Sunday, May 16, 2010

Project 365 (148/365): 21-Card Trick

.:148/365: 21-Card Trick:.

One of the basics of magic, the 21-card trick is a personal favourite because it represents a whole genre of magic that, when done properly and marvellously, can fry just about anyone. That’s because routines that require zero sleights and 100% presentation yet still produce astounding results are always going to be routines that defy explanation.

There are a myriad versions of the 21-card trick, and ultimately, it follows a very simple guideline: there are 21 cards, and as you mentally select one of them, the magician has a chance to discover what the card in question happens to be with minimal effort.

Is it mentalism? Is it sleight of hand? How does it work? Well, without spoiling anything, the 21-card trick is amazing because it just is. Performing tricks like this one rely heavily on a performer’s ability to dress a matter of fact up in a way that makes eyes widen and jaws drop. Ultimately, it’s one of those routines that anyone can perform, but only the truly great thinkers can make it a routine worth performing. For anybody else, it becomes just a silly little trick that doesn’t impress anyone at all.

Contrast this with other routines that do all the hard work for you: once you know how not to botch it, the presentation value may possibly take a backseat to the actual routine itself. We’ve seen this with many magicians who have amazing tools for their trade, yet have zero entertainment value when they have to hit the stage, and rely on the inherent strength of their routines to carry them through the show.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, really. There are going to be magicians who rely on their skill, others, on presentation, others, a total package, and yet others, on the strength of their props itself. The 21-card routine can cater to any of those types, but to me, anyone who has no idea how to present a routine like this would simply fail badly.

Don’t let the traditional perception of snooty performers dissuade you from performing a self-working routine. They’re not your audience, after all, but the layman. Sometimes, it’s not all about being a knuckle-buster of a performer. It’s not about being blessed with fingers of lightning-fast dexterity, but honing a razor-sharp mind to do what’s needed to really wow the crowd.

This routine you’re watching on video is one of the most basic presentations of this classic trick. If you want to step up as a magician, and you (probably) know how this routine is done, ask yourself: how could I package this to make it more interesting? What can I change about the methodology to make it uniquely my own? What can I say or do to inject some much-needed flavour and variety into something almost everyone already knows about?

Answer those questions satisfactorily, and you know you’re not just a run-of-the-mill magician: you’re on your way to becoming a more well-rounded and entertaining performer.

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