Routine for You: Any Color You Say

Although this routine is perfect for a kid-show, it also works well when performed for adults. Years ago, when emceeing the annual convention of the Society Of American Magicians, on the stage of the Splash Theater in the Riviera in Las Vegas, I did this exact trick. The response was laughter and big applause. I would not hesitate to use this for any age group.


What happens

The magician shows a black scarf and a small gift bag. He lowers the scarf into the bag and claims he can cause the color of the scarf to change to whatever the audience suggests.

People shout out color 
choices. The magician claims the
black scarf changes to each color named. In doing this, he does not show the new colors. He only claims the changes are happening. The scarf remains down in the bag.

Eventually the magician announces that, after all the color changes, the scarf has changed back to its original color. He lifts the black scarf out of the back to demonstrate this.

The audience is not impressed. Finally the magician shakes the scarf.  Incredibly and visually it changes to a variety of colors.



The black scarf is actually the self- contained Color Changing Streamer that turns from black to multi-color when shaken. (A standard dealer item.)



A Color Changing Streamer and a small gift bag. 



Have the streamer ready with the black on the outside. The gift bag is just a fancy bag such as is commonly found at a dollar store.



The streamer is lowered into the bag where, in spite of claims made by the magician, nothing happens.

When it is time for the color change to really happen, the streamer is shaken to make the magical change (in the standard way the prop is used).



Show the black scarf and announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, when I do what I am about to do you will not believe your eyes. I will make this black neck scarf change color. Believe it or not, it will change to whatever color you say. To do this I place it into
this small gift bag.
 Notice there is
nothing else in the 
bag. It is
 empty.” (Show the
 empty bag.)

Put the streamer into the gift bag.

“Now that it is in the bag, if someone chooses a color, the magic will happen!” If someone shouts “red”, look down into the bag
 and say, “This is 
amazing! The neck
 scarf has turned red!”

Do not let the
audience see the neck
scarf, just claim it has changed color.

Then look at the audience and say, “Now for something even more amazing! Someone choose another color!”

Suppose someone shouts green. Once again look down into the bag and say, “Wow, it has changed again. Now it has gone from black to red to green”.

You still do not let the audience see the scarf. You only claim the astonishing color changes are occurring, but show no evidence.

“Someone select another color. You say yellow? Ok. I look into the bag and sure enough, the green scarf just became yellow!”

Finally pretend like you hear someone say, “black”.

“Unbelievable. You want me to change it back to black after all those other colors. Ok, here I go, it is back to black.”

Remove the black scarf from the bag. Wave it around in triumph as if you have just shown everyone a miracle. After a few moments, notice that people are not impressed.

Address the audience with these words. “Some of you are skeptical. You do not believe in the amazing color changing scarf illusion.”

“You have reason to be skeptical. It is a difficult illusion. Maybe I can not actually do it. However, if I could do it, it would look like this.”

Shake the streamer so it changes to a colorful scarf.

“And if I could do it, I suppose people would clap their hands and cheer. They would wildly applaud. They might go crazy!” (This is the applause cue for the trick did work after all.) “For they would know they truly have witnessed the incredible color changing scarf trick!”


Who Are You?

It may be that one of the most difficult issues to work through, when growing as a performer, is the identification of your on-stage character and personality.  The truth is, until you know exactly who you are, and how you want your audience to view you, you will never be a great showman.

There are two major concerns related to this matter. The first is the critical need for consistency as a performing personality. The second is the need for being believable.

I.  About Consistency:

It is not good to mix ketchup with vanilla ice-cream. It does not make sense to combine roller-skating with a cornfield. Nor does it make sense to have more than one performing style and character on stage!

Consider the magicians Mac King and Lance Burton. They are both great showman. They both have wonderful technical skills and they both have found commercial success.  They are two great performers, but entirely different personalities on stage.  They also happen to be friends.  Because they appreciate one-another, and because they both are good magicians, do they try to be like each other?  The answer is no.  Mac does not try to channel a bit of Lance in his show.  Lance would not try to channel a bit of Mac into his show.  Each of them is successful because each of them is true to themselves.

To do well, every performer must be true to himself. Not just true to himself in a general way, but true to himself at every point in a show. If this is not the case, there will be failure.

It is not uncommon for novice magicians (and sometimes those who have been in magic long enough that they should know better), to possess multiple performing personalities. At one moment, while doing something such as a substitution trunk illusion, they act like David Copperfield. The next moment, while doing a sucker trick, they go into kid-show magician mode and tell corny jokes while using exaggerated facial expressions. Yet another time, while doing a mind-reading trick, they try to be serious and intimidating like the mentalist, Max Maven. This does not work. One cannot be Max Maven, a kid-show magician, and David Copperfield in the same show.

It is disturbing for an audience to see a person being ridiculous in one moment, then suave and sophisticated in another. It is just as unsettling for an audience to see a strong and smart performer suddenly behave like a school boy. They want to feel like they know the person they see on stage. If they cannot decide who the person really is, they will not like him. Or, if they decide they do know who the person is, and conclude him to be a confused amateur, his performance will be judged as weak and unworthy of purchasing a ticket to see.

A likely reason for this tendency among magicians to bring mixed personality to the stage is the fact that they often learn how to do their own tricks by watching other magicians. In this, they fail to distinguish between technique and style. Becoming educated about the principles and methods used by other performers is beneficial. Copying style from other performers is almost always detrimental.

To state the matter directly: There is a huge difference between doing what another magician does, and trying to be who another magician is. Moves, maneuvers, and secrets can be shared by many magicians. Personality must remain with each individual.

It is not something that happens quickly, but it must happen. Every magician must discover his or her own style and do everything in that style. The style a person discovers may be a mix of things learned from other performers, but it still must be one style. Tricks and routines may vary in a show, but character must not.

If the choice is made to be a comedy magician, it must remain so all the way through the show. A comedy performer may have serious moments, as the great Red Skelton did, but when the serious moments come, character and personality must not change. If the choice is made to be a sophisticated “James Bond” type of magician, that too must be followed all the way through the show. Bond cannot be a clown and a clown cannot be Bond. (This does not mean a Bond magician cannot be funny. He can be, but it must be a Bond kind of funny.)

It is wise to check ourselves on this matter. Watch, from start to finish, video of a recent show and make sure that your personality and style does not change while doing different tricks and routines.

Note:  It needs to be clear that a serious performer can be funny and a classy magician can be caught in a silly situation. The point is, in the midst of changing situations, the performer himself (or herself) must stay the same.


II.  About believability:
It is critical to see that it is important to be consistent in performing style, and consistent with one’s personal identity.

When I was beginning in magic I struggled in this area. I did not understand who I was. I tried to be a funny guy but it took quite a while for me to realize that I am not a natural born comedian. In light of my build, how I move, and how I speak, comedy was not my strength. I finally accepted the fact that it would be better for me to present myself as a grand showman. I went to work developing that kind of style and on- stage character. In doing this, I became more comfortable and audiences responded wonderfully. Now, the way I act on stage works because, in light of what the audience sees when they look at me, and in light of how I talk and move, everything seems to fit together. It makes sense that I would be what I am when performing.

