What is Your Image?

What is Your Image?

Did you know there is such a thing as a celebrity stylist? This is someone who advises a famous person about fashion trends, clothing styles, colors and make-up.  

Essentially the stylist helps the celebrity create his or her personal “look.” This individual may be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to work with one celebrity, helping him or her make choices about what to wear, how to style hair, and overall appearance. Movie stars, singers, and politicians may make their own choices about what to wear when at home and out of the public eye, but it is rare for a celebrity to appear in public without having had a number of people assist in the creation of his or her image. Whether being on a talk-show like Leno or Letterman, or making a speech at a political rally, much thought always goes into what the celebrity wears and how a celebrity looks.

It is a thought for performers to firmly keep in their minds. Famous people do not look the way they look by accident. They do not wear the things they wear because those things just happened to be in the closet.

The pop star, Rihanna, has been in the news recently for her involvement in a new television show that will be entirely built around the idea of style. Part of the publicity for the show has involved stories about how stylists transformed Rihanna from just a cute girl with talent, to being a major force in the entertainment industry. A common view is that her style and image have as much, or more, to do with her success than does her ability to sing and dance.

Although we too are entertainers, most of us are not at a level were we can afford to hire someone to help us decide how to dress and comb our hair. This fact does not mean we should ignore the matter of image.  Whatever our bank account may or may not be, we cannot afford to neglect having an intentional “look” and appearance.

If the most successful people in the entertainment industry believe that giving careful attention to their appearance is vital to their careers, those of us who are still seeking success in the entertainment industry must pay attention to the same thing.  The look and image we have as individuals is crucial.

To state the matter simply, if we look like the “guy or gal from next door,” it will be hard for people to view us as someone who should be hired for an important show. You may have heard the adage that “an expert” is someone who comes from one hundred miles or more away. You may have personally experienced a situation where, rather than hiring you, a local group hired someone from another state to come in and do a show. This person may not have been the quality of performer that you are. Nevertheless, this other person was paid good money to travel to your area.

Why are local performers often overlooked by local venues?  Why are those from far away considered to be experts, and those who are next door only viewed as clever neighbors? Could it be that local people are too familiar and seen too often in common circumstance? When an individual is viewed as “just another person like us,” it may be hard for that person to be taken seriously.

I am not suggesting that, on the local level, we refuse to act normal. People often see me around town in blue jeans, t-shirt, and ball cap. We may have to live with the fact that people will always want to bring someone in from a distance, to give themselves the feeling that this person is extra special. However, we can find simple ways to set ourselves apart and give ourselves an edge by way of image.

The first big issue we must face in this matter is that, if we want to be taken seriously as entertainers, we must no longer choose to look like everyone else. (This is a general rule. There will be exceptions.)

Most people, for most of their lives, are concerned about fitting in with the crowd. Far more people are concerned about “being in style” than they are about “setting the style.” If everyone else in their peer group is wearing skinny jeans, they want to wear them too.  If everyone else in their peer group has a lip ring, they want to have one too. For the older generation, if all the other guys are shaving their heads to compensate for thinning hair, a man will be comfortable doing the same thing. If the trend is for women to wear jeans and sweaters, that is what a woman wants to wear.

For some, actually many, this can be a serious challenge. It is unsettling, sometimes frightening, to stand out in a crowd. From the time we have been young we have been worried about being viewed as “different” or “odd.” However, do we, as entertainers, want to be noticed or not noticed? Do we want to be memorable or forgettable?  There is an old adage that says, even a turtle will never get ahead unless he sticks his neck out. Those who blend in with their surroundings, who stay in the center of the group, will not be the object of special attention.

This morning Mary and I did school shows in a small town in Alabama.  In spite of the fact the town was small, the school was quite large. We performed for about 1,000 students. Before our first show started, it was necessary for me to step out in front of the backdrop to check a prop. As I did so, I heard a young lady in the front row lean over to a person next to her and say, “Wow, he looks like a magician!”

I have no idea what she assumed a magician should look like, but she instantly recognized that there was something different about me. I did not look like the men teachers seen daily in that school, nor did I look like men she would normally see in the community.  I looked like a performer.

I will admit that I was pleased with the young lady’s comment. It meant to me that I am at least making progress toward the achievement of personal goal. Since I am a magician, I want to be viewed as, and remembered as, a magician.

The second issue we must face is the matter of making ourselves distinct without being ridiculous. 

Anyone can be different. A man who chooses to walk around with a fried egg on his head is unusual and memorable. However, he is also a person most people will want to avoid. Anyone can do something weird or crazy. The necessity is to be cleverly and appealing different.

This is why celebrities have high paid stylists. They want a hairstyle that will be unusual, yet attractive. They want clothes that make them standout, but they also want the public to like what it sees.

This brings us back to reality that most of us, as average or progressing entertainers, cannot afford to have stylists.  What do we do?

Consider the following…

    1. Hair.  Do something different.

Elvis did it. Rod Stewart Does it. Audrey Hepburn did it. The Beatles did it. Katy Perry does it. Vin Diesel does it. Sting does it. Miley Cyrus does it. Countless other stars have done it. They have chosen different and distinct hairstyles. Whether you like these celebrities or not, whether you approve of their lifestyles or not, the fact that their hair is part of their identity (and often their notoriety) cannot be avoided.

Do some experimenting to find a style that is not common for people at your age and stage in life. At the same time, choose a style that is complimentary to you. During the process of making a change with your hair, you may may some mistakes along the way (even famous celebrities have done so), but stay deliberate about looking at least a bit different than others do.

If your hair color is dull or non-distinct, consider dyeing it. Consider how many well known entertainers have black, blond, or red hair. I am not suggesting that these are the only colors to use. The point is, they use their hair to make a striking appearance.

This is not about vanity. It is not about trying to look young. It is about being someone who is easily recognized. Things that are normal are typically taken for granted. Things that are unusual are found to be interesting. Those who work as entertainers want to be interesting.

  1. Clothes. Wear solid primary colors.

People in the typical workforce, with normal community lives, tend to wear nondescript garments. With practicality and conformity in mind, they prefer pastels, plaids, and clothes with simple patterns. They select shaded colors over vivid colors. The sum and total of their goal relating to appearance is to look nice and fit in with those around them.

