One of the things that I’m always on the lookout for are quirks that I can exploit for a magic trick. Ideally small things that people don’t notice, or things that they accept and don’t think about. In this month’s Genii Magazine I have a magic trick and it’s based on something small that I noticed and turned into a magic trick!
What happened was a long time ago I noticed that when you take a picture with your phone’s front facing camera, Instagram takes is as a mirror image. That means that any text will appear backwards in the picture. This is a small thing and everyone accepts it and no one thinks about it.
I love tricks that involve manipulating an image on someone else’s cellphone, and this quirk in Instagram is a great thing to exploit. I learned a long time ago that people don’t really look at specific things (other than themselves) in selfie style pictures. If you have something that looks right before the picture and is the same basic shape in the camera’s screen, their brain doesn’t really process it and fills it in with what they expect to see.
The basic principle for using someone else’s camera has three parts. First you show them the object and then switch it for a similar one. Second you take a picture of the switched object. Finally you switch the object back to the original one. To them, nothing has changed, you simply then do your magic and alter the picture. Now go out and do some phone magic!
The last few weeks I’ve added a few new things into the show. Yesterday at the fair some friends and amazing performers watched my show and gave me some great input into the new routines. Having someone watch your show with a fresh set of eyes is amazingly helpful!
Having an ad hoc team of people to help you create and refine make it soo much easier. You will get to the solution or a great new idea a lot quicker than when you do it alone. Everyone brings their preferences, biases, and life experience to the table, and that insanely helpful!
Find yourself a team and start swapping notes, you’ll be amazed at how fast and quickly your routines will grow!
If you notice a problem in your show and it’s an easy fix, fix it. I know this, yet I didn’t do it yesterday. During my preshow I knew my mic cord was going bad, it was making crackly noises. I also had a new cord in my case, so I really didn’t have a good reason to not replace it. Then about 5 mins into the show, the crackly noises were too frequent and I had to stop the show to change the cord.
Had I decided to change the cord before the show started the show, I wouldn’t have had to stop the show as I was beginning to build some momentum. The lesson is take the minute and fix things that you know you will have to fix and not put it off. Nothing good can come of putting it off…especially when you have time to address it before it’s a problem.
Replacing the cord has put me in a situation where I now only have one back up cord. So the question is, do I order more now, or later? I do have a back up, but will eventually need more…
The Card To Wallet is a pretty standard effect for close up magicians. It’s also one that’s part of my “card set“, so I’m very familiar with it. Normally the card comes out of my wallet as a surprise, but the last few weeks I’ve been playing with different presentations for the trick. The results really surprised me.
The first thing I’ve been playing with is mentioning that I have a lucky card and it’s the same one they picked…and I drew the same picture on my lucky card that’s in my wallet. I tell them I’m joking and it’d be amazing if it was in there. I then complete my card routine and the card comes out of my wallet. I’m foreshadowing the surprise ending. This gets about the same reaction as ending with the card coming out a surprise.
The second thing I”ve been trying starts out the same as the first one, however I’m showing them the back of the card in my wallet. Then later the card in the wallet is their card. In my head this is a better trick because their card is there the whole time…however this one falls flat and gets just an okay reaction.
The result of my testing is that the surprise element makes a huge difference in the appearance of the card. Showing them the back of the card and telling them it’s their card, then doing some amazing card magic, it’s not a huge leap when that card is theirs. The audience not expecting it in the wallet helps.
When I’m out performing and I encounter someone that wants to chat, whenever possible I always try to hear their story. Last week I was performing at a fair and ran into a guy named Dean Lewis. We started to chat, and I was glad I made time for him!
Dean used to get animals from around the world for zoos and circuses. He also ran an oddity shop in a nearby town. The next day I went over and visited his shop, and got to go through his scrapbook. The guy had lived an amazing life! Here’s a little article about him from a local newspaper:
At the fair he also showed me a little magic trick:
By talking to people after shows I’ve learned a ton of things. Not just life stories, but magic techniques. One time I had an old timer teach me how to table faro, and another time I learned a lasso trick. It’s always worth taking a minute and chatting to people.
