Since Carnick’s “basic assumptions” are clearly “incorrect” according to nearly everyone here, perhaps someone can tell me how David Copperfield manages to pull off the following favorite act of his, which has had many thematic variations over the years, each one getting a bit harder to pull off but nonetheless all working on the same principle. (Please also note that despite what I have to say may seem more like seething skepticism than the typical SDMB “fortuitous agreement response”, that I hugely admire Copperfield and acknowledge his amazing skills, and that I am only posting this because I am not only a very scrutinous fan, but also someone who draws a line between what is logically feasible and what is not.)
He pulls a person from the audience (randomly, of course!) and sits them down to talk, all the while having a covered blackboard off to the side of the stage, in full view of the audience. He tells the audience that he’s written something down on the board, which he’ll reveal by the end of the trick. No one can see what’s written on this board, of course, as it’s covered with a fancy drapery. Only after talking to this “totally random audience member” about whatever topic it is he or they choose to speak on, he reveals what’s on the board: essentially a perfect transcript of the details of their conversation is read aloud while we watch in amazement! We’re supposed to wonder at how he could have possibly known all of that beforehand, and how if he didn’t have precognitive psychic powers, it could have possibly been written on the board after the fact, since we’ve seen it standing there on stage completely untouched and in full view. We’re supposed to ask ourselves how it could be possible since the totally random audience member is a totally random audience member.
The fact is, the audience member isn’t totally random, it doesn’t really matter which of them does most of the talking, what the subject was, or how the audience member appears to have been selected, because the audience member is a plant. Years ago, Copperfield would scarcely hesitate to go out and hand-pick an audience member himself (at least, he did on several of his numerous ABC television specials). Whether or not he still does this in his current performances is irrelevant, because I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s ditched the hand-picked audience member method in favor of the more believable “random toss” selection in recent years. More than likely, he still uses both approaches, but his method for getting the plant to the stage in a seemingly random manner is the real trick. The material itself is scripted, memorized, rehearsed and written on the blackboard beforehand, of course, and then performed with an extemporaneous and witty conversational exchange onstage so as to make the audience believe the plant is real. Copperfield’s ability to make viewers believe he has a random and impartial audience member is the lynchpin to making the trick work, and this is why the repartee between the two of them must be very fluid and believable. As Peter Morris here offered, this is the “Force” technique at its very best, but instead of forcing the random participant, he’s forcing the audience (with a disarmingly cute performance) into accepting the illusion that the participant is randomly chosen.
Copperfield has also done one rather impressive variation on this illusion with audience members who use spraycans to paint cute little pictures on a big piece of white linen. After they’re all done spraypainting their doodles, Copperfield removes another sheet from an envelope that has been hanging in view of everyone the entire time, and to our amazement, the drawings are virtually identical to the ones the audience members made. Same concept, more impressive performance. I wondered endlessly about how this could have been even remotely possible, and the fact is that it isn’t. It’s rehearsed and the supposedly random participants are more than likely well-practiced members of Copperfield’s payroll. Perhaps this is where those aspiring amateur actors who don’t get chosen on their final audition for the latest TV reality show go to get work?
I beseech anyone to prove me wrong, and will gladly accept the “magician’s code of secrecy” pretext as proof that I’m right. Perhaps as a disclaimer, I should state that this post reflects only my own opinions, that I’m not a magician, and that these are not official secrets so that I’m not in danger of being blackmailed, kidnapped, or tortured by the secret society of aspiring stage illusionists.