The Real Secret to Great Magic

The Real Secret to Great Magic

It was a typical summer afternoon. Beautiful fluffy white clouds dotted the ultra-blue sky as far as the eye could see. As I was getting into my car I noticed a bird soaring high in the sky. He was easily 500-600 feet high. He was not flapping wildly trying to stay airborne. Instead, he was soaring effortlessly, never flapping once. It was awe inspiring to see something done so beautifully, so easily, so naturally, and so gracefully.

As so often happens with me, my thoughts turned to magic. As I watched that bird soar across the expanse of the sky. To an audience of laymen, we, magicians, are like that bird. I was in awe of the bird’s ability to do what he was doing. To the bird it was perfectly natural and he was obviously enjoying what he was doing. That bird was doing something that I would love to be able to do, but for me that is only a fantasy. For the bird it is his reality. Flying is simply what birds do.

Magicians routinely do things that seem impossible to laymen, but sadly, too many magicians today present their wonders to an audience as puzzles rather than miracles of magic. Tony Slydini, one of the world’s most talented magicians, performed for magicians more than for laymen and his presentation style reflected that. He would often present an effect and challenge magicians to “watch closely and you will see what I do.” In other words, “Catch me if you can.”

That style of performing may work for magicians, but it’s one of the worst ways to perform for laymen. It robs laymen of that awe struck feeling when they see a miracle performed right under their nose. The effect becomes little more than a puzzle for the audience to figure out how it was done. That cheapens and destroys the impact of the magic. Magic is AWESOME and MIRACULOUS, but puzzles are only puzzling until the secret is discovered. Magic should seem to have no secrets. Magic should just happen.

When a magician performs as naturally as the bird soars he will leave his audience feeling as I felt watching the bird fly so close to the clouds. There will be a level of respect and admiration from the audience that a trickster presenting puzzles will never earn.

I was talking with a couple of card guys a few days ago. They called themselves Cardicians. They were so focused on the sleights, but seemed to care nothing about giving a powerful presentation. Flashy cuts, shuffles, and deals are not magical. They are interesting skills, but should not be mistakenly thought of as being magical on their own. The magic comes when a magician can take those skills and show an audience something miraculous that doesn’t seem to be accomplished by doing any special moves at all. Sleights, and all the technicalities of our secret methods should remain as invisible as possible if we ever hope to make our audiences experience the awe struck power of seeing a miracle performed under their noses.

The card guys wanted me to see their moves. They wanted me to be impressed with the moves and their technical skills. I wanted to see and feel the magic. I wanted to see the results of those special technical moves and hours of practice. I wanted to watch them perform and never be able to see them do a single move.

If you’re going to do a double lift, just do it. Don’t tell me what you’re doing unless it is part of your teaching me how to do an effect. When performing just do it so well no one knows you are doing anything suspicious. When teaching another magician, do it slowly and make sure he understands every detail of the special move. That’s two very different scenarios and outcomes.

The bird didn’t shout down to me and say, “I flapped my wings very hard and fast until I reached an altitude high enough to soar on the thermal updrafts.” No, that bird just did what he could do and never told me how he was able to do it. He didn’t feel the need for me to know. He didn’t seem to care if I was impressed with his skills. Would it make me appreciate his ability to fly even more if I knew how much skill it took? Not at all. I would prefer to just watch him fly and be amazed at how well he can do it. Knowing how he flies doesn’t make me able to do it. He’s a bird. Flying is what birds do.

Magicians should be more like the bird. Magic is what we do. We shouldn’t want our audiences to be amazed at our skill levels. We should instead want them to be amazed at what we can do and how it makes them feel when they watch us do it. Birds make flying look easy. For a magician, magic should seem to come so easily for him. It should be perceived that way by the spectator.

An experienced magician is like the falcon effortlessly soaring high in the sky, but too many magicians today, especially this YouTube generation of amateurs, fly more like a moth than a bird. Have you watched a moth try to fly? It’s like watching a five pound bag of sugar with little wings try to fly. A moth will fly a very short distance, turn sharply, drop suddenly, rise suddenly, crash into something, and start that whole process over again. It’s painful to watch such a sad display of flying skills. Moths fly, but when compared to birds and most other flying insects, the lowly moth is slow and cumbersome and his ability to fly is weak.

