Read these 49 Performance Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Magic tips and hundreds of other topics.
A LifeTips reader recently asked, "What is the most important thing about magic?". It may sound like a rather complicated question, but actually... it's not.
Magicians fret over tricks and effects. They worry greatly about their appearance and their stage presence. They spend tons of money on props, sound equipment, assistants, lighting, and whatever else they think will make them a better magician. But... lost is the one basic principle that's at the very heart of magic...
Everything we do comes down to one basic question - was it entertaining? You can have thousands of dollars in props and equipment, you can dress to the hilt and spend a fortune on 'secrets'; but ultimately, it all comes down to your performance and whether or not it entertains the audience.
I have friends who've spent endless hours working on a pass or a double undercut, and they can perform them to perfection... but they had never developed the ability to entertain. Oh, they can impress other magicians with their technical skills, but they are missing the basic point. We are here to entertain the audience. Just as surely as a circus clown, a singer, a trapeze artist, a lion tamer, or a comedian use their skills to entertain, so should a magician.
Don't think I'm against buying props and spending money to make for a better, more professional appearance. I'm not. But in the midst of watching David Copperfield perform his magic with million dollar illusions, one of my favorite moments was watching him sit on the edge of the stage and perform a Crazy Man's Handcuff routine with two rubber bands. He made it magical... he made it simply entertaining.
Robert-Houdin, the gentleman and master magician who was the inspiration for Houdini, once famously said...
"..in order to please the public, an idea must be, if not novel, at least sufficiently transformed, so that it cannot be recognized. Only in that way can an artist escape a remark that always fills him with dread —'I have seen that before.'"
When adapting an effect from a fellow magician, always keep this in mind. Change the effect enough to make it your own and keep the audience amazed. Simple statements like "I've seen that before" can dishearten a young performer trying to establish himself/herself with their audience.
Some magicians are quite comfortable performing as a 'character'. A friend of mine performs in the style of Charlie Chaplin. Another performs as a slightly addled gentleman who dislikes children, although he performs for children and gets laughs from children and adults alike.
Performing as a character requires more than simply dressing funny and trying to get a laugh. A character needs a personality. If you want to be a character, how is your character going to act onstage and how is he/she going to interact with the audience?
Think about this deeply before forming a character. If your character is going to act like yourself, then what is the purpose of forming a character in the first place? Why not simply be who you are and let your personality impress the audience.
If you still want to characterize yourself, then remember that you need to develop fully the storyline and history of your character. You will probably be asked many times to explain why you use the character you use and how you came up with the character and what the character represents. Develop an interesting history to go along with your character, one that helps the audience understand why you are choosing this particular character. And lastly, again, fully develop the character's persona.
How do you pace your show? Do you include the right combination of effects in your show?
Shows flow. Some good, some bad. Keeping an audience entertained involves more than simply performing a series of effects... How you perform those effects and what type of effects you perform will ultimately determine your success.
A 'serious' effect shouldn't be followed by a second serious effect. Likewise, an audience participation effect shouldn't be followed by a second one. The proper routining involves a good 'pace'.
Combine a serious effect with a comedy effect, and then an audience participation effect. Follow a big effect with a small one. David Copperfield performs a grand vanish... and then sits on the stage to perform a linking and unlinking rubber band effect.
Sometimes we add effects to our routine that don't work... or at least we think they don't work. Simply because you don't get the response you hoped for is no reason to cut a good effect.
There are many reasons why an effect doesn't seem to work. It may be because of a lack of practice. Or maybe it needs a little humor to loosen the audience. Of course, it could be a simple case of nerves on your part, the effect being outside your normal comfort zone.
In any case, perform a new effect a minumum of four different times before writing it off. There was probably a good reason you thought it deserved a spot in your routine. Trust your judgement, until your audience thoroughly proves you otherwise.
Getting a real gig can be quite exciting for many magicians. They spend the days between the initial agreement and their performance planning their effects and routining their performance.
Now, how would you feel if you showed up for the performance with several mentalism effects that involved you contacting the 'spirits' to discern a spectators chosen card or some other mental selection, and discovered during or after your performance that many in the audience were fundamental religious participants who were offended by your use of the 'spirits' to conduct your magic?
