If there is a riddle as hard to crack as a coconut, it must be the question “how long should a trick be?”
It isn’t a difficult question. It’s just that it has no precise answer.
Many Filipino magicians (count Leodini among them) might say that five minutes would be a reasonable length for a magic trick. Within that time frame, a magician can set-up the trick’s plot, introduce the props, progress the trick, show-off his skills, charm his audience, and then finish the performance with an amazing phenomenon.
The trouble with the five-minute rule is that not all tricks are created equal. They can’t be finished all at the same time.
There are tricks that just can’t be finished within five minutes. Some tricks need a longer set-up, or more elaborate build-up.
And then some factors may come into play. They need to be considered, too. For example, performances that require audience helpers take up more time. Some audience participants will run up the stage when asked to help, some will walk leisurely, while others need to be coaxed out from their seats, pleaded to participate, or pressured to come on stage. All this eats up precious time.
In mentalism, some performers may find a need to launch into preambles. This takes some time. And since most mentalism performances are “talking” performances, they usually run over five minutes. Talking, as against pantomime, needs more time to finish.
There are also performers whose style and personality require them to perform leisurely, as opposed to giving breakneck, slam-bang performances.
What all this means is that the five-minute rule is not cast in stone. I’m only offering it to the readers for their consideration.
I don’t even know whose rule is it. I might as well just call it the Leodini Five-Minute Rule, because I’m a firm advocate of it. And since it is not engraved in marbles, you can break it anytime you think you’ll get away with performing kilometric routines. Meaning if you can drone on and on with your performance past the five-minute deadline without boring your audience, go ahead. Be my guest.
In yesterday’s article (Give Attention to People’s Attention Span), I claimed with my usual presumptuousness that the attention span of adults is one-and-half hours. And that on account of this, movie producers keep their films within one-and-half-hours to get them continuously engaged till the end of the movie.
Well, as is usual to rules, there are exceptions. Titanic runs for more than three hours and yet has become one of the highest grossing movies of all time. The Ten Commandments runs for almost all eternity and yet has made it to the list of classic movies. This means people watch these movies and find them interesting regardless of their lengths.
In magic and mentalism, the same exception can be observed. While the five-minute rule is a good rule to follow (it should be good because I find it effective), you can break it any time you want— but on one condition. That you are a seasoned performer with a charming personality who can keep your audience engaged beyond their normal attention span.
Well, Mike Velarde can talk for hours on end. Still people will not budge from their seats. They will hang on to his every word until the wee hours.
So why couldn’t a magician or a mentalist do the same thing? I’d say that with their flashy props and intriguing performances, magicians and mentalists could even do as well, if not better job, of holding people’s attention than charismatic speakers.
Alas, in the real world of Philippine magic, I don’t think we can find a performer who could match the eloquence of Mike Velarde. I say this not to put down magicians but only to acknowledge a fact. Lengthy orations are just not our line of expertise in the magic world.
That being the case, magicians will find good use for the five-minute rule. If you still get tongue-tied, find yourself groping for words during a performance, cannot find the laugh lines to drop, then keep your performance short and nice.