Go See Shows!

One thing that’s important to me is to support magic, and variety performers.  Whether it’s a local or  nationally touring show, I always try to go out and watch.  I do this for a couple of reasons, first of all when I was a kid it was a pain to go see shows.  I had to hop a bus and travel all day to see a show at a library, or sneak into a casino to see an act. Now it’s much easier, but that struggle to see shows when I was younger placed value on these shows.


Another reason is to support the performing scene.  When I go to shows it does it in several ways.  First my ticket helps support the performer.  Secondly and more importantly the other performers (especially newer performers) see me at these and we can chat and it builds some community.


It can be hard when you are a newer magician to get into the “circles” of people that have more experience.  When I go to these shows I get to chat with them one on one.  Now I’m not saying chatting with me is a big deal (it’s not, trust me), but for someone just starting out it give me a chance to get to know them.

Penn & Teller

The other  night Penn & Teller were in town performing.  My family went out and we hung out with a lot of the local performers, it was a great night and a lot of fun. Not just the show, but the fellowship with the other performers.


Low Inventory of Birthday Magicians

Right now is a great time to be a magician.  Magic is HOT right now, especially close up magic.  That got me thinking about one area where magic is always huge, but I think it currently an under-served market and that’s children’s birthday parties.


This is a market I don’t really work in anymore.  I only do these for friends, or special circumstances.  It’s not that I don’t like doing them, they are fun, it’s just that my business has changed.  


It got me thinking about how people who perform in  this market is drying up. How many magicians that regularly perform at birthday parties are in my area that are  under 30 years old? I can think of maybe 2 people. Bump that up to 40 years old and that number jumps to about 5 people.  That’s not a lot for such a large pond of potential work.


My advice for someone young who is turning pro would be to put together a birthday show, it will help pay the bills while you are working on whatever market is your dream.


Subway Stradivarious or Bucket Drummer

A few years ago the Washington Post did an “experiment” where they had a concert violinist play a Stradivarius for people in the subway  (You can read the article here).  This recently popped up again on my Facebook feed and and I have some thoughts on it.


Here’s the video:

You can be the best musician, play the best instrument, but that doesn’t mean you are the right person for the job.  Street performing is a skill, just like playing in a theater is a skill, and those skills don’t necessarily translate.   I bet the guys paying drums on a $2 bucket were making a lot more than him.


So why didn’t the violinist build a crowd?


Years ago I was told by Tom Frank that before picking a spot to busk, you look the people’s feet.  Are the fast or slow?  The violinist picked a commuter spot.  Not a good choice and any experienced busker probably wouldn’t line up for that pitch.


Look at the location, you really can’t build a crowd without completely blocking the foot traffic.  It’s essentially between two doors.  If someone wanted to stop and watch, it wouldn’t be comfortable. They’d have people walking in front of them, or into them.


They also picked doing it at “rush hour”…guess why they call it rush hour?  People are in a rush!  You’ll do better before or after rush hour when people have more time.


Based on a Q & A I read from the author of the article, that place normally doesn’t allow street performers, so they had to get special permission for it.  So the place didn’t have a street performing culture, which is another big factor.


Look at the successful street performers, where do they go?  Do they go where business commuters go, or do they go where tourists go?  Spoiler alert, they go where tourists or people not on business are.  Those  people have more time.  I’m very curious how well the violinist would have done if you put him in a place with a street performing culture?


Even if you gave him a good time at a good spot, he wouldn’t have done as well as the guy playing the bucket on his first time out.  He’s playing “ambient music” versus “interactive music”.  Ambient music people walk by, stop for a bit, toss a buck in the violin case and go about their day.  Interactive music would be he says hi people, has little “bits”, sees a guy wearing a band shirt, calls attention to it and  plays the hook from one of that bands songs.  It’s a different style of performing, you can’t do you “theater act” as is on the street and expect the same results.


I guess the takeaway from this is that if you are moving venues as a performer, you should expect a learning curve!


The Stroller Test

I was at a showcase last week for performers trying to get booked.  I watched all of the magicians showcase (that I was aware of) and while I had a crappy showcase spot, I pulled a bigger crowd then all of the ones that I saw. 




They all had long presentations, where mine while they can be long, have jokes in them. In addition to that what I selected to use in my showcase all had big unique visuals.  This comes down to what I call the “stroller test”.


How the stroller test works is you have to imagine mom pushing a stroller down the walkway with a kid or two.  Would she stop at your show. You have say 50 feet to catch her attention and get her to sit down. If she’s travelling at around 1 foot a second, you’ve got about a minute to catch her attention.


If you are standing up there talking about poetry for five minutes before the trick happens, you aren’t going to grab her.  If you are standing up there talking and have a joke every 45 seconds, you have a much better chance of getting her attention.  If you have a joke every 45 seconds AND an interesting visual you will have an even better chance of getting her attention.

Another Presentation for the License Plate Prediction…

A couple of days ago I wrote about a post about the License Plate Prediction trick (you can read it here).  I was thinking about it some more and came up with another, probably better presentation.  The idea is that in high school you named your car.   You have a list of the top baby names from the year you bought your car. You run scissors down the list and they saw stop whenever they want.  You cut the list at that point. They read the first name from where the list was cut and end up matching your license plate.


Mind reading magic trick


This would simply be the trick where you have the list of names printed upside down.  So when you cut the list, the name at the top where they think you cut it is actually the last name on your list.  That’s a simple and effective force for a trick like this that is list bases.


