How can you develop your creativity in an art form with as many rules as magic? Break them!
Remember the old saying: "If an accountant makes a mistake, he calls it a "computer error". If a plumber makes a mistake, he charges you more. If a doctor makes a mistake, he buries it. But if a magician makes a mistake, he's a bad magician." Does it really have to be so? Many great new effects have been created when magicians have made mistakes and dealt with them on the spot. Improvising. One way actors learn to improvise is a series of games called 'TheatreSports'.
So in 1991 Tim Ellis developed a series of games for magicians called, you guessed it, MagicSports. Many of the games are based on mistakes which have occurred in real life situations which put the participants under pressure and push their creativity to new limits. Here in Australia MagicSports is usually played behind the closed doors of a magic club or at a convention as a "late-night" event.
If you get really good though, try playing it in front of the paying public, you'd be surprised how much they love it!
Two teams of two to four players each are chosen to compete against each other. These teams should choose exciting names for themselves, like: "Eight Kings", "Vernon's Vermin", or "The Ten Foot Poles"… you get the idea.
Four judges are chosen and armed with score cards from 0-5 each. (Or you can use a 'Clap-o-meter' and let the audience's applause determine the winner of each game).
One scorekeeper/timekeeper is chosen, though two separate people can handle these jobs if you want to get more people involved.
Two tricks or routines should be brought by each team member, which they can perform either to music or patter. They must also bring along an unlimited supply of novelties, gimmicks or accessories, which they may find useful during the course of the games.
An MC (MagicSports host) is chosen and armed with:
- a list of the games,
- a set of rules,
- a big bag of lollies (candies) to toss out to pacify the audience when they get a bit rowdy.
The stage manager needs to provide a selection of standard music on CD, familiar to most magicians, which the contestants can call for should they wish to perform an effect without patter. He or she should also bring about a dozen CDs in a variety of musical styles that are totally inappropriate for magic.
Cheating is allowed, as long as you don't get caught.
Toss a jumbo coin at the start each game to determine who plays first.
At the very start of a night of MagicSports, each member of each team takes turns in reaching into a box without looking, and removing one weird object. This sets the scene for the final game of the night:
MAKE A TRICK
"A game based on the real life experience of getting to a venue and discovering that you need one or two more tricks to "pad out the show", but you had nothing with you..."
- Requirements: An assortment of strange and unusual items - either novelties, toys, or standard household goods, anything at all except magic props!
They have until the end of the match to combine these items to create a brand new magic trick. They can use any other items they find backstage - except magic props or gimmicks - in the performance of the trick. One player, or the entire team, can present the trick.
SCORING: Their score should be higher if all four items feature prominently in the completed presentation
"A game developed from working in venues where the sound technician was drunk and inevitably played the wrong music for the magic act."
- Requirements: A trick and a dozen CDs numbered from 1 to 12. Only the stage manager knows what the titles of these CDs are.
After the toss of the jumbo coin, one member of the team who is going to play first ("Eight Kings") gets their trick ready. Meanwhile the opposing team ("Vernon's Vermin") selects a number from 1 to 12. The stage manager tells the MagicSports host how many tracks are on the CD, and the MagicSports host asks the audience to choose a track number.
As the player from "Eight Kings" is introduced and walks on stage to perform his or her trick, the stage manager plays the selected track, no matter how inappropriate it seems.
SCORING: The player is scored according to how well they can work to the music.
VARIATIONS: You can even play "Drunk Tech Doubles" if you bring in some illusions!
Have you ever seen the Chinese Sticks performed to 'Bohemian Rhapsody'? How about the Professor's Nightmare performed to 'The Mexican Hat Dance'? You'll be surprised just how well some tricks work with the most unlikely pieces of music. Try it at home with a video of your own act and a collection of CDs.
"This game developed after experiencing this situation several times in real life: Just minutes before going on stage the client has asked if I could incorporate their fantastic new product into the show… then they've introduced me."
- Requirements: A trick that can be performed with patter.
One team member waits side stage, ready to perform, as the MagicSports host asks the audience to nominate a product of any kind (i.e.: Clothes Pegs). The MagicSports host now plays the role of the client and introduces the performer like this: "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's great that you could all come for the launch of our fantastic new Clothes Peg. And now, here to tell you all about it, please welcome (performer's name)."
SCORING: The player scores highly depending on how well he or she incorporates the product into the patter line of the trick.
"This game developed after hearing "rumours" about what really goes on backstage at FISM."