Because of this, choosing to wear a solid color that is not diminished by a pattern, will bring distinction. Wearing strong solid colors is an easy way to be different.

When arriving for a show, but needing to load in before putting on a costume, I typically wear black. I can count on being one of the only men there, maybe the only man, who will be in black.  Beyond that, there are those who say wearing the color black suggests confidence and strength.

Purple is an impressive color. It is a color that many people especially like. At the same time, it is a color that many people, because of self-consciousness, are reluctant to wear. They know that if they wear it they will be noticed. Being noticed is not what they want. Therefore, in our society there is already a tendency to associate purple with entertainment. (An exception that seems to prove this concept is the wearing of purple t-shirts or sweatshirts to promote favorite sports teams. This is a way of standing out while simultaneously fitting in with a desired group.)   A purple shirt, coat, or dress and definitely be a “wow.”

Royal blue and cherry red are distinctive colors that can be used to make one memorable. The proverbial “bottom line” in this is, if we dress like everyone else, we are likely to be viewed like everyone else. Dressing differently may make us feel weird because we are not like everyone else, but is it not our goal to stand out from the crowd? As long primary colors actually look good on us (in light of our complexion, age, and other factors), it can serve us well to wear them.

  1. Jewelry. A little can do a lot.

For a man, a simple necklace or extra ring, can be a easy and subtle way to make yourself a bit different from most other men. (Depending on your locality and culture.) For women, unusual earrings or a shiny bracelet may add extra sparkle to your appearance.

Jewelry, like wearing solid colors, can be a statement about confidence. This may seem silly, but it is an observation about human nature with which many would agree.  When we wear something that is deliberately different from what most others wear, even if the difference is slight, we convey a sense of self-assurance. The suggestion is made that we are leaders rather than followers.

Conclusion

Celebrity stylists exist because crafting an image for those who are in show business is not an easy thing to do, yet it is a necessary thing to do. Those who entertain, those who want to be noticed and remembered in order to be hired to do shows, must take chances with style. With thoughtfulness and boldness they must venture into unique territory. Instead worry about being in style, there is the need to have one’s own style, a style that does not get lost in popular culture yet meshes with it.

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Routine for You: Mouse to Cheese

Routine_ Mouse to Cheese

Every now and then I find myself baffled by response to a new idea.  There are times when something I think is terrific gets a weaker reception than I expect. There are other times when reception is much stronger than I expect. This Mouse To Cheese routine fits the later category. I demonstrated it on our recent tour and basically only used it as a gag to introduce another routine. To my surprise, this gag generated more excitement than did the routine that followed. This led me to pay more attention to the gag and I too came to see that it really is, in spite of its simplicity, a nice bit of magic.

What happens?

A foam mouse visibly changes into a large piece of cheese.

How is it done?

A hollow has been created inside a piece of foam. The piece of foam looks like a large hunk of cheese. The form of a mouse has been sculpted inside this hollow. This means, when the cheese shape is turned inside out, the foam looks like a mouse.  When the mouse is turned inside out, it looks like a piece of cheese.

The magician shows the mouse form first.  Then, while slowly moving his arms up and down to disguise the smaller action of turning the foam inside out, he transforms the mouse into cheese.

The clever nature of the prop makes the trick super easy to do.  Nevertheless, the effect is strong.

Required

The Mouse To Cheese trick.

Setup

Turn the Cheese inside out so it looks like a mouse.

Note

I have used this prop many times and it is holding up well.  Even so, I advise care when setting it by way of making the Mouse shape.  Since it is foam, it could be torn.  If you take your time and don’t force it, you will not have any problems.

Some have asked me about putting the prop in water before use.  Many sponge effects do work better when wet.  However, I do not recommend it with this.  Because it involves sculpted shapes, a different kind of foam is used.  The trick works well dry, so it seems best to keep it that way.

Presentation

Begin with the Mouse shape in your hand.  Show it to the audience as you quote the following…

“There once was a mouse named Pete,

who ate too much of his favorite treat,

then he did sneeze and turned into cheese,

which is proof that you are what you eat!”

When you get to the place in the limerick where you say, “Turned into cheese,” turn the mouse inside out so it becomes a piece of cheese.  At the end of the limerick say the following…

“We all know that a mouse does not really turn into cheese, but there is truth in the saying that ‘we are what we eat.’  When it comes to our health, what we put into our bodies has a big impact on our health and well being.  Eating right has much to do with feeling right.

This also applies to our minds and attitudes.  When we feed our minds by way of reading good things and paying attention to good information, we make ourselves educated and equipped to make good progress in life. When we read and think about positive and encouraging things it leads us to being more positive and encouraging people.

What happened to the little mouse can lead us to ask ourselves, “If we were to become what we are eating, mentally and physically, what would we look like?”

Note

After about 20 performances, the felt eyes on my Mouse To Cheese prop came off.  Rather than try to glue them on again, I used a magic marker to draw on new eyes.  They actually look better than did the felt eyes.

Final thoughts

This trick can definitely be used just as a gag, without any message attached, to get a quick laugh. I have already designated it for my emcee work. By way of demonstrating it, I have found that it is funny and people like it even when it involves nothing more than the limerick and transformation.

That being said, I love the fact that it can work into a segue about how we feed our minds and attitudes. This makes it useful for school programs and church lessons. (With church lessons, compare it to Philippians 4:8 think on these things.)

The bottom line is, in spite of its simplicity, Mouse To Cheese is a versatile prop.

Make a Production out of Producing Streamers and Silks!

Blog Post_ Make a Production out of Producing Streamers and Silks!

Recently I dug out a prop I had not used for several years.  It is a production box, called the “Hank Box,” made by Joe Eddie Fairchild.  It allows for a huge production of silks.  We created a presentation, using that prop, that played extremely well.  In fact, it may have been one of the most impressive features in the show.

The key to using a prop like the “Hank Box” to create a great effect is in the display of the items that are magically produced.

This is a very important matter to understand.  It is not enough that we can bring a lot of things out of a space that seems to be empty.  The way we bring those things out, and the style in which we show them to the audience, is critical to the strength of the trick.

There is an often told story relating to a past convention of the Fellowship Of Christian Magicians, where a well meaning gentleman made an immense production of silks from a large drawer box.  He showed the drawer box empty at the start of his presentation, then simply opened it up and pulled out one silk after another.  He had packed it as full of silks as possible.