I think that a lot of the way that illusions are presented by magicians are stuck in the 1990’s. The magician’s assistant isn’t much more than a prop and not a personality. Yes, there are assistants that are personalities, however most of the ones that I see are simply someone that’s pretty and willing to fit into the box.
Recently I saw a magic show where the illusionist had three assistants. Only one had a personality, and it was pretty limited based on what I saw, however they were an act within the show and not the whole show, so she may have had a bigger role. The other two were simply stagehands with fake eyelashes and gowns.
This is where I think magic is stuck 20+ years in the past. The magician is the dominate one over everyone else on the stage, and not everyone is equal. Why not have a female assistant that looks like the theater’s stage crew, but has dialogue with the performer? Do they have to wear a bikini? I think we’ve grown past the magic show having to have “sex appeal” for people to watch. People watch all sorts of theatrical shows without scantily clad ladies…why not a magic show?
Yesterday there was a folk duo at the fair I’m performing at, and we are on the same stage. In between shows, the lady commented that she likes how I ” randomly make fun of people“. I had to correct her, because that’s not what I do. Yes, I do make fun of people, but it’s not random.
I make fun of peoples actions, never on how they look or what they wear, and never out of the blue. There is always some choice that the person has made that will cause me to comment. It could be a teen texting in the audience, or whatever, but there’s always an action that causes it.
Currently our society really looks down on bullying, and randomly picking on people in a Don Rickles sort of way is a great way to alienate yourself from your audience.
Here’s an example of what I don’t do. Recently I saw the Lance Burton and Friends tour and Fielding West does a bit where he scares someone from the audience by asking them to touch something, then making a sudden loud noise and startling them. In my mind that’s an old school thing, that I think works with his character, but not some much with younger people. That sort of thing is considered inappropriate by most modern performers.
What I’m trying to convey is that it’s OK to comment and play, but not okay to bully.
Last night, I had dinner with a musical comedy act named Joe Stoddard. Joe plays guitar and sings original and parody songs. One thing that Joe does really well, is being in the moment and looking like he’s having fun. This is something I used to be really good at. And I’ve been struggling with lately.
I think I’ve written about this before, but trying to be present in the show, not just hopping joke joke is something I’m trying to be very conscious about. This year I’m doing pretty good at it.
I have a routine early in the show that lets me play with the audience. And that’s great and really helps out with all of that. One of the things Joe and I talked about last night was how he stays in the moment. He says he always tries to be aware of things happening in the audience, so he can comment on it, and work it out into the show where he calls attention to it. That’s something I’ve been doing a lot lately is looking for opportunities to bring up real things that are happening. I had a kid yesterday in the show who was chewing gum, and I’m pointed out that he was chewing gum, and the kid wouldn’t stop laughing.
It was a very real moment and he started offering people gum. Then someone else is pretending to chew gum but they didn’t have gum. It was a great, real moment that I expanded upon, because I noticed it was there and got a lot of mileage out of it. So being present in the show is something that is very, very important.
This week I’m performing at a very small county fair. There’s an act that’s a “found space” act here. Essentially a found space act is one that isn’t on a stage, so very similar to a busker or street performer, however they don’t take tips. He’s a singer that basically does cover songs.
All day he’s been essentially playing to no one. He’s had no crowd all day. One thing I learned from a guy named Skip Banks, who is an amazing act at fairs and knows how to draw them in. He has a theory that you need to make the audience comfortable. That means giving them a place to sit and watch your show and shade.
Doing found space entertainment as “ambient” entertainment really doesn’t add much value to the event. If you are doing ambient entertainment in a wine garden, it makes more sense, than in a random walkway.
This act would be way more successful if it tried to engage people. He could do this by simply by changing lyrics to song to thing that are happening around him, or talking to people. Instead he was a human jukebox on auto play.