. The Disposable Deck is such a perfect climax for the hotel fire plot
that it seems it m ust have been created for that purpose. But it wasn't— David
thought of combining the two almost a year after he introduced the Dispos­
able Deck in his close-up act at the Magic Castle. I think this may be a part o f
what Al Baker was talking about when he said most magicians stop thinking
too soon. David Regal never stops thinking at all.
By the way, this script will regularly break into two columns (like “It's the
Future") depending on the different choices Alex makes.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 168


Hotel 52
by David Regal

Int— Magic Castle— Evening

David puts a deck of cards on the table.

David
I had the most amazing dream last night,
but I woke up before the end. Don’t you
hate it when that happens? It was about
a hotel called “The Hotel 52.” A strange
name for a hotel. I didn’t know what it
meant, but then I thought, “I bet this has
to do with playing cards.” In my dream
sure enough, inside was a deck of cards,
dancing and having a great time. Then,
tragedy. The worst thing that could
happen in a hotel. A fire!

David claps his hands together sharply.

David
That’s when I woke up. I d on’t know what
happened in that dream, and it’s driving
me nuts. Could you help me? Tell me
the rest of this dream, so I know how it
ended. First, I should tell you, the red
cards were dancing in one room, and the
black cards were dancing in another. Alex,
where was the fire headed? Toward the
black cards or the red cards?

Alex Alex
The black cards. The red cards.

David David
The black cards? What Oh no, toward the
a tragedy! There they red cards? They’re
go, burned to ash by terrible danger!
the fire. The red cards
are still dancing away,
oblivious of the fire.
David
Smoke starts pouring in through the
keyhole, and it starts to overpower some
of the red cards. Lee, is the smoke headed
for the Diamonds or the Hearts?

Lee Lee
The Diamonds. The Hearts.

David David
The Diamonds? There Oh no, the Hearts? I
they go, the Diamonds, can see them. They’re
falling to the ground, getting dizzy... it’s hard
overcome. All that’s left for them to stand.
are the Hearts.

David
Now sparks start coming in through a
vent, headed for the Hearts. The sparks
start to land on some of the Hearts. Chris,
do they land on the number cards or the
picture cards?

Chris Chris
The number cards. The picture cards.

David David
The number cards? Oh no, the picture
You’re sure? Oh no, cards? So you say the
paper and sparks are a Jack, Queen, and King
bad mix—the number of Hearts are being
cards burst into flame hit by sparks. They’re
and are no more. Now running across the
all we have left are room in a panic, and not
the picture cards, the all of them are going to
Jack, Queen and King survive.
of Hearts, and not all
of them are going to
survive!

David
They head for the exit door that leads
to the roof of the hotel and safety, when

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 170


suddenly a burning beam crashes down
from the ceiling, blocking the doorway.
Tell me, Ricky, who puts himself in harm ’s
way and decides to lift the burning beam?
Is it the fellas, the Jack and the King, or is
it the Queen?

Ricky Ricky
The Jack and King. The Queen.

David David
All right, there they Really? What a brave
g o —the Jack and King lady! The Queen risks
put themselves in all and grabs the beam,
harm ’s way and raise tossing it out of the way
up the burning beam, and rushing up to the
catching on fire as the roof of the hotel, where
Queen slips underneath she’s rescued seconds
and makes her way up before it crumbles to
to the roof of the hotel, the ground.
where she’s rescued
seconds before it
crumbles to the ground.

David
Wow, thanks for telling me how that
dream ended. It was so exciting. I could
almost see it, the Queen of Hearts on the
roof of the hotel. It’s amazing what the
mind can conjure up. Know what’s even
more amazing?

David claps his hands together sharply.

David
Now it’s become a reality. The Queen of
Hearts really did make it to the top.

David picks up the top card of the deck and shows it to the
audience. It’s the Queen of Hearts.

David
Just before the hotel...

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1 7 1
David picks up the deck.

David
...crumbled to the ground.

David looks at the deck, then crumples it into a ball.

The End

The magician takes charge o f every aspect o f the story,


pointing your head in certain directions at certain moments,
emphasizing certain occurrences and minimizing others,
hinting at every surprise, and imparting specific meanings.
I f the performance is successful,
it is because the storytelling has been successful.
Jim. Steinmeyer

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 112


Notes on Hotel 52
Notice the way David reels the audience into the story. First, he talks about
waking up before his dream reached its end— an experience everyone can
relate to. Then he starts telling the story, and breaks it off right as its get­
ting dramatic, setting the hook. Finally he has different spectators make the
different decisions in the story, w hich— aside from getting more people in­
volved— makes the selection process seem more random and fair.

Method
You'll need a new Disposable Deck fake every time, as usual, but the se­
lected card is not destroyed, so you can use it again.

Setup
Assem ble a Disposable Deck, and put a Queen o f Hearts face down on top
o f it.

Equivoque
One o f the many great features o f this script is the fact that you the m agi­
cian only have to remember one basic way o f forcing the spectator’s choice
back to your script. Because the story structure masks the equivoque so thor­
oughly, you can use the same forcing structure each time. So you don’t have to
remember different wording for each choice.

Adaptation
Okay, let’s say you don’t, for whatever reason, have David Regal’s Dispos­
able Deck. Maybe you bought it, and you used them all, and you haven’t had a
chance to order more. Or maybe they’re so amazingly successful that they’re
sold out. Perhaps Dave’s on the lam in Latin America again, and can’t fill your
order. Even i f all o f these common events occur at once, you can still perform
this script, without the feke. It won’t have quite as powerful an effect on Da­
vid’s bank account, but it’s still magical and makes sense with the story.
Take a blank-faced deck and put the Queen o f Hearts on top. Do the entire
story, forcing the Queen o f Hearts. Now end with “The Queen o f Hearts really
did make it to the top.” Pick up the deck, secretly side jog the Queen to the
right about half its width, and drop the deck to the table. The Queen will flip
over and land back on the deck face up. (This is the Air-Pressure Turnover that
my sister baffled me with.) Now say “And the hotel was destroyed” and spread
the blank deck face up.
This isn’t as shocking as the Disposable Deck, but the appearance o f blank
faces is still surprising, and magical, and is a fitting climax to the presentation.
If you really, really like this trick, and you decide to take a candle and scorch
the faces o f all the cards in the deck, I'll tell you what— don’t do it. You will
burn your house down and sue me, and take my house, although your lawyer
will end up with my house and all you’ll get is my shed. It’s not worth it; my
shed sucks. In any event, I am telling you now— do not scorch your deck.
But it would be pretty cool.

References
Larry’s Becker’s original burning building concept appears in “ Kolossal
Killer III,” from his Mental Masterpieces DVD.
"Fired Up” is in Ken Krenzel’s Ingenuities by Stephen Minch, Hermetic
Press, 1997.
Get the Disposable Deck at www.davidregal.com.
Never say “You’re wrong. ”
Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People)

This essay was the third scriptwriting column I wrote for Genii magazine.
Quick now, before you read on, what number column was this?
Three? Wrong! You’re not paying attention!
The basic presentational structure which this introduction parodies has
been condemned by just about every magic thinker and/or writer who’s both­
ered to think and/or write about it. Despite this unanimous critical antipathy,
it is maybe the most common dialog in magic today. It’s regularly used by
a large number o f magicians for a variety o f different tricks, who work ex­
tra hard to overcome its apparent flaws — and that’s just the lucky ones. The
unlucky ones alienate their audiences and dull the sensation o f m agic— the
ultimate lose-lose scenario.

Wrong!
I’m not the first person to condemn the “Wrong!” school o f presentation.
In fact, virtually the only time this strategy appears in magic literature is in
an essay arguing against it. Sadly, the combined advice o f magic’s best think­
ers has not eliminated this style o f presentation That’s not really surprising.
Scripting a new presentation takes time and sustained hard work. And a lot o f
magicians like to feel superior to their audiences.
Rather than just adding to the chorus o f voices in opposition, I thought I
would offer an easy and effective alternative which you can try for yourself,
and see i f you don’t get a better response. You won’t have to create, write, learn
and rehearse an entirely new presentation. In fact, it’s so easy, you can try it
out the very next time you perform. See if it doesn’t make a difference you can
feel immediately.
Let’s start with a representative example o f a wrong-based script, so we can
see what might be improved:

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 175


Magus
I put two balls in my hand, and I put the
third one in my pocket. Now, how many
do I have in my hand?

A le x
Two.

Magus
Wrong.
(shows three balls.)
You’re not paying attention.

Frequently this is not just an isolated line but the foundation o f the presenta­
tion. I've seen this with the sponge balls and two-in-the-hand, one-in-the-pock-
et, but I've also seen it with a simple handkerchief vanish, the Color-Changing
Knives, Coins Across, you name it. And o f course, this kind o f presentation is
standard in a 3-Card Monte routine, a special case we'll talk about later.
I'm not going to say you can't do this and be a professional magician. In
the month before I wrote this I saw two different full-time pros use this basic
script at the Magic Castle. Good magicians, people who make their living do­
ing magic. Not to mention two o f the nicest guys you'll ever meet. But think
about the disadvantages you're imposing on yourself by using this script.
First, as Dale Carnegie will tell you, this is not a good way to win friends.
People don't like being quizzed when they don't know the answer. And they
positively hate being told they are wrong. Imagine how they feel about being
told they are wrong publicly, in front o f others.
Second, it greatly inhibits your audience's response to everything you do.
Anybody who sees you say “Wrong” to the assisting spectator will be less likely
to respond after that, for fear the same thing might happen to them.
Worst o f all, it completely undermines the effect o f magic. A script can
dramatize the magic and enhance the audience's feeling o f wonder. But in
this example you literally deny the effect you worked so hard to create. It's not
m agic— they just weren't paying attention.
All in all, it's hard to imagine a less effective presentation for a magic trick.

The Spectator is A lw ays Right


Fortunately there's a way to turn this type o f presentation around. It will
make your magic stronger, and make your audience like you more. And you
can try it the very next time you perform. Here's all you do:

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 17$


Magus
I put two balls in my hand, and I put the
third one in my pocket. Now... how many
do I have in my hand?

Alex
Two.

Magus
Right. Now watch.

Magus waves his hand over his fist.

Magus
That’s all it takes.

He opens his fist, revealing three balls.

Magus
Now there’s three.

I f you use wrong-based scripting, this change will improve your magic
more than anything else you can do. All you’ve really done is made Alex right
instead o f wrong. But think o f all this buys you.
First o f all, people like being told they are right, so you’re rewarding Alex for
participating. So more people will be comfortable being involved. The more
involved they are, the more they’ll enjoy your show — and the more powerful
your magic will be. And you are rewarding Alex for playing along. I f you put
two balls in your hand and then ask how many there are, many people will
be suspicious. It’s too obvious; they know something is up. So their normal
fear o f giving a wrong answer in public is heightened. Still, most people will
go along with the game, just to be polite. And how do you reward their polite­
ness? It’s no surprise that if you tell them they’re wrong, they’ll be much less
likely to play along next time. Conversely, the more you tell the spectators they
are right, the more they’ll give you the answers you want.
Most important, you’re using Alex’s answer to strengthen the appearance
o f the third ball, instead o f negating it. This is a perfect illustration o f using a
script to enhance your magic. Making Alex right shifts the moment o f magic
to after the move, so it can’t be unraveled by retrograde analysis. The one lie
people will always believe is “You’re right.”
This technique can easily be expanded, depending on your character:

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 1??


Magus
How many?

A le x
Two.

Magus
Exactly, two. (smiles) You’re paying
attention, that’s good, (pause) Makes it
harder for me, but th at’s what you’re
supposed to do. Now watch. Just a
wave, and... (waves hand over fist)...two
becomes... (opens hand) ...three!

This can be overdone, o f course, and for some people this second example
will be too much. In fact, I expect some o f you think this entire approach is too
much to begin with. One magician told me this trick isn’t good enough to sup­
port that much presentation. I respect this fellow’s opinion. Well, to tell you
the truth, I don’t respect it all that much. I f you think the trick isn’t that good,
why are you performing it? Aren’t there more than enough great mysteries to
fill your repertoire? And I do think it’s good enough. Turning two balls into
three is a miracle. The horn of plenty is an incredibly powerful archetype.
O f course, ultimately I think a good presentation for this or any trick will go
far beyond even this much-improved script. It will include a reason why the
objects are returning to your hand, what is the specific nature o f the magic
power being wielded, and even (dare I hope) something that makes the audi­
ence care.
But that’s a lot o f time and effort, to create, rehearse, and integrate a new
presentation into your repertoire. It’s a big commitment.
There’s no big commitment to the simple change I’m proposing. All you
have to do is make your spectators right instead o f wrong. You don’t even have
to script it out— just say “Right” and improvise the rest. Everything else will
take care o f itself.
Let the spectators be right. Make their being right an integral part o f the ef­
fect. I f nothing else, your spectators— who, i f you are being paid to perform,
are your custom ers— will be glad you did.

Wrong Again
The one trick to which you cannot apply this basic technique is the 3-Card
Monte, right? Wrong! You’re not paying attention!

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 118


At the inaugural Las Vegas Close-Up Classic, the dear departed Mike Rog­
ers killed me with his 3-Card Monte routine. Not because o f the moves, but by
how he set up the role o f the spectator.
Mike started by telling the spectator what was going to happen. “We’re go­
ing to play a game, and I’m going to w in — because I cheat.” Just with this
one sentence Mike is miles ahead o f the typical magician. Because now, if the
spectator “loses,” that’s okay. Then Mike showed two black Twos and the red
Queen, and did a fair toss onto the table. “Now,” he continued, “if I asked you
where the Queen is, what would you say?”
This is brilliant. It’s brilliant because the spectator can not get this question
wrong. This is worth thinking about for a while. I f Mike says “Where is the
Queen,” the spectator’s answer can be wrong. But when he says “Where do
you think the Queen is,” the answer, by definition, is correct.
In addition to making the spectator feel much more comfortable, Mike’s
question eliminates any chance that the spectator will try to trip him up, be­
cause he’s not asking where the Queen is. Everyone who’s ever heard o f 3-Card
Monte is well aware that they don’t know where the Queen is. Instead they’re
being asked where the Queen is supposed to be. That they know.
At this point the spectator picked a card and Mike showed that it was in­
deed the Queen. Here’s where it gets sublime. Mike said “Very good, it’s right
here. Now, that’s the last time you’ll get it right. From now on, I’m going to
cheat and you won’t be able to catch m e.” Mike smiled as he said this and
nodded— it was definitely not a challenge, just a matter-of-fact description of
what was to come. The spectator smiled too, and nodded right along.
This is pure genius. It makes it clear that there’s nothing wrong with the
spectator for guessing incorrectly, and it communicates in clear but subtle
language not to even try to outguess the performer. You are supposed to be
fooled, it says — that's your part in the show. If the spectator guesses wrong, he
or she has succeeded. This completely eliminates any hint o f a “challenge” to
the routine, and allows the spectator to just sit back and give the “obvious”
answer, which they did. The routine was a smash and both the audience and
the assisting spectators loved it equally.
I f Mike Rogers can script the 3-Card Monte in such a way as to make the
spectator right instead o f wrong, surely you can do the same with the sponge
balls. I hope this inspires a few magicians to take a “Wrong!” trick and, just
once, let the spectator be right. It’s really very easy and you will be amazed at
what a difference it makes.
Update
After the original version o f this article appeared in Genii Magazine, I dis­
covered that this advice is so good, it was published by Jamy Ian Swiss twenty
years previously. It appeared, in fact, in the first trick Jamy ever published,
called “Hippity Cop” (originally in Apocalypse issue # 76 ,19 8 4 ; the excerpt be­
low is from an updated version in Another Interesting Application o f That Princi­
ple). This is a gaff-free version o f the Hopping Half, a trick whose presentation
all too often includes the magician saying the word “wrong” multiple times.
Here’s Jamy’s advice:

Rather than building the trite and potentially unpleasant challenge


aspect, why not pursue these events as a demonstration o f the mak­
ing o f magic? In other words, sure, ask the spectator what is in your
hand, by way o f confirmation o f reality. Acknowledge that he is cor­
rect. Now, make the magic happen. Snap your fingers or provide
some other “ Intention of Magic” (to use Al Schneider’s excellent ter­
minology), then show that you have at that moment made the coin
magically return.

Always treat the audience as you would wish to be treatedyourself.


It’s not easy to remember in magic, because your job is to fool them.
But you need to fool them the way you would like to befooled yourself
Teller

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 180


The Self-Cutting Banana

I
read this presentation in Electronic Grymoire, an email magic digest run
by Bruce Barnett. It was written by Larry White, who at the time was in
the middle of a great run as magic editor o f M-U-M magazine, and I im ­
mediately recognized what a classic piece o f scripting it is. This routine
produces immediate interaction with the audience and generates continuous
laughs from both kids and adults alike. Like Gary Ouellet does in The Human
Galvanometer, Larry gives Alex a fun part to play, that gets big laughs, and only
requires one word.
Best o f all, the structural device is so simple you can adapt it to virtually any
tone or style o f presentation— and, for that matter, almost any trick. Struc­
tures like this are worth their weight in gold.
Don’t let the fact that this is written for a kid show fool you; this device
works for any audience. The script would be quite different for adults, and you
might pick a different effect (although an adult audience would have a great
time with a banana). But it is guaranteed to play. You can’t ask for more than
that.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 18 1
Yes!
by Larry White

Int Auditorium—Day

Larry stands on the stage with Alex, a child from the audience.

Larry
Will you come up and help me please?
Thank you. What’s your name?

Alex
Alex.

Larry
Thanks Alex. Would you like to earn a
quarter?

Alex
Sure.

Larry
All you have to do is answer every
question I ask with the word “yes.” No
matter what question I ask, you say “yes.”
Can you do that?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Great. Are you glad to be up here with
me?

Alex
Yes.

Larry.
Or would you rather be eating liver and
onions?

Alex
Yes.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 182


Larry
That’s unusual. Tell me, what’s your
name?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
What a strange name. Do all your friends
call you Yes?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Well, I guess they couldn’t call you
anything else, could they?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Could they call you ‘No’?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
They could? Now I’m getting very mixed
up. Tell me Yes, or No, are you a boy?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Or are you a girl?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Gosh, you are really mixed up, aren’t you?

Alex
Yes.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 183


Larry
Would you rather I asked you something
else?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Okay. Are you married?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
And, what is your [husband/wife]’s name?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Mister and Mrs. Yes. Any kids?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Big family?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Well, enough small talk, let’s get started.
Tell me, ‘Yes’, do you believe in bananas?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Good.

Larry hands Alex a banana.

Larry
Now, do you believe in ghosts?

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 184


Alex
Yes.

Larry
Do you believe a ghost can help us do a
magic trick?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Do you know a ghost who can help us?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Will you call him right now?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Have you called him?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Good. Will your ghost friend help the
world’s greatest magician perform this
trick?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
You do know who the world’s greatest
magician is, d o n ’t you?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Tell the audience his name.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 185


Alex
Yes.

Larry
No, no... you’re not a magician. I’m the
world’s greatest magician, isn’t that right?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
And you always tell the truth, don’t you?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Is your ghost friend ready to do his
banana trick?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
What should we do... Should we make
him... cut the banana?

Alex «
Yes.

Larry
How about we make him cut the banana
while it is still in the skin?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
He’d have to be a ghost to cut a banana
while it’s still in the skin, wouldn’t he?

Alex
Yes.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 186


Larry
Can your ghost friend do that?

Chris
Yes.

Larry
Gosh, I can’t even do that. Can he cut it
into five hundred and fifty-three pieces?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Now let me get this straight. You are going
to ask your invisible ghost friend, that
nobody else here believes in, to cut that
banana you are holding into five hundred
and fifty-three pieces while it is still
inside the skin. Is that right?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Boy, that sounds like an awful hard trick.
Would you rather try something easier?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Okay, let’s try... Four pieces. Will he do
that?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
I’ll count to four and he can make one cut
on each count. Okay?

Alex
Yes.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 18 7
Larry
One, two, three, four. Is it done?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Really? This banana th at’s never even
been opened is now cut into four pieces
inside its skin?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
That’s impossible! Let’s have a look. But
first, do you remember I offered you a
quarter if you answered every question
with a ‘Yes’?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Is it okay if I change it to a penny?

Alex
Yes.

Larry '
I’m just kidding. Tell you w hat—you’ve
done a great job, if your ghost really
did cut that banana I will give you two
quarters. Is that all right?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Peel the banana and let’s see how you did.

Alex
Yes.

Alex peels the banana and discovers it’s in pieces.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 138


Larry
One, two, three, four pieces. Isn’t that
amazing?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
My goodness, your ghost friend has cut
the banana into exactly four quarters...
and you certainly have earned two of
those quarters!

Larry holds out two banana pieces, then pulls two real quarters
from his pocket.

Larry
Just kidding. Here are two real quarters.
Thanks for helping me. Do you like
applause?

Alex
Yes.

Larry
Applause for Alex!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 189


Notes on Yes!

Method
Is there a magician who doesn’t know the secret o f this trick? Take a needle
and stick it into a banana, then wiggle it back and forth to cut the fruit. Do this
three times and you’ll have four pieces. Wipe away any banana that oozes out
o f the holes.
You want the real work on the self-cutting banana trick? Here it is, but don’t
share this with anybody. First off, push the needle through a brown spot, so
the hole won’t show. Second, you can use a paper clip instead o f a needle; it’s
easier to carry and easier to find one in an impromptu situation.
Cut a banana into four pieces inside the peel— just for fun, make the piec­
es different sizes— and you are ready to do a wonderful, audience-tested kid
show routine, that will entertain the whole family for five minutes.

Adaptation
One o f the great things about a flexible structure like this is that you have so
much room for variation. So the first thing I would do is see i f you can apply
the structure to a trick you already do. This is one o f the most flexible presen­
tations you’ll ever see, so that shouldn’t be too hard. You can easily adapt the
script to your own style or any specific presentation needs you may have. It’s
even a great structure for improvising; especially since you get to improvise
without Alex having to. I really believe that, because o f the way magicians look
down on the self-cutting banana, Larry’s script will be one o f the real over­
looked gems o f this book.
Personally, I am fascinated by the idea o f having two spectators come up,
and one always says “Yes,” the other “No”. Then ask them questions about
each other.

References
An earlier version o f this presentation originally appeared in Tannen’s Magic
Manuscript under Larry’s pseudonym “ Barton”.
Max Maven:
Scripting Tricks

I
f you are reading this book, you know who Max Maven is. He is inargu-
ably one o f the most knowledgeable, experienced, prolific, and success­
ful professional magicians in the world. I took him to lunch and for
the cost o f curry noodles got Max to spill his decades o f experience and
thoughtful reflection on the process o f how to script your magic, and why.

Pete Pete
How m u ch scrip tin g do y o u do, (Nods) I h ave no idea w h at that
and h o w do y o u do it? m e an s.

Max Max
E very th in g I do is sc rip te d to a T h e r e ’s a point in the e v o l u ­
certain de gre e. The d e g re e will tion o f a th eater p lay w h ere y o u
ch a n g e d e p e n d in g on the piece f r e e z e — y o u s a y we are stick in g to
and the c irc u m s ta n c e s . Very little this script. Ethel Merman u s e d to
that I do is scrip ted in an iro nclad s a y “We’ve gon e Birds E ye.”
way, b e c a u s e so m u ch o f it in­
v o l v e s a u d ie n c e p a rticip ation , and Pete
th e re fo re I cannot stick to a script Ah. So w h e n e v e r s o m e th in g ’s good
v e r b a tim e v e r y time. en o u gh ...

Pete Max
Y e s — as a m entalist, e v e r y trick It’s not a q u estio n o f go od
y o u do has a u d ien c e p a r tic ip a ­ e n o u g h — there co m e s a point
tion. w h ere y o u h ave to stop. You can
tw e ak and ta m p e r and im p ro v e a
Max script fo reve r. But there c o m e s a
T h ere are a cou p le o f p ie c e s that I time w h e r e you j u s t h ave to stop.
do w h e r e there m ay be a s o m e w h a t It’s v e r y hard, as a writer, w h e th e r
le n g th y in trod uction to a piece, a scrip t or a n ovel, it’s quite a hard
and th ere are a co u p le o f sto ries thing to d e cid e w h en y o u stop.
that I tell on the stage, w h ic h are S o m e tim e s y o u ju s t h ave to stop
not in te rac tive at all, an d th o s e are to stop, e v e n if y o u think y e s , it
v e r y e x p lic it scripts, th o se d o n ’t cou ld be better, I could still e n ­
ch a n g e. If th e y do, th e y ch a n g e a f ­ h ance this. But this w a y lies m a d ­
ter a p e rio d o f y e a r s — I m a y s a y “I n ess. I h a v e rou tin es that h ave
th ink I can m a s s a g e that lin e .” But g on e Birds Eye y e a r s ago. But that
th e y h a v e e s s e n tia lly go n e Birds d o e s n ’t m e an that I d o n ’t thaw
Eye. th em out at so m e point.

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 19 1
But to get back to your question, Max
I write scrip ts but I don’t literally And I would need to rewrite the
write them. I’m not advocating line anyway.
this as a good id e a — it’s ju st how
I’ve alw ays done it. I’ll make notes Pete
to m yself during a process o f g e s­ How about when y o u ’re doing a
tation, but then in the course o f trick based on m agician’s choice?
rehearsing, these lines come to
exist. I know frien d s who write Max
everything down. I adm ire th at— I More than anything else, when
adm ire the discip lin e and I adm ire yo u ’re doing that sort o f eq ui­
the fact that they can also go back voque m aterial, y o u ’re obliged to
and find out w hat the hell they w ork on a very loose script. It has
said should they put a routine a skeleton — everythin g I do has
aside. But, at least in theory, if the a skeleton, even if the script is
lines are good, then there’s sort of loose, there has to be a skeleton
a Darwinian p rocess by which if or else you lose any kind of defini­
it’s good, y o u ’ll rem em ber it, and tion. You have to have a sense of
if it’s not good, you forget it, and what key points you want to hit,
it’s ju st as well. and what the structure o f the piece
is. The tightest scripting I have is
Pete in longer pieces that would u su ­
I think, for a profession al like ally be segm ents — I do a blindfold
yourself, that m ight work. But I routine, and the opening segm ent
don’t have any trick that I perform con sists b asically o f me giving in­
often enough... I might forget an y ­ structions to sp ectators on stage.
thing, ju st because I don’t do it o f­ And they don’t have too much to
ten enough. say. Now I’m open to som eone who
blurts som ething out or doesn ’t
Max understand what I say or gives me
I find for m yself, I do occasion ally a funny look. I’m constantly open
forget things. If there’s a routine I to the p ossib ility o f ad-libbing.
haven’t done in a long while, and I But having said that, I’m sticking
take it out o f m othballs and do it, to a pretty uniform script, certain
the first time I do it again, I m ay lines of which have been in my
have lost som e lines. But if th ey’re repertoire for 30 years.
good enough, they come back.
They m ay be topical, in which case When I was doing nightclubs, there
you m ay not want them to come were two jo k es in particular, which
back. Or m aybe a line that fit me were sort of my private time. Be­
ten years ago, and now I’m... cause I could essen tially do them
on autopilot, which m eant I could
Pete take a few m inutes to be sayin g...
A different person. do I want to edit out that routine,
and tie this up earlier... what do

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 192


I feel like having for dinner to­ So I’m p laying both ends against
night. It w as kind of a rest period, the m iddle. But that has certain
because the scripts had no v aria­ issu es in term s of my persona.
tion. I also have an am ple sup p ly My character is con stan tly teeter­
o f lines that I call floaters, more ing on the brink of several things.
than I would use There’s an ele­
in a single show. ment of unusual
The most important of
And these lines form ality about
can literally float the three is the one my character,
around; early in that's least often m oreso than
the show, late in m ost p erform ­
answered\ and that's
the show, m id­ ers in this era,
dle o f one rou­ “Who is thisperson?” and at the sam e
tine, in a differ­ time the ability
ent routine. So it’s still a form of to sudd en ly step outside o f the
scripting, but it’s a form o f scrip t­ character and do a meta charac­
ing that’s w illfully very flexible. ter who com m ents on the charac­
ter. T h ere’s usu ally more than one
Pete track going on at the sam e time.
Have you alw ays scripted ev ery ­
thing? Pete
T h ere’s a side o f your character
Max that could do anything at any m o­
I think so. I think even when I was ment, and there’s also a side that’s
12 or 14 doing birthday parties, I been planning this all along. And
w asn ’t w orking off a form al script, those are opposite, but the au d i­
but I had a sense of the skele­ ence is never quite sure which it
to n — setting up a context, w ork­ is.
ing off a structure. I think I’ve b e­
com e more disciplined with age. Max
I think that thing that y o u ’ve ju st
Pete identified creates a certain fris­
Since you were 12 ? I would hope. son in my work that I like. If you
think that som ething is carefu lly
Max prepared and highly structured
I’m quick on my feet, I’ve been do­ and d oesn ’t change from show
ing this a long time, I exp ress m y­ to show, that’s very p o ssib ly the
se lf reason ably well — I can fake it point w here I’m really flying by
better than m ost people. But I don’t. the seat of my pants and it’s never
I d on ’t fake it as much as it might looked like that before. On the oth­
appear. Som etim es when I speak er hand, when you look at som e­
extem p oran eou sly it sounds very thing and think “Oh, he’s out there
polish ed , and som e o f the things on a tightrope and ad-libbing,” it
that have been carefu lly polished m ay be som ething that happens
m ay sound very extem poraneous. that w ay every single time. And I

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 193


think the o n ly w a y to a ch iev e this b eing able to stan d back from that
is by u sin g scrip tin g. and say, d o e s this a c c o m p lish
w h at I need it to do, d o e s it m ove
Pete f o rw a rd with e n o u g h sp ee d but
The a d v a n ta g e s that y o u get fro m not too m uch, d o e s it co n v e y the
scripting: so m e o f them are v e r y in fo rm a tio n c le a rly w ithou t b e la ­
stra ig h tfo rw ard , so m e are m ore b orin g the point? D oes it allo w the
subtle. a u d ien c e o b s e r v in g an d the p a rtic ­
ipator pa rticip atin g en o u gh tim e
Max to catch up? All o f th ese things r e ­
One o f the b e s t things y o u can quire so m e a tten tion to ve rb a l d e ­
get from s c rip tin g is the o p p o r t u ­ tail. And th at’s, I think, wh ere a lot
nity for editing. When I w o rk with o f m a g ic ia n s and m e n talists fall:
other p e r fo r m ­ in the area o f in ­
ers, one o f the stru ction . B ecau se
things I’m c o n ­
The trick to getting it’s so function al,
stan tly say­ that to work is not th e y d o n ’t think
ing is, we can a magic trick — a b o u t it. T h e y j u s t
tighten that. s a y well okay, I
it's a scripting trick.
We’re taking j u s t h ave to tell
fo u r se n te n ce s th em A, B, C, and
to sa y w h at w e can a c c o m p lish in D, and then we can m o ve on to the
h alf a sen ten ce. T h a t ’s not a lw a y s ex citin g stuff.
the best t h in g — e c o n o m y o f w o rd s
is not a lw a y s the ideal w a y to go. Pete
Far from it; th ere are u s e s o f r e p ­ I w a s w a tch in g a recen t TV s p e ­
etition, and re p e a te d rh ythm , and cial; the m a gic ia n s p re a d a deck o f
opu len t v e r b ia g e has its place. ca rd s in front o f a sp e c ta to r and
H aving said that, a lot o f the said “Ju s t touch a c a r d .” But the
time in magic, p a rticu la rly in the sp e c ta to r w a s a lr e a d y reaching,
b ranch I’m in, w h ich in v o lv e s a lot and took a card, and the m a g i­
o f in stru ction g iv in g, y o u ’re lo o k ­ cian had to s a y “No no, ju s t touch
ing for efficiency, both b e c a u s e the it.” It w a s a sm all thing, but I hate
g iv in g o f in s tru c tio n s is u s u a lly to stop the sp e c ta to r from doin g
not v e r y in te re s tin g to the rest o f so m eth in g. Ideally y o u d o n ’t want
the a ud ien ce, so y o u d o n ’t w ant it the sp e c ta to r to re m e m b e r a n y
to take too long, but on the other lim itatio ns on w h a t th ey do.
h and the in s tru ctio n s m u st be u n ­
d e rsto o d b y the p e rs o n re ceivin g Max
them; if he or she d o e s n ’t cle a rly Th e trick to ge ttin g that to w o rk is
u n d e rs ta n d w h at y o u ’re s u p p o s e d not a m agic tr ic k — it’s a s crip tin g
to do, the routine can fall apart. So trick. The trick is that y o u m u st
c h o o sin g the w o r d s b y w h ich in ­ be v e r y carefu l a b o u t both the s e ­
stru ctio n s are d e liv e re d , is a place qu en ce and tim in g o f dolin g out
w h ere the b enefit o f scrip tin g and inform atio n. If y o u s p re a d a de ck

SCRIPTING MAGIC ] 194


of card s, because sp ectato rs are Pete
used to the whole notion o f grab­ T hat’s w hy you keep getting hired
bing cards out of the deck, that’s to do them on prim e-tim e network
the w rong sequence o f activity. TV.

Pete Max
T h ey’ll take one, they don ’t care This is not easy. D elivering these
what you say, th ey’re already instru ction s requires a very co­
reaching tc take one. herent script, that is m eticulou s­
ly tim ed, as well as the physical
Max blocking. As you know from w ork­
I’ll give you a very sim ple exam ­ ing in television, being off by two
ple. There are tim es when I do or three inches can ruin a shot. I’m
want som eone to touch a card, also w orking in most cases in a
and I will alw ays tell them to put com pletely tight time fram e. They
out their finger, b efore I spread will say “We want this to come in
the deck. at 2 :4 0 .” And if they say that, 2:50
is not acceptable.
Pete
Because once you spread the deck, Pete
it’s too late. 2:42 is not acceptable.