This is simply a lack of planning. It's a great tip to take the time to ask a few basic questions of the person who hires you regarding the audience. Don't be afraid to ask if they will be in any way offended by mentalism, mind reading, or any attempts at humor that might involve double entendres or adult type effects and language.
It's your responsibility to ask... and it's your feelings that are going to get hurt if you don't do your homework.
Who are you? Every good magician needs a persona. Not necessarily a character, but a defining personality that establishes who you are in the world of magic. Yes, some magicians use characters: mad scientists, Chaplin, bumbling idiots, gamblers, sophisticated socialites, among many... but even those that don't use characterization generally establish a consistant look and 'feel'.
David Blaine always goes for the 'wanderer', walking the streets while performing his magic. His dress is always the same; blue jeans and a tee shirt. Criss Angel dresses like a goth biker. Penn and Teller dress in dark suits. Lance Burton frequently dresses in a tuxedo.
Certainly, you don't have to be someone you're not... but it helps to be someone recognizable to your audience.
Children need visual gags. Yes, the magic is important, but children will respond to you and your magic much stronger if they can be made to laugh. Slapstick is always funny to children. Tripping, falling down, getting tangled up in some way, always gets a laugh. Even if they don't quite 'get' the magic, they will get the humor, and that will go a long ways toward making your show successful.
Check the link in the Magic Links category for David Kaye's 'Seriously Silly' book. If you need help setting up and carrying out a first class childrens show, David's book is the answer.
Many a magician both got their start, and to this day, perform childrens magic shows. It takes a special magician to venture into the world of small people, who possess a different mindset from adults. There is definitely a different psychology involved, and what works for adults will, in all probability, make you look silly when performing for children.
When children are properly coaxed, they do not have the shy factor present in most adults. Whereas adults have a limit as to how involved they will become in a performance by a stranger, children will become totally involved -if- you know how to encourage them to do so.
Children want to be a part of the show. They respond not only to your magic, but to one of their own who has been brought up to help with your magic. They will respond equally well if you can develop effects that let them shout out magic words or answers to questions that you seem unable to conjur; questions like "What happen to the ball?" when they can see the ball and you act as if you can't find it. They want to feel smart. And if you can let them shine, instead of simply trying to entertain them, you'll grab their attention and their wonderful little hearts.
"Play big, pack small" is more than just a saying.. It's a tip that many professional magicians' have learned the hard way.
There's nothing quite like your baggage being lost by the airline. Or, realizing that the 'stage' you must perform on is about the size of a postage stamp. Every magician has horror stories...
They all learned that there are tricks that appear much bigger than they actually are, and that they can be packed in a much smaller space than the bigger, clunkier apparatus they previously carried from place to place. Imagine you carry a wooden vanishing cabinet six feet tall to each performance. What if you could achieve a similar vanish with a pop-up tent? How much room and weight, not to mention trouble, do you save?
Can you think of ways to reduce YOUR load and streamline you act. The day will come when you will see the need, so go ahead and get a head start...
Performing magic for children is a daunting task. It requires a different psychology than that required to perform for adults. Most who perform magic for children will quickly admit that keeping their attention is an absolute MUST, because loosing it will bring your act crashing down around you.
Involving the children in your act is one of the only truly tried and tested ways to keep their attention. I'm not saying bring them all onstage... because you can assure their involvement from the stage. How?
Use a magic word...
Create an appropriate word for the age group. Young children from three to six need something unique, but something they can remember. Let's say you use ' Shazam '. Tell them the magic word, ask them to repeat it together, and during the trick point at a child and ask them to remind you of the magic word. Give them the opportunity to earn praise from you. Always end an effect with your magic word, shouted in unison by your audience.
Children love to feel recognized and praised. Even a puppy will patiently sit at attention if he senses' you have a 'treat' in your hand. Children will sit patiently waiting on praise, and waiting on an opportunity to shout the magic word. Children naturally feel as if they are part of your act if they can verbally participate.
Don't underestimate this powerful method... It works.
The old adage is.. magicians practice in front of a mirror. They need the perspective offered by a face-on view to see how their effects will look to an audience. Although this is a fine method of practice, there IS a better method.
Almost everyone has a video camera or web cam. Using a camera gives you the opportunity to see yourself from both the front and sides. Plus, you can concentrate fully on performing the effect, not trying to perform and watch yourself in a mirror at the same time.
