Method and Effect

The magic of drama is infinitely more powerful than the magic of trickery. It is as available to the conjurer as it is to the actor. The only difference is that actors take it for granted, whereas few conjurers are even aware that it exists.                                       —HENNING NELMS, Magic and Showmanship


Dear Friends:

Happy New Year to all of you, from all of us at the Magic & Mystery School! You’re in for a treat: Today’s article is by our Dean, Eugene Burger. As always, Eugene poses an interesting question for all of us. Here it is:


by Eugene Burger


This past year I received an email from Derrik A. who lives in Canada. Derrik works professionally, performing magic in a restaurant and at parties. Noting all of the exposure of magical secrets on the Internet, including the Hindu Thread which I perform, he asks: “Have you ever found yourself needing to retire any routines from your repertoire due to public exposure? I ask this because my experience is that typically once a month I am faced with a situation where an audience member will blurt out, ‘I know how he does that. I saw it online…’ during my performance.”

Interestingly, Derrik adds: “I should note that the people who behave this way are not young. The age of these people ranges from their teens to their 60’s and they seem to enjoy the opportunity of making this statement.”

My answer is no, I have never thought of retiring any effect, including the Thread trick, because it has been exposed in so many places online. As Jeff McBride often points out, the people who enjoy his performances the most are very often the ones who know exactly how the magic is methodologically accomplished. Personally, I feel that every great piece of magic has an integrity of its own and an appeal that reaches beyond knowing secrets and methods.

But there is something rather depressing here, isn’t there? As we move into the 21st century it seems that more and more emphasis is being placed on magic methods and secrets, and less emphasis is being given to magical effects. Of course, the balance between these two poles, method and effect, is constantly changing. My point, is that we are now living in a period where the balance seems to be moving steadily toward the pole of method.

Needless to say, we see this to a great extent in the many different television magic shows that are directed at little more than how the trick is done. These programs do set the cultural mindset of countless numbers of viewers. People begin to think that the really important thing about magic is how the magic is done — the method.

While the responsibility for all this may certainly exist outside me, what about my own personal responsibility for this situation? Do I have the courage to recognize that?

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Very often in the performance of our magic, we spend a lot of time getting things examined and proving that everything is fair. While this can certainly add to the dramatic power of a performance, it can also put audience members in completely analytic states of mind, where their chief concern is method, how the trick is accomplished, rather than simply enjoying the effect. Too much “proving” ends up suggesting that what makes magic interesting really is the method — and, once the method is known, magic has no further interest or value.

I wonder what I can do to make this situation better.

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