There are ton of magic tricks, or ideas that have been in my head for years. I haven’t done them, or built them because I know they won’t fit my performing style, or because I don’t have a method that’s any good. Every now and then I try to make these tricks happen at least once to get them out of my brain.
One trick that had been in my head forever was doing a Multiplying Billiard Ball routine. Eventually I put together a routine and did it on a tour of over 90 shows. By the end of the tour the routine was really good, however I also decided that I don’t want to do that trick in my main show.
Then there are times when I begrudgingly put together a routine simply to get an idea out of my head and I end up liking the trick. A good example is my version of the “tossed out deck”. I hate the trick, however ended up coming up with a good routine and method that’s staying in my show.
If you have an idea, make it a reality, even if it’s a bad one. It will make you a better magician and performer…or at least clear up room in your brain for a new idea!
One way to keep creativity fresh is to be creative in more than just the field that’s your job. Lots of magicians in addition to magic also do things like painting, photography, or music. Having another outlet for your creativity allows you to continually flex your creative muscle.
One of the creative things that I do is run a podcast called The Odd and Offbeat Podcast. In this podcast a buddy and I talk about strange news stories and joke about them.
The fun thing about this podcast is that it’s a weekly podcast, so I have to keep up on reading the news and writing jokes about things that I read. It also keep me sharper with my ad libs as we riff on each other’s jokes.
If you don’t already have a creative hobby, go out and find one!
Recently I worked with an act at a family show that didn’t really have a clue as to how to perform for kids. His idea of a good routine for kids involves them screaming. By screaming, I mean that he told them to scream as loud as they could. It was basically 7 minutes of kids yelling and rolling on the ground. Luckily his act was after mine, so I didn’t have to deal with the aftermath.
The screaming didn’t have any theatrical purpose, other than to make kids scream. There was no reason, like it made the magic happen, it was basically, “hey kids scream and do it whenever you want”. It really gives mixed messages to the kids in the audience for how to behave for the next act.
Some people may defend the performers, saying something like, “if the kids had fun, that’s all that matters”, but that’s wrong. It’s wrong thinking because it there were more than just kids in the audience. There were adults and the adults weren’t happy with it. Essentially the performer rolled back the clock on all of the audience training that this particular audience had gotten over the years. It hurts the venue in the long run, I wouldn’t take my kid back to that.
TLDR: Mindless yelling isn’t a desired reaction from kids.
A few years ago Bicycle Playing Cards changed how they make their playing cards. While they are still the standard, they are crap compared to how they used to be. A deck of cards will last me about 45 mins to an hour when roving, where before they’d last all day.
As a result of this, I ended up having a ton of cards kicking around that I can’t use after a gig. I wanted to figure out how something to do with all of these cards, so I’m learning to rip a deck of cards in half. This isn’t easy. After about a month I can do 22 cards, with best being 28 cards. I’ve got a long way to go to fifty two!
Now that I’m working on this skill, I’m starting to think of what to do with it. Yesterday in the car I thought of a trick. Why not do the split deck, but instead of the stupid patter line, “I asked someone to cut the cards and they did” when you introduce the cards, I can just rip them in half.
This creates a unique trick that very few people can copy. It adds some texture to the trick as well, because I can talk about learning to rip the deck. Also it’s going to be a harder trick for anyone to copy because of the time it takes to learn to rip a deck of cards in half.
All it takes to make a trick better is taking an extra step forward and adding one thing, plus new scripting and you’ve got something unique!
In my show I don’t do sucker tricks, and haven’t since I was a kid. A sucker trick is an easy way to get a reaction to a trick. It’s plug and play “comedy” except most people don’t think about what it does beyond the initial reaction.
Here’s an example, let’s say you are doing the Egg Bag and you do the bit where you pretend to put the egg under your armpit, but it’s really somewhere else. For this bit to work you need someone in the audience to yell you how they think you did the trick. Someone has to say, “it’s under your arm”, if they don’t, the bit falls completely flat.
If everything is working correctly, the audience needs to heckle you, and you need to encourage it for the bits to work. Then you do the under the arm bits, and you continue to encourage the audience to heckle you for the next two minutes.