As each silk was produced, he spread it out between his hands so the audience could see it, then dropped it into a laundry basket.  He did this again and again.  It did not matter if the silk was a solid color or if it had a picture on it.  He solemnly displayed it, then put it into the basket.  This went on and on and on.

As the routine progressed, the legend is that his production went on for more than ten minutes, but no one knows for sure, people in the audience began to laugh.  This performer commented out loud, “I don’t know why this is funny”.  People were laughing because, the longer the routine went on, the more absurd it became.  The trick itself was not entertaining.  It was truly boring.  The humor came in because the man did not realize it was boring and he seemed to have no clue as to the fact that what he was doing made no sense.  His act was so ridiculous, it unintentionally became funny.

It may have been the largest ever production of silks from a drawer box, but no one cared.  Instead, the man’s attempt at great magic became a story to tell over coffee when laughing about foolish things magicians do.

I do not mean to put down the man.  I’m sure his heart was in the right place.  He did not understand this important adage for magicians:

“Do not do it just because you can.”

The object in a silk production is not to produce as many silks and streamers as possible.  It is to make their appearance as entertaining as possible.

Recently I found myself once again commenting about the negative attitude some magicians have about props.  There are those who look down their noses at anyone who uses a Square Circle, Mirror Box, Genii Tube, etc.  They seem to think if one is a real magician, he will not need to resort to performing with apparatus.

I briefly even put my response to this kind of thinking on Facebook.  There are many great magicians who use props.  Johnny Thompson uses a Genii Tube in his act.  Drew Thomas, who is involved in the largest magic show in the world to be performed on a cruise ship, uses a Square Circle.  Marvyn Roy used a pared down version of the “Organ Pipes” in his sensational act.

The issue is not the use of apparatus, it is how it is used.  When Marvyn and Carol produced silks and streamers from the nested tubes, they swirled them in the air and moved back and forth across the stage.  It was a choreographed production that played well enough to be featured as part of Liberace’s traveling show.  When Johnny and Pam Thompson bring a streamer out of the Genii Tube, it goes across the stage, behind the stage, then comes out again from the other side.

Too many magicians, in particular those who are only hobbyists and amateurs, think that a production is all about volume.  Their approach is, the more I can bring out of this box, the more amazed the audience will be!

It is definitely true that the larger the production in comparison to the size of the apparatus, the more impressive the trick.  However, this only works when the production is done in a pleasing manner.  Here are some key things to consider about producing silks and streamers:

  1. Pace.  The production needs to keep moving and, as a general rule, needs to happen fast.  In this, do not forget that a change of pace can be good.  Therefore, after quickly revealing some silks and streamers, you might want to slow down for a few moments to create extra emphasis on the idea of “how much more can be in there?”  Then speed up again for a climax that has some punch to it.
  1. Size.  If the streamers are long, this should be emphasized to the audience.  It is ideal to have someone help you stretch them out.  A volunteer can be recruited to do so.  Instruct the person to take one end of the streamer and walk down the aisle or up into the balcony.  When the audience understands how long the streamer is, the impression is greater.  The same thing applies to large picture silks.  If you are tall enough to display them between your arms, that is fine.  Otherwise consider having someone take one corner and spread out the silk.  If you have an assistant, this can be done with flourish.  If there is no assistant, it is still good to find a volunteer who can come on stage to help with this (maybe the organizer of the event could do so, it is a good way to give him or her extra attention).
  1. Variety.  The saying is, “Variety is the spice of life”.  It is a familiar saying because it is based on truth.  Repetition of the same or similar things becomes boring.  If the first few streamers you produce are multi-colored, next bring out one that is a solid color.  If you are producing beautiful pattern silks, interrupt the sequence with a really ugly silk or funny picture.  After producing some long streamers, bring out one that is short and do a double take as if “How did that get in there?”  Make changes to keep the production interesting.

It also needs to be said that audiences do enjoy the color, pace, and size of a big silk production. It has been referred to as “candy for the eyes”.  It is fun to see because it is exciting and beautiful.  Do not let someone convince you that modern audiences are not interested in production effects.  When such effects are done, as they should be done, they receive a marvelous response.

Another factor to consider about production effects is the time it takes in preparing them.  This is one reason why many magicians do not do them.  The routine we designed for the Christmas show, with all of us working together on it, took at least ten minutes to set.  Doing this once isn’t bad, but when it is done for repeat performances, it gets old.

However, it is worth it!  It is effort that pays off.

I remember an occasion when Fukai and I were sitting backstage, getting ready for a big stage show in Singapore.  It takes Fukai two hours to set his act.  The silk act I was doing in those days took more than one hour to set.  I think a reason why Fukai and I became such good friends is, over the years, we sat next to each other for so many hours back stage, getting our acts ready.  Fukai commented that everyone else was out relaxing, while we were preparing.  I said something like, “Where did we go wrong?”  Fukai said, “No, we did it right.  How many magicians do you know who get to perform around the world?  Not many.  We do what we do, because we are willing to do the extra work to prepare!”

There are plenty of lazy magicians who never achieve their potential.  We do not need to be among them.  So what that it takes extra work to fold the streamers and pack the silks.  If the result is spectacular, let’s go for it.

The conclusion in this is, huge silk productions still play great, as long as they are done in an entertaining style!

What About Color?

Blog Post_ What About Color?

When Mary and I work in the dealer room at magic conventions, a question we often hear is, “What color is best?”  When purchasing sponge balls people might say, “You have so many colors, what color would be best for me?”   When considering the purchase of a backdrop they say, “What would you recommend? Royal blue or navy blue? Black or maroon?”  When buying a trick such as Knots Off Silk” they query, “Should I get the yellow one or the red one or the turquoise one?”

How do we answer?  How can we know what color is best for another person?  We cannot know what is best for someone. It will always be a personal decision. However, we can give some guidelines to use when making a choice.

When considering color, think in terms of contrast.

What color backdrop should you use?  The answer depends on the color of your props and the costumes that you wear.  If you wear a black suit, and stand in front of a black backdrop, a “black art” effect might be created that makes it hard for you to be seen.