If you archive some of your effects on tape you can go back and see your improvement.
Personally, I have a Pure Digital recorder, better known as a FLIP camcorder. It records to internal memory, doesn't require tape or a disc, saves my recordings in MP4 format, and plugs into my computer with a built-in USB plug. This has been the ideal method for me, and I believe something similar will work wonders for you magic as well..
Stage Fright affects virtually every magician at some point of their career. Many are affected the first time they set foot onstage. Others are affected the first time they perform in a large venue. And the tell-tale signs are all the same: Sweating, rapid pulse, dry mouth, trembling, and most likely a desire to go the the restroom!
Three simple tips will help overcome the fear of dread.
If at all possible, be at the venue well before time for you to perform. Go out into the lobby area or wherever the audience enters the venue and be friendly. Speak to as many of the audience members beforehand as you possibly can. Two things happen... You will recognize faces in the audience once you are onstage. They will recognize you and feel as if you are an acquaintance. The two of you have bonded somewhat, and they 'feel' for you, want you to succeed, and pull for you to do well. You have a slight sense of performing for friends and family, instead of total strangers.
Secondly, If you feel a sense of 'space', as if the room or audience has gotten too large, focus on one or two members of the audience. Look at them. Speak as if you're speaking directly to them. It's much easier to perform for two or three people than a room full of strangers. Shortly, you will be able to relax and speak to the audience as a whole.
And lastly, never get in a hurry. Take your time and TRY to enjoy yourself. Don't be afraid to stop completely, smile at your audience for a short time, and say.. " Thanks, I needed that...". They will laugh, and you will feel like a winner.
Break a leg...
Every magician has had to deal with stage fright at one time or another. It's the human in us. Careers have actually been ruined by fears that could not be successfully controlled.
There are many tips and techniques available to help you through your fear. One of my favorite, and one I have used many times, is to mentally and visually 'reduce' the audience by concentrating on only a couple of audience members. Pick out someone on the left, someone in the middle, and someone on the right and direct your speech toward them. Once you've moved from one side of the stage to the other and directed your concentration on these three audience members, you will feel more at ease and not as overwhelmed. You will not feel the stare of quite as many 'faces'.
Remember, direct your performance toward a few and you will feel less stress and more capable to do your very best.
My friend, John Kinde of Humor Power Tips (www.humorpower.com), recently wrote an interesting article to his readers, detailing how we let our strengths become our weaknesses. He was specifically speaking of public speakers, his specialty. But, after reading the article, I realized that this mode of thinking applies to magicians equally as well.
Sometimes we let what we interpret as our strength hold us back. We rely on our strength to the point where we fail to develop our weaker points. It's possible that we may find what we think are our weakest points are potentially our real ice breakers.
If, for example, you feel that your ability to make your audience laugh is your strong suit, you may be ignoring your skills as a manipulator. Strong magic, done slowly and in-your-face, needs no laughs. Let the magic speak for itself. This is simply an example, but maybe it will serve as food for thought.
Be prepared for a trick to fail. It happens to everyone who performs magic. What can you do about it.. not much. But you CAN be prepared for failure.
Is it possible for your effect to have an alternative ending? If not, is it possible for you to have a really funny one-liner for that moment?
The audience sometimes wants to laugh when you blow it, but they don't... But, if you have the ability to make light of your failure and crack a joke, it allows them to laugh. Everyone feels so much better !
You can turn a bad moment into a funny one if you're prepared. You may actually look forward to the moment to see just how well your preparation works. Simply knowing you're prepared takes the fear from failure... OK, maybe not ALL the fear, but it certainly helps keep a smile on everyone's face.
Think about it...
Some magic techniques are so direct you would be surprised to discover their simplicity. One of these is the art of 'Lapping'. Lapping is exactly what it sounds like... secretly putting an object into your lap.
Magicians perform lapping from a seated position, with a table to their forefront. They manipulate items on a table, cards or coins generally, to the edge of the table nearest their lap, and during a moment of misdirection, they politely pull the item off the table and allow it to fall into their lap. It's as simple as that...
