Okito Box Justification

octubre 4, 2007

I don’t use the Okito box much these days. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a great little prop which can be used to create some extremely convincing magic, only that it doesn’t mesh well with the kind of stuff I’m doing now. One of the things that always bothered me about magicians who use the Okito is their failure to justify its existence.

What am I talking about? Well, the Okito box has no reason for being in the real world – sort of like those little plastic paddles which magicians wave around. The times I’ve seen someone use an Okito, they either say nothing about it, as if everyone carries a little round brass box in his pocket, or try to pass it off as a coin box.

I don’t think you have to be a numismatist to realize the idea of a coin box is pretty lame. Most people know that coin collectors keep their coins in little plastic sleeves and the like so they don’t get scratched – not in a metal box where they’ll be clacking against each other. There’s no logical reason for carrying coins around in a box other than that it’ll aid you in doing a trick. So saying it’s a coin box is going to ring false.

What does it matter? It can be argued that as you’re showing them a trick they know up front they’re being deceived so they’ll just accept the thing as part of the deception. The problem is they’ll look at this thing with no reason for being and determine – quite rightly – that it’s responsible for the deception. They’ll reason that if they had one of those nifty little brass boxes they could do the deception quite as well as you – and it doesn’t matter that they can examine the thing. The impact of the magic is lost by introducing an object without providing any justification for doing so.

When I was using the Okito fairly regularly I was doing a handling of David Roth’s Out With Four. The justification I used was that the Okito was something pickpockets used to sharpen their skills – the idea being to get the coins from the box one by one without making any noise. I was showing how you could reach a degree of proficiency where you didn’t even appear to come near the box, playing it as a display of preternatural skill.

Now you may be saying that calling an Okito box a pickpocket’s practice device is no better than saying it’s a coin box. The spectators will still discount the thing as being an aid to do the trick. The difference is the majority of people are going to have no idea if pickpockets really use such things for practice. Plus, it made sense in the context of what I was doing – in fact it was an integral component in the proceedings. It wasn’t just a thing I was using to do a trick, it was an arcane little device I was demonstrating the use of. It was accepted because I was providing a justification for it, even if that justification made little sense outside the performance.

I think it’s vital that we always find ways of justifying the props we use and reasons for why we’re using them. Even if the reasoning is implied rather than stated that justification needs to always be there. See you next time.

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The Pressure To Be Better

octubre 4, 2007

I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts that working for tough audiences will teach you the most. I wanted to elaborate on that idea this time around to try and show why.

I’ve lifted weights off and on for more than twenty years now, and one thing you find out from working with weights is that to gain muscle mass you have to overload. Say you’re doing x number of sets every time you go to the gym. If you keep doing the same number of sets without variation nothing changes. All you’ll really be doing is maintaining your current physique. To see some results you have to either do your sets faster or add more weight. Put simply, to get results you have to make it harder on yourself, and the harder you make it the better the results you’ll see.

The same is true of doing magic. Let’s say you do magic only for family and friends. If you continue doing magic only for family and friends you aren’t going to see any significant changes. Your sleights might improve, but you won’t grow as a performer. To make that happen you have to make things harder on yourself. You have to leave your comfort zone and take on new challenges.

I experienced this first hand starting out. Like many new magicians I took the advice given in books and gave free shows at rest homes, hospitals, VFW meetings, etc. Eventually I got pretty good at doing my twenty minute act in these kinds of venues. But after a while I realized I wasn’t really improving any; there was no real pressure to be any better.

The solution was fairly simple. I took out an ad in the paper and started doing birthday parties for a nominal fee. Suddenly I got better simply because I had to get better. The dynamic had been changed when I started charging for my services. To keep getting the work consistently I had to be better than the other guy.

As you can see, if you want to achieve a higher level you have to make things tougher on yourself. It’s not always as easy as charging for your services or charging more than the other guy. It’s much easier to approach a family when working in a restaurant than a group of loud, obviously drunk teens. Which group will test you as a performer? Which group will demand the best of your abilities to entertain?

Seek out challenges that will force you to improve. Take the tough gigs, the ones no one else will touch. Be fearless in this. The rewards aren’t just financial.

Would Malini have been the performer he was if he hadn’t plied his trade as a busker and saloon performer? Would Houdini be the legend he is if he hadn’t spent years working in dime museums and side shows? Leave your comfort zone and put yourself in positions where you have no choice but to be better. Do so and you might just surprise yourself. See you next time.