As a magician, are you more like the falcon or the moth? Is your magical performance weak and all over the place or are you focused on perfecting your technique until you no longer have to think about it when performing. Are you focused on your facial features and gestures and the patter and plot lines of your effects, or do you struggle through the mechanics of each secret move?

Most of the so-called magicians on YouTube who reveal magic secrets are like the most clumsy of the moths. They do not have the necessary skills to be a magician so they learn magic secrets and reveal them in an effort to look good in the eyes of others. They are unable to do magic because they do not understand the secret ingredients that go into performing great magic. They sadly and wrongly believe that the magic of an effect is found in its secret method. The real secret of great magic is found in the performance. It is the performance that the audience most cares about, most highly values, loves, and respects. Why? Because it is the performance that causes the spectators to feel the emotional impact of the magic. Great magic should be felt more than seen.

I was once asked to be a guest speaker at a local magic club. Rather than go there and do a typical perform and reveal type of lecture I decided to give the club a performance only. I had recently been hired to consult with a couple of well known pros, one of them had a popular show in Las Vegas at the time. The other did mostly corporate and trade show magic. Much of what I worked on with the two professional magicians was helping them develop more powerful and magical performances for each of the effects in their shows. We didn’t work on a lot of new effects. Instead we focused on making their current effects more magical with a greater impact on the audience.

In preparing for the magic club performance I went to my magic filled bookcase and removed a small book of tricks and simple stunts titled, “Over 264 Instant Magic Tricks” written by The Amazing Dorian and published by David Robbins in 1964. The book , a compilation of four books published by D. Robbins. “Practical Magic”, “50 Tricks With a Thumb Tip”, “102 Startling Tricks You Can Do Quickly,” and “84 Card Tricks” by Max Padell are bound together under one cover. Believe-it-or-not, there are some great effects in that little book. I’m sure you have seen a book like that in your local bookstore, school library, or maybe even on a shelf in your personal magic library. Most magicians think of books like that as being for children and beginners only, but I wanted to prove a point. I wanted to demonstrate that it is not so much the magic trick as it is the magical performance that makes magic powerful. So I chose 10 simple effects from the book and I worked on my presentations for each of them. At the end of my performance I received a rousing standing ovation from the club members.

After the performance I revealed that all of the effects they had just seen came from one book. Everyone demanded to know the title of such a great book and wanted to know if it was still available. When I told them the title and actually showed them the book they looked stunned and even disappointed at first. They couldn’t believe such powerful effects could be found among the pages filled with simple tricks, science based and bar bet types of stunts. They did not want to believe they had been fooled by effects found in a “kid’s book” of magic, but they had not only been fooled, but thoroughly entertained. The senior club members acted a little insulted after the revelation, but I know some of the members walked away that day with a better appreciation of what the real secret is to making good, entertaining, powerful, emotional magic.

I have been to magic conventions and have seen competitions, both close-up and stage, where more than one magician did the same trick. Their performances were standard fare, with almost identical routining and patter. Today, many magicians learn new effects by watching DVDs instead of studying the magic effects found in books. More often than not, most magicians will try to perform the effect exactly like the magician on the DVD. Often times, they will even mimic his hand gestures, body language, and facial expressions. There will be no originality to their performances. So we end up with countless cookie cutter magicians performing cookie cutter magic. That is what nearly turned me against magic a few years ago. That is also why magic is still not considered to be a real performing art like singing and dancing are today. Too few magicians will take an effect and make it their own by developing new routines, or new handlings. Too few magicians know how to take a simple effect and turn it into a piece of magical theater for not only the astonishment, but more importantly, for the entertainment of their audiences.

Much of that is because so few ever fully understand the relationship between a performer and the audience. Most magicians think it is their job to fool an audience. Yes, you want your effects to fool them, but more important than simply fooling them, you want to entertain them. That is the job of all entertainers, including magicians.

I have consulted with magicians who walk out on stage and think to themselves, “Here I am! Watch me! I’m going to fool you bad.”

If they fully understood the relationship between a true entertainer and the audience they would walk out on stage and think, “There YOU are. I want to share something special with you. Please, let me entertain you.”

There is a song and dance number from the Broadway play GYPSY. It is a play about the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. A number of great actresses have played the part of Gypsy through the years including Natalie Wood and Bette Midler. During one of the song and dance numbers Gypsy takes the stage and sings “Let Me Entertain You.” It is a classic moment of theater that never fails to get the audience going, even though there is no real stripping happening on stage. It’s all implied. Let’s take a look at the lyrics to “Let Me Entertain You.”

