Most coin magicians perform routines published or performed by magicians in books, DVDs, or downloads. And it’s great that today there are so many good coin workers out there, putting out material that can be used by others. But when a person takes a trick they learned and makes it his own, or performs a new routine, that is really special. I wish more people would try to do that, but many are either too content to perform a routine the way it is taught, or they just don’t know how to personalize it.
Over the years people have come up and asked me how I come up with my own ideas. The easy answer is that it is a process, developed over time, to the point where it becomes second nature. The long answer is to define the process. In this essay, I would like to outline as best I can my process in how I create coin magic.
Before I begin, I want to point out that this is my own process, but there are many other good references to look at. One can glean much valuable information by reading books such as The Trick Brain, by Daniel Fitzkee (part of the Fitzkee Trilogy), or Scripting Magic, by Pete McCabe. Remember that there is no RIGHT way; just the way that works best for you. I break down my own creative process into three sections: Playing with coins, Personalizing or improving an existing routine, and Creating a brand new routine.
1. Playing With Coins. This is probably the most abstract part of the creative process. When I am relaxed, watching TV or listening to music, or just taking a walk, I have coins in my hand. And, I manipulate them. I don’t think about what I am doing, I just move them around from one hand to the other in different ways. Back, front, sliding, propelling, clipping, gripping, etc. Sometimes, I realize I did something interesting, and focus on what I just did. That may create a spark to develop a new move. I should point out that this is a hit or miss process, mostly miss. But, at the least, it is fun, and keeps the fingers mobile! Sometimes I have a goal when I start this process. I decide I want to develop a specific type of move, say a new click pass, for example, and work on focusing my actions to try to come up with something. Often, I start with the coins in a position I might encounter during a routine, or I have been working on a routine which requires a click pass, but none of the existing ones I know would work without changing the position of the coins. This is the more successful of the two situations. Sometimes a new move is created, or you find a way to refine and improve an existing move. Sometimes you develop something that doesn’t suit your needs for the particular routine you are working on, but it gets stored for possible later use somewhere else.
One thing that is important to realize, is that if you come up with something that appears new, be sure to do the appropriate research to make sure it hasn’t been already published or performed by someone else. When I was young, I remember being very proud of something I came up with. Back then, the NY guys would meet every Saturday in a Cafeteria, Deli, or Pizza parlor (depends on the decade) and it was easy to show the guys in the know something new and get their feedback. I remember being very disappointed when Sam Schwartz pointed out that Vernon had come up with "my idea" many years prior. Sensing my disappointment, he told me that I should be proud that I came up with it after being in magic only a few years, while Vernon had been in magic for a much longer period. But I learned that nothing should be considered original until it had been properly vetted. Books, periodicals, and the old timers who I considered to be the scholars of magic (back then I was fortunate to be able to hang out with the “guys”, like Sol Stone, Sam Schwartz, Ken Krenzel, Harry Lorrayne, and so many others from the NY scene).
Nowadays, there is so much information and misinformation out there, research becomes that much harder. In my book Rubinstein Coin Magic, I tried very hard to correct some of the crediting mistakes found in the older coin books, and document the origin of many moves that no one had credited before. Nowadays there are downloads and DVDs from all over the world, making it harder to research unless you have a vast access to resources. I found that the conjuringarchive.com was very helpful with tracking origins. But please, make the effort to get it right, or if you publish, you might get flack from the guys in the “know”. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and they deserve to be credited for their contributions.
2. Personalizing or Improving an Existing Routine. Imagine that we could do real magic. Forget for a moment that we are not fighting crime, but instead we are using those vast powers to make four coins travel from one hand to the other. What would that look like? Start with four coins in the left hand, then one by one they magically appear in the other hand. Magic. Anything else that we try to do without magic powers is flawed because it is an action that takes away from real magic. Placing coins into one hand with the other hand before it travels is a flaw. Placing the coins on a table after the arrival is a flaw. Not being able to freely show an empty hand before the magic happens is a flaw. Fingers that are contorted to convey an empty hand is a flaw. I submit that every Coins Across (and every coin trick for that matter) is flawed, because the bottom line is that we just can not do real magic. We need to find good methods that allow us to perform the illusion of magic. And that means that we have to put flaws into our routines. So my first rule - Every coin trick will become more magical looking as we eliminate flaws in the routine.