This can be a hard thing for an individual to accept and process because some very much want to be something different than what they need to be. They admire a tall, graceful, Blackstone persona, but they are not tall or graceful. It is doubtful that they have the rich and impressive voice that Blackstone had. If such an individual insists on trying to be a Blackstone on stage anyway, he will always struggle.

I recently saw a DVD of a well intentioned magician who was an on- stage absurdity without realizing it. In describing this I mean no disrespect to those who are out of shape and carry too much weight. It is simply a reality that must be faced.

The man wore black jeans and an open jacket over a tight t-shirt. It is the garb that other magicians, young and athletic magicians, wear. It appeared he was trying to present himself as one of them. However, he was severely over- weight. His stomach hung down several inches over his belt. The t-shirt emphasized the rolls of fat around his body. It was very difficult for the audience to take him seriously.

It was actually a sad thing to watch his performance. He posed with pretty assistants. At times he would do so with a rose in his hand. He tried to move gracefully, as if he was one of those guys you see on the cover of a romance novel. If he had really looked like such a guy, it might have worked. Since he looked nothing like that kind of guy, it did not work.

I want to be careful in how I speak of him, for I am sure he is a very nice person and he clearly had worked hard on the design of his show. He was well- rehearsed and employed many solid showmanship techniques. Even so, the audience could not get around the fact that he was intently trying to portray himself as something he was not. I am sure some wondered, Is this a joke or does this guy really expect me to take him seriously?

It would have been much better if he had donned a fancy zoot suit look, or maybe even dressed himself like some of the heavy rappers do. They do not try to pretend like they have flat stomachs when they do not. Instead they take pride in their size and may even flaunt it. If the magician had paid attention to what he looked like, and who he was, he could have shown some class and style. Had he been true to himself, he could have been a convincing performer. Since he did not do so, he was far from convincing. Another option, if he truly did want to perform with the physicality of a young illusionist, would have been for him to go to the gym and work on getting in shape.

Common advice on this subject is that the best person for a performer to be on stage is a magnification of what he or she is in real life. If, in real life, a person is a disciplined and physically active individual who takes on challenges and usually masters them, such a person is likely to do well with illusions and tricks that happen on a grand scale. If a person is more of the intellectual type, it probably will work well for him or her to focus on the puzzle and mystery of magic. Mentalism would be a good choice. On the other hand, if the person has a sharp wit and quirky approach to life, he or she will probably be a strong comedy performer.

The point in this is not to say that “such a person must do such a kind of magic”. Rather, it is to say, that we need to take a good look at ourselves and understand who we are. This is to be followed with choices that maximize our natural strengths and minimize and/or compensate for our natural weaknesses.

The good news in this is that success in show business is not just for beautiful people. There are many celebrities and stars who are not in shape or blessed with great physical features. They find success by going with whatever it is about them that makes them different. They are who they are. They do not try to be what they are not.

To be believable and credible as performers there must be consistency in appearance, style, movement, action, expression and everything else about us that the audience sees and hears. We must act and look the part that we have chosen to play.


Why I Share My Secrets

Not long ago, at the end of training session wherein I taught for about five hours about being successful as an entertainer, a lady said to me, “I am surprised that you would be so open about what you do.  Do you really want other people to know your secrets?”   This person went on to comment that she had been exposed to several established entertainers, in particular magicians, who were extremely guarded.  She commented that she had found some individuals who, along with being unwilling to share with others, did not even want other magicians to see their shows for fear of being copied or having pet ideas stolen.

Her question caught me off guard. I wasn’t exactly sure what to say in response, for I had never really thought much about the matter.  Nevertheless, I did immediately realize part of my motivation.

I said to her, “I too do not like having signature pieces in my show used by others without my permission, but it is even more important to me that I do what I can to promote good magic.  I would like to see more successful magic shows and more magicians doing well, so I am willing to talk about the things I have learned.”

After the conversation, I found myself thinking about what had been said.  I had a long drive home after the event, so I thought more about it while in the vehicle.  I realized I have convictions and passion about this subject.

Conviction #1.  I do not want to be the only magician who has his own theater and the privilege of putting on a grand scale magic show.

I definitely am not the only such magician, but it is difficult to name more than ten performers in America today who are enjoying ongoing stage shows featuring magic in an established theater.  Try to do it.  In Las Vegas there are Mac King, Penn and Teller, and Chris Angel.  In the Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, there is Rick Wilcox.  In Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, there is Terry Evanswood.  In Branson, Missouri, there are Kirby VanBurch and Dave Hamner.  I have my show in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Greg Frewin is in Canada, near Niagara Falls.  Who else comes to mind?   Surely there are others, but not many.  (My apology to any names overlooked.  It is not intentional.)

The above names are only nine.  Three of them are in Nevada, two are in Missouri, and one is in Canada.  Subtracting South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin from the mix leaves forty-five states without a “name” magic show that I know about.

There must be more places in this nation where magic shows can be featured in theaters.  The competition for places to perform is not so extreme that magicians need to fight with one-another about it.  Is it not time for attention to be given to the other forty-five states?

Conviction #2.  I think, over the past decade and more, magic has been hurt by the belief held by magicians that to be successful you must “play Vegas”.

It is certainly a compliment and credit for a magician to get hired to work in a prominent casino in Las Vegas.  Although, to a large degree, such a thing does not mean what it used to because so many performers are now “buying their way in” rather than earning it.  If you have enough money, you can play Vegas whether or not you are any good.  (There are such performers in Vegas today, but there are also “old school” performers who achieved their position and recognition by way of merit.)

Whatever the case may presently be in Las Vegas, the thing magicians need to get into their heads is that Vegas is not the only place.

As well, they need to understand that what “plays in Vegas” may not work in other places.  Why spend immense amounts of energy trying to develop a “Vegas act” when there are comparatively few opportunities in Las Vegas and a wide open market across the rest of the USA.   Also, why pursue Las Vegas when, nowadays, playing Vegas seems to have more to do with how the depth of your pockets than the level of your skills?

Does it not make more sense to work at mastering the type of magic and show that appeals to the same people who made the founding family of Walmart multi-billionaires?  Why not work at putting on a spectacular show for what might be labeled “average America” or “middle America”?

Some might say, “Apart from Vegas and Branson, I don’t see the other opportunities.  Where are the other theaters?”  The answer is:  Almost every town in America has a theater that is not being sufficiently used.  Some are getting no use.  Not all such theaters are located in places with enough population or tourism to be financially viable for a magic show, but there are plenty of them that could work.

It seems a big part of the problem is too few magicians are willing to be original in their thinking.  They see what someone else is doing and want to do the same.  If one guy is doing well in Branson, their immediate thought is, “I need to go to Branson too”.  Typically, if they follow through on the thought, they fail.  There are many stories that can be told about magicians who have come and gone in both Branson and Las Vegas.