Max Max
And that’s a form o f scripting. It’s And I have to figure out how to
a scripted behavior, more than con vey the inform ation I w ish to
w ords, but it’s still scripting. convey, w ithin that specific time
fram e, fast enough that it fits the
Pete need, but clear enough, I mean the
When you write a script it’s not speed issue is not sim ply fitting
ju s t dialog, it’s action as well. that perform ance time, but also
finding a com fortable balance so
Max that the slow view ers and the fast
Exactly. I think all too often, partic­ view ers are not shut out. Too fast,
u larly in the area of givin g in stru c­ view ers who are slow on the u p ­
tions, there’s confusion because take get lost, they can’t play the
y o u ’re not doling out the in form a­ gam e. W hereas if it’s too slow, peo­
tion in the right sequence and in ple who are sharp are going to say
the right increm ents — som etim es “This is bo rin g” and hit the channel
you give much too much in form a­ clicker. So these are very difficult
tion, and the person is not able to script. Som ewhere in my boxes
to catch up. I do these interactive of crap I have a thank you letter
things for television. M agicians from Dick Clark... Some years ago
hate them. Mind you the audience Dick had a sum m er series that
loves them. w as done live. I was booked for
the first episode. The director said

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 195


they budgeted 3:45 for the piece, tim e— this was 30 years a g o — I
and during rehearsal I’m interact­ w as breaking in my blindfold rou­
ing with som eone standing in for tine. The one I still do. And one o f
the live audience, and I brought the gags I used back then, which
it in, if m em ory serves, at 3 :4 0 . I dropped because it’s no longer
Another reh earsal came in exact­ topical, was when the person from
ly the sam e, they were happy as the audience w as tying the blin d­
clam s. Next day I’m standing back­ fold around m y head, and they
stage. Vanessa Williams is halfw ay would yank it tig h t— because I
through her song. Dick Clark is would m aneuver them to yanking
going to do 20 seconds of banter it tight—and I w ould react as if
with Reba McEntire, sitting in the they had yanked it far tighter than
audience, and then me. So we are I wanted. And I w ould say “Exce­
now literally 90 seconds before drin headache n um ber...” And I
I’m going to w alk out on live na­ don’t remember what the num ber
tional television, and a RA. com es w as, because the jo k e no longer
running up to me backstage and has any use for me. But I will tell
says “The show is running 10 sec­ you that it took me w eeks to find
onds over, can you trim for m e?” the right number. You can’t ju st
And I said sure. I som ew here have plug any number in there.
a thank-you note from Dick Clark.
These are things that cannot be Pete
done without a script. Otherwise Right. Gotta have a “K” sound, so
how do you know how to tighten six.
or expand, if y o u ’re ju st w inging
it? Max
Well, I think the “K” rule is ju st
Pete a little bit overstated. But som e
That’s one o f the more prom inent num bers... you try certain num ­
benefits. What are som e of the less bers and it d oesn ’t work. It has to
obvious? do with the rhythm o f the number,
w hether it’s a big or sm all num ­
Max ber, whether it feels like a random
One advantage o f scripting is that num ber or feels like a round num ­
you can find the perfect turn of ber.
phrase. It’s aston ish in g how much
the slightest difference or tweak Pete
can change som ething. Years ago 666 .
there w as a series of very su c­
cessful com m ercials for Excedrin Max
the headache rem edy. They would Well... but that’s a whole different
show som eone in som e horrible joke. And m aybe it puts the joke
situation that gave them a head­ out o f balance for w hat the basic
ache, and then say “That’s Excedrin joke is. Which m ay be good or bad.
headache num ber 148 .” So at the The point is that that even som e­

SCRIPT1NG MAGIC | 196


thing as sm all as deciding what trick, although I like a clever trick.
num ber for a sim ple line like that,
you need to figure out. And if you I alw ays ask three questions w hen­
ju st blith ely call out a num ber... ever I look at a perform er, w h en ev­
er I read a trick. Who is this person?
Pete What sto ry are they trying to tell
Take you a thousand tries to get me? And w hy is it worth m y time?
the right number.
The m ost im portant of the three
Max is the one that’s least often an ­
Exactly. So there’s a less obvious sw ered, and that’s “Who is this
elem ent o f scripting. Finding ex­ p erson ?” Most people we watch
actly the right number. perform have no idea who they
are, and w e’re watching actually
Pete the equivalen t of a fifth-genera­
With, if I rem em ber correctly, tion vid eo dub of som eone else ’s
1,800 tricks you have published... show. But I hope we get the chance
to see perform ers who do have a
Max sense o f who they are, which is the
I’ve lost count. If you want to starting point for any perform er.
count the total num ber o f things
I’ve p ublished it’s about 2 , 0 0 0 . The next choice, what story are
they tryin g to tell me, the word
Pete “sto ry ” is a bit m isleading because
Plus the ones that you haven’t I’m not n ecessarily talking about
published , things that are in your a linear story, although that’s cer­
a c t— that’s a lot. So I’m going to tainly an option. But the story
assu m e that there isn ’t ju st one can be different. The story can be
w ay that you approach scripting “Som etim es what looks like one
for a project. ball can turn out to be four.” That
is a story. It m ay not be a good
Max story, or it may be a great story.
I don ’t know that it’s ever quite the The point is, it doesn ’t have to be
sam e. “Once upon a time there w ere four
d etectives,” etc. But there’s alw ays
Pete a story. Picasso said “There is no
So w here do you begin, m ost o f­ such thing as abstract a rt— all
ten? art is represen tative because you
m ust alw ays start with som ethin g.”
Max
Most of the time I start with a con­ And the third question is “Why
ceptual prem ise. Whether it’s in­ is it w orth my tim e,” which in a
ven tin g a m agic trick or for p erfor­ sense is really a moot question be­
m ance, I’m much more interested cause if the first two q uestions are
in the context than I am in a clever

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 19?


a n sw ere d well, the third q u estio n Max
a n sw e rs itself. I feel that m ost m agic trick s— or
at least most o f the classics — have
Pete prim al story lines that are there
It’s worth you r time because the w hether you want them to be or
person and sto ry are interesting. not.

Max Pete
Right. The third question is the T hat’s w hy th ey’re classics.
clincher to rem ind you how im ­
portant the first two questions Max
are. The bonus question, which I spoke with Ju an Tam ariz the oth­
is sort of 1A, is if there is more er day, and we got to talking about
than one person in the act, the the Cut and Restored Rope. He tried
question is “What is the relation ­ doing the reverse; in other w ords
ship betw een these p eop le?” having a rope that w as solid, and
Which lo gically follow s from then it m agically separates, and he
“Who is this p erson ?” Once it b e­ found it w asn ’t a good trick. Now
com es “Who are these p eop le,” that m ay be som ething inherent
you have to answ er the q u es­ or it m ay be because he couldn’t
tion “What is their relation ship ?” think of a good fram ew ork, but
it is an interesting thing. He w as
Given those questions, I think sayin g that he feels that the rope
purely exposition al magic — here’s is sort o f the classic rope to heav­
a coin, now it’s g o n e— in and of en that show s up in alm ost all m y­
itself suffers. It does not m easure thology, you know, Jack and the
up to those q uestions well. Hav­ Beanstalk is essen tially that, the
ing said that, if the person doing ladder to heaven that show s up in
it is interesting enough, the sto ­ sham anistic legen ds...
ryline here’s a coin, now it’s gone
can be pulled up by the answ er to Pete
the first question. Conversely, a l­ Stairway to heaven.
though perhaps less often, if the
person doing it is not that inter­ Max
esting, but there is some com pel­ And I think that’s one valid thing.
ling story fram e for the van ishin g There are other typ es of rope. In
coin... Japan the relationship between a
husband and w ife is referred to as
Pete a rope. Specifically going through
I think som e tricks are so com pel­ his nose, but that’s a different sto ­
ling to the au d ien ce— the ability to ry.
pluck m oney out of the a ir— that
even if there’s a blank perform er, Pete
y o u ’re going to project y o u rse lf The old ball and chain.
into it very easily.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 198


Max link to the secu rity of the womb,
But I think that one o f the key or a link to a spouse, or w hatever.
im ages that this severed resto ra­ But this doesn ’t change it from
tion brings forth, and I said this being there. And I know there are
to Ju an , is the um bilical cord. And people who would disagree with
Ju an said yeah, but in reality, it’s this vehem ently, but my feelin g is
when the um bilical cord is se v ­ that these them es are there. That
ered that you come into being. The d oesn ’t mean every audience m em ­
severance is birth, and w ouldn ’t ber picks up on them, it certainly
restoring it be kind of negative? d oesn ’t mean every perform er
And I said yeah, if you want to picks up on them. But the reality
look at it that way, but on the oth­ is that if you put that out there,
er hand, I think m ost o f us look it’s going to resonate with som e
on the time spent in the wom b as people. Not with ev ery b o d y — you
the m ost secure and safe time in know, if you set up the right fre ­
our entire lives. And so w hile that quency of pitch, it’ll break a glass.
severance on one hand is literally But it w on ’t break every glass.
birth and the start o f som ething
new, it’s also the destruction of Pete
som ething pretty com fortable. T h ere’s a different frequen cy for
And so I think there m ay be some each glass.
sort o f vague Ju ngian archetype
that all o f us as som e time or an ­ Max
other want to restore that um bili­ Right. So in the sam e way, I think
cal cord, to crawl back. there’s this resonating tone, if you
will, about the Cut and Restored
Now these are pretty h eavy them es Rope, to take that as one exam ­
con siderin g what m ost people do ple, that is there, the freq uen cy is
with the Cut and Restored Rope. there, and the degree to which it
For m ost peo­ resonates with
ple Cut and Re­ each audience
stored Rope is Ifyou set up the right m em ber prob­
a throw aw ay. In frequency of pitchy ably varies with
som e peop le’s it'll break a glass. But the shape of the
hand s... when vessel. But it’s
Mac King does
it wont break every glass. going to hap­
Cut and Restored pen w hether or
Rope it’s a w onderful m ystery, but not... if a m usician is putting out
even when Mac does it, as extraor­ a piece of m usic and it breaks a
d in arily clever and entertaining glass, that’s probably not what
and m ysteriou s as his routine he or she set out to do. The glass
is — ’cause it’ll fool damn near d oesn ’t care. The m usical tone
a n y b o d y — it certainly is not a rou­ reson ates with the glass, the glass
tine which overtly sp eaks to these breaks. That’s all contained w ithin
concepts of a link to heaven, or a the song, w hether it w as acknow l­
edged or d eliberately aim ed for. Pete
And so in the sam e w ay I think Not ju st look at the trick, but say
these them es, prim al and in som e “What is this” in the bigger sense.
cases epic them es, exist in m agic. And m aybe I’m not going to use it,
I don’t think that m eans that m a­ but I’m going to start there.
gicians are obliged to deal with
them d irectly or intentionally, but Max
whether they do or not, th ey’re It gives you a context within which
there. So it’s at least an option one to work.
m ay wish to consider.
Pete
Pete Okay, one last question. What ad ­
So it sounds like, because that’s vice would you give to som eone
som ething that interests you, who is not in your position with 30
it’s som ething you would lean to years of experience, but is more or
when developin g a presentation less ju st starting out in scripting.
for a trick.
Max
Max I’ll give two pieces of advice,
Well, I w ouldn’t say I alw ays start which may be contradictory, but
there. But yes, I try to be very I’ll tell them anyw ay. One of them
aware. When I’m approaching a is by w ay of an anecdote about
routine that I’m going to perform , George Abbott, the Broadw ay di­
I’m going to think about “What is rector who directed m any of the
this really about? What is the larg­ biggest hits on Broadw ay over a
er concept, the larger sto ry?” And career that spanned 70 years. The
som etim es I’ll com e to an op in ­ story goes that Abbott was w ork­
ion about that and decide I’m not ing on a m usical, I don’t rem em ­
going to ad d ress it, but knowing ber which one, but it w as an a f­
about it is still going to inform the ternoon where the choreographer
script. Does that make sense? had taken over the cast to work
on a dance sequence, and Abbott
Pete went to leave the theater to go off
It makes a lot o f sense. If I’m going for som ething else. And his path
to take a trick and develop a p re­ in w alking out of the theater w as
sentation for it, or write a scene across the stage, down the stairs
for a script, I’m going to try to step o f the stage, and up the aisles to
back and say “What is this?” the main doors to the theater. And
as he crossed the stage he saw the
Max dancers all standing around doing
I think y o u ’ve ju st used one o f the nothing, and the choreographer
m ost im portant p hrases o f this sitting off by him self. And Ab­
conversation: Step back. bott did not stop w alkin g— as he’s
w alking off the stage he turns to
the choreographer and says “Why

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 200


aren ’t you doing anything?" And unfortunate, not because there’s
the choreographer say s “I’ve hit anything w rong with instant grati­
a brick wall. I’ve hit a particular fication, but rather that it’s rarely
place in the m usic and I can ’t fig­ p ossible. And if you set that up as
ure out what to put in th ere.” And your goal, y o u ’re alm ost alw ays
Abbot, still without stopp in g his going to be unhappy. There are
w alk, says “Ju st put in som ething, certain things that sim ply cannot
you can come back to it later.” happen quickly. Now the definition
of quickly changes. But y o u ’ve par-
This is w onderful advice. If you ented kids, so you know — there is
get hung up on a m om ent, you a certain age, around ten m onths,
can’t go on any further. The whole a year, when a kid first ten tatively
issue of trying to w rite a script is stands and w alks. They stand up
so intim idating for a lot o f people, leaning again st a wall, gradually
p articularly those w ho’ve never they walk, at first it’s wobbly, but
tried, that they never get start­ by a year and a half th ey’re run­
ed. “Well I don’t ning around ev ­
know enough eryw here. Now
yet, I haven’t A 6-month old baby is not you can have
done enough re­ going to walk. Get over it. a 6-month old
search, I don’t baby, and you
know the m oves can believe, and
to the trick, I haven ’t co n sid ­ you m ight be right, that that baby
ered all o f the p ossible them es I is the m ost w onderful, sm artest,
could be applyin g here, I don’t cu te st— every superlative you can
know quite how funny I want to think o f — and that baby is not go ­
m ake it, or how serious I want to ing to walk. A 6-month old baby
m ake it.” And you keep putting is not going to walk. Get over it.
up all these obstacles that keep You’re going to have to wait 4 or
you from m aking a decision. And 6 m onths before the p rocess even
som etim es the key is, ju st make starts, y o u ’re going to have to
a decision, knowing that you can wait the better part of a year be­
change it. But that will let you fore the process actually is fu n c­
m ove forw ard on the project. tional. T h at’s how it w orks. There
is a time fram e. You can encourage
So that’s one piece o f ad vice. The the baby, you can give the baby
other piece of advice, w hich is al­ dem onstrations, you can bribe
m ost contrary to that, w hich is my the baby, you can yell at the baby,
ad vice to m agicians in general, there’s all sorts of things you can
w hich is slow down. Most o f these do. The baby is not going to walk
things, w hether it’s scriptw ritin g or at 6 m onths. So rather than w aste
an yth ing else, do not occur quick­ that en ergy and effort, get a handle
ly. And unfortunately we live in a on the fact that not everythin g is
society that is in creasin gly based im m ediately instant gratification,
on instant gratification. And it’s instant results. This is certain ly

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 201


true when it com es to learning cer­
tain types o f m oves in magic, cer­
tain types of techniques. It’s true
there, but it’s also true in learning
presentational skills, and in learn ­
ing how to w rite a script.

So on one hand I would offer the


Abbott ad vice that you don’t re­
tard your developm ent by creat­
ing false ob stacles. But on the one
hand I would offer my contrary ad ­
vice: slow down. Ju st slow down.
If it’s worth anything, it’s going
to take som e time. Now, slow
down d oesn ’t mean you m ust go
into solitary devotion for years.
Slow down m ay mean taking two
days. But those two days m ay be
the difference betw een som ething
that w orks and som ething that
d oesn ’t.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 282


Drama

h is is drama: Poor Cinderella wants a dream life, with a happy end­

T ing. But when her father dies, she is left with her stepmother, who
treats her very badly. A chance arrives for her to attend a ball at the
castle. How happy she would be! But her jealous sisters destroy her
dress, and sk? cannot go.
Then her fair)7godmother appears and makes her a new dress, and a coach,
and some nice glass slippers. To the ball! Cinderella dances with the Prince,
and her dream is so close she can touch it. But the clock strikes midnight, and
she is forced to race home before the magic wears off.
She leaves behind her glass slipper; and the Prince, anxious to meet the
woman who stole his heart, sends his Duke door-to-door with the slipper.
When Cinderella tries on the slipper, her dreams will come true! But when
the Duke arrives, the evil stepmother locks Cinderella in her room. And after
the two evil sisters try on the slipper— it doesn’t fit— the stepmother tells the
Duke that there are no other young women in the house.
Before the Duke can leave, Cinderella’s friends— two mice, actually, be­
cause this is the Disney version— help her escape. She makes it to the liv­
ing room, and the Duke agrees to let her try on the slipper. Finally! But as
the Duke’s assistant carries the slipper toward Cinderella, the evil stepmother
trips him, and the glass slipper falls to the ground. It shatters into a million
pieces. Cinderella’s dream o f a better life is destroyed forever.
This is drama.

What is Drama?
It’s easy to think o f Cinderella as just a children’s story, but it has endured
for more than two thousand years— there’s a Greco-Egyptian version from
the first century B.C.E.— because it’s a classic drama. So if you want to make
your magic more dramatic, it’s not a bad idea, first, to ask yourself: What is
drama?
Before I tell you my working definition o f drama, I should point out that
when I say it’s mine, that just means it’s the one I use. It’s millennia old— I
first heard it in Broadway Bound by Neil Simon, the most successful play­
wright alive. It’s extremely simple, and very much worth posting on the border
o f your computer screen as a constant reminder:

Somebody wants something,


but they can’t get it.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2§3


It can't get much simpler than that. O f course, this formula only produces
drama— to have an interesting, compelling, satisfying drama, you'll probably
need to add a few things to this foundation. You’ll probably want the audience
to identify with the characters, so the audience will care i f the characters get
what they want. You'll probably want the desired goal or object to be meaning­
ful and important— you want it to matter if they get it or not. And you want
the obstacles— the things that keep them from getting it, whether physical
or emotional, internal or external— to require increasingly heroic effort to
overcome.
But still, the basis o f drama is somebody can't get something they want. And
so in large part, the essential point o f your narrative presentation is: how are
they going to get it? You want your character to face a series o f obstacles, which
are increasingly challenging (otherwise it's boring). And, ideally, you want the
last obstacle to be so challenging that the audience can't even imagine how the
hero can overcome it. So the hero’s final triumph comes as a surprise.
Poor Cinderella wants a happy life. But she can’t get it, because her step­
mother treats her badly. Then she wants to go to the ball, but her stepsisters
destroy her dress. She goes, and meets the Prince, and wants to stay with him,
but she can’t because her magic expires at midnight. Later she wants to try on
the slipper, but her stepmother hides her away. She escapes and, right as she
is about to try on the slipper, it is destroyed forever. When the slipper shatters,
all hope seems lost. How can Cinderella meet the Prince i f she can’t even try
on the slipper?

Built-In Drama
It is, in theory, easy to make magic dramatic. In almost every trick there’s
somebody (me) who wants something (to find your card), but I can’t (because
it’s been shuffled into the deck). How can I find your card when it’s shuffled in
the deck? The answer: I magically teleport the card from the deck to (surprise)
my pocket.
And so it requires very little to bring out the drama inherent in many tricks.
All it takes is a little scripting. It doesn’t have to be a big story with a fairy god­
mother and lock-picking mice. But you have to make a few things clear.
• Who wants something?
• What do they want?
• Why can’t they get it?
The who can be you, the magician. It can be the spectator. It can be your
uncle, in a story-script about the time he was fleeced from his life savings by a
band o f card sharps. You can even make it an inanimate object. Suppose you

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 204


tear a piece o f paper. But the paper wants to be whole. (Like the ring in Lord of
the Rings: it wants to be found.) The paper restores itself.
The personification o f inanimate objects has a long and very mixed history
in magic. Sometimes it can be incredibly effective, while other times it seems
like an insult to your intelligence. Partly this depends on your skill as a per­
former; but mostly it depends on whether you really believe in the story or not.
This doesn’t mean you believe the story is literally true, or that you pretend it
is. It just means that you believe in the story— you believe the story is mean­
ingful and worth your audience’s time. To me, a card that is ambitious and
wants to get to the top o f the pack is not worthy. But a piece o f torn paper that
wants to be whole is a story I can believe in. You may feel the exact opposite is
true. Go with what you believe.

A Simple Example
To illustrate how easy it can be to make your magic more dramatic, we’ll use
the climax o f the trick “Gemini Twins” from the book More Self-Working Card
Tricks by Karl Fulves. I’ve long felt that the easiest way for non-scripters to try
scripting is to start with a trick they already know — so they’re not learning
both a new script and a new trick. One of the great things about Gemini Twins
is that many magicians already know it, and if you don’t, you can learn it in
about three seconds. So all your really have to learn is the script.
After Adam and Eve have inserted face up cards into the deck at random
positions, I spread the deck and remove the two face up cards along with the
two cards they were randomly placed next to. And pause, for dramatic effect.
With great anticipation, I ask Adam to look at his face down card and
announce if it is, indeed, the mate o f the card he inserted. And Adam says
“No.”
This stops me dead in my tracks. “ Really?” I ask. Really. Now I turn to Eve
and, with a little desperate bravado, ask her if her card is a match. It’s not.
This is, within the context o f a card trick, the height of drama. The predic­
tions don’t match. How on Earth can the magician turn this situation into a
successful trick?
The solution is quite simple: The magician has the spectators reveal their
cards, and discovers that they each magically inserted their card next to the
mate o f the other’s card. Instead of the spectators finding their own cards, they
found each other.
That’s it. No big secret, i f that’s what you were hoping for. But don’t be
fooled: the secret is not having the spectators find each other’s cards. The
secret is understanding how the drama o f the trick is structured, and how to

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 205


harness that structure to make the audience genuinely believe that you are in
trouble. And, o f course, you have to act as though this were in fact not all just a
big setup. You must not give the slightest impression o f “Gotcha” or the drama
will be destroyed.
Emotionally, having the two spectators find each other’s cards is a stronger
climax than the original had promised to be. And notice how this takes the
“magician in trouble” cliche, which is commonly used as a sucker trick (which
audiences generally hate, but that’s another essay) and turns it into a positive
experience for both spectator and magician. Finally, note how the fact that the
climax is a sort o f second chance makes the magic seem so much more real.
All this requires is some care in what you say during the trick. It’s a great
example o f how a little bit o f scripting can turn a great trick into a dramatic
experience.

Happy Ending
And what o f poor, poor Cinderella, staring at the glass slipper that lies in
pieces on the floor? She reaches into her pocket and removes... the other glass
slipper. It is a perfect match for the one that shattered, and it fits her foot per­
fectly. And they all lived happily ever after.
At least, in the Disney version. In Ye Xian, a version from China circa 860
C.E., the evil stepmother and stepsisters are punished for their cruelty and
dishonesty by being forced to spend the rest o f their lives in their cave until
they are crushed by a shower o f flying stones. Now that’s drama.

SCRIPTING MAGIC ] 206


Gemini Twins

This is the greatest self-working impromptu card trick o f the 20th century.
It originally appeared in the book More Self-Working Card Tricks by Karl Fulves,
and the effect is very simple: The magician takes any shuffled deck and re­
moves two cards. Eve takes the deck and deals cards onto the table. Any time
she likes, she1 stops and drops one o f the two prediction cards face up onto the
pile. The deck is reassembled and Adam repeats the process to place the other
prediction. The deck is spread and the two face up cards are removed, along
with the cards which they were placed next to. These cards are turned up and
each is right next to its mate.
If you don’t already know this trick, take a moment and think how you
might accomplish it. See how your method compares with “Gemini Twins,”
which features: No setup, any deck, no sleights, once you remove the predic­
tion cards, you do not touch the deck again.
Tricks like this are perfect for anyone who is just starting out scripting your
magic. Self-working tricks let you focus solely on your performance. “Gemini
Twins” doesn’t seem like a self-working trick— there are no lame mathemati­
cal steps or complicated, unmotivated procedures. And it will fool anyone who
doesn’t already know it— it’s not a puzzle masquerading as magic.
This is one o f those tricks where the spectators aren’t just passive observers,
their actions are the trick. So my presentation is designed as much as possible
to make them the stars o f the show. To do this, I encourage the people to try to
distract each other during the dealing. You would not believe the funny things
people do to distract each other. This is one o f those cases where the audience
will automatically come up with things that are better than anything you could
say on your own. I f you use friends, relatives, or lovers, you’ll find out that
the things they do to distract each other can be extremely revealing, which
is always entertaining and frequently hilarious. Once, a woman flashed her
breasts at her boyfriend in the lobby o f the Magic Castle. Now, I’m not saying
that this is a good reason by itself to adopt this presentation. Actually, that is
pretty much what I’m saying. Any presentation that can generate that kind o f
response is worth trying.
This is another script that, because it’s designed to generate interaction
with (and between) the spectators, will just be an example o f how the trick
might go. You have to be willing and able to drop the script and engage the
audience. That’s the whole point, really.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 20?


Mate for Life
by Pete McCabe

Int— Living Room— Evening

Pete sits with Adam and Eve.

Pete
Adam, will you shuffle these? Thanks.

Pete hands Adam the deck and turns to Eve.

Pete
Do you and Adam have a strong bond?

Eve
Pretty strong.

Pete
Okay. Well, let’s find out.
(to Adam)
So, is this deck thoroughly shuffled?

Adam
Yes.

Pete takes the deck.

Pete
(to Eve) Is Adam generally thorough?

Eve
Not really.

Pete
Do you think you should shuffle too?

Eve
Yeah.

Eve shuffles the deck. Pete turns to Adam.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 208


Pete
How does it make you feel, that your
shuffle was inadequate?

Adam
My shuffle was fine.

( Pete
I thought it was great.

Pete takes the deck and removes two cards. He gives the Three
of Clubs to Adam and the Seven of Hearts to Eve.

Pete
Now Eve, in a second you’re going to deal
cards on the table, one at a time. Slow
or fast as you like, but make a nice
pile, neatness counts. At some point,
just stop dealing. Now, to activate your
subconscious, we have to distract your
conscious mind. So I want you, Adam, to
do anything you can to distract Eve while
she deals. Do not actually touch her, but
other than that, fair game.

Pete gives Eve the deck.

Pete
Okay? Eve, deal until your subconscious
tells you to stop. Adam, anything you like.

fve deals cards while Adam distracts her. Finally she stops.

Pete
Okay. Adam, you can stop distracting
Eve now. Thank you. Eve, take your card,
turn it face up, and put it right where you
stopped.

Pete points to the top of the tabled pile. Eve puts her Seven of
Hearts on it.

Pete
Put the rest of the deck on top...

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 209


Eve puts the talon on the tabled pile.

Pete
...and Adam, you take the deck.

Adam picks up the deck.

Pete
Same rules. Deal one at a time, stop
whenever. Make a nice pile, neatness
counts, and would it kill you to put the
toilet seat down once in a while? Eve, do
whatever you can. Go.

Adam deals while Eve distracts him. Finally he stops.

Pete
Okay. Eve, you can stop distracting Adam
now. Although, you can come over and
distract me any time. Adam, turn your
card face up and put it right where you
stopped.

Adam puts his Three of Clubs on top of the tabled pile.

Pete
And put the rest right here.

Adam puts the talon on the tabled pile.

Pete
Now, every card in the deck has one
other card th a t’s the same num ber and
the same color. If you have the Queen of
Hearts, the other red Queen is the Queen
of Diamonds. Ten of Spades, Ten of
Clubs. Magicians call these cards “mates.”
We don’t really spend a lot of time with
women.

Pete spreads the deck across the table, revealing the two face
up cards.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 210


Pete
Each of you placed your card where your
subconscious told you to.

Pete removes Eve’s Seven of Hearts and the card next to it. He
puts them in front of Eve.

Pete
And Adam, likewise, you put your card
here.

Pete removes Adam’s Three of Clubs and the card next to it.

Pete
Now Eve, would you peek and tell me, yes
or no, did you find your card’s mate?

I ve peeks at the card.

Eve
No.

Pete
Really?

Eve
Sorry.

Pete
Okay. Adam... I have two questions for
you. First, did you find the mate of your
card? And second, wouldn’t you agree that
one out of two is still very satisfactory?
Let’s start with “Did you find your mate?”

Adam
No.

Pete
Okay.
(pause)
Boy that distracting thing was fun, w asn’t
it?

Pete smacks his lips.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 2 1 1
Pete
I hate to abandon a trick, but with...
wait—this happened once before. The
couple’s psychic connection for each
other was stronger than their connection
with themselves. If that happened...

Pete picks up Eve’s found card and looks at it.

Pete
...yes, I think, maybe...

Pete picks up Adam’s found card and looks at that.

Pete
Yes! You found each other’s mates!

Pete places the card Eve found on Adam’s face-up card, and
Adam’s found card on Eve’s face-up card. They are mates.

Pete
You did find a m ate—you found each
other. That might be the biggest miracle
of all.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2 12
Notes on Mate for Life
its script is designed for a rowdy environment, where a certain amount
iisijuc behavior is not only acceptable but desirable. As you read the script,
II sec a few lines that I only say i f the situation is right. (For example, the
r about I!ve coming over to distract me anytime.)

od
I ike Bill Simon’s “ Business Card Prophesy,” this trick relies on a single
H|hu t of its innocent procedure going unnoticed by the audience.

Performance
Fake any shuffled deck— no setup required— and remove the mates o f the
top .md bottom cards. Give Eve the mate o f the top card, and give Adam the
bottom.
Tell Eve and Adam what to do, and don’t forget to repeat the instructions for
Adam, partially because it makes the trick easier for the spectators, but mostly
Ihm ause it gives Eve time to think o f something to do to distract Adam. This
Cin ^o on for a while. Don’t try to limit it— this is the trick.
After both face-up cards have been placed in the face-down deck, spread the
dn k across the table. Resist the temptation to have Adam or Eve do this— the
iprrad will not look as nice as the one you make. Now remove each face-up
Cltrd along with the card directly above (and facing) it.

Adaptation
I always have the woman deal first, with the man distracting her, for two
i «\isons. I find that men are much more likely to take the initiative in pushing
the boundary in their effort to distract. I also find that women are more likely
to respond by topping the man, i f the man has already gone first. However I
ain an amateur, and you may well have more real world performing experi­
ence than I do. Go with your instinct.

References
“Gemini Twins” is in More Self-Working Card Tricks by Karl Fulves, which
you can still buy. The ever-knowledgeable Max Maven informs me that it is
based on Herb Rungie’s “ Hidden Mystery,” which appeared in The Jin x in
March 1940.
Teller:
Entering Uncharted Terrain

f you define scripting magic as deciding how you're going to present


a trick before you perform it, as I do on page 6, then I think Penn &
Teller spend more time scripting magic than any other act working to­
day. They sit in comfortable chairs for enormous lengths o f time, just
talking. Occasionally they might just sit there, not talking, just thinking, for
an hour. Then, in rehearsal, they work out every detail o f every presentation to
the limit o f their abilities.
They also have content; they have something to say. Because they don’t just
sit around thinking about magic, they also think about the real world.
The result is many o f m y favorite magic presentations: “The World’s Most
Expensive Card Trick,” which they did on Saturday Night Live, spending
$75,000 to fool two people. “Worms,” where worms find a polaroid instant
photo o f the spectator. The Torn and Restored Card in the wood chipper sec­
tion o f “A Salute to Recycling.” The Bible prediction, called “Quote o f the Day.”
“ Silverfish,” the Miser’s Dream with a goldfish climax. I was particularly inter­
ested to talk with Teller about scripting because I knew that he had protected
his signature piece “ Shadows” — a brilliant script with no dialog— by register­
ing it as a play.
So you can only imagine how happy I am to include the following interview
with Teller, which was conducted by email. And yes, because it was by email,
Teller did not actually speak.

Pete the Water Tank by scrip tin g it as


You’ve written what m ight be the a play got me thinking: people
m ost fam ous script in m agic for who try to patent m agic seem to
your signature effect “Shad ow s.” have it all wrong. The actual m e­
Do you create scrip ts with this chanics of a trick don’t ever reach
sam e level of detail for all your e f­ the audience; what you want to
fects? protect is the effect. So I wrote
and copyrighted it as a m ini-play.
Teller Fortunately, it’s never becom e a
At the time I w as quite unknown, question. 1 guess people who see
and had heard stories about creeps Shadow s sense how d eep ly it is
who would rip off effects and do mine and respect that. Or m ay­
them on TV, and, by sheer force be th ey’ve heard fan ciful stories
of publicity, deprive the creator of about how much the Hell’s Angels
his signature piece. Reading about en joy Penn & Teller, and how ea­
H oudini’s success at protecting gerly th ey’d break the fingers of

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2 14
body they caught violating "Liftoff to Love" we wrote the song
integrity o f our work. with com poser Gary Stockdale and
com posed the p hysical routine all
ry bit in our repertoire has a sim ultaneously in the shop, since
I, written script, and many have every action needed to work in
n videotaped , all of which, perfect sync w ith the m usic. So,
r l.iwyers ad vise us, would ad- with some variation, we create the
liately estab lish our precedence bit, then record it in script form
it legal case. rather than the other w ay around.

Pete Pete
yond legal protection, how im- So it sounds like you create a de­
rtant is scrip tin g to your devel- tailed script for each effect in re­
ment p rocess? If there were no hearsal, you ju s t don ’t actually
wyers, w ould every bit in your write it up as such until later.
pertoire still have a full, written How m any hours o f rehearsal be­
•u tp t? fore you w rite a scrip t? Also, how
m any people are participatin g in
Teller this rehearsal?
Wts, but a fter the fact. While we
Write our books and articles by Teller
Ittting at a com puter, we write our We “create” it, y es, but what I
Itage pieces by running through meant to say is th a t— although
them beginning there are occa­
lo end over and sion s in which
over again in We dorit turn ideas there is “w rit­
rehearsal and into Penn & Teller. ing dow n” b e­
p e rfo rm a n c e , fore and during
and creating the
We are Penn & Teller. the reh earsals
words and ac­ (another one of
tions by talking and doing. The these excep tio n s is “Iron Com e­
s( i ipt is gen erally a record of the d ian” because the cues had to be
bit more than its genesis. v ery specific)— the w riting down
u su ally com es afterw ard s, except
I here are exceptions. “Animal in sofar as is n e c e ssa ry for the tech
I rap s” began as a pure, written people to know their cues.
piece of Penn’s. The p rem ise— tak-
stuff out of a trap without be­ Rehearsal “c a st” v a rie s quite a bit
ing hurt— w as his im age. But all at different sta ges. T h ey start with
the specifics, the gradual building the two of us in a room “m ocking”
o f the sandw ich, the trapeze, etc. our w ay thorou gh it, but quickly
were my fan ta sy on his w ords. involve the o b se rvatio n of Nate,
I he song “D om estication of Ani­ our Director o f Covert A ctivi­
m als” existed before the whole ties, and v a rio u s m em bers o f our
balloon anim al routine. But in crew. There is no big “division of

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 215


labor” wall in our organization; (“Honor System ") In 1975 and first
we bounce ideas o ff— and accept staged it in 2 0 0 1.
ideas fro m — everybody, our Di­
rector of Covert A ctivities, our Pete
Stage Manager, two o f our for­ And do you keep develop in g each
m er Directors o f Covert A ctivi­ piece even after it’s prem iered,
ties (one of whom now is our crew or do you pretty much get things
boss, the other d esigns our sets), locked down and they stay c o n sis­
the shop w orkers, frien d s in the tent?
area (especially Jo h n n y Thom p­
son and Michael Goudeau), d is­ Teller
tant frien ds (especially Ja m y Ian D epends on the piece. Som e stay
Sw iss, Todd Robbins, and Billy quite con sistent (e.g., “Shad ow s”),
McComb). At tim es Paul Provenza others are rewritten top to bottom
and others have com e in to “di­ (“Houdini Seance O pera,” “Zam ofo
rect” as we work. We really have the G orilla Girl.”)
little fear and much appreciation
of the involvem ent o f others, be­ Pete
cause our vision is strong enough So w hat w as it that took “Honor
that w e’d know if we w ere be­ System ” so long to finish? By the
ing steered the w rong way. w ay I saw this in LA last year, but
I kept m y eyes closed until you
One o f our rehearsal techniques, were out. What is the “first h a lf” of
once w e’re well under w ay and this piece?
d evisin g staging, is to have other
m em bers of our com pany play us Teller
on stage w hile we w atch from the All we had was the concept of
house. That really helps us get a keeping the eyes closed. We didn ’t
feel for the blocking. We n ever use have a trick to go with it. It was
videotape for rehearsal on the live ju st a couple years ago that I real­
show, because video tells you only ized that an escape w as the per­
what looks and feels good on TV. fect com plem ent, and adapted the
We do, however, use it when w e’re “lead-lined-box” from the Houdini
p repping a TV bit. notebooks to our nested p lexi and
wood.
Pete
How long typ ically p asses between Pete
the day you first begin w orking on What w as the piece that on ly took
an effect in rehearsal until the day two w eeks, and what m ade that
you first perform it live? one so fast?