OK, maybe it's not quite so simple, but several well known magicians, past and present, are known for their ability to 'lap' an item, and they have created entire routines around this art. I encourage you to explore this technique. Although you can only perform lapping while seated at a table, you will look for opportunities to lap objects once you discover just how powerful this technique can be...
Keep your audience in suspense; never let them know what to expect. Unless it is absolutely necessary, never warn the spectator what to expect,e.g., "I shall now make this coin appear," or you'll sound like a caricature of a bad magician. Besides, what if the trick flops? You'll have no way to cover.
FEELINGS and EMOTIONS are tied closely with MOVEMENTS AND CHOREOGRAPHY. One's movements create and project mental feelings and emotions, whether it be inspiring, spooky or exciting. Having the right mix of choreographed movements is important in tying everything into your theme, and projecting the impact that you want and to make your act POWERFUL.
Every great man is always being helped by everybody; for his gift is to get good out of all things and all persons.
Be careful of animals in your care; they make you look good. Treat them in a humane manner. Train them gently and shower them with love and affection
Don't be a clock-watcher! There's nothing less professional than a performer who continually checks his watch. I've seen magicians leave a gig exactly at the hour's mark - amid trick!. Though you are working to the contract, your social skills will suffer and your callback rate will plummet!
A trick may be very good [but] the magician must be better than the trick.
- Rene LaVand
A couple of card tricks every now and again is OK, but don't go overboard. Also avoid card tricks that masquerade as mentalism effects. Mix it up. Experiment with different types and styles of magic. There's more to the wonderful world of magic than close-up tricks. Ever consider an escape? Mentalism offers a great diversity of effects.
A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.
-James A. Garfield
I can't stress this one enough: Never let them see you sweat. You must be a bastion of stoicism while on stage. Always be prepared with an out. If a classic card force doesn't work out, simply control the card to the top and change the effect. If the revelation doesn't work out, turn it into a comedy moment. Never admit defeat!
Being a magician, you have a lot to live up to, right?
"Come on show us a trick."
This is probably one of the expressions you'll hear the most, as I know I have. But if magic means as much to you as it does to me, then I'm sure you'll swing this the other way around. Instead of them asking to see a trick, you should perform magic without announcing it. That way you will be seen as a magician, not just a person who knows a good trick or two.
"The power of performance" is definitely a useful ability in establishing an inspiring and powerful act. There are many aspects that bind
together to create such an outcome. These are techniques and preparation tips to create a more powerful and meaningful act, but don't expect to get this straight away. I am learning about this myself, through trial and error, and I'd like to share some of these with you.
4. Movements and choreography
5. Projected feelings/emotions
The five elements labeled above represent my idea of creating a powerful act. These are the exact steps I take when creating an act. In fact in the recent past I have changed my act around several times just trying to find "the right mix." For information on these specific elements, please see the individual tips bearing their names.
We must not promise what we ought not, lest
we be called on to perform what we cannot.
- Abraham Lincoln
How does one get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. It's a silly joke but truer words have never been spoken. Every magician, sooner or later (usually sooner) makes the same mistake. They learn a trick and go out and try to do it without practicing it. The simple secret does not mean it is simple to do. It takes work. But every great magician in history practiced for one reason: he or she loved to practice!
A collection of jokes and one-liners for performing magicians
From the site owner:
I thought you might be interested in a website that I have launched at www.gags.20m.com. It is a collection of jokes and one-liners with a particular bias towards magicians.
Although the site is still in its infancy, it is my hope that magicians will use the site a source of ideas and inspiration for their acts and that they will contribute to the site, making it bigger, better and funnier.
Check it out here: Jokes for Magicians
In magic, simplicity makes the masterpiece
- Edmund Spreer
An amateur magician once approached Harry Houdini and told the master illusionist that he knew five hundred card tricks. The man then asked Harry how many card tricks he knew. Harry looked at the presumptuous young man and said, "Fifteen."
Err on the side of having too few tricks -- always leave them wanting more! You'll always be called upon for more tricks. If you drown your audience in yet another twenty tricks, they'll get bored and be more wary about asking you again tin the future. One great way to destroy a magical performance is to insist on not ending it.