One reason why trying to work in the same place as another magician usually results in failure is the other performer already has his marketing machine in place, already has a good reputation and fan base, and has years of experience in the specific circumstance which means he has worked out the details involved in making his show just right for that regional audience.  A new show in town will have a lot of rough edges to work off.  It is difficult for a new show to survive the time needed to craft, refine, and establish value while being compared to another show that is already known and appreciated.

Beyond that, if they do end up putting on a good show in the same place, and surviving the process of getting established, they end up “cutting the money pie” into smaller pieces so neither performer is able to do well.  The amount of money people have to spend on magic shows in an area is typically limited.  In simple terms, if one magician is grossing $100,000 dollars (which means, after expenses, paying salaries, marketing and other expenses he may have $10,000 left), and a second magician comes to town, he is not likely to gross $100,000 as well.  Instead, if the two magicians are equal, they are each more likely to end up with $50,000, which means almost no profit to pay their own bills and stay alive for another season.

The fact that another magician is finding success in a particular place does not mean that is the place other magicians should go to as well.  It makes more sense for magicians to look at places where there are no magic shows.  It would be wise to search for a place that already has the attention of the public, yet no working magicians.  Consider making magic a new and interesting addition to whatever is already attracting people to that area.

Conviction #3.  No matter where one is, doing solid business as a magician is difficult.

A reason why forty-five states are without well known magic shows is simple.  It is a daunting and difficult task, which at times seems to border on the impossible, to perform in a way that appeals to the public and sells enough tickets to do business in a profitable manner.

I confess that I approach each new season of our show with trepidation.  The concern is always, will we be able to fill enough seats to pay the salaries of the cast.  That is apart from wondering, will there will be any dollars left over for Mary and I to live on.

The magic theater business is a serious challenge for Mary and I, in spite of the fact that we come at it with a wealth of experience in the “show” and “business” aspects of being professional performers.

If we did not have the experience that we have, our present situation would not be possible.  We spent seventeen years traveling the world and working in a broad variety of shows.  Our act was seen on a rotating stage in Hong Kong and on the historic stage of the Zenith Theater in Sydney, Australia.  We worked in almost every venue imaginable.  We did magic for a crowd of barefoot people in South Africa.  We entertained at the Blackpool magic convention, which was the largest gathering of magicians in the world at that time (and still may be).  I will never forget the show we did with Fukai and Kimika in the basement of a building in Tokyo.  It was actually a sort of nightclub, but not like anything we had seen in the USA.  There was only one door in and out.  It was necessary to squeeze down a narrow stairway to access the seating area.  The room was hardly big enough to hold fifty people, yet well over a hundred were crammed in.  All I could think was “fire trap”, but everyone had a great time.  There are many stories to tell about unique and memorable performances.

We were able to learn from our own work and what we saw others doing.  It is hard to imagine anyone having a better exposure to the world of magic, on an international scale, than we did.

This was followed by two seasons in our own Montana Wonder Theater in Libby, Montana, which prospered, but could only be open two months a year because of long hard winters that kept tourists away.  We loved the Montana experience, and learned a lot.

Next was the opportunity to work in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  At first we were the “second magician” in a show that was already in place and making money.  In time, on an alternating schedule with another magician, I stepped into the starring role in that theater.  Eventually I was the only magician in the show.  Day after day, with two shows a day on many days, we did a wonderful, two-hour, all magic performance for the public.  That show had a good run.  It eventually closed because of a property transaction involving the owners of the theater and a big business interest.

Our next move was to rent space to put our own show in another theater in Pigeon Forge.  It started well, but ended prematurely because of a knee injury that kept me off stage for a while.

We learned much through all of this.  It was practical education about performing and marketing.  From popping and selling popcorn, to hiring and firing employees, we were able to see how things are done.  When the opportunity came to take over a theater in South Dakota, and manage every aspect of it from stage, to human resources, to concessions, to theater maintenance, to marketing, and more, we were ready.

Our first season in the Grand Magic Theater in Custer, South Dakota was a strong success primarily because we knew what needed to be done when we started into it.

Now back to that question, “Why share my secrets?”

Does it make sense that we would view our experience and education as something to keep only for ourselves?   Would it be right for us to refuse to share the things we have learned?

This should be especially considered in light of the fact that so many have shared valuable ideas with us.

Conviction #4.  Practical and wonderful knowledge has come our way.  It is not ours to hoard or hide.  If there is a way we can encourage other magicians, and help them find success, that is not only an opportunity, it is a trust to be honored.

If, by sharing lessons we have learned, we can speed up the learning process for others, we should be glad to do so.  If we can share our mistakes, so others do no have to make the same mistakes, we should be glad to do it.  In whatever ways we can, we should view it as a blessing to be able to help other magicians succeed.

I share this because I believe a family friendly magic show is a marvelous thing.  I want to see more magicians presenting such shows and more of the public being able to enjoy them.  It is in my heart to see the world of magic prosper.  Taking an “every man for himself” and “nobody can know about anything I do” attitude will not aid in that happening.  It is time to help other magicians swim, not sink.

Final thoughts on the matter:

  1. I am not talking about exposing the secrets of tricks and illusions to those who should not know them.  That is a different matter.
  1. I do not believe in “casting pearls before swine”.  I’m willing to work with those who are willing to work.  I’m glad to share with those who will listen.  I do not waste my time with those who do not respect our art.  I am only open to sharing with those whom I believe will value and apply that which is shared.
  1. Confidentiality must be respected.  If a mentor has asked me to guard one of his personal secrets, I do not pass that on.
  1. I admit I am peeved about magicians who take the attitude “No one else can do what I am doing!”  Where would magic be if everyone had that attitude?  Besides, magicians who have that attitude certainly did not create and invent every aspect of their own shows.  They learned from others. Most of them use tricks, techniques, jokes and patter developed by other performers.  They have no problem using ideas that started with performers who have gone before them, yet they act as if, now that they have done something, or used something, no one else should touch it.
  1. In spite of my openness about sharing, and my wish that others would be open to share as well, I am not suggesting that the ideas of others should be used without permission.  Nor am I suggesting that a magician is wrong to want to keep a personal creation to himself for a while.  There is competition for performance opportunities.  Having something different from what others do can help in getting a booking.  That is an appropriate way to think.  Beyond that, people should get proper credit for their creations.  It is wrong for one performer to act as if he or she  personally developed something that is the invention of another.  Copying others is not a way to find success.  We should not copy and we should discourage others from doing so.

I am advocating mentoring, teaching, and finding ways to help others be successful in magic!


One of my goals in sharing routines is that of providing practical material that performers can use in shows.  I am committed to sharing material that works in “real world” situations.

The truth is, not all magic is particularly useful.  Some tricks are based on clever principles, and involve intricate moves or mechanics that magicians appreciate, yet audiences do not care much to see these same tricks performed.  There are many tricks in magic that magicians seem to like more than does the public.

There are other tricks that magicians may take for granted, or even overlook, that actually get a terrific response from the public.  The effect known as “Day At The Circus” fits that category.

