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When I started studying magic many years ago, I was like many other beginning magicians. I felt in love with the moves and sleight-of-hand that magicians used to bring about magical effects. The harder the moves, the more complicated the method, the more they attracted me to the trick.
Oddly, though, I could not amaze my audiences, let alone entertain them, with my masterful Classic Pass and other knuckle-busting sleights. Then one day I chanced upon a street performer who performed “props” magic. He thoroughly entertained passersby—so thoroughly that even people on errands stopped and watched his show unmindful that they were running late for their respective appointments.
I once stumbled upon this street magician in college, while I was on my way to catch my classes. The precursor of the modern-day street magician, he opened my eyes to the more difficult aspect of magic—-the one that is meant to entertain the audience.
He was a snake-oil salesman who sold his wares on the street of Cebu City when I was still in college. He used magic tricks to gather people around in a busy street corner. Once he had a large throng, he began pitching his medicines to them.
He did a simple trick. He broke an egg into a pan and turned the egg into a chick.
You guessed it. He used a chick pan to accomplish the trick.
It was not a difficult feat of magic. Many magicians in the Philippines, enamored by their sleight-of-hand skills, would sneer at the method. However, for laymen, what the street magician-cum-medicine man did was a miracle. For me, who was already a student of magic for many years at that time, the performance was a laboratory example of how magic should be performed—it should be amazing, interesting, and entertaining.
As far as I could remember, this is how the performance transpired: the street magician gathered the people on the street by breaking an egg into a tiny pan and announcing he was going to turn the egg into a chick. Yes, he told his audience in advance what was going to happen—and he told them repeatedly throughout the performance. He gave them a running reminder that in a little while he was going to open the cover of the pan and by then the egg would have become a chick.
Everybody stayed and held their places where they stood. I was among the curious onlookers. There were about a hundred of us. We were all passersby on the way to our respective destinations. But this street magician stopped us for over an hour with a trick with a chick pan.
Once he had gathered enough people, the magician then launched into his sales pitch. He talked glowingly of his medicine. He claimed it cured all kinds of sickness and warded off black magic, voodoo, and even accidents. Every now and then, he would peek under the cover of the chick pan to check how the egg was doing. People by the dozens bought his medicine—I think partly to encourage him to get over his sales pitch and do the trick. Everyone wanted to see if he could really turn the egg into a chick.
For one-hour-and-a-half, we stood on that street, waiting for the street magician to resolve the trick. How did I know it took him that long to end the trick? Well, I was late for one-and-half of my classes that day.
The images of that performance stay in my mind to this day. To me, what the street magician did was a study in minimalism. Yet, he thoroughly engaged his audience with one trick for one-and-a-half hours.
I don’t know of any magician, not even David Copperfield or other demigods of magic, who can hold the attention of an audience for one-a-half hours with just one trick. Not to mention with a self-working trick.
That street magician was a master showman, who broke a rule in performing magic, namely, the one that proscribes telling the audience in advance what is about to happen.
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