For years Mary and I used a Royal Blue Backdrop because my tuxedo was black and Mary’s dress was black.  Black in front of blue made us stand out.

In more recent years we have been experimenting with new costuming.  When we wear colors other than black, or use stones and sequins on our costumes  that make them stand out even when in front of black, then a black backdrop can be a good choice.

Performers who wear blues and reds may want a black backdrop.  Obviously, performers who wear blue probably should avoid a blue backdrop, and performers who wear red should avoid a red backdrop.

The concern is: What makes you most easily seen and what makes your other props look best!

This concern applies to performers other than magicians. I think clowns who wear bright colors usually look best in front of black or navy blue.  The strange thing is, when they are purchasing backdrops, clowns often want bright colors. They are thinking, “I’m a clown so everything in my show should be bright and colorful”.  That is faulty thinking. The setting of the show should be whatever makes the clown himself (or herself) and the things they do look best. (It is true that sometimes a bright color backdrop will work for a clown, as long as the color contrasts and compliments the colors in the clown costume…such as a clown that wears turquoise and pink might look good in front of a burgundy backdrop).

The concept also applies to props.  What color silk is best?  The answer is found by asking, “What color will contrast your costume?”   A black Knots Off Silk will not look good in front of a black suit.  A red Knots Off Silk will not look good in front of a red shirt.   I use bright yellow for my Knots Off Silk because I do not wear any yellow costumes.  Therefore yellow should look good no matter what I am wearing.

On the matter of sponge balls; think in terms of the table top or close-up pad that you use.  I cannot figure out why so many magicians who have red close-up pads use red sponge balls.  It would look much better if the balls were blue or yellow or if the closeup pad was green or black.

Back to the matter of backdrops.  Occasionally I see someone who has chosen to use a silver or Mylar type backdrop. This person makes the choice because he or she believes the shimmering aspect of the backdrop is extra impressive. That may be so, but it also may be a distraction. Usually a shimmering backdrop makes it harder for the audience to concentrate on things the magician holds in his hands. (Example: A white billiard ball or playing card is often hard to see in front of a shimmering silver backdrop. A silver Zombie ball is really hard to see in front of a silver backdrop!) Remember that what is important is the performer.  You don’t want to be remembered as the person who had the “really great backdrop.”  You want to be remembered as the person who did “really great things.” The backdrop and other stage settings are not the show, they are there to showcase you.

Note

There is a time and place for the shimmering backdrop. When doing thread effects and tricks such as the Asrah levitation they are most valuable.  However, when they are used, careful thinking should be put into the color of costumes and other props to make sure everything can be viewed in a distinct manner. (That is everything but the gimmick.)

After you have dealt with the matter of contrast, it is also wise to consider how colors can compliment one-another.

Once I understood the matter of using props that contrast a costume, such as a yellow silk in front of a blue coat, I began to use a variety of distinct colors with no particular color scheme in mind.

Jack Hart, a wonderful magician who for many years was the art director for the PRICE IS RIGHT television show, kindly advised me that the colors in my show were not as pleasing as they could be because there was no “rhyme or reason to them.”

He suggested that I select a few main colors and be careful that other colors used look well with them. I changed my silk act so that I started with pink and yellow silks.  During the course of the act I eventually produced some purple silks. It was not until the climax of the act, by way of silk fountain, that a burst of many colors came into view.

Many magicians have a basic complimentary color scheme for their act or show such as: Black & Silver or Purple & Yellow or Blue & Gold.  A way to get ideas about complimentary colors is to look at the uniforms of pro sports teams.  Smart and well-educated people spend a lot of time choosing those colors.  From them, we can learn about color combinations that are appealing to the public.

Conclusion

The issue with color is not “What looks great?”  It is, “What makes you look great?”  Do not choose a color because you like it, or because it is your favorite.  Choose it on the basis of how it enhances the overall picture of what the audience will see as you perform on stage.

Routine for You: “I Want You to be Miserable”

Routine_ I Want You to be Miserable

I admit that I had nearly forgotten about this routine.  There was a time when I used it in nearly every show.  Then it was time to do new things in the show so this routine went to the shelf.

In designing our programs for Storybook Island theme park, I remembered this routine and dug it out.  It went over super well.  It is a great effect to present early in a show, especially if many children are there to watch.

Key Concept

Someone has said that a key to comedy is to make a wreck on the track of thought. This means, take the minds of the audience into a place where they never expected to go.

This routine does that. It is funny because the magician says the opposite of what folks would expect him to say.

What happens?

The audience is shown a picture of a sad clown with a tear in it’s eye.  By way of throwing smiles at a device called a “Smile Catcher”, the sad clown is changed into a bright colorful picture of a happy clown.

Secret

One silk is secretly switched for another.

Required

  • I use the Switch Can for this, but many other props would work including the Change Bag, Palmo gimmick, Transformation Box, and Chick Pan.  Use any apparatus that for the switch one silk for another.

Setup

  • Put the Happy Clown silk in the load chamber of the Switch Can.
  • Have the Sad Clown silk handy so you can pick it up and show it to the audience.

Performance

Pick up the Sad Clown silk and show it to the audience.

“Here is a picture of how I want you to feel about this show. That’s right. I want you to be miserable. I want you to be depressed.”

Look at the audience and notice that they don’t seem to get what you are telling them.

I want you to be downhearted and discouraged. I want the tears to come down from your eyes…”

Pause and seem to finally realize what you have just said. Look down at the picture silk.

“Wait a minute! Hold everything! This is the wrong picture. I don’t want you to be sad and miserable. This is a mistake, but it is not a problem because I happen to have this.”

Show the Switch Can.

“This is a Smile Catcher! That’s right, this little container will catch smiles. All we have to do is throw some at it. So everybody…if you are happy notify your face (that means smile). Now reach up and grab that smile off your lips and throw it at the box!”

People will do this. Act like the box is catching smiles. Also tease the audience.

After they throw the smiles say…

“It is amazing what sophisticated and intelligent people will do when you ask them too! Now that you have thrown your smiles, let’s make it more fun. Toss some color up here as well!”

Encourage the audience to grab pretend color from their clothing and then toss that color at the can.

“I wonder if my smile catcher is working today?”

Take the lid away so everyone can see that a colorful picture silk is now inside.

“If it is working, it will show you how I really want you to feel.”

