After all of these years, I’ve finally seen Esther’s Follies in Austin TX. I’ve heard about it for years, and a friend of mine was the variety act in the show early on. This show has been running for 40 years, and there’s a simple secret to it’s long run…aside from talented performers and that secret is that the show is stays fresh!
The show is full of jokes and sketches around current events. After the show I was chatting with Ray Anderson who is the magician in the show. He mentioned that every week they have a scheduled writing meeting.
The show keeps changing, and this goes against the “advice” I as given when I was a kid, which was to put together a show/act that you can do the rest of your life. I think that doing one thing and not changing it, is very antiquated advice. Times change and what was once edgy material eventually becomes either cheesy or offensive.
I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with the times, but I’m always evaluating my show looking for things to cut.
One of the easiest ways to be creative is to make tricks based on an upcoming holiday. If there’s not a big holiday like Thanksgiving on the horizon, look up the different “national days”. These are things like, National Hotdog Day. Once you have a theme, it’s much easier to come up with tricks.
Here’s a trick I did for Thanksgiving a few years ago:
This is a trick I read in a Jim Steinmeyer book that used your hand. I found it lent itself to using a turkey hand really well. This makes it a great themed trick for Thanksgiving.
Here’s one that I did for for National Light Bulb Day a long time ago:
Putting a box around creating makes it so much easier to come up with ideas. Trying to come up with ideas without any parameters is incredibly difficult!
When I was a teenager right around Thanksgiving the annual TV show The World’s Greatest Magic would be on. This would be my chance to see acts I’d only ever read about in magic magazines. It was a chance to see how great (or not) things actually were.
Back then I’d record on VHS these magic shows and you’d really study the acts. Not to sound like an old man, but kid’s nowadays don’t study acts on video. I knew every move of Jeff McBride’s card act and could do it. This gets you inside the performer’s head, and you start to understand their choices.
With all of the acts you can watch on YouTube, it’s hard to pick a few acts to study. The amount of content is overwhelming. I think kids now should pick a performer or two and really study their work. Not copy it, but study it, try to figure out why they do what they do.
Last week I performed at Jeff McBride’s Wonderground in Las Vegas. It was a lot of fun. In my show I take a couple of risks, and usually they pay out HUGE. Let me back up a minute, I went to Wonderground with some friends who had been showcasing at the same conferences as me for the last two weeks, so there were very familiar with my act. When something went wrong, they all noticed it.
In my show someone from the audience guesses what card another person from the audience picked. It’s a great trick and because I’m lazy, the card is always the same card. Yes, when I do gigs with multiple shows at the same venue on the same or adjacent days, I mix up the card. However I don’t when the gigs are in different states. When I did the show at Wonderground the person guessed the wrong card!
When the person said the Five of Hearts instead of the Two of Diamonds, all of my friends knew something was wrong. After the show they told me that they all got worried for me. However one guy, who is a magician that I’ve toured with told them all to calm down and that I was a pro and would handle it.
Guess what happened?
I had a plan, it’s my way back up plan, and in about a year, I’ve only needed to use it once, but it’s always there and ready. I produce the card from elsewhere. It took all of my friends by surprise. Having a back up plan for anything that can go wrong is the way to go…even if you only need it once a year!
In my trek through all of the Greater Magic Videos on MagicFlix, I recently watched Tom Mullica‘s video. This is an interesting video, because it’s a huge change from what was before in magic. Tom is funny, and good. I mean all of the tricks are good…and he’s technically amazing on the video!
The video before Tom was Charlie Miller. Charlie is a slice of a different era, where people performed comedy magic differently. I’m also aware that the video of Charlie recorded when he was older, so he was probably past his prime.
The huge difference was that Charlie did more “classic” magic tricks, where what Tom did felt fresh. It’s not that the root effect was new, but the way he did them was new. Tom wasn’t relying on things that worked, he took a path that forwarded his character. Watch Charlie, then watch Tom and you’ll see where magic made a turn.
My current reading is Ken Weber’s book Maximum Entertainment 2.0. This is the expanded version of the original book. It’s something every magician should have. It’ll make you think about your show, and hopefully make some changes.
In one part of the book Ken writes about performers saying “ummm…” and how it’s a bad thing. I’ve been hyper aware of it, and a ton of performers say it a lot! I went back and reviewed some video and I say it a lot in my newer routines. I need to go back and work on my learning my scripts
Go watch video of yourself performing and listen for the “Ummms“, I was really surprised when I heard them!
A month or two ago Nick Lewin wrote an article about Magic Flix (you can read it here), which is a streaming magic video website. Nick’s article go me interested in check in it out. I found a free month trial code and checked it out.
What I’m really enjoying watching on MagicFlix is the Stevens Magic EmporiumGreater Magic Video Series. These were put out in the early 1990’s and feature a lot of the older magicians, so the up and coming ones, like Micheal Ammar, Daryl, and John Carney. When I was a kid I couldn’t afford these, and it’s very interesting to watch them now.
My goal is to make it through the whole series. There’s a clear point where close up magic changes, with the style of routines that guys Ammar or Carney were doing. That’s the style that’s existed until Blaine came on the scene. Then there’s been another change with Shin Lim and the close up manipulation act style of magic.
From a magic history standpoint watching these videos is amazing!
Recently this meme has been circulating around the internet:
It’s used in the context that good art costs money. While mostly true, the problem with the meme is that while the Mona Lisa is considered great art, it was never completed, or delivered to the client. Your art, is it complete and deliverable…if so you’re a step ahead of someone who has a better show than yours, but can’t present it.
Personally I’ll pay for something that gets done over something that while great, is never finished or delivered to me!
With a magic trick, all of the little things matter and they matter a lot! There’s a trick that I do in the show that when I started doing it, it used three thumb thumb tips. At one point I had to remove something from one of them, and put it into a different thumb tip!
After really thinking about how the trick flowed, I managed to figure out a way to do it with only two thumb tips. One of the tips is a XXL thumb tip, and that solved the the problem of having to move something from one thumb tip to another, and it also meant one less time that I need to go to the bin on my table.
The next problem was prop management. On my table, there’s a bin. In that bin are my props, and the thumb tips used to just lay on the bottom of the bin. The problem is that they roll around, especially if my table is carried out, and not preset. I solved this by 3D printing this holder:
The foot on the holder is to provide a more steady base, so that it can’t tip over. Hopefully the thumb tips will stay upright!
There are certain “plots” in card magic that I’m really not a fan of. One of them is the Do As I Do type of tricks. These are typically very procedure heavy and the payoff isn’t that great. Usually it ends with you and a spectator finding the other person’s card.
What makes this Do As I Do trick great is that it’s not a “pick a card” type trick. It’s a color change type of card trick, but the cards change for both you and the spectator! Best of all there’s no procedure! The top cards on both halves of the deck keep changing, it’s great!
I love encountering tricks that change how I feel about magic plots!