One of the things I started doing this years is not letting other acts take advantage of me. What I mean by that is when I’m sharing a stage with another act, I’m very flexible…until they get demanding.
In the past when I would share a stage with another act, I would assume we’re all professionals and you wouldn’t ask for things not necessary. I just worked in a show with an act where we both were doing three shows each alternating every hour, with 15 mins change over time.
I asked if I could keep my gear off stage in a small wing unseen by the audience and in a space they weren’t using. They said, “NO”. That’s fine with me if you need that space, I have no problem keeping my gear in a less convenient place. This particular stage has stairs across the entire front of the stage. They started laying out props on the stairs. I asked if they were going to strike them between their shows. They said, “NO”. I told them they would have to as I use the stairs and I don’t want to dodge their props, and have to worry about stepping on them. They said they didn’t have time to move them, and I told them that “it’s not my problem“.
Now could I have dodged their props as I used the stairs? Yes. Should I have to? NO. In a show like this one I’m entitled to backstage space to store my gear, and in a space that was vacant the whole show. By them not being easy to work with, I instantly became less flexible, while still within what my show was entitled. I didn’t ask for anything more, I simply took what I needed.
Guess what, my show was better than it would have been with me or someone from the audience tripping on their props in the dark. They learned a lesson, that when you are working with other acts, you need to be able to do a full strike in between shows unless you’ve discussed it before with the other act.
It’s being a professional
The moral of the story is be flexible, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you.
As I get older and more experience as a magician and performer, I’ve realized that 99% of advice given by magician to other magicians with crap. I’ve written about this before, and some advice I saw given out on an internet group recently got me thinking about it.
Someone was asking about where they could buy a trick they saw someone do on TV. Someone chimed in and said something like, “why would you want to do that, someone’s already done it...” I think this is good advice, however it comes from one of the people that preach, “stick with the classics, they are classics for a reason…“, which is horrible advice.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing the new, hot trick. That’s how classics, they have to start out as a new trick. There are many cases where someone has created a method for a trick way better than what you’ve come up with, or had the gimmick manufactured better.
At the end of the day, the person giving the advice is usually someone that in 10 years will be in the same place as a magician as they are now. Looking back at the local magicians that gave me advice when I was a younger magician, I think only a few are people whose advice I’d still consider.
We’re coming into a new year and it’s a time that many people look back on their lives. It’s not just a time of looking into the past, but also making goals for the future. You can do this for your show, reflect on the old, and make plans for improvement.
Here’s how to do it. Watch a video of a recent show of yours and takes notes. What you are looking for are three bits in the show to cut from it. Look for things that no longer fit you, your performing style or society.
When I’m out seeing shows, I frequently see shows where the performer does an outdated line. They’ve probably never examined their show for outdated material, so the joke or bit is never noticed. Sometimes it will be a reference to a product, or TV show. Other times it will be a word that’s no longer socially acceptable. Maybe it’s a youthful reference that the performer told when they were a kid and they’re middle aged now. It could also be a joke or trick that for whatever reason no longer gets the reaction it used to.
Once you’ve found three bits, cut them from your show. Just stop doing them. Now you create new bits to fill any gaps that cutting the bits may have created. Pretty simple. You’ve now “freshened up” your show!
Yesterday I visited a magic shop and while I was there a family came in. A magician that was visiting was asked to show the kid in the family a magic trick. This kid was probably 8 years old. After a couple of minutes of “hemming and hawing” he finally chose a trick.
His indecision came from him not knowing any tricks for kids. His thinking, which he said out loud was “kids brains aren’t formed yet, so they don’t understand magic”.
That’s true for a kid that’s under about 3 years old. The concept of a secret action for young kids is abstract. However choosing a trick to show a kid is easy. Make something happen that shouldn’t. Take a coin, and make it disappear.
When he finally started to do the trick he decided was appropriate to show an 8 year old, he did sponge balls. Great trick and it should have worked. However it fell flat.
It fell flat for a couple reasons. First, he just crapped on the kid’s intelligence. Why would the kid be into it right after he called him dumb? Next, his presentation was basically a challenge. He said things like, “I snuck the ball into your hand”. Now that makes it a challenge and the kid took him up and busted him…multiple times.
A better approach would have been to simply pass on the doing a trick OR stall by saying you are trying to think of your best trick. Then don’t do your trick based on a challenge presentation. Challenge is good for middle or end pieces, not stand alone tricks.
Recently while travelling I started rereading the book Neo Magic Artistry written by S.H. Sharpe. This book is primarily about magic theory, however it does have a few tricks in the back.
This book, which is several books reprinted as one makes a great point:
“The greatest magicians have always been those whose work appealed to their colleagues as well as the general public”
This is something I totally agree with. If you are an artist, you work should have something noteworthy to other magicians or magic enthusiasts. With all of the magic on TV and the internet, even non-magician audience members have become pretty educated about standard magic tricks.
TLDR: Your magic should appeal to magicians as well as non-magicians.
TI’m a magic book guy, I love magic books. My generation of magic is at the tail end of books, when I was getting serious about magic videos didn’t really exist. The VHS tapes that were around were insanely expensive at $75-$100 bucks!