I think there’s tons of room for fun in this trick. “I named my car “Carl” and would tell my mom that carl and I are going out. It was month before she realized that Carl wasn’t real.”  


Now that I’ve got the hook and the method, it’s just a matter of writing the script and testing it out. 



Recommended Reading

Right now I’m reading John Carney’s book Magic By Design.

Magic by Design by John CarneyIt’s a book on theory of how to become a better magical performer.  One of the things he mentioned was writing down your “ideals” for your magic. Some guidelines as an artist of what you want for your magic / show.


Here’s some of mine:

  • The magic has to be good.  By that there can be no easy explanations of how things work.  
  • Every trick has to have a unique visual.  
  • I have to sweat.  I need to work on stage.
  • The audience has to feel like this “isn’t just another magic show”
  • The audience gets to know me during the show
  • The material has to “move the show forward”


I’m sure that I’ll come up with more, but this is just the quick list I’ve come up with.  There’s not much to it, however I’ve always said that creating with rules is so much easier than creating without rules!


I’m only a few pages into the book, but I highly recommend it!



Inventing a Trick That’s Already Been Invented

I always try to keep up with the new magic that’s out and came across this trick:


To me this guy was inspired by David Copperfield’s license plate trick, without the kicker of the appearing car.  This is a more practical way of doing the trick for 99.9% of performers and a smart method.


Whenever I see a marketed trick I try to think of ways I can make them unique to me.  I do two things:


  1. Think of a different method:  A new method can lead to a trick that feels different to the audience.
  2. Think of a new presentation:  A completely different presentation will give you a unique feeling trick.


So what would I do with this trick (keep in mind this is trick is already a variation of an existing trick)?


Let’s start with method.  Instead of using a flip chart, why not use the TOXIC force?  Now you’ve eliminated the flip board and a visual, so the trick now won’t look like the trick above.  Now you’ve got two tricks that simply just license plate predictions.


Next let’s get into presentations.  The video doesn’t really have a presentation, and it’s been soo long since I’ve seen David Copperfield do his, that I don’t remember what his was, we have a pretty easy starting point.  Since we’re using a calculator, you could talk about buying a car and how they talk about all the numbers.


Now that we’ve got a method and a presentation, there’s one last hurdle, getting a license plate that has only numbers and no letters.  A google search showed me that all modern plates have both numbers and letters, so buying a used plate on ebay won’t work.  However another search showed me that you can have custom “novelty” plates made!


Now we’ve got the routine, the props and method…we’ve got a brand new trick, one that’s unique!




Some Sound Advice…

In a facebook magic group someone asked about sound systems for bday parties.  I was kinda amazed by the response of the people. I think one of the interesting responses was , “you don’t need one for a dozen kids…”, i find this interesting because while a dozen kids in average, having 30 is not uncommon.


Another factor is production value.  Having music in your show adds a lot to it.  It kills dead time and opens up other things to do, like musical gags and bits.  Whenever I do shows without music, I feel the show isn’t living up to its full potential.


Then there’s the core issue, having your voice heard.  I’ve seen too many shows where you can’t hear the performer and it’s a small group.  It could be because the show is outside and there’s a lot of background noise, or it could be the performer not projecting.  


Finally there’s the whole, 3 or 4 shows a day thing.  You can blow out your voice in a weekend. A $300 bday party isn’t worth it if it wrecks your voice for the $1K gig you have saturday night.  

Invest in the best sound system you can afford.  

Always Bring It!

I was chatting with Jeffrey Tam in Las Vegas about performing on Fool Us.  He was saying that going on the show just to get on TV isn’t why you should go on that show, you should go on the show to WIN!  I totally agree with him, that’s the goal, if you just want TV footage, there are plenty of places to get that.


One of the things that drives me nuts is when people go on TV and do sponge balls.  That footage isn’t the best simply because bookers, especially bookers who deal with good talent have seen it.  That video footage does nothing to help you get gigs above local level.  Sure it may help you be “king of the birthday parites” but it won’t help you make the move to children’s festivals, or performing arts centers.


What video of your show makes it unique?  Recently I was on a local TV show and I did material that set me apart from other magicians in my market!


The moral of the story is when you are on TV, don’t waste it on doing stuff that will just be white noise to bookers.



Always Have a Trick in Your Pocket…

One thing that I often hear magicians say is that they never perform for people unless they are paid.  That’s bunk.  Personally I usually have a deck of cards in my pocket, not because I want to show people tricks, but it allows me to practice when I have unexpected downtime.


Stuck in the drive thru line at the bank…I can bang out a few practice false shuffles.


Recently I was picking my agent up at the airport in Billings, MT and her checked luggage as well as about 30 other people’s luggage were left behind in Seattle.  That meant a long wait (over 2 hours!) to file their baggage claims.

She had taken my banner as “carry on” to the plane.   So I popped up the banner and did a show for the people waiting!


It really made a difference in the people’s day!   Also the trick that I’m doing in the above video was published in an issue of Vanish Magazine from a couple of months ago.


In addition to a deck of cards that’s usually in my pocket, I have an impromptu show that lives in my wallet.  This show is short at about 15 mins, but it’s got a beginning, middle and end.   This isn’t just a series of tricks, it’s a show. I highly recommend you have show you can do from you wallet.  It doesn’t need to play for 500 people, but a good, solid 10-15 mins of close up.  The book The Impromptu Mystifier is what got me to put this show together and in it the author gives a great frame work for how to structure the show.


I’m not saying you should force your magic on anyone, but you also never know when you’ll be in a position to perform.