Lift up the silk and show the happy clown.

“That’s right, I want you to be happy. I want you to smile. I want you to have an absolutely wonderful time! I want you to feel so good you can’t help but cut loose with wild applause and a great big cheer!”

That is the applause cue. Style while holding the colorful clown picture. The routine is finished.

Note

I really hope you will give this routine a try.  In reading it you may find it hard to visualize just how it will play.  The “Smile Catcher” concept is fun.  The involvement, by way of people taking their smiles and throwing them at the can, is wonderful. 

Tips for Patter

Blog Post_ Tips for Patter

  1. Remember that short is better than long (and often harder to do).  The best patter is brief and to the point.  Long and boring tend to go together.  A  show is better with ten tricks that are presented in an uncluttered and upbeat style than it is with 5 tricks that are extended to fill time.  It is easy to be wordy.  It is more difficult to take time to find just the right word and the best way to say something.  Preparing a script is work.  It is also necessary to being an effective performer.
  1. Put things in the third person.  Rather than saying, “This is what I do…” talk about “What he did…,” or “what I saw someone do…”  If you talk about what you are doing, as you do do a rope trick, it may seen silly.  Yet, if you do the same trick, and talk about what you saw another person do, it becomes interesting. Example: “Did you hear about the man who did a trick with three ropes?” That has much more entertainment potential than saying, “I have here three ropes.”
  1. It is often good to start with a question.  To get into an effect such as The Professor’s Nightmare, consider asking, “Which of these three ropes is the longest?”  Follow that up with, “It may seem obvious that one rope is longer than the others, but such may not be the case.”  From there you are instantly into the routine. Other examples: “When is a knot not a knot?”  (For use with a trick such as Knots Off Silk or a vanishing knot trick.)  “Would you like to know how a trick is done?” (To begin Sucker Silk To Egg.) “Is the hand quicker than the eye?” (To being a sleight of hand demonstration.)
  1. Create a story by referencing childhood.  Saying, “When I was a little boy…” (or little girl) is an easy way to get into a trick.  For example: To start a routine with the Liquid Suspension trick you might say, “When I was a child, I remember seeing a magician do the strangest thing.  He showed the audience a tube…”
  1. Talk about things magicians do.  When doing the Cut and Restored Rope effect I typically comment, “Here is something a magician is supposed to know how to do..” From there I do the trick. Essentially this is another way of making things “third person.” The concept is, instead of saying, “I am a magician,” you say, “Here is something you might see a magician do.”
  1. Remember the “rule of three” when using jokes. Professional comedians often comment that the third joke is where you get the biggest laugh.  They also say that going beyond three jokes on the same subject is almost always a mistake. Example: If you want to use some jokes about “You know you are getting old when” while doing a routine, pick out your three best ones. That is likely to be much more effective than trying to use five or six of that type of joke.
  1. Introduce something as “impossible.”  An example would be the ABC block trick.  You might start it by saying, “It is time to see something that is not possible.  It involves…”   Then you go on to emphasize that there is no way the B block might travel from the tall box to a hat.  Finally, after showing it has happened, you would say, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is not possible. However, if it ever did happen, it would look exactly like what we just saw. There are many tricks that you can begin this way. Simply comment that a certain thing is not possible, then demonstrate it.  Conclude with another reminder that it “is not possible,” then say something along the line of, “However, we got to see it right here, right now!”
  1. Introduce something as a legend. This allows you to make up a simple story while doing what needs to be done. For example: For a production from a Square Circle, you might say, “There is a legend about a man who had a fancy box and a circle of metal. He called it a tube.  According to the legend, even though it was just a box, and just a tube, strange and wonderful things would happen…”  From there you continue the trick and reveal strange and wonderful things.
  1. Start with a joke.  Use a short joke that relates to what is about to happen.  For example:  Ask, “Did you hear about the man who drank eight bottles of Coca-Cola? He burped seven up! (7-Up).”  Then say, “That wasn’t much of a joke, but it does bring up a question about making 32 ounces of Coca-Cola disappear.”  For a Die Box routine you might ask a “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke and then follow it with a statement such as, “The real question is can I make this great big die fly mysteriously across this stage!”
  1. Develop a variety of applause cues. It is easy to slip into saying the same thing at the end of every trick. “Thank you” or “and the audience went wild!”  It is good to come up with different ways of signaling the end of a routine.  If telling a story you might say, “And according to the story I heard, when it happened, the audience clapped and cheered.”   Another time you might say, “And then I was amazed, and so were all the other people in the room!”  Yet another time you might say, “That is what it looks like when the trick really works.”   There are many possibilities.  The key is to plan ahead to make a good statement, rather than hoping to think up something clever and different at the spur of the moment.
  1. Give yourself a time limit. Decide how long your patter should be and force yourself to make it that length or shorter.  Example: A rope trick needs patter that is three minutes or less.  When you practice, it is four minutes. Do not settle for that. Start over, find ways to use less words, until you hit the three minute limit. You will become a better performer by doing this.

Big Sponge Ball Ending Routine

I am always looking for good audience participation effects.  This is a routine built around an idea Karrell Fox taught me.  It was his concept to produce a big sponge ball from a silk (as will be described).  I applied it as an ending to a standard “sponge balls to the ends” trick.  The result was wonderful.

What happens?

Three balls mysteriously pass from the magician’s hand to the hand of a spectator.  After this has happened, one of the balls is chosen and wrapped in a handkerchief.  While in this handkerchief the ball seems to grow many times bigger than it was before.

Required

  • Four sponge balls.  2” size is fine.  Color does not matter.
  • One bigger sponge ball. I suggest 5” size for this.  If you can find a bigger one yet, that is even better.  (A standard “Growing Ball” will work for this.)
  • One 18” silk.

Handling

I will not describe the method for getting the balls to pass to the hands of the spectator.  It will be known by most readers. If it is not known, the explanation can be found in many books and DVDs, plus it is usually included when a person purchases a set of four balls in a boxed package.

You will use your standard “balls to the hands” routine and then apply the ending about to be described.

Take the large ball and fold it down until it is as small as you can make it. Place this ball in the center of the handkerchief and twist the handkerchief around it.  Put a clip of some kind on the handkerchief to keep the ball in place in the center of the handkerchief.

