The change between performing sections should preferably be smooth. The audience are unaware that they are entering another realm in the performance. Thus the need for segues.
A segue is like an invisible bridge that brings spectators from one segment of a performance to another without them consciously being aware of having crossed that bridge. The more subtle the segue, the more artistic the performance.
During everyday conversations, we usually segue without thinking. We shift people’s attention, jump from one topic to another, even occasionally high-jack discussions, without us being conscious of our segue techniques. Most people involved in our conversations, unless they are our enemies, don’t realize that topics have wandered.
It is only when we perform magic before a live audience that we worry about segues. We feel terror when we cannot come up with smooth transitions between tricks. We freeze and become self-conscious.
Well, the terror is misplaced. Magicians in the Philippines performing stand-up acts, or close-up magic, don’t need formal or elaborate transitions and segues in their shows. All they need to do is to organize the sequence of acts or tricks, and then just perform them in sequence.
There are techniques to do this smoothly, so that the overall performance doesn’t feel like a bumpy car ride.
On stage, the magic performer has lots of help. The opening and closing of curtains, playing of music (fade ins, fade outs and cross-fades), and employing light effects can bring the audience smoothly from one act to another without jarring their senses.
Movies, too, have the advantage of many transition techniques and tools at their disposal. When the shift in scenes and time occurs (as in flashbacks), the director uses a simple subtitle to indicate where and when the story is happening. New York, 1949 typewritten on the screen would be enough to establish the story’s setting.
All close-up performances, and most stand-up magic acts, don’t have the advantage of curtains, music and special lighting effects. Magicians performing these types of show have only their patter and props to help them transition from one trick to another.
Here are some techniques I’ve found useful under those performing conditions:
1. Use a “segue phrase”. To prepare the audience for the next trick, merely saying, “And now, for my next trick…” might be enough. However, saying the same segue phrase before every trick can tire an audience quickly. Even if you use other phrases like “Here’s another trick you might like…”, “The next trick is a favorite of mine…”, “My next trick is a card trick…” and other permutations of the phrase, you will sound like a broken record if you use them mindlessly.
To avoid sounding like a broken record (or a skipping CD), take time to write your script. Write a script even for your segues.
2. Employ a funny gag. There are lots of audience proven-gags like the Baby Gag or the “No” Gag that provide built-in transitions. The Baby Gag can easily help you steer your show from a magic trick to a mentalism piece–if that’s what you want to do.
3. Introduce a prop. I’ve seen a magician throw a piece of rope to the audience. When somebody catches it, the performer declares that to do his next trick, he needs a piece of rope. The performer then asks, “By any chance, does anybody here have a piece of rope with him?” When the person who caught the rope raises his hand, the magician brings him to the stage. By using this ploy, the magician has accomplished three things. He has done something funny and interesting, brought a volunteer on the stage and opened an opportunity to launch into a rope trick.
4. Ask a question. This is one of my favorite segue techniques. It feels natural to me. “Who have seen me before, raise your hands?” Whether many or few raise their hands, I have a funny line to drop. Then I lead them to the next trick.
5. Drop the preamble. Of course an effective way to segue is not to segue at all. Just launch into your magic without prefacing it with any smart phrases or jokes. Go right into the next trick. Provided you scripted your tricks to catch the audience’s attention right away, you need not rack you brains trying to find creative segues for them. If you watch stand-up comics, they tell a string of stories, jokes and one liners. They don’t segue from one joke to another. Often, they don’t even transition from one topic to another. No “Oh, this reminds me of this story…” or “Three gentlemen walk into a bar…” Instead they just launch into their stories without preamble.
6. Resolve clearly the last trick. Instead of thinking how to go to your next trick, end your last trick categorically. Don’t hesitate in your applause stance to signal the end of the trick. If the people watching you recognize that you have resolved the last trick (the rope was restored, the chosen card found, etc.), they too know that particular trick is done. They should be ready for the next one coming up.