Design the Impossible - Nate Staniforth
This will be the last blog post for 2021! Thank you all for the support over the past few months. I'm looking forward to the beginning of a new year of in-depth magic reviews you can trust.
Before we get started, you should note this course has a registration date that closes on December 15th, 2021, so if you'd like to learn the material, get in now before time runs out!
With that said, let's get into the review.
Nate Staniforth is one of my heroes in magic. He is one of the deepest thinkers in our field, and he will go to virtually any length to make a magic moment that resonates deeply with his audience.
His book Clouds and Kingdoms inspired me with its well structured routines, some of which I have performed in my own shows, but I was even more inspired by the essays included within which taught precisely why his magic is so effective.
A year or two later, Nate released a course titled, “Making Tricks Into Magic.” This cheap course is still available, and it will change the way you look at performing magic. I found this to be a profound course which really opened my eyes and gave me a practical way to think about performing that elevates mere magic tricks into an inexplicable and deeply magical experience. In many ways, this course was the expansion of the essays from “Clouds and Kingdoms.”
That leads me to Nate’s newest offer to the community, “Designing Miracles.” This course is a practical, step-by-step guide to creating your own magic from the ground up. It follows in the footsteps of “Making Tricks Into Magic” and takes many of those same principles and applies it to creating magic rather than performing magic.
The course jumps right into it by helping you create your first magic trick (or at least the beginning idea of it) right from the very beginning as part of the introduction. There’s a saying we often use in theatre, “Go before you’re ready.” This saying encourages you to take the leap of faith and trust that you have everything you need to be successful. If you wait until you feel truly “ready,” you’ll never take the first step. Nate encourages you to jump into the deep end by making a choice of your first trick, so you can apply the lessons from the course directly to this trick you’re creating in real time. This course includes a thick workbook for you to print out which acts as lecture notes for each of the lectures throughout the course, but it also ends each lecture with an exercise for you to apply the lessons to your own original effect. This allows you to slowly build your trick one step at a time without feeling overwhelmed by the process of creation.
Once you have an idea for your first original effect, Nate begins his discussion on the structure of magic by introducing the five essential elements you will use throughout the course to create your methods. These five elements are not present in every magic trick, but they are present in every great magic trick. Learning these elements and building a trick around them ensures the method you come up with will be as deceptive as possible. You can see these five elements in all of Nate’s creations which is why they are consistently great. Once you discover these five elements, you’ll be able to use them to make any trick you already do more fooling.
Nate then takes an in-depth look at each of the five elements individually. He includes examples, allegories, comparisons, graphs, and whatever he can to make it clear to the consumer exactly what these elements are and how to use them properly. I have never seen method discussed in this way by breaking it up into multiple steps. We are so accustomed to reading magic books which simply state “Effect” followed by “Method;” it can pigeonhole us into believing method is one thing rather than many things strung together. This breaking down of the method into smaller bits makes it seem much less like some mystical target you are searching in the dark to find, and instead, turns the idea of method into an easily achievable five step process. As you work through these various lectures, you apply them to your own effect, and slowly, you begin to see your first original effect take form. If you follow along and truly do the work Nate has asked of you, by the end of “Section 1” you will have created your first original magic trick.
Section 2 begins with finding your vision for your next two original magic tricks. Nate shares multiple tools you can use to help develop unique ideas for tricks that will excite you. This is the area where I personally struggle the most as a creator; I have a hard time knowing what I want to create. I pride myself on being able to tweak other people’s work to make it better, but it is difficult for me to find my own vision. While this section won’t give you a superpower of creativity, it does provide tools which will genuinely help unblock your mind and allow your creativity to flow a bit easier than just staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike. Nate admits this is the most difficult part of the process because it’s not something that can be taught; it must be learned. I imagine this will become easier the more that you do it.
The next part of this journey is finding what advantages exist that may allow us to hide the method. This is some of the most thought provoking lectures I’ve seen in regards to method. This is an approach to creating magic which is far beyond just finding a new handling for the ambitious card. This is an approach to creating magic that is miracle status. Nate tips his biggest, most important technique that he uses to create methods which are totally invisible. Not just hidden, but completely invisible. This is a new way of thinking of creating methods that more people should be using. It allows you to create methods that will not even register on the audience’s radar, therefore, they have no where to go when they begin to search for answers. I found these discussions on where to hide the method to be the most exciting portion of the entire course. With wonderful examples and a few very helpful graphs, you begin to see where you should be looking to hide the method to render it virtually obsolete for the audience. I would venture to say this is the key to designing magic that feels real.
At this point we are almost halfway through the course, and we haven’t even begun creating method yet. We have learned the structure of great magic, and we have learned where to hide the method, but now is the first time when we begin the process of creating the method of our next 2 original tricks. Nate now walks us through finding the best method for our trick piece by piece, bit by bit. This approach to creating a method allows you to take a step back to see the full picture and all the possible routes you could take to make this trick work. This big-picture forces you to think outside of the box, and it forces you to consider all possibilities rather than going with your gut instinct and hoping it's the best (or even worse, assuming it's THE ONLY) choice to make. Breaking the method down into its five components allows you to work slowly at your own pace. You could think for a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days about one component before you move on to the next. It gives you the freedom to come up with the solution which will best represent your original vision in your own time.
Once you’ve come up with a method, it’s time to build a prototype. Nate discusses some different options for how to create your prototype, and gives some real life examples of his own. Until you get the trick off the page and into your hands, it is only a concept.
The final step in this process is to get out there to start testing the routine in front of an audience to find out if it works, and if it does work, your next step is to find how you can improve the trick. This is a process which never ends.
If you take the time to follow each of the steps for both new original ideas without rushing yourself, you will end up with three completely unique original magic tricks.
The course ends with three interviews by three wonderfully different magic creators: Michael Weber, Calen Morelli, and Brent Braun. These three interviews give you different perspectives on the process of creation. Braun provides practical tips for prototyping your creations, Morelli provides esoteric descriptions of trusting your instincts to create method, and Weber provides many additional and practical ways of thinking about creating method which sort of shows a different side of the same coin that Nate has been teaching on throughout the course.
As someone who has never been able to truly dig in and create original magic, this course was perfect for me. After taking part in this course, I already have two original magic tricks created, and I plan on creating many more. Part of my creative problem was simply that I had no process. This course lays out a concrete, practical process of creation that anyone can follow. My other big problem was even though I’ve been in magic for over 20 years, I didn’t understand the intricacies of why the great methods worked so well. This course has changed that. After taking this course, you will know what separates the good tricks from the great tricks. You’ll be able to spot the weaknesses in your own tricks and other creator’s tricks, and you’ll know just what to do to eliminate those weak spots. You’ll have a deeper understanding of the structure of magic, and you’ll have a new found appreciation for the great magic creators in our field. This course helps you create magic that is perfect for you. This isn’t a course designed to help you create the next mass marketable product which will be flying off the magic shelves in a month’s time. This is a course designed to help you create magic that will fit you like a glove.
Along with the hours worth of lectures, interviews, and the massive workbook, you also receive the chance to discuss your questions and tricks with Nate over live zoom calls throughout the month of January. This is an aspect of the course which I clearly haven’t been able to experience yet, but I know the knowledge gained from those sessions will add greatly to the value of the course. Even without the zoom sessions, I highly recommend this course for those who want to make magic that is truly unique to you.
Happy Holidays! See you all in 2022.