When I was at a booking conference last month, one of the acts that I saw was a magician. He did a sponge ball routine where most of the action happened on the table top.
What do you notice in the picture?
What I see is an audience that can’t see what’s happening. The back two rows are all leaning trying to see through gaps between the heads of people in the front two rows.
In theory, sponge balls can be done “high”, but in practice it’s a “low” effect. What I mean by that, is you can ask the person to hold the sponge balls at shoulder height, but in reality, that’s not a very natural position. They’re going to hold them at belly or waist height. That takes a lot of the visibility out of the trick.
How can you sponge balls play higher?
I have no idea, I don’t do the trick and when I used to, it was close up, not onstage. The challenge is when they open their hand and the balls are there, they will fall, and that makes if very difficult to the audience to know how many balls are there before they fall.
Another possible solution is to not do close up tricks onstage. I’ve been guilty of that, doing close up tricks that translate to a small parlor audience. The success the close up trick gives you for 20-30 people makes you think it will work for 75 or more, and it really doesn’t.
Watch other performers from the back of the audience and make note of what’s visible and what isn’t. It’ll really help you look at your own show and know what plays beyond the second row!
As I’ve gotten older and deeper into my career, I’m learning to take more days off…more days when I could be earning a lot of money. A friend of mine who is a magician invited me to his company’s Christmas party and there was a magician there. It was James Donahue, who I know from the social media, and I’ve made a prop for him in the past, but never met in person.
It was great to see him work for actual people.
Something I always say is that if you want to really work an industry you need to be a consumer of that industry. What I mean by that is it really helps if you can see what your show looks like form the attendee’s perspective.
Every now and then, taking a night off and seeing someone else do what you would normally be paid to do is a great chance to learn a lot!
We’re finally hitting the “light at the end of the COVID tunnel” and things are starting to reopen. I just updated the calendar on my main website that lists my public shows. Moving forward, I’m curious how much interaction in magic (especially close up) that people are willing to do.
Having spent the last 10 days helping out at a drive thru zoo that was operating when my state lifted its mask mandate (for vaccinated people), it was very interesting how people reacted to the interaction. Before the mandate was lifted about 60% of the cars were wearing masks, and after about 5% were wearing masks.
For close up magic, will people be willing to hold sponge balls? Personally I thought they were gross pre-COVID. If 95% of the people are willing to hold them, what do you do for the 5% that doesn’t? If it’s your main trick, then you need to have a strong backup. Thinking about this now will give you a huge advantage when the situation presents itself.
Not too long ago I was chatting with a magician who mentioned they were still doing in person shows. I’m not judging them on that, sometimes you’ve gotta do what you gotta do to pay the bills. They mentioned they were doing sponge balls at kids shows and the kids had no problems holding them in their hands, and this is what I have an issue with.
First of all, I’m betting they aren’t cleaning the sponge balls. That’s a problem, besides any COVID transmission, there’s tons of other germs on them…they’re sponge, germs love them.
Next, kids will hold anything you tell them to. You’re the adult, they’ll just do it in most instances. So kids being willing to hold them doesn’t really mean much.
Finally, just because you can…should you? Is the health risk worth it for a dopey magic trick?
Here’s how I see it, we’ve had over 10 months to figure out other magic we can do where people don’t hold a prop in their hands. Why are we still doing sponge balls? Don’t give me the, “they get a reaction“, because so does kicking someone in the nuts. Very few people have taken sponge balls beyond the effect and made it into something that moves the plot forward.
Let’s try to innovate and move forward and not live in the past.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of magic lectures and one of the things I talk about is how to move magic forward with your choice of material. In the lecture I really talk down on sponge balls, but they are a perfect example of why they are holding magic back.
Most magicians if you ask why the do sponge balls, they will give an answer like, “they get a good reaction“. That’s an answer, but not an honest one. The answer should be “they are easy to get a good reaction with“, which is a lot more honest. There are people that can get a reaction…an amazing reaction with the lamest tricks. The difference is that the people who can get a good reaction with a lame trick worked on getting the good reaction with a subpar trick.
Let’s do a little history lesson. The inventor of the sponge balls was Jesse Lybarger in the mid 1920’s. That makes the trick about 95 years old. The basic routine was there, but the routine that most people do took about 20 years to become a standard routine in the mid 1940’s when Al Cohn started selling his routine. Now fast forward to today, with a few exceptions the routine is basically unchanged 80 years later. Is the routine that good…or are magicians that lazy?
I’m betting on magicians being lazy. Let’s do an analogy, the car was patented in the mid 1880’s and Ford’s Model T came out in 1908. So it took about 20 years from the first patent to the Model T, which is about the same time to hit it’s stride as sponge balls. One is a fairly complex piece of machinery and one is a ball of sponge.
