Scriptwriting for Magicians
One of the questions that I get asked the most at our classes is “Is it better to script or just to talk naturally?” When I hear this question, I usually regard this as someone who is asking me to give them permission to be lazy. An argument I hear frequently, is “Well, I don’t want to sound like I’m reciting words from a script.” The answer to this argument is that we are actors playing the part of a great magician and we need scripts to keep us focused and theatrically potent.
When I hear people speaking extemporaneously, very often,their wording is filled with “linguistic lint;” their lines are filled with umms, uhhs, and awkward pauses. Having a memorized script allows you the luxury of choosing each and every word, specifically for its effectiveness and strength. You can experiment with timing, speed, pitch, inflection, volume and pauses. Few magicians are good enough actors to “talk off the top of their head,” and sound coherent.
STARTING YOUR SCRIPT
The first steps of writing a script are the most challenging. The thought of sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper can be scary. My magic teacher, Eugene Burger, suggests that following technique to start your script.
Next time you perform a new effect, record yourself as you perform. When you get home, type out exactly what you’re saying, word for word, and notice if you have any of this linguistic lint in your talk. If you don’t, congratulations, you’ve just begun to write your script! Next, Eugene suggests that we step away from the first draft for a few days, and come back to it with new eyes and energy.
EDITING AND REFINING YOUR SCRIPT
Now, the next step is polishing the script and carefully choosing each and every word for its maximum effectiveness in moving the plot and theater of the effect forward. For an excellent lecture on this topic, see Robert Parker’s PEP talk called “Scriptwriting as Verbal Iconography”
The best magicians in the world have polished their scripts to the point where their flow of language seems totally natural. Magic greats like Mac King, and Lance Burton are perfect examples of performers that are thoroughly scripted yet totally natural.
NATURAL OR THEATRICAL?
Unlike actors, magicians fear scripts, because they think they are too difficult to learn, so they settle for mediocrity and “just sort of having an outline.” This is the same as an actor walking out on stage and “just kind of knowing the outline” of a Shakespearean play…. A ridiculous cop-out. Actors train for years, by memorizing and performing scripts that have been written by great playwrights. This is a lesson we can learn from the actors. There are many books available that have professional scripts written in them. It would be of great value for you to consider finding a great script of magic and learning it. I list some great resources at the end of this article.
For some excellent inspiration, take a look at the professional speakers delivering their scripts at http://www.ted.com
INSIGHT AND INSPIRATION
The first scripted routine I ever saw a performer execute was in 1975. Magician Ricky Jay was the special guest on Doug Henning’s magic special. He performed his versions of “MacDonald’s Aces,” using the script The Exclusive Coterie by Erdnase. Ricky’s performance made a profound impact on me. It was the first time I witnessed an actor delivering a theatrical script. It changed the way I approached magic, and the words I chose to speak when in front of an audience, both in formal and informal setting.
Personally, I found great satisfaction and accomplishment by memorizing scripts from Hugard’s Magic Monthly and Expert at the Card Table, when I was fourteen years old. I still retain these theatrical scripts in my memory, and can perform these theatrical routines at a moment’s notice.
Here are a few thoughts that may make the process of writing a script for your magic more fun and effective.
REMEMBERING THE SCRIPT
Now that we have a script, we have to remember it. There are many books that can teach you mnemonic techniques. A simple formula for memorization is
You must decide what you are going to memorize and go about gathering the script and even printing it out. I have found that hand-writing the script gets it “inside of me,” more than just typing and printing.
Now you must dedicate time and energy into the rehearsal sessions, matching movement to action. Also this is the time to work with your director on vocal elocution techniques, such as volume, pitch and rate.
One of the beautiful benefits of having scripts is that you can file them and store them in physical form as well as in your memory. If you have not performed a piece in a few years, you can take it out of your script file and polish it up for performance. Personally, I have a binder entitled “Memory” where I keep hard copies of all of my memorized scripts.
One of the techniques I use is this: after I have written, edited and polished a script, I print the script out, with a jumbo font, and tape it to my practice mirror, or even to an exercise machine while I’m doing a workout. This gives me dedicated time to focus on matching my words to physical actions.
One of the most overlooked tools for the development of our scripts is the use of crib sheets. Crib sheets are small pieces of paper with either the entire script written out, or key phrases that will act as memory jogs if you get stuck. A great place to hide these secret notes is on the back of hand-held props.
My wife, Abbi, has a very complex script she uses in a jumbo card effect. She helped herself to learn the lines of the script by printing out the text of her script and attaching it to the back of one of the jumbo cards. The audience was never aware that she had the entire script, literally, at her fingertips. If Abbi ever had difficulty remembering a word, all she had to was to glance momentarily at the card to get back on her script. This little secret can make a huge difference when you are first performing new routines in front of audiences. Just knowing that you have the words nearby will give you courage and confidence.
This technique for aiding your memory was also utilized by Eugene Burger, when he was working on the story deck trick named “Diamond Jack.” Eugene wrote one line of the script on the back of each jumbo card. The audience never saw the back of the cards, and Eugene had the entire script in his hands. You can palm crib sheets, stick them to the back of books, photographs, props, the inside of your top hat, or just about anywhere you can think of. How many secret hiding places can YOU think of?
I hope I’ve been able to stimulate your creativity and give you some practical information on how to refine your magical presentations. There are resources below that will give you much to work with… Good luck!
Foundations by Eberhardt Reise
The Tarbell Course in Magic by Harlan Tarbell
Life, Death and Other Card Tricks by Bob Neale
Scripting Magic by Pete McCabe
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
I use a small VADO camera, made by Creative. You can use a Flip camera, even your phone, to record your rehearsal sessions. Remember to keep an archive to track your progress.
The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne
The Art of Memory by Frances A Yates
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
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