The Road to Recovery #1

The Road to Recovery will be a new feature here, though sporadic at best. It's going to focus on when things don't go as planned during a performance and how well I handled it. Sometimes I recover quite well. Other times, well, we'll just pretend that never happened. I hope that you can find something in these to relate to and if not, perhaps you'll be able to use the background for a future out yourself. With that said though, here's the first Road to Recovery!

There are a few books that talk about the theory behind tricks, like Card College, specifically focusing on outs for disasters and disturbances. Some other books actually provide outs for individual routines. Most, however, don't.

To repeat that, most magic books don't cover what to do if the spectator does the wrong thing. Or if you lose track of the card. Or if something else goes wrong and the trick deviates from how you've spent so many hours practicing. But, that's okay! This is where experience comes in, or cleverness. Or, perhaps thinking quick on your feet.

The other night, I was at a dinner party that had been in full swing for over 3 hours already when the cards came out. Plenty of food and drinks, and a decent number of guests. Around that 3 hour mark though, one of the guests asked me to show everyone a card trick.

Now, when I say "asked me", I mean that if she had a deck of cards in her hands she would have slapped me with it. I politely declined at first because I wasn't prepared. I had performed for all of these folks before and I hadn't planned on performing this night so I didn't really go over what I've showed them and what they haven't seen yet. Also, I had already had one or two (or three) drinks and it was late. However, the group now persisted and "whoah, where'd that deck of cards in my hands come from?!"

Kidding of course =P. They did persist and  I did say I would show a trick or two but I'd need a few minutes grab a deck of cards (... and prepare). I excused myself and left for about 5 minutes and used the time to figured out what routines I would perform, to prep the deck, and to get the other part ready. When you read below and still don't know what "the other part" is, feel free to reach out and we can chat =]

The Performance

I started off by shuffling the deck and having the lady who made the initial request select a card. Without looking at the card or showing it to anyone, I had her put it on the counter and set her glass on top of it for safe keeping.

Moving right into the next bit of business, I was excited to perform the next routine. It's one I created about a year ago and have practiced it at least 100 times. I also performed it for a small group once this summer and it went over extremely well -- now was the time to see it hold up against a larger group, fully surrounded!

I handed the deck to the same lady and asked her to shuffle it until she was happy. Then taking the deck back I had her peek at a card, but only her. Promptly handing her the deck back she shuffled again, again until she was happy. Once thoroughly convinced that there's no way I could know where in the deck the card is, she gave the deck back and I proceeded to make four piles on the counter.

Uh oh.

At this point, it's important to tell you what the expected ending of the trick is. You see, there are four piles of cards - maybe the same size, maybe not. Four different people, myself included, are shuffling our individual piles and then the first spectator, the one that peeked the card, turns over the top card of their pile. Would you believe it, it's their card! Then, the other three of us turn over our top cards and we've made a four of a kind. Hot damn!

At least, that's how it is supposed to go. Unfortunately, as I was making the piles I realized that the fourth card we need is currently on the counter. Sitting under a cup. Crap.

Okay, quick out -- I'm making two piles instead of four. I'll simply have a matching card that she has. It's not as strong as all four but it'll still be good. Easy peasy, all's setup and we both have our packets.

I say to her to do as I do and take the top card and put it under the deck. Take the next card and deal it down. Take the new top card, or two, or three, and put them under, then deal some down. And continue doing this until all cards are on the table.

Uh oh.

I'd like to repeat my statement up above in that I've practiced this trick at least 100 times. That is not an exaggeration at all, but apparently I need a lot more. I've never messed this up once in practice, but for some reason... for some reason I didn't start with "deal the top card to the table." Why did I say put it under the deck?! Crap x2.

As soon as I said it I know I messed up. But I didn't break stride, I kept it going as if it was all part of the routine but all the while trying to figure out how I'd get out of this. She was struggling, comedically, to do this funny shuffle. It was hilarious, everyone was having fun - so I played on that!

"This funky shuffle bit is all on purpose," I said. It was meant to show how, for magicians, when we have to learn a new way to do something we're really slow and sluggish at first. While I said this, I shuffled both piles together with a few variations. A tabled-riffle. An overhand. An in-the-hands riffle. And then a fancier one-handed cut. I recalled to the group it took weeks to learn each of these without dropping cards or thinking of quitting. And all of this, which took maybe 30 seconds, was enough time to spot and control the card (during the overhand shuffle) and move into a card to pocket.

So much build-up for a simple card to pocket, I really felt bad about it but the group was really having a fun time so I think it went over well.

Someone did actually make a comment akin to "so much shuffling and it was in his pocket the whole time!", so I did a quick impromptu routine to show that sometimes it's more fun to do a longer skit. For this one, I had him select a card, place it back in the deck and I did an immediate ribbon spread that had the card face up in the deck! And then I said "ah, yeah maybe the quick ones are fun too" =P

The final routine, using the card that's still sitting under the glass, was a voodoo themed card-to-ashes trick that got screams out of everyone! I'd love to go into more detail but that one actually went extremely well so we'll skip it today!

In Hindsight

Thinking things over more, which I've done several times since the performance, there were other things I could have done to correct the trick as it was going off the rails.

The first and probably easiest would have been realizing that the card she peeked was the same value as the card on the table and just going with a "ah sorry, I saw the card too - let's pick another" type of out. That would've worked, assuming she didn't see another one of that value on the next peek =P. It didn't even dawn on me during the performance though, but it really should have. If you know anything about the ashes trick, it really should have. But hey, what happened happened.

Another way out could have been to just used the card on the counter as the "it's always been there" fourth match. It would have caused me to lose the final routine from my set but I think it would still have been super strong since there's no way I could've known that was her selection. Actually, writing this out now I just realized that I could technically have been prepared to do an impromptu ashes trick too. Hmm...

Unfortunately, right now, the main recovery I think of is always a card-to-pocket. I love doing card-to-pocket routines, don't get me wrong. But, that's when they're on purpose. To me it just feels cheap. "We just spent 3 minutes doing a ton of stuff with the deck but your card was in my pocket the whole time lol". I'm going to invest some time, research, and development for different card reveals (and recoveries) that can match the expected impact of the different routines I perform, especially for the ones that I want to perform more often.

Spectator Feedback

After everything was said and done, one of the guys was asking me a few questions. You know, the typical "how'd you do that?!" and "when you had your back turned, was that when you put ashes on your arm?". "Very well, thanks!" and "no, you saw my arm was blank before I started rubbing the burning napkin all over it" were my responses.

But then, he brought the heat for real. "That second trick, we could tell something went wrong but damn you recovered nicely." The way he said it made me feel like I was having a conversation with another magician, someone who knew what was going on. Did he know what was going on?!

Maybe for magicians who perform constantly it's easier to tell if a recovery or out is a success or not, but for someone like me who only performs rarely, it's hard. Having someone say, with the exact words you're looking for, that the recovery was good (or bad) is amazing feedback. The loud screams of excitement were great, don't get me wrong, but at the end of the night that feedback was what stuck with me the most. To me, it means I've grown =]

Do you have any fun, scary, or just plain sad experiences with tricks going sideways? How did you get out of it? Or, how did you end it abruptly?

I'd love to know, and hey, maybe I can help share it here too! Let me know <3

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