Profiting from Suggestions by Colleagues

On Profiting from Suggestions by Colleagues

Steve Aldrich is a magician who has recently returned to Colorado after living several years in Montana.

Jerry Andrus and I first encountered him around 30 years ago. He had been performing and traveling with a small group calling itself “Ickle Pickle Circus.”

While in Eugene, he attended a Mysticians meeting and offered to perform for us. He was especially proud of his cards across routine. The premise of the routine was that he would sit in the audience and a volunteer would do the magic. Before his show, he asked Jerry and me to watch closely and give him our opinion.

During his performance, at a key point in the routine, Steve turned his back to the audience. After his show, he approached us and asked for our opinion. Both Jerry and I told him that the effect would be much better if he did not turn his back to the audience. Steve got angry. He told us he had been performing the effect this way with great success.

Jerry, ever calm, said to Steve, “If I tell you a way to perform the routine without turning your back, would that improve the effect.” Steve angrily shot back, “No.” Both Jerry and I knew enough not to pursue the matter further.

The late Irv Weiner was both a prolific creator of good magic as well as a first rate performer. He was one of my mentors when I was growing up in the Boston area. Indeed, I owe much of whatever skills and knowledge that I have to Irv’s teaching.

When Irv phoned me in the 1980s to see if I could arrange for him to perform at the University of Oregon, I eagerly obliged. Jerry and I met Irv at the Eugene airport. As we were driving him to his motel, Irv told us about his new magical creation. He was going to end his show at the university with it. He wanted us to pay close attention and give him our opinions.

He told us the effect involved a prediction sealed in a tin can. He already mailed the can to the program chair at the university. At the end of the show, he would give a can opener to chairman and have him open the can and read the prediction. The prediction would match the current headline in the Register-Guard.

Irv’s show was spectacular. His performance was flawless.

Both Jerry and I, of course, were waiting for the concluding effect—the prediction. Irv introduced it by explaining the impossibility of what was about to happen. He asked the chair to produce the sealed tin can and inform the audience that it had never left his possession since it arrived in the mail a few days earlier. He then had someone bring up and display the top headline in the current edition of the Register-Guard.  With a dramatic flair, Irv handed a can opener to the chair and asked him to open the can.  The chair did so and dumped out a folded strip of paper.

Jerry and I, along with the rest of the audience, focused on whether the paper would contain writing matching the newspaper headline.

The next step was a letdown. Instead of a straightforward prediction, the paper contained a series of letters and numbers, which Irv said, was a code. Irv then brought out what he said was a codebook. By a painfully laborious and boring procedure, using the codebook, Irv eventually decoded the hieroglyphics on the paper into something approximating the actual headline.

By that time, everyone appeared to be confused. No one seemed impressed.

After the show, Irv asked Jerry and me what we thought of his prediction effect. Both Jerry and I, trying our best to be tactful, tried to explain to Irv that the use of a complicated decoding procedure to reveal the prediction not only confused the audience but was not good magic or mentalism. Irv got very angry with us. He shouted that we did not know what were talking about. He was a seasoned performer and knew what was good magic. He maintained his prediction effect was perfect as it was.

Both Steve Aldrich and Irv Weiner are good magicians. However, it hurts to have fellow magicians find fault with one’s creations. Both Jerry and I learned an important lesson. When a fellow magician asks you for an opinion of their magic, they really do not want an honest assessment. Instead, they are seeking praise.

I apologize for this long introduction to my experience of getting feedback and suggestions from the twelve attendees watching my performance at the March Mysticians meeting.

I performed my latest version of my cards-to-pocket and diminishing cards routine. I developed this version of the routine when I was 15 years old. That was 70 years ago. In this routine, which requires strong misdirection at key points, I had worked hard to use the spectators as the basis for my misdirection.

So you may understand the resistance I felt when the suggested changes would dismantle basis for my misdirection. I felt the urge to refuse to take the suggestions seriously. I wanted to tell everyone that the very aspects of my routine that they were urging me to delete were what had made it so successful for most of a century.

Fortunately, I recalled how Steve Aldrich and Irv Weiner resisted suggestions that would have improved their magic. I realized that Richard was correct when he told me that I was violating my own principles by having a subject continually reach his hand into my trouser pocket. Richard was also correct in telling me to get rid of the verbose introduction to my routine. I got several valuable suggestions and criticisms from the others. The only one that I decided not to accept was Dick Loescher’s suggestion that I drop the diminishing cards from the final phase of the routine. In this case, I got some opposing comments from a few others who told me that they thought that closing the routine with the diminishing and vanishing cards enhanced, rather than detracted from the routine.

That night, when I got home, I was disheartened because I thought I could not continue the routine by accepting the suggestions. I probably would just have to drop the routine from my repertoire.

I began working at revamping the routine without using a second volunteer in a way that I had always considered an integral part of the routine. In fact, I got rid of that aspect of the routine completely. By the next day, I had revamped and streamlined the routine.

I will have to try the routine before live audiences before I will know if it will work.

However, I feel quite excited about its prospects. I am very, very grateful to the Mysticians for forcing me to revise my routine in such a way that it is leaner, shorter, and—I hope—more effective than the original routine that I relied upon for 75 years.

If nothing else, attending our meetings is extremely worthwhile just for such feedback.

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