It is a trick I have enjoyed using for years.  It recently occurred to me that I have never written about it.  It also seems that not many other magicians are using it in their shows.

The original version of the trick was released by Supreme Magic of England.  I purchased my first model of the trick directly from them.

The trick is simple and fun.  In my opinion it is exceptionally useful for one reason:  the theme of the trick makes for an ideal change of pace in a show.  It provides novelty and a special interest factor.

After having done a variety of tricks, the magician says to the audience, “Now I shall make an elephant disappear!”  That is a great way to focus the attention of the audience.  You are not going to do another rope trick.  You are not, once again, asking for a volunteer.  You are doing something different.   People think, How can he possibly vanish an elephant?  Then the comedy and magic begins!

I want to be sure to properly emphasize the key point in this.  I am saying that, as simple as the trick is, because you can offer to make an elephant disappear, it is a great addition to a show.  It may be that the title Day At The Circus has kept some performers from understanding the heart of the routine.  It is not about a day at the circus.  Those who try to build patter around a circus story will miss the point and punch of the magic.  It is about making an elephant disappear!

What happens?

The audience is shown three cards.  One is a picture of a ringmaster,  one is a picture of a dancing horse, and  one is a picture of an elephant.

The three cards are placed into a folder decorated to look like a circus tent.  Next, one at a time, the cards are removed from the folder.  The ringmaster is taken out and set aside.  The dancing horse is taken out and set aside.

Then the announcement is made that the elephant is no longer in the folder.  It has vanished!  To prove this, the magician opens the folder and shows the elephant picture has disappeared.  In place of it is a card that, in bold letters, says, “Gone!”

Audience members suspect that the elephant has not really vanished.  They believe it to be on the back of the “Gone” card.  When the magician turns the “Gone” card over, on the back is a picture of a clown.  When showing this, the magician says, “Back here we have a clown who is smiling because he loves it when the elephant disappears!”


The “Day At The Circus” trick is a dealer item.  The principle is the same as “ABC Stung” and other large card tricks that involve a pocket on the back of one of the cards.  The elephant card slips into the back of the ringmaster card.  When the ringmaster card is removed from the folder, the elephant is secretly taken away as well.

The “Gone” card is in the folder from the beginning of the trick.


Vanishing Elephant Pro Presentation Kit/“Day At The Circus” trick.  We highly recommend it.  The entertainment it provides makes it well worth the price of purchasing it.


Place the “Gone” card in the folder.


I do not like tricks that make the audience feel foolish.  Some performers have presented this trick by showing the clown picture first at the climax of the trick.  When the audience says, “Turn it around”, they then show “Gone”.  This basically is a way of saying to the audience, “Ha, I fooled you!”

To avoid that, I show the “Gone”, first.  When the audience says, “Turn it around”  (which is fun and I enjoy playing along with it), I eventually turn the card over to show the clown.  The words, “Here is a smiling clown who loves it when the elephant disappears”, takes the sting out of mystery.  Rather than being told they are fools, the audience is being told, “This is great, it is a reason to smile!”


“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this is the portion of the show where I make an elephant disappear. That is right.  If you have heard of the famous ‘Disappearing Elephant’ trick, now you get to actually see it done by way of pictures.”

“It happens at a circus.  It begins with a ringmaster.  He is very excited to have the disappearing elephant trick in his show.”

Show the ringmaster card.

“There is also a dancing horse.  The horse dances and prances because it too is excited about the fact that an elephant will disappear.”

Show the dancing horse card.

“Here is the elephant.  She is huge.  Everyone wonders, how is it possible for an elephant to disappear?”

Show the elephant card.

“The disappearing elephant trick involves a circus tent.  Here it is.”

“The ringmaster, dancing horse, and elephant enter the tent.”

Place the three cards inside the tent folder.

“Then the ringmaster comes out again and announces in his ringmaster voice, ‘The elephant has disappeared!’”

Show the ringmaster card and set it aside.

“Out comes the dancing horse, still dancing and excited because the elephant has disappeared.”

Show the dancing horse card and set it aside.

“So the question is, what is still inside the tent?  Is it the elephant?  The answer is, ‘No, the elephant is gone!’”

Open the tent and show the “Gone” card.  Indicate that the elephant is no longer in the tent folder.

“It is incredible.  It is astonishing.  It is baffling.”

“But then again, there are those who doubt an amazing trick like this can really happen.  They do not think the elephant has actually disappeared.”

“What do we tell them?  We tell them it really did happen and even the clown is smiling, because he loves it when the elephant disappears!”

Turn the “Gone” card and show the smiling clown on the other side.

Final note

This is obviously a great kid-show trick, but I have used it on the big stage for adults and it has gone over well.  It is a good routine to do “in front of the curtain” during an illusion show.  Follow it up with saying, “Now, we return to the big stage!”

Life Backstage: Do Your Shows Have Enough Variety?

I think almost all magicians know it is good to avoid sameness of effect.  Although, when viewed individually, they are great tricks, if an audience sees illusions such as Origami, the Sword Basket, and Spiker all performed one right after another, the impact is diminished.  People might think, Okay, I get it.  The girl can be in a box and not be hurt by blades.  What else can you do?

It can be compared to singing too many verses of a hymn in church.  Even with changing lyrics, the same tune sung over and over gets old.  A magician certainly would not want his show to be labeled as “one song, just a lot of verses”.

On the other hand, avoiding sameness of effect in a magic show is tricky because the the number of effects in magic is limited.  There are many props and tricks, but the reality is most of them are “other verses” of a familiar song.

This puts a critical question in front of the illusionist:  With a limited number of possible effects, how do we keep from seeming to repeat ourselves?

A classic list of effects in magic gives only nine basic possibilities.  Of course, magicians argue about the list. Some say there are more effects.  Others think penetration and restoration are similar enough that they might be somehow combined to make the list even shorter.  In spite of the arguments, the list is generally viewed as a solid statement about what magicians are able to do.

Here are the classic possibilities:

  1. Production – The magician produces something from nothing.
  1. Vanish – The magician makes something disappear.
  1. Transformation – The magician transforms something from one state into another.
  1. Restoration – The magician destroys an object, then restores it back to its original state.
  1. Teleportation – The magician causes something to move from one place to another.
  1. Escape – The magician (an assistant may participate, but the magician himself is by far the most common) is placed in a restraining device (i.e. handcuffs or a straitjacket) or a death trap, and escapes to safety.
  1. Levitation – The magician defies gravity, either by making something float in the air, or with the aid of another object (suspension).
  1. Penetration – The magician makes a solid object pass through another.
  1. Prediction –  The magician predicts the choice of a spectator, or the outcome of an event under seemingly impossible circumstances.

According to the list, if we were to never repeat an effect in a show, we would only do nine tricks.

In the first eight minutes of my stage show, I do five tricks, four of which are major illusions.  Does this mean, over the course of the other ninety minutes of the performance, I can only do four more tricks?

The reality is, if a show is thirty minutes or more in length, the audience must see some variations on the same effect.  When a show is shorter than thirty minutes, it is still likely that some effects will be repeated.