For performance you will pick up the handkerchief in a way that keeps your hand over the area where the ball is twisted in.  This will make it appear that it is only a handkerchief when actually it is a handkerchief that is loaded with a big ball.

The action of the trick is as follows:

  1. Pick up the handkerchief with your right hand over the area where the large ball is twisted in.
  1. Place the handkerchief over your left fist. Use the fingers of your left fist to hold the hidden ball in place.  The ball portion of the handkerchief will be down in your fist.  The handkerchief itself will be spread out over and above your fist.
  1. Pick up one of the small sponge balls and bring it over to the center of the handkerchief spread over your hand.  Start pushing the sponge ball down into the center area of the handkerchief.  As you do, flip the left fist over so the handkerchief falls down over the smaller sponge ball.
  1. When the smaller sponge ball is out of sight under the folds of the handkerchief, palm it in the right hand so you can secretly steal it away.  Let the area of the handkerchief that contains the big ball be seen.  The big ball is still squeezed tightly so it appears that you have just slipped the small ball up into the center of the handkerchief and it is what the audience is seeing.  The small ball is actually palmed. They are seeing the compressed version of the large ball.
  1. Release pressure on the ball that was twisted into the center of the silk.  Let it slowly expand.  It will appear that this is the smaller ball that you put into the silk.  It will appear that this smaller ball is expanding.
  1. Reach over with your right hand (the one that now is palming the sponge ball) and grasp a bit of silk that is above the ball twisted inside the handkerchief.   Hold the silk at this point and shake it until the ball completes expansion.  Then turn the silk over and show the big ball.

It is a simple process.  The big ball is already hidden in the silk.  During performance the smaller ball is switched for it under cover of the silk.  It appears the small ball grew into a large one.

Presentation

Invite an audience member on stage.  Inform this person that he or she is about to assist you in the “World’s Fastest Trick.”

Indicate three sponge balls. (I display mine on votive candle holders obtained from a Dollar Store.)

Ask the spectator to select one ball.  Place this ball in the person’s hand.  Pick up another ball and place it in your pocket or in a table.  Magically make this other ball appear in the spectator’s hand.  (When the person’s hand is opened, two sponge balls fall out.)

Does the Square Circle Work for You?

Do not look down on it. The fact that some in magic avoid the Square Circle because they think “anyone can do it”  should be ignored.  Those who think that, to prove you are a good magician everything you do must involve a sleight or a move, are wrong.  An important aspect of magic is knowledge and secrets.  The fact that the secret to the Square Circle trick is simple (a black tube hidden inside a square box), does not change the reality that, when handled properly, it is an amazing trick.

Do not take the secret for granted.  It is true that the trick works because of the black art principle, but it is also true that the trick can be done well or poorly.  It is not enough to have a black tube in an open front box.  The way the prop is handled and displayed is important.  Important enough to think about carefully and then practice.

With most versions, it is possible to make the audience think they have seen the inside of all parts of the prop.   Do this by beginning with the load in place, inside the circle, which is inside the  square.  Lift out the circle, leaving the load in the square.  Show the circle empty. Put the circle back into the square. Lift up the square, leaving the circle behind. Show the square empty.  Then, before putting the square down, pick up the circle and, by way of finger pressure inside the load tube, pick up the load tube as well.  This allows you to lift up the circle and load tube, which shows nothing on the table. (Square is in one hand, circle and load in the other.)  Next, put the square down.  Finally, put the tube and load down inside the square.  Experiment with this.  You will find it to be effective and convincing.

Do not do it on a “box table” or draped table.  This should be obvious, but many fail to understand the importance.  If the Square Circle prop is positioned on a box type table, or a table covered with a drape, audience members will think the items produced are actually coming from within the table.  The best way to use a Square Circle prop is with it on an elevated base that people can see beneath, or else on a side table that is simply a support pole and flat top.

If you must use the Square Circle on a box type or draped table, after showing it empty, turn the square on its side so the audience can see through it, and put the circle on the square.  This means you will make the production out of the circle, while it is separate from the square.  The advantage is, because it is on top of the square, the audience will know the production is not coming out of the table.

The production should seem to be larger than what can be contained in the prop. It is not impressive to produce a small stuffed Teddy Bear from a big box.  People think, It must have been hidden in there somewhere.   What you want them to think is, There is no way that could have been in there!  This is why big silks and long streamers are especially good as production items.  When displayed, they seem bigger than the prop itself.

Figure out how to load the prop with a production that seems impossible.  An example would be to have a large ball in the load tube.  The ball is hollow and has a hole in the back (that the audience will not see) so production items fit inside.  The smaller items are produced first, then out comes the big ball.  Instead of a ball, it could be a globe of the world.  There are many ways to nest items, or put one thing inside another, to make the volume of the production seem incredible.  Basically, the bigger the production is, in comparison to the size of the prop, the greater the impact of the trick.

Consider putting a shelf in the load tube.  This allows production items to be above the shelf and thereby produced from the top of the tube, but also means, at the end of the trick, you can lift the square, circle, and load tube up and away to leave a load behind on the table.  (If you have a large Square Circle, this final revelation could be a rabbit).   The downside of this design is you cannot do the handling described under point #3 of this article.  The upside is, making the final part of the production in this way is extra impressive.

Reveal production items at a fast pace. The danger of having a tremendous amount of items hidden in the prop is the audience will become bored by the extended nature of their revelation. Stories are told of magicians in days gone by who would take twenty minutes to do the Square Circle trick.  Twenty minutes may be an exaggeration, but to the audience it likely seemed like twenty minutes.  The goal is to have a lot in the prop and then to produce it in an upbeat and exciting manner.

If the Square Circle you own is of the old-fashioned Chinese design, consider changing the look or else come up with patter that justifies the design. There was a time when magicians would say, “While traveling in China I found this ancient box…” that is why the prop was decorated with an oriental motif.  Nowadays, that line of patter seems pompous and silly.  Unless you can come up with a story that gives reason for the look of the prop, it is good to repaint or redecorate it.  Usually, it is not hard to give a new look to an old prop.

What to produce from a Square Circle?  Many consider it ideal for use with livestock such as a bunny or doves.  Silk streamers, large picture silks, spring flowers, candy, popcorn, foam items, fake fruit, small books, and stuffed toys are all possibilities.  Why not find a toy elephant and then “produce an elephant” in your show!

