About 8 months ago I had a horrible feeling, one of the worst feelings that a magician can have.
It was 3 weeks away from going on a small multi-show tour with my act.
I was just finalizing the tricks that were in it and after sitting down and having an honest conversation with a friend of mine I realized…
I hated my act
Now, I had never felt that before, but if I was being honest with myself, I didn’t like the material.
The magic didn’t represent me and it lacked clarity. I chose it because it was safe. More than anything I just didn’t like it!
I decided making a new act was not the best option given the time frame, but instead I could tighten up and change some presentations to be more… presentable.
It ended up being a relatively good tour, but I didn’t enjoy performing it.
When I got back I vowed that I would never perform material that I don’t like again, which was a problem because I didn’t like my show.
So I tossed the act out the window.
Over the last 6 months I’ve been starting from scratch.
I’ve been learning how to add tricks to my show… The right way.
I’m no longer thinking of myself as my close-up character. Ad-libbing, and being charming on stage, is just not enough.
I need to think of myself more like a comedian. Like Jerry Seinfeld or Louis C.K, taking months and even years to craft a great single joke or moment and learning precisely how to not skip a beat!
So How Do You Add Material to Your Show?
If you’ve scrambled for material, felt like you don’t have enough, been embarrassed after something you’ve performed, or wanted to start pulling an act together here’s something you might like. I put together a short list of things I’ve learned over the last 6 months (and 17 years) of performing new material regularly.
Here are a few tips to follow that might help you add new magic to your show.
1. Do it many times
I love comparing magicians to comedians and actors because it’s so revealing! Being a successful magician is not as difficult as being a successful actor or comedian.
How do I know?
Actors stand in lines for hours with dozens of people just to audition to be on a commercial for 25 seconds.
Comedians (even the pros) go to open mic nights, night after night bombing their 5 min acts, trying new material and honing old material.
Magicians post on forums and Facebook groups 24 hours before an event asking for ideas, or they try a trick twice in their basement and charge a few hundred dollars for that 40 min act!
It’s time for magicians to step up our game.
It’s time for us to earn our acts. We need to do our acts dozens and dozens and dozens of times before they’re valuable.
I’ve been lucky to work very closely with Ben Train and help produce a weekly show in Toronto called Newest Trick in The Book where 4 magicians get an opportunity to try out a 10 min set.
There’s one rule: new material only.
This weekly performance has been a blessing! It’s basically open mic night for magicians. Every week I’m challenged to create something new and take a risk.
I can now visit and revisit effects, decide certain bits that stay in my set and certain bits that go! (Is this how comedians feel?)
If you can, I highly recommend finding a venue that you can perform at regularly!
BUT PLEASEEE! Don’t worry about how much money you make at it! I make $0 for this weekly show, but its one of the most valuable things I do every week.*
*Actually I lose about $9 to get there by public transit
Nobody got good at what they do without doing it many many times.
Nobody is amazing at what they do because they’ve read many books or bought many magic downloads. People are good at what they do because they do it over and over and over.
Lets be like those people!
I never understood when people spoke about failing.
Its one of those things that pro’s talk about, but amateurs don’t.
Here is a way to understand how you can learn from failure.
Failure is a result of doing something different
If you want to benefit from failures let it be failures because you tried something new, not failures because you should have practiced your pass longer.
Having failed many times for large and small audiences, I’ve felt the worst of it (See this story if you don’t believe me)
Failure sucks. But you get over it, and it’s where you learn two things.
You learn WHAT you did wrong so that you don’t do it again.
You learn that you failed, the world didn’t end, a few people didn’t like your performance, and that’s all that happened.
It helps remind us how worth it it is to take calculated risks. The upside is way better than the downside!
The upside to taking a calculated risk during your act, is you could have a bit, trick, or idea that you keep in your act for years and years because you tried something new and it worked.
If the risk doesn’t pay off then either a trick, joke, or a segment of the show doesn’t work and people get on with their lives, and you learn through failure.