How can we do several presentations of a fundamental effect without the audience thinking the tricks are the same?

The practical answer to the question is by way of changing emotion.  Emotion, as it relates to routines and effects, is a vital and powerful thing for a magician to understand.  It also is something that many magicians seem to understand the least.

I remember watching another magician’s show and being asked to give him feedback.  The performance took place in a fancy theater.  It lasted about two and one half hours and featured many illusions.

To the credit of this magician, his illusions were varied.  He did not have too many sword tricks, nor did he have too many productions or vanishes.  His props were different.  However, the feeling of his presentations was not.

He did not realize it, or mean for it to be so, but almost all of his stage illusions were styled as sentimental interludes.  He would briefly dance with a girl.  Then she would get into a box, or onto a platform, or sit on a chair, and something magical would happen.  When the trick was over, he and the girl would dance around one another again and then strike a new sentimental pose.

For each of his illusions he had different music.  Yet, the songs might as well have been the same.  They were all around three minutes in length.  They were mainly what might be termed “easy-listening love songs”.

The audience was seeing different illusions, but it wasn’t long into the show before the illusions began to all seem the same.  The show lacked energy and excitement.

It is an easy mistake to make. Since a magician on television gains fame for a trick done with romantic music, and a beautiful lady with a rose in her hand, other magicians want to style their illusions the same way.  Their enthusiasm for the concept leads them to apply it to nearly everything they do.  They fail to understand that what works in a superb way as a segment in a show, does not necessarily work when applied to an entire show.

In other words, one trick in a show featuring a rose and dancing lady is enough.  The key to creating the feeling for the audience that they are experiencing a wonderful event, filled with many different things, is by having strong changes in emotion.  Romance is great as a part of the show, but there must also be drama, comedy, suspense, whimsy and more.

A simple way to ensure changes in emotion is to create routines of different lengths.  Do not try to get as much time out of every prop as possible.  Let a routine with one prop be about one minute long.  Make it strong, fast, and impressive.  Let another one last three or four minutes with a developing story line and more sentimental theme.  Then do something that only takes one or two minutes and gets laughs.

Another way to ensure changes in emotion is to make sure that the music you use fits diverse categories.  If your songs all have a similar sound, it is likely your routines will have a similar feel.  If you use different types of music you will almost automatically end up with different feelings.  If one illusion is done to a “Rock and Roll” sound, try doing another with classical music in the background.

The heart of this matter is the effects do not have to be different, as long as they feel different.  My opinion is it is even possible to do the three tricks mentioned in the introduction to this article, Origami, Sword Basket, and Spiker all in the same show, if they each have unique character.  If the Origami is a tale of two lovers overcoming a tough situation, but the Sword Basket is a humorous happening with the girl inside pushing the swords back out again and sticking a puppet up into the air, and Spiker is about an assistant trying to put something over on the magician, they all might play well.

In this season’s version of Grand Magic, we have three illusions that are similar in effect.  Three girls are produced from the Phantom Cage.  Four girls and Elvis are produced from the Modern Cabinet.  Four girls are produced from the Chests Of Mystery.

Nevertheless, I do not think the audience will care that the effects are similar, or even notice the similarity.

  • The Phantom Cage happens in about one minute.  It is a slam bang presentation with no patter.  All of a sudden, beautiful ladies are on the stage.
  • The Modern Cabinet takes three and one/half minutes.  It involves patter about a Juke Box that must be magic because it has no mechanical means of playing music.  The character of the trick is puzzling and humorous.
  • The Chests Of Mystery take about two and one/half minutes and involve a box that is moved all over the stage.  The pace is frantic.  (Music is “Flight Of The Bumblebee.”)  As this routine takes place, it seems that the magician is as confused as anyone as to how it all happens.

These three productions are spaced apart from one another.  The energy is different, the mood is different, and the pace is different.  I expect them to be viewed as three very different tricks.

Final note:  I am not advocating using similar things in a show.  If we could feature all nine classic effects in one program, that would be wonderful.  The point is, normally it is necessary to use some variations on a common effect.  When doing so, it is changing emotion (and styling) that keeps things from seeming repetitious.

Takeaway:  Watch video of one of your recent shows and assess the energy and emotional changes.  Remember that variety in tricks is good, but variety in emotion is what truly makes a program strong.  If you are an illusionist, identify the emotion associated with each of your effects.  Do you have variety in mood and style, or do the tricks end up all feeling the same?

A Routine for You to Use: Sweet Success

The basic concept for this routine comes from Alan Shaxon of England.   The way the routine ends is my addition to his idea.

I was privileged to work with Alan at a number of international venues and we were good friends.  Alan was instrumental in me becoming MIMIC with Gold Star (Member of the Inner Magic Circle).  Alan passed away in October of 2012.  He contributed much to the world of magic.

The routine centers around a neat way to control the outcome of what appears to be three choices.  The props involved are simple.  The effect is strong and useful.

What Happens?

Three silk handkerchiefs are shown and placed into a bag. Two spectators are asked to assist with the routine.

Spectator number one reaches into the bag and removes a handkerchief.  Spectator number two reaches into the bag and removes a handkerchief.  The handkerchief that remains in the bag is for the magician.

Three containers are shown.  The colors of the containers match the colors of the handkerchiefs.  Spectator number one looks inside the container that matches the handkerchief he selected.  There is candy inside this container!

Spectator number two looks inside the container that matches the handkerchief he selected.  There is candy inside this container as well!

The magician looks inside the container that matches the handkerchief that was left in the bag for him.  In this container is no candy.  Instead there is a message that says, “The magician gets no candy.  His reward is the knowledge that his two new friends had sweet success in the choices they made”.


All you need is a Change Bag, three silks, and three containers that match the colors of the silks.

Any type of Change Bag will work.  My preference for this is our “Hidden Spring” bag.  The action of the bag is easy and makes what happens seem completely innocent.  Also, it does not look like something purchased at a magic store.

An interesting feature of this routine is that you do not preset the Change Bag.   At the beginning of the routine it really is empty.

I have noticed that dollar stores often sell plastic cups that are available in bright colors.  They would work perfectly.  Mary tells me that the “Dixie Cups” found in the picnic aisle of your local grocery store often come in three colors; red, yellow, and blue.  These would also work perfectly.

If you cannot find three different containers, use three that are the same and mark them with colored tape.

Once you have your containers, put candy or something similar in two of them, and put the note in the third one.

Next, obtain three silks that match the containers in color.

Secret and Setup

The Change Bag is shown empty, then the three silks are dropped into it one at a time.  One of the silks is the “force color”.  When this silk is about to be dropped into the bag, the magician switches the bag so it goes into the secret compartment.  This keeps it separate from the other two silks which are dropped into the other part of the bag.


If the note is in a blue container, before a spectator drops in the blue silk, the bag is secretly switched over.   After the silk falls into the secret compartment, the bag is switched back again.  The order in which the silks are placed into the bag does not matter, as long as the magician switches the bag over and back again at the proper time.  The result is two silks (we will call them red and yellow) in the open part of the Change Bag and one silk hidden in the secret compartment.