It's important to always use a THEME in your act. Avoid the normal "top hat and tails" that is the same as everyone else. If you wish to be a top hat magician, there of course is nothing wrong with that. But keep in mind that you really have to be good to break away from the others. In summary, try to create your own theme. I know it's easier to copy, but trust me, you'll thank me if you change. I combine 12 years experience of martial arts and Ninjitsu into my act, combined with fire, roses, candles, canes etc, all of which fit my theme of martial arts and the mystic magician. Try to create your own world of magic that fits your theme.
In magic, the mind is led ingeniously, step by step, to defeat its own logic.
- Dai Vernon
Don't presume you're above everyone's intelligence and, furthermore, don't presume that just because people didn't like a trick it was because they weren't bright enough. Your effect might very well esoteric or just plain boring.
Ask the opinions of another magician friend or three.
Cards. Everyone has their own preferences. Some swear by Bicycle. Others swear by Bee and an assortment of other brands.
Regardless, there IS a difference in different brands. The difference may not be dramatic, but once you begin to learn flourishes and double lifts and various cuts, you'll notice each brand has a distinct feel.
No one can tell you, or try to tell you, what deck or brand you should use. No one handles a deck quite like you. Personally, I have been critized by other magicians who feel that I shouldn't use Bee brand. They give all sort of excuses why I should use what they use.
Resist. Use what feels comfortable to you, offers you confidence, and is visually appealing to YOU.
Most importantly... be YOURSELF.
PRACTICE is also extremely important, as whatever you practice at home will shine through when you're performing. Practice as though you're on stage performing. "Repetition beats your competition," means that if you're better at your magic techniques than your competition, you will execute them more skillfully, which means a better and more polished performance.
You don't have to practice too long, to get better. In fact, practicing a few times a day is better than "slugging" it out for 5-6 hours at one time. When you've got your act "down pat" you should
try and get as much stage practice as possible in front of a live audience. This way when you've got a really important show coming up, you won't feel as
nervous or as you would without any live practice.
Consider doing free shows for schools, hospitals, care homes, shelters ... anyplace where a bit of entertainment would be welcome, but can't always be afforded. Generally they will be very glad to have you, and in return you'll get experience working with a live audience.
Considering your MOVEMENTS and CHOREOGRAPHY is important to give your act a "smooth flow" and make it easier for your audience to watch. It also makes
it easier for you as well, as you'll know exactly what to do at each moment, thus cutting down on the "error factor." Use only movements that complement your act, whether a dancing magic routine or a silent top hat and tails routine. But whatever you do make it fit together. If you watch your favorite magician you will see that he/she follows their theme closely. This
is important in creating a POWERFUL ACT.
FEELINGS/EMOTIONS is tied closely with MOVEMENTS AND CHOREOGRAPHY. ONE'S movements create and project mental feelings/emotions, whether it be inspiring, spooky or exciting. So you can see that having the right mix of choreographed movements is important in tying everything into your theme, and projecting the impact that you want and to make your act POWERFUL.
Magicians are the only ones who care about
secrets. Everyone else wants to be entertained.
- Regina Benedict Reynolds
Its called magic for a reason. Make sure your effects are spellbinding and enthralling. Choose your tricks carefully. Do only stunning tricks. Personally, I avoid spelling tricks and others involving mathematical calculations on the part of the spectator. I find they bore rather than entertain. Make your patter interesting and topical. Movement on stage keeps things fresh and interesting. Practice your patter and the manner in which you speak. All for these details adds to your audience's entertainment.
PREPARATION is vital to your act; I can't stress this enough. You will already know this I hope; I have learned this the hard way many times over. You'll need to prepare in order to get your act "properly executed" (lower the risk of error.) Everyone knows that there's nothing worse than messing up on stage.
A checklist can make this nightmare of preparation something you can cope with. Once you know you've prepared properly, you can then concentrate solely on your performance; it lets your mind be a little more relaxed, knowing everything is in order.
Like warmed-up cabbage served at each repast, the repetition kills the wretch at last.
Never repeat a trick. This is the same as telling them the secret of your trick, because if you repeat a trick, they know what is coming and will look on more carefully the second time.
Considering your MOVEMENTS and CHOREOGRAPHY is important to give your act a "smooth flow" and make it easier for your audience to watch. It also makes it easier for you as well, as you'll know exactly what to do at each moment, thus cutting down on the "error factor." Use only movements that complement your act, whether a dancing magic routine or a silent top hat and tails routine. But whatever you do, make it fit together. If you watch your favorite magician you will see that he/she follows their theme closely. This
is important in creating a POWERFUL ACT.