Use real black velvet to cover the load tube.  To save money, many manufacturers use black felt or velveteen.  Nothing works as well as real black velvet.  It is much more expensive, but worth the cost.  If your load is covered with something other than black velvet, seriously consider recovering it.  You will be glad you did.

Here are some design ideas for the Square Circle prop.

The “castle” look version is one I used when I first started in magic and it has served me well for many years. DSCN0326.JPG It is big enough to produce a rabbit and much more.  The castle gates allow the audience to see inside the box, yet, when the circle tube is removed, the black art effect is still strong.  Another advantage of the “Castle” look is it fits with stories about magical times and places.

This version is a modern looking box with a circle tube inside that is actually a phantom tube.  DSCN0328.JPGBy way of the phantom tube, a production can be made from just the “circle tube” as well as from the main load tube.  I especially like this model of the trick, but in recent years it has been hard to find it available in good quality. I purchased a junky version and rebuilt the outer box. It was also necessary to recover the load tube.

The picture is of a “workhorse” version of the prop.  2550.jpgThe look is simple and practical for almost any kind of show. The design is deceptive.  The load capacity is impressive.  You can find this at LaflinMagicStore.com.  It many not look as fancy as some, but I think the magical aspect of it is very strong.  Highly recommended!

 

When to Purchase or Not to Purchase Equipment? (That is the Question)

A good illusion can have a price tag on it that is equivalent to the cost of a small car.  Most of us cannot afford to go out and pay cash for a car, nor can we afford to own five or six cars at the same time, so how can we afford illusions?

This is an area where I am constantly challenged.  I continually want to improve the show.  I want to make changes so audiences do not think “it is the same show I saw before.”  Yet, apart from the fact that I do not have the  money to do so, if I were to go out and purchase new major illusions every year, It would become nearly impossible to make a profit on the show.

Here are some conclusions I have reached about the subject.

  1. No debt. Save up instead!

Almost everyone has a hobby and most hobbies are as expensive, or more expensive than magic.  Consider the cost of owning a speed boat or motorcycle.  Hunting and fishing gear can be costly.  Musical instruments can have a big price tag.

I’m not saying all hobbies are expensive, but I am making the point that it is typical for people to spend money on things that are not household needs.

It is not good to borrow money on things that are not necessities.  (I try not to borrow money for anything.)  It is better to save up for fun things and items that fit the “hobby” category.

My suggestion is that you create an illusion fund.  Just like you would have another savings account, put money into this account and know that you are free to use it for the purchase of a big prop.

For those who are professionals and magic therefore is not a hobby, it is especially wise to set money aside ahead of time for the acquisition of something big. Create a budget and determine a reasonable amount to try to annually put into building up your show.  Restrict yourself to only spending the budgeted money, and only spending it when you actually have it to spend.

I confess, I do not like this approach.  I believe in it and practice it, but I do not like it.  It is hard to resist the idea of making payments, or using a credit card, to get something that appears to be a great deal.  Nevertheless, in the long run, it is the right way to do things.  I have found that I make better purchases, and end up with better equipment, when I only use cash (money in the bank) to make purchases.

Note

I like and endorse the teaching of Dave Ramsey on the subject of finances.  I was not brought up to think the way he teaches. For many years I thought it important to have good credit and believed that one way to have good credit was to use it.  It was not until recently that I came to think differently. I have come to believe it is a best course of action to “pay as you go.”  Mary and I have made major changes in how we do things and are working hard to be debt free.

  1. Only purchase that which will make you money

Those who treat magic solely as a hobby can compromise this.  If you have money to do it, and it is fun, you can purchase something just because you enjoy having it.

Those who approach magic as a business must think differently. We cannot allow ourselves to buy things on the basis of “it looks fun” or “I have always wanted one.”  Instead we must ask ourselves, “will use justify the cost.”

In my book, On Stage With Illusions, I tell about how a magician purchased an Appearing Motorcycle illusion even though he did not have a motorcycle, nor did he work on stages large enough to perform such an effect.

Why did he buy it?  Because it was a great deal and he thought the way it worked was cool. It ended up in his garage. He showed it to his magician friends when they came to visit, but otherwise did nothing with it.  It was not an investment that paid for itself. Apart from the pride it gave him to own it, it was a total waste of money.  Ego can be expensive.

I have several illusions on my shopping list for next season’s show. They are not on the list because, “I like them and therefore want to put them in the show.”  Rather, they are on the list because I have taken time to think through the show carefully to identify things that need to be different next year. Once I understood specific places in the show where change needs to be made, I put my mind to what equipment would facilitate the changes.  That led to the creation of a shopping list.

Assuming funds will have been saved to do so, the illusions will be purchased with knowledge that they will help me continue to sell tickets to my shows. In the long run, these props should bring in more money than what was spent to acquire them.

I know several people who have found great financial success as magicians.  All of these people have the attitude of, If it won’t make me money, I won’t buy it.  When we can afford to make the investment in the first place, the issue is not how much will it cost me, but how much will it make me.

  1. Make it a practice to purchase quality props from reputable builders.

There is a difference in props made in someone’s garage and props made by those who specialize in their construction.

It is enlightening and a bit intimidating to go to a site like Magicauction.com and see the price of used illusions.  They are expensive.

A good example is the Origami illusion.  First of all, it is hard to find as  a “used illusion” because most performers who have one do not want to part with it.  Secondly, even though they are priced around $7,500 new, the used price is still often $5,500 or more.

This means a performer can purchase an Origami brand new, use it for several years, and then resell it for two-thirds the original price.  That is not a bad deal.

A person who, instead of purchasing an Origami new, finds one on the used market, is still likely to find it to be a great prop. He will be able to use it for many shows.  At the end of the use, he may be able to resell it for nearly as much as he paid for it in the first place.  This is good use of money invested in an illusion.

In contrast to this are illusions offered in the “unknown builder” category.  They are much lower priced. Many of them, in spite of a lower price, do not sell.  They do not sell because, without a good name behind them, it is not possible to be sure that they will work properly and hold up well. If you purchase a homemade “Sawing In Half” for only $1,000 dollars, and it ends up looking bad and falling apart on stage, you’ve lost a $1,000. Had you spent more on a proven model, it probably would have worked nicely and, in spite of use, retained its value.

