Skip to main content

Practical Magic 

Magic, Mishap and Audience Management. Performing practical magic in front of a live audience is very different to practising in the mirror at home. Furthermore, even professional magicians are prone to the odd mishap here and there!

Often audiences will assume that everything is not as it seems. For example, when performing close up magic they might think that I have something tucked away in my clothing. Or perhaps that I even have a string attached somewhere. It’s important to understand what theories an audience might have so that you can take actions to rule out their suspicions. In our example above, that could simply be, rolling up your sleeves.

Furthermore, if I am using a deck of cards in my performance, for example, I have had several audience members enquire if they could replace my deck with theirs, or if they can shuffle the cards before I start. If I was to say no, this would not only allay their suspicions but ultimately make the entire experience a rather flat one.

So when such requests occur, it is actually something I have come to relish! If you have experience performing practical magic with real audiences, being able to cope with different demands elevates a performance from a good one, to a great one. Tackling cynical minds wins over the toughest of audiences and ultimately, who doesn’t love to convince the sceptics?

Getting the most from a magic trick

In our modern world, there are explanations for practically everything – magic tricks may be broken down and detailed on millions of sites across the Internet. This is where a true magician excels: by being able to create a story around a magic trick that means simply understanding the secret of a trick does not diminish the experience. Performing practical magic involves a performer who has garnered years of experience. Therefore they know how to connect with an audience beyond the trick itself. Beyond this, they must also have an ability to give an audience the feeling they are re-creating a trick, as oppose to simply repeating it. This is achieved by being able to modify their performance on the fly and continually adapt to what an audience presents them with.

The Dark Arts

Performers who definitely know how to create a miracle from a simple magic trick, are those who claim to have genuine powers. Clairvoyants or mediums might claim to communicate with a passed loved one, or even pray on communities searching for something to believe in. As dastardly as this comes across, these performers are often those that have perfected the art of compelling performance through thousands of hours practice in front of live audiences.

You all have heard dark tales along these lines before, in some shape or form. Charlatans – and that is what they are – claiming to be able to speak with a long-deceased loved one may then transfer that performance to entering a religious setting and claiming to be able to heal the sick.

A school friend of mine suffers from an autoimmune disorder: for years, he was unable to walk.  Despite seeing every medical specialist far and wide, his mother even took him to see a spiritualist.  The man explained that my friend had angered a spirit whilst hiking in the American mountains, relieving himself on a tree and not apologising.  To remedy this, the spiritualist repeated a chant, spitting mouthfuls of water on my mate’s already balding head to cleanse him of the vengeful spirit.  My friend, alas, was not healed as he departed that evening back home.  He did, however, now sport a damp head of hair with his ears ringing long into the night. It has since become a story which he laughs about to this day.

When in conversation with me, I am fully transparent in that I claim to have absolutely zero supernatural abilities. What I do has taken a lifetime to adopt and perfect: indeed, I am far from the finished article. What you will never see me do is claim to be more than what I am.

Things going wrong

Crikey I digressed, back to the topic at hand.

Practice is all very well but do things go wrong when developing magic routines? Certainly! At times, things even go wrong during performance – you’d just never know it. I have spent so many years performing in front of live audiences I’ve learnt how to navigate my way out of any situation. An unfortunate growing trend amongst newcomers to magic is that the trick = magic.

We can thank this, in no small part, to YouTube.

It is simply not enough to be fooled. A large part of a magician’s capabilities is their ability to perform in front of audiences. It is not as simple as practicing in front of a mirror or delivering a routine amongst friends and family members. As we have disussed, practical magic requires performing in a live setting. It is no different to practising a speech in your bedroom compared to delivering one in front of your entire department: practice is fantastic – and encouraged, of course – but the experiences gained from practical performances are second to none. My advice to all performers is this:

Practice, practice, practise, and practice some more in front of live audiences. It is the only way you will work out what is practical magic and what is not.

Story is everything

I do not profess to have magical abilities. Nor be a conjurer of the dark arts. Everything in my repertoire has been conceived and accomplished by thousands of hours of practice and getting out and performing practical magic tricks.

Upcoming performers must ensure that their routine – from one trick to another – works in synergy with one another.  For example, it might not necessarily work if you remove an audience member’s tie without physically touching them and follow that up with catching a live bullet ten feet away using only your teeth.

Jolts in your storytelling narrative are a common amateur error. It would certainly be amiss if you explained how you developed your magical abilities after being struck by a bolt of lightning when backpacking across Brazil before – minutes later – explaining that you were granted divine abilities when beamed aboard an alien spaceship.

At the end of the day, performers live and die by their reputations.  Whilst a singular show may not necessarily make or break yours, continuity assures longevity and respect across any business model.

Know your audience.  Research is not just key – but is what may make or break your reputation.

What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the comments below!  Take care!