Framing is a subject that is mentioned a lot in magic, but it's seldom described in detail. It is a very important part of the magic experience and so I thought we'd go through a few of the finer points of framing so that you can start thinking about it for your performances.
So, what exactly is framing? It is creating the picture that you want your audience to see. By altering the staging of a trick, you can influence an audience to focus on a single coin or an entire stage of elephants. Framing can help with misdirection and the overall drama of your routines.
One way to control the framing is the physical distance between you and your audience. Notice that in the picture below, Abe Lincoln and I are very close, so he can only focus on small areas at a time.
In this next picture, Abe is some distance away from me, this allows him to see more area at one time. This is why stage performers need to be concerned with the scenery around them and not just the magic that is happening in their hands.
But there are ways to control your framing beyond distance. In the side-by-side comparison below, you can see that my focus can shift the audience's focus. By directing all of my attention to my hands, I narrow the audience's focus, so that the framing only includes my hands. They can look up at my face, but as soon as they see nothing is going on up there, their concentration will be back down in the small area that my hands inhabit.
Conversely, by shifting my focus back out to the audience, I can widen their range. People want to look at you when you look at them or talk to them; you can use this to widen your framing so that they focus on your face, as well as your hands.
These techniques can also be used in a stage setting. Notice how I am striking a Mark Wilson "Power Pose" which directs attention to the props I am using while keeping the framing wide. By opening up my body to the audience, I keep myself in the framing.
By turning my body toward the props and putting all my focus there, I can cause the audience to "zoom-in" on the props. Even though the audience has the opportunity to see a wide scene, they can bring all their attention to a tiny point and everything else becomes unimportant.
You can use framing in a variety of ways. It becomes incredibly important at the end of a routine. The way you frame the last movements of a trick can be the difference between a memorable miracle or a trivial happening.
Framing can also be used to help misdirection. Something that happens outside of an established frame is less likely to get notices than something (no matter how covered) that happens in the frame. I shift my framing back and forth between an audience member and myself to help cover sleights in my Professor's Nightmare Routine, 'Fraid Knot.
By bringing your framing up to shoulder height (like in the photo below), one can bring their face into the spotlight. Your facial expressions can help the punch line of a joke or bring emotion into your magic. It is also a great way to make people remember that you were the one controlling the magic.
So these are a few of the way to establish your framing and use it to enhance your performances. I'm sure I've left a lot out in the tiny blog, so if you can think of something I failed to mention, please speak up and write your thoughts in a comment. We'd love to hear from you.