Take The Stage | Cards On Stage

By Ian Kendall - Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Many magicians who are taking the step from close up to stage magic will tend to rely on card effects more than other routines because the familiarity gives them a boost in confidence. This is not a bad thing, but there are some important things to remember about card magic on a stage…

Visibility is key. This may sound like a no brainer, but I’ve seen several stage magicians handle cards in such a way that the value is impossible to see. The best way to check whether you fall into this trap is to video yourself from a distance (if you can’t get to your venue to do this, get in touch with them and ask how far back the rear row is seats is). Hold up a card – can you see it in the monitor? If you are more than ten feet away, that’s probably a no.

Here’s the thing; playing cards are designed to be seen at arm’s length at best. Max Maven made an excellent point in the June 1994 Parallax column in MAGIC magazine – he noticed that magicians were beginning to use the newly available jumbo index cards, in the belief that they were easier to see from a distance. Max pointed out that beyond ten feet, people recognise cards by the pattern of pips, and not the indices; since these designs were smaller on jumbo index cards, it made it more difficult for the audience to recognise the card. Tip one: don’t use jumbo index cards, and say thanks to Max next time you see him.

Second thing; it’s much easier to see a card if it is held still. Resist the temptation to show the card to several different sections of the audience is a sweeping motion. Keep the card still, or as still as you can, for a couple of seconds before you show it to another area.

Third thing; If you have to reveal a card on stage, do whatever you can to have someone on stage with you at the point of the reveal. The audience will react far more strongly to however your helper does than to seeing the card. The best choreography is to glance at the card yourself, then to your helper, then show them the card, and then show the audience. The helper should react positively (if the routine is structured properly, natch), and that will help to prime the rest of the audience.

Fourth thing; Avoid red cards and picture cards if you are forcing something. There’s a very good reason Penn and Teller use the Three of Clubs as their force card – it’s the easiest card to recognise from a distance. If you are forcing (and please don’t use the three of clubs), use a low spot black card (I have an affinity for the five of spades in this respect, but that’s up to you). Low cards have good spacing between the pips, and few enough to be counted quickly (or by recognition). Court cards are very hard to discern from afar, and high cards (sevens and nines, and eights and tens) are more similar than one would like). Remember, if you are forcing the card, you are in control of the situation so you get to choose the best solution for yourself.

Fifth thing; Why not red cards? The short answer is that if you have any red gels on the lights (which is not uncommon on many generic lighting washes), then the red ink of a card either disappears completely, or washes out so much that it’s very hard to see. True story; years ago I was doing a card routine, and there were a couple of lights with red gels. I was using a peek to spot the selected card, but when I looked, there was just white! After that, I made sure to remove any red lights before a show!

Reader comments:


Tuesday, 29 October 2019 00:24 AM - Reply to this comment

You make a strong case for the limited visibility of cards on stage and I'd have to agree with you. And I very much appreciate your thoughts.

But what about Fred Kaps appearance, on the Ed Sullivan show, where he performed "The Homing Card"? How was Fred able to pull the trick off, under those impossible conditions? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2CNO_AL_vs

Was it that only the TV audience was able to distinguish the different cards from each other, and that those in the Ed Sullivan theater couldn't perceive it?

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