Teller Teller
Between two w eeks and tw enty-six TV p ieces often have to be done
years. It is literally true that we that fast or faster. Seem s to me
thought of the first h alf o f a piece “The World’s Most Expensive Card

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 216


trick" was about two w eeks start Pete
lo finish. So where do the ideas come from ?
You’ve said that what turns you
Pete off about m ost magic today is the
&c> when y ou create a stage piece, lack of content. How do you and
do you sp ecify every single word, Penn create the content that you
m ove m en t, and gesture, or do you then develop?
Create a general outline which
gives you the freedom to im pro­ Teller
vise in perform ance? We read, and see things, and talk
to people. We look for ideas in our
Teller lives. We sit and drink hot decaf­
In perform ance and in rehearsal. feinated beverages and talk and
R ehearsal is a big im portant step listen to each other. We take things
In the w riting; it’s not repetition we feel strongly about (things that
of a script, it’s thrill us, out­
working out all We take things rage us, give us
the details. wefeel strongly about chills) and try to
incarnate these
Pete
(things that thrill us, ideas and im ­
So would you outrage us, give us chills) ages. There is no
recom m end this and try to incarnate form ula.
detailed, re-
these ideas and images.
h e a r s a l- d r iv e n Pete
d e v e lo p m e n t There is noformula. Perhaps a sp ecif­
process to other ic exam ple then,
aspiring m agicians, or is it som e­ since there’s no form ula. Let’s take
thing unique to you and Penn? “Honor System .” In 1975 you had
Did you develop m aterial this w ay the concept of the audience keep­
when you were w orking solo? ing their eyes closed. What did
you find com pelling in that idea,
Teller and how did you set about try­
The advantage to “w ritin g” in re­ ing to translate that into Penn &
hearsal (and rew riting in p erfor­ Teller? Or m ore generally, where
mance) is that you get the feel of do you start turning an idea into
how the w ords and actions actually a show piece?
go together, which is quite im por­
tant in m agic. It’s quite easy to sit Teller
.it a com puter keyboard and type What did we find com pelling? It
away at plausible things that ju st seem ed a good statem ent of som e­
don’t w ork when you test them in thing that’s not readily stated
reality— and that goes for speech in any other form . That bit does
as well as action. so m any things. It contrasts two
w ays of view ing the world, and ar­
gues that things that are hurtful in

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 21?


the world (keeping y o u rself in the Pete
dark) can be beautiful in a theater. What percentage o f the audience
It argues that taking home a riddle still has their eyes closed when
from a m agic show is taking home you com e out of the box? Or is It
som ething that will stick with you, ju st me?
like a m elody. It show s you how s i­
m ultaneously fascin atin g and d is­ Teller
appointing secrets are. And it does I think there are only a handful
it all in a light, funny way. that keep their eyes closed. It
takes great self-control. The ones
We don’t turn ideas into Penn & who do it are very, very interest
Teller. We are Penn & Teller. When ing people.
we get ideas they’re suitable for
us. There is no “turning in to.” Pete
So in both “Honor S ystem ” and
Pete “Polyester,” you started with a
Fair enough. But y o u ’ve said that p resentational conceit and then
it w as 26 years betw een this basic searc h ed — for y e a rs!— to find the
idea and the prem iere. What hap­ right trick. Do you also start with
pened during those 26 y ears? Did tricks you like and look for pre
you try other tricks as w ays to ex­ sen tations? What guides this deci
plore these sam e sion for you?
ideas? Or did the Art is real only
basic idea sit in Teller
the back of your when it enters I’d p refer the
mind until you uncharted terrain. word “id ea .” The
thou ght— an e s ­ I f you dont enter it with real idea behind
cape! each o f these
your heartpounding,
tricks is the
Teller go elsewhere. thing we start­
Yes. Mating the ed with. Find­
idea o f an escape with the idea ing the trick w as like find­
of the closed eyes is an idea that ing the w ords to ex p re ss it.
took 26 years to com e across
the threshold. Same thing in our There is no rigid pattern. Stan­
Polyester trick. For at least fifteen isla v sk y used to tell his students
years we w anted to do a trivial to start with which ever part of
m agic trick and claim it w as a reli­ the script seem ed bright and at­
gious m iracle. It w asn ’t until I read tractive to them, then gradually
David P. Abbott’s versio n o f the find their w ay from that part to
Turban trick that we had a trick the rest o f the play. With m y ver­
that w as sufficiently (a) trivial and sion o f the East Indian N eedles, I
poin tless and (b) stagew orthy and started with the photo o f Houdini
(c) baffling to fill the role o f the doing the trick, then decided I’d
“m iracle.” have to figure out a w ay for a non-

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 218


Iking person to do It. When we Before I go, let me ask you one
(I World’s H eaviest Card trick" last question: If you were writing a
the David Letterman show, we book about Scripting Magic, what
itrted with Letterm an’s request is the one m ost im portant thing
at we do som ething big. Then we y o u ’d want to com m unicate?
( ailed a vision we had of m aking
ftn entrance on forklifts. Then we Teller
got the notion o f the giant metal Art is real only when it enters un­
Cards. Other things came as a sin ­ charted terrain. If you don’t enter
gle bolt all at once, idea and trick it with your heart pounding, go
together (e.g. the upside down bit elsew here, until you feel the little
On Saturday Night Live). hairs standing up on the back of
your neck. Then you know y o u ’re
Pete there.
I've ju st gone back and reread
what we have so far, and I m ust The End
say it’s a fascin atin g glim pse into
your w orking process. I can’t thank
you enough for taking the time to
discu ss everythin g so freely, and
I hope your exam ple serves as
an inspiration to everyone read­
ing this, as your m agic has in­
spired me all these years.

There was a wonderfulfeeling o f play—hey, we can do it, werefree!


And then we became slightly more self conscious about thatfreedom as
time went on, and we began to think, Where do we go from here?
You cant always have sketches aboutflying sheep—
you have to move on. Where are they flying to?
Michael. Palin

SCRIPTING MAGIC [ 219


Scriptwriting:
The Back story

Every story has a backstory.


The backstory is what happened before we the audience start watching. Vir­
tually all scriptwriters consider the backstory o f everything they write. Sonic
go to incredible lengths, writing biographies for their characters and scenes
that never appear in the final script. But even the ones that don’t go this far still
think about what happened before the script begins. One o f the most basic
principles o f drama is that the story you see is the end o f a much larger arc o f
action. Just think o f Star Wars; the original episode begins at the end o f such
a sweeping arc it took three movies to tell the backstory. Even in cases where
you never learn the specifics o f a character's backstory, like the classic western
Shane, you know he has one.
So, think about the backstory o f your magic. To do that, you have to figure
out what it is, obviously. You're going to have to make some choices, answer
some questions. But you also have to figure out what angle you are going to
take. What questions are you going to ask?
For example: the magical power you have— how did you get it? Were you
born with it? Did someone teach you? I f so, who, and how long did it take?
Who taught the person who taught you? Who invented the technique? How
did you learn it? Did you discover a secret manuscript, lo these many years
ago? Where did you find it— was it hidden, or was it just misplaced, and fell
into the possession o f someone who didn't appreciate what it was? Maybe one
day you needed money so desperately that you imagined you had a coin, and
when you opened your eyes, it was real. And i f so, what made you need the
money?
Maybe you’re not presenting the trick as “magic” — maybe you’re just doing
a trick. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but how did you learn it?
Who taught it to you? When did you first see it? Who else performed it before
you? And your props— where did they come from? The local drugstore? Your
grandfather? A yard sale at a haunted house? The estate o f Harry Houdini?
You don’t have to include your backstory in the script. But think about it,
and say it out loud, and write it down. And then, make your presentation
consistent with the backstory. That way the presentation will have a unity that
strengthens its individual aspects into a consistent whole; even i f the audience
doesn’t know what the theme is, they can tell that there is one. One nifty trick
a lot o f screenwriters use is to have a character refer to some event from the
backstory, without explaining what it is or even what the reference means.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 220


. in Star Wars, Ben Kenobi mentions that Darth Vader fought with Luke's
ther in the Clone Wars, but we don’t learn what that means (until four mov-
later).
The next two scripts demonstrate different ways to add backstory to make
r magic stronger. The first is a charming script by Michael Ammar, which
M is its own backstory. Then comes Guy Hollingworth’s elegant presentation
foi the “Open Prediction,” which connects itself to a historical event that took
M ace some 3,200 years ago.
ichael Am m ar is one o f the most successful magicians alive,
both as a creator and teacher o f magic and as a performer. Mi­
chael and I worked together long before we met in person. He
was the star o f a corporate video I wrote for Erie Insurance. I
wrote the script and Michael did the magic.
I saw Michael teach this trick you are about to read in a lecture at the A-i
Convention at the Capital in 19 9 7 — long before I had any idea to write this
book. But when it came time for me to solicit contributions from other ma­
gicians, I remembered it clearly. That's just one o f the benefits o f a great
script— it makes your performance memorable. Another benefit o f scripting
which this script vividly demonstrates is that you can take an incredibly simple
trick— three coins vanish into a thumbtip— and turn it into something that
is not only mysterious, but also strongly communicates the performer's char­
acter.
Michael taught this trick on video, but neither the trick nor the script have
ever appeared in print before. Thank you, Michael.
Grandpa’s Coins
by Michael Ammar

Int — Theater— Evening

Michael stands at his performing table.

Michael
I get to show you something very near
and dear to my heart this time.

Michael takes out a small, old-fashioned drawstring bag and


turns to Alex.

Michael
May I ask you to hold out your hand for
me?

Michael pours four coins from the bag into Alex’s hand.

Michael
I’ll bet you haven’t seen some of those
for a while, have you? Can you recognize
what those are?

Alex
Some of them.

Michael
Mercury dime, buffalo nickel, that’s an
Indian head penny, and that’s one of the
old quarters. I’m not sure what they used
to call the old quarters. I got these from
my grandfather. Forty-one cents here.
Very old quarter, very old dime, very old
nickel, very old penny.

Michael takes the coins from Alex and lays them on the table.

Michael
When I was younger my grandfather
would tell me a story, and I’ve inherited
the coins he would use to illustrate that
story. To keep his memory alive, I will

SCRIPTING MAGIC |
tell you that story the exact same way he
shared it with me so many years ago.

Michael lays the coins in a row on the table.

Michael
He would get the grandkids around, sit
them in a circle, and say...

Michael pushes the quarter forward and switches into his


“grandfather” voice.

Michael
A quarter. The average person lets a
quarter of their time run through their
fingers like water, without realizing it’s
their life they’re wasting. Now killing
time’s not a simple crime—it’s murder. If
you’re going to kill time, why not work it
to death?

Michael draws the quarter back, and pushes out the dime.

Michael
A dime. It stands half as tall as a nickel,
but it’s worth twice as much. Same thing’s
true of a lot of people. Never judge by
appearances alone.

The dime goes back, the nickel comes out.

Michael
One of these four coins is a buffalo nickel.
At least one of every four people is full of
bull. Don’t you be one of them.

Nickel back, penny out.

Michael
Now if this penny could talk it would say:
save me. Save me. Because pennies make
nickels, and nickels make dimes; dimes
make quarters, and quarters make dollars.
The average person spends their money,
and saves what’s left. You do the opposite:

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 224


save your money first, then spend what’s
left. But don’t be like the person who
spends their whole life counting their
money.

Michael picks up the coins one at a time and puts them in his
fist.

Michael
Twenty-five, thirty-five, forty, forty-one
cents.

Michael
Because the person who revolves their
whole life around counting their money,
may end up with a little bit of money...

Michael removes the penny.

Michael
...and a life that’s worth nothing,

lie opens his hand—the quarter, dime, and nickel are gone.

Michael
But as long as you live, study how to live,
and money will come to you...

He puts the penny back in the hand.

Michael
...to play in your backyard...

Michael begins to pull the missing coins out of his hand.

Michael
...just to see what kind of person you are.

The row of coins is restored to the table. Michael returns to his


normal voice.

Michael
He would always end the same way.

Michael puts the nickel, dime, and penny in his pocket.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 225


M ic ha el
He would take the quarter, and blow,
and change that quarter into a piece of
peppermint.

Michael blows on the quarter and it changes into a peppermint


candy.

Michael
And to this day, I can’t eat a piece of
peppermint without thinking of my
grandfather.
Notes on Grandpa's Coins
you art* having trouble getting your audiences to like you, you might want
give this script a try. If you can’t get audiences to like you using this script,
i t know what you can do.
Any per former, o f any age, can perform this script for any audience o f any
, and make a connection with them. How many scripts can you say that
t?

thod
Start with the thumbtip in your left hand. As you put the coins into the left
. the quarter, dime, and nickel go into the thumbtip, and the penny goes
tside the tip, next to the ball o f the false thumb. Then, when you remove the
penny, your thumb automatically steals the tip, leaving the left hand empty.
For the reproduction, do the same in reverse. Put the penny in the fist, leaving
the tip. Then begin pulling the coins from the tip, taking the penny— and the
tip with it— last. When you put the penny, nickel, and dime in your pocket,
ditch the tip and steal the candy. Michael changes the quarter into the candy
with the Bobo switch, but you can use any good (i.e., well-practiced) switch.

Adaptation
When Michael taught this trick at the convention, all the coins vanished but
the quarter, and this is how he did it on the video. (The original handling was
i reated by Professor Putter as an ungaffed version o f a dealer item where all
the coins nest into the quarter.) At some point I changed it so that I ended up
with just the penny, vanishing the quarter, dime, and nickel. It just felt stron­
ger to end up with a penny, having lost the other forty cents, than to end up
with twenty-five cents having lost sixteen.
In preparing this book I learned that Michael had already made the same
exact change, so this is the most up-to-date version o f this script.

References
This trick is on Volume 1 o f Michael's Easy-to-Master Money Miracles video.
For any o f Michael's tricks, you can visit www.ammarmagic.com or any magic
dealer in the world. Well, there may be a magic dealer somewhere who doesn't
carry any o f Michael's products, but I don't know where.
The Open Prediction

I
never liked this trick. Basically, it boils down to this: the magician sayi
“I’m going to have you choose a card, and I’m going to make you pit k
the Two o f Diamonds.” And then, does so. The problem I have with this
is, announcing the prediction in advance gives away the ending. When
you reveal that the selected card is in fact the one you predicted, the audi­
ence may be fooled— or more accurately, may not know how you forced the*
selection— but they are never surprised. The ending is not just predictable,
it’s obvious. For my money, obvious is the worst thing a magic trick— or any
form o f entertainment, for that matter— can be.
And then I read Guy Hollingworth’s remarkable book, Drawing Room De­
ceptions, whose final chapter concludes with the following presentation. You
might have missed it if, like every other magician in the world, you opened the
book directly to the Epilogue, which reveals the secret o f “The Reformation.”
I f so, that’s a shame, because this is a great presentation. It has an intrigu­
ing setup and an irresistible hook, which misdirects attention away from the
key points in the process. And best o f all, the structure makes the ending com­
pletely unexpected. Whether you use this presentation or not, it’s an object les­
son in how to take an problematic card trick and turn it into an intriguing and
deeply mysterious experience for the spectators. The final moment produces
a profound sense o f the same “ Inevitable Surprise” that Jamy Ian Swiss writes
about in “I’ve Got A Surprise for You” on page 379.
it* Cassandra Quandary
by Guy Hollingworth

lint Drawing Room— Evening

feuy si,s across a table from Eve.

Guy
I wonder if you have ever heard the name
Cassandra. Cassandra was a tragic figure
from classical mythology, who was cursed
in a terrible way: despite the fact that,
being a prophetess, she could foresee the
future, it was destined that no one would
ever believe her prophesies. Therefore,
although she could see impending
disasters, although she would try to warn
people so they might avoid their terrible
fate, they would never believe her, and
she was forced to look on as catastrophe
befell those people whom she loved. The
greatest of these tragedies was the fall of
her city of Troy, even though she tried to
warn the Trojans that the wooden horse
was not a gift but a trick devised by the
Greeks to win the city. As we now know,
this was of course the truth, although she
was dismissed and mocked for her absurd
idea.

Guy brings out a brand new pack of cards and removes the
plastic wrapping.

Guy
It is my intention to make a prophecy; I
will foretell what is going to be. That is,
someone will take a pack of cards and
will make a series of very fair choices,
whereby they will eliminate cards until
they are left with only one. At each
juncture they will be offered the chance
to change their mind, until eventually one
card is left, and that card will be the Two
of Diamonds. Remember that: the Two of
Diamonds.

Guy addresses Eve.

Guy
Eve, will you come and sit to my right?
You will play Fate, to my Cassandra. To
make matters as fair as possible, 1 have
a brand new pack, which you can see
contains every card, with no duplicates.

Guy spreads the deck across the table for Eve to examine.

Guy
Please shuffle the cards thoroughly.

Eve picks up the deck and begins shuffling.

Guy
However, despite what I have said, and
despite the fact that the process will be
very fair, it is possible that some of you
still believe me; after all you know that
I am a conjuror, and although you may
not be able to conceive how such a thing
could be possible, you may nevertheless
still hold an inkling of belief that what
1 have said will happen. But if it were
Cassandra who had made the prophecy,
not one of you would believe it. I will
therefore make it impossible for you to
believe me, by removing the only Two of
Diamonds from the pack, so that there is
no way Eve can possibly choose that card.

Guy brings out a small stack of envelopes and hands one


to Eve. He runs through the deck and removes the Two of
Diamonds.

Guy
Eve, will you please seal the Two of
Diamonds inside the envelope.

Eve inserts the Two of Diamonds in the envelope and seals it.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 230


Guy
And please sign the envelope for
verification.

Evo signs her name on the envelope.

Guy
You would now be fools to believe my
prophecy, as there is no way that it can
possibly come true, but nonetheless, I will
continue as I stated, with the process of
elimination.

(.uy cuts the pack in half.

Guy
Will you please point to either packet.

I ve chooses a packet.

Guy
Would you like to change your mind?

Eve
No.

Guy
Very well. We see that you have eliminated
a multitude of random cards.

Guy picks up the eliminated cards and shows them. He then


cuts the selected packet in half.

Guy
Again, will you please choose either
packet.

Eve chooses a packet.

Guy
Would you like to change your mind?

Eve
No.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 23 1
Guy picks up the eliminated cards and shows them. He then
cuts the remaining packet in half.

[This process of elimination is repeated until there are only


two cards left.]

Guy
Now this is the final choice, and you may
deliberate as long as you wish. Please
eliminate one card.

Eve selects the final card to be eliminated.

Guy
This card would have been your chosen
card, had you not eliminated it.

Guy shows that the final eliminated card is yet another random
card.

Guy
It is impossible for anyone to know the
identity of that card. In fact the only thing
that we know about that card is that it
cannot possibly be the Two of Diamonds,
because that is inside the envelope that
you are holding. Eve, will you please tear
open the envelope and take a look inside.

Eve tears open her signed envelope.

Eve
It’s empty!

Guy turns his attention slowly to Eve’s final selected card.

He turns it over. It’s the Two of Diamonds.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 232


Notes on The Cassandra Quandary
11 le legend o f Cassandra is a lovely setting for this effect. But it is the step o f
moving the predicted card before the selection process that turns this from
puzzle into a truly magical experience. It produces the wonderful moment
where the audience, realizing that the envelope is empty, turns to look at the
•election and realizes that it must be the prophesied card, just before you re­
veal that it is. It is moments like these that people remember.
Magically this is extremely powerful. Where would even the most analytical
spectator begin? How did the Two o f Diamonds vanish? How did it get back
into the deck? And how did the incredibly fair selection process lead unerr­
ingly to it?
Guy’s handling for this trick will be discussed briefly, so you can see how it
lines up with the script. It is far too challenging for most magicians to perform
with confidence. And, as Guy says “the method is rather unimportant, the
plot being what intrigues.” I f you want the full story on Guy’s method, please
read Drawing Room Deceptions. Since you are reading this book, which has no
illustrations whatsoever, I will assume that you are the kind o f literate magi-
c ian who reads books. In that case you will definitely want to read Guy’s book,
which, aside from including an excellent selection o f magic, is extremely well
written.

M ethod
Guy gaffs a stack o f envelopes to serve as a shell that can hold a half deck.
(See Guy’s book for construction details and pictures o f this gaff.) Load that
with 26 duplicates o f the Two o f Diamonds. You’ll need an unopened deck for
each show.
After introducing the pack, and having Eve remove the Two o f Diamonds,
Guy brings out the stack o f envelopes and gives one to Eve. At this point he
cops the 26 duplicates from the shell, and adds them to the deck. While the
audience is watching Eve put the Two o f Diamonds in the envelope, Guy cops
away half o f the original deck, and loads it into the stack-of-envelopes shell,
which he then removes from play.
Guy now removes his pen, in the process stealing a duplicate envelope from
inside his jacket, holding it in Tenkai palm. He takes Eve’s envelope and adds
his own envelope on top o f it, then (depending on the angles) either cops away
the lower envelope or performs a Miracle Change, which brings the lower
envelope into Tenkai palm. The switched-out envelope is ditched returning
the pen to the pocket.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 233


Let’s see, gambler's cop half a deck — twice — then do a barehand switch of
an envelope, with two Tenkai palms and a miracle change. It's hard enough
for me to even write down this handling— I could never perform it with con­
fidence in front o f an audience.
Guy now goes into the elimination process, in which he cuts the deck and
asks Eve to indicate one half, after which the non-eliminated packet is recut,
Eve chooses again, etc. Only the first o f these choices needs to be controlled;
Guy has already mentioned that Eve will "eliminate” all but one card, so no
matter which pile Eve touches, Guy can pick up the non-force h alf and say
“You have eliminated a multitude o f random cards.” After this, all the remain­
ing cards are Two o f Diamonds, so i f the pile Eve’s chose in the first round
was eliminated, Guy eliminates the selected pile in each o f the remaining
phases (and vice versa). Either way each selection is interpreted the same way
throughout, which cancels the theory o f magician’s choice from the cogno­
scenti.
After the second go-round o f the selection process, Guy takes the second
pile o f eliminated cards (which are all Two o f Diamonds) and drops them onto
the first, indifferent pile, then turns the entire packet face up, showing a few
cards Eve might have ended up with. Subsequent eliminated packets go on top
o f the face-down deck.
While Eve is making the final selection, Guy side steals any random card
from the bottom half o f the deck to the top, then picks up the final eliminated
card (another 2D), does a top change, and shows the final card that might
have been selected. I think this pretty much sum s up the difference between
Guy Hollingworth and ordinary mortals— he would do a side steal and a top
change to add this one additional level o f conviction.

Adaptation
You could use this presentation without actually mentioning Cassandra,
saying that you are always right but no one ever believes you. Actually, this
could be a terrific running gag throughout your entire act— everyone has felt
this way at some point in their life, and this m otif can be integrated into many
classic magical effects.
But that’s not why you’re reading this section— you want a method for this
trick that doesn’t require you to be Guy Hollingworth. Since I, like you, am not
Guy Hollingworth, I worked out the following, which is really quite natural,
convincing, fun, and easy.

Pete's Handling
Set up by taking a small stack o f slightly-larger-than-playing-card-sized en-
v r lo |K * s , address side up. Take a duplicate Two o f Diamonds and put it below
the stack, face down. Put a rubber band around the stack and put it in your
p<x ket, with the Two against your body. Put a Sharpie or other felt marker in
your pocket.
Spread the deck face up for Eve to remove the Two o f Diamonds. Take the
stac k o f envelopes from your pocket, keeping the Two away from the audience,
and remove the rubber band. Do a double turnover o f the top two envelopes,
put the Two in the top envelope, then do another double turnover and put the
top envelope on the table for Eve to sign.
If you can overcome most magicians’ tendency to do double turnovers with
unnecessary care and precision, this can be very natural and psychologically
invisible. Make some comment about how you want Eve to address the enve­
lope, which motivates the action o f turning the envelope over to the address
side. You can trim the third envelope from top a little narrow, which makes the
double turnover almost automatic. Alternately, use a top change, as per Guy’s
suggestion. Mostly, do not handle the stack o f envelopes like a deck o f cards.
Once the envelope is signed, direct Eve to pick up the deck, verify there is
no Two o f Diamonds, shuffle (or not), and then deal cards onto the table in
a pile, one by one, stopping any time. While this is going on, don’t hold the
envelopes up at waist height; let them drop to your side. When Eve is finished,
lean forward as you ask Eve to turn over the undealt cards, to see the other
cards that might have ended up as the selection, etc. As Eve is turning the un­
dealt cards face up, your left hand touches the pile o f dealt cards and unloads
the force card on top.
This is a great force. It’s extremely fair, and can withstand you calling atten­
tion to its fairness. I’ve never seen another magician use it, probably because
it’s exactly the kind o f force that doesn’t appeal to magicians. It’s too simple
and easy, and not new and clever, and depends almost entirely on your ability
to act casual.
These characteristics are what make this such a great force. It’s particularly
well-suited to this effect, since Eve looks through the deck, removes the Two
o f Diamonds, verifies there are no other Twos o f Diamonds, and then moves
directly to dealing the cards, without you touching the deck. Eve’s conviction
that the selection will not be the Two o f Diamonds could hardly be higher.
So, Eve shows the undealt cards, you talk about how any o f them could have
been the selected card, and now you very fairly move the last card dealt (i.e.,
the force card) o ff the pile to the side o f the table, then turn over the rest o f the
dealt cards, to show that any o f them could have been chosen as well. Gather
these cards and put them aside, so the selected card is the only card in play.

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 235


Have Eve open the envelope, to discover that it is empty. Turn over the se­
lected card, which is the prophesied Two o f Diamonds.
To reset, take the switched-out Two of Diamonds from the top envelope and
put it back under the stack.
One nice feature o f this method— aside from the fact that I can actually do
it— is that the deck begins and ends clean; the force Two o f Diamonds replac­
es the one in the switched-out envelope. Not only that, but the deck is clean
throughout; i f Eve drops the deck, or accidentally flips it face up, or even grabs
it and looks through it in the middle o f the selection process, no problem.

References
“The Cassandra Quandary” is in Drawing Room Deceptions by Guy Holling­
worth, Mike Caveney’s Magic Words, 1999.
I first learned the envelope force in “The Eternal Card Force” from Penn &
Teller’s How to Play in Traffic, Boulevard Books, 1997. It is usually credited to
Richard Himber, but Max Maven tracked it back to Walter Gibson’s “A Spirit
Card Trick” in Two Dozen Effective Practical Card Tricks, 1927, and found that
the basic idea is older: Donald Holmes’ “Marvelous Prediction” in New Card
Tricks, 1913.
Rafael Benatar:
The Practice of Magic

I
n addition to being one o f the world’s suavest magicians and an accom­
plished author— not to mention the ranking English-language transla­
tor o f magic written in Spanish— Rafael Benatar is a world-class lute
player. Rafael was the first person to get a lute degree from the Guildhall
Sc hool o f Music and Drama in London. When I read a fascinating article in
(irnii magazine about Rafael’s music background, I asked him if he would
nhare some o f his thoughts about what he has learned from m usic— and what
magicians can learn from m usicians— when it comes to practicing.
1 think practice is an often overlooked aspect o f magic, and I strongly urge
everyone to benefit from Rafael’s experience (and his generosity). I’ve found
that scripting my magic has enhanced the time I spend practicing, and I think
if you follow Rafael’s suggestions you’ll get more value out o f your practice,
spending your time where it’s most needed. It’s easier to see your progress
when you’re working on a consistent presentation— whether it’s scripted to
the letter or just a basic structure or hook. So you’ll automatically start taking
it more seriously. Better magic deserves better practice.
Before we start, let me say that this interview was not conducted in a single
session, or for that matter in any kind o f organized fashion whatsoever. It be­
gan by email, and then we were able to get together in the Magic Castle library
for part o f it, and we finished by email. So first, thanks to Rafael for putting
up with this schizophrenic process. And second, i f this interview doesn’t seem
entirely coherent, it is not El Matador’s fault.

Pete p iece— and I w onder if I’ll ever


You said in G enii that you had an be able to p lay it. Then I begin to
advantage com ing into magic from practice and, often sooner than
music. expected, I realize I can. Some
people never practice enough to
Rafael d iscover that w onderful feeling.
Rather than an advantage, I m eant
I was better off than starting from Pete
scratch. The first thing is d isc i­ It took me y ears to appreciate
pline. It m ight take people years this. I would start to learn a m ove,
to discover that som ething you because I saw som eone do it and
can’t do, you can becom e able to it looked great. And I would prac­
do through practice. Som etim es tice it a little, but it didn’t look all
I’m facing a ch allen ge— like say, that great. And so I would switch
a difficult passage in a m usic to a different m ove, and practice

SCRIPTING MAGIC [ 23?


that a little, but it d id n ’t look great price to pay. It’s not even a price
either. I kept learning more and if you en joy practicing. Practice is
m ore variations o f m oves, looking well rew arded.
for the one that will look great.
Pete
Rafael I alw ays think people u n d eres­
But the reason the m ove d oesn ’t tim ate the value of w orking on
look great isn ’t the m ove. If you som ething a little bit every day for
think of it, p robably all m oves years.
have been invented for a purpose.
Then they “exist” as m oves. You Rafael
can take from what exists but cu s­ I learned French in the bathroom ,
tom ize it for your purp ose. Blend and Germ an on the bus. Every so
it into your routine, into your often I would sw itch the books.
natural actions, or create a stru c­ It’s m ore difficult to get round to
ture around it. Don’t ju s t think things than it is to continue, to
that it will fly because it’s an e s­ get carried away. I mean if you can
tablished m ove and you can do it practice for ten m inutes, y o u ’ll get
fairly well. The Corinda book, as en thusiastic and m ight go for an
a whole, teaches a great lesson hour or two easily. So, if you are
in this regard. If you care enough ju st determ ined to do those ten
and w ork on the m ove you need, m inutes, two things can happen:
you will have the best version of you either get carried aw ay and
it, for you and your purpose. The practice a lot more, or if not, well,
w ork invested in d evelop in g it will you did your ten m inutes w hich is
get better rew ards than learning alread y som ething. Also, ten m in­
all m oves that are out there for ac­ utes today and ten tom orrow is
com plishing the sam e basic goal. often better than tw enty m inutes
at once. There m ust be a lot of
Pete stu ff going on in your sleep. When
You have to be in it for the long I practice som ething technical at
term. night for any length o f tim e, that
thing is alw ays circling in m y head
Rafael when I wake up the next day.
An interesting w ay to realize what
practice has done for you is: look Pete
at som ebody who is learning his When Thom as Edison w as w orking
first skills in card m agic. Make a on a hard p roblem — like, say, in­
rough estim ate of the hours y o u ’ve ven tin g the light bulb or the pho­
spent practicing in you r life, and n o grap h — he would take a nap at
think of the fact that those are the his w orkbench with his hand hold­
hours that have taken you from ing a steel ball over a m etal plate.
there (beginner) to w h erever you When he dropped off to sleep, the
are now. The hours will never ball w ould fall on the plate and
seem too many. It is not a high wake him up. He w anted to get

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 238


Mi that ju st-b arely unconscious fore, if the guitar is more im por­
inode, so his brain could work tant to you, or equally im portant,
things out without his conscious you com pensate for this by doing
mind slow ing him down. what you can to make it easier
for you to get started: Set it on
Rafael a stand, keep it in tune, put it in
How interesting! And a bit of a tor­ your living room, w hatever m akes
ture, too. I have, more than once, it easier. N eedless to say, this e a s­
fallen asleep in a train with a deck ily translates to m agic and props.
of cards in my hand, but it d oesn ’t
fall. I gu ess Thom as used a “real” Pete
zombie ball. In art, it is not easy to I think that’s one reason why
m easure resu lts but at some point people do card tricks. It’s easy to
I was learning the basics o f three- ju st grab a deck. If you want to do
hall juggling, counting how m any your bill switch, your thumb tip is
( y tles I could do, which is som e­ in the drawer, the bills are in your
thing easily m easurable. At som e w allet in the livin g room ...
point the best I could do w as six
( ycles and I got stuck. Could not Rafael
go past it. The next day I woke up Exactly. So if y o u ’re working on
,md did seven. And this happened a bill switch, have the bills you
more tim es. 1 had never seen it so need at hand, ea sily accessible.
( learly. So I figured the sam e m ust Now, if you practice only like that,
be happening with the things that y o u ’re not getting the practice of
<annot be m easured. sitting down seriously, working
on tricks, actually rehearsing how
Pete you present things, the staging
Anything you can do to squeeze of your trick. Doing the m oves is
in a little practice, every day, even ju st getting acquainted with the
Just a little, m akes a hugeM iffer- props. It’s like taking batting prac­
ence. tice for a ballplayer, doing scales
for a m usician, or jum pin g rope
Rafael for a boxer. It’s an essen tial aspect
Yes, but in som e things it’s easier of practice. Then there are other
to get started, and we should be stages, like routine plays in b ase­
aware of this and ready to com ­ ball, practicing p assag es from a
pensate for it. For exam ple, if you M ozart sonata, or sparring with a
play the guitar, and you have ten partner.
m inutes to w ait for a cab, you
have to open the case, tune it up, Pete
etc. But if you have a piano, y o u ’re That seem s to be a problem unique
more likely to sit down and p lay to magic. In m usic, there’s much
for 10 m inutes, only because it’s less practice as separate from re­
easier to get around to it. All you hearsal. But I gu ess a m usician
have to do is sit and play. T h ere­

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 239


isn ’t “perform in g” in the sam e way to any perform ance o f anythl
as a m agician. Once you set the mood, then I
about not breaking it. And you c
Rafael break it by dropping out o f char*
I think you are perform in g to the ter, or by a technical hesitation o
sam e extent. Perform ances m ay be som e constructional discrepancy,
more or less form al. Even during a
single perform ance, there are m o­ Pete
m ents that appear casu al and oth­ In m usic, I suppose, you drop out
ers that appear planned. In magic, of character by playin g a wrong
the casual-looking m om ents are note.
usefu l for concealing stuff. That’s
the only difference, but from the Rafael
au dien ce’s point o f view it’s all the In m agic, too. In his book, Ascanio
sam e. w rites “The chief requirem ent for a
m axim um effect, for ach ievin g the
Pete m agical atm osphere, is flaw less
My friend Stu Malina is a con­ technique. This d oesn ’t mean all
ductor, and he told me about the m agicians who achieve this magi
im portance of “the beat before cal atm osphere are first-class tech
the m usic.” The nicians, but it
idea is that be­ Somepeople never does mean they
fore the piece use on ly those
starts, you are practice enough m oves they have
alread y in w hat­ to discover that m astered .” Espe­
ever m ood— or wonderfulfeeling. cially if you ac­
character, atm o­ know ledge your
sphere, w hat­ m istake or ap ol­
e v e r— that y o u ’re going to be in ogize in some way. It often hap­
during the piece. You can ’t start it pens in magic. If som ething goes
up at the sam e time as you start w rong, and there are colleagues
the piece itself. Even if it’s ju st an present, some m agicians tend
instant before. I think that can be to throw an ap ologetical look, or
true o f magic. som etim es even w orse than that,
in order to let them know that they
Rafael are better than that. But I think
Also at the end of the perform ance, y o u ’re better if you don’t acknow l­
there is a silence that’s part of it. edge you r m istakes and carry on
There is an avant garde guitar and find your w ay around them in
piece by Leo Brouwer with the in­ your need to m aintain the atm o­
dication “At the end, rem ain still, sphere you have created.
in silence, for six seco n d s.” The
piece is not over when you strike Pete
the last chord. And this pretty I think the key is that you m ain­
m uch applies to ev ery piece or tain the atm osphere. You can ac-