After the silks are dropped into the bag, shake it to “mix them up”.  Then have spectator number one reach into the bag and remove a silk.  Hold the bag up high while he or she does this so the inside of the bag cannot be seen.

This spectator will bring out either a red or yellow silk.

Have the second spectator reach into the bag and remove a silk.  Again, the bag is held high so he cannot see inside.  Because of the nature of the silk, this spectator will not be able to tell that there is only one silk inside for him or her to grab.  His hands will touch the folds of the silk and eventually he will bring it out.

This spectator will have the other silk (either red or yellow).

The magician then secretly switches over the bag.  He reaches inside to remove the blue silk and says, “This last handkerchief will be for me”.


Begin by announcing a special kind of game.

“It is time to play a simple game called, ‘Sweet Success’.  It involves three containers, three handkerchiefs, and three people.  I will be one of the three people.  I need two others to help me play the game.”

Select two volunteers.  Invite them to join you on stage.

“The game happens in a very simple manner.  Each of us will get a handkerchief.  The handkerchiefs we have will determine the prizes we win.”

Show the three handkerchiefs (as magicians, we call them “silks”, but it is best, when performing for a regular audience, to refer to them as handkerchiefs).  Show the Change Bag to be empty.  Ask one of the spectators to, one at a time, drop the handkerchiefs into the bag.

“The three handkerchiefs are placed in a bag and then mixed around.  Now the two of you have the first choices.  Please reach into the bag and remove a handkerchief.”

Spectator number one reaches into the bag and comes out with either the red or yellow handkerchief.  Spectator number two reaches into the bag and comes out with the other handkerchief.

“That leaves a handkerchief for me.  You have left me with the blue one.”

“Please notice these three containers.  The colors match the handkerchiefs that we have.”

Indicate spectator number one…

“You have the yellow handkerchief so you get the yellow container.”

Indicate spectator number two…

“You have the red handkerchief so you get the red container.”

Indicate the remaining container.

“My handkerchief is blue so I get the blue container.  Let’s see what our prizes might be.”

Pick up the yellow container and pour out the contents as you look at the helper who holds the yellow handkerchief.

“Look at this, you win some candy.  Very good!”

Pick up the red container and pour out the contents as you look at the helper who holds the red handkerchief.

“And what do we have here?  More candy!  Again, that is good!”

Pick up the blue container. 

Well look at this.  No money!  Instead a message that says, “The magician gets no candy.  His reward is the knowledge that his two new friends had sweet success in the choices they made!”


Alan’s original version of this routine had a different ending.  The two spectators got nothing.  Their containers were empty.  The magician’s container was full of money.

Alan was a great gentleman and his style of performing, which had spanned many decades, made this version of the trick work for him.  It reflects an approach that, for a long time, was common for magicians to use.  They would win and volunteers would lose.

My opinion is that approach is not good for our generation, and especially not good for those who specialize in positive family entertainment, rather than performing for adult clubs.

It took a while to come up with a different ending for the trick.  I think the fact that the magician only gets a note, yet the note is about what has happened, makes the trick very strong.  Beyond that, it is a happy ending because the volunteers are the winners at the same time that the magician gets credit for a good effect.

Thinking beyond this routine…

The routine concept can be easily  adapted to specific situations.

  • Birthday party:  Rather than the magician choosing a handkerchief, three children could be used and one of them would be the birthday child.  Two of the children would get a fun prize, but the birthday child would get the birthday prize.
  • Positive message programs:  It can be used to illustrate a choice that “should not be made”.  In two of the containers there could be pieces of paper that say “health” or “peace”.  There would also be small prizes in these containers.  The third container would say “It is good this container was not selected for it contains a bad choice”.  On a second note, within the container, would be the words, “Drug Abuse”.  There would be nothing else inside.  The idea is that the two spectators made good choices that had positive consequences.  The third container is the one not chosen.  The magician opens it and shares the message that this definitely would have been the wrong choice to make.
  • Gospel programs:  Similar to the positive message programs, two containers would contain notes with comments about good choices.  These containers might even contain Scripture verses.  The third one would contain a note that says, “It is good this was not chosen, for it is a bad choice to make”.  Then another note would be inside the container stating the bad choice.

Alternate handling…

If the idea of paying attention to switch the bag over and back again whenever the force silk is dropped inside intimidates you, there is an easier way to do the trick.  Simply drop in the blue silk first.  Then have your helpers drop in the other two.  After the first silk (blue) goes into the bag, switch it over right away.  With this approach, once the first silk is in the bag you can relax.

I do not think this alternate handling is as strong, but it definitely works.

What Props do You Use?

Here is a collection of thoughts and ideas about tables and prop management.

  1. Many readers will already know this, but for those who do not it, it needs to be repeated.  For most magicians, a table with a top that is at least partially open is the way to go.  This means that, rather than reaching behind a table, you reach down into it.  Pictured below is one version of this kind of table.  Notice the silks are draped over the edge with part of them inside of the table and part of them out.               This creates a perfect situation for making a steal.  When the silks are picked up again, the hand can briefly drop out of sight inside the box and pick up something extra.  The table in the picture also has a partial cover (seen to the left) where props can be set if there is a desire to keep them in view.
  2. Boxes with lids that stand up are a wonderful tool.  By this we mean, rather than flopping over, the lid remains vertical when the box is opened (as in the picture above).  The standing lid gives you cover to do a “move” when reaching into the box.  For example, while doing the “Silk To Egg” effect, being able to reach in and out of the box, behind cover, allows you to do the necessary switches.
  3. A good source for boxes with lids that stand up is Hobby Lobby and Tuesday Morning stores.  Almost all Hobby Lobby stores have, near the fabric area, a section of boxes that will be of interest to magicians.  Tuesday Morning stores typically have a broad collection of boxes and containers that can be used by magicians.
  4. If you have road cases for large props, rather than trying to put them in a back room or hallway when doing a show, consider carrying either black or fancy cloths that can be thrown over them.  By this you can create an extra backdrop or piece of scenery.  We use our road cases to make a changing room for the girls. The cases are placed against one another, then covered with a big cloth.  This makes the cases blend in with backdrops and other aspects of staging, but also creates a place where the girls can step out of sight.
  5. For a great side table, go to  They aren’t cheap, but they are the best stand & tabletop combinations that we have ever found.  They are designed to hold laptop computers.  Check out the tripod stand for either being seated or on your feet.  The height to which it extends is great.  These stands are designed to hold heavy objects, yet they are lightweight.  They don’t wobble and they look professional.  Another good feature is they collapse to a comparatively short length.  We travel with two instands packed inside our regular performance table.  They are worth the price!
  6. To put a larger top on the table of your instand, get a packet of industrial strength sticky back velcro from a store like Walmart and put the velcro on top of the table and on the bottom of whatever you want to use as a larger top.  By this you can change the size of the top as needed.
  7. Gift bags, as found in the dollar store, are handy for bringing out props and giveaways.  Rather than just digging out a Magic Coloring book to give to a helper, show the gift bag and then bring the coloring book out of it.  This adds perceived value to what is happening.  A gift bag is also a convenient way to bring out a prop of awkward size, such as a big Pom pom Stick or large set of Linking Rings, that does not fit inside your magic table.  The Linking Rings can stand up inside the bag, which makes it easy for the magician to properly pick them up, and, when the routine is over, he has a place to safely put them back out of sight.
  8. Gaffer tape is an amazing thing.  It is great for marking the stage, making repairs, and quickly covering something that you do not want to bother to paint.  It even works great for making a flexible hinge.  You can get it from Uline (a company easily found on the internet).   Gaffer tape is another product that is not cheap, but worth it.  It is necessary to purchase three rolls at a time.  We always have one roll back stage, one in our tool area, and one near our performance table.  Gaffer tape is not the same as Duct tape.  I feel it is far superior.  I would not be without it.

