Scripting Magic & Mentalism

A TSM Essay Written by Aidan O’Sullivan

 
Introduction

 

Do you script your magic or mentalism routines?

 

In this blog post, I wanted to share both myself and Ashley’s approaches to constructing our magic and mentalism scripts.

 

Though we will be discussing very little over the specific elements of WHAT exactly we say, we will however be looking at our processes from the creation of the first script, through to the ways that we update them.

 

Before we start exploring the depths of or the how-to’s of scripting, I want to make two things explicitly clear;

 

  1. Scripting is VITAL to a good presentational piece
  2. We all script our routines, whether we think we do or not.

 

We’ll explore the specific nuances posed by both myself and Ashley’s approach to scripting a little later, but first I want to touch on those two points.

 

Scripting is not just another important element to a good presentation, it truly is vital. Your script is what will keep your audience engaged and up-to-speed with what’s going on whilst you’re performing. You can choose to say as much or as little as you’d like but the key is simply that you say SOMETHING.

 

And it’s not just me saying this either. In his book, Voyages, Luke Jermay writes that “it is in the presentation that the effects come to life” and in order to present something in a desired way, you must address it as such.

 

The easiest way of doing that?

 

A script.

 

In Absolute Magic, Derren Brown notes that “words and actions must presuppose that we’re performing the real stuff” and he’s highlighted this fact because a good script goes a long way to creating a powerful demonstration in alignment with what exactly you’re trying to share with your audience.

 

Again, we’ll get into the finer details of the details of script construction in a later blog post but for now I wanted to make it completely clear in case it wasn’t already…

 

SCRIPTING IS CRUCIAL.

 

The second point is the idea that you already script each routine, whether you believe you do or not. Regardless of what you think scripting actually is or how much you have to prepare in order to have ‘a script’, the reality is that you’re already there.

 

Pete McCabe puts this wonderfully in his book on the subject, “Scripting magic is deciding how you’re going to present a trick before you perform it” and although this idea resonates with me, I think that we can all agree that the deeper elements of scripting can be taken much further than saying ‘this is an influence routine’ etc.

 

Though I digress slightly here, the point I’m making is that now we understand how important it is to script routines, we’ve just learned that it doesn’t have to be as scary as the theatres/movies make it out to be.

 

We host an art that is alive and flexible and by putting a little bit more effort into these fundamental groundworks (scripts) we can constantly evolve and improve our performances.

 
 
With this in mind, let’s get stuck into both myself and Ashley’s approaches to scripting.

 

 

First thing’s first – we don’t script our entire routines.

 

In fact, we don’t even script that much of them. For us, we like to focus more on the specific presentational angle, just as McCabe mentioned, and allow the rest to organically develop as a result of us giving a routine some ‘flight time’.

 

Our approaches do differ slightly (with mine being a little deeper than Ashley’s) but there are several overlapping concepts at play.

 

For example, Ashley writes his scripts so that he can deliver the most value to his audience, whereas I tend to write a script for my own benefit – though our processes are similar.

 

Let’s start by uncovering Ashley’s approach and then we’ll explore my additions and alterations later on.

 

 

How Ashley Scripts His Magic/Mentalism

 

When I first spoke to Ashley about the idea of sharing our thoughts on scripting, he was initially taken aback because we don’t particularly do much other than take our routines from a simple idea to an actual performance – as fast as we possibly can.

 

The greatest thinkers on the planet throughout history might be well received because they have pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in the game of theory, but unfortunately that is often where they pull their plug.

 

We believe that the truest advances, especially in the art of magic and mentalism, come from nothing more than getting practical, live, organic – REAL – feedback from an audience at a show/event.

 

Having delved deep into Ashley’s brain on the subject, I’ve put together the four main steps that he uses to make that process possible:

 

  1. Generate The Idea
  2. Creative Visualisation
  3. Play The Routine
  4. Repeat
 

 

Step 1 – Generate The Idea

 

To start with, he finds that initial idea in whatever form that takes. Sometimes that’s a new effect, a new method, a new premise, a new story – anything that sparks interest with the potential of becoming a performance piece.

 

The big mistake that most people make here is that they want the idea to be perfect when the reality of the situation is that it simply doesn’t matter.

 

The quality of the idea isn’t overly important here because that will be improved and refined as the routine is performed (though good ideas do make this process easier but don’t focus your attention there)

 

I like to spend a lot more time in this section than Ashley does and that’s because I use this step for a different purpose. We’ll talk more on this later!