Let me entertain you
Let me make you smile
Let me do a few tricks
Some old and then some new tricks
I’m very versatile

And if you’re real good
I’ll make you feel good
I’d want your spirit to climb
So let me entertain you
We’ll have a real good time
Yes sir!
We’ll have
A real good time!

So, it’s doubtful that any magician reading this article will be stripping on stage any time soon, but those lyrics reflect how an entertainer should relate to the audience. You should want to entertain them, make them smile, make their spirits climb, and have a real good time. You do that by presenting your magic in the most entertaining ways. That means making sure that not only are your secret techniques and moves perfected, but more importantly, your presentation is perfected. It will be your presentation that will determine in the minds of your audience whether you truly entertained them or merely momentarily amused them.

If more magicians would only realize that all the sleights and secret methods employed by them are not magic. The magic happens when you create a presentation for an effect that brings about a deep emotional response in the spectators. Sure, it’s possible to amaze, mystify, and fool someone by simply doing a trick and saying nothing. But when you realize that you can do much more than simply fooling your audience then you will come to realize the full power of magic. You will spend more time developing your presentations than on developing your technical skills. When you come to understand that it is the technical skills that enable you to do the effect, but it is the presentation that delivers the emotional punch for an audience, you will be able to take your magic to the next level. That is a level that few amateurs or pros ever achieve.

Until there is a widespread awakening among magicians that the presentation is where the true magic can be found, magic will not be taken seriously as a performing art. Magicians as a whole will be viewed as little more than simple tricksters simply doing card tricks. Whether the magic is done with cards, coins, silks, doves, or grand illusion is irrelevant. A trick is just a trick until it becomes integrated into a great presentation that the audience can relate to emotionally.

The old masters of magic understood well this concept, but many of today’s practitioners of magic seem to have lost that understanding. They have forgotten what it takes to make magic real for an audience. Instead of presenting great moments of magical theater, they simply present a series of magical puzzles in hopes of simply fooling their audience. In presenting magic this way, it loses much of its magical entertainment value and impact.

Last week I performed an effect for a couple of ladies. The method used is drop dead simple, but when presented properly it creates a powerful emotionally charged magical moment for the spectators. I have developed a presentation for this particular effect that really strikes at the heart of the spectator’s deepest emotions. It is a mentalism effect that revolves around someone special in the spectator’s life who has died. When my presentation had ended both ladies were crying. They were deeply touched in their remembrance of the deceased loved one. I seemed to pay homage to him through my magic, which left them crying and laughing. Both ladies hugged me and thanked me for “sharing something so wonderful with us.”

I wasn’t the star, the trick wasn’t the star. I made the deceased loved one the star of that effect and it left them with a magical memory they will never forget. That is the power and magic of a great and well thought out presentation. It is in the presentation that the real magic of being a magician is found. It’s not found by focusing on you and your abilities. The real magic is found when you focus on your audience members and you make every effort to entertain them and make their enjoyment and pleasure the purpose of your performance.

Every magician has the ability to give an audience something that no other performer can give. You have the potential to connect with each audience member as no other type of performer can do. You can do this, but only when you stop simply presenting tricks and puzzles, and instead, focus upon creating the most entertaining and emotional theatrical presentations for each of your effects.

Make your audience look at you as I looked at the bird soaring across the sky. Make them walk away touched, inspired, and having experienced a time of true magic in their hearts and minds. Determine in your heart and mind that you will join me this day in an effort to bring back the emotional power and beauty of magic. If enough of us will do this, magic may in the near future, be taken more seriously and finally be recognized as a true performing art worthy of the respect it so deserves. Consider how magic is being presented by most magicians today. No wonder it is not taken seriously as are other established performing arts? That can be changed. I can change that. You can change that. We can all work together to change the negative perception that has hovered over magic like a dark cloud for so long.

Magic will become more widely respected when we magicians start taking our performances more seriously. If we want others to love and respect magic we must first show our own love and respect for it as an art form. I ask that you join me today as I embark on a mission to change magic and how it is performed by magicians and perceived by the world. Together we can make this happen. The ancient art of magic deserves to finally be revered as one of the greatest of all the performing arts. Reverence for our art must begin within each of us. Let it begin now.

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