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 240


w! edge that som ething has I managed to fix it and switch the
pened — don ’t ignore the ba- wrong card for the m issing Ace for
, .is lonathan Levit s a y s — but a later transform ation.
hin character. Even a true wiz-
can m iss from time to time, Pete
t It has to be that— your magi- What have you learned from m u­
I power has failed. If you drop sic that helps you m aster sleight
t r a d e r and respond as though of hand?
v tuck has failed, you lose the
tm osphere. Rafael
If you are able to do a sleight while
Rafael hum m ing, mmm mmm mmm,
It d e p e n d s on the nature o f the w ithout changing the uniform tone
mistake. If you make a sm all m is­ o f your hum, it should be pretty
take that d oesn ’t screw up the good. Do it, say, twenty tim es— or
whole thing, you should keep g o ­ a num ber of tim es you decide, but
ing and ignore it. Some colleague counting with m atches, playing
may susp ect som ething happened, cards, w hatever. Do those twenty
but chances are that the whole au ­ tim es without thinking much. Ju st
dience will ignore it if you ignore do it. You m ay start thinking of
It y ourself. I’m speaking of a m is­ your presentation while letting
take equivalent to playing a w rong your hands and body go through
note. I mean som etim es the a u ­ the m otions. A fter twenty tim es,
dience finds out som ething went stop and a sse ss the situation. Is it
wrong because the p erform er any better? Undoubtedly, it will be.
acknow ledged it, and that’s w hat Now you m ay stop and think a bit,
should not happen. If som ething is and perhaps m ake som e changes.
really obvious then you deal with And go for another twenty. Is it
it. I prefer to acknow ledge w hat still better? Then it’s been well
com es from the outside, i.e., the worth it. This should encourage
lights went out or there is a noise, you to continue. By the time you
a heckler, w hatever. If it’s a techn i­ can do it tw enty tim es w ithout sig ­
cal m istake I’ll try to fix it even if I nificant im provem ent, it should be
have to “lan d” on another trick, or pretty good. This could go on for­
make a w itty rem ark that tells the ever but at som e point you decide
audience y o u ’re adm itting you r it’s time to go out and perform it.
m istake but y o u ’re not acknow l­ This procedure is no guarantee,
edging it. For exam ple: “... So the ju st a healthy minimum require­
other p layer had nothing in his ment. If you get stuck som ewhere,
hand while I got the four A ces... d on’t overdo it. Instead, leave it
Well, ju st three this time, w hich for tom orrow. You’ll be surprised
is enough to win, without putting how often y o u ’ll get it ju st right at
your opponent down too m uch.” the first attem pt the next day. It’s
This happened to me only last quite an experience.
night. Then, w hile people laughed,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 24 1
Pete action s will be different. Even the
I like your idea to go tw enty times p roportions are different because
w ithout analyzing. A lot of people you can ’t control the vibration of
say you need to practice correctly a string or the speed at which a
from the beginning, and there’s silk falls. So, this other approach
som e truth to that, but if I’m learn­ w ould con sist of, instead of do
ing a new m ove, I like to do the ing it very slow at the beginning,
first few tim es w ithout any p reci­ start with a shorter segm ent, as
sion, ju st to get my hands used to short as you want, and bring it
the basic idea. Then I take a break up to speed as early as you can.
to make adjustm en ts, and be more This m akes a lot o f sense, and so
precise. I find it m uch easier to does the other approach. In favor
make precise ad ju stm en ts after o f the first approach I should say
m y hands have the general idea. that though the m uscles are differ
Have you experienced this? ent and the actions are not exactly
the sam e, your mind w ill make
Rafael the n ecessary ad ju stm en ts. You’ll
First, let’s make it clear that this train the right m uscles w hen you
ap p lies m ainly to m anipulative or bring it up to speed. The mind ad ­
essen tially technical m agic. Do­ ju sts everything. If you learn how
ing it twenty tim es (or any other to play the guitar and they su d ­
appropriate num ber o f times) is denly bring you a sm aller guitar,
a later stage. It’s w hat I m ight do y o u ’ll quickly get used to it and
after I can go through the rou­ find the notes. The m ovem ents
tine and execute it fairly well w ill certain ly be different but your
and yet I feel it can be im proved. mind know s where to go. This il­
lustrates the fact that you need
As to doing it p erfectly from the to train your mind as well as your
first repetition, there is m ore than fingers (or hands, or body).
one side to this. There is one ap ­
proach some classical m usicians Having said all that, I think sub­
use (m ainly pianists) which is scribin g only to one system is un­
to do it as slow as n ecessary to d esirab ly strict. I think it’s good to
make sure you do it perfectly, con sider all options. It all helps to
w ithout m istakes, then gradually u nderstand practice, to know what
increase the tem po. For this you you are doing when you are p rac­
don’t need to feel any p ressu re to ticing. T h at’s our hom ework. Then
speed it up. At som e point it will com es how to bring out the best
becom e boring to do it so slow o f you in perform ance after h av­
because you have m astered it at ing done your hom ework, which
that pace, so you will raise the is another subject. In this regard,
challenge a bit with a sure step. I stro n gly recom m end The Inner
Another trend of thought is that if G am e o f Tennis by Tim G allw ey (as
you do it that slow, you will not w ell as other books in the Inner
be using the sam e m uscles. The Gam e series). I ju d ge, accordin g to

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 242


the nature of what I’m practicing, ing to a flag. He need not be con­
what path should I follow, which cerned about hitting the ball well.
I* often a com bination o f the two All he has to do is try to guess
approaches, with varying ratios. the direction o f each ball he hits,
without looking. He would say, for
Pete instance, “Two feet to the right” or
I love The Inner Gam e o f Tennis. “Six feet to the le ft,” in relation to
When it cam e out [in 1972 ] I w as the flag. In order to make a reason ­
a teenager ju st getting started able guess, his brain m ust con sid ­
playing tennis. I rem em ber one er several ingredients, m ost likely
itory about a guy who came to at a subcon scious level, which is
(iallw ey for tennis lesson s. Gall- where all the com plex thinking
wey asked what takes place. Then
tlx* guy w anted None of this guarantees by m erely trying
help with, and
tin* guy im m e­
it's readyfor performance , to guess, w ith­
out a conscious
diately said “I but it's a healthy effort to change
bring my racket minimum requirement , anything, he
too high on my especially if compared su p p osed ly be­
backsw ing.” Gall- gins to hit the
wey had the guy
to nothing ball closer to the
do a few back­ flag. I only say
hand sw ings, and sure enough, he su p p osed ly because the results
brought his racket too high on his m ay be long-term but the system
backsw ing. Gallw ey w as am azed m ust work. It’s a clever w ay to ap ­
that the gu y knew what his p rob­ peal directly to the subconscious.
lem was but couldn ’t fix it. So he
had the gu y do a few sw ings in Pete
f ront of a mirror. And the guy saw So what lesso n s that you learned
him self and said “Oh my god! I from m usic help you the most
bring my racket too high on my when y o u ’re practicing a com plete
backsw ing!” He had no idea. And routine?
ten m inutes o f m irror practice did
what m onths o f lesson s had failed Rafael
to do. One thing is to break the routines
in phases. Say y o u ’re learning a 4 -
Rafael phase routine. Maybe phase 3 is
In The In n er Gam e o f Golf, there difficult and the rest isn ’t. Practice
is an equally fascin ating exercise. phase 3 by itself. If you don’t have
As anyone who has ever taken up a system and you do the whole
go lf knows, to hit the ball straight thing over and over, y o u ’ll end up
is one of g o lf’s challenges. Author learning it but y o u ’ll be w asting a
Tim Gallwey, an am ateur golfer, lot of time. Say the routine takes
asks a go lfer to hit a basket o f go lf 4 m inutes to perform , each phase
balls at the driving range, aim ­ 1 minute. If you tackle phase 3 by

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 243


itse lf yo u ’ll do it 4 tim es as much again. The telephone rings, you
as if you practice the whole thing make a m istake: every time som e­
each time. So set up the situation thing happens you take it from
at the beginning o f phase 3 and do the beginning. If you start with
that phase by itself. the final steps, then the part that’s
new to you com es first and y o u ’ll
Pete be givin g each segm ent som ething
I think that can be a deceptively closer to its due share o f atten
difficult thing to do. It can be hard tion. Then go over the w hole thing
to start a routine in the m iddle. I again in longer units and so on.
have a lot o f trouble startin g a p i­ None o f this guarantees it’s ready
ano or guitar piece in the m iddle. for perform ance but it’s a healthy
It’s as though I have to go back to m inim um requirem ent, esp ecially
the beginning. if com pared to nothing.

Rafael Pete
You ju s t get used to it. Anyone who That m ust get tricky if there are a
has learned a substan tial am ount lot o f steps.
o f m aterial that in clu des som e­
thing technically dem anding has Rafael
done it. If you have to start from I don’t think it’s tricky. It’s ju st
the beginning every tim e, I can’t a lot of work, but that’s w hat it
im agine how you w ould ever get takes. Doing it without a system
through som ething dem anding. (whether it’s a strict system or one
Spending the you make up as
sam e am ount of A need to communicate you go) would
time on an easy and make it entertaining take at least ten
beginning as on tim es longer to
a difficult m id­ lead me towards learn equally
dle is a w aste of an interesting script. well. A system
time. Well, it’s Mind you, this doesn't will save you
never a w aste but work, or, better
you will not be
happen every timey but still, will get you
using your time when it doesn't , m ore rew ards for
p r o d u c tiv e ly . that trick doesn't make it your efforts.
Also, break it in
into the show.
steps and learn If you are doing
it backw ards. I a routine that
don’t mean really backw ards, but has m any different steps, w hether
learning the last steps first. This it’s difficult or not, do it as fast
ap p lies to a routine as m uch as to as you can. If the routine should
learning a script or m em orizing a last 5 m inutes, try to do it in, say,
stack. If you don’t have a system , 1 m inute. This will do aw ay with
you learn the beginning, then add any hesitations about w hat com es
more and go from the beginning next. If you know all the step s and

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 244


you feel it’s tech n ically o k ay but m any answ ers. What m atters is
would like to make it better (which that you have an answ er for your­
I* a lw a y s possible), make it a task self.
to do it a num ber o f times. You
itt.iy decid e, for exam ple, that you Pete
w o n ’t perform it in public until So how do you approach presen ta­
y o u ’ve done it 500 times, or any tion?
appropriate num ber of tim es, ac­
cording to the nature of the trick. Rafael
I’d say presentation has the fun c­
Pete tion of fram ing the effect. I don’t
What have you learned from m usic advocate too strongly the “pre­
tli.it helps you stage your m agic? sentation is everyth in g” concept.
You need a good effect and a good
Rafael m ethod and you need to do it
Som etim es I say to a lute student, well.
Im agin e y o u ’re playing before a
Kroup of frien d s who don’t know Pete
much about m usic, and they have And you need to be an interesting
been told that you are a great im ­ character you rself.
proviser. You will be playing notes
that are w ritten on a score, but you Rafael
have to convince them that you Presentation allow s your p erson ­
are m aking it all up on the spur of ality to show through.
the m om ent.” If the student gets
the point, this concept will save Pete
me a lot o f teaching. Many details So what style o f presentation do
appear to take care o f them selves, you favor?
because you are creating a mood,
a fragile m ood that can be broken Rafael
by the tiniest inconsistency. I’m not too convinced of the need
to give everythin g m eaning. If you
Magic helped me realize that this do som ething that appears plain
was the illusion I’m attem pting to im possible, the mere im plications
create when perform ing classical have enough o f a m eaning. Maybe
m usic. Even if the spectators are m otivation is better than m ean­
holding a program that announces ing.
the com poser, the artistic illusion
of creating the m usic on the spur Pete
o f the m om ent rem ains. So, what I don’t recall seein g you use any
is the illusion you are trying to “sto ry ” style scrip ts.
create in m agic? I don’t mean the
tricks, but the larger illusion you Rafael
are attem pting to convey when I’d say the key elem ent of pre­
perform ing m agic. This can have sentation is to fram e the effect,
to make things make sen se, but 1 those things I would do or say, and
w ouldn ’t twist things too much. I those I w ouldn’t do or say, usually
have nothing against story tricks channel me into a presentation. A
if used sparin gly (I do a couple need to com m unicate and make
m yself) and as long as the p resen ­ it entertaining lead me toward an
tation doesn ’t d elay the m agic un­ interestin g script. Mind you, this
duly. I person ally like to focus on d oesn ’t happen every time, but
the magic, but if som eone w ants when it doesn ’t, that trick d oesn ’t
to drift aw ay for a m om ent and m ake it into the show.
tell stories, w hy not? There are
tricks that would not m ake any Pete
sen se without a story, while oth­ How do you make the transition
ers alm ost speak for them selves. from p racticin g— i.e. learning the
Look at the Am bitious Card, for skills n ecessary to do the rou
exam ple. You could ea sily do it tin e— to rehearsing and p erfo rm ­
silen tly and everyon e will follow ing?
what is supposed to be going on.
And if you did it that way, the trick Rafael
would have its natural pace. I try This varies con siderably accord ­
to fit m y patter in w ithout break­ ing to the nature of the routine,
ing that pace. And if I did it in an ­ but let’s describe a generic pro­
other language in which I’m not so cess. First you learn how to walk
fluent, I’d rather make m y patter through the routine, to ju s t do it
sim pler than make people wait too from beginning to end. To reach
long for the magic to happen. that basic stage you could learn the
sleights first and then the steps of
Pete the routine, or you could learn the
I’ve noticed that you r m agic in­ procedure any w ay you can and
vo lv es the audience very directly. then w ork on the sleights. It’s u su ­
When I watch you work, the a s ­ ally a m ixture betw een the two,
sistin g spectator is not ju s t being d epending also on the nature of
the eyes of the audience, they are the sleigh ts involved and w hether
interacting with you in a w ay that th ey’re totally new to you or not.
is essen tial to the trick. The inter­ Difficult sleights m ust be studied
action is the trick. With a trick like sep arately or y o u ’d be w astin g a
that, you don’t need a big story lot o f time. But also they need to
sc rip t— too much sto ry w ould be be learned in context. So, I don’t
a distraction. Do you have a s y s ­ advocate any of these two w ays
tem for w riting or develop in g pre­ exclu sively. I’d ju st raise the issue.
sentations? Then, in an ideal w orld, you would
do anyth ing you can to im prove
Rafael the routine at home before doing
Not really. Not an establish ed strict it in public. There is no need to be
system . I begin trying stu ff out, in seen fum bling in public, or w on­
private and then in public. Then dering what com es next. Having

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 246


laid that, if I have a gig in a place Here is an interesting exam ple. I
where I feel at e a se I might throw am a Venezuelan living in Spain.
In a routine before that process is Both countries speak Spanish;
co m p le ted , but alw ays after being the difference is pretty much like
able to walk through the routine that between British and Am erican
sm oothly. There is no place for English. In my Cups and Balls rou­
fum bling at this stage. This is to tine, there w as one place where I
get a feel o f how expected to get a
tin* routine reg­ laugh. For years,
isters in public, When you discover I w asn ’t get­
how I feel with whatyou can achieve ting that laugh
It, w here and
how people re­
through practice , in Spain while I
w as getting it in
act, and you get you will begin Venezuela. After
some su rp rises to lovepractice. several years of
either way. You living in Spain I
And then nothing
might do a rou­ began to get that
tine once like can stop you. laugh in that
that and d e­ place, but I didn’t
cide you don’t want to pursue it know why! I didn ’t con sciou sly
further. Other tim es you realize change anything. Must have to do
you’ve got som ething there. with the subtlest nuances in tim ­
ing that I’m alm ost unaware of. In
I don’t actually write a script at this Venezuela, it’s my culture. If it’s
stage but I do decide how I want to funny to me, it’s funny to them.
present it and let it develop a bit.
By the time the routine becom es Pete
part of m y perform ing repertoire, When I learned classical guitar, my
I have a fairly tight script that is teacher paid close attention to fin­
alm ost the sam e every time. 4 n d I gering. One idea he taught me was
say alm ost because you can’t talk to finger a song with alternating
the sam e w ay to different au dien c­ contractive and expan sive hand
es. I can’t do a trick for m y frien ds positions to reduce fatigue. Are
and say “Ladies and gentlem en ...” there any asp ects of lute or gu i­
If you have a very tight script, it tar technique you ap p ly to your
will play better in some places m agic?
than others, when you ju st happen
to perform in the place you had in Rafael
mind. If you can relax and ad-lib a Mainly understan din g practice.
bit, you should be able to adapt to That’s w hat’s com m on to all tech­
the changing conditions such as nical things. There are countless
size o f the audience, kind of venue, little things, too subtle to even try
degree o f form ality, age groups, explaining, that you find sim ilar at
countries, languages, cultures. a very personal level that help a
little bit. Not only lute and guitar,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 24?


but any skill. Ju st as if you have to Pete
count som e m oney in a stack, and How does your experience in mu
you can ’t avoid thinking o f d eal­ sic affect your magic repertoire?
ing cards, my mind keeps relating
everythin g I’ve spend any sign ifi­ Rafael
cant am ount of time on: plucking My experience with m u sic— and,
strin gs, dealing card s, hitting a for that matter, an yon e’s ex p e ri­
topspin forehand or throw ing a ence with an yth in g— is part of
ball to first base on the run. When who I am. I like subtle artistic
I slice a potato and toss the slic­ tricks. I like to interact with p eo­
es in the fryin g pan, I can ’t avoid ple and I like the human side to
“prod u cing” them as cards. things. On the other hand I love
technique (in m usic, art or sports).
Pete If I’m hanging out with people, or
I assum e that you know m any doing som ething p assive, w hether
pieces, both o f m usic and o f m ag­ I’m having a good time or not, at
ic, som e of which are relatively som e point I begin to w ish I were
easy and others very dem anding. doing som ething with m y hands,
How do you decide w hen y o u ’ve practicing som ething, developin g
m astered a piece enough to per­ a skill.
form it regularly for people?
Pete
Rafael Did m usic lead you to m agic?
I have an established system of
practice, where resu lts can be Rafael
m easured according to param eters My father had a sh elf o f magic
I set for m yself. This guarantees books, w hich gradually turned
a minim um . After having gone into half a shelf. During m y m u­
through that I allow m y real self sic stu d ies in London, I m ade my
to decide if it m akes the cut. If it first subtraction from that shelf.
d oesn ’t, I’ll go through m y system My cu riosity had aw akened after
again setting stricter conditions. having seen Martin Nash perform
But / have the last w ord. I mean, at the Magic Castle. I took sev er­
the system takes me som ew here al books with me to London, and
but at som e point I have to step in one of them was The R oyal Road
and decide. Since perfection is un­ to C ard Magic, which is w here I
attainable you have to face reality learned m y basic sleights. Others
and give in at a point you consider were Expert C ard Technique and
reasonable. E specially in in terac­ the Frank Garcia books.
tive m agic, you need the feedback
of the audience to im prove, so Pete
som etim es it’s good to throw your What w as your first m ove?
stu ff out there and let it develop.
Rafael Rafael
O verhand shuffle. Royal Road has When you d iscover what you can
a practice routine, and I did it achieve through practice, you will
while w atch in g tele visio n . I a lso begin to love practice. And then
w orked out a practice routine nothing can stop you.
w h ere I w o u ld read from a p o s te r
on the wall w hile runn ing card s. The End
So I have no p ro b lem shuffling a
card to the 14 th po sition w hile
talking to you .
References
Pete
Thirteen Steps to Mentalism is by
I his is another place where m usic
Tony Corinda. La traduccion Espano-
helps you.
la de Rafael esta disponible en www.
Rafael librosdemagia.com.
Yes. Because I don’t think five, I The Inner Game o f Tennis by Timo­
think da-da-da-da-da. Six is da-da- thy Gallwey is available from Am a­
da-da-da-da.
zon.com for about ten bucks.

Pete
What advice w ould you give a m a­
gician who is ju s t starting to take
practicing seriou sly?

Practice your material until it becomes boring.


Then practice until it becomes beautiful.
B ill Painter

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 249


Scripting Dealer Tricks

he ultimate goal o f this book is to help you experience the deep

T satisfaction that comes from performing an original presentation


you created yourself, one that fully expresses you and your love for
magic, gets a great reaction from your audience, and by the way
helps cover the method. But the second and more reasonable goal is to get
people to stop performing dealer tricks using the presentations included in
the instructions. I f I can pull this off, 111 have something. Because, obviously,
most instruction-sheet presentations suck. And most magicians buy and per­
form lots o f dealer tricks. The ability to script a dealer trick comes in mighty
handy.
Scripting dealer tricks is one of the best ways to separate yourself from the
other guys down at the club. You see it all the time; everybody gets the latest
new trick, and does it to death. Then the “cool” guys take the trick and give it
a good presentation. And suddenly, all the guys who do the store-bought pre­
sentation start shopping for the next trick.
Often the biggest benefit o f scripting a dealer trick isn't coming up with a
clever presentation but figuring out a new apparent effect, using the method of
the trick. Many dealer tricks aren’t really tricks, they’re effects. Some o f them
are brilliant— Gaeton Bloom’s "Escalator” is a stunning visual illusion— but
it’s only half the story. You still have to decide how to interpret that illusion.
What is happening? What is making the card rise? Magic isn’t what happens;
it’s the thing that makes it happen.
The effect is not magic. The cause is magic.
So the next time you have a dealer trick, ask yourself what is causing the
illusion you have purchased. And don’t just settle for the one in the instruc­
tions.

This next group o f scripts are all for dealer tricks. They are all better than the
"patter” that comes with the instructions, with the exception o f Bob Farmer’s
script for "The Dark Card o f Mystery,” whose mystery will now be revealed.

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 25§


The Dark Card

T
h c last 20 years have seen a veritable explosion o f tricks in which a
signed selection changes its back color. Several brilliant and many
quite ordinary solutions to this basic plot have been published.
"The Dark Card,” created by Jean Boucher, is the best. It's not
the most practical for professional use; the reset is annoying. But the whole
handling is so much more relaxed and casual that it seems like a different
Irick. You have a card selected. A blue-backed card, from a blue-backed deck.
Toss it to the spectator, along with a Sharpie, so he or she can sign the card and
generally handle it freely. Put it back in the deck, then spread the deck to reveal
one red-backed card, which turns out to be the selection. The spectator freely
handles the card, looking at both sides, before and after the change. It uses a
^aff whose makeup I will not detail, since it is still a dealer item. However to
allow you to understand the routine I can say without giving the game away
that the gaff can be attached to the back o f a second card— so the g a ffs back
design will cover the original— and then separated in the course o f normal
handling, where it will attach to another card. You end clean, with an examin­
able, signed miracle.
The original presentation did nothing to emphasize the change in the back
design. The trick was thoroughly baffling, but the presentation wasn’t really
contributing anything. Until Bob Farmer got his hands on it.
Bob changed the effect; instead o f a card changing its back color, in Bob's
version a card placed aside turns out to be a card that was signed after the first
card was placed aside. This producesa more mysterious and eerie effect. And
it’s a more impenetrable mystery as well, because the new effect is unrelated
to the back color, thus making it inconceivable that a spectator could backtrack
the method.
This is something you can only achieve with scripting. So when you think
about how to present a trick, remember that you can also present it as a com­
pletely different trick.

SCRIPTING MAGIC 1 251


The Magic Red Card of Mystery
by Bob Farmer

Int— Living Room— Evening

Bob shuffles a blue deck and offers it for Alex to cut.

Bob
Cut the cards, and put half the deck here.

Alex cuts the cards.

Bob
For this trick, we need... the Magic Red
Card of Mystery.

Bob pulls out his wallet.

Bob
Here, let’s mark this...

Bob marks the cut.

Bob
...so we can bring out the Magic Red Card
of Mystery.

Bob removes a single red-backed card from his wallet. The face
is not shown, but the words “The Magic Red Card of Mystery”
are written on the back in bold black letters.

Bob
I can’t show you the face of the card,
because then it wouldn’t be the Magic Red
Card of Mystery, now would it?

Bob places the Magic Red Card of Mystery aside.

Bob
However I will ask you to place your
finger on the Magic Red Card of Mystery,
to prevent it from transvaporising into
the parallel universe of doom.
!<'* puts a finger on the card.

Bob
Thanks. Now, Alex, I want you to take this
pen...

Hot) hands Alex a Sharpie.

Bob
...and with your free hand, sign your
name right across the card you cut to.

AI»-\ signs the face of the c ard —the Three of Clubs.

Bob
It’s okay if I see the card. It’s not like
it’s the Magic Blue Card of Mystery or
anything.

Alex finishes signing and hands Bob the card.

Bob
Thank you. Now, first we shuffle your card
into the deck.

Bob shuffles and cuts the deck thoroughly.

Bob
The location of your signed card is a
mystery. This is a job for... the Magic Red
Card of Mystery.

Bob picks up the Magic Red Card of Mystery and sticks it into
the deck. He looks at it for a second, but nothing happens.

Bob
It’s very mysterious, but...

Bob removes the Magic Red Card of Mystery and sticks it back
in somewhere else. Again, nothing happens.

Bob
...eventually, something very
mysterious...
Bob sticks it in another place. Again nothing.

Bob
...will happen.

Bob sticks the card in and this time the card begins vibrating
mysteriously.

Bob
Told you.

Bob pushes the Magic Red Card of Mystery completely into the
deck, then spreads the deck across the table.

Bob
Wouldn’t it be mysterious if the card right
next to the Magic Red Card of Mystery
were your signed card?

Bob removes the card below the Magic Red Card of Mystery and
shows it. It’s not the selection.

Bob
The card right next to the Magic Red Card
of Mystery...

Bob removes the card directly above the Magic Red Card of
Mystery and shows that. It’s also not the selection.

Bob
Er... wouldn’t it be even more amazing,
if... the card exactly two cards away from
the Magic Red Card of Whatever was your
card?

Bob turns up the card two cards away—it’s not the selection.
In desperation, Bob begins turning over all the cards near the
Magic Red Card of Mystery. None are the selection.

Eventually the entire deck is face up. The selection is nowhere.

Bob
Your card is gone.
(Pause, then triumphantly)

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 254


Ta da! Your card is gone! That’s pretty
mysterious. But the real question is...

Hob picks up the Magic Red Card of Mystery.

Bob
...how did your signed card become... the
Magic Red Card of Mystery?

Bob finally shows the face of the Magic Red Card of Mystery. It’s
the signed Three of Clubs.

I he End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 255


Notes on The Magic Red Card of Mystery
This is one o f those brilliant sideways applications of a magical method that
completely devastates an audience. Any possible explanation is destroyed by
the simplicity and freedom o f the handling.
And think about the name o f the routine: The Magic Red Card o f Mystery.
This provides the hook for the routine; the face o f this card is never shown, so
people want to see it. The name o f the trick is written on the red card, which
absolutely cements the idea that the back design has changed; you won't have
people thinking that maybe the card was red backed all the time and they just
didn't notice. And it draws attention to the back designs without giving away
the effect. It even mentions the color red!

Character
Sometimes a single word can help define a character. In this script, Bob
uses the subjunctive tense when he says “Wouldn't it be mysterious if the
card right next to the Magic Red Card of Mystery were your signed card?” Most
people— probably 95% o f Americans, at least— would say “ ...if the card right
next to the Magic Red Card o f Mystery was your signed card.” Technically, the
subjunctive “were” is correct, since this is a hypothetical, contrary to fact. Here
in America, few people use this. So this one word establishes Bob as well-edu-
cated. He can still play a buffoon, i f he wants to, but it will be a well-educated
buffoon.
A similar thing happens with the word “whom .” Most people never use the
word “whom” in casual conversation. It's not that they don't use it correctly,
they don't use it at all. So they tend to think o f it as a stylistic choice rather
than a simple question o f grammar. As a result, most people assum e that
anyone who uses the word “whom” is automatically some sort o f highbrow
intellectual type, probably a snob as well. So i f you want your character to seem
like an ordinary person, you might not be able to use the word “w hom ,” even
when it's correct to do so. Conversely, a character who wants to be an intellec­
tual might use “whom” to try to appear sophisticated. As a joke you can use it
incorrectly, i f you think people will be able to tell.

Method
Here's the handling; get a Dark Card and this will all make sense.

Setup
Write the words “ Magic Red Card o f Mystery” on the back o f a red-backed
Four o f H earts, then attach a blue-backed Dark Card gaff. Take a blue deck,
und replace the Four o f Hearts with the gaff. Take any red-backed card and
write* "Magic Red Card o f Mystery" on its back, matching the gaffed card.

Performance
Bring out the deck and shuffle it, keeping the gaff on top, and do the cross-
cut force. During the time-misdirection interval, introduce the Magic Red
( !,ird o f Mystery. Say the words “Magic Red Card o f Mystery” in your best scary
.mnouncer voice.
Return the Dark Card to the deck and control it to the top. Then riffle up
the inner end o f the deck with your right thumb and separate the Dark Card at
its inner end. Holding a break here with your right thumb, cut the deck, then
transfer this break to your left little finger so your right hand can pick up the
Magic Red Card o f Mystery.
Stick the Magic Red Card o f Mystery into the break, then make it vibrate
with your hand.
The right hand lifts the upper h alf o f the deck slightly, separating the gaff
completely from the signed selection. As you do, square the Magic Red Card
o f Mystery with the bottom half o f the deck, concealing the red back o f the se­
lection, which is directly underneath. Return the top h alf o f the deck onto the
bottom; this will reattach the gaff to the Magic Red Card o f Mystery, so when
you spread the deck, only one red-backed card is visible— the selection.
Look at the card next to the card o f mystery, which is not, as you had hoped,
the selection. Don’t forget to drop the scary announcer voice once you are dis­
tracted by the fact that the trick isn’t working. Finally turn over the Magic Red
Card o f Mystery and leave it with your utterly fried spectators.

Adaptation
There are only two moves in this trick: a force and a control, and you can
eliminate them both.

Don't Force It, Get a Bigger Hammer


Generally, once a card is signed, the fact that it was freely selected doesn’t
matter. There are exceptions, but this is not one o f them. The entire selection
process is nothing but dead time. You can cover it by interacting with the audi­
ence, but you can also just eliminate it, and replace the force with scripting, as
I do in “ It’ll Be a Miracle” on page 21.
Put the gaffed card fourth from the bottom o f the deck, and make the three
cards below it picture cards and high-spot cards. Hand Alex the Sharpie and
say “I want you to sign a card...” Turn the deck face up and start thumbing
cards o ff one at a time, looking for a card suitable for signing. When you reach

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 25?


the Four o f Hearts, say something like “This one's good,” and hand it to Alex.
This change costs you nothing, and eliminates a move.
More importantly, it helps streamline the script. If you choose the card, it’s
faster, and it eliminates the dread many people feel when asked to pick a card.
You can also pick a card that means something. I f you’re doing a trick for a
couple, take the Two o f Hearts. Have them both sign it, and say something to
the effect o f “You really are two o f hearts.” Couples love crap like that.

Self Control
You can gaff the Dark Card to control itself, as per David Regal’s Law o f the
Gaff: i f you’re gaffed, use the best gaff. First, edge mark the gaff with a pencil.
Then let Alex shuffle the card back into the deck— make sure to m im e an
overhand shuffle, as a riffle shuffle could theoretically detach the gaff. Then
pick up the deck, sight the edge mark, and casually dribble the cards in your
hands until you reach the gaff. A little practice will show you how easy this is:
basically i f you dribble the cards with a light touch, you’ll automatically stop
just before the Dark card falls, making it the bottom card o f the top half.

The Ambitious Card Magician


I have adapted Bob’s idea for the climax o f my Ambitious Card routine,
which consistently produces complete and utter astonishment. I did this for
my sister, and she said that the original phases were great, but the ending...
and her voice trailed off. That is the best reaction you can possibly get, in my
opinion. This trick, every time I have ever performed it, has produced that
same reaction. If you perform Bob’s version o f “The Dark Card” — or in an
Ambitious Card sequence like the one I’ll describe— you will get the same
reaction. Try it at least once.
The Ambitious setup is the same as Bob’s except I write “ Magic Red Card of
Mystery” on the back o f a red-backed Ace o f Spades, set that with a blue Dark
Card gaff, and write “Magic Red Card o f Mystery” on the red side o f a red/blue
double-backer.
I bring out the Ace o f Spades and begin my Ambitious Card routine, which
as you will see is rather long. I do an initial set o f phases (the opening section
o f Daryl’s routine from Ambitious Card Omnibus), and then I announce that
the audience must think I have a duplicate card, so I have a spectator sign it.
After a couple more phases, I comment that the audience must think the
first spectator is working with me, so I have another spectator sign it as well.
Another couple o f phases (I told you it was a long routine), and a third specta­
tor signs it, just in case both o f the first two guys are stooges. Finally, when I
have run out o f phases or spectators to sign the card (whichever comes first),

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 258


turn the deck face up and place the selection on top (also face up). Riffle to
pa rate the gaff, then double undercut the selection to the bottom. Now I
rn to the right and pick up the Magic Red Card of Mystery, while I flip the
i n k face down. The Magic Red Card o f Mystery goes on top o f the deck, where
it covers the now-exposed red back o f the Ace of Spades
Now I explain that not even the power o f the Magic Red Card o f Mystery will
blot k the signed card from rising all the way to the top o f the deck.
I give the deck a significant but very clean riffle, then show the audience
th.it nothing has happened. “It appears,” I say, "that the signed card did not
Come to the top.” But I turn over the Magic Red Card o f Mystery to reveal that,
Impossibly, it has.
This last turnover is a double. As soon as the double falls flat with the deck,
push off the signed Ace o f Spades. The blue back o f the red/blue double-
bac ker shows underneath, making this an exceptionally clean change o f the
( aid. The audience can examine the Ace o f Spades all they want, and I can
personally guarantee you that they will.
If you do the Ambitious Card, give this a try. It's really not hard— if you
i an do an Ambitious Card routine, you can do this. Your spectators' voices will
trail off in a most pleasing way.

References
This is the only script in this book that was included in the instructions o f
a dealer trick. Gary Ouellet, who wrote good instructions himself, included it
when Camirand Academy released Jean Boucher’s "The Dark Card.” Bob is
allowing me to reprint it in complete script form here. Thanks, Bob.
As o f this writing, you can buy "The Dark Card” at www.camirandmagic.
com for eight bucks US, plus another butk and a half for delivery. That’s deliv­
ered to your house for less than ten dollars.
Hot Rod

T
his just might be the best known application o f the paddle move,
one o f the most versatile and venerable techniques in magic. The
Hot Rod was invented, apparently by an unidentified Japanese
magician, in the late 1960s. Paul Freed asked Jim Zachary (aka
Jim Zee) to make them for sale in the US, and as a result Jim is often credited
with creating the trick. This he flatly denies. However he does acknowledge
contributing the idea o f using a clear plastic rod, which eliminates the thought
that the rod is gimmicked.
The effect is simple: The magician shows a prop from a magic store with six
colored gems on each side. Alex picks a number, after which one o f the gems
is selected. With a wave all the gems turn into the selected gem.
It’s no surprise this trick has stood the test o f time. The effect is visual and
can be appreciated by a small child, and the method is easy and effective. This
trick is also the source o f the infamous “Hot Rod Force” in which any number
from one to six is used to "select” the force gem by either counting or spelling
(!) to the selected num ber— an absurd process, even for a dealer trick.
This script does not use the Hot Rod Force.
It doesn’t use any force at all, because Alex never selects a color. Instead you
talk about birthstones, and most o f the time you’ll use Alex's, but when you
can’t, you use your own, and the audience never knows about the other op­
tion. The prop is completely justified, and as a bonus, talking about birthdays
automatically creates a meaningful interaction between you and the spectator.
The trick seems personalized no matter which way you do it.
Don’t worry— it’s all set up so you can’t get caught switching options. The
spectators don’t know what you are doing— to them you’re just talking about
birthdays, and birthstones, and then you do a fantastically visual and baffling
trick that means something, either to them (most o f the time) or to you. The
best way to understand this is just to read the outline. Then read both versions
o f the script, and you’ll know what to do.
You know you have a Hot Rod somewhere— just try this for a non-magi­
cian. Just once. I believe that i f this book does nothing more than reduce the
use o f the Hot Rod Force, m y work will not have been in vain.
Before we start, one note: My birthday is in August, thus my birthstone is
peridot, which is green. So I have a Hot Rod that changes to all green, and
that’s what this script will assume. You can adjust for your particular birth
month once you understand how this works.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 260


Outline
You introduce the Hot Rod as a birthstone sampler from a jewelry store. The
twelve gems — six on each side— are the birthstones for each o f the twelve
months o f the year. The trick hasn’t really started yet. You’ve introduced the
birthstone sampler, and you’re making conversation. You ask if Alex knows
what his or her birthstone is.
Everything hinges on the answer to this question. In m y limited experience,
nobody knows what their birthstone is. So if Alex says no, you follow up by
asking what month Alex was born, and no matter what the answer is, you say
"January (or whatever) is peridot, which is this green one here.” And you nod
at Alex, and when Alex nods back you say “ I’m going to do a special trick using
your birthstone." Change the Hot Rod to all peridot, both sides, astonishment
all around.
If Alex says “My birthstone is ruby, I was bom in July,” you say “Ooh, Ruby’s
are beautiful. My birthday’s in August, which is peridot, this green one here.”
Then you say that when the lady at the jewelry store handed this birthstone
sampler to you, it magically changed to all peridot, so she let you keep it. It’s a
little stronger to use the spectator’s birthstone, obviously, but this out is still a
fine and fitting climax to this trick, both magically and narratively as well. And
you’re only going to have to use it i f Alex is a jeweler born in July. It sure beats
the hell out o f spelling the number five.
By the way, there are (at least) three sets o f birthstones: traditional, modern,
and spiritual. So if, after you’ve identified June as peridot, someone butts in to
tell you June is pearl, you say “Yes— in the traditional birthstones. This sam­
pler is for the modern birthstones.”

