“The hand is quicker than the eye.” – Traditional Expression
Few phrases have done more harm to the art of magic than the one cited above. Ironically, even as it refers to sight, the implications of the expression have powerfully blinded both magicians and the lay public. In the minds of the general public, it perpetuates the grossly belittling generalization that when all is said and done, the art of magic comes down to fast hands, while in the minds of sleight-of-hand students it suggests that speed is a magician’s ally.
The reality is that speed is more often an enemy of the illusion than a friend. Few things will ever draw attention to a sleight and spark suspicion more consistently than a fast execution. Actually, speed does harm to almost every aspect of our craft, from quickly performed sleights and hurriedly delivered lines of script to a rushed first climax or even a sudden, forced change of facial expression. Speed usually requires a burst of energy that in most contexts only serves to break the spell, inspire suspicion and snap the gentle thread connecting the performer and audience. Speed also often leads to confusion or creates the impression that the performer is anxious.
However, as usual there are exceptions. For example, when I execute the Classic Pass or Marlo’s “In Lieu of the Through the Fist Move,” (sometimes referred to as “The Twirl Change”) I employ a burst of speed. But in each case, these small, fast movements are concealed within a larger action like a cloth thrown over a birdcage to quiet the occupant’s song.
I can still remember the night, after I had been performing stand-up comedy for only a year or two, when a much more seasoned comic took me aside and gently suggested that I try doing my act, not just a little slower, but at half the speed. I was extremely skeptical and immediately imagined strained, excruciating silences, but I agreed to try it. Not surprisingly, it was very difficult for me to do and it felt more than a little unnatural, even disorienting. But after a half-dozen more shows, I had to admit, performing at a slower pace yielded stronger audience reaction.
Slow down your thoughts, hands and words. Relax. Take a deep breath and hold it for several beats. Then slowly let it out. Perform smoothly and steadily. Flow. How else do you expect your audience to have the opportunity to fully experience and appreciate it? And given that the audience’s visual experience of an effect makes up a large part of their understanding, handle your props and execute your moves so that your hands, rather than being quicker than their eyes are much slower than their eyes. All too often, when the hand is quicker than the eye, the wonder is lost.