The book I’m reading right now is Atomic Habits by James Clear. This is about creating new habits and breaking old ones using small steps. I’m about halfway through it and really liking it so far. I’m practicing more, and dinking around on social media less. So that’s a good start.
One thing that was mentioned in the book was the difference between motion and action. Motion is the planning and the action is the actual doing. To relate this to magic, motion is thinking about the method of a trick and trying to look at it from all angles. Action is actually trying the trick of building the prop.
I agree that action is more important that motion and the sooner you start the action part, they more you’ll learn about what you’re working on. You can design and tweak a trick on paper, but it’s you don’t get better at the trick until you start actually doing it.
One of my theories on creating magic is that ideas don’t belong in notebooks. They belong out in the world being performed. The sooner you try the idea, the sooner you know if you will like it, if the audience likes it, or if it’s even a good idea.
Sometimes I think younger magicians don’t give old timers enough credit. The other night I was at a magic club meeting over Zoom and we got talking about chop cup. One of the older members showed us a really cool loading technique that I had never seen before. He used to use it when he did magic behind a bar. The best way to describe it was it was like the Sylvester Pitch done into the cup. It was a really great way to load the cup!
I remember being a kid and while I’ve always loved hearing old magicians talk, many times their moves aren’t very good. It’s not that they aren’t good, they’re just older techniques that have been replaced by better methods. It’s easy to have this cloud your judgement and quickly dismiss what they are doing or talking about.
An example of this is when I was a teenager, I could produce single cards from a back palmed stock in the modern way where you keep the stack behind your hand and peel off a single card. I remember talking about back palming with Mickey Hades and him telling me I was doing it wrong. He taught me to do it the old way of moving the whole stock to the front, peeling off a single card, and then reback palming the stock of cards. It’s a way less efficient way of doing it compared to the more modern way. I can still do it that way (not very well anymore), but more importantly it gave me time to chat with Mickey and that was fun!
If you’re a younger magician, or even an older one, don’t immediately dismiss a magician just because they are older.
Yesterday I wrote about an idea of doing a matrix with pickles on the bun of a hamburger. I made some mock up bun shapes out of cardboard and gimmicked some pickles and worked out the trick.
Here’s it in its proof concept video:
Obviously it’s still got a long way to go. Figuring out a way to make the bun rigid will be my next challenge. I also need to buy or make some fake pickles that are all uniform in shape. Those are the next two challenges (that I’m aware of).
One thing that I really dislike doing are prerecorded virtual shows. I do my best to avoid them, or talk the person into having my segment live. A prerecord is soo much more work than doing it live. It’s more than just turning the camera on and going for 15 mins. There’s editing, rendering and uploading that needs to happen. I don’t think a lot of people thing about that.
If you’re doing prerecorded shows and not editing, you aren’t taking advantage of the format. You can crop in for tighter shots, or add things that aren’t as easy to do in a live format.
I’m working on a 15 minute prerecorded spot for a variety show and will probably spend 3-4 hours on it. If I did it live, I’d spend about a hour total. Also the live element makes a magic show much more fun to watch for the audience and for me to perform.
Last week I ended up with a ticket to the Chicago Magic Lounge’s Virtual Happy Hour. I’ve never been in person to the venue, and on video it looks like a cool place. I think tickets are $15 and we had four magicians, a mixologist and a host. All of the performers were performing live at the venue except for one that was in another country.
I didn’t get a picture of the host Benjamin Barnes, however he did a great job introducing the acts. Personally, I would have liked to see him do a set in there somewhere.
All of the acts used audience participation, with the helper on screen. They were in engaging, and the audience was fairly active in the chat.
One interesting thing that happened during the show was at one point when someone was picked to help out onscreen the guy said something like, “I thought this was all fake…“. What he meant was that he thought everyone helping was a stooge.
That comment raises an interesting question: Do most audience members think these shows use stooges? I don’t know if there’s a way to keep people from thinking that. People have the same thought at in person shows, so it’s not unique to a zoom show. This is more of a concern for a ticketed show than it is for a corporate zoom show.
Back to the Chicago Magic Lounge, for $15 it’s a solid show and worth checking out online. I think the overall run time was about 2 hours.
In May I started worked on a trick that was my version of Albert Goshman’s Cards Thru Newspaper. You can search for those blog posts, but it shows how the trick progressed from the original Goshman trick to what I’d now consider an original magic trick/routine.
Essentially the original trick is that four cards appear one at a time and reappear under a folded up piece of newspaper. I took out what I didn’t like, the cards and newspaper and ended up using an envelope and four polaroid pictures. The pictures disappear and reappear under the newspaper.