Let’s fast forward to today, sort of. I’m going to “handicap” the car because it’s about 40 years older than the sponge balls trick. Imagine a car in the mid 1980’s, don’t compare it to today’s cars, but to the first automobile patented and to the Model T. There have been a lot of improvements made, like a roof, or air conditioning and aerodynamics.
Now compare your sponge ball routine to the spongeball routines in the 1920’s and 1940’s, has yours changed much? Let’s see there’s the addition of the purse frame and the Eugene Burger‘s ending with the 30 spongeballs, both of which are over 30 years old!
How has your sponge ball routine pushed magic forward?
Spoiler alert, it probably hasn’t. Sure there are people routines like Ball to Jumbo Square (also over 30 years old) or Sponge Rabbits (almost 80 years old), then there’s the outlier which is something like Bizarro’s Color Changing Sponge Ball, which is fantastic, but definitely not as widely used as the standard sponge ball routine.
So, is the standard sponge ball routine the perfect routine…or is it simply an easy routine?
Lately I’ve been thinking about how live magic is going to change after shows start up again. I’m thinking mostly about material selection and what people will be willing (or not willing) to do in the context of a show. Before COVID you could get people to do just about anything, however I’m not sure what the future holds.
One thing I know is that if your “Go To” trick is sponge balls, you probably need to come up with another trick. I think they’ve passed their prime. Most who magicians rely on a trick like sponge balls don’t have much going for them. If you can’t crush a close up set without them, then you’re doing something wrong.
For close up, I’m lucky that I stopped doing sponge balls a long time ago. However I do the a card that appears in held in my lips as a phase of my ambitious card. I’m going to need to rethink that phase, and come up with something else to do, or just eliminate it.
Well, in the span of two days the world has really changed, or at least the United States has. In a span of 48 hours we’ve have bans on events of over 100 people and entire states close their school districts for over a month! Many performers are complaining about this, instead moving forward and … Continue reading “Social Distance Magic”
Well, in the span of two days the world has really changed, or at least the United States has. In a span of 48 hours we’ve have bans on events of over 100 people and entire states close their school districts for over a month! Many performers are complaining about this, instead moving forward and innovating.
Right now as a performer you don’t have control over attendance caps on events or the venue being able to sanitize it, so let’s look at something we can control, close up magic. Right now no one wants to touch anything. Everything is getting wiped down and people are constantly sanitizing. It’s gotta be a hard time for a close up magician. One of the advantages is that people can touch the props and the magic happens in their hands.
Currently having someone hold sponge balls isn’t socially acceptable, I’d argue it hasn’t been for a while as they are full of germs. Even if you wash them every night, they are gross by the time the second person holds them. Sponge balls are crutch for lazy close up performers. It’s easy for a beginner to get a reaction with them, and I’ll admit it’s a good trick. If you took it out of your close up set, would people like your act the same?
I’m looking at my close up show and thinking about what I can do without people touching anything. I don’t do sponge balls, or sponge anything, so that’s no problem. My ambitious card routine (technically a multiple revelation) needs one bit cut out of it, which is the card to mouth phase. This is a bit I started to get uncomfortable with a few years ago, and this is what I need to force me to take it out. My linking pins routine has two in the hands phases, however those are newer additions to the routine, and I can revert to the old routine which is almost as strong as the current one. The shell game,and cup and dice routine all can be done without people touching anything.
Look at your close up show, can you do it in our current climate of “social distancing”?
Yesterday I visited a magic shop and while I was there a family came in. A magician that was visiting was asked to show the kid in the family a magic trick. This kid was probably 8 years old. After a couple of minutes of “hemming and hawing” he finally chose a trick. His indecision … Continue reading “Magic For Kids…”
Yesterday I visited a magic shop and while I was there a family came in. A magician that was visiting was asked to show the kid in the family a magic trick. This kid was probably 8 years old. After a couple of minutes of “hemming and hawing” he finally chose a trick.
His indecision came from him not knowing any tricks for kids. His thinking, which he said out loud was “kids brains aren’t formed yet, so they don’t understand magic”.
That’s true for a kid that’s under about 3 years old. The concept of a secret action for young kids is abstract. However choosing a trick to show a kid is easy. Make something happen that shouldn’t. Take a coin, and make it disappear.
When he finally started to do the trick he decided was appropriate to show an 8 year old, he did sponge balls. Great trick and it should have worked. However it fell flat.
It fell flat for a couple reasons. First, he just crapped on the kid’s intelligence. Why would the kid be into it right after he called him dumb? Next, his presentation was basically a challenge. He said things like, “I snuck the ball into your hand”. Now that makes it a challenge and the kid took him up and busted him…multiple times.
A better approach would have been to simply pass on the doing a trick OR stall by saying you are trying to think of your best trick. Then don’t do your trick based on a challenge presentation. Challenge is good for middle or end pieces, not stand alone tricks.