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I have nothing against special effects, per se. I’m aware they can add theatrical aesthetics to a magic performance, specially to a stage magic show. I wrote partly about these “enhancements” in my previous post 5 Ways to Get Attention.
However, a performer must moderate his use of special effects and temper it with good judgment. Special effects, when let loose on stage with heedless abandon, can smother the magic and do more harm than good to a show.
I once had a client who gushed about my minimalistic party show. He said he had been to Las Vegas and caught some magic acts. He said while the special effects were impressive, he didn’t experience the amazement of magic, as it was overwhelmed by lights (or lack of them), smoke, smog and snow. He said my fully house-illuminated sub trunk performance amazed him more than the cast-in-shadow illusions he saw in Las Vegas.
Of course, he could just be pulling my leg, just to humor me. But his remarks validated my theories on the use of special effects in theatrical presentations of magic. I name the theory after a famous magician in my whole barangay—Leodini’s Moderation theory.
Performers who have special effect equipment usually use it at full throttle, or, if not, at a profligate level. Last year, during the rehearsal of the Floating Lady of the evening show “Magic of Love”, a stagehand blew smoke from a machine when the lady started floating in the Gamolo Levitation. The smoke was so thick the floating lady could not be seen anymore. All one could see was the thick smoke enveloping the entire stage. I wryly remarked, “That, ladies and gentlemen, is the new illusion, ‘The Floating Smoke.’ “
The cast laughed, for the scene was funny if it were not downright dumb.
Just because you have a smoke machine to produce fog doesn’t mean you have to fire all its cylinders. Moderation is the key, because special effects are there to enhance the magic and not kill it.
The same observation is valid when using the Black Art principle. You have to lower the light to hide the black art, but not lower enough that even the performer could not be seen. Also, lower the lights just enough so as not to raise audience suspicion. Don’t lower the lights until someone in the audience remarks, “Hey, they are lowering the light. Someone must be sneaking behind those props.”
I once performed the Floating Electric Bulb, where the light man not just lowered the lights. He also switched out some of them. The result was that the audience saw the electric bulb floating around the stage, but they could not see me. The magic was destroyed. For all they knew, I might just employed an assistant wearing an all-black clothes who scurried around the stage, carrying the bulb hither and thither. It was not the method I used, but if the audience thought that, it was a plausible explanation of the phenomenon they observed on stage.
For today’s blog, here’s my parting advice: if you have a special-effect equipment, rein in your love for it. Use it to enhance, not destroy, magic.
It might be an obvious advice, but you’d be surprised at how many magicians, when they received their brand-new equipment, could easily fall in love with it, throw good judgment in the air and extravagantly use it.