- Requirements: A table and a trick comprised of at least three pieces.
The player sets their trick on the table on stage. (e.g.: Zombie ball with cloth, stand and gimmick). A member of the opposing team then offers to bring the table on at the appropriate time. That person then takes the table and props off stage and, while out of sight, secretly removes one item (e.g.: the cloth). The MagicSports host introduces the performer, and the opposing team member brings the table on.
SCORING: The performer scores according to how well they perform with the remaining items on the table. They don't have to do the trick they originally intended to do, as in many cases they won't be able to, they just have to improvise and be inventive.
"Basically... the original game of charades, with a magic theme."
- Requirements: Two lists of ten well known tricks provided by the MagicSports host.
The team who is going to play first nominates a team member who will perform the charades. The other team members assemble on stage ready to interpret the "mimes". They have two minutes to correctly guess as many of the tricks as possible.
SCORING: Each team should receive one point for each trick guessed correctly.
"A game developed from the arrogant challenge that "I can make anything out of one modelling balloon.""
- Requirements: Plenty of modelling balloons.
All players are on stage and each is armed with a balloon.
First, they have sixty seconds to make any animal nominated by the audience.
Then, they have sixty seconds to make any object nominated by the audience.
Finally, they have sixty seconds to make any concept nominated by the audience.
SCORING: Two points are given to the best creation from each round.
"Did you know Max Maven once performed as a magic clown? Now that's a teaching video I'd love to see!"
- Requirements: Two boxes are filled with slips of paper. One is filled with names of well-known magicians, the other is filled with different styles of magic.
The player comes on to present a teaching video as (whichever name is pulled out, i.e.: Jeff McBride) on whatever topic is pulled out (i.e.: balloon modelling).
SCORING: Purely scored on entertainment value.
ONE WORD PATTER
"Some people can't talk and deal cards at the same time…"
The player performs a trick, but is only allowed to say one word (suggested by the audience) instead of their usual patter.
SCORING: Points are given according to the way the message is communicated by the way the word is spoken and used.
"Great for those who want to perform, but have nothing to say."
A member of the opposing team acts as the translator, while the player performs a trick and speaks in gibberish. The translator "interprets" what the player has apparently said, and thus alters the whole course of the trick.
SCORING: Points are given according to how well the player copes.
"These are games created by Gaston, of The Flicking Fingers, which are designed to help performers to develop their theatrical and improvisational techniques."
- Requirements: A player from the opposing team, who takes the role of the photographer.
A player is performing a trick on stage. The opposing player is in the first row and pretends to be a photographer. The photographer is giving stage directions for different body positions. The performer's job is to justify these new positions, while still doing the trick.
SCORING: Better points for seamless justification.
ASSISTANT FROM HELL
- Requirements: A trick, a table, and any props you've brought or anything you find backstage.
The player starts to perform their prepared trick at the table on stage. His assistant however, is from the opposing team and keeps bringing objects onstage to the magician, which the he then has to integrate into the trick.
TIPS: Gaston discovered that it is more effective for the assistant to bring ordinary items (the performer can make more out of it). Also, it’s better to do a trick with this game that is not too complicated (no constant palms etc.) but is constructed in a way, so the performer is busy with the trick the whole time. He tried 'Bill in Lemon', which worked very well, but it was difficult to keep inspired from the time the bill had vanished to the moment it was loaded into the lemon. Gaston feels the reason for this is that the performer had no structure or story to integrate the objects into.
SCORING: The better the performer makes use of each item, the better the score.
- Requirements: An object is hidden under a cover. A bell.
The opposing team secretly chooses any object, places a cover over it, and puts it anywhere on the stage. The player performs a trick. When the MagicSports host rings a bell, the performer has to use the hidden object and integrate it into the actual performance. (Slightly easier than "Assistant From Hell").
One or more players are to perform a pre-rehearsed trick. The MagicSports host asks the audience to nominate a secret for the player (or different secrets for different players), e.g. he won a million dollars, or he met the girl of his life, or his wife has left him, or he is jealous of his colleagues, etc. The secret must be transparent in the performance, but it should never be mentioned directly.
- Requirements: Two chairs set on stage like a television interview program.