A Routine for You to Use: The Magic Magic Marker

The above title is not a misprint.  This article is about the magic Magic Marker.  Along with being a fun presentation theme, it also is a lesson in manipulation in the sense that each aspect of the routine gives reason for necessary moves.

To do this effect you must be able to handle a Hank Ball.  At the end of the routine I will describe the basic “steal” that is necessary.

Even if you don’t think you will use this routine, the Hank Ball “steal” is a superb move to learn.  If you master it you will have a tremendous new move in your sleight of hand arsenal.


If you are not interested in the Hank Ball “steal”, this routine is nevertheless worth consideration.  Maybe you could adapt it to a Silk Cabby or Change Bag.  I think it would be perfect for the Switch Can.  Put the marker down into the can through the hole in the top and claim it is drawing a picture.  It would  be extra fun to have a volunteer from the audience be the one who is doing the “magic drawing”.

What happens?

The magician shows the audience an 18” white silk.  There is no art or lettering on it.  It is just a white silk handkerchief.

This silk handkerchief is placed in his hand.

Next he shows the audience a felt tip marker.  He explains that since it is a “magic marker” there is no need to take off the cap and actually write something.  Instead he just briefly waves the marker above the handkerchief in his hand.

His hand holding the handkerchief then opens and it is instantly evident that there is now a black outlined picture on it.

Apart from the marker and this

handkerchief with a picture on it, there is nothing else in the magician’s hands.

The picture has appeared on the handkerchief by magic!


If you can do the Hank Ball “steal”, the method is easy.  This steal is thoroughly explained on our “Modern Hank Ball Manipulation” DVD.

Prepare for the routine by folding an 18” picture silk and hiding it in your left hand. (For this effect, I prefer a picture silk with a white background and a black and white outline picture on it.)

Place a Hank Ball on top of the silk.  It is not hard to keep the silk and the Hank Ball above it palmed in the hand.   When you start the routine, let the hand hang at your side in a relaxed manner.

Put a plain 18” white silk handkerchief in a place where it can easily be reached.  A good spot for it is in your breast pocket.  Fold it so it looks like a pocket scarf.  When you begin the trick, reach up and remove it from the pocket.

Place a felt tip type marker, commonly called a “Magic Marker” in your right coat pocket or down in a small box, or in your table.


With the picture silk and Hank Ball palmed in your left hand, begin the patter.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for a demonstration of something I call Magic Art.  It requires no artistic ability, but it does require the proper equipment.

The first necessary item is a white handkerchief.”

With your right hand, remove the handkerchief from your breast pocket.  With your left hand, grasp one of the corners of this handkerchief so it can be held outstretched between your two hands.  Show both sides of the handkerchief.


Even though you have a silk and Hank Ball palmed in your left hand, this is no problem.  Actually, it gives you cover.  Holding one corner of the handkerchief provides a reason to keep your left hand in a curved or slightly closed manner.

At the same time, because the left hand is being used to hold a corner of the handkerchief that is in view, an unspoken message is given that nothing else must be in the hand.

“It is Magic Art, so no easel is necessary.  The handkerchief is simply placed into my left hand.”

Close the left hand into a fist and start to push the handkerchief within.  Push it so it goes down into the Hank Ball.

Once the handkerchief is completely in the Hank Ball, do the Hank Ball “steal” so the ball goes back into your right hand.

This means: In your left hand you now only have the picture silk.  The audience thinks it is a plain white silk handkerchief.

In your right hand you have the Hank Ball which contains the plain white silk.  The hank Ball is palmed and therefore the audience does not know it exists.

At this point there is a problem, what do you do with the Hank Ball?  The answer is easy.  Reach into your right coat pocket, or down into a small box or your table, to get the felt tip marker.  While your hand is in the pocket, leave Hank Ball behind.

“With the handkerchief held tightly in my hand I need the other necessary item…a felt tip pen.”

Reach into your pocket and get the pen.  Bring the felt tip market into view.

“The wonderful thing about Magic Art is I need not even remove the cap from the pen.  If I hold it over the handkerchief in my hand and imagine the picture I want to see, the picture will appear.”

“Do you know why this is true?  Because this is much more than a felt tip pen, in reality it is a Magic Marker!”  (This comment should get a laugh.)

“Here is the proof!”

Open your left hand and let the handkerchief unfold.  The audience will notice the black lines on it.  Display the handkerchief between your hands so they can see the picture.  At the same time make it clear that, apart from the marker, there is nothing else in your hands.

With the handkerchief displayed between your hands, address the audience with these words, “And that, ladies and gentleman, is a demonstration of Magic Art!”

Another possibility:

I confess that my favorite way to use this routine is when I am in the role of an emcee or compeer.  Rather than having a picture appear on the silk, my Magic Art results in the words, “Welcome To The Show” appearing on the silk.

It is a nice magical way to greet an audience and get a magic show started.

–You can find the Hank Ball, 18″ White Silk, and the Modern Hank Ball Manipulation DVD all at the

The Hank Ball “Steal”

As mentioned earlier, the Hank Ball “steal” is taught on video.  For those who like to see explanations on paper, here is a description of the maneuver.

  1. Place the Hank Ball in your left hand with the hole facing up.
  1. Push a silk down into the Hank Ball.
  1. Once the silk is in the ball, put the thumb of your left hand down into the ball.  (This is very different from standard maneuvers with a thumbtip. Rather than having the thumb from the opposite hand go into the gimmick, with this move, the thumb from the same hand that holds the gimmick goes down into it.)
  1. Once the thumb is lodged in the Hank Ball, straighten it up.  By doing this the Hank Ball will be levered up and out of your left hand.
  1. When you lever up the ball, keep your right hand curved down over the top of the left hand.  This covers the movement of the ball.  You may need to slightly open the fingers of your left hand to allow the ball to slide behind them and upwards.  As soon as the ball has gone past them, close the fingers again.  This happens quickly and will not be noticed by the audience.
  1. Once the Hank Ball is in the right hand, palm it.
  1. With the Hank Ball palmed in the right hand, keep the right hand still and pull the left hand away from beneath it. Keep the left hand closed as if the handkerchief is still there.  Move it up higher than the right hand so the audience will look at it.
  1. In a relaxed manner, use the right hand to reach into your pocket, or into a hat, to get a wand or other object.  This gives you opportunity to drop off the Hank Ball.
  1. Once the Hank Ball has been secretly hidden away in a pocket or hat, open the left hand and show that the handkerchief has disappeared.