So, when we learn a routine, assume that there will be flaws. Those flaws may be totally acceptable to the person who developed the routine, as he discovered that it was the best way for him to get from point A to point B. But is that the BEST way for you? You come with a different set of creative tools, because your pathway in learning and performing will be different than the person who published the routine. You might have studied other styles or techniques that the original creator didn't like, or didn't know. You might use a different set of moves. Or, maybe the creator is more knowledgeable than you, and may perform at a level that is too difficult for your ability. As you analyze the routine, and it uses a move that doesn’t feel comfortable for you, feel free to change it to something that suits you better. Sure, it is possible that the routine is great the way it is, but is there a better way? Your goal is to find a better way. A different move may be better for you, less awkward, and look more magical. Or, maybe not. But that is how you should analyze the trick. Remember that there will ALWAYS be flaws, even when you improve a routine. Your job is to eliminate as many flaws as possible, until you are comfortable enough with the structure and magical appearance of the routine so that you will be able to perform it for an audience. I used to do a coins across with coins placed on a table after every passage, using an extra coin. Then, I used the table but only once instead of with each passage. Then, no table needed, which meant I could do it for walk around. The use of an extra coin was a flaw, because I was stuck at the end, and had to find a way to show my hands clean at the end of the routine. Lapping? Not if I am standing up. Sleeving? What if I want to wear a short sleeve shirt. Matting? Not always practical. A holdout? Gotta get the coin in there. A utility pass? Still not finishing clean. What other ways? Maybe, find a way with no extra coin. Wait, that created a flaw because now I was not one ahead. So I figured out a way so that I could be one ahead without an extra coin by using a shell. But now, I had to find a way to ring the shell in and out of the routine. If the coins can’t be examined, that is a flaw. Maybe instead of a shell or extra coin, just use a false count to get one ahead. And so on. As you can see, every time you try to fix a flaw in the routine, something else appears that you might need to fix. The routine will be structurally ready when you have eliminated the flaws that bother you. Using a gaffed coin is a flaw, but maybe you are OK with that if it fixes a worse flaw created by not using a gaffed coin. Remember, a lot depends on your knowledge. The more you learn, the easier it will be to fix flaws in the routine.
Now, how to make that routine entertaining? That is where your patter makes the difference. Some just use a play by play patter (I put the coin in my hand, watch it travel from here, to here.). Others interact directly with the spectator, in such a way to put that person at ease as the trick is performed. (Hi, what’s your name? Have you ever seen coins like these? These are Morgan dollars that could have been used by your great grandparents. This is my lucky poker chip, from the time I won big in Vegas. This is a Bit coin. I thought it was a Chocolate coin, until I... bit it…).
Then, there is the story patter (back in the 1600’s there was a wizard who had control over the Kingdom of Slovenikavia). I should mention that I hate this kind of patter. I have found that patter is easier to follow and more enjoyable when it connects with your audience. So, rather than talk about something that has no meaning to your audience, talk about something that they can identify with. Something that happened to you. A trip you took. What happened at the bank. A TV show you just saw. Something about the coin. Which brings me to my second rule - The more an audience becomes invested in your act, the more they will like your magic.
So now we have taken a trick you learned from Joe Mama's new book, studied it, learned to perform it as written, and worked on making the routine as magical as possible. Then, we work on the patter, making sure that each move and your patter work together. Patter often gives the motivation for what you do with the coins. I will get into the patter and more in the next section.
3. Creating a Brand New Routine. This is probably the most difficult, yet most enjoyable part of the process. Starting with a brand new idea is not easy. Sometimes an idea sparks from a phrase ("It's up your sleeve", was likely the genesis for Roth's Sleeve trick). Sometimes, a move sparks an idea that generates a routine. One time I found a way to show my hand empty as I put four coins through a table standing up, and from that an entire routine developed. You will probably be able to come up with a lot of ideas once you look at every object as a prop for a coin trick.