It took me a long time to save up enough money to buy a Kub-Zag.  I would come across homemade versions here and there. Some looked pretty good, but I wanted one from the authorized builder (Smokey Mountain Magic – Chalet Magic was previously authorized).  I was finally able to make the purchase.  I have used the prop over five-hundred times and it looks as good as new.  I have not had to replace or fix anything about it.  If I were to try to sell it today, I am certain I could get back more than half of the money it cost me.  In light of the fact that the price has gone up since I bought mine, I might even be able to get back nearly what I paid for it.

Note

Remember that not all who advertise themselves as illusion builders are reputable.  Do not be enticed by the lowest price.  Check out references.

  1. If you purchase props which are homemade or of unknown origin, only do so when the price is super low.

By taking this approach, you minimize your loss if the prop turns out to be a piece of junk, and maximize your gain if it turns out to work great.

Some years ago, while visiting a magic store, I found a trick that I recognized as the Chests Of Mystery.  I asked the proprietor, “Who built it?”  He said he did not know. He told me someone had brought the prop to him and traded it for new magic.

Upon examination, I was convinced the prop was homemade, but it looked very good.  I discovered the price was only $300, so I bought it. I am thrilled with it.  We have used it for many shows and expect to use it for many more.  It operates as effectively as the version listed in a famous catalog for ten times what I paid.

However, were I to try to resell it, because it is of unknown origin, I suspect I would have a hard time getting back what I paid for it.  It works great, but on the used market the value is low.

Used and homemade props can serve you well, but investing in them is a risky proposition. If a trick does not work,  or looks cheap on stage, the price was too much, no matter what you paid. If it is used or homemade, you want to be able to say to yourself, “ For this price, if it does not work, the loss is minor. If it does work, I got a deal!”

  1. Be Patient!

I wish I would have understood this when I started in magic.  I was in a hurry to get big and impressive things.  Because I was in a hurry, rather than saving up for a high quality item, I would buy a cheaper version. This kept me from putting money away so it could accumulate. Therefore my inability to get better things continued.

It took me a long time to learn that years seem to go by quickly.  Even if one can only afford to purchase a nice prop every few years, in time there will be a valuable collection of illusions that he or she will be proud to own and use.

Recently, when my son David was with us for a visit, he commented that there was no way a normal person could afford to go out and, all at once, purchase the equipment we presently have for putting on shows. However, because of what has accumulated over time, we have much to work with.

Conclusion

I’m trying to practice what I preach.  In building our show for next season, I have a budget and am sticking with it.  I am determined to acquire several nice things, rather than a lot of odds and ends that will lose value quickly.

A Routine for You to Use: A Modern Use for the Liquid Suspension

The Liquid Suspension is a baffling trick.  Jeff McBride has mentioned that it is one of his favorites. It may be that, because it is an old trick, it is overlooked by modern magicians.

Along with being clever, the effect is also unusual. It is not a production, vanish, or restoration. It appears to be a defiance of the laws of nature involving resistance to gravity and liquid that may or may not be wet.

What Happens?

The audience is shown a metal cylinder, with no top or bottom. To demonstrate that it is just a tube, a drinking glass is dropped into the top of the tube so that it falls out of the bottom of the same.

Next, liquid is poured into the tube.  Incredibly and mysteriously, it does not fall out of the bottom of the tube.  Where did it go?  A handkerchief is placed over the top of the tube and, by way of a wand, pushed down through it. The handkerchief does not get wet.  It appears that the liquid is no longer in the tube.

At last, the drinking glass is put into the tube at the bottom and taken up and out of the top of the tube.  When it comes out, it contains the liquid that previously seemed not to be there.

Secret

The drinking glass contains an insert that is hooked over the side of the cylinder (tube). This means the insert remains within the tube as the drinking glass is passed through.

When liquid is poured into the tube, it goes into the insert.  Since the insert is not as big as the tube, when the handkerchief is pushed down into the tube with a wand, it simply goes beside the insert and out the bottom of the tube.  This is a great illusion.  It appears that the handkerchief fills the tube, when actually it is being pulled through a relatively small area.

When the drinking glass is brought back up through the tube, the insert goes inside it where it is invisible to the eye.  This makes it seem that the glass collected the liquid that was somehow suspended in the tube.

Required

  • Liquid Suspension trick
  • Wand
  • 18” size handkerchief
  • Liquid (I suggest putting red food color in water.  Keep it in a plastic bottle.  The red color makes the effect more visible.  The plastic bottle is an easy way to have the liquid with you and pour it into the tube at the proper time.)

Presentation

“In this age of the cell phone, iPad, laptop, and Google glasses, the tricks of a magician become especially interesting because they involve no electronics or modern technology, yet they are mystifying and astonishing.

“For example, here is an illusion that was first shown by a magician, to an audience, more than one hundred years ago.  It began with a cylinder.”

Show the cylinder.

“The performer made it clear that it definitely was not a can or container.  He proved this by showing how a drinking glass would pass through the top of the tube and out the bottom. “

Pass the glass through the tube.

“It was obviously a tube with no top and no bottom.

“Then he poured liquid into the top of the cylinder.”

Pour liquid into the cylinder.

“Mysteriously, it remained in the cylinder.  It did not fall out through the open bottom.

“Those who watched him do this thought, it is not a can.  It is a cylinder.  How can this be?   

Then the magician put a handkerchief into the tube.  He pulled it down and completely through the tube.”

Push the handkerchief down and through the tube.

“The audience thought, This too cannot be happening.  How can the handkerchief pass through the tube when it is filled with liquid?  How can it be that the handkerchief does not get wet?  Maybe the liquid was never really there?”

About the time the audience concluded that the liquid must not exist, the magician took the drinking glass and again passed it through the tube.  It emerged full of liquid.”

Bring the glass through the tube so it comes out with the liquid.

“More than one hundred years ago, when audiences first saw this, I can imagine how they must have clapped and cheered.  I suspect that audiences in our generation, who see the trick for the first time, would clap and cheer as well!”

Note

In my opinion, passing the handkerchief through the tube is the most important part of the effect.  It looks great and makes it appear that the liquid could not possibly be in the tube.