Guess what? You’ve just trained a room full of people to call you out when they think they know how you are doing a trick. This will be a problem later in your show. Is it worth the two minutes of “comedy”? Notice I put quotes around the word comedy, because the audience, isn’t laughing, they are heckling you.
Before you do a sucker trick, think of the larger implications in your show. Here’s a different example: You are working for an agent at an event. The only watch 2 minutes of your show and it’s when the audience is heckling you and telling you how the trick works. Do you think the agent will think you are worth big bucks on the next gig? Probably not.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how to add more production value to my show. One way that I know that my show is lacking is in lighting. Unfortunately I know nothing about theatrical lighting. Last night I worked in a theater and asked the lighting guy for some notes.
His main thing was that I should light by bubble act from below as well as above. It’s make them “pop” visually more to the audience that is seated below me. That’s great advice, and next time I’m going to add that to my show.
The point is, if you don’t know how to do something, ask someone who does. Don’t just ignore it. If by asking someone for help makes my show 1% better, it’s totally worth it!
When I was starting out performing in comedy clubs when I was 21 years old, a piece of advice I was given was, “whoever gets the most stage time wins”. I totally agree with that, the more you are working, the better you get. It also means that you’ve had more that’s gone wrong and you’ve figured out how to get through it.
One of the first markets I really started working 20+ years ago was the retirement home market. The nice thing about these gigs is that they take place during the day, and they have a constant need for entertainment. You can get a ton of flight time with your show in this market.
I don’t do many of the shows in the senior market anymore, simply because I’m too busy performing in other markets. However I recently just did three shows in one day on a single campus for a retirement community. It was fun, and those three shows added up to some pretty decent money.
This book takes you step by step through marketing the show, booking the show and actually doing the show. If you’re just staring out, or looking for a place to break in a new routine, this is a great market to work!
Whenever I’m critiquing myself the most common note I have is to slow down. What on stage feels like 5 seconds is probably closer to two on three seconds. Time seems to drag on when you are in front of a room full of people that are staring at you.
Over the summer I worked at a festival with another magician and each time he did a trick, he only displayed it for a second. Here’s an example, he did a Blendo type trick where multiple handkerchiefs turned into one. However once they became one he only showed it for about a second before he put it away.
The audience needs time to process what has just happened. By displaying for only a few seconds and then putting it away, they don’t get to appreciate what has just happened. You need to hold up the magic, and PAUSE, then put it way. That pause need to be long enough for someone to look at the final picture, then mentally compare it to the initial picture in their memory to understand the final result.
The first magic book I ever got was The Amateur Magician’s Handbook written by Henry Hay. The title is a little bit misleading as this really isn’t a good book for beginners. This book teaches you some pretty hard stuff .
It also teaches some pretty old techniques that aren’t really used anymore. Things like back palming multiple coins, or using edge grip to produce multiple coins. It’s not that these are bad techniques it’s just that they aren’t modern.
One of the chapters in later editions of this book is on using video to practice. I was talking to a magician friend and he mentioned one of his mentors told him he was practicing in the mirror too much. He needed to not watch himself practice. He learned to work to himself in the mirror, but he needed to be able to do without seeing himself.
That’s where video comes in, you can see what you are doing, but not in real time. Mirror work has a time, but watching and taking notes in video is a helpful step. I’m working on something new and it looks great in the mirror. Take me away from the mirror and my right arm is stiff, and unnatural. The problem was in the mirror I’m reacting to what I’m seeing and making my right arm natural. Without the mirror, I wasn’t getting the feedback, and the result was a unnatural movement.
TLDR: step away from the mirror and watch yourself practice on video.
I’m a big fan of getting new ideas for magic tricks in front of people as soon as possible. The sooner you can get something new in front of an audience, that sooner you know if it’s good or not. Even with a rough idea, you’ll get a sense of whether or not there’s anything worth pursuing or not.
Personally, I don’t want to waste my time on an idea that doesn’t connect with an audience. Doing a trick once in front of someone will also let you know technically if you are doing the right thing technically. You’ll know if a certain move or sleight fits the rhythm of the trick.
Obviously you must be able to do whatever moves the trick requires at a passable level. This is where having a background in sleight of hand comes in handy, it will make doing new things much easier, than if you don’t normally use sleight of hand.