 

If you find yourself particularly stuck in this area of getting ideas, we recorded 5 episodes of our podcast on the subject of creativity. If you want a quick leg-up in this area, check out Episode 017 – Understanding Creativity | TSMP #017

 
 
Step 2 – Creative Visualisation

 

This technique itself is a powerhouse for anyone looking to achieve ANYTHING.

 

If you’re not already aware of it, it will probably sound strange or ‘woo-woo’ in nature but now there is plenty of scientific evidence to back up this technique.

 

In short, you complete a full-sensory visualisation of the routine or idea that you’re developing and allow yourself to experience a full performance from the safety of your own mind.

 

(Yes, we know this sounds crazy!)

 

Visualise the routine playing out in full and pay close attention to what you’re experiencing in each of your five senses.

 

What can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? What can you feel? What can you taste?

 

Naturally, some senses will be harder to conceptualise in this case of a magical performance so here are some ways of interpreting the senses for your benefit – try and answer these questions with a routine of your own:

 

  • Sight – Where are you positioned? Where are your audience positioned? What are you physically doing in this performance? What can you see?

 

  • Sound – What are you saying? What are your audience saying? What can you hear in the background of the performance environment? What can you hear?

 

  • Smell – Is there a candle burning on the table? What scent is the perfume on your participant? What does the venue smell of? What can you smell?

 

  • Touch – What props are you holding? How are you holding them? Are you touching a participant? What emotions are you feeling? What can you feel?

 

  • Taste – Are you eating/drinking anything in the routine? Are you dry-mouthed with performance anxiety or lubricated and confident? What can you taste?

 

(BONUS TIP – Always make sure that you’re visualising from your own perspective to benefit from Visuo-Motor Behaviour Rehearsal [VMBR])

 

I know what you’re thinking… How does this impact scripting?

 

Let’s put this into perspective.

 

When you last had a conversation with someone, did you know every word that you was going to say?

 

When you last started a conversation with someone, did you know much more about the direction of the conversation than the premise/topic you were discussing?

 

Chances are, you only knew a small piece of the interaction and the rest came naturally to you. THIS is why Creative Visualisation works in our favour.

 

At some point in the exercise we have to SAY something and if you’re not sure where to start, you’ll be able to find lines of script that fit naturally in the performance, just as if you would in a real-time performance.

 

In short – get as many ‘practice’ rehearsals as you can by using the Creative Visualisation technique. (More on Creative Visualisation)

 

(Expect a future blog on this subject – we both love it!)

 

 
Step 3 – Play The Routine

 

This step is really simple. Just go and perform the routine.

 

Not in your mind this time, you have to go and get some flight time with this routine or effect. The best part now is that although you’ll be performing the routine for the first ‘official’ time, you still have the advantage of a few mental performances from Step 2.

 

The big mistake here though, is to try and follow everything in your Creative Visualisation, down to the letter. So to be perfectly clear on this…

 

DO NOT RELY ON THOSE MENTAL PERFORMANCES!

 

The real benefit from those CV performances is that you can largely overcome the ‘beginners nerves’ and performance anxiety when running the routine because you’re completely confident in which direction you’re aiming to take the routine.

 

Use the real-time performance to test your lines, add new ones and start making marginal improvements to make each performance better, even if it is just by 1% each time.

 

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that a 1% improvement each day over the course of a year will add up to a 37.78% improvement from the starting point. We can directly apply these rules to our performances too.

 

How To Master the Art of Continuous Improvement – jamesclear.com/continuous-improvement
 
Step 4 – Repeat

 

Well done!

 

You’ve successfully taken an idea, given it a script, tested it in a live performance and made at least a 1% improvement – that’s incredible!

 

I’m sure that you don’t need me to preach the amount of learning that you’ll get from a live performance but it really is profound. The fastest and most successful approach to developing a script is simply to keep that feedback loop open and pay attention to what your audience are saying/thinking.

 

I want to explore this notion a little further but before that, I’d like to take a moment to explain the main differences in the development of my scripts.

 

 

How Aidan Scripts His Magic/Mentalism

 

The truth is that I follow very similar steps to Ashley however the reason WHY and also HOW I follow them is what differs.

 

Step 1 – Generate The Idea

 

At this point, I like to go MUCH deeper than you might think is reasonable when I’m evolving an idea.

 

Typically, I spend the most time here (pre-performance) and that’s because I’m using this step for my own personal benefit. For example, if I’m going to present the Which Hand game under an influence premise, I don’t want to stop like most performers after working out my method and a draft of what I’ll say.