Being a book guy, that means you find a lot of hidden little gems of magic. Things that are cool and buried in a book. Someone once told me that the best things in books are the tricks with no illustrations. They are the things that the author wants in print to assert ownership, but doesn’t want anyone to do.
My book collection is pretty big and I like having a large selection of books to reference, or to read. I’ve also worked through most of the stuff in all of the books I own. Many years ago, Eugene Burger mentioned in an article in a magic magazine that he only had a few magic books. He loved books, read them, however he didn’t keep them. He gave them away after reading them.
I thought it was strange that he didn’t keep books. As I get older, and my performing style is more defined, the books that want to keep are probably less than a couple dozen. Most of these books would be books that had an influence on my, now that I really need to read them again.
This has made me think about the advice that you should “Only learn seven tricks”. This is advice that I don’t agree with. You can’t pick seven trick without learning hundreds of tricks to pick those seven. We no longer live in a time where you can make a career out of a handful of tricks. You need to keep learning and adding to your base knowledge to grow!
TLDR: Keep learning, but you don’t need to be a hoarder!
The other day I was having coffee at one of my favorite coffee shops in between shows. While I was drinking my coffee, I notice a lady sitting on a bench outside. She was chatting with everyone that walked by for a few minutes each. At the end of the conversation everyone gave her money. It took a few groups of people for me to realize she was a “pan handler“.
I wouldn’t call what she was doing “pan handling” as it was a higher level than simply putting out a cup and asking for money. The majority of people gave twenty dollars each, and I saw her get a fifty dollar bill!
So why was she making so much when the guy at the corner with the cardboard sign was making virtually nothing? Simple, she had a story and she pitched that story and didn’t ask for money until you were invested in her life. The guy at the corner with the cardboard sign doesn’t have a story and you aren’t invested in his life before he’s asking for money.
What does this have to do with being a better magician? In your show you can tell your story and get people invested in you, or you can do tricks. Both work, however one gets singles, and the other gets double sawbucks!
I’ve been keeping notebooks for idea for magic since I was a teenager. Most of the ideas from the early ones are horrible, but every now and then I’ll flip through them and find something interesting. About 10 years ago I had an idea for a trick, but it was missing something that would make it functional.
I was running at the gym and notice something triggered an “ah-ha moment” that made the idea work. When I got home, I created the two parts on my 3D printer and printed them up. Here’s one of them in the CAD Program:
And here’s the other one that’s printed out:
Now that I have these two pieces, I’ve assembled the trick and am happy to report that the trick works!
The sad news is that in the 10 years since I had the idea my performing style has changed a lot and this really doesn’t fit how I perform. However it’s been in my head for so long, I’m going to keep developing it at home and try to figure out a way to make it work.
TLDR: Always keep an eye out for solutions to a problem
Many years ago I read that Steve Fearson wanted to create his version of classic magic illusions. A quick Google Search and I managed to find the quote:
“About 10 years ago I took it upon myself to reinvent 3 of magic’s greatest stage illusions, adapting them so that they could be performed in a close up situation. The three illusions were the levitation of a person, the sawing in half illusion and the vanish.” – Steve Fearson
That’s a quote that stuck with me for some reason. I’ve worked to create my version of tricks that I like. By my version, it’s a reworking of the trick, not simply a different sequence of events. I’ve marketed several of these tricks and am working on a patent for one of them.
I’m writing up my version of the “floating dollar trick”. My main issue with the classic version of the trick, is that if the gimmick breaks, you are toast, the trick doesn’t work…and the gimmick is super fragile. My version has multiple redundant gimmicks. Here’s a demo of it:
I think me not being happy with things how they are, has led me to some interesting solutions to fixing what I don’t like about many magic tricks. In fact some days that’s my creative exercise, taking tricks I don’t like and trying to make a version of them that I do like.
The moral of this post is to customize your magic to fit you and what you need from your gimmicks!
I really need to get off the internet. I can’t believe the things magicians complain about. Recently someone was complaining about them quoting $895 for a 3 hour roving gig and booker claimed people were quoting $150 an hour ($450 for 3 hours). The magician was all upset because the other magicians were “working too cheap”.
Here’s my thinking on this, when you stop worrying about what other people do, you will be a lot happier. You can’t control what other people charge for their services. When you do, there’s a term for it called, “Price Fixing” and it’s illegal.
In this specific example the person saying the people charging $450 for three hours was too cheap, yet someone chimed in and said the person charging $895 for the three hours was too cheap.
You will find its place and price point in the market. I honestly think someone starting out should be charging a lot less than someone that’s been doing it for a decade (and gotten better over that decade). If someone starting out charges the prices of established acts and they come in and don’t do well, it hurts everyone. There’s a lot to be learned at a $150 gig for someone starting out.
Think about the last time you went to buy a car. Let’s say you budget was $25,000. Did you buy a car that was $10,000? Probably not. I’m betting your purchase was in the $20,000-$30,000 range. You spent your budget. I think the same goes with party planners, you have been given a budget of money….money that’s not your own personal money. The party planner is going to spend all of it on the event, they don’t get a bonus for coming in under budget. The gig that’s going to hire the person for $450 was probably never going to book you for $895 this year. However next year they may put more money into their budget for live entertainment.