You shouldn’t take risks all the time, but it’s impossible to put new material tricks, jokes, or otherwise in your show without risking that things don’t work out. We’ve all at least taken one risk, don’t be afraid to do something new.
Oh the power of the camera!
By filming your performances you allow yourself to see what your audience sees.
If you’ve never done this and think you know what your performance looks like on stage, you’re wrong!
Your mind is elsewhere, you’re focusing on lines, angles and every thing else. Definitely not monitoring your performance.
Often times when you watch yourself back on camera it’s cringeworthy.
We can’t believe THAT is what we sounded like.
Fight through it!
Watching yourself on camera and critiquing it is one of the best ways to find great parts of your performance to keep and find horrible parts of your performance to never say again.
You can’t trust your memory from the stage. Your brain is warped by all of the chemicals released when you’re up there excited. The camera however, never lies.
If you can’t afford a camera you can surely afford a $15 dollar phone mount. With it, you can film every performance.
Remember you’re filming the performances for you, not Facebook or Instagram, so the quality doesn’t matter!
I promise most of the issues of you show, you can find yourself. You know magic well enough to know when someone else does something poorly, so you can surely tell when you do too.
Before you reach out for feedback from others, get feedback from yourself, and try to self-correct! You will be much wiser to have hours of reviewed footage of your act under your belt before seeking advice from others.
Which leads me to…
There are two types of feedback
Ultimately the feedback that matters most is the audience. Unless you’re honing a piece for your next magic convention, you’re going to be performing for laypeople.
When I say listen to the audience more than anything I mean listening to when they laugh, when they listen, when you lose them, and where they are focused most on critical moments of the show. That is what it means to listen to your audience!
The same way you know that some jokes you are good at telling, and some fall flat. You only know because of audience response.
Listen to how they react
As for listening to magicians it’s a little bit more difficult. The great part about advice from magicians is it’s plentiful! If you want 3 opinions just ask 2 magicians.
The bad part about advice from magicians is that often they have no idea what they’re talking about. Plus, you and them might want different things.
My motto is: take all advice and criticism with a grain of salt, but take it nonetheless.
5. Reinventing the wheel takes time
We all want to be performing the best, newest, most creative, magical thing, but these things take time.
I think the reason you should change an effect, or method is because you want to in order to reach a desired goal.
Not because you feel like you have to in order to be different.
You don’t have to do anything. You can do a trick right out the box. It just might be more fun, and rewarding to do something special that is fun, new, or exciting for you!
Creating unique effects or methods isn’t a necessity.
I think it’s wildly important to create your own presentations, less important to create your own effects, and even less important to create your own methods.
Even David Blaine has a team of creators to help see if what he envisions can be a reality method-wise.
I might get a lot of flack for inviting it, but most magicians are performing other peoples material anyways. The magicians who perform their own material have taken years and years to create those pieces.
Often the best pieces of magic are the 1000th evolution of something.
The first time you do a new trick on stage it’s the LEAST YOURS that trick will ever be.
Especially if you bought it or got it from a book or DVD. As you perform it over and over change what you don’t like and keep what you like. It should evolve into something that is unrecognizable from the original.
As Mark Twain said: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope”
The hard truth is, you often have to start with someone else idea, and insist on evolving it into your own.
6. Creating New Material
You might get a lot out of advice about how to implement new magic into your show, but ultimately the hard part is actually creating the magic that you want to do.
You want it to be audience tested, but also feel original. Brilliantly scripted, without sounding rehearsed.
To create new material you need to have an understanding of your character, and you have to be willing to do something that might be clunky for a little while.
While I cant promise you perfection, I can promise you help you along the way.
From Feb 15th – 21st we’re running a free “Masterpiece Challenge” where we help magicians turn a trick into their own personal masterpiece with tools like scripting, filming your performance, generating ideas, and much more (all of the important stuff).
Sign Up Below!