 

Instead, I’ll spend time research and compiling all possible methods and find out what works inside the threshold of my desired outcome for the routine. Then I’ll explore the psychology of influence and statistical tendencies before niching down to left/right hand biases.

 

After this, I’ll take what I’ve learned and apply it to my method and start playing with a relevant script.

 

Sounds intense, right?

 

I’m not saying that you should do this, don’t worry!

 

The point I’m making is that I go to these extents because I want to know as much as I possibly can about the subject. As a result of this, I have much more to play with when developing my script and it can come from a place of genuine sincerity and open honesty.

 

(If you’d like to learn my complete 4-Phase Which Hand routine, click here to find out more)

 

The information that I’ve acquired in the research process will educate my scripts.

 

  • If I can become the world’s leading Which Hand expert on the subject of influence, I’ll do the research and become the expert.

 

  • If you can become the world’s leading pendulum user in the niche of PIN Code Divinations, you’ll learn as much as possible about pendulums, right?

 

Don’t be afraid of putting in a little overtime, just so you have more to play with.

 

Graham Wallas explains in his book, ‘The Art of Thought’, his 4-Stages of Creativity, with the first being the Preparation period. In this stage, the creative simply acquires as much knowledge on the subject as possible so they’re ready to put it to good use.

 
 
Step 2 – Creative Visualisation

 

At this point, I’m incredibly well informed about the topic.

 

From here, I give myself a break before I start my visualisation so that my subconscious mind can start making connections and pairing more information about lines, scripts and even methods.

 

(Search ‘Combinatory Play’ for Einstein’s approach to the subject)

 

When I run through my visualisation, I do it three times. Once to make sense of the process, the second for a worst-case scenario and the final run being the PERFECT routine, each time going deep into the five senses to maximise the impact of visualisation.

 

Now I’m ready to perform.

 
 
Step 3 – Play The Routine

 

Here I throw out my draft of the script and use this opportunity to improvise, jazz and play around with whatever comes organically.

 

All I’m doing at this point is testing lines and making a mental note of what works the best or simply gets the strongest reaction in the desired direction (Am I trying to be funny or get my audience on the edge of their seats with complete attention?)

 

What is important is that you get feedback.

 

Sometimes we get hooked on the belief that it’s impossible to know what our audience was ACTUALLY thinking (ironically) but the easiest way to find out is simply to ask them. “What did you think of the routine?” or “Did you enjoy the show? What about the bit with the [Insert routine description]?” – both work wonderfully.

 

Another way to tell if your script has done its job or was actually strong enough is to pay attention to the audience afterwards.

 

  • Was there a conversation afterwards?
  • What were they saying about the routine?
  • Are they saying what you wanted them to be saying?

 

If so, you’re on the right path. You can improve your scripts from there. If not, try to work out why there was a disconnect and make the first 1% improvement.

 

(We recorded a complete 40-minute Masterclass on the subject of Getting Feedback. You can grab a copy here)

 
 
Step 4 – Repeat

 

It’s as simple as that.

 

Think, Explore, Imagine, Play, Adjust, Repeat.

 

It is also worth mentioning that even when I start making the marginal improvements, I will only ever strive to script the key/significant moments that are going to deliver an impact on my audience.

 

If I can make those moments as effective as possible, I can remain open and in-the-moment with my audience rather than trying to recite a complete script, start to finish, that I’ve poured hours into creating.

 

Unfortunately those key moments aren’t easy to identify until you’ve actually run the routine for a real performance and they will differ between each routine that you prepare.

 

The only advice I can give is that it’s not necessarily the moment of revealing the information. Often the reveal is emotionally powerful itself and instead you would benefit more from putting your attention on a different moment.

 
 
In Summary

 

To recap, our 4 steps to script development are as follows:

 

  1. Generate The Idea
  2. Creative Visualisation
  3. Play The Routine
  4. Repeat

 

As always, this is simply our thinking at the time of writing this blog and our opinions might change, develop or improve over time. If you think these principles would be useful, please do try them out and let us know your experience with them.

 

Equally, if you have a completely different approach to scripting, please let us know. We’d love to hear more about your thoughts on this.

 

Finally, if you found this blog useful, we’d really appreciate if you could take a moment to let us know by giving this a share with anyone else that you think would enjoy these thoughts.

 

We’re really keen to exchange best practice and we’re dedicated to become better performers so the more people that can consider this approach and give us feedback, the better!

 

I truly hope you enjoyed reading this,

 

Stay safe and speak soon!

 

-Aidan O’Sullivan

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