Now that you know how this works, heire are samples o f the scripts for each
of the two possibilities— the first is for when you’re able to use Alex’s birth­
stone, the second is the out, where you have to use your own.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 261


The Birthstone Sampler
by Pete McCabe

Int— Living Room— Evening

Pete brings out a small plastic rod with several jewels set in it.

Pete
Do you know what this is?

Alex
No idea.

Pete
It’s actually a birthstone sam pler—all the
stones for each month. This is garnet,
amethyst... peridot, tourmaline, topaz.
These used to be very common in jewelry
stores. I stole this one...

Pete coughs.

Pete
...excuse me. I got this one from the
jewelry counter at WalMart. That’s why
these are all fake gems. They don’t use
them at real jewelry stores anymore,
because A), people kept stealing them,
and B), who buys things with their
birthstone anymore? Do you know what
your birthstone is?

Alex
No.

Pete
Me neither—’til I got this thing. What’s
your birthday?

Alex
November 16th.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 262


Pete
November is peridot, here it is, that’s
this greeivone here. Since I might not see
you on November 16th I’ll give you your
birthday magic trick now, if you like.

Alex
Great.

Pete raises the sampler up to eye level.

Pete
Okay, focus on the peridot one.
(singing)
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to
you, happy birthday dear Alex...

As Pete sings Alex’s name, the gems all change to green on both
sides.

Pete
...happy birthday to you.

Alex
Thank you.

Pete
You’re welcome. Now if you’ll excuse me,
if I leave this too long it might get stuck...

Pete rubs the birthstone sampler and the gems change back
to all different colors. He checks both sides and then puts the
sampler away.

Pete
And that is the secret behind why the
jewelry counter at WalMart is missing
their birthstone sampler.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 263


The Birthstone Sampler (Out)
by Pete McCabe

Int—Living Room—Evening

Pete brings out a small plastic rod with several jewels.

Pete
Do you know what this is?

Alex
No idea.

Pete
It’s actually a birthstone sam pler—all the
stones for each month. This is garnet,
amethyst... peridot, tourmaline, topaz.
These used to be very common in jewelry
stores. I stole this one...

Pete coughs.

Pete
...excuse me. I got this one from the
jewelry counter at WalMart. That’s why
these are all fake gems. They don’t have
them at real jewelry stores anymore,
because A) people kept stealing them, and
B) who buys things with their birthstone
anymore? Do you know what your
birthstone is?

Alex
It’s Yellow Topaz.

Pete
I’m impressed. I had no idea what my
birthstone was, until I got this. I’ll show
you how I found out. My birthday is in
August, which is peridot... here it is.

Pete raises the sampler up to eye level.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 264


Pete
So the lady at WalMart tells me to stare at
peridot, focus on just the peridot. Now,
this is kind of embarrassing, but it d o esn ’t
work if I don’t do it. You can join me or
not.
(singing)
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to
me, happy birthday dear Pete...

Pete waves his fingers over the sampler and the gems all
c hange to green.

Pete
...happy birthday to me.
(nods to the audience)
Thank you.

Pete shows the other side—those are all green too.

Pete
It didn’t last too long, but I’ll never forget
what my birthstone looks like.

Pete rubs the birthstone sampler and the gems change back
to all different colors. He checks both sides and then puts the
sampler away.

Pete
And that, is the secret behind why the
jewelry counter at ^ValMart is missing
their birthstone sampler.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 265


Notes on The Birthstone Sampler
Once the prop is justified, everything flows from that. The prop sets the con­
text, and the magic makes sense within that context. Related to that, although
the Hot Rod makes sense as a birthstone sampler, the fact that it’s plastic with
obviously fake gems means that it makes more sense coming from a cheap
department store jewelry counter rather than a jewelry store.
By the way, in the very first line o f this script you show the audience the Hot
Rod and ask i f they know what it is. Listen to what they say! Someone may
come up with something that suggests a whole new presentation.

Method
The key to the paddle move is to script it. I'm not talking about what you
say while you’re doing it, although that’s always important. I’m talking about
what you are doing while you are secretly doing the paddle move. What larger
action is the paddle move a part of? Most magicians that I have seen use the
paddle move like this: they’re holding something, and talking about it, and
then they quickly flash the other side then back to the original side, and re­
sume what they were saying. I think this is the least effective way you can use
this move. So many magicians hold an object quite casually, then flash the
other side in a jerk o f movement, then go back to their original pose. This
is one o f those cases that happen so often, where the audience doesn’t know
what you’ve done— so they’re still "fooled,” i f that means anything— but any
sensation o f magic is killed.
I think the best way to avoid this problem is to script the display process.
In this routine you show one side o f the birthstone sampler, which you talk
about, then you turn the object over (doing the paddle move) to show the other
side and talk about that. I f you have no specific reason to show the other side,
you can usually work out a motivated reason to show both sides in the course
o f doing something else— I have a routine where I do the paddle move while
raising an object to my lips to blow on it, which naturally shows the other side.
This is very effective.

Setup
Check the chart on page 268 to see what color your birthstone is, then buy
a Hot Rod whose force color matches your birthstone. Make sure you know
which other month (if any) is the same color as yours. So, i f you are born in
January, garnet is your birthstone, which is red. So, get a Hot Rod that changes
to all red. Also, when you ask Alex what month he or she was born, remember

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2%
that July is ruby, which is also red.

Performance
Introduce the birthstone sampler and begin discussing birthstones and
birthdays. Point out some o f the birthstones, then casually turn the Hot Rod
over, doing the paddle move, so you can casually show some stones on the
other side.
When Alex announces his or her birthday, and you say “November is peri­
dot," then you pretend that you have to turn the Hot Rod over (paddle move)
to find peridot on the other side. Just a little touch that cements the fact that
the gems are mixed colors on both sides.
And o f course, if Alex’s birthday is upcoming soon— or passed recent­
ly— give a birthday greeting.
Now you’re going to change the gems to all green. You can do it any way
you like, but try this one. Hold the Hot Rod with the multi-color side pointing
straight ahead. Hold it about waist high with both hands, thumbs on top and
fingertips underneath. Raise the Hot Rod to eye height, rotating it a quarter
turn to keep the multi-color side facing straight ahead. Now, when you say
“Yours is... peridot,” as though you were trying to remember (underplay this,
please), and along with that you lower the Hot Rod, so you can position your
fingers on either side of the green gem (this happens as you are asking Alex
to focus just on the green gem). Now raise the Hot Rod to eye level again, but
this time do not do the paddle move. The all-green side is facing the audience,
but because o f the position o f your fingers, only one green gem is visible, so to
the spectators this looks exactly the same as the picture they saw a few seconds
ago.
Slowly slide your hands apart; the effect is that the gems change color as
your fingers pass over them. This is a shocking change. Try it in a mirror, if
only to get the positioning o f your fingers right. There’s a great visual reten­
tion o f the single green gem. I worked this change out m yself for this routine,
but for all I know, every magician who demos the Hot Rod does this exact
move. No one I hang out with would ever admit to doing the Hot Rod, so I’ll
never know.
Now you show the other side. Here you are openly turning over the Hot Rod
to show the other side, so there’s no need to motivate this. Just do it slowly;
the paddle move does not rely on speed, no matter how many bad magicians
you may have seen. The best advice I’ve ever heard on the paddle move came
from Peter Bloeme, World Frisbee Champion, who was teaching me to throw
a Frisbee into the wind. He said “Try to do with smoothness what you’ve been

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 287


trying to do with speed.” That's perfect advice for a lot of magic, but the paddle
move especially.
Now you’re going to change the gems back. You could do the same change
as before, but I prefer to vary it a little. If you feel the same, hold the Hot Rod
in your right hand, gems facing out, with your fingertips and thumb sort of
pinching the middle o f the rod from opposite sides. Take your left hand and
wipe it across the Hot Rod, starting from the end closest to you and moving
away. When you reach the far end, and your hand is covering the entire Hot
Rod, give it a secret h alf turn. Immediately wipe your hand back down the Hot
Rod revealing that the gems have changed back to different colors.

Adaptation
The first question you have to answer is how did you come to acquire the
birthstone sampler? I play the bit about having stolen it from WalMart, but you
could easily say that when you picked up the sampler it magically changed, so
the saleslady gave it to you. The key is your character. How would the charac­
ter you play acquire and interact with such a thing? Don’t forget that this is
obviously a fairly cheap birthstone sampler. How does your character interact
with such a cheap prop? I f you are playing a classy person, you might even say
something to the effect o f “ I f you’re wondering why such a classy guy like me
is carrying around this low-rent birthstone sampler. I’ll show you.” That way
you take the incongruity and make it part o f the story.

References
I do not know o f anyone else who has presented a Hot Rod as a birthstone
sampler. I asked everyone I know, and no one had seen it, but this is not really
scientific. It’s possible that someone had the idea but was too embarrassed to
publish a presentation for the Hot Rod.
The “official” list o f modern birthstones was published by the American
National Association o f Jewelers in 1912.

January Garnet (red) July Ruby (red)


February Amethyst (purple) August Peridot (green)
March Aquamarine (blue) September Sapphire (blue)
April Diamond (clear) October Opal/Tourmaline (white/clear)
May Emerald (green) November Yellow Topaz (yellow)
June Pearl (milky white) December Blue Topaz/Turquoise (blue)

SCRSPTING MAGIC | 268


Svengali Deck

W
hen I had the idea for this book several years ago, I started
making a list o f scripts from other magicians that I wanted
to include. This was the first script on that list. It originally
appeared in Jim Steinmeyer’s “Conjuring” series in M AG IC
magazine. Jim is one o f the greatest magical thinkers o f this generation. He
c reates effects, methods, presentations, and scripts for close-up tricks, parlor
effects, and stage illusions. He is also one o f magic’s premier writers, both
for magician and non-magician audiences— he may be the most successful
writer ever at writing about magic for non-magicians.
It is a bit o f a shame that I couldn’t get you to read the script first, and then
ask you to imagine a method before telling you that it uses a Svengali Deck.
Actually it uses a modified Svengali Deck, which you can make up yourself
with a modicum o f effort. Take a regular deck, then discard any 20 cards and
replace them with 19 duplicate Aces o f Hearts. Take the 20 Aces o f Hearts (19
plus the original) and short them on one o f the index corners; the five-dollar
corner cutter you can buy at any office supply store works perfectly.
Now arrange the deck so the top forty cards alternate random card, AH,
random card, AH, etc. The remaining 12 random cards go on the bottom.
Now the hard part: you have to make a hole through the deck. This hole
needs to go about 34-inch or so from the index corner opposite the one you
shorted. The cheapest way to do this is to use a hole punch and make sure the
holes line up. The easiest way is to take the deck to a printer, who will drill a
perfect hole for you. The way that doesn’t work is to use an electric drill your­
self; a regular drill bit just tears up the cards.
Now take a thumbscrew and a wing nut, and bolt the deck together. You’re
all set.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 269


Exhibit A
by Jim Steinm eyer

Int — Theater— Evening

Jim shows Alex a deck of cards bolted together with a


thumbscrew and wing nut.

Jim
These cards were Exhibit A in a famous
court trial. They were confiscated during
a crooked poker game. They’re stacked,
which is the technical term for a deck of
cards which has been prearranged in a
certain order to benefit the dealer. Now,
stacked decks have been around for a
long time. But the unusual thing about
this deck is the intricacy of its order. It’s
like a code, a really complicated code, and
it’s never been cracked.

Jim picks up the deck.

Jim
That’s why it was bolted together. Because
the police knew there was an order to the
deck, they knew it was important. But
they couldn’t figure out how it worked. So
the cards were drilled and bolted, so the
order could be preserved forever.

Jim riffles the corner, showing the randomly ordered cards.

Jim
In a normal stack, there’s some sequence
that’s apparent. You know—a Heart every
fourth card, or an Ace placed at regular
intervals. But as you can see, these
cards seem to be randomly shuffled. In
a game, you might think there’s nothing
suspicious about them at all. But that’s
where you’d be wrong. This stack has
been so carefully planned that the
dealer can get the card he needs exactly

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 270


where he wants it—no matter how many
players or the particular game. Let me
demonstrate for you. Let’s say that I’ve
already dealt myself three of the Aces. I’m
looking for the last Ace, the Ace of Hearts.
So let’s see if this deck of cards can put
the Ace of Hearts exactly where we want
it. Please give me a number from 1 to
52 — that’s how many cards there are in a
deck.

Alex
Sixteen.

Jim
Sixteen? Our goal is to remove exactly 16
cards from the top of the deck, and then
I’ll find the Ace of Hearts on top. Hold
the cards tightly while I remove the bolt.
I want you to be sure that I don’t disturb
the order in any way.

Alex holds the cards as Jim removes the thumbscrew. Jim takes
the deck and spreads it face up, showing the faces.

Jim
You’ll see that the cards genuinely seem
to be in a random order. You’ll also notice
that, since you selected the number 16,
the Ace of Hearts isn’t near the bottom of
the deck. That’s because we want to find it
ju st after 16 cards.

Jim squares the deck and puts it face down on the table. One
by one he slowly deals cards from the top.

Jim
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen,
fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.

Having finished this count, Jim places the top card of the deck
aside.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2 7 1
Jim
And the next card... should be the Ace of
Hearts. That’s the idea. But before I show
you that card, I want to point out that if
you had said 15...

Jim shows the last card from the dealt pile.

Jim
...or 17...

Jim shows the next card on the deck.

Jim
...the results would have been different.
No, you said the number was 16, and
that’s the amazing thing about the order
of these cards. Because that card is...

Jim turns over the put aside card; it’s the Ace of Hearts.

Jim
...the Ace of Hearts!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 272


Notes on Exhibit A

Method
Again, this is just a Svengali Deck, with the cards trimmed at the corner
i at her than across the end. So when you riffle the deck, to show the cards, run
your thumb down the corner. I love how the thumbscrew motivates the rifling
at tion needed by the Svengali Deck.
The force cards are all the even cards from 2 to 40. So when Alex names a
number, you immediately know i f you have to deal down to that number (if
it’s an even number), or i f you have to deal that many cards and take the next
1 ard. This is why Jim has the line “Our goal is to remove exactly 16 cards from
the top o f the deck, and then I’ll find the Ace o f Hearts on top.” This line works
with either situation.
By the way, it’s very easy, in the heat o f performance, to lose count or oth­
erwise forget whether you’re supposed to turn over the numbered card or the
card that follows. So pencil dot the corners o f all the force cards. That way
when you finish dealing, you’ll know i f you need to turn over the next card or
the last card dealt.

Adaptation
I really liked this script, and I spent some time adapting it for myself. O f
course, you don’t change a Jim Steinmeyer trick casually. I just want to avoid
any misunderstanding; the fact that I’ve made changes to Jim ’s script doesn’t
mean that I think his script isn’t great. Just the opposite— i f I didn’t think his
script was great, I would never have spent the time to develop my own adapta­
tion. I think that these changes are a good illustration o f just one o f the many
ways the process o f adaptation may lead. So here they are.
My first thought was, to heighten the importance o f the special order o f the
deck, I was going to do the trick without removing the w ingnut— so there’s no
chance o f the cards getting out o f order. I found that i f I loosen the nut I can
spread the cards in a rough fan, which allows me to show the bottom group
o f indifferent cards. And I can count the cards by starting with a face-down
squared deck and rotating each card to the side 90 degrees. The thumbscrew
makes this perfectly natural here because you can’t count a bolted deck in any
usual way. Just another illustration o f the fact that what seems natural to an
audience has nothing to do with whether they’ve seen it before, and all to do
with whether they know why you’re doing it.
I also wanted to have the other three Aces visible, so I could show them
while I’m introducing the trick. So I put them on top o f the deck, face up,
before I bolt the deck together. You spread these cards to show the hand, then
proceed. This way the deck always stays in its exact order. This had the benefit
o f eliminating the table— now the routine is completely in the hands. And,
because you never remove the thumbscrew, not only do you finish reset, you
are always reset. You start reset, and you stay reset the entire time until the
trick ends, reset.
Finally, when I went to make up my first deck for this trick, the only one­
way force deck in my magic drawer forced the King o f Diamonds. So while I
was waiting for an Ace o f Diamonds forcing deck, I used the Ten, Jack, Queen,
and Ace o f Diamonds as the “hand” to which the gambler was drawing, with
the King o f Diamonds being the obvious target card. But when I got an Ace
o f Diamonds forcing deck, I found I preferred the royal flush, so that’s what I
use now. Maybe I’m just used to doing it my way, but drawing one card to four
seems more poker-like.
One last time, I’m not saying that my adapted version is better than Jim
Steinmeyer’s original. But I enjoy performing it even more than the origi­
nal. More importantly, it reflects my thinking on each of the details that I’ve
changed, which makes it easier for me to perform it effectively. This last point
is often overlooked; when you adapt a routine to make it suit your personal
style, magic philosophy, etc., it automatically makes your performance better,
since you’re saying and/or doing things that are more natural to you.

References
This script originally appeared in Jim Steinmeyer’s “Conjuring” column
in Magic magazine, March, 1999. These columns have been collected in The
Conjuring Anthology, a fantastic book which was published by Hahne in 2006.
I f you are interested in creating better scripts for your magic, get this book.
Don’t m iss the final essay, which lays out a very simple and effective overview
o f the process o f creating a finished piece o f magic.
Chop Cup

T * n this book I have leaned toward classic tricks, for two reasons. First,
they are the ones you’re most likely to be performing, and thus of the
most immediate practical benefit. And second, they’re the ones you’re
JL most likely to have given some thought to, so they’re the most instruc-
tive, as well. I’ve already included a script for what is probably the most per­
formed o f all tricks, the Ultra Mental Deck, popularized by Don Alan as the
‘‘ Invisible Deck.” This script is for what might be the second most performed
trick, the Chop Cup, also popularized by Don Alan. (Note to self: study Don
Alan.)
Joe M. Turner travels the world and greater Atlanta performing magic pro­
fessionally, and in his spare time, reviews videos for Genii magazine. I am glad
to be able to offer this script, with which he makes a living— indeed, the one
with which he closes his close-up set. Anyone who’s met Joe will not be sur­
prised that he would so generously agree to share his vast wealth o f perform­
ing experience and professional success to inspire his fellow magicians.
By the way, Joe’s set is very specific to the city o f Atlanta. By the time he
gets to this routine, he’s already produced a bottle o f Coca-Cola, described the
Chattahoochie River, and mentioned Peachtree Street, Underground Atlanta,
Buckhead, the Braves, and so forth.

Following Joe’s script is one o f my own, called "Fruit Cup.” I want to warn
you right now — i f you are looking for a script you can use for your Chop Cup
routine, this is not it. It’s not really a Chop Cup routine at all. Only one object
appears under the cup, and there’s only one final load (obviously). It’s mostly
an example o f how you can start with a standard trick, and end up with some­
thing completely different.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 275


Tomahawk Chop
by Joe M. Turner

Int— Private Party— Evening

Joe stands at the table across from Alex.

Joe
Any baseball fans here? Living in Atlanta,
I get to see a lot of good baseball.

Joe opens a small cloth bag and removes a small metal cup and
a mini-baseball, and hands them out for examination.

Joe
Do you like baseball? You can tell the
difference between a ball and a strike,
right?

Alex
Sure.

Joe
In fact, we’re going to have a little umpire
training right now, using this small
athletic ball and this small athletic...
goblet. Please, take a look at the little
baseball— it’s the sort of thing you
might find on a keychain at Turner Field,
for about fifteen dollars! And the cup
is actually alum inum —check inside
and make sure there are no trapdoors,
mirrors, or steroids.

Alex checks out the cup.

Joe
Would you please drop the ball inside the
cup? Take a look—does it fall through
the bottom? Stick to the side? Go behind
a secret mirror? No? Excellent. See how
I have gotten you accustomed to paying
attention to that ball? Now—let’s review
the basics. This cup represents the strike

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 276


zone. If the ball ends up in here, we call it
a strike. If the ball goes outside the strike
zone, it’s a ball. Under the cup, a strike; in
my pocket, a ball. Got it?

Alex
Got it.

Joe
Great. Here comes the first pitch.

Joe shakes the ball in the cup, then takes it out and puts it in
his pocket.

Joe
That one was a little slow but I’ll go with
it anyway. Now would you call that one a
ball...
(pause)
...or a strike?

Alex
Ball.

Joe
Very good! That means the count is 1 and
0, I’m behind in the count, and you’re
watching a little too closely!

Joe brings out the ball from his pocket and puts it in his cup.
He shakes it up, then puts the ball in his pocket and the cup on
the table.

Joe
Here’s the next pitch —is it a ball or a
strike?

Alex
Ball.

Joe
Ball is correct! The count is 2 and 0, I’m
falling further behind.

Joe lifts the cup to show nothing on the table, and brings the

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 2 7 7
ball from his pocket. The ball goes back in his pocket and the
cup back down on the table.

Joe
Of course, one of the most important
things about baseball is to pay attention
to fundamentals. Keep your eye on the
strike z o n e —because if you look away,
that’s when the pitcher is going to slide
one right under your nose.

Joe lifts the cup to show that the ball has magically re­
appeared under it.

Joe
The count is 2 and 1—I’m still behind,
but I’m catching up. Let’s try this one a bit
faster.

Joe holds the cup for Alex to drop the ball in. He swirls it
around, then removes the ball and puts it in his pocket.

Joe
Would you call that a ball or a strike? Just
call it as you see it!

Alex
Ball, [or Strike]

Joe
Ball is absolutely correct!

Joe lifts up the cup to show that the ball is gone.

Joe
Way to watch the zone! And those of you
who thought it was a strike... you were
right, too!

Joe lifts the cup to show the ball has re appeared underneath.

Joe
Now we’ve got a full count! It’s time for
the payoff pitch!

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 278


Joe hums the familiar baseball park organ song that rises into
the "Charge" fanfare. While doing so, he picks up the ball and
puts it unmistakably in his pocket.

Joe
Would you call that a strike...

Joe points to the cup.

Joe
...or a ball?

Joe indicates his pocket.

Alex
Ball, [or Strike]

Joe lifts the cup to reveal a full-size baseball.

Joe
Whoops! Wild pitch! Since that was ball
four, it looks like our batter is going to
take a...

Alex
Walk.

Joe
Right. But in Atlanta, when we take a walk
it’s usually down Peachtree Street!

Joe lifts the c up —out rolls a peach!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 279


Notes on Tomahawk Chop
Joe sent along some notes:

In this routine, I prompt the spectator to get the calls right when I ask
him or her to participate. I f they resist, I always act as if the spectator had it
right all along. The humor is actually aided by the fact that I purposely “m is­
hear” what the spectator says, and yet I’m not putting the effect in their
face as a “ No, you got it w rong— try harder next time” sting. This approach
definitely fits my personality better than a creating a challenge situation.

No matter what Alex guesses, Joe twists the answer to make it right. Think
about that for a second, or even more.
Note the line where Joe hands out the cup: “Check inside and make sure
there are no trapdoors, mirrors, or steroids.” This is a great example o f improv­
ing a necessary but uninteresting moment. You want the audience to examine
the cup, since all the magic happens inside it. And you want this out o f the way
as early as possible. The gag about steroids builds the baseball metaphor and
draws attention to the examination process without slowing the show.

Method
As Joe says, “This is the basic Don Alan routine.” I ll explain it enough that
you can see how the moves align with the script, but I'm going to assum e you
know it. I f you own a Chop Cup, I believe you are legally required to know the
Don Alan routine.

Setup
Two final loads go in the pocket, along with the magnetic ball. The non­
magnetic ball is in the chop cup, which is in the cloth bag on the table.

Performance
Hand out the cup and ball for examination, and launch into the presenta­
tion. I f there was a controversial call in a recent Braves game, Joe'll talk about
it here.
While setting up the strike zone premise, put the ball in the pocket and
switch it for the magnetic ball. Note how Joe stresses the word “ball.” I f Alex
says “ Strike,” look at your pocket, raise your eyebrows, whisper “ Ball” with a
big fake cough— anything you can to elicit a “ Ball” call. If Alex won’t go along,
just say “ Ball is correct! Good call!” This is all a great opportunity for both hu­
mor and building a relationship with the audience.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 280


Drop the magnetic ball into the cup, then pretend to remove it; put the cup
wn softly, without dislodging the ball. Ask Alex to call this one, and after
receiving the answer “ball,” lift the cup, showing it empty, and remove the
(non magnetic) ball from your pocket. Again, if Alex says “strike,” prompt for
"ball.” If Alex resists, act as if you heard “ball.” This is a guaranteed laugh.
Put down the cup, dislodging the magnetic ball, and put the non-magnetic
ball back in your pocket. Deliver the line about sliding one right under your
nose, then lift the cup, showing that the ball has travelled back to the cup. To
a magician this is the most ordinary thing in the world, but it's worth remem-
bering what an absolute miracle this is to the spectator. Don’t fall over in mock
.1 we, but pause for a moment to let the people’s minds resonate. Acknowledge
the miracle.
Pretend to remove the magnetic ball and set the cup down gently. Put the
ball in your pocket and secretly palm the baseball, but don’t bring it out yet
(unless you’re comfortable palming a baseball). Ask Alex to call the pitch, and
say “Ball is absolutely correct,” lifting the cup to show no ball underneath; dis­
lodge the ball as you put the cup down. You can say this line even if Alex says
strike; actually it’s funnier that way. Either way, lift the cup, showing the ball;
load the baseball as you do this.
Openly put the ball in the pocket, bringing the hand out empty. Now you
ask Alex i f that pitch is a strike or a ball. As you say strike, point at the cup, and
when you say ball, put your hand in your pocket, as an illustration o f what you
are saying. This is where you steal the peach for the final load.

Adaptation
You could take your favorite local sport and develop a version o f this script,
but I think you’d only be getting h alf the point. It would be far better to take
something o f interest where you live, and build a presentation around it. See
how Joe involves the audience, and relates everything back to the subject. Then
do the same with your script.

References
Don Alan’s Chop Cup routine is in In a Class by Himself by Jon Racherbau-
mer, L&L Publishing, 1996.
The Fruit Cup
by Pete McCabe

Int—Living Room—Evening

Pete brings out a small cloth bag.

Pete
I want to know, what’s the best fruit in the
world. Which is the best? I want to know.
So I created... The Fruit Cup.

Pete removes from the bag a small trophy in the shape of a


cup. Engraved on its base is “The Fruit Cup”.

Pete
Tonight, we’re going to find out which is
the best fruit in the world.

Pete removes four or five pens and pieces of paper, and puts
the bag aside.

Pete
I’ll need your help. Everybody take a piece
of paper and a pen.

Pete gives out the slips of paper, keeping one for himself.

Pete
Tear your piece of paper in half, then half
again.

Pete leads everyone in tearing each piece of paper in four.

Pete
Now, take your pen and write the name of
a different fruit on each piece.

Everyone begins writing.

Pete
Don’t fold each piece, th at’s important,
and drop each fruit in the cup. Feel free
to put down an exotic fruit if you think

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 282


that’s best, but don’t think too h a rd —if
it doesn’t come to mind quickly, it can’t
really be the best fruit in the world.

All the slips are now in the cup.

Pete covers the top of the cup with his hand and shakes it
vigorously. Then he upends the cup, letting the slips fall to the
table.

Pete
Here’s how it works. All the face up
fruits go back in the mug. Orange, apple,
banana, lime, here’s another orange,
lemon, quince. Quince?
(reads it again, then shrugs)
Quince. Face up fruits advance. The face
down fruits are out. Jeez I hope quince
doesn’t win.

Pete shoves the face down slips in a pile to the side.

Pete
In your face, face down fruits.
(reads some of them)
Cherry, apple, th a t’s okay, there’s another
apple, pomegranate? Somebody thought
pomegranate was the best fruit?

Pete picks up the cup and repeals the process of shaking it and
dumping the slips onto the table.

Pete
Second round. It’s ju st like Survivor, only
with fruit. Orange, banana, lime, apple,
mango, peach. Who will win?

Pete puts the face up slips in the cup, and shoves the losers
into the discard pile.

Pete
We have some lovely parting gifts for our
losers. They’re such losers!

Pete shakes and pours.

SCRIPTING MAGIC [ 283


Pete
Banana and lime. You know, it’s a shame
we eliminated the swimsuit competition.

Shove aside the losers and hold up the cup of survivors.

Pete
Just two left. The tension is ju st
incredible. For some reason 1 feel like
having a banana daiquiri to help me relax.

Pete shakes the cup, then turns it over right onto the table.

Pete
(announcer voice)
If for any reason the winning fruit can not
fulfill its obligations, the runner up will
assume the title.

Pete lifts the cup, showing the last two slips.

Pete
Lime is the winner!

Pete picks up and brandishes the winning “lime" slip.

Pete
And now, ladies and gentlemen, here it is.
The best fruit in the world.

Pete tips over the cup and a lime pours out.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC [ 284


Notes for The Fruit Cup
This is obviously not really a Chop Cup routine. But it is a good example, I
think, of what can happen when you allow yourself to take a classic trick in a
<i azy direction. Often you get crap. But every now and then you get something
like* this, which plays, is fun to watch and to do, and has a climax that’s both
surprising and inevitable (an idea that will come up a little later in the book).
The key to everything is the selection process, which involves the audience,
generates drama and interest, and makes the appearance o f the lime meaning­
ful. Attention automatically increases as fewer fruits remain, and the m isdi­
rection is at a maximum right as you do the move. And the second the selec­
tion process is over, bam — a miracle.
Everything is so thoroughly motivated, and the cup is handled and seen
empty throughout. A fruit is randomly chosen. Bang— that fruit appears in
the cup. By crumpling up the lime piece o f paper you destroy the evidence. So
you end clean, with the fresh scent o f lime.

Method
Get a mini trophy— look under “trophy” in the yellow pages— and have
“Fruit Cup” inscribed on it. Get a nice faux-velvet bottle-of-wine gift bag at
any decent liquor store. Now create a stack o f pieces o f paper, all about one
inch square— you can cut these out o f printer paper quite easily. Alternately
you can have a small pad o f paper and ask your audience to tear them as they
are writing. In a formal setting, you can speed things up by having the pieces
precut. j

Performance
When I do this trick I’m usually sitting at a table, so I start with the lime in
the bag and steal it into my lap after I bring out the cup. I f you are working
standing, you can hide the lime behind the bunched up bag and steal it during
the routine.
Bring out the cup, pens, and paper, and have the audience begin writing
fruits. Write “lime” on the top piece o f your stack, then do a double turnover
and take the top (blank) piece o f paper and drop it in the cup. Write “lime”
on the top o f the next piece and drop that in the cup as well. You now have a
piece o f paper with the word “lime” on both sides (and one that’s blank both
sides) in the cup. Obviously, you can have this piece o f paper prewritten and
sneak it into the cup anytime. That way you can let the spectators write all the
fruits. This has a certain hands-off quality that works well, although I think in

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 28 1
an informal performance it's natural if you pitch in. Don't get so many slips in
the cup that they won’t move around freely when you shake it.
Once the slips are in the cup, shake them up and slowly pour them to the ta­
ble from about a foot up, so they flip over as they fall. As the right hand pours,
drop your left hand into your lap and grasp the lime; you’ll do this every pour.
I f there are more than one face up slip, put the cup down, leave the lime, and
put the face-up slips in the cup; and eliminate the face down ones. Obviously
the lime-both-sides slip will survive every round, and at some point will be the
only face-up slip. That’s the moment your left hand picks up the lime, and as
you switch the cup into your left hand, so you can brandish the lime slip with
your right, you load the lime into the cup. Crumple the lime slip, and pretend
to drop it in the cup, then pour out the lime.
You don’t know which fruits other people will write down, nor which ones
will survive, so the script is really just a starting point. There are some lines
you can say no matter what, and you can add quince yourself, so you can com­
ment on it. You do know that lime will make it every round, but too many lime-
related lines is risky. More importantly, you don’t know how many rounds the
competition will go. So i f you have a favorite line (mine is the one about “the
runner up will assume the title”), you might want to get that in too early rather
than have to leave it out. Actually, it’s possible that you’ll get down to two fruits
and both will be face up a couple o f times in a row. I just repeat the same line
about the runner-up assum ing the title, which becomes a little funnier each
time.
This really is a trick that you can’t just practice, you have to rehearse.

Adaptation
I f you feel like using any part o f this crazy routine, be my guest. In fact, I
dare you.

References
This was inspired by Bill Goldman’s column in Genii magazine, January
2004. Thank for the inspiration as always, Bill.
The same-both-sides force is often credited to Marcello Truzzi, who used
coins. But the basic idea goes back to Hofzinser. Next they’re going to tell me
Hofzinser came up with the idea for Ed Mario.
The Koornwinder Kar

I
think it is almost certain that no one will perform this script as writ­
ten. First o f all, it's quite long— the first magical moment occurs two
minutes into the routine. It's basically a seance. It also requires you to
go through a range o f emotions, and to reveal yourself to your audience
dramatically. A nd— don't tell anyone— but this is really a piece o f bizarre
magic, which scares the hell out o f most magicians. Finally, it calls for the
performer to cry.
So I think it's safe to say that few people reading this will adopt this as is.
That's okay. You can read it, and study it, and you can learn a lot from it. You
can learn how to take a simple card trick and make it a dramatic, moving,
meaningful experience, while at the same time making it a profoundly real
mystery. So you apply those lessons to the card tricks in your repertoire. If
nothing else, you should know about the simple approach that creates a cli­
max the entire audience can experience, which is no small feat with this trick.
I guarantee you this; you'll never be able to think o f the Koornwinder Kar the
same again.
Bruce Barnett is a computer scientist and a truly dedicated amateur m agi­
cian. Bruce leans toward bizarre magic, a branch o f magic dedicated to the
notion that a magic show should be a theatrical experience, which if you think
about it isn’t really all that bizarre an idea. Perhaps a better name is Theatri­
cal Magic. An earlier draft o f his script appeared in the Electronic Grymoire, an
email-based magic discussion group which Bruce him self runs.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 28?


Jo e y ’s Hero
by Bruce Barnett

Int — Theater—Evening

Bruce has in front of him a very old metal cigar box.

Bruce
Sometimes the thing we dread the most...
comes from within. Perhaps it’s just my
imagination. Or it might be real. That’s
why I need your help tonight. It’s all
because of the contents of this box.

Bruce removes an old metal cigar box. He starts to open it, but
hesitates. He takes a few deep breaths, and averts his eyes,
then opens the box.

Bruce
Inside...

Bruce reaches into the box, and removes something. He raises


his hand, with the object hidden from view.

Then something falls from his hand. It’s a yo-yo, and Bruce is
holding the string, as the yo-yo unwinds downwards.

Bruce
...mostly memories of my childhood.
My mom didn’t want it in her house
anymore, not that I can blame her. The
manifestations are my burden now. And
they’re getting worse. Joey and I kept this
box in our tree fort, and spent hours up
there. We listened to ball games.

Bruce removes an old crystal radio shaped like a rocket ship.

Bruce
And talked about baseball and cars.

Bruce removes some baseball cards, and a toy car.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 288


Bruce
They were great times.