Two players from the same team work together on this one. One is the "Expert", the other is to be his or her "Arms". The "Expert" is sent out, so he can’t hear what is said. Now the audience decides what he specialises in. (Mentalism with rabbits, the pass with gigantic cards, vanishing the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.) When he returns he takes a seat and places his hands behind his back. His teammate sits behind him and slides his arms through his colleague's armpits so that they become the "Expert's" arms. The MagicSports host then interviews him, and as he answers the questions, the other player uses only his arms to try and give clues to the expert as to what his area of expertise actually is.
- Requirements: A jumbo deck of cards. A blindfold.
For this Game you need four players. The MagicSports host takes a pack of jumbo cards and has a spectator select a card, show it to the rest of the audience, and then sit on it. The remaining cards are well shuffled by a spectator and then divided evenly between the four players. The MagicSports host is then blindfolded and sits on the side of the stage. He then asks the audience to suggest what the story will be about. (Ballerinas playing ice hockey, for example). Just before each player begins their story, the MagicSports host also asks the audience to suggest a story style. (Greek tragedy, Woody Allen movie, Horror, etc).
Each player has to use the cards in his hands as a guideline. (As in the classic 'Sam The Bellhop'). When he has exhausted his stock of cards, the story should be finished.
As each player tells his story, the MagicSports host listens carefully. When all stories have been told the host is able to calculate, in a very dramatic manner, the identity of the only card missing from the deck is, and therefore the card the spectator is sitting on. (Oh yes. This card is, of course, forced).
- Requirements: A blindfold.
A member of the opposing team is blindfolded and tells a story or discusses a theme. At the same time the player must illustrate this theme using magic. (Card tricks, cups and balls, ropes, etc.)
- Requirements: A trick that may be repeated several times (Sympathetic Silks, Ambitious Card, Egg Bag, Torn and Restored Paper, etc), or a trick with a few similar phases (Cups and Balls, Macdonald's Aces, Card Rise, etc).
The player performs the trick once, focussing the magic. Then the trick is repeated two or three times in different variations suggested by the audience (An emotion, a profession, a situation, a magician, etc). While the opposing team gets to decide which specific variation will be played (Sadness, a zookeeper, while the theatre is on fire, Lance Burton, etc).
Gaston suggests this game is better if the tricks planned are very good effects, so that the conditions can become more and more impossible. If the players are able to integrate these conditions into the improvisation, then the magic will be of course much stronger. The danger of sacrificing the magic to the presentation will be lessened.
DIFFERENT TRICK GAME
The Flicking Fingers noticed that if you want to do a whole evening improvisational magic, it’s very important to invent some games that have magic as their main focus. This is something like that. The first player does a trick, and the second one has to do a trick that is as different to the first one as possible. Additionally you could say that both players have to use the same props (Billiard Balls, cards, cups, etc).
THE DEAD TIME GAME
The player's challenge is eliminate the "dead time" in otherwise very boring actions in magic. (E.g. shuffling, culling, counting something, etc.) The opposing team can nominate the action, and the player has to be creative to make that action interesting.
THE ACTION GAME
The opposing team presents a choreographed routine of magic. The player has to integrate himself into this choreography as perfectly as possible (like in those movies when the hero flees and rushes into the middle of a ballet or theatre and has no other choice as to play as good along as possible in order not to be caught). The opposing team must perform it's routine as planned and leave the integrating entirely up to the player.
THE PLACE GAME
The player has to do perform their trick, but the MagicSports host asks the audience to suggest a place (A church, or on a mountaintop, etc), and the performance must reflect the location.
THE AUDIENCE GAME
The player has to do perform their trick, but the MagicSports host asks the audience to suggest a specific audience (A thousand bakers in the Carnegie Hall, or in front of the President of the United States in the oval office, or in front of 12 dangerous criminals).
THE CHARACTER GAME
The player sits on a chair in the middle of the stage, prepared to do a trick. The MagicSports host asks the audience to help create a fictional character for him by asking questions like: What is his profession? Why does he do magic? If he would be an animal, what animal he would be? How old is the character? Which colour he likes best?
At the end of this questioning, the player gets up and tries to be that character as he performs his trick.
These are just some of the MagicSports games we've enjoyed playing. Try them at home or have a special night at your local magic club. I guarantee you'll surprise yourself as you uncover your hidden creativity.
MAGICSPORTS was featured in MAGIC Magazine, December 1992
This page was reproduced with permission from Tim Ellis and Gaston. The original web page was reproduced & expanded on from the 'Ellis in Wonderland' lecture notes and is located at: http://www.magicunlimited.com/Pubmagicsports.htm
Article Copyright © 2004 Magic Unlimited!