They say to the seers,
"See no more visions!"
and to the prophets,
"Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
- Isaiah 30:10
By yourself; don't be pretentious. Don't claim paranormal or supernatural abilities; it's counterproductive to your performance. Keep in mind Houdini's campaign against unscrupulous exploitation of the uneducated or gullible, before you claim any special abilities of your own. I've found that people are already amazed at magical effects without anyone lying to them. If you really believe you have psychic abilities then I can't really help (I'm not sure anyone can really help you actually). If you jokingly suggest that you have supernatural gifts, then show that you meant it as a good-natured lie.
Magic is meant to entertaining, not self-serving. If you claim to have incredible, preternatural abilities, then people will be in awe (falsely) of you, rather than of the effect that you do. After all, which would you rather have people respect you for, fake supernatural abilities that you obviously don't have, or the incredible dexterity and skills at which you've labored for many years?
Be considerate of your audience.
"'Do you like card tricks?' he asked. 'No,' I answered. He did five."
- Somerset Maugham
Don't force magic on your audience. The attention span of most people should be respected. 30-40 minutes of good magic is enough. You can get away with an hour show only if you're that good; but don't presume anything that hasn't been verified.
Also there are ethical, cultural and religious sensibilities that you'll need to keep in mind. Decapitation tricks don't go over well in hospital wards, and no matter how well you do Houdini's needle-swallowing trick, it's generally inappropriate for kids' parties. Make your magic and humor age appropriate. Kids don't generally want card tricks; they want bunnies.
Don't presume that your audience just loves to see more and more of you. Gauge their interest. Don't think that just because you think you have a good trick or that your performance is stunning that everyone will rather disembowel themselves than miss it. I've seen many magicians go down in flames because they insisted on doing a specific trick that they were enamoured of, but which left their audiences yawning or even upset (i.e., the razor-blade swallowing trick or a decapitation trick doesn't always sit too well with senior citizens)
Here is a surefire force that takes place in the spectators hand. Beforehand, select the card you want to force and place it as the ninth card from the top in the deck. You're now set to begin.
Casually shuffle the deck, being sure not to disturb the order of the top nine cards. Give the deck to the spectator and ask them to deal off, face down, any number of cards between ten and twenty. If they choose twenty, remind them that the instructions were any card BETWEEN ten and twenty.
Once the cards are dealt face down, ask the spectator to add the two digits of their chosen number together to arrive at a single digit. (If they chose 15, for example, then 1 and 5 is 6) Now, ask them to pick up that many cards off their dealt stack and place them back on top of the deck. The next card on top of their dealt stack is to be their selected card. Your force is complete as this is also the card you placed in the ninth position before the force began.
Patter is magical. It's difficult to perform magic without offering some sort of patter to your audience. There are as many different ways to approach a performance as there are effects to perform. Did you know that some of the top magicians take acting and theatrical art classes to aid them in the presentation of their effects and make their routines as interesting and magical as possible?
Most good effects have a good story line. Unfortunately, many magicians spend a lot of time on the effect and very little time on the patter. If you want to really 'wow' your audience then you need to get creative. This includes creating a story line that makes the audience wonder if what you're saying is true - or just make believe. Good patter creates mystery, and you cannot create mystery if the audience quickly realizes that what you're saying is, to use an English term, poppycock...
One popular magician begins an effect with "My grandmother was a gypsy. My Grandfather loved her with all his heart, but he frequently found his patience tried when she secretly taught me 'the Gypsy Way'. Now, the Gypsy way, according to my Grandmother, springs from both the heart and the deepest, most primitive instincts of man. The Gypsy Way respects mother nature and man's place in nature. It teaches us to both take joy, and live in, the moment. On second thought, I don't know if this bothered Grandpa as much as her teaching me spells and charms.. "
The magician then ties all this into the effect he is about to perform. Successful acting further enhances the effect, making the magician both sound and appear believable.
Members of the audience frequently ask him afterwards if his grandmother was really a gypsy, confirming that his story line, his patter, worked. He has been told many times how much the authentic sounding stories brought the magic to life.