Bruce relives a dialog between two young boys.

Bruce
“When I grow up, I’m gonna get a red
Mustang.” “Oh yeah!? Well, I’m gonna get
a red Mustang too, and drive all over
the U.S.” “Oh yeah?! I’m gonna drive to...
Mickey Mantle’s house.” “Are you nuts?
I’m going to drive to Yogi Berra’s house.”
Joey worshipped Yogi Berra. He tried to
convince me Yogi was the best baseball
player ever—better than Mickey Mantle,
Whitey Ford, Roger Maris. He never could.

Bruce grins to himself.

Bruce
He’d also drive me crazy repeating some
of those Yogi-isms, like “It ain’t over
until it’s over” or “The future ain’t what it
used to be.” I spent most of my summer
with Joey. We did stupid boy things, like
double dare each other, and put pennies
on the railroad track. He was my best
friend...

Bruce picks up a flattened penny, and the memory comes back.

Bruce
...until the accident. I told him to stay off
the railroad tracks. He never listened to
me. And then the train came...

Bruce relives that moment from long ago. It’s clear it’s still
vivid in his memory.

He takes a moment to gather himself. He looks at the baseball


cards, and lays them out in a row. He places the car at one end.

Bruce
I had blocked out that dreadful day from
my memory for years, until my Mom sent

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 289


me this box. Since then, I keep hearing
Joey’s voice. Feeling his touch. And worse.
Perhaps it is ju st my... imagination. Would
you help me find out? Please?

Bruce is worried and anxious. Alex comes forward to the table.

Bruce
Place your finger on the car, and close
your eyes. I’ll mix up the baseball cards,
face down. Now, push the card forward
and tell me if you feel anything.

Alex does so, and stops.

Alex
It won’t go anymore.

Bruce turns over all the baseball cards. The one under the car
is Yogi Berra.

Bruce
You felt it, right? It can’t be my
imagination. Do you know what this
means?

Bruce looks into Alex’s face.

Bruce
Joey is here, in this room.

Bruce looks at the audience, upset. Then he speaks to the air.

Bruce
Why, Joey, why?

Tears fall from Bruce’s face.

Bruce
Why are you still here? Why haven’t you
crossed over? What’s keeping you here?

There is no answer. Bruce looks at Alex, perhaps for an answer.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 290


Bruce
Maybe Joey’s still looking for his hero.
Maybe he’s waiting for Yogi. Or maybe he’s
waiting for me... to tell him...

Bruce chokes up with emotion.

Bruce
I tried to tell him. I tried to send him a
message. But he never listened to me.
Please help me get through to him.
Perhaps if we all try to send him a
message, all of us, he will listen. Hold the
hands of the person next to you, it will
help.

Everyone holds hands.

Bruce
Joey, can you hear me? Please listen to
me. I have something special to show you.
It’s a special postcard commemorating
Yogi’s induction into the Hall of Fame.
And look! I had Yogi sign it for you!

Bruce places the postcard in the center of the table.

Bruce
I’ve got a message for you, Joey, from
Yogi. Are you listening? Joey? “When you
come to a fork in the road... take it!”

He gives the car a push. It rolls across the table and stops by
itself, right on top of Yogi Berra.

Bruce
I am so sorry, Joey. You were right, all
along. Yogi is one of the greatest baseball
heros of all time. He played in 14 World
Series, and won 10. He was an All-Star
for 15 years in a row. As a manager, he
lead the Mets to victory, and seven years
later, the Yankees. Joey, you don’t need to
be here any more. It’s time you move on.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 291


Take the fork, Joey. Take the fork. It’s time
to go home.

Bruce listens. And listens. A look of hope appears on his face.

Bruce
Did you feel it? Did you feel that? I
think... Could it be?

Bruce gives the car a gentle push. It passes over the Yogi Berra
card with no hesitation.

Bruce
He’s done it. He crossed over.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 292


Notes on Joey's Hero
Bruce sent along notes o f his own.

I use several old items for this effect, and I antiqued those items that
w ere new, so they all had the same apparent age. I have an old metal cigar
box, filled with a wooden car, a crystal radio shaped like a rocket ship, a yo­
yo, some baseball cards (including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris,
etc), a flattened penny and in a plastic sleeve, I have a signed Yogi Berra
postcard, commemorating his entry into the Hall o f Fame.
The rocket-ship crystal radio is a reproduction o f something you could
order from the back o f a comic book. I f s the stupid sort o f gadget kids loved
to get, along with X-Ray glasses, etc. I aged it with tinted wax/shoe polish.
Sports cards are easy to get on eBay. You can either get original cards, or
reprints. You can sign them yourself, or get real autographed cards. I aged
the Koornwinder Kar a little, to make it look 30 years old. It’s a wooden car,
suitable for the time period, and some sandpaper and shoe polish is all that
is needed to age it.

Setup
Everything fits inside the metal cigar box. Right before performance, I
place the plastic sleeve and postcard in my jacket pocket, and prepare my­
self emotionally.

Performance
The effect is a variation o f the Koornwinder Kar, by Dick Koornwinder.
The car stops twice. The first time it stops on top o f a face-down card that
happens to be Yogi Berra's card while the spectator is pushing it. The sec­
ond time it stops on top o f the postcard when no one is touching the car.
You can “set” the location where the car will stop. I use this twice. The
first time, I show the baseball cards (I use 5) face up in a row, with the Yogi
card in fourth position. I have the car “set” next to card # 2 . 1 then move the
car aside, and turn the cards face down while the spectator's eyes are closed.
I place the Yogi card face down in the spot where the car was before. When
the spectator pushes the car, it will stop on top o f Yogi's baseball card.
I used Dick's Koornwinder's suggestion that the car be pushed slowly.
The effect is not the stopping o f the car, but o f someone or something influ­
encing the spectator. The “influence” is not a subtle force, but a significant
force. However, the audience doesn't know this.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 293


For the second effect, I set the car in the center o f the table, and when
I put the postcard on the table, I move the car back to make room. I place
the postcard at the location where the car was. By giving the card a push,
it stops suddenly without anyone touching the car. This was done to create
a quick impact, and sudden effect. This allows everyone to simultaneously
experience the effect firsthand, unlike the first effect.
Nothing happens at the moment where the greatest “magic” happens.
Less is more.
This presentation provides an unforgettable emotional experience to the
audience, happening in the present tense, as it can only occur once. I strive
to present this in a sensitive manner.

Inspiration
My inspiration came from Richard Mark's suggestion in 1999 to use the
Koornwinder Kar in a bizarre effect, although unknown to me Dick has also
suggested this years ago. I have played around with restless spirit effects
before, (See my “ Spirit Blocks” in New Invocation) but these were unsatisfy­
ing because I was not directly involved with the story, and it did not have a
peaceful conclusion. Telekinetic Timber was also too difficult to time pre­
cisely. The Koornwinder Kar can be controlled predictably and precisely.

References
The wooden car is from Dick Koornwinder. It's a wonderful effect, and
i f you respect creativity, you'll get the car from Dick Koornwinder himself,
and not one o f the rip-offs.

Back to Pete
Hocus Pocus magic shop (www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop) is an au­
thorized dealer o f the Koornwinder car, and Tenyo recently introduced an
authorized version for sale, which can be examined by the audience.
Michael Close:
A Little Bit of Truth

W
hen I started writing this book, I knew that I would ask Mike
Close to contribute something— and I knew that he would
say yes. Because, although I had only met Mike in passing,
I had read his classic Workers books, all o f which include
complete performance scripts. And they’re not the kind o f patter one often
finds in books, which is just narrative, with maybe a good laugh line here,
or a line to justify a move there. (This is not necessarily a criticism— many
magicians believe it’s better to provide only a rudimentary presentation, to
rncourage readers to develop their own.) They’re the kind o f scripts written by
someone who has given a lot o f thought to how to present magic effectively.
I also knew how seriously Mike takes helping other magicians; He has, as a
writer, lecturer, and erstwhile product reviewer for M A G IC magazine, shared
an enormous amount o f hard-earned experience in exchange for what is, re­
ally, a paltry sum.
So I knew that he would have thoughtful, insightful, and practical advice
to offer on the subject, and that he would be willing to give it up for nothing
more than a free book and a cup o f coffee. We met at Starbucks in Encino, and
I was right on both counts.

Pete Pete
I gather from your lecture that you Paul Harris said “Close-up magic is
don’t sit down and write scrip ts like an enhanced con versation .”
out in advance.
Michael
Michael Exactly. So, ob vio u sly I know what
R igh t I’m not good at that. And the I’m going to say. But I alw ays try
few tim es that I’ve tried to do that to be flexible enough, without let­
have not been p articularly su c c e ss­ ting the trick suffer, that if som e­
ful. One o f the things that really thing happens I can go with that.
m akes m agic effective— esp ecially Make a little diversion and get
close up w o rk — is for it to sound back with the trick. What I’m re­
as extem poraneous as possible. So ally conscious o f doing is figuring
even though the w ords are w ords I out w hatever the presentational
say over and over again, I do want or em otional hook of the trick is
it to at least feel to the audience going to be. Because I really think
that a lot of it is ju st right off the you have to ask the question: Why
top of m y head, ju st as if we were should an ybod y bother to watch?
having a conversation. There has to be som ething much

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 29S


more than here’s a trick, here’s a Michael
p uzzle, here’s som ething to look I can do a lot of the dirty work
at. If I can hook you into it before before you even believe that an y ­
we even begin, if I can talk about thing has started. So what I do try
som ething that’s in teresting or to figure out is, in what w ay am
unusual or funny, w hat have you, I going to make this worth your
so that I sort of... before I even tim e? So that I really can engage
bring this thing out, I went to J a ­ you before we launch into the
pan, it was really strange. I get off m agic. So even if you have re sis­
the plane, and they have all these tance to seeing a trick, w ell, y o u ’re
little stores w here you can buy hooked already.
these little trinkets, these sou ­
v e n irs — I’m ju st m aking this all Pete
up, and alread y and you think I’m Even if I don’t want to see a trick, I
about to tell you som ething very want to hear the rest o f the story.
interesting.
Michael
Pete You’d like to know how this turns
Absolutely. out. And then it feels v e ry conver­
sational, and it d oesn ’t feel like a
Michael guy doing a trick. One o f the things
You believed me right there, and that really bugs me now, and it’s
I ju st did that off the top of my p robably ju st my age m ore than
head. But now, if I brought som e­ anything, but I don’t like to be
thing out o f my lum ped into that
pocket and I said c a te g o ry — “here
“This is the cra­ To be honest with you, com es the guy
zy little thing,” what Im about to say, who does tricks.”
w e l l — y o u ’ re This is one of
I dont really want
hooked before the reaso n s that
we even get to broadcast to security. for the last few
into the trick. years I’ve done
Bob Farm er says I’m probably the card m agic. Because in the en vi­
m ost insidious gu y he’s ever met ronm ent I was w orking in, a casi­
in term s of not know ing when the no, that seem ed the m ost natural
trick starts. prop to take out o f you r pocket.
By introducing a deck of card s, it’s
Pete m ore like som ething you picked
You wrote about that in Workers, up on the w ay in. I cou ld n ’t see
that the audience d o esn ’t know m y se lf w alking up to a table and
w hen the trick starts, w hich is a taking out a pair of spon ge balls,
big opportunity. or a purse fram e. Coins w ould be
okay, but it would be better to do
it with poker chips, really.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 298


Pete cast to security. So if you don’t
I’ve alw ays thought that most mind, I’m ju st going to stand here,
coin tricks are better with poker and I tell you, I’ve been taking
chips. Spellbound especially, a cheating le sso n s.” Well, what more
lot of tim es you can hardly tell do you have to say? People are
the coins apart. I did David Roth’s hooked so hard, and off we go.
Standup C opper/Silver Classic in
a not-very-well-lit-room , and no­ So, since I don ’t really script, what
body could tell the difference b e­ I do is figure out a plot. I do very
tween the copper and silver coins. much think ab o u t— in term s of
But poker chips — red, white, how the structure o f the trick— where I
could you m iss? have to say things, where it needs
to be particularly m isdirective, and
Michael I make sure I know exactly what to
If you con sider the fact that the say when I say that. And then I ju st
coins we use are not in circulation perform , because I’m very good at
anym ore, it’s not like y o u ’re reach­ speaking extem poraneously. And
ing into your pocket for change, through perform an ces, things get
and doing a trick with it. You worked out, and the patter finally
might as well use som ething that gets to a point w here, if I want to,
has a little more meaning. I can sit down and type it out, b e­
cause it’s becom e a script. But I
Pete still want it to look lik e— and this
You could use chips from the ca­ is an acting thing, and I have no
sino y o u ’re w orking at. training in a ctin g — but it’s really
the ability to say som ething that
Michael y o u ’ve said a thousand times and
Exactly. So it’s this idea of som e­ make it sound like it’s never come
how slid ing you into the situation. out of your m outh before.
In Closely G u arded Secrets I have a
routine called “The Cheating Les­ Pete
son .” And I played this very real. I know a lot of m agicians who
When I w ould do it in the lounge, don’t like to script because they’re
before I started, I looked up to see not good at sayin g som ething re­
w here the eye in the sky w as in re­ hearsed and pretending that it’s
lation to the table I w as w orking. not. But that’s what magic is — if
I’d point out the eye, and I w ould you can’t do that, where are you
turn m y back to it. And I w ould going to go? If you can fake p ut­
explain how the eye works: “Wher­ ting a coin in you r hand as though
ever you are in a casino, with two y o u ’re really doing it, that’s no d if­
excep tio n s— the rest room s and ferent from speaking som ething
your p ersonal hotel roo m — you y o u ’ve rehearsed and sounding
are being w atched, 24 / 7 . And to be like yo u ’re ju st thinking of it.
honest with you, what I’m about to
say, I don’t really want to b ro ad ­

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 29?


Michael and Balls, I don't do the Lgg Bag, 1
For me it’s very im portant when don ’t do the Linking Rings. Sim ply
I’m doing m agic in an en viron ­ because I have no idea, other than
ment that I can control to some telling you what y o u ’re seeing,
d eg ree— like when I w as w orking w hat I would say when I’m per­
in the Houdini Lounge, or even the form ing it. And I think that pat­
bar in the Magic C a stle— I want ter that sim ply tells people what
the experience to be v e ry real, so th ey’re seeing is unentertaining. I
it feels m ore like an occurrence of see so m any guys w hose patter is
daily life than a gu y doing a show. “Look look. Look look. See? Watch.
So there’s very little that m akes it Look. See? Look. Watch.” That does
feel like a show. If I ju s t w alk up to nothing to me. All that does to me
a table, I don’t want it to feel like is em phasize the p u zzle. I find it
oh, here com es the show. So the uninteresting.
conversation there is w hat m akes
the whole thing real. For gu ys who Pete
aren ’t particularly good at the ex­ One o f the things that sets the
tem poraneous part, I think y o u ’re Workers books apart is that there
p robably going to have to script so is no trick that isn ’t thoroughly
that you know what y o u ’re going integrated with its presentation.
to say all the w ay down the line. So if you want to learn it, the first
thing you have to do is extract the
Pete trick, and then put it in yo u r own
Scripting d oesn ’t have to mean presentation.
that you sit down and w rite it in
advance. Michael
I feel so strongly that the p resen ­
Michael tation be com pletely m elded with
I think what will alw ays happen is, the m ethod and the action s and
if you write out w hat you want to everyth in g else. What I have found
say, in perform ance y o u ’ll carve it in terestin g... when I w ent back
down. So the p erform ing part will and we relaid out the old Workers
be an attrition of w ords, rather books, ’cause I hadn’t read them in
than more w ords. I think w hat’s a long time, is to d isco ver how lit­
going to happen is y o u ’ll end up tle of the p atter— which I used fif­
doing less and less to con vey the teen or twenty years a g o — fits me
w hole thing. But for me the big step now. It sim ply doesn ’t suit me.
is to ask the q u estio n — and this
has been a driving force in ev ery ­ Pete
thing I’ve ever p erfo rm ed — what It w as w ritten for a different per­
am I going to say when I do this? son.
And if I can’t think o f anything
in teresting to say, then I sim ply Michael
don’t do the trick. I don ’t do a lot Y es— it all com es out o f who I am
o f the classics. I don ’t do the Cups at the time. And it also com es out

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 298


of the venue that y ou ’re working the patter, and more im portantly
In. A lot o f the early magic cam e when you see other people do the
Irom the Max and Erma’s restau tricks with Don’s presentation,
rant, a lot o f the middle stuff came y o u ’ve gotta know that he w as
during the Illusions years. And such an influence back then. He
those were p lac­ defined close-
es that allow ed up magic for fif­
a little sillier ap ­ Once I get the big rock teen or twenty
proach to what rolling we can do years. So if you
you did. You did The Benson
what we have to do.
could be go ofy Bowl, Chop Cup,
without it fe e l­ But Idont want Invisible Deck,
ing out o f place, topush it a mile everybody w as
because Max and before we actually using Don’s p at­
Erma’s w as kind ter. Even if he
of a funky, noisy
get to the trick. hadn’t published
kind o f place. it, it was on TV,
They used to have telephones on everybody used it. And the lines
the tables so you could call other come across as being really sm art­
tables, things like that. And Illu­ ass when you listen to it. And then
sions, o f course, w as specifically I finally saw Don work, I got those
designed as a m agic restaurant. Magic Ranch tapes. And he is the
When I got to the Houdini Lounge, m ost innocuous, inoffensive,
I found a lot o f that ju st w ouldn ’t n ice— still sayin g the same w ords,
fit. Because people who w alked in but when they come out of his
didn’t know that I w as going to mouth, they ju st sound different.
come up and do magic for them. It It’s like we have with the Inter­
w asn ’t the sam e thing as going to net. Sarcasm d oesn ’t work on the
a m agic-them ed restaurant. And internet, because nobody can tell
so I found m y old p resentations the tone o f yo u r voice. And this
and w ords didn ’t fit me, and if I is what happened: People sim ­
said them it w ould be like you do­ ply m isinterpreted those w ords.
ing my patter. That’s how different So the first thing an ybod y’s gotta
it was. I saw a guy do one o f m y d o — the first thing I’ve gotta do to
tricks, he sim ply used my patter go back and do the old m aterial— a
word for word. It w as the single lot of it I really have to change the
creepiest thing I’ve ever seen in m y patter. I can’t do it anym ore.
life. And I took him aside and said
“You really need to w ork out what Pete
yo u ’re going to say here. Because People will read a sleight in a
it ju st d o esn ’t fit you at all.” book, but they alw ays want to
see it. Then th ey’ll read a line in a
I had alw ays thought that Don book and perform it without hear­
Alan w as the father of the w ise-ass ing the w ay it’s done, and often
m agician. Because when you read that’s ju st as im portant, how a line

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 299


is delivered, like the w ay a move get that they're on the sam e team.
is perform ed. And there is no an im osity there,
and you get fooled that way. When
Michael they do the Water Torture, the
Of course, the danger there is last thing yo u ’re going to suspect
th ere’ll be a great tendency to is how the card gets to Teller, be
ju st mimic, which is a big prob­ cause it all appears that th ey ’re not
lem. I’m thoroughly convinced on the sam e team. The Card Stab
that one o f the reason s people that they used to do, w here Teller
hold m agic in general in such low ap p aren tly stabs the knife through
esteem is that th ey’re convinced Penn’s hand, m ay be the greatest
w e’re all the sam e guy. There’s card trick I’ve ever seen. Because
the dove guy, and th ere’s the il­ at the m om ent it happened, it felt
lusion guy, and th ere’s the coin ab solu tely real, that this gu y may
and card guy, and you ju s t slap a have ju st gotten p issed off enough
different head on, and that’s who that he’d shove that knife through
we are. And the reason is that so his p artner’s hand. They did it on
few who perform make any effort Letterm an, and his expression,
to establish personality. I think w hen that happened, for that m o­
there’s a b ravery thing here. A lot m ent he was a guy on the scene
o f gu ys get into m agic to cover up o f a car accident. It w as an ab so­
deficiencies in social skills. The lutely brilliant m oment.
last thing they want to do is stand
in front of a group of people and And not only have they estab ­
give them any idea who they re­ lished their p erson alities, but they
ally are. They want to hide behind have actual content, intellectual
the tricks, and the easiest w ay to content. It is a show o f ideas. Now,
hide behind the tricks is to use you m ay or m ay not agree with
som ebody else ’s patter. those ideas, but art isn ’t about
agreem ent, it’s about expression.
One of the things that m akes Penn And if you choose to em brace it,
and Teller so great is that they fine, if you choose to disagree,
have such clearly defined p erson ­ fine, but at least y o u ’re offering
alities, num ber one. Number two, ideas. And that rarely happen s in
from a dram a standpoint, you m agic. Magic is often ju s t about
have two p erson alities in direct looking at the pretty face, it’s not
conflict. The little guy who d oesn ’t at all about content.
say anything, the big guy who
w on’t shut up. And it serves a cou­ Pete
ple of p urposes. It prod u ces great I’m not a p rofession al perform er,
conflict in the audience, w onder­ but I know there are som e venues
ing “Are these gu ys gonna walk off w here you can barely get yo u rse lf
the stage alive?” And num ber two, acro ss, much less any content. It
if you buy into the prem ise that m ight be inappropriate to w alk up
there’s anim osity there, you for­ to som eone at a party and try to

SCRIPTING MAGIC [ 300


present something that’s a little ence to the audience. And really I
unsettling. think the subtext of what he talks
about, which resonates with the
Michael audience, is overcom ing this p ro­
It’s much easier to do in a theat­ found disability.
rical setting, where they com e in
and sit down, you have all the Pete
trappings o f theater. The things For him to perform at all, no m at­
1 do I’m not trying to get acro ss ter what he does, is going to upset
any content that way, but the one your view of what you can do with
thing I do like to try to do, by m ak­ only one arm.
ing the show as real as possible,
is to put people in a strange place Michael
where their heads and their hearts And what becom es so em otional,
are in conflict. This is the mom ent what gets exp ressed there, is the
that I find sublim e. Rene Lavand ability to overcom e this, to do
calls it exquisite anguish. Be­ these things one-handed that a
cause your head says “That can’t person shou ldn ’t be able to do
be real. I know that what I ju st ex­ two-handed. And that’s not an
perienced w asn ’t real.” And your intellectual m essage, it’s an em o­
heart goes “That was the m ost real tional m essage. But it’s content.
thin g— that w as a real as w alking And m aybe that’s what I’m doing,
down the street.” That’s how real trying to get an em otional m es­
it feels. And we don’t like that in sage rather than an intellectual
our lives. We don’t like that. It sort m essage. I am very disappointed
of w akes you up, it’s like a bucket with m ost perform ers that 1 watch,
of w ater on your head. Which is sim ply because they do nothing
the thing I really like to do. But I’m that in any w ay grabs me. T h ey’re
very lim ited in offering any kind ju st doing tricks. And at this stage
of intellectual content, in term s in my life I’ve seen enough tricks.
o f my w orld view. Sim ply because I’ve seen more than enough. I re­
the venue d oesn ’t allow that to ally want to see som ething more
happen v e ry often. than that.

Pete Pete
The only venue I can think of When you perform , since y o u ’re
w here you can do that is the Close w orking conversationally, do
Up Room at the Castle. But y o u ’d you sp ecifically design segm ents
have to have a separate act ju st where you can interact with the
for that one venue. spectators, or do you ju st let it
come up because it’s going to
Michael come up anyw ay?
Rene Lavand is probably the stron ­
gest close-up guy I’ve ever seen at
im parting an em otional exp eri­

SCRIPTING MAGIC
Michael looking at me sayin g “Oh nice
I tend not to factor that in. One tricky trick, magic boy.” That’s a
of the things that m ost guys do prim e exam ple o f letting the leash
incorrectly, I feel, esp ecially in a out, letting her be the star of this
close-up venue w here it is con­ m om ent. And some of them are hi­
versation al, is to let the show slip larious with the venom they use.
aw ay from you, and not be able to
m aintain control. So I’m very care­ Pete
ful when I work, to clearly define T h ey’ve been w aiting a long time
those m om ents when I’m letting to say that.
the show slip out into the au d i­
ence for a m inute, and it’s alw ays Michael
a very tight rein. So that even Now, there’s as good a reason for
though som ebody m ay be nam ing the cards to fall as there w as for
a card, picking a card, show ing it them to stay. And now, the whole
around, I am still the show. I’ve trick, there’s not a word o f “patter”
seen this with standup com ics who in that. Everything is situational,
the very first thing they do when everyth in g com es out o f the m o­
they w alk out on stage is go “Hey, ment.
w here are you from ? What do you
d o?” And the show ju s t goes off Pete
the stage and in the audience, and Because you started by telling a
un less y o u ’re a great com ic, a lot story, and because the audience
o f tim es you never get it back. w ants to know the end o f that
story, any time control goes out
When I started doing the m agne­ to the audience, you can alw ays
tized cards, I had a presentation. bring it back, because you control
I figured out w hy do the cards the story. So the spectator gets to
stick to m e— I’m the m ost attrac­ have their moment, but as soon as
tive guy in Las Vegas. But in order that m om ent is over, it’s back to
to make the cards fall, I used Gary you. So that’s one benefit you get
Plants’ patter, which w as sim ply from d eveloping a presentation
give me a num ber betw een five out in advance, by having a good
and ten — s ix — count to six, one p resentation, it’s much easier for
two three four five, and when they you to keep control. Because the
reach six, the cards drop. And audience wants to hear how it
that’s okay, but it has nothing to ends.
do with what has com e before.
And then, in perform ance, all of Michael
a sudden I hit on this idea, that Right. And you know, the sto ry I’m
w hat’s holding them up is my in­ talking about here is not the 13 -
flated ego, this big balloon o f ego year-old kid standing up and going
holding the cards up. And so to “The last time I went to In d ia...”
get them to fall, we ju s t rein that Most of the patter that I cam e up
in. I get that line with the wom an with during the Houdini Lounge

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 302


days sim ply was about the fact videos. The Power part is “Why
that I was a guy from Indiana who does the magic happen? What is
was living in Las Vegas, and what in the body o f the trick that pro­
was that all about? And that’s how vid es the pow er for the m agic?”
a lot of that patter worked out. Take the Luckiest Cards in Las
Vegas. These cards survived b e­
Pete ing blown up in the im plosion of
Sure. Because m ost people in Ve­ the Desert Inn Hotel, unscathed,
gas don’t live there, and they w on­ untouched, they have to be the
der what it would be like to live luckiest cards in Las Vegas. Well,
there. I’ve thought that m yself. I bought them at the Gam bler’s
Supply House. But for the moment
Michael that trick is going on, those cards
Ixactly. So that gives me my hook. have the power. I like that. I don’t
Years ago, 30 years ago, I gave a have to be told how good I am. I
little lecture in Indianapolis for the don’t have to dem onstrate these
local club. And I did the coin trick, things as if they are exam ples o f
the “Too A head” routine that’s in m y skills. I’d much rather have
Workers. But the coins I kept in a the magic ju st occurring.
little beaded purse. And I would
explain that it w as my grandm oth­ So I think a real good w ay to d e­
er’s purse, and I would tell a long velop a presentation is to ju st ask
story about how she gave it to me. y o u rse lf “Where did this thing
And that’s w hy I don’t use a leath­ come from ? Why does it hap­
er purse, because this is an im por­ pen? How can I do this?” This is
tant thing to me. the kind of thing
I can tell you a that m akes a
story about this, They want to show great for
and it has m ean­ hide behind the tricks, an audience.
ing to me, and
im m ediately it
and the easiest way to Michael Skin­
has m eaning to hide behind the tricks is ner had a great
you because this to use somebody else’spatter. w ay to keep in
is a little heir­ practice with
loom. And a guy tricks that you
said “C ouldn’t you ju st use a leath­ w ouldn’t really do for laym en.
er purse and lie about it?” And I Tricks that are m agician foolers,
said “I’m lying about this. I bought that have a procedure that’s so
this at a five and ten.” But the lie involved it’s hard to make it com ­
sounds so m uch more convincing m ercial. What he used to say is
about a little beaded purse than “You know, several times a year
about a coin m agic purse. m agicians get together for con­
ventions. And one o f the things
David Regal talks about this in his we love to do is try to fool each
Power; Prem ise, an d Presentation other, and I’ve been working on a

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 303


trick specifically d esigned to fool o f developing m aterial. So what
m agicians. Would you like to see we are getting is this g u y ’s v aria­
it?” Well, you cou ldn ’t have a bet­ tion o f Reset, Matrix, Collectors,
ter hook than that. And that gives Coins A cross, the sam e fields. And
you the chance to do anything, b e­ w e’re m oving horizontally, from
cause he’s p refaced it with the fact variation to variation, and w e’re
that this is for a specific audience. not m oving forw ard. What really
I cam e up with a hook one time, I needs to be done is to find your
w ould say “Every year the five best inspiration outside of m agic lit­
card cheats in the United States get erature, whether that m eans go­
together in Las Vegas for a w eek­ ing to legend, going to m yth, go­
end. And they rent a big suite, ing to history. I love books about
and for three days they d iscu ss all the unusual history o f things. How
the new cheating techniques, all did the zipper get invented? Be­
the new scam s, and all the tech­ cause if you read things like that,
nology. This year w hen I saw the you can sort o f find m agic effects
other four guys, I show ed them within those things. Yo m ay even
th is.” And th ey’re hooked. find an effect where no one has
com e up with a good w orking for,
And this is what I w ould love to and then y o u ’re in fresh territory.
see. Now, there is a delicate bal­ I have a trick that I’m w orking on,
ance between the sto ry and the and I w as talking about it with
trick itself. B asically all I’m trying Paul Harris. And he says “How did
to do is get this rock rolling. And you com e up with that?” And I said
once I get the big rock rolling we “Well, I didn ’t get it from a magic
can do what we have to do. But I book. I went outside o f m agic.”
don’t want to push it a mile be­ And that to me is the w ay to do it.
fore we actually get to the trick.
So there is a com prom ise. Pete
Have the ad vantages o f scriptin g
Pete changed as y o u ’ve m atured as a
What are the less ob vious benefits p erform er?
o f a good presentation?
Michael
Michael One thing that having a story
I think one big ad van tage is that does is it gets you over the hump
the more you do this, the better of gu ys who do tricks. Because
you get at it. It d oesn ’t take me there’s alw ays those people on
very long to find a hook any more. their guard, who say “I don ’t want
I can think about som ething for m agic.” But if you can get them
a few hours, and I find a w ay to with w ords first, you establish
go at it. One of the big problem s y o u rse lf as an interestin g person,
in m agic right now is that we are som eone worth talking to. I’ve al­
plow ing the sam e fields that we w ays said, if yo u ’re not v ery in­
have plowed for 35 y ears in term s terestin g to talk to w ithout doing

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 304


magic tricks, you're not going to bring out a deck like that, there
be very interesting when you do should be a reason why you have
magic tricks. They ate not som e­ a deck like that. So I sa y — and I
thing that changes your p erson al­ think this presentation popped
ity. Of course, this is how m agic is into existence about five seconds
sold. And that’s one of the lie s — be after I started p laying with the
the life o f the d eck — “I first
party. And that started playing
I always love it when there's
isn’t going to be poker when I
the case. So one a little bit of truth to the lie. w as 13 years old.
of the benefits That's allyou need. And every time I
of doing it this w as in a game,
I just need enough truth
way is that it’s and I got really
going to force that I believe it. lucky, before I
you to get out­ left that game I
side of m agic, understand w hat’s snuck a card out of the deck, and
going on in the world. And that by took it home as a souvenir. Now I
itself is going to make you a more w as 13 , I’m 52 now, I’ve been do­
w ell-rounded person, m aking you ing this for 39 years. And I’ve got
interesting to be around w hether a full deck.” And now I spread this
you do a m agic trick or not. rainbow deck on the table, and
y o u ’re hooked.
Pete
If you have a trick that’s ju st about Pete
the trick, it w on’t reveal anything And they’re not random cards...
about you. But if you say that a
guitar p layer showed you this Michael
trick, well, how did you know a ...th ey’re your lucky cards.
guitar player? Do you also play
guitar? Are you in a band? Or w as Pete
it a friend or relative? You could do the sam e idea in a
different direction: I was cheating,
Michael holding out a card, and I couldn’t
At the Castle, I’ve been doing put it back. Same presentation,
Lennart Green’s version o f “Gem ­ but a com pletely different person.
ini Tw ins” with the Rainbow Deck Martin Nash could do it that way.
that A -l MagicalMedia sold. What
Lennart had done is accum ulate Michael
lots o f different decks of poker Absolutely. And as part of that
sized cards, and put together trick, you have to bring out two
these decks, and they sort of ju st extra cards that th ey’re going to
slapped this Gemini trick with it. use to find the m ates. Well I could
Well, you can ju st bring out that take them out for no reason, but
deck and do a trick with it, but I don’t. I had m y friend Norman
that d oesn ’t make any sense. If you Beck mail me som e envelopes

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 305


from his work at SCA Prom otions, Michael
which is an underw riting com pany Every trick you want to do, the first
for gam ing events. I take out this question you have to ask is: what
old envelope, and I say “My buddy does this trick mean to me? Why
Norman does the sam e thing, and is this trick im portant enough to
he sent me som e lucky cards from me that I should bother to show
his collection. We’ll try som ething it to you?
with it.” So every prop has a m ean­
ing. It isn ’t ju st a trick. This is the Pete
kind o f thing I find fun to do. I al­ Not w hy is this trick im portant to
w ays love it when th ere’s a little the audience, w hy is it im portant
bit of truth to the lie. Th at’s all you to me the m agician?
need. I ju st need enough truth that
I believe it. Then you believe it, Michael
and when you believe it, we have Suppose your hobby w ere carving
som ething far more entertaining. little anim als out o f w ood. If you
I really think that the great thing spent enough time and care w ork­
about m agic is that it ca n — I’ll tell ing on that, y o u ’d p robably want
you, have you seen Shaun o f the to show me what y o u ’ve com e up
Dead? with. Because you spent a lot of
time on it and a lot o f hard work.
Pete Now, im agine you said “Look, I
I h aven ’t. carved that, it’s y o u rs.” I would
say “Wow, what a lo vely gift.”
Michael Som ething you really spent a lot
The whole point o f the m ovie is, of time on and y o u ’re givin g this
we are all zom bies, w hether we to me. Why is magic an y different
have becom e zom bies or whether than that?
we have stopped p ayin g attention
to w hat’s going on around us. And Pete
that’s the thing that m agic does My perform ance is a gift.
best. It ju st throw s a bucket of w a­
ter on people. And ju s t for a m in­ Michael
ute it w akes them up and rem inds It’s gotta be a gift. Art is a gift. Art
them to stop being a zom bie and is m y saying, you know, I look at
look around and see w hat’s going the w orld this way, take a look and
on. And I think that’s a great thing see if that m eans anyth ing to you.
that magic can do, but it so seldom It m eans an aw ful lot to me. Som e­
happens, because it sim ply isn ’t tim es not all art touches people.
presented in a w ay that anybody But it d oesn ’t have to. The whole
can get that m eaning out of it. point is in the offering. It’s not
what I’m getting out o f it. It’s for
Pete the audience to have a chance to
How do I put in that m eaning? go hom e and say what a beauti­
ful thing, thank you for letting me

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 306


take a look at that. Now If you start with you. When Juan Tamariz per­
looking at your presentations that form s, when he w orks in English,
way, you ask yourself^ first: why is he doesn ’t have the greatest patter
this im portant to me? Okay, this I in the world. But what he has is
think is a fabulous effect, I think an enthusiasm and an excitem ent
it’s ab solu tely am azing. Well, how about what he’s doing that has to
did I com e about knowing how to wrap you up. If you make that first
do this thing? Is it a skill that I jum p, ju st on one trick that yo u ’re
learned? Did a gy p sy put a curse doing, then you really can work it
on me? Is it som ething my gran d­ out.
father had and it’s been p assed
down through my fam ily for years Pete
and it does one really incredibly To think that the point of all the
thing? If you ask y o u rse lf w here hours I spend on m agic is to give
did it com e from , w hy does it do som ething to som eone else, that
what it does, who has the power, really changes the equation.
and then you couch it in term s
of som ething that m akes sense Michael
to your life, im m ediately y o u ’ve How often do you see magic per­
jum ped a m illion m iles ahead form ed that you have any sense
of the w ay m ost guys do m agic that this is w hy the gu y’s per­
tricks. Som etim es it’s ju st “Why is form in g— because he w ants you
it im portant to m e?” Michael Skin­ to have som ething special? All I
ner didn’t have the greatest patter need from m y audience is, when
I’ve ever heard. Som etim es it w as I say this is for you, and your face
pretty m undane. But there w as does... that] your eyes open and
som ething about the w ay Skinner you go “What?” You’re astonished.
did m agic that it was so obvious That’s all I need. Now I know w hy
that this m eant a great deal to him. I’m doing this.
That he w as so entranced with this
that he cou ldn ’t wait to share it The E n d

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 30?


