Case Study - Eugene Burger's "Shotglass Surprise"


Let’s take another relatively simple effect, Eugene Burger’s “Shot Glass Surprise,” and see what happens when we apply some of our new techniques to the effect. (Shot Glass Surprise can be found at and at many magic dealers.)

The effect is that the magician shows a folded up paper packet to his audience. He passes it out and asks them to guess what it might contain. He then takes the packet back and unfolds it, to reveal that it is a small paper bag. Reaching into the bag, he removes a shot glass, filled with colored liquid – it could be water, wine, or Eugene’s favorite, a “delightful mocha cappuccino,” which the magician proceeds to drink. Cheers!

Eugene performs the piece by having the spectators hold and then guess what is in the package. Of course, no one would ever guess correctly, as there is no way a shot glass could fit inside a bag that is folded into a flat packet. It is a challenge, and the audience is the “other party” in the interaction. The conflict is a mild one. It is a challenge to the audience member to guess what might be in the bag, and it is resolved by the surprise revelation of what IS inside the bag. The payoff, at least for me, is Eugene’s own delight at having surprised us.

As a first technique for developing the effect in a different direction, let’s see if we can imagine a different set-up in terms of the parties involved in the story. Instead of the parties being the magician on the one hand, and the spectator on the other, perhaps we could suggest an entity living in the bag who would interact with one or both of the other parties (magician & spectator). The piece might now have a quite different story structure:

Instead of having the spectator guess what is in the packet, the magician might actually begin by simply showing it flat and opening it up, describing it as the magical home of the pixie or genie. If we’re working for children, the bag might have an “Aladdin’s Lamp” painted on the front. Perhaps the magician would explain how the Genie would grant three wishes, but that one must be very careful about how they phrase their wishes, as the genie is a very tricky character. Two wishes might be made, each of which can be answered with a slip of paper bearing writing or a picture that the magician could remove from the bag, each one a gag answer that is not at all what the requester had intended. The third object, however, would be the glass of liquid, perhaps in answer to an offhand remark by the magician that “I’m a little parched. I really wish I had a nice glass of…”

This is only one of a hundred different directions one could take the piece in on the basis of putting an imaginary character in the bag. Take a few moments and imagine scenarios of your own using this technique.

Here’s another possibility, suitable for a performer whose regular business is performing at children’s birthday parties. Instead of handing the packet out for inspection, the magician might ask if anyone knows about Mary Poppins and her magic bag. Someone is likely to, but it doesn’t really matter. The magician can now explain that this bag is the ‘little brother’ to the one Mary Poppins carries about. He might tell a story about having met Mary at a gathering of wizards, and that when he told her he liked to entertain children at their birthday parties, she made him a present of the bag. “Can you guess what’s inside?” he might ask, only then opening up the bag. After a number of guesses, he reaches into the bag and takes out a cupcake with a lit birthday candle on top. A perfect gift for the birthday boy or girl!

What other changes could we make to this basic trick? The nature of the bag is such that almost any small object could be produced – what kind of object would best fit your character, or fit into your show best?

Perhaps you do billiard ball manipulations, and would like to produce your first ball in a magical way — out of the “Shot Glass Surprise” bag! Following that line of thinking, perhaps your entire manipulation act comes out of, and goes back into, the bag, which is then refolded and placed away into your pocket. How magical would that seem?!

If you’re a magician who likes to tell stories, take a few moments and think of a particular story where the production of the glass of liquid or some other object would make a great punch line.

We’ve discussed the idea that having a clear overall purpose for your show can do wonders for giving it a specific direction, feel and power. What is your purpose? What kind of object would be useful in getting your particular message across? Could you produce that object from the bag?

These are just the broad strokes of things that might be done with “Shot Glass Surprise.” Once you’ve decided on a particular approach, it’s time to take the piece and work on it. At this point, we’ve done the basic brainstorming. Now it’s time to let the body’s wisdom loose on the project. How?

First, you’ll have to put the bare bones of your routine together. Then begin experimenting. Are you telling a story with the piece? Practice it in different ways and different voices. Shout it. Whisper it. Do it very slowly, and very quickly. Pay attention as you do each run through, and make notes after each one. What did you discover that you liked? What did you dislike? After a few times through, look over your notes, and see if you can incorporate all of the things you liked into a single performance. Keep going, until you begin to be excited about the results. Then begin showing the piece to others. See how they respond. Always pay attention as you perform. Learn to keep a small part of your mind standing apart, watching what is happening. Make notes after each performance, to remind yourself of what worked and what didn’t. Notice where in the act people responded, and how.

Now go back, and start the whole process over! The act of creation and innovation is an endless spiral. The goal is ever increasing excellence. As T. Harv Ecker writes in Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Nothing stands still. Even the greatest act gets old and tired as the world changes around it. So keep yourself busy improving things every time you perform and every time you rehearse. You’ll be amazed at what you can do and create one tiny improvement at a time.