The Wizard is Dead by Yaniv Deautsch
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 2004)
It's an interesting time for mentalism,, in that in many ways it is, for a change, keeping up with conjuring. There are new developments in the quality of tools that are available—better props, refinements in method—and there are new commercial outlets and opportunities. Such practical evolution aside, the art of mentalism is also pushing for-ward in some quarters. And one nexus at which art and method and effect meet is the subject of risk-raking.
In mentalism, less is often more. Sometimes the effect can be more powerful when it is softened, and less perfect. This can make things feel more "real" to the audience—and for the moment, we will put aside what the word "real" means in terms of mentalism, because the achievement of that reality does not, despite the claims of some, require belief. The best of conjuring also feels real, and if you doubt that, watch Tommy Wonder perform, as simply one obvious example. But that reality does not entail literal belief.
The point however is that sometimes a bit of failure goes a long way toward selling the success of a given effect. As James Randi wrote so long ago about Uri Geller: When he wins, he wins, and when he loses, he wins. Although sometimes such mild failures are in fact theatrically deliberate, on other occasions they can be the necessity of the actual methods used. And sometimes that element of risk is the only way to accomplish a given effect.
Mentalists may think this phenomenon is unique to mentalism but, the fact is, risk-taking and uncertainty of method can often yield great magic effects as well. Watch Eugene Burger unleash his equivoque work on the laity, or observe any master of a stacked deck estimating to a named card, and you will know what risk is—and in the hands of a Juan Tamariz or a Michael Close, you may also see the resulting impact. It’s an experience I love, and so do audiences—albeit that they remain unaware of the process.
Yaniv Deautsch believes in risk and spends a great deal of time and space in this manuscript exhorting the rest of us to engage in it. In the context of the routine he describes, risk-taking is an inherent requirement of the method. The implications of such risks, as he sees it, set the stage for the possible achievement of a remarkable effect. "Failure is okay," he assures us. Well ... maybe. But where there is risk, there must be risk assessment—so let us see what rewards await us on the positive side of such considerations.
The Wizard if Dead—the title appears to be a joke on the old tele-phone "Wizard" trick, in which the magician phones someone to reveal a selected card, determined via a simple code and a confederate on the other end of the line—is a drawing duplication effect that is performed via telephone link with the spectator. The spectator, in essence, is directed to create a simple drawing and the mentalist reveals what has been drawn. A remarkable feat!
Given the conditions, there are no confederates, no impression devices, no center tears, no glimpses, no reflections, no pencil reading. As in equivoque, there's nothing but you and your voice and your mind, and the spectator. If you're successful, this can be a great effect with tremendous impact.
In order to address the routine and its implications in useful fashion, while remaining fair to the creator and the purchasers of this manuscript, most of the methodology must be kept secret in this discussion. I will provide a single elemental clue, however, in fairness to the reader, and I believe this choice remains fair to all parties concerned because the fundamental principle is not new. In fact, it is alluded to in the excellent book, Psychology of the Psychic by Marks and Kamman, and has also been utilized by Banachek in his popular text, Psychological Subtleties. An early if simple example is the now standard circle/triangle drawing test created by Uri Geller. The notion is that, under the correct circumstances, people will only draw a limited selection of images. Expanding on this principle with psychological and verbal influence and essentially cold-reading techniques, the element of pure chance—read: risk—is reduced (albeit, not eliminated!) and a more predictable outcome is achieved.
That much information will give you a sense of the territory being mapped, and, I hope, a sense of who this is for, who it is not for, and what you might get out of it. This is not for the casual practitioner who is not willing to experiment with real people. Success depends greatly on your ability to manage and communicate with people, to "read" them, and take advantage of subtle influence and insight. As should be clear by now, if you're only comfortable with surefire methods that guarantee a certain out-come, this is not for you.
That doesn't make it bad, or weak. This is something that can be very effective and unquestionably strong. And, in fact, not only is there some precedent for this in the literature, but others have worked on the same problem and navigated different paths on similar ground. Ian Rowland has recently published his "No Method Drawing Duplication" in his lecture notes (available from www.ianrowland.com in the "For Magicians Only" section). Mr. Rowland's excellent approach, while not surefire, is a little more certain of achieving a positive outcome than that of Mr. Deautsch, albeit that while The Wizard is Dead will work in per-son as well as over the phone, Mr. Rowland's routine is intended only for a face-to-face performance. My colleague, Eric Mead, has also developed his own version of this kind of impromptu drawing duplication; although not published at this time, he has shared it among a handful of insiders, and has many years of experience performing it. The conclusion: There is no question an approach based on this methodology can succeed, and there is sufficient testimony to support such a claim, lest anyone doubt the potential effectiveness.