To explain this process, let's start with an idea, and see how it develops into a routine. First, does this coin trick use coins of the same denomination, or coins of different colors, sizes, and/or country of origin? Will this coin trick be a sleight of hand trick, or will it use gaffed coins? Will this be a "pure" coin trick, or will it use props? These questions usually answer themselves as you flesh out an idea. So, let's say I want to develop a new trick for stand up, in a show setting, as opposed to table hopping or sit down (and these thoughts may change as you flesh out the trick). Usually a trick for this situation is more interesting when a prop is introduced. So, let's focus on an idea that can utilize a prop rather than just a coin manipulation trick (i.e. any trick that just involves using your hands and some coins). Props can be anything, and whatever prop you use can help to decide the effect. A salt and pepper shaker was all Goshman needed to create the showpiece he became known for. Johnny Ace Palmer delights his audience with a Snoopy figurine that bows. Roth figured out amazing routines with just a felt hole, a tuning fork, a pencil sharpener. So what could we use that would make sense and help develop our trick?
To explain my process, I thought it would be best to use one of my existing tricks as an example. So let's talk about a simple form my latest showpiece, which is now the closing piece in my act. I started by thinking about performing a trick that would honor the memory of my friend, David Roth, who sadly passed away earlier this year. David developed a lot of great magic, but will always be known for his showpieces using props. David always felt that props made the routine more interesting, and helped to tell a story. Although our styles are different, I was fortunate to work with David closely over the years, and got to understand his way of thinking.
So now I had the premise. A showpiece honoring David, done standing up (my style) at a table and using a prop of some type. Now what? I looked around the room, and I had purses, bags, boxes, cups, chalices, purse frames, incense burners/ candle holders, lighters, cell phone, charger, a DVD and case, dog toys, and a multitude of coins to choose from. A million ideas would come to mind as I looked at everything, but nothing hit me for the particular idea of something to honor David. Which brings me to my third rule -Creativity can't be forced.
I had this great idea, but nothing came to mind. So I just sat on it, and waited. Then one day, I read some comments about a coin trick for sale on the Magic Cafe. The comments were pretty snarky, but one guy in particular was very nasty to the creator. He kept saying that he doesn't like coin magic, because everyone knows that it's always in the other hand. And then it hit me...my routine will use an extra hand, and the premise is that a coin would vanish completely, and always appear under the hand, because...the coin is always in the other hand.
At first I thought that I would do a Goshman Salt and Pepper type trick, so I searched the internet and bought hands. All sorts. I got different hand types and sizes (my research), and played with them all to determine what would best hide the coin, and what would be easiest for me to work with - plastic, rubber, small, large, gory, etc. For this routine it seemed that similar coins would work best, and since this was a trick to honor David, I used 64 Kennedy half dollars. Even better, I inherited a lot of David's stuff after he passed, so I would use David's coins! Things were starting to come together. I settled on two hands that seemed to be the right size and texture, thinking that I could have a copper coin appear in one hand, and a silver coin in the other (like Goshman with the salt nd pepper shakers). As I played around with the props, however, I soon realized that two hands were too much if I wanted to keep it simple and direct. . So, I cut down to one hand and decided that I would call it David's "other" hand. OK, making a bit more sense now.
Moving along, I followed some simple rules of magic. First, an introduction to establish my premise where I would introduce the props. I got a box that would hold the hand perfectly, and as I talked I would bring out the box, open it, and show the "other" hand. Now, to introduce the effect. A coin vanishes, and appears in the "other" hand. I needed to find a way to introduce the coins, and it was convenient to also have them in the box. So the coins would also come out of the box, but how? A purse with coins was an easy answer. Hmmmm, maybe only ONE coin. OK, let's go with that. So I introduce the routine with some introductory patter, produce the props, talk about them, then start the magic. To make this sequence work, I needed to be one ahead, so a coin is loaded under the hand before the magic begins. I remove a coin from the purse and make it vanish. The first vanish and appearance under the hand is a surprise. I repeat the sequence, which establishes the effect of coins vanishing and appearing in the "other" hand. Now a twist - do something else that is unexpected. I perform a flurry to extend the magic and make the routine longer and more interesting, then the vanish. The audience expects it to be under the hand, but I lift it and there is no coin. Where is it? Well, I already have a purse on the table, and a box that held everything on the side. Producing the coin from one of them would be unexpected, so how about instead of under the hand as expected, the coin goes back in the purse? There was only one coin in it to begin with, so the appearance of the coin back in the purse is yet another surprise, and I now have two props that can play against each other. This was something that David liked to do. He used a purse frame together with his portable hole. He used a purse and a glass. He used a sleeve and a mirror. Goshman used a purse frame with his salt and pepper shakers. The use of a second prop helps to diversify the routine, and solves a lot of problems. In this case, a coin comes out of the purse, vanishes and appears under the hand, vanishes again and appears under the hand, vanishes and appears not under the hand, but back in the purse. The magic can be even be extended further by some play with the coin and the purse if you wish (remember, its a magic trick, and you get to decide how the magic happens). To finish the trick, the coin finally vanishes, to once again appear under the hand, perfect closure for this routine. Note that in my own routine I extended the magic in other ways, but I want to simplify this explanation .