It’s been five months since I started working on it, and really, it should have progressed further, it’s been slow going, mostly because of laziness on my part and not putting in as much work on it as I should be. I’ve been doing it as “preshow” for some virtual shows, but really I should be out at virtual open mics doing it and working it in.
I did recently make a change. I’ve been using this trick in pre-recorded virtual shows lately and a problem the trick had was the problems is that the Polaroid pictures are soo glossy, that they are hard to see on camera. They reflect too much light, and you can’t see them clearly. I took some brochure paper and printed the Polaroid pictures onto that paper. It’s a semi-gloss paper, so while it’s shiny, it doesn’t reflect nearly as much as the actual Polaroid picture.
The row on the left are the real Polaroids and the right are the copies. When they are side by side you can see the copies are a little less vibrant than the originals. However without a side by side comparison, you really can’t tell.
Keep working on your magic, even if you’ve been doing a trick for years and it’s a polished routine. There’s usually still improvements that can be made. Sometimes these are small improvements that no one will really notice, but these little things add up!
Back when I first really started performing when I was about 21 years old and got to the point that I needed headshots, the digital thing was just becoming common. People were amazed that I had an email address, just to put this into context. At that time you sent off the negative of your pic to a place that then made you hundreds of physical 8×10’s and the cost was hundreds of dollars.
At that time many performers didn’t really get new pics taken until you ran out of the old ones because they were soo expensive to get done. Because of that they guy whose picture was on the comedy club’s ad for the show that weekend didn’t look anything like the comedian who was performing. The headshots were sometimes 10-20 years old!
Now let’s fast forward to a common problem in more modern times with no one using physical headshots anymore. What’s happening now is that someone books a show, you send them promo and they end up using a picture they found on the internet. It’s usually a old, low-res picture that’s not very flattering instead of the current, professional high-res picture you send them.
I just finished dealing with a scenario with this. Someone I work for frequently has been using this headshot of me. The thing is that picture is about 20 years old, and I’m about 20 years old in the picture. I send them new pictures every year, but this remains the picture that’s been used.
Finally, yesterday after being on the phone with them, I think I convinced them to delete that picture from their files and it really hasn’t been relevant in over a decade. I think my problem is that while I have been sending them new promo every year, I never specifically asked them to stop using that picture.
One of the tricks I’m adding to my virtual magic shows is Cee-Lo which is my cups and dice routine. One of problems going from an in person show a virtual show is that you can’t move the audience’s focus around as easily. At one point in the routine I need to load the cup and doing it in the room with people there is super easy, however it’s much harder with the focused eye of the camera.
Normally I would load this from my pocket, however that won’t work for the reason above. What I’m going to do is load from the table. I designed a holder for the dice and they will slide up into the cup from behind the table’s edge.
This holder is currently printing out and I’ll try it out later today. This is something that I normally couldn’t use in my live shows because I perform in conditions where people can frequently see behind my table. This is one of the interesting things about working on a virtual show, I can use techniques that don’t work for my in person show.
On Thursday (5/28) my buddy Matt Baker and I will be hosting the Odd and Offbeat Variety Show. We’ve got some fun acts and all will be performing live and we’ll do a Q&A with the acts after they perform.
I think this is a great format for a virtual show, you get a lot of acts and it’s done live. Check it out on Thursday!
Over the last week a lot of magicians have been putting their shows online. I’m talking about a youtube video of their whole show, not just streaming. In my opinion 99% of these are garbage to watch. I’m not talking about the quality of the show, but the quality of the video. They only reason I’m able to get through them is that I like to know what other people are doing around the world.
If you are going to put a video of your show online, or even a clip, the first thing you need to do is cut out any fat at the beginning and end. I watched video last night and there was 20 seconds of the stage and the back of audience’s head before anything happened. This is a common problem with social media clips, where people leave in the video them turning on or off the camera. Edit that stuff out. When you leave it in, it tells me you don’t respect the viewer enough to spend a couple of mins to edit it out.
The big thing is audio, most of the shows I’ve watched sound like they were recorded off the camera’s microphone in the back of the room. Sure you can hear the show, but you have to listen.
The final thing is that you really need to have a couple of cameras and mix up the angles. The single camera at the back of the room with a wide shot of the whole stage doesn’t cut it anymore. You could use bits of the same routine from different shows. Recently Judah Friedlander and Adam Sandler did this in their Netflix shows.
Consider those three things before you upload your show to YouTubej.