But let us return to the subject of risk assessment. Mr. Deautsch seems so firmly committed to the value of risk-taking that he appears unwilling to acknowledge the potential downside. But risk assessment means considering the results of failure as well as those of success—the risks as well as the rewards. Failing at an effect of this nature is per-haps harmless if you are merely offering a psychic demonstration to a believer, or to a friend. But what if you are a professional mentalist performing for a client, a prospective client, or a newspaper reporter? What then?
Mr. Deautsch offers no counsel in this regard. My counsel is: Don't do it! I'm not in the habit of failing for clients and reporters. There's no upside and you can figure out the downsides for yourself. For the professional, the implications could be dire. And these are risks you ignore at your professional peril. If you're trying to be a psychic, per-haps it doesn't matter. If you're trying to make a living as an entertainer, it matters a great deal.
And so, finally, the purpose of this assessment of risk must be applied to the value, and price, of this item. What is its potential value, and is it worth the price asked? Value always includes a subjective component, inherent in the phrase "perceived value." Barrie Richardson's book, Theater of the Mind, might be considered ridiculously under-priced by those who, like me, have included a single item drawn from its pages in countless professional engagements. But for every such value-packed work, there are countless works from which we may draw little practical use, but still learn a great deal and find the reasonable asking price worthy. Mentalism publications remain notoriously over-priced, yet there are examples like that of Mr. Richardson's volume that are notable exceptions—exceptional not only for the price, but for the enormous quantity of useable material found within.
The Wizard is Dead is a one-routine manuscript, downloadable in a PDF file which you can print out at home. It consists of 27 pages, many of which contain no shortage of white space and a certain amount of blather that has little to do with the workings of the effect. Reasonably, I would say there are about 19 or 20 pages of content. These are not the only measures of value, of course, but they are still relevant. The downloadable file sells for $45. By comparison, Mr. Rowland's lecture notes sell for $27 and include five additional items. Mr. Rowland's drawing duplication is described in a mere nine pages, but in fact the description is efficient and thorough. (By the way, if you're going to sell downloadable files, it's technologically schizophrenic to ask for personal checks by snail-mail. It's time for online transactions so that the purchase process and resulting download is instantaneous.)
If Mr. Deautsch had perhaps provided the ne plus ultra manuscript on this subject, examining every detail and providing every angle of approach, that would also considerably improve the manuscript's value. But to some extent he provides the ideas and general guidance, without even coming close to pursuing every path or possible outcome. He provides a couple of examples and per-haps one complete version. In order to figure out every conceivable turn of events, and how to handle them, you're going to have to do that homework yourself. All the talk of being flexible and intuitive is fine and dandy, but if you're teaching something—and asking a premium price for it—you should be willing to work as hard as possible to provide your student every possible tool avail-able. A bit less highfalutin' theorizing and some more nuts-and-bolts amplification would put less experienced students on the path to success, and greatly increase value along the course. But rather than serving as a definitive manual, this is more of a premise and a guide.
What if you use The Wizard is Dead regularly and successfully? In that case only you can judge its value, but odds are, you'll probably come to feel your investment was well made. But how are we to best put such an effect to use? In Mr. Rowland's "No Method Drawing Duplication" he explains that while at first his routine began "as a kind of 'emergency life saver,' these days I often use it in non-emergency situations. I am not referring to formal shows, where of course I prefer to take a more surefire route. But in all relatively informal situations, I often try out the NMDD even if I happen to have a more surefire method available.... Of course, there are times when it fails completely. So long as it's not the only thing people ever see you do, I think occasional failure is an accept-able price to pay."
Bravo! Well spoken. It's too bad that Mr. Deautsch makes no such acknowledgement in his manuscript. I agree entirely with Mr. Rowland's assessment of risk. The best use of this kind of material, I think, is in the context of other material. Do three items and make this one of them. Maybe close on it if you hit hard, but be ready with a follow-up if you don't. And do it in a situation that lacks the do-or-die nature of many commercial settings. With these caveats and restrictions in mind, it is up to you to decide if The Wizard is Dead is a reasonable risk or a foolish one, and whether—for you—the asking price is a worthy investment.