Are You a Good Magic Trick? Or a Bad Magic Trick?
Are you a good magic trick? This is the big question, isn’t it?
For most magicians, it’s an ever-constant search for the best magic possible. People have shelves FULL of DVDs, books, pamphlets, lecture notes, gimmicks, etc.—probably enough magic to supply you for the rest of your life.
It’s hard to know what is a good magic trick and deserves your hard-earned money… and your time. When I first started out, I just bought everything I could and a lot ended up collecting dust, but even with a smaller library of workers, what do I spend my time on?
When I started out, not only did I buy everything, I tried EVERYTHING, trying to carve down this pile of stuff I have. For a piece of magic to grow into a good performance piece (or a good magic trick), it has to go through some growing pains. You have to develop lines/scripting, encounter problems and perform it in front of an audience dozens of times. But because I was constantly trying out new things, I was never able to develop those tricks further.
Do You Really Like the Trick?
Before we get into the method, the very first thing is you have to like the trick. If you don’t connect with it, it’s not going to play for your audiences. But after you have practiced it, decided you want to spend time on it, how do you track if it’s a good magic trick? Comedians count laughs per minute, but what do magicians do?
Use a Performance Journal!
Almost every professional magician friend I know keeps a performance journal. After every single performance, they write down their likes and dislikes about what just happened.
Maybe you flashed, a joke didn’t go over well – or it may have been the best performance you of your life! Maybe a spectator did something spontaneous that was hilarious. What did you do to encourage that? Can you repeat it?
Basically you experiment and you write it down. THAT’S the key to this whole thing.
Seth Neustein, an active Conjuror Community, does this extremely well. Each week on the CC online group, Seth gives the whole community a peek into his journal with his regular ‘performance reports’. He jots down anything important after a show. And our members not only cheer him on, they often offer him useful suggestions and bits of advice. He writes the good and the bad without hesitation and is just honest with himself.
Good Magic? The 3 Questions That Will Help You Decide
Over the first 3-5 times I test out a new trick, I use three specific questions to help me decide if an effect is any good:
1. What was their reaction?
This is simple. As magicians we want people to react. People do react in different ways, but is it positive? A reaction could be “I saw that!” and to point out your secret move. That instantly tells you this effect either has poor angles or you need to work harder on your technique.
Also, what reaction are you going for? Are you going purely for laughs and don’t mind sacrificing the strength of the magic? Or do you want a gasp?
Target the response you want…and accept no substitutes!
2. What does the audience tell me?
“Oh, that was clever,” or, “Cute!” are things people might say, but what do you want your audience to say?
It’s important here you don’t ask for this feedback. It has to be given organically, but if you listen, your audiences will tell you exactly what they think. When they do, write it down.
They may not even say anything. They may just look uninterested and look away. That will certainly tell you something as well.
This is also a great tip for finding presentational angles and finding interesting, entertaining things to say. If you want good comedy within your effects, listen to your audience. They will write the show for you!
They may even ask a really interesting question along the way. Again, write it all down.
3. How did it feel?
After I perform a new effect, I evaluate how it felt to perform. Did it feel clunky? Did I feel connected to the audience? Am I disappointed? These are all possibilities after performing something new.
Then I think, “Can I fix this? Or is it just the trick itself?” If it’s me, I know I just need to perform it more and work out the kinks, but if I feel the trick itself just isn’t hitting strong enough, maybe it’s the routine.
If it’s a stage piece, I watch it on video. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do for any performer. This allows you to see exactly what you look like.
Most important, you have to give each piece of magic the amount of time it deserves. If you try to add one trick to your act every week, those piece won’t have the space to grow.
Remember, you only need a small handful of magic tricks to tour the world.
I’m reminded of the best advice I’ve seen:
“We cannot emphasize too strongly that knowing the secret of a trick is not the same as knowing how to perform that trick; and that knowing the secret of hundreds of tricks is of little value unless each can be performed smoothly and entertainingly. It is far better to know only a few tricks which can be performed with grace, skill and effect.” —Royal Road to Card Magic by Jean Hugard
Go With Your Gut!
To put yourself on a good path for finding good material, look towards classic books, ones that have survived multiple reprints. That’s usually a sign something may be worth your attention.
You can also look toward workers you admire. At Conjuror.Community, Aaron teaches Alpha Class Effects. These routines are incredibly amazing to a lay audience and they allow you to inject your own persona into their presentations. The effects are very strong, but the first few times you perform them you may need to adjust yourself.
So, there you have it. To REALLY know if a trick is good for you, you have to perform it. Most of the time, you’ll find a new trick doesn’t connect with you. Most of the time, you’ll sense this before you even attempt a performance.
You may think it doesn’t feel right in your hands, or you look in the mirror and think, “I don’t like this.”
And that’s okay – in fact, it’s great. That’s your gut telling you the trick is not what you are looking for.
Now it’s your turn, leave a comment below and let me know your favorite way of knowing whether your new effect is a Good Trick or a Bad Trick? I can’t wait to read your responses.