Now the hard part. Making this a reality. As you are developing the routine, you are making sure that you can perform the techniques that allow you to make the magic happen. There may be points where you realize that a complete vanish will be more illusive than holding the coin secretly in your hand. If so, will you be able to retrieve the coin, or do you need another coin? That's where the purse comes in handy, as you can get rid of coins one way, and get them back (from the purse) in another way.
So you worked out the construction of the routine, and you figured out the moves you need to make the magic happen. Now, you have to come up with patter that justifies your actions and makes the trick interesting. I selected a premise that these were David's props, so my patter hinges around that. Once you have the premise, the correct props, the way to make it happen, and the story that ties it all together. you can NOW begin to refine this routine.
First, film yourself performing the routine. Using your performance, write down the script. Don't worry that it isn't perfect. That's what the script is for. Don't film one performance, film all of them, and then watch them all. Here is what to look for:
1. Did you flash? Was it a repeatable flash in each performance? This is something you need to fix. Write down all of the "flash points", and work to eliminate them.
2. Were there unnecessary actions or moves? Strange finger movement? Flaws? Eliminating unnecessary actions and flaws will make everything look more magical.
3. Were there actions that are very difficult to execute? Finding a way to perform a routine as practical as possible means that you can concentrate on your performance rather than concentrating on executing a difficult move.
4. Tighten the patter. What unnecessary words can be eliminated? Is the intro too long? Try to get into the magic as fast as possible to keep your audience's interest. Are you speaking too much between actions? Look at the script and find ways to correct it. Once I realized that I was talking for over a minute between actions. That took away from the magic, even though I thought at the time it was clever patter. Once that came out, the routine got tighter and held the audience's interest better.
Fix what you can, and once again perform the routine several times and watch. Go over the same list. Hopefully each time you watch, and with every performance, you will improve your routine. Remember, practicing a script is like an actor going over the lines for a play in which he is performing. I have a system of repeating a script to get it ready without actual performance, three times a day. As I walk my dog I repeat the patter out loud, and every time I get in the shower. If I had to make a correction in the script, I go over that part with repetition out loud, to make sure I have the rewrite down. I try for one practice session a day if I have the time, where I film myself multiple times, and study each performance.
That brings me to my fourth rule - A trick is ready to be performed when you gain the confidence to perform it without failure. Once the moves become second nature and smooth, with all flaws and unnecessary movements eliminated, and the patter is tight and you know it well enough to perform it in your sleep, then you are ready to perform it live.
You may find as you perform your routine that people laugh at points you expected, but not at others, or they laughed when you didn't expect it. Or, they didn't react as you imagined. Maybe there was a line that came to you while you performed, and it got a good reaction. That may mean that there are still things you need to fix. but hopefully, all your hard work has been noticed, and you get the applause for a routine well done!
In closing, I want to again state that this is my own process. Use what is best for you. I hope that this encourages you to think of new ways to perform your coin magic! Feel free to drop me a note and tell me what you think of this article, and if you haven't yet taken the plunge, my book Rubinstein Coin Magic has over 50 new moves and techniques, and over 100 routines including material from some of the best coin workers around, that should help improve your existing coin magic. Available at dealers everywhere, but if you would like a signed copy and exclusive FREE gift, be sure to contact me for ordering information at firstname.lastname@example.org .