Scripting and Repertoire

f you make a list o f all the tricks in your repertoire, it will probably be
long. But i f you make a list so you can write a script for every trick in
your repertoire, your list will only include the tricks you really do.
One o f the biggest benefits o f writing scripts for every trick in your
repertoire is that it causes you to think about every trick you do, and decide if
it's really in your repertoire or not. I’m not sure you can claim that a trick is in
your repertoire i f you're not willing to write your script down.
How good are the tricks you do? I go to the Magic Castle most every week,
and I meet several o f my fellow magicians. We show each other tricks, and
give each other honest feedback. And the first thing I consider is this: There
are— at least— 10,000 magic tricks. Your repertoire will have maybe twenty.
Is this one o f the twenty best tricks in the world?
The answer, almost every time, is no.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with working on a trick that’s not one o f the
twenty best in the world. Sometimes you’re exploring. There’s always a place
for a quick impromptu trick with common objects. And ultimately, trying a
trick is the only way to find out i f it’s one o f the best twenty tricks in the
world.
But i f you’re going to put in the time to make a trick part o f your working
repertoire, that’s a real commitment. Why would you want to make an inferior
trick a part o f your repertoire?
What tricks are really in your repertoire? Are they the best tricks in the
world? Are they worth writing a script for? I f a trick isn’t so good that you are
willing to spend the time developing, learning, and rehearsing an effective
presentation, find one that is.
You might start with the tricks in this section, which have all proven them­
selves to be among the very best. You can put any one o f them into your reper­
toire, and i f someone asks i f it’s one o f the twenty best tricks in the world, you
can answer “yes” with complete confidence.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 35S


The $ 10 0 Bill Switch

/
This is really a fun presentation for one o f the most compelling effects you
can do. The hook is irresistible, and the magic effect develops so naturally that
the c limax is very mystifying. It's an intriguing trick to perform in a situation
where people don't know you are a magician, as it causes many people to be­
come seriously weirded out.
It's a simple idea, but I think it may well be original, which is to say an origi­
nal application; I can say that it's not included among the 6.02 x io 23 routines
in SW ITCH , John Lovick's ode to the $100 Bill Switch. You can learn it quickly
if you already do the bill switch, and easily i f you don't. The packet you have to
hide is well covered during the routine, both physically and by misdirection.
1’he handling is extremely clean and well-motivated. This trick looks exactly
the same as it would if the magic were real.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 3©9


Double Your Money Back
by Pete McCabe

Int — Store— Day

Pete is standing in line with Alex, waiting to pay. Pete brings


out his wallet.

Pete
Can you help me out?

Pete opens his wallet and takes out a dollar-sized piece of


white paper, blank on both sides.

Pete
Can I borrow a twenty? I’ll give it right
back.

Alex hands Pete a twenty.

Pete
Great. Are you sure it’s good?

Pete holds the twenty up to the light and examines it minutely.

Pete
Looks good.

Pete lays the blank paper on the twenty and holds them up for
all to see.

Pete
You know, counterfeiting got really bad in
the early 1900s.

Pete folds the two items two or three times with the blank
paper inside the twenty.

Pete
The government printed a booklet, how
to recognize real m oney— you know, the
flag on the ten is upside down, things
like that. So the counterfeiters printed

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 310


their own counterfeit how to recognize
real money booklet, which told people
that the counterfeit bills were real.

I’ete holds up the packet and checks his watch.

Pete
This is not— technically— counterfeiting.
Still, don’t tell anybody you were here.

I’ete nods at his watch; time’s up.

He unfolds the twenty to reveal that the blank piece of paper


has changed into another twenty.

Pete
Here you go.

Pete returns the borrowed bill. He keeping the newly printed


twenty, which he puts in his wallet, right in the place where the
blank paper was just a minute ago.

Pete
Thanks.
Notes on Double Your Money Back
I f you have any facility for manipulating small objects, you really should
give this trick a try, i f only to see the look on your spectators’ faces as you hand
back the borrowed twenty. When the paper changes into a bill, it’s very clean
and deceptive, and they’re reacting to it like a magic trick, and then you can
see their brain begin to slow down as they take back the bill. Somehow the fact
that their bill was used makes everything seem real. Sometimes people will
react as though the bill is haunted, and then they have to put it in their pocket.
It’s a lot o f fun.
By the way, it’s true that in the early 19 0 0 s the government printed “ How to
Detect Counterfeit Money” pamphlets, and the counterfeiters made their own
counterfeit “ How to Detect Counterfeit Money” pamphlets. Nothing like a true
and interesting fact to occupy the mind while you’re doing a bill switch.

Method
Because you have two pieces o f paper with which to hide your folded bill
packet, the handling is incredibly casual and easy. And the nature o f the ef­
fect motivates the folding in a way that’s subtle, but which precious few o f the
hundreds o f bill switch routines in existence can match.

Setup
Take two twenties and lay one on top o f the other. Hold both bills facing you
and fold three times: fold the left side away from you to the right, fold the left
side away from you to the right again, then fold the top away from you down.
You should have the index o f a twenty facing you and another on the other
side. The crease is on the top o f the packet.
Cut a piece o f white paper the size o f a dollar, then trim an eighth o f an inch
from each dimension (so the white edges don’t show when it’s folded inside
the twenty). Prefold it the same as the bills you just folded, then unfold it and
put it in your wallet. Tuck the folded twenties behind it.

Performance
Bring out your wallet and remove the paper with twenties concealed behind
it. Borrow a twenty and place it face down on top o f the blank paper. Now
remove the blank paper and look at it on both sides, then lay it back on the
twenty. This shows both paper and bill on both sides, while keeping the twen­
ties packet well hidden. Hold up the bill and paper with the paper toward the
audience, at eye height so everyone can see. The folded packet, crease on top,
is aligned with the lower right corner o f the twenty.
Now you fold tin* left side away from you to the right, with the blank paper
inside the twenty. Fold the left sides away from you to the right again, and fold
the bottom away from you and up. With this fold the twenties packet will come
into view. You have just switched bill packets— the one with two twenties is
lacing Alex.
Now unfold the twenties, this time keeping the blank/twenty packet hid­
den. Unfold the top away from you and down, then unfold the right edge away
f rom you and left, and finally unfold the right edge away and to the left again.
At this point the spectators can begin to see that a miracle has happened, but
it’s not until you separate the bills that they are sure o f what they are seeing.
Keep the blank/twenty packet behind the “new” twenty, and return the other
bill to Alex with thanks. Don’t forget to tuck your new twenty (and hidden
packet) back into your wallet, where the blank paper was.

Variation
You can do this trick with any bill Alex gives you. Prefold a pair o f fives,
tens, twenties, and hundreds, and slide them all under the blank. Ask for any
denomination, and whatever Alex hands you, steal the matching packet as you
remove the blank.

Adaptation
The first question you have to decide is, are you going to play this as real
or a performance? Circumstances may dictate this somewhat, but even in the
Close-Up Room o f the Magic Castle, where everyone knows you’re a magician,
you can still play it real.

References
This technique is based on John Lovick’s “100th Dollar Bill Change” from
SW ITCH , by John Lovick. This book is the ultimate reference on this seminal
close-up trick. I f you do the bill switch, you must have this book; you’re virtu­
ally guaranteed to learn something you can use. I f you don’t do a bill switch,
you should definitely get this book, so you can do one. Also, if reading this
leaves you desperate for a magic book with pictures, SW ITCH has 700 illus­
trations.

The only things worth watching in this or any other world


are those that identify and overcome the ordinary.
Chuck Jones

SCRIPTING MAGIC
The Eleven Card Trick

dward Victor’s “ Eleven Card Trick” has spawned many variations.


Just in my library alone are versions by Derek Dingle, David Wil­
liamson, Paul Harris, Eric Mead, and Bill Malone. I’m sure there
are others. The number o f cards varies, but the plot stays the same*.
The magician needs a certain number o f cards for the next wonderful trick,
but has one too few. The spectator then gives the magician a card, but when
the packet is counted there’s still one missing. No matter what the magician
and spectator do, the packet never quite has the right number o f cards. Finally,
the performer gives up on performing the classic “ Eleven Card Trick.”
For such a near-classic, this trick is quite problematic. Dramatically it’s a
letdown, going on about the great “Eleven Card Trick,” and then you can’t do
it. The final line o f the effect in The Classic Magic o f Edward Victor is this: “In
desperation, the trick is abandoned.” This is not the description o f a stirring
climax. The script in The Magic of Edward Victor's Hands blames the spectator
for this anticlimax(l): “Well sir, since you cannot give me eleven cards, I cannot
show you the eleven card trick.”
A lot o f magicians and bad TV sitcoms use this idea o f prom ising some­
thing great and then never quite getting to it, and it gets a weak reaction every
time. In the world o f TV writing, a bit like that is known as a jerkoff. It’s not
a compliment.
Magically, the trick is, I think, poorly structured. It starts with the specta­
tor counting the cards into your hand. This is really the strongest moment of
the trick, because the spectator did the counting. Most o f the counts after this
are done by the magician, which is less impressive. At one point there’s a bit
where instead o f adding one card, you add three and take away two, which is
even weaker magically, although it plays well as a comic moment.
However, there is no doubt that the beats o f the trick play. You won’t see
Derek Dingle, Dave Williamson, Paul Harris, Eric Mead, and Bill Malone all
performing a trick i f it doesn’t play. Now, you can say: these problems must
not really be problems at all, i f the trick plays, so forget them. Or you can say:
this trick must have something i f it can still play despite these problems, so
let’s work at fixing them. Guess which approach Eric Mead and I prefer?

Take Two
Here you have two different scripts for the same trick— one by Eric Mead
and one o f mine. So, obviously, look at the differences between these scripts.
It shouldn’t be hard— they’re about as different as two scripts for the same

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 314


liick can be.
Also note how Eric involves the audience as his accomplices in performing
the trick. The spectatorrare not just watching or assisting— they’re literally
taking responsibility for the performer's eyesight. They have an important job
in a trick which goes all wrong. These responsibilities are, in the context o f the
performance o f a trick, very real. It brings the spectator “in on it” in a great
way. And the more the spectator feels involved, the more the magic seems
real.
You can also look at my attempts to involve the audience, which will seem
.j|most pathetic after Eric's.

An Example
Because Eric's presentation is based so strongly on generating interaction
with the audience, it's somewhat o f an exercise in futility to provide a script, as
tllough you could learn it and perform it that way. Every performance o f this
trick will be different— as different as each audience is from the next. As Eric
and I were working on the best way to represent this fluid process in a solid
script, he wrote:

The card choosing and replacement, and even the first count o f ten is
done without a script. I start out “playing” with the audience and using
their names, their lives and relationships, and whatever is happening in
real time to “ad lib” this section. This is the heart o f live performance close-
up magic.

The script that follows is an example o f the kind o f interaction Eric gener­
ates, not a rigid script he tries to follow each time. So when you read this
script, don't think o f learning it so much as learning from it. See the kind o f
interaction it can generate. Think o f other things that can generate this kind o f
reaction. Think o f how you could integrate them into the tricks you do.
The Incredible M ystery o f the Tenth Card
by Eric Mead

Int — Theater— Evening

Eric stands at a table opposite Adam and Eve.

Eric
Hey, I’ll show you something really rare.
I’ll try to do something that has been
attempted by lots of notable magicians
over the past four decades, but to my
knowledge has never been successfully
performed. It’s a bit of dangerous material
in that sense. A thing that’s been talked
about by many, attempted by few, and
completed successfully by virtually no
one. Until tonight.

Eric spreads a deck of cards and hold it out toward Adam.

Eric
Adam, slide a card out of there and show
it to your child bride.

Adam picks a card and shows it to Eve.

Eric
You’ve already shown that you can’t be
trusted, so show the card around to a
few other people and ask them politely
to help you remember it. The “politely”
threw you off, didn’t it? I thought so. So
just ask them nicely.

Eric spreads the deck toward Adam, who puts his card back.
Eric dribbles the deck to the table.

Eric
The trick I’ll try to do is unusual because
it has an official title. It’s called The
Incredible Mystery of the Tenth Card.
Obviously I’m going to need how many
cards, Adam?

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 316


Adam
Ten?

Eric
Are you asking or telling? Yes, exactly ten
cards. The Incredible Mystery of the Tenth
Card.

I ric deals ten cards in a row on the table.

Eric
(to himself)
One two three four five six seven eight
nine ten.
(to audience)
The reason this trick is so, well, tricky
to pull off is that the magician must do
it while blindfolded. Why? No one really
knows, but that’s the way it is. My show,
my rules. Adam, are you familiar with
blindfolds? Is your child bride? Hold this
tightly over your eyes, and tell me if you
can see anything.

Adam
No.

Eric
Terrific, I’ll tie it tightly over my eyes and
we’ll give this a shot.

Eric ties on the blindfold.

Eric
Okay Adam, I’m trusting you now. Scoop
the ten cards together and hold them in
your hands.

Adam picks up the ten cards. Then there’s a pause.

Eric
You’ll have to actually tell me when you’re
ready. I’m —you know—blindfolded.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 3 1 7
Adam
I’m ready.

Eric
Okay, The Incredible Mystery of the Tenth
Card. Adam, cut the packet you hold
anywhere and then slowly count them all
into my left hand.

Adam cuts the cards and begins dealing them into Eric’s hand.

Eric
Hey! I’m blindfolded, remember? Out
loud, please.

Adam
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine.

(Pause)

Eric
Are you sure?

Adam
Yes.

Eric
Okay.

Eric adds one card from the deck to the packet, and puts the
deck down.

Eric
You can’t do the Incredible Mystery of the
Tenth Card with nine cards. You need...

Eric begins counting.

Eric
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine...

There are no more cards. Eric is confused.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 318


Eric
Did I drop one?

Adam
No.

Eric
Well then, what happened?

Adam
1 don’t know.

Eric
You don’t know?

Adam
No.

Eric quickly gives up.

Eric
Okay, well, take a card from the deck and
add it to the pile.

Adam takes a card from the deck and puts it onto the packet in
Eric’s hand. Eric doesn’t notice.

Adam
I did it.

Eric
You did? Okay. Well, the Incredible
Mystery of the Tenth Card.
(pause)
Let’s just make sure.

Eric count the cards again.

Eric
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine...

Still ju s t nine.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 319


Eric
Excuse me, but were you... lying to me?

Adam
No.

Eric
You really added a card?

Adam
Yes.

Eric
And I didn’t drop one?

Adam
No.

Eric
All right. Let’s add a card, but this time,
really add a card.

Adam adds another card to Eric’s packet. Again Eric d oesn ’t


feel.

Adam
It’s done.

Eric
Okay.
(pause)
Are you sure?

Adam
Yes!

Eric
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine.

As Eric counts the cards, one card falls to the table.

Eric (Cont.)
Will you please stop messing with me?

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 320


Adam
You dropped a card.

Eric
I did?

Adam
Yes.

Eric
But you told me 1 didn’t. Twice.

Adam
You didn’t before. But you did that time.

Eric
Okay. Well, do me a favor. Find the card 1
dropped and add it to these.

I ric drops the packet to the table. It falls right on the card he
dropped.

Adam picks up the packet and counts it into Eric’s hand.

Adam
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine.

Eric
Did you add the card I dropped?

Adam
Yes.

Eric
Did you drop one?

Adam
No.

Eric
Okay.

Eric gets an idea.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 3 21
Eric
Put my hand on the deck.

Eric holds out his right hand and Adam guides it to the deck.
Eric picks up three cards and displays them in a fan.

Eric
How many cards are these?

Adam
Three.

Eric
Okay— I w on’t ask you if you’re sure,
but... you’re sure, right?

Adam
I’m sure.

Eric adds the three to the cards in his hand.

Eric
A little mental math, if you will. How
many cards should I now have?

Adam
Twelve.

Eric
Right. So if I take one away I have...

Eric removes a card and drops it to the table.

Adam
Eleven.

Eric
Right. And if I remove one more...

Eric pulls out another card and tosses it.

Eric (Cont.)
...I should have te n —ju st enough for the
Incredible Mystery of the Tenth Card.
I ric pauses. Then, as if he just can't help it, he counts the cards
again.

Eric (Cont.)
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, eleven.

1ric is utterly bewildered. He can’t think of anything to do, so


he counts again.

Eric (Cont.)
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, eleven.

Eric tosses a card to the table.

Eric
If I remove one card from these eleven, I
should have ten. Exactly what I need for
the incredible... you know.

He counts again.

Eric
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, eleven.

Eric takes a card from the top of the packet and stuffs it into
the middle of the same packet.

Eric
Maybe if I just hide this extra card in here.

Eric holds out the cards.

Eric (Cont.)
You count them.

Adam
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine.

Eric is defeated.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 323


Eric
Let’s try something else. Take these...

Eric hands Adam the nine cards.

Eric (Cont.)
...and put them on the deck. Now, put my
hand on the deck.

Adam puts the cards on the deck, and guides Eric’s hand to the
deck. Eric cuts the deck, then whips off his blindfold.

Eric (Cont.)
Count ten cards from right there.

Adam picks up the deck and begins dealing to the table.

Adam
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten.

Eric
Nobody move! Is that...

Eric points to the last card counted.

Eric
The tenth card?

Adam
Yes.

Eric
What was the card you selected?

Adam
The Three of Clubs.

Eric lifts up the tenth card to show that it is the Three of Clubs.

Eric
The Incredible Mystery of the Tenth Card!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 324


Notes on The Incredible Mystery of the 10th Card
livery time a card disappears, blindfolded Eric assumes the missing card
must have fallen on the table, or was not really added by the spectator. This
fantastic conceit causes all the magic that happens in the entire trick to seem
i nmpletely normal to the magician. He doesn't experience the magic at all.
This is a sophisticated version o f the age-old bit that everyone can see the
magic except the magician.
To make this work, it's important that you maintain a consistent attitude.
With each time something goes wrong, Eric becomes a little more frustrated,
not because o f the magic, but because he thinks the spectator is not following
his directions. But, and this is so crucial Eric sent me an email pointing it out,
you must never make the spectators feel that it's their fault. You are the one
who is not able to quite express yourself accurately. That way, when you are
kidding them, as though they are m essing with you, the audience knows that
you are actually frustrated at yourself. This approach keeps people from real­
izing that it's all just a big put on.
There are many tricks in which something will happen that requires the
magician to break character, and talk right to the audience, and then switch
back into “performing mode.'' Eric's script is essentially one long series o f
breaking character moments, as he struggles to get the ten cards that will al­
low him to go into performance mode.
While you're at it, think about Eric's subtle improvement in making this
“The Incredible Mystery o f the Tenth Card,'' as opposed to “The Incredible
Ten-Card Trick.” I f you say “Ten-Card Trick,” then when the number o f cards is
wrong, the spectators quickly pick up that it's all a gag. But when you're trying
to do “The Incredible Mystery o f the Tenth Card,” it's much less obvious. And
as a bonus, the climax makes much more sense.

Method
This trick follows the structure o f Edward Victor's original routine fairly
closely, although Eric's handling is somewhat different. And o f course, it adds
a climax.

Setup
Take any card and put a strong lengthwise crimp it in, bending the sides
down (like a 3-Card Monte crimp). So i f you cut the deck along the ends (i.e., in
Biddle grip) this card will be on bottom o f the top half. Put this card 10th from
the bottom (i.e. with 9 cards below it). Put a bandana somewhere handy— but

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 325


before you do, check to make sure that you can roll it up, tie it around your
face, and still see down the sides o f your nose. Some bandanas need to be
rolled more or less than others. This is something you want to find out before
the show.

Performance
Adam selects a card. The line about “You’ve already shown you can’t be
trusted” is a call back to something that happened in a previous trick.
Cut the deck, hold a break between the halves, then spread the deck and
have the card returned at the break— 10 cards below the crim p— and table
the deck. Notice in the script how Eric handles the return o f the card to the
deck without saying anything. He spreads the deck, breaks the spread 10 cards
below the crimp, and nods toward it while holding this section toward Adam,
who’ll know what to do. Moving a line o f dialog into an action line is almost
always a win.
Pick up the deck, false count 9 cards as 10 and put them on the table. Eric’s
nifty false count is in The Art o f Astonishment. For now, just use any false count
you can do with your eyes closed.
Tie on the blindfold, and close your eyes.
I’m no expert, but I know there are better and worse ways to roll a bandana
into a blindfold that looks like it’s blocking your view, while still allowing an
easy view. And it varies with each bandana. I also know that rolling a bandana
into a blind fold is one thing that you need to practice with a video camera. A
mirror will not give you adequate feedback (or any, really).
You must also rehearse keeping your eyes closed except when you specifi­
cally need to see something (i.e., when you are putting the packet right down
on one o f the cards). This is Acting 101 advice, but it is still a custom more
honored in the breach than the observance.
Have Adam pick up the dealt cards and count them into your hand. There
are nine. Get a left pinky break under the top three cards. Find the deck on the
table (with your eyes closed), and pick it up in Biddle grip. Draw one more card
onto the nine, at the same time stealing the three cards above your break back
under the deck (leaving you with seven in your hand). Put the deck down.
Count the cards again— quickly, just to double-check. False count twice, so
you end on nine. Let the nine hang— this is one o f Eric’s underappreciated
contributions to the effect, changing it to ten cards, so each count ends on
nine, which feels more incomplete.
Ask Adam what happened. He will not know. Now you have him add a card
from the deck to the packet (making eight), and— very important— do not re­

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 326


spond when he puts the card in your hand. Wait until he says that he’s done.
Count the cards again, false counting once, so the count ends on nine. More
interaction, then Adam adds one more card to the packet (making nine).
Now you count the cards, fairly, as nine. But you drop one to the table with­
out realizing it. This is the kind o f thing that seems like it's not really a move,
so you might think you don't have to practice it. You do. Accidentally dropping
a card while counting them is a sleight that must be mastered to create the
proper illusion. You must drop a card after you count it (i.e., drop it from the
receiving hand). Otherwise you'll only count eight cards.
Now do the bit where you add three cards and take away two (which gives
you ten). This is hilarious i f you play it straight, as though you are too busy
thinking o f what's going wrong to notice how convoluted your logic is. Count
the (ten) cards, false counting once so you end up on eleven. Toss a card to the
table (leaving nine). Count again, false counting twice so you end up on eleven
again. Take a card from the top and stick it into the middle o f the packet. This
o f course makes no sense, but i f you play it that you don't have time to think
about it, as a desperate attempt to try anything different to break the spell, it's
hilarious.
Give the cards to Adam and have him count them back into your hand;
there will be, surprisingly, nine.
Have Adam put the nine cards back on the deck (open your eyes to see
where they go, so you know about where the crimp is), then cut to the crimp.
The selected card is now tenth from the top.

Taste
The moment where you ask Adam to pick up the card you dropped, and
then you drop your cards right onto it, gets a huge laugh. But it must be played
very delicately. First o f all, you have to pretend that you don't know why they're
laughing, but you can't make too big a deal about it or it will be obvious that
you're pretending. And then, because this moment gets a huge laugh, you'll
be tempted to revise the script to do it again, which is just another sure way to
give the whole thing away.
This is an incredibly common problem in scripting. When you're writing
for a TV show, for example, and some gag— or character, bit, prop, whatev­
er— gets a good reaction, the first impulse is to put in more o f that. (For an
example, watch any three consecutive episodes o f Saturday Night Live.) This
fails more often than it succeeds. As David Regal said, usually the reason
something gets such a good reaction the first time is because you have just
the right amount o f it.

SCRIPTING MAGIC
Adaptation
Think o f your favorite tricks. What would it mean to perform each o f them
blindfolded? Right o ff the bat I think o f Triumph — if you were blindfolded,
you might easily shuffle one half face up into the other face down, without re­
alizing it. What other handicaps could you give yourself? You could do a trick
behind your back— or maybe with one hand tied behind your back. Or cross
your arms, so the right hand has to do the left's work, and vice versa. Maybe
you have to hold a prop from the trick in your mouth, so you can't speak. But
you can grunt, and gesture wildly. Until both hands are full, then you have to
gesture with your head. Then balance something on your head, so you can
only gesture with your eyes. I f you're at all funny, this could be hilarious.
The next time you're hanging out with your magic buddies, try this. Take
turns, pick any trick that you can do comfortably but which everyone knows,
and do it with some physical impediment. You can be without any o f your five
senses. You might have a non-functioning limb or four. Maybe your head is
so heavy you can't lift it, and have to leave it leaning on the table. Or maybe
you're wearing handcuffs. Maybe you're sitting on the floor, reaching up with
your hands over your head onto the surface o f the table on which you are per­
forming, which you can't see. Go around the room, take turns, pick a different
challenge, and just see what happens. You're not trying to fool anybody; this is
why you pick a trick that everybody knows, to eliminate that stress. You're just
trying to see the trick from another angle.
People sometimes ask, how do you come up with ideas? This is how — for
me, anyway. By looking at everything from as many different angles as pos­
sible.

References
Edward Victor's “Eleven Card Trick'' is in The Classic Magic o f Edward Vic­
tor.
“The Fabulous Derek Dingle Jumping Card Trick'' is in The Complete Works
o f Derek Dingle by Richard Kaufman, 1982, Kaufman and Greenberg,
David Williamson's “The Famous Three Card Trick'' is from Williamson's
Wonders, by Richard Kaufman, 1989, Kaufman and Greenberg.
Eric Mead's “The Incredible Mystery o f the 10th Card'' appeared in The Art
o f Astonishment: Book 2 by Paul Harris, 1996, A-i Multimedia.
Bill Malone's “ Sorry for the Delay” (a Joe Riding Effect) is on Volume 2 o f
the Here I Go Again DVD series, 2007, L&L Publishing.
“A custom more honored in the breach than the observance” is from
Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 328


I Must Be Cheating
by Pete McCabe

Int— Living Room— Evening

Pete sits with Ricky, Chris, and Lee, shuffling a deck of cards.

Pete
Harry Houdini said, “I never play poker. If
I win, I must be cheating. If I lose, I must
be a bad magician.”

Pete picks up the deck.

Pete
One time I was playing poker with my
friends. Five card draw.

He counts five cards off the top, and puts the rest of the deck
aside.

Pete
I don’t want them to think I’m cheating.
Of course I don’t want them to think I’m a
bad magician, either.

Pete squeezes out his cards to see what he has.

Pete
First hand, I get the only thing worse than
five bad cards.
(pause)
Six bad cards.

Pete shows his hand: six assorted low-valued cards.

Pete
I’ll get rid of it using a hand mucking
ditch that a card mechanic showed Dai
Vernon.

Pete “secretly” palms a card off the packet—everyone sees


it—then leans on the table. He looks at Lee with all the fake
sincerity he can muster.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 329


Pete
Hi.

Pete casually slides his palmed card under Lee’s hand.

Pete
Enjoying the show?

Lee
Yes.

Pete smiles, then leaves the card in front of Lee as he


straightens up.

Pete
Looks like I got away with it. Good
thing—1 don’t want anyone to think I’m
cheating.

Pete lifts up his hand and squeezes it out again. And frowns.
Still six cards.

Pete
One, two, three, four, five, six.

Pete palms another card and leans on the table, as he looks at


Ricky.

Pete
Hi.

Pete even more casually slides the card under Lee’s hand, and
looks at Ricky back to his right, almost falling over.

Pete
Enjoying the show?

Ricky
Yes.

Pete smiles, leaves the card, and turns his attention back to his
hand, which he squeezes out again, then immediately turns it
around: six cards.

Pete awkwardly palms another card.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 330


Pete
Lee, do you think I could secretly ditch
this card, under your hand, without you
knowing it?

Lee
No.

Pete
It’s don e—look!

Pete turns over his hand; the card is gone.

Pete
Look under your hand.

Lee looks, but there’s nothing there.

Pete
I’m just kidding. I still have it.

Pete turns over his hand; the card is back. He slides it under
Lee’s hand, then hands Lee the rest of his cards.

Pete
Listen, you count the cards into my hand.

Lee
One, two, three, four, five.

Pete
And... how many do you have?

Lee
Three.

Pete
Three? Well, that doesn’t m atter—what
matters is, five cards right here. Let’s...
let’s just check.

Pete counts the cards.

Pete
One, two, three, four, five, six.

SCRIPTING MAGIC [ 331


He p u t s h is s ix t h c a r d w i t h th e o t h e r t h r e e .

Pete
It’s a good thing we checked. I don’t want
anyone to think I’m cheating.

Pete counts the cards again.

Pete
One, two, three, four, five, six. You can see
how people might think that.

Pete puts the last card down with the other four and counts his
cards again.

Pete
One, two, three, four, five, six.

Pete puts the sixth card on Lee’s pile.

Pete
How many do you have?

Lee
Six.

Pete
Six? People are gonna think you’re
cheating.

Pete counts his cards again.

Pete
One, two, three, four, five, six.

He puts the extra card on Lee’s cards.

Pete
Here’s what you do. Just tell ’em you
thought the game was seven card stud.

Pete counts his cards again.

Pete
One, two, three, four, five, six.

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 332


Pete takes a card from his hand and just openly tosses it onto
Lee's pile.

Pete
Tell ’em... Just tell ’em you’re cheating.
That’s what they’re gonna think anyway.
That’s what they thought about me. Even
though I only have five cards...

Pete spreads his cards. Just five.

Pete
They still think, I must be cheating.

He shows his hand: a royal flush in Spades.

Pete
At least they don’t think I’m a bad
magician.

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 333


Notes on I Must Be Cheating
The first thing I did was ask m yself— why would 1 care how many cards I
have? Within 30 minutes I had worked out the basic script, with a m eaning­
ful premise, a logical and yet surprising (and magical) climax, and a very fun
method which follows the presentation perfectly. In this script, the number of
cards you have means something. It means everything.
The method and handling is not the usual for this trick, so the explanation
is long. But it’s not difficult to learn and the end result looks completely move­
less and extremely magical. Most importantly, the method won't interfere with
the presentation, either in your mind or the audience's. This just might be the
best feature a method can have.

Method
This routine really only uses two moves: 1) counting a group o f cards as ap­
parently fewer than there really are, and 2) adding a group o f cards to a packet
in play. You can use almost any version o f these moves that you already do.
My handling uses three different versions o f the first move, and adds the
cards via a do-it-yourself card dropper I came up with about seven years ago.
The card dropper is a lot o f fun, extremely deceptive, dead easy, and very
practical for casual situations. Professionals will probably have to adapt, as
the angles are somewhat limited and it's harder to do when you’re wearing a
sportcoat.
What makes my handling worth trying is that it looks completely casual.
There don’t seem to be any moves at all; the trick just seems to happen. Partly
this is because o f the moves I use to count the cards while concealing some,
which are different from the way most magicians handle this task. This meth­
od is extremely natural, easy to acquire, reliable in performance, and dead easy
to remember. Methods such as this are not three-a-penny.

P.M. Holdout
Put a medium-strength magnet in your left back pocket. The one you bought
to vanish a coin is perfect, and it’s covered in felt, which is a bonus. Now take
a bottle cap— a metal cap from a glass bottle— and finger palm it in your left
hand. Notice that bottle caps are the easiest thing you’ve ever palmed. Take
a playing card and hold it in your left hand. Turn slightly to your left, and let
your hand fall naturally to the side. The magnet grabs the bottle cap, holding
the card quite securely. I f not, adjust the position o f the magnet inside your
pants leg. Now take the deck in your left hand, and repeat the movement. This
time, your left fingers grip the card and slide it out from under the bottle cap.
I’he card goes on top o f the deck, and the bottle cap stays stuck to the back o f
your leg.
This is a lot o f fun.
Try this, load the Aces into the dropper and walk up to a fellow magician or
your wife. Have the deck shuffled. Take it back, add the Aces to the top, then
produce them any way you like.

Setup
Setup by taking a royal flush in Spades and put it in your left front pocket,
facing away from your leg. Put the bottlecap in the pocket, so the cards are
between the cap and your leg, then put the rest o f the deck in your right front
pocket. I l l describe it with loading the flush on the fly, so you can do it any
time in your act, but if you are performing where you can control your angles,
you can just come out with the cards already loaded and leave them there.
With a medium-strength magnet, the cards will be quite secure.

Performance
When you’re ready to do this trick, reach into your left front pocket for the
deck. You don’t find it, but you do finger palm the cap and gambler’s cop the
royal flush. This happens quickly, because the cap and cards are palmed in
the loosest sense o f the word only— just keep your hand and shoulder relaxed
(the shoulder is key), and lightly press the cards against the leg, which keeps
both hand and cards in a safe position. Now two things happen at once: the
right hand goes into the right pocket, and the left hand comes out and feels
the back o f the left back pocket. The right hand pulls out the deck, while the
left hand leaves the cards in the holdout.
Remember, the trick has not started yet; you’re just looking for the cards.
If possible, do all this while someone else is talking. There is no better m is­
direction than to have someone else talking. As long as you even appear to
be doing something plausible— and in this trick what you’re doing is quite
natural— nothing you do will be noticed.

Double Count
Now the trick starts. Hold the deck in dealing position in your left hand and
count o ff five cards into your right. Actually, do it now — stop reading, pick up
a deck, and count off five cards.
Now that you know what that looks like, do the exact same thing, only push
o ff two cards as one on the second, third, and fourth cards. You’ll end up hold­
ing eight cards instead o f five. This is not hard to learn, and you don’t have to

SCRIPTING MAG!C j 33S


do it fast at all. Most importantly, the double cards don't have to line up, since
no one will ever get to look at one o f the doubles by itself.
Table the deck. You will not touch it again.

Spread Conceal
Now you're going to display the eight cards as six. Hold the cards facing
you, and spread over the first five (showing six indices) as if you were playing
poker. At the left o f the spread are three cards loosely held as one, which are
hidden from audience view by your left fingers, in case they separate. Remem­
ber, you're imitating a poker player, so it's completely natural to partially con­
ceal your cards. Now let go with the right hand, which turns palm away from
you, and takes the spread as a single unit, with your fingers on the faces o f the
cards and your thumb on the back. Turn the spread to face the audience (i.e.
palm toward you); as this happens your right thumb slides down just a little,
pulling the two extra cards away from the edge o f the last visible card. Let the
audience count six cards, holding the cards very casually; all visible edges are
single, and the cards can even slide around a bit without any danger. The extra
edges are at the bottom and are all covered by the fingers o f the right hand.
Nobody's looking at the bottom anyway; the indexes are at the top.
This is a supremely natural-looking way to display eight, seven, and six
cards as six. You might think, why do I need a natural-looking way to display
six cards as six? You don't— what you need is a natural-looking way to display
six cards as six that you can also use to display eight and seven cards as six. It's
fantastically easy, and you won't believe how disarming it is. When most m agi­
cians do something like this, they hold the cards with either too m uch force or
too much precision. This is light, easy, casual. Try it in the mirror and you'll be
amazed how easily you can make it look so natural and so convincing. The key
element is that this is pretty much exactly how a poker player would look at a
hand and then show it to the people opposite him. Also remember that you're
doing this move while delivering the line about having the only thing worse
than five bad cards, which occupies the audience's attention. The line begins
when you look up from your cards, so the audience is looking at you, then you
do the turn, then you look at the cards, so the audience does too.
Place the spread o f six cards directly into left hand dealing position, and
square it up. With the left thumb, lever the top card up and openly palm it off
the packet with the right hand, then slide it over in front o f Lee. The audience
must see the palm, so play it up. You repeat this palm/ditch sequence twice
more, but on the last time you do the Arthur Findley tent vanish. In other
words, you lever the card up o ff the packet, but when you come over to palm

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 338


the* card you let it fall back onto the packet, and come away pretending you
have the card. So, make sure the first two palms look like your tent vanish.
I n the surprise o f the card’s vanish, the audience for a second really believes
the third card is in Lee's pile— the perfect misdirection for you to palm the
i ard right back off the top o f the six cards in your hand. Just act as though the
( ard was there all along, but you hid it. This is maybe even more fun than
playing with the holdout.

