One of the reasons why Ken Weber’s book “Maximum Entertainment” is so darn good is he learned from critiquing others.
To get a feel for even my surface level opinions of magic I made a short list of common problems, and pet peeves that specifically close up magicians do which are leading to weak and bad magic. Let me know what you think of the list and if any you agree and disagree with, or any big ones I missed!
“Take this one step further”
Why do magicians insist on saying the same phrases over and over again like broken records.
This is my favorite example of a phrase that has somehow made its way into the vocabulary of too many magicians. When we have phrases or words that we use repeatedly or too often like this it means one of two things. Either you’re replacing an “ummm” or dead silence with words in the moment, which is a step in the right direction from sounding like a fool, but not good enough. Or you actually like saying the same thing over and over again, and you think it benefits you in some way.
Assuming you are only speaking to fill the air, try to exchange the phrases for ones using a different vocabulary.
It’s worth using an audio recorder and going through a couple of effects to see if there is anything that you seems to say over and over again, or something that is particularly annoying. Record yourself when you are performing not just when you are practicing because often our quips don’t come out unless we’re in the moment. Even if you think that it’s important to tell your audience to focus, or that you will take something further, or any other phrase. Try to find some other language to say the same thing. Everyone benefits from the performer having a better vocabulary to voice his thoughts and idea
It’s critical to remember that we are performing for the audience, and not for ourselves. When we sit at home practicing we often get into the habit of staring at our own hands, this is good for maybe the first few days of doing a move to ensure your finger positions are correct, after that you should make sure that all looks to your hand in an effect are intentional and directed when you want the audience to look too. If you find that you have issues misdirecting at certain moments, it’s probably because they have learned that there is no reason to look at you when all of the information is coming from the cards.
Try to use your words, and body language to promote magic between people and not between props and eyes. Even worse, when we practice with a mirror we’re used to looking at our hands in a reflection, so we have nothing to do when we’re in person. If you’re at home try practicing for a wall instead of a mirror. It will give you a better feel for a person (feel free to draw some faces on your wall with sharpie, it will help you visualize)
Asking questions and not even pretending to care about the answers
If you’re like me early in your magic career you’ve learned the usefulness of asking questions. It helps theatrically because it makes a performance engaging, and it helps with misdirection because their mind is focused on answering the question, you buy yourself a few milliseconds. But, try to understand that your audience is often relatively intelligent, and even a part of them will be working out how the trick could be done. If you do something that makes no sense or is unjustified they will understand and feel that something fishy must have happened. The thing is, they’re right.
You are trying to lead them on a linear path from the beginning to the end of a trick, don’t ask questions that are unrelated to where the magic is going. It will only confuse the process, and when spectators reflect back on the effect, even if you have effectively misdirected them, I can assure the effect will be cloudy and tough to understand. If you insist on using a question to achieve your misdirection, try to brainstorm one that is relevant and where their opinion could have some sort of effect on the effect.
Not giving specific enough directions
From the first moment of your magic trick to the last, your spectators are being attentive to you, you are in charge, you are the leader. They want to experience magic, so they need to be in it 100%. It’s important to capture that, and keep the attention at an all time high. One of the easiest ways I have found to do that is direction. At every moment, the spectators should understand exactly what is going on, if they don’t they will be looking to you or around for clarification. You run the risk of losing their interest,them being distracted, or more likely, them missing one critical thing that you said and ruining the impact of the trick. People like to be lead on a journey, you signed up to be that leader when you offered to do something impossible for them. Allow them to play, and participate and give them clear information about what to do. You will be wildly impressed.
Each effect has a story arc. A beginning, a middle, and an end. The speed and volume in which you speak and move should reflect that. For example there’s a sweet spot near the end of the middle and beginning of the end where slowing down is incredibly helpful. If you slow down and speak a little bit softer spectators will lean in, both mentally and physically, allowing for the punch of your climax to hit hard. Make sure that you are building tension up to and during the moment where they are approaching the realization of what is about to happen magically. We are waiting for a lightbulb moment where they realize what’s about to happen. Those seconds leading up to those moment are some of the most important in an effect. you sit down to eat your favorite meal in the world. Do you want it to last two minutes or ten? Magic is the same thing, if you slow down your speech you will be much more able to pick on important moments. Audience members will want to participate, and answer questions with intent, and not to allow you to continue speaking, which is awesome! As magicians we get to play with emotions. If you aren’t convinced yet that slowing down will help the strength of the effect watch your favorite movie and see which parts of the movie they move particularly slowly in.
If you are, or plan on being payed for your magic you need to smile. So many magicians are so absorbed into their magic, that the whole process of approaching a spectator, performing, leaving a business card and moving on is methodical. Try to connect with your audience verbally, with eye contact, and by smiling. If you find yourself getting heckled sometimes, by smiling you might be surprised that everyone smiles back at you
Converse and see them as humans
We often see spectators as just that, spectators. Its already enough that as magicians we repeat effects hundreds of times, including scripting. The only way to make these performances entertaining for us is to allow audieence members to be different. Encourage conversation, discussion, and anything else to get everyone enjoying themselves. We are magicians, our job is entertainment.