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David Corsaro is a working magician and the host of the popular web series, “Time to be Awesome.” He writes regularly for iTricks.

Follow me down the rabbit hole

I am going to ask you to think about magic for a bit. Not about flourishes, not about patter and not about effects. I want you to pause reading this article and think about what is going on in the mind of your audience when they see a true piece of “magic.” Paul Harris talked about it beautifully, calling it the moment of astonishment. That moment when your spectator takes a deep inhale of oxygen and looks like they just saw a ghost. When you just destroyed their reality and they are unable to speak.

Now I would like to present a theory. That now, in 2012, is the most important and easiest time in history to be a magician. Audiences today want to let go and enjoy the unexplainable.

Allow me to provide some examples

tim tebow.jpgThere were two very interesting sports stories this year. The first involved the quarterback from the Denver Broncos football team. Tim Tebow came out of college with a lot of hype, but several analysts felt he could not cut it out in the pros. The owner of the Broncos did not want to play him and the coach designed his offense around the team’s other quarterback. When the season seemed lost, Tebow finally got his chance. And he lead his team to victory. Then in the next game, he did it again. And the next week, he did it again. Tim Tebow kept winning in more and more improbable circumstances (last second touchdowns, unusual mistakes by the other teams, etc.) The media rallied behind him.

The second story involved in the New York Knicks. They had a player sitting on the edge of their bench named Jeremy Lin. Lin was a Harvard graduate who, once he made it to the pros, bounced around from team to team. Due to other player injuries, the Knicks were forced to let Lin start a game in early February. Jeremy scored 20 points and the Knicks won. Lin started a second game and scored 26 points and the Knicks won. Now the press started to take notice. Who was Jeremy Lin and how did nobody know how good he was? Lin kept playing and the Knicks kept winning. The media started something called “Linsanity.” The crowd at Knicks games started going crazy every time Lin touched the ball. His jersey became one of the fastest selling in basketball.

What about areas other than sports? When a movie comes out, experts and the media typically can predict its Oscar chances almost immediately. But this year, there was this quiet movie called The Artist that very few people knew about. But it all of the sudden began winning all kinds of awards and last night won the Academy Award for “Best Picture.” How come we didn’t hear about this amazing movie when it was being made?

“OK Dave, get to the point already.”

What do these stories have in common? In a world that is very predictable, these stories involved the unknown. With the amount of technology and experts we have who analyze every minute of every day in all areas (sports, movie, finance, etc), nobody is supposed to ever be “surprised.” And once we are surprised, people use their hindsight to talk about how we “should” have seen this coming the whole time (Tebow was playing teams who were not ready for him, Jeremy Lin was great in college and people ignored him, the Artists was different and released at just the right time.) But magic has the ability to take the first part (the surprise) and extend it for a very long time. If you construct your magic properly, audiences will take that feeling of surprise (or “astonishment”) and carry it with them for years. And now, perhaps more than ever, they WANT that feeling of unexplained surprise.

skitched-20120227-122221.jpgI spoke with Jason Messina, creator of effects like “Tube” and “Wi” and author of the fantastic blog Surf The Gasp about this theory. Here is what Jason had to say:

I love the idea of building in elements of the unknown in magic. If you’re at dinner with someone and they don’t know you do magic and a spoon starts bending in your hands, this is the element of the unknown. If you’re performing magic, after the first trick, the fact that you’re a magician makes each successive impossibility more and more predictable. Being surprising is, after all, exactly what you do. So how can you, in the midst of a performance where you’re expected to be surprising, maintain the element of surprise. It’s seems to be a Catch-22. Here are a few ideas for keeping things fresh and injecting the unknown.

1. Start Early: If you’re performing somewhere professionally, ask the host of the event or party to allow you to slip in unannounced. Mingle with guests briefly before you start doing what looks like an impromptu display of impossible. Eventually your cover will be blown and you’ll be announced as the entertainment for the night, but for a few moments people will be witness to something completely amazing.

2. End Late: The flip side of this is to keep on going after it looks like you’ve ended. If you’re hanging around talking to people after your show, have something prepared that looks like it is spur of the moment. If you do something outside of the context of a magic act or after the magic act is done, it will naturally be more surprising than something done inside the magic act. This is a really good time leave your impression burned in the minds of the audience.

3. Leave Them with Something: I often create little moments that can only be completed after the show. This builds tension because they want to complete the open loop. It can be as simple as a prediction they are to open when they get home. The first trick I do is to have someone think of a card in the deck. Then very slowly I go through the deck that’s been in full view. The card is missing. I point to an envelope sitting in front of them during the entire performance. I tell them to take the envelope and open it when they get home (it has their thought of card and my contact info inside).

4. Only Myth: Part of the appeal of Tebow and Lin is that watching them feels special. It feels like what we’re watching is something that’s happening for the first time in history. When we perform, this is an important element to keep in mind. If someone watches you perform the same trick to every table when restaurant hopping, that moment doesn’t seem so special. You’re not a mysterious figure anymore; you’re a guy flipping burgers in the form of card tricks. Of course it isn’t practical to always be performing new material. The idea here is to just give them one moment of specialness. Show them something that makes it feel like they’re a part of something special and you’ll become a part of their personal history.

5. Stop: Don’t always finish something. This leaves tension in their mind and will want them to come back, to make the unknown more, well, known. Most people have a drive to get to the end of something, to solve the mystery. The mystery can be anything. It doesn’t have to be a magic trick. You can allude to something special you want to try. Or start talking about an effect and performing something else. I know it sounds weird, but not finishing something will create more desire for you and that thing. Nobody wants to read the same mystery novel twice. Take your time before revealing the ending. Or don’t reveal it at all. The mysteries that endure are the ones that never quite get completely worked out.

So assuming that my theory is true and that we are now living in a time when the mind of our spectators are open and carry a desire to be blown away, how else can you capitalize on it? My first suggestion is to be aware of that moment at all times. If you perform an effect and your spectator is astonished (mouth open, unable to speak, etc), let that moment sit. Don’t say a joke to break the silence. Don’t launch right into your next effect. Just hold it. Regardless of your opinion of him as a performer, David Blaine did this beautifully in his network specials. Watch him perform an effect and just let the moment breathe. Give this a try in all performance venues (restaurant tables, loud parties, hell even at a kids show.)

Next, design your effects to have a true “moment” of magic. When you are about to reveal the final load in a cups and balls routine (for example), do not just lift up the cup to show the lemon. Instead, pause before the reveal, bend over and put your entire body right next to the cup. Stare at the cup and slowly lift it off the table. ENJOY the moment of magic just as much as you want the audience too. Give the audience permission to experience “magic.” Trust me, they want to.

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Now, go be Awesome.

David Corsaro is a part-time professional magician working the restaurants and major events throughout New York and New Jersey. He hosts the popular web series, “Time to be Awesome,” and released his first DVD of original material (“The Magic of David Corsaro”) in 2010. Corsaro is invited annually to attend and perform at Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic, arguably the most prestigious close-up magic convention in the world.