The Drop
After you ditch the third card in Lee’s pile, you have only five cards in your
hand. Ask Lee to count them — this is only natural after all the confusion.
Then look at and comment on the three ditched cards, and as attention goes
there, your left hand falls to your side and steals the royal flush on top o f the
5-card packet in your hand. This is extremely easy and although the presenta­
tion isn’t even half over, you are almost home.

Block Pushoff False Count


Now, since you’re just double-checking your total— quite natural after all
the confusion— you don’t bother spreading the cards, you just count them.
Hold the cards in left-hand dealing position. Take cards from the top one at a
time into the right hand, each card going under the others. When you get to
the fifth card, the left thumb pushes o ff all the cards above the bottom card. As
you take this block under the right hand cards the right fingers pull the bot­
tom card to the right, which leaves a single edge exposed. O f course, no one
is looking at that card— the magic is the sixth card. That’s what the audience,
and you, will be looking at.
You’ll repeat this move four times in a row, and then show the royal flush to
finish. The key to it all, not surprisingly, is to do the thumb pushoff from the
outer left corner on the first four cards exactly the same as you push o ff the
block on the fifth. Each count obviously should look the same, although you
can get faster and faster as you go.

Cleanup/Reset
When gathering up the deck, keep the royal flush on the bottom, then cop
it off and put it back in your left front pocket when no one is paying attention.
Scratch your leg and retrieve the cap, then ditch it in your pocket.

Adaptation
One thing I did was tie some o f the lines to the number o f cards— for ex­
ample, “Tell them you thought it was seven-card stud.” I find this makes them
easier to remember, and it helps remind the audience how many cards have

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 33?


been produced. If you adapt this script, you might try something like that.
By the way the royal flush you steal from the holdout doesn’t have to come
from the same deck in your right pocket. With the royal flush in the holdout,
you can do this trick anytime, anywhere, with any matching deck. If you are at
a convention and see another magician whose deck matches your royal flush,
load your holdout and borrow his deck.

Holding Out
The P.M. Holdout makes this handling exceptionally natural, and it can be
used to increase the impossibility o f many a trick. I do a version o f Collectors
in which I hand out the four Queens, then have three cards selected and cull
them under the spread, while I’m finger palming the bottle cap (if you can cull
three cards, you can do it with a bottle cap). Now, as I hand the deck to Ricky,
I gambler’s cop the selections and stick them to the holdout, so I can take the
Queens from Lee with two completely empty hands, then add the selections
back onto the Queens.
It’s hard to imagine a cleaner, more impossible version o f this trick— the
deck and the Queens never come anywhere near each other, and your hands
are very clearly empty at the right moments. It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard,
and it gets an incredible effect from the moves required. A similar handling
works great with a Mullica Wallet.
By the way i f you give this holdout a try, spend $5 and buy a can o f black
Plasti-Dip spray paint, which will make the bottle cap invisible on your black
pants, muffle the slight click when it attaches to the magnet, and make it more
comfortable to palm.

References
Arthur Findley created the tent vanish in the 1930s; it was first published in
Dai Vernon’s “Mobilizing the Aces” in the March 1941 Sphinx.
About three years after I came up with this presentation, I found a trick
called “Poker Players Surprise” by Steve Aldrich in the September 1988 issue
o f Genii magazine. This is a poker hook applied to the Six-Card Repeat, which
is very similar to the Eleven-Card Trick. The basic story is somewhat the op­
posite o f “I Must Be Cheating”; a gambler has a poker hand and removes two
cards, then shows he still has five cards. The methods are completely different,
and the presentations are very different— Steve uses rhyming patter— but
the poker theme is the same, and it has a royal flush climax.
I also discovered that the poker setting was used by Richard Osterlind in his
version o f the Six-Card Repeat, called “Out o f Hand.” Richard’s trick features
magicians playing poker, worried that other players will think they’re cheat-

SCRIPT1NG MAGIC | 338


mg. His trick also has a royal Hush climax, and am azingly, his presentation
also starts with the sam e H oudini quote. Despite all this, they are very differ­
ent tricks and scripts. If you can track down the video Richard Osterlind’s Chal­
lenge Magic, check out “Out o f Hand.”
My hat is off to Steve Aldrich and Richard Osterlind.
UnDo Influence

I f you’ve been reading this book straight through, you’ve seen the stereo­
typical magic script described as “The Jokers are the detectives.” This presen­
tation has been mentioned several times, primarily to ridicule it as a cliched,
hokey, virtually audience-insulting presentation.
And so, when I asked David Regal to contribute to this book, he sent in this
script in which the Jokers are detectives. David knows two things: scripting
and magic. He’s written for more than one hit TV show, and been a magi­
cian for at least several weeks now. He has released dozens o f excellent tricks,
videos, and books showcasing his outstanding magic, all o f which, no sur­
prise, include terrific presentations. So maybe I won’t make so much fun of
"The Jokers are the detectives.” But I can still make fun o f David— he’s much
shorter than I am.
David writes:

Simon Aronson has long been hailed as a bright shining light in magic,
but this particular effect, which is described with a multitude o f variations
in Simon’s excellent 20 0 1 book Try the Impossible, is perhaps Simon’s best.
It is brilliant and I just love it.
When I bring a guest— usually a friend o f mine and his girlfriend— to
The Magic Castle, I will bring them downstairs where I’ll perform a private
show at an out o f the way table. I’ll always use a Magic Castle deck o f cards,
close with this routine, then give the deck to the girlfriend as a gift. The trick
is so powerful I feel like a pimp.
To say the book that contains this effect is a good value is an understate­
ment. In my presentation, I’ve tried to add audience involvement, point
up the impossibilities in an organic manner, and position the final climax
in such a way as to squeeze maximum magical impact from the incredible
situation Simon has concocted.

David’s script distills the process, making it easy to follow and seemingly
innocent, and also distills the effect, making it crystal clear and clearly impos­
sible. All that, and the Jokers are the detectives! So, even with all the talk in this
book about how scripting doesn’t have to be about creating stories for your
tricks, David’s script shows that even i f you do create stories, you can still fool
the living hell out o f people.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 340


Watching The D etectives
by David Regal

Int—Magic Castle—Night
David sits at an out-of-the-way table across from Adam and
Eve. Dave brings out a deck of cards and removes the Jokers,
which he puts aside face up.

David
We’ll be using the Jokers for this, in a very
special way, but first it’s important that
you mix up all the cards.

David hands the deck to Eve, who begins shuffling.

David
The Jokers are the police officers of the
deck. Did you know that? Well, it’s true.
They hang out in different parts of the
pack, keeping tabs on where all the cards
are, and if there’s ever a need to locate
any troublemakers they’ll look up...
down... all around, and find the guilty
parties. You think I’m kidding, don’t you?
I guess I’ll have to prove it to you.

David takes the deck back.

David
These have been shuffled and examined
by you, right? It’s important, because I’m
going to put the Jokers in two different
parts of the deck, but do it without
changing the position of a single card.
Watch m e—keep me honest!

David spreads the cards face down, between his hands, and
sticks in the two face-up Jokers.

David
We’ll put the first Joker... hmm... how
about here? We’ll put the second one
further down. Like I said, the Jokers have

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 3 41
to be in different parts of the deck, so
they can look up, down, and all around.

David slowly squares the deck and tables it.

David
Now it do esn’t matter that you mixed
up the cards, because I have my officers
policing the deck, and nobody can get
away with anything. To prove this I need
a couple of criminals. You know, people
with no morals or ethics. You two should
do fine. Of course you won’t actually
be the criminals, you’ll pick cards to
represent the criminals. I do n ’t even want
to touch the deck. Could you, Eve, cut off
a bunch of cards and put them in front of
you? Not too many, because I want Adam
to take a turn, too, so anything less than
half. Okay now you Adam, cut off a pile of
cards and put them in front of you. 1 want
to remind you that you shuffled the deck
and you cut the cards, so there’s no way I
can control anything that happens.
(to Eve)
Lift up your cards and peek at the one
at the bottom, the one you cut to. Got
it? Remember it and put your cards back
here.

Eve returns her cards to the deck.

David
(to Adam)
You do the same thing. Peek at the card
you cut to, and put your cards back
on the deck. Now those two cards, the
ones you’re remembering, they’re our
criminals.

David squares the cards on the table.

David
Now I’ve done nothing, but I don’t have to
do anything, because I’ve got my police

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 342


o f f ic e r s in that d e c k , t h e J o k e r s. R ight n o w
t h e y ’re l o o k i n g u p ...

David pauses, giving the Jokers time to do ju st that.

David
...down...

Another pause.

David
...all around...

A final pause.

David
...and now they know exactly where to
find the perpetrators. They ju st have to
report back to me.

David spreads through the deck and tables the Jokers face up.
He holds one Joker up to his ear and talks to him.

David
(to the Joker)
Yeah, I’m here with Adam and Eve... I
know, they are hot. But what about the
criminal, the card she looked at? Oh,
really?
(to Eve)
He said your card is eighteenth down
from the top. Now I don’t want to touch
the cards. Could you pick them up and
deal down to the eighteenth card?

David tables the Joker near Eve and guides her as she deals
down to the card at the eighteenth position.

David
Leave it face down for the time being.

David places the Joker slightly overlapping onto the eighteenth


card, then picks up the extra Joker and talks to it.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 343


David
(to the Joker)
Okay, now his card —criminal number
two. Oh, really?
(to Adam)
Apparently your card was forty-third
down in the deck. Wow. Well it’s not so
bad, you already dealt eighteen, so start
with nineteen...

Adam begins to deal, and David counts along with him.

David
...twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-
three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six,
twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine,
thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three,
thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-
seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty,
forty-one, forty-two, and deal number
forty-three right here.

Adam deals the forty-third card aside. David places the extra
Joker overlapping it, then puts the rest of the deck aside.

David
Now let’s recap. You examined the deck,
shuffled the deck, then cut the deck
without me ever touching it... but those
two Jokers seemed to be pretty sure they
knew where your cards were. Let’s build a
little suspense...

David takes the deck and ribbon spreads it face up on the


table, in a wide, dynamic arc.

David
Do either of you see your cards anywhere
in the deck? No?
(faster)
Eve, the Joker said your card was eighteen
down from the top of the deck. What was
your card?
Eve
T h e T w o o f H ea r ts.

David uses the Joker to flip Eve’s selection face up. It’s the Two
of Hearts!
David
He got it!

David picks up the extra Joker and holds it near Adam’s


selection.

David
Adam, the other Joker said your card was
forty-third down from the top. What was
your card?

Adam
The Six of Clubs.

David uses the extra Joker to flip Adam’s selection face up. It’s
the Six of Clubs.

David
Yes—the guilty parties have been
apprehended! But wait!

The audience starts to react, but David stops them.

David
I haven’t told you the most incredible
part! You see, I was holding back. I told
you the Jokers were police officers, and
that’s true, but I didn’t tell you in what
capacity they served. You see, they’re
police psychics. They know what’s going
to happen before it happens. Before you
shuffled the deck, they knew exactly how
you’d shuffle, where every card would
land. Before you cut the cards, they
intuitively knew the precise spot you’d
cut. Before we even started they knew
that your card would end up at position
eighteen and your card would end up at
position forty-three...

SCRIPTING MAGIC j 345


As he says the numbers, David dramatically turns over the
Jokers to reveal the “18” and “43” on their backs. He tosses each
card onto the criminal it’s found.

David
...that’s the part 1just d on’t understand!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC I 346


Notes on Watching the Detectives
If you don't know how this trick works, and you've just read the script, it
seem s impossible that this could be a mathematical trick. There just isn't any
math anywhere in the procedure. That's what makes this the best mathemati-
cal card trick I've ever seen; the math has been perfectly concealed in the pre­
sentation.

Method
You need a full 52-card deck, plus two Jokers. Write the number 18 in thick
black Sharpie on the back o f the regular Joker, and write 43 on the back o f the
extra Joker. That way you can always tell them apart.

Performance
Introduce the deck, i f it isn't already in play, and bring out the Jokers. Put
the Jokers aside face u p — do not let the spectators see the numbers on the
backs o f the Jokers.
After Eve has shuffled the deck, take it back and insert the Jokers, face up.
You want to look like you're just putting them in general locations— one near
the top, one near the bottom— but in fact they have to go in the exact right
spots. The easiest way to achieve both these goals is to push o ff the cards in
groups o f three. After three groups o f three have been pushed in to the right
hand, the left picks up the Joker on top o f the left-hand's cards, without flash­
ing the rear o f the Joker, so the Joker is tenth from the top. Push over the Joker,
then six more groups o f three, and add the other Joker.
To recap: Push o ff nine cards, put in a Joker, then push o ff eighteen more
cards and put in the other Joker.
It's easy to push the cards in a way that makes it look very haphazard, but
pushes three cards each time. A great trick here is to synchronize your push­
ing with your script, and then do it exactly the same way every time. In other
words, every time you do it, each push comes as you're saying the same word.
That way you don't have to count, you just say your lines. Or you could do what
Rafael Benatar does and spend your youth learning to count while you are talk­
ing. Rafael's way is better, but mine is easier.
Now Eve and Adam cut the deck and look at their cards. Eve has to cut be­
tween the two Jokers, which are 10th and 28th from the top, and Adam has
to cut below the bottom Joker. Dave's simple instructions make this happen
every time. Unless the spectators are deliberately trying to screw you up, this
will happen automatically anyway.
Eve puts her packet back on the deck, then Adam does the same. This makes
sense; Eve cut first, and she puts back first. But this process cuts the top part
o f the deck. You are now going to go through and remove the Jokers; in the
process you will unnoticably rearrange the pack as you remove the Jokers. Be­
lieve it or not, this will position the selected cards at the 18th and 43rd spots in
the deck. You don't believe it? I don't believe it either. Fortunately, like a good
chain letter, this trick works whether you believe in it or not.

Face Up UnDo
Hold the deck face up in your left hand. Spread through the pack until you
reach the first (face down) Joker, then separate the pack with the Joker at the
face o f the left hand section. Turn the left hand palm down and put the Joker
face up on the table, m aking sure you don't flash the numbers on the back of
the Joker. Bring the hands together and resume spreading, but this time the
left hand feeds its cards above the group o f cards in the right hand. Spread
until you reach the second Joker, then separate the hands to put this Joker face
up on the table, again without flashing its back. Bring the hands together and
put all the cards from the left hand under those in the right hand.
Regardless o f where Adam and Eve cut, their selected cards are now 18th
and 43rd in the deck. How does this work? Because Simon Aronson is a ge­
nius, that's how.
All that remains is to reveal first that you know where the selected cards
are, which is quite incredible, and then to show that you knew, before the trick
even started, that they would be there, which is completely impossible.

Variations
Simon likes to begin with the Jokers already in the deck, so that they appear
when the deck is spread. To do that you need to do a Face Down UnDo, to keep
from flashing the numbers on the backs o f the Jokers. It's in Simon's book,
along with nearly a hundred pages o f applications for the “ UnDo Influence''
principle, which has many variations. Not to mention dozens o f other great
tricks— i f you like this trick, you'll love this book.
Here's an optional bit you can throw in. While you're doing the Face Up
UnDo, after you remove the first Joker, start counting cards. The tenth card of
the next block is Adam's selection. Remember it, and you can stun Adam by
naming his card before you turn it over.

Adaptation
When I learned this trick, the first thing I changed was the numbers. In­
stead o f writing them in bold Sharpie on the backs o f the jokers, I wrote them
hi pencil on the front, and then erased them. Pencil doesn't erase fully, but no
one ever noticed the num bers until I pointed it out. 1 played it as though the
tv u k wen* over aftei I had found the cards at 18 and 43, and then I pretended
t<>notice the numbers. The effect was very eerie, which was heightened by the
fat t that the numbers, having been erased, aren't really completely there.
My next experiment was to replace the Jokers with business cards. This
works great, especially with the erased numbers bit. Take two o f your business
1 ards, write 18 on one and 43 on the other, and put them in your wallet. You
are now ready to do this trick anytime, anywhere, with any full deck (no Jokers
required). I also tried having the numbers 18 and 43 printed on the business
1 ards, as apparently part of the design (I make my own on my computer), but
when I tried that it seemed distinctly less eerie. Still there's always great value
in using business cards.
In revisiting this effect for this book, I had the idea to make two playing-
card-sized detective ID cards. Each card has a photo and a badge number.
The photos are both o f me, in different funny-looking detective disguises. The
badge numbers, needless to say, are 18 and 43. This is not that hard to do, with
computer technology. The only hard part is the disguises, but a trip to any
party store should yield hilarious-looking (on me) disguises. I'm thinking one
will be me in a bald-head wig with a mustache, and the other will be me as a
woman.

References
“UnDo Influence” is the name o f the mathematical principle that makes
this trick and its many variations work. This particular application is called
“Prior Commitment;” it is in Try the Impossible by Simon Aronson, 2001, along
with other variations and a complete explanation o f how this all works. You
can use this principle to bring two freely selected cards to almost any positions
in the deck.
The Thumbtip Silk Vanish
^ ------------------------------ 1

T
wo parents sit with their kids at a family restaurant. They are try­
ing desperately to enjoy a nice dinner, which means keeping their
rambunctious kids in line. You, a complete stranger, approach.
Thirty seconds later, the kids are totally absorbed, while their par­
ents relax, and while they’re at it, they ask each other how the hell you did that.
The manager o f the restaurant walks by and sees you making customers very
happy, and smiles.
It’s nice work i f you can get it.
Eric Henning, an extremely smart and experienced professional magician
who works in Maryland, has graciously agreed to let me document this presen­
tation, which is what he uses to keep restaurant managers and customers very
happy at high-end family restaurants. Why he agreed to let me do this I don't
know. This routine is gold to any pro who works in a family environment. It's
also, by the way, a fantastic trick for the amateur magician who performs for
his own family, as I can personally verify.
The thumbtip silk vanish is one o f the most exposed tricks in all o f magic,
but when Eric does it both children and adults are totally engaged and thor­
oughly baffled. This script is a wonderful demonstration o f what happens
when smart magicians don't stop thinking too soon.
The first thing Eric did was throw out the 6-inch-square silk that comes
with the thumbtip, and replace it with a 36-inch streamer. The 36-by-i-inch
streamer has the same amount o f silk as the 6-inch square, and fits in the
same thumbtip. But it looks much bigger. When I studied psychology in
school I learned that our estimation o f an object's size is most strongly af­
fected by its longest dimension; a 36-inch streamer seems six times bigger
than a 6-inch-square silk.
The second touch is restoring the elegant, baffling old silk production,
which is much better than the newer one everyone's doing nowadays.
Third, he picked up a fantastic Michel Vernet (yes, that Vernet) idea that
turns the vanish o f the silk into a close-up grand illusion, one which involves
every child at the table (and the adults too), and also makes the vanish a true
mystery. I f you take only one thing from this routine, take this bit.
The last element is using the crayons which are given to the kids at fine
family restaurants. So the trick is performed by the kids, using things they al­
ready have. But you can bring your own crayons, or do the trick without them,
i f none are present.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 350


The End of the Rainbow
by Eric Henning

Int — Restaurant— Eve

1ric approaches a table where Lee, Chris, Alex, and Ricky sit
waiting for dinner.

Eric
Hi, I’m Eric Henning, the house magician.
Kind of like the house salad, but more
tossed! Let’s play a game with colors.
Can you help me make a rainbow? Let’s
gather up the crayons so each of you has
a different color.

Each kid (and often, the parents) grabs a different color crayon.

Eric
Great! Now, please hold them like a magic
wand...

Eric holds up his hand as if he were holding a magic wand; the


kids follow along.

Eric
...and point them here at my hand.

Eric indicates his left hand as the kids wave their “magic
wands” over his closed fist.

Eric
Now, with your other hand, wiggle your
fingers! Keep wiggling... Keep wiggling...
(pause)
I’m the only adult who will ever tell you to
keep wiggling in your entire life!

All the kids laugh.

Eric
Now... look!

Eric brings his hands together and gently rubs his fingers and

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 351


thumbs. As he does a long silk streamer spills over his empty
hands.

Eric holds his hands out wide, stretching the streamer taut.

Eric
Give yourselves a hand!

Applause.

Eric
Now, let’s make it disappear!

Eric gathers up the streamer and tucks it into his left fist.

Eric
You can help. Just put down the crayons...

They do.

Eric
...and put your hands on mine, flat, like
this...

Eric holds his left hand out so the children can place their
hands on all sides of his.

Eric
...one on top and one on the bottom. Go
ahead, everyone can help! Lee, put your
hand here.

Lee puts a hand on the left side of Eric’s fist.

Eric
Chris, put your hand under here.

Chris puts a hand underneath Eric’s fist.

Eric
Alex, your hand goes on top.

Alex puts a hand on top.


Eric
And Ricky, put your hand here.

Ricky puts a hand on the right side of Eric’s fist, covering it


completely.

I ric picks up his wand and waves it over the hand-covered fist.

Eric
Now, what’s your favorite magic word?

The kids all call out their magic word.

Eric
Mine is “Please!” Can you say please? One,
two, th re e —please!

Eric opens his fist. Despite being surrounded on all sides, the
streamer has vanished!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 353


Notes on Over the Rainbow
I f you read this script for the dialog, you’ll m iss the point. What makes it so
effective is the use o f the crayons and the Birdcage-style vanish. You can think
o f this as the “story” part o f the script, which is more important than the dialog
that communicates it. Movies and TV shows have separate credits for “story
by” and “screenplay by,” and writers get paid for contributing both.

Method
Even i f you already know how to produce a silk from and vanish a silk into a
thumbtip, you should still give this a try. This handling is much more beauti­
ful than the “standard” handling one sees nowadays, engages the spectators in
a uniquely direct way, and will fool spectators who know how to vanish a silk
in a thumbtip.
By the way, my guess is that people will read about the idea o f using a
streamer, and nod, and then will try the handling with a common 6 -inch silk.
Get a streamer— I bought mine from Jay Scott Berry for about five bucks. It
makes a huge difference.

Setup
Fold the streamer in h alf and load it— ends first— into a thumbtip. Put
the thumbtip on your right thumb, and when you do, make sure the last little
bit o f the middle goes between your thumbnail and the tip, so that when you
remove the thumb, the nail will scrape the streamer out o f the tip. This makes
the production look more magical.
Introduce yourself and have the kids gather the crayons, in the process
showing your hands empty. When the kids wave the crayons and wiggle their
fingers, bring your hands together, as though you were praying, then curl
them into fists. The thumb tip automatically comes o ff your right thumb into
your left fist, and— i f you loaded the thumbtip correctly— the middle o f the
streamer will peek out o f the tip and into view. Rub your thumbs and fingers
together, slowly working the streamer out o f the tip. It should spill over the
sides o f the index fingers, toward the spectators. With just a little practice,
this creates a beautiful illusion that the silk is appearing from between your
fingers and thumbs. Keep working it— don’t rush! — until the entire streamer
is produced. Leave the thumbtip in the left fist.
The appearance o f the streamer is hypnotic and magical, unless you rush.
So, don’t rush.
Bird Cage Vanish
Now you are going to do the Blackstone Birdcage vanish, with your left fist
as the cage. Begin stuffing the streamer into the fist, and into the thumb tip.
When it’s all in, do not do the standard steal in which you tuck the streamer
in with your thumb. Instead, invite the kids to place their hands around your
left hand, to make sure the streamer can’t escape. Have one kid put their hand
on the left side o f your fist, then another on the bottom. As you do this you
demonstrate by putting your right hand on the left side o f your fist, then the
bottom. Now you put your right hand on top of the left fist, to demonstrate
what you want the third child to do, and the right thumb goes into the opening
of the left fist and steals away the thumbtip.

Adaptation
Eric ditches the thumbtip later, after a bit with his wand. But it’s just as easy
to ditch while you’re reaching into your pocket for your wand.
You can substitute something other than “please” for the magic word, de­
pending on the kids and/or situation. Eric performs at family restaurants,
where “please” gets the best reaction. At a corporate function he might use the
name o f the company or their slogan.

References
You can get your own rainbow streamer at www.jayscottberry.com.
Wild Card

T
his trick most magicians know as “Wild Card” was actually in­
vented by Peter Kane, who called it “Watch the Ace” in Hugard'
Magic Monthly. Frank Garcia took the routine, changed the han­
dling a bit, named it “Wild Card” , and released it as a standalone
manuscript, with no reference to Kane. Since then, countless magicians have
referred to it as Frank Garcia’s “Wild Card.” This is a shame, because— aside
from perpetuating this unethical behavior— Frank Garcia made a change that
significantly reduced the effectiveness o f Peter Kane’s original. In the original
routine, Peter Kane would show a group o f cards that were all different, each
o f these cards changed into an Ace. This is much better than Garcia’s version,
in which you start with eight cards all the same. The group o f different cards
seems very natural, which magnifies the shock caused by the change(s). When
you bring out nine cards all the same, the audience already knows something
is up. They may not assum e the cards are gimmicked, but they know it’s not
just an ordinary deck o f cards.
Several magicians have come up with presentational strategies to make this
group o f identical cards seem natural. Tommy Wonder’s excellent approach is
to make the group a series o f cards all selected by different spectators in dif­
ferent performances. This turns the fact that they are all the same into a little
magical atmosphere.
In Jennings '67, Richard Kaufman describes Larry Jennings’ very clever so­
lution to this problem, which is to present it as a variation o f the 3-card monte.
Larry’s handling, by the way, is not described. I f you already do any version
o f this trick, take Larry’s basic structure o f a pitchman throwing monte, and
adapt it to your handling. Scripting Magic is not the place to learn this routine.
Get a copy o f Jennings ’67 and read Richard’s excellent writeup.
Besides, the handling is much less important than what this script accom­
plishes. “Wild Card” is essentially a single card change, repeated over and over.
Not an ideal structure. The monte presentation provides a natural dramatic
build that’s lacking when you’re just doing a series o f changes. Every card
that’s changed is removed from play, so the game goes from seven-card monte
to six to five to four to three to finally just two. Each o f these makes it harder
for the monte operator to cheat, as there are fewer cards to keep track of. The
increased difficulty provides built-in drama.
The monte setting has its own challenges. The script is based on the
spectator(s) guessing where the King is, and being wrong every time. This is
an especially tricky gambit for any magic trick. It can easily make the audience
resent you, as noted in “ Scriptwriting: Just Say Yes” on page 175.
There are several suggestions in that essay that can be added to this script,
to prevent these problems from diminishing your performance. But this script
shows another way. When you perform this script, it's obvious that you are
performing a script. In other words, you’re openly retelling a story that hap­
pened somewhere else. It is meant to be fiction, and openly so.
This approach has many interesting features, one o f which is that it m ini­
mizes the sting o f Alex’s repeated incorrect guesses. Alex isn’t wrong; it’s the
character Alex is playing that keeps guessing incorrectly. Alex, by being wrong,
gets it right every time.
This is, obviously, a subtle point. To get it across requires a deft performer.
A few well-chosen words in your script— delivered as an aside, to the audi­
ence— will go a very long way to making this work for you.

Smart people know it's hokum; they appreciate good hokum.


Guy Jarrett

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 35?


Seven-Card Monte
by Larry Jennings

Int— Magic Castle— Night

Larry sits in front of a packed crowd in the Close-up Gallery.

Larry
Step right up and win some money, ladies
and gentlemen. I’ve got some money to
give away right here.

Larry brings out a bag of money and puts it on the table.

Larry
C’mon in, c’mon in—let me show you
how to make a fortune today. My father
died and left me a fortune, but ladies and
gentlemen I’m forced to give money away
every day because that was decreed by
the will. I got the fortune and this set of
cards and I have to stand out here and
give everybody an even money bet until
everybody gets rich. ’Til I give all this
money away.

He pulls out a huge pile of phony money and slaps it on the


table.

Larry
Step right up, ladies and gents, you’re
the lucky ones today. I have to give all
this money away before I have to pay
interest on it. I’ve got to give thousands
of dollars away today. You can’t not win,
friends, this is an absolutely positive bet
that you win, I’ll make it easier and easier
each time, and if you happen to lose once
I’ll make it even easier for you to lose—I
mean win—the next time. The only way
you can’t win is if you’re blind. Friends
I was in Washington, DC, the capital of
our wonderful country, doing this on the
steps of the Capitol and I was mobbed by
a hundred blind people. They all mobbed
me, but they were blind as bats and
couldn’t see, so they ran right past me, up
the steps, and into the halls of the Senate.
They’re still there, running the country.

Larry shows a packet of cards, spreading them to show the


backs.

Larry
These are the very cards left to me by my
dear departed father.

He squares the packet and turns it face up.

Larry
The only way you can’t win is by not
seeing the one odd card, so this is your
test. I have seven cards—six are exactly
alike and the seventh is different.

He shows each card one at a time; there are 6 Sixes of Clubs


and 1 King of Diamonds.

Larry
What was the odd card?

Alex
The King.

Larry
Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve all won. If
you had your money on the table right
now you’d have won a hundred dollars.
Seven cards makes this a little difficult.
Seven to one odds is kind of tough
because I have to make every bet even
money. That would mean I would have
to pay all of you seven to one, and that
makes the odds a little tough even for
me, so I’ll make the odds a little easier for
you.

Larry turns the top 3 Sixes of Clubs face down and deals them
to the table, then turns the remaining cards face down.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 359


L a rry
I put three cards on the table, and that
leaves four in my hand.

He counts the 4 cards in his hand.

Larry
Three cards on the table and four in the
hand. A little game of hanky-poo, the
black for me and the red for you. Watch
closely. I’m going to ask questions.

Larry turns the packet face up. He spreads the cards, showing 3
Sixes and a King. He takes the King and puts it in the middle of
the packet.

Larry
I’ll hide the King. Now five will get you
ten and ten will get you twenty. Where’s
the King: in the hand or on the table?
Anybody can answer that question, so get
your money up ladies and gentlemen.

Alex
In your hand.

Larry shows the cards in his hands—4 Sixes.

Larry
I’ll give you another chance. If you can
pick out the King on the table, you win.

Alex points to any card on the table.

Larry
Sorry, the King is here.

Larry turns over one of the other two cards, which is the King.

Larry
The card you just touched is a Six.

Larry flips Alex’s selection over, revealing a Six of Clubs. He


flips it back down.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 360


Larry
T h e o t h e r ca rd is a l s o a Six.

Larry flips the third face down card over, showing it’s a Six,
then back down again.

Larry
Let’s see if you can follow the King.

Larry turns the King face down and places it on the face down
packet.

Larry
Now, where’s the King?

Alex
In your hand.

Larry flips the packet face up and runs through the cards. They
are all Sixes of Clubs.

Larry
I’ll give you a third chance. If you can pick
out the King on the table, you win.

Alex points to one of the tabled cards.

Larry
Sorry, the King is here.

Larry flips over one of the other tabled cards, which is the King.

Larry
The card you just touched is a Six.

Larry shows Alex’s selection; it’s a Six.

Larry
The other card is also a Six.

Larry shows the third tabled card—another Six of Clubs.

Larry
You’ve had so much trouble that I’ll give
you one last chance.

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 381


Larry turns the King face down and puts it on top of the face
down packet.

Larry
A little game of hanky-poo, the red for
me, the black for you. Find a black card
and double your money.

Larry turns the packet face up and spreads the cards. They’re
all Kings of Diamonds!

He picks up the tabled cards and turns them face up. They’re
also Kings!

The End

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 362


Notes on Seven-Card Monte
Larry’s handling opens with a Biddle steal sequence that can be really scary
to perform. On the first beat o f the count you take four cards as one, which
tests any magician’s nerve. The key is to change the moment, which is ulti­
mately a scripting challenge. Check out "Scripting Counts” on the next page
for a discussion o f this and other issues related to false counts and displays.

Adaptation
You should be able to adapt the "diminishing monte” hook to most any
version o f this trick you already perform. Especially a version o f Peter Kane’s
"Gypsy Curse” presentation for this classic trick.
This script ends very quickly. The visual shock o f the appearance o f seven
Kings o f Diamonds overwhelms anything you could say anyway. Still, you
might add a line just before that, to make it clearer that you’re now changing
the betting, and now any Six o f Clubs is a winner.

References
"Seven-Card Monte” appears courtesy o f Richard Kaufman, who wrote and
published Jennings ’67.
"Watch the Ace” by Peter Kane was published in Hugard’s Magic Monthly,
April 1962.
Tommy Wonder’s "The Tamed Card” is from The Books o f Wonder, Volume I
by Stephen Minch, Hermetic Press, 1996.
Scripting Counts

I think it's a good bet that if you are reading this book, you know at least
one trick that uses a false count. Much has been written about false counts
from a technical perspective. Jon Racherbaumer recently published the book
Counthesaurus, which details 79 different false displays o f playing cards. But I
don’t think I’ve ever seen an analysis o f the subject from a scripting perspec­
tive. And that’s a shame.
It’s a shame because false counts have been the subject o f more bad impro­
vised scripting than almost anything else in magic. "Here I have four Aces.
One, two, three, four.” Stop me i f you’ve heard this before. But there’s a big­
ger reason to consider false counts from a scripting perspective, and that’s
because presentation is what the audience remembers. I f you want your false
count to cause your audience to experience a sensation o f magic, technique
alone won’t do it. It requires presentation.
Because false counts have become a world unto themselves within magic,
many excellent magicians have false count techniques that may charitably be
described as quirky, i f not highly unnatural. There are very few magicians who
can do an Elmsley count, say, and make it not only look fair, but make it look
so natural that the audience simply doesn’t register it. This is, for me, the ul­
timate goal o f any magic performance. My favorite thing to hear an audience
member say is “ But you didn’t do anything!” How many magicians can do a
trick using a false count and get that reaction?
The good news is that this can be achieved by any magician who takes the
time to consider the false count from a presentational perspective. And the
first step toward this goal is to analyze every false count within the context of
its routine, and ask yourself the one, most basic question in all o f magic.

What are you doing?


The Elmsley count— or as Alex Elmsley calls it, the Ghost Count— is the
most used false count in magic. It may be the most widely used move in all of
magic; i f not, it’s certainly in the photo. I personally have more than a hundred
tricks in my library that use it. And no surprise; it’s a very deceptive move and
not all that hard to learn.
And yet, out o f a hundred tricks in my library that uses the Elmsley count,
only one uses it when you are actually counting the cards. That’s it! Only one
o f a hundred tricks that use this false count uses it to simulate a genuine
count. (“ Four Card Reiteration” by Dan Garrett and Dave Williamson.) Now
I’m not going to tell you the Elmsley count is a bad move. I’m sure you do it,

SCRIPTING MAGIC | 364


and it works, your audiences are fooled. I do it, and it works, and my audiences
are fooled, and I have no reason to think I am a better technician than you are.
I’m certainly not going to tell you to stop doing the Elmsley count. All I'm say­
ing is, if you think of it as a count, and you’re doing it in a trick where you’re
not counting the cards, or where the number o f cards is not important, then
you may want to change the way you think about it.
The first thing you might want to change is the script you use to accompany
it. If you’re showing the Aces are all face down in a twisting rou