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06 July 2011

[Guest post] Magic: The Next Generation

A few days ago, Ariel Frailich was describing his experience lecturing at the Browser's Den magic club along with James Fulford, James Alan and Mahdi Gilbert.  I found his take on the day intriguing and cornered Ariel into agreeing to write it up as a guest post.  True gentleman that he is, he graciously agreed.
The following is a guest post* by Ariel Frailich: writer, publisher, creator of magic and owner of  I Saw That! Exclusive Magic.

Toronto’s wonderful magic shop, the Browser’s Den of Magic, has its own magic club that meets once a month. The club is aimed at young magicians and beginners, but everybody is welcome, of course. Jeff Pinsky, the owner of the shop, regularly invites members of the magic community to perform at the club as special guests.

When Jeff invited me to perform at the July 2nd meeting, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to show. In my experience, young people who start out in the contemporary ‘flash and flourish’ school of magic consider our older, ‘hide-your-skill’ style passé. This is hardly surprising, as their idols put forth the idea that a magic performance is a display of dexterity. Hence, every gesture must be flashy, every action must be a flourish.

I asked myself: what could I show that wouldn’t be greeted by stifled yawns and polite applause?

A few days later, the answer came to me in a flash (of inspiration, not manipulation). I would show them some “old-school” esoterica! In the ‘70s, we used the term ‘esoteric’ for techniques that were particularly angly or finnicky to perform. The term has fallen into disuse. (The wags might argue that it’s because angly and finnicky techniques have become the norm today, so there’s no reason to give them a separate category. But I’m not a wag.)

I decided to demonstrate and teach the techniques I used in my first ambitious card routine (which later evolved into DIY Ambitious Card, published in Card Stories). A double lift from the centre, Tabled Tilt, ‘Rise, rise, rise!’ and a tabled colour change. I wanted to show that “old school” techniques could be just as bold, clever and visual as “new school” moves. I also wanted to show something they could use; for all that they’re on the esoteric side, the techniques I chose are actually quite practical and not terribly angly. But most importantly, I wanted to show that hiding one’s skill creates a much more magical effect than displaying dexterity.

It was a success. I caught their interest and fooled them. I got oohs and ahhhs, laughter, applause -- and even a minor avalanche of questions, for they were eager to learn. I showed them that “old school” magic may not be as passé as they had thought. I taught them a few techniques that they can use. And I showed them that magic without obvious displays of skill can look very magical indeed.

Then I moved in for the kill.

I performed my 'Andrus Misunderstood' colour change, which replaces the tabled colour change in the published version of the trick. It’s the most magical-looking thing I do, and approaches my ideal of looking like the magic happens without the performer doing anything.

Eyes popped. Jaws dropped. Stunned silence. The young man to whom I had taught the move a few weeks earlier literally begged me not to explain it. The others continued to stare in disbelief.

The first time I did this move for an audience of contemporary of young magicians, one young man told me: “This is the first time I’ve ever seen ‘real’ magic. Now I’m going to have to re-think everything I do.”

What an eye-opener! From this and a few similar experiences, it became very clear to me that “new school” magicians simply never experienced good magic without flash and fury, or at least, not enough of it to make them see that there is a better way.

This is why I always make a point of showing young magicians this move. On its own, it’s rarely enough to cause as dramatic a shift as in the case of the young man mentioned above. But it is a step in the right direction and an opportunity to broach the subject for further discussion.

To my fellow “old shoolers,” I would like to say: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Instead of bemoaning the ‘new school’ approach, let us show young magicians what good magic is supposed to look like and foster discussion.” And to the “new schoolers,” I would like to say: “Hey, you of the Butterfly Cut Brigade -- don’t dismiss the grey beards quite yet; they just might give you a run for your money!”

Thank you Ariel for guest posting at Canada's Magic! 

To read more of Ariel's thoughts on magic, read his book "Card Stories," visit the Articles section of I Saw That! or follow his companion blog, I Wrote That!

* This post is copyright © Ariel Frailich and is published with permission.  Please contact Ariel directly to work out terms and conditions for republishing.


  1. Great post Ariel! The divide between old and new school makes for interesting contrasts and comparisons.

    I wonder if membership in the "Butterfly Cut Brigade" is an almost mandatory phase in the life cycle of a magician. (I remember Jeff McBride making some general observations about how the focus changes as we age. Technical focus progresses to theatrical etc.)

  2. Excellent post, Ariel. I'm of the opinion that modern card flourishes have more in common with juggling than with magic. Juggling and magic are both valid art forms but are at odds. Especially when it comes to close-up magic.

    The more streamlined and direct a close-up effect is, the more magical it tends to be. That's because it defies explanation! Interjecting a series of "butterfly cuts" where a simple cut would suffice, lets the audience off the hook. The wonderful feeling of "that's impossible" that might have been attained is thus replaced, sadly, with the far less satisfying feeling of "I've just had a fast one pulled on me".

    Imagine how magical our tricks would appear if audiences didn't know that sleight of hand existed? People would routinely feel the same amazement that a child experiences the first time a magician produces a coin from their ear! That's if sleight of hand didn't exist. So let's not remind them.

  3. Hello, CM! Thank you for the guest spot and the comment!

    I’m sorry, I should’ve been clearer. My distinction of “Butterfly Cut Brigade” and “Grey Beards” is really about the old-school versus the new-school approaches to magic, rather than the age of the performers or their focus.

    While it’s true that many -- or most -- new-schoolers are young and focused on technique, there are lots of young magicians who have chosen the old-school path of hiding their skill in order to better create the illusion of magic. In fact, the two young magicians who were on the same bill last Saturday, Mahdi Gilbert and James Allan, are most definitely old-schoolers in their approach. Both go to great lengths to present mysteries rather than feats of dexterity.

    I’d have no hesitation in calling these young men, “Young Grey Beards”, and the ones who are still focused on technique, “Grey Beards in Training.” But I’m not sure that they would appreciate it!

  4. Hello, Robert! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You’ve said it all; the only thing I can think of adding is that this is like the old flourish vs. no-flourish school, but taken to a whole new level. It’s truly bizarre (with a small ‘b’) !

  5. Ariel,

    Thanks for the clarification. Agreed, there are new-schoolers kicking it old-school. I was hasty in my comment and making sweeping generalizations. Busted!

    Hrm.... GBiT? Maybe we should get shirts made up!

  6. Shirts -- yes, great idea! With nothing on the back, so you can do the Human Paddle Move! :)