How is Your Advertising?

Advertising and promotion should not be left until the last minute.  I prefer to get such things going months ahead of time.  To do that, I have to have a good grasp on what will be in the show.

Why is this important?  It is because advertising and promotion needs to be accurate.  People expect to see the same things in the show that they see in brochures and on posters.  If your promotional literature shows you doing a levitation, the audience will be disappointed if you do not actually do a levitation.

I learned this the hard way.  Early in my career we hired a man and wife team to take pictures of Mary and I for use in our advertising materials.  The wife was a professional photographer and the man was a magician.  It seemed the perfect combination for what we needed.  They offered expertise in photography and a knowledge of the business of the magician.

The man talked me into doing a unique pose with pieces of rope.  Rather than showing the traditional Professor’s Nightmare setup, which would have been me holding three different lengths of rope, he had me hold two different lengths of rope in my hands, but then he took the third piece of rope and put it on my shoulder.

He did not just lay it on my shoulder, he put some wire inside the rope and bent it so the rope looked like it was crawling on my shoulder.  The picture was impressive.  It seemed on of the pieces of rope was animated and had a mind of its own.

The problem was, I could not actually make the little piece of rope do that.  After a show in which there were rope tricks, people could say to me, “Why didn’t you do that trick where the rope crawls on your shoulder?”  What could I tell them?  I did not want to say, “It is just a picture, I can’t really do it.”  This would indicate that my promotional materials give a false impression about my abilities.

Not long ago I was talking with an illusionist friend who told of making a similar mistake.  Since he owns a version of “Sawing A Lady In Half,” he put a picture of it on his posters.  However, since it was a bulky prop and required a large stage, he rarely took it with him for actual use in a show.  This led to him getting complaints.  Clients actually came up to him, after the show, with the picture in hand, and pointed to the “Sawing In Half.”  They said, “Why didn’t you do that trick. We wanted to see it!”

He finally figured out that he had  to either use the “Sawing In Half” in every show, or else take it out of his poster.

Since I want to get marketing materials out in a timely manner, I must also make solid decisions about the show in a timely manner.

We now have our show written out thoroughly enough to be sure about a number of illusions that will be used.  We also are confident about costuming choices.   As always happens, there likely will be a number of changes in our plans between now and when the show opens, but we definitely know the direction we are going and have a good sense about things that will be in the show.

Therefore, we need to get brochures designed and posters up.  There are plenty of other marketing concerns as well, but a fundamental aspect issue is determining a general “look” for our promotional efforts.

Here are some thoughts about posters, brochures, and the “look” of marketing materials.

1. Emphasize what the show will do for the customer.  Far more important than your credentials, or how great the show is, is promoting the benefits that come to people who see the show.  On the next page you will see a sample of the rack card we will use this season.  We are still working on it, so there may be a few changes, but they will be minimal.

The first thing to notice about the card is the caption at the top.  “Have awesome fun.”  This is a better thing to say than “Internationally Awarded” or “Great magic show.”   People want to know what is in it for me.  They are also looking for reasons that will lead them to choosing your attraction over others.

This does not mean that credits such as “internationally awarded” are not of value.  They do help people in making a decision to see your show.  The point is, such things should not be the first things, or the main things emphasized.  The fact that the customer will have “awesome fun” or “make a magical memory” is the concept that should come to their minds first.  You want them to think, Yes, that is exactly what I am looking for and what I want my children and grandchildren to experience.  I need to read more about this.

2. Keep in mind that our generation has become oriented to pictures over text.  The saying, “A picture speaks louder than a thousand words,” has been around for a long time.  Even so, in our time it is especially true.  We are a society that has been raised in front of the TV screen, and younger people have been raised in front of computer monitors and the screens on their phones as well.

Recently I have heard several marketing experts say that YouTube has become the second most used search tool in the world.  Some claim it is even used more than Google (which is claimed to be the number one tool).  When people want to know something, they try to find video about it.  We live in a world that says, “Show me,” rather than “Tell me”.

This means good marketing materials are eye-catching.  For magicians and creative entertainers, there is a need to find photos that say something.  A posed picture that basically is little more than a portrait of the performer is no longer good enough.  It is ok to use such a picture, but only if you surround it with other things that indicate action and which provide texture to the image conveyed.

The reason why we put the photo of Laura and I central on the card is it says a lot.  Our posture is welcoming, the pink headdress and gloves suggests appealing costuming and variety, the attitude of the picture reinforces the idea of “awesome fun.”  The other picture also has personality to it.  There is color, smiles, and the suggestion of excitement and success.

The point is:  Getting a decent picture of yourself and putting it on a brochure will not get the job done.  The need is for pictures that somehow have emotional appeal.  It is not good for advertising to be too busy, but there must be character.

3. Put your website, phone number, or both where they can be quickly seen.  The backside of our rack card will show the phone number.  The website is right there on the front.  The reason this is important is many people now use their phones, more than they do computer screens, to do a search.   If they pick up a rack card, or walk by a poster, they are likely to take out their phone immediately to check you out or gain more information.  You want to make it easy for them to do that.

We must pay attention to how calls, texting and WIFI are a part of modern life.  There is a sense in which “almost everyone is always on the phone”.  Of course, that is a generalization, but as a generalization it says something about reality.  People are going to use the phone to learn more about you.

If you have a website, you want it to be phone friendly.  I am still learning about that.  It is important.

My understanding is that the three keys to a good ad are:

  1. There must be emotional appeal.
  2. It must stand out from the crowd.
  3. It must offer insight based on truth.

Emotional appeal is what we have already mentioned.  The ad should appeal to something people will feel and/or experience.  It should suggest how life will be affected by this opportunity.  On a following page you will see a sample of a poster we are working on for the new season.  Notice it uses the words  “Enjoy a Vegas quality & family friendly”, “Sensational fun”, and “add a magical memory”.  I am not trying to suggest that we are doing everything right.  I am saying that I am paying attention to what I have been taught.  The words on the poster offer benefit to the potential client.  The pictures on the poster give the impression of interesting people, fun times, and amazing happenings.

Standing out from the crowd means thought must be put into what makes you different.  Why would people choose your magic show over the show of another performer (especially if the other performer does not charge as much)?  We use the phrase “internationally awarded” to indicate added value and quality.  We also are fortunate to live in an area where there are no other magic shows to compete with.  Simply because we are Grand Magic, we stand out from the crowd.

For those who do not have a theatrical show, this matter still merits serious consideration.  You do not want your marketing to suggest that you are “just another illusionist” or “you have heard of magicians, I am one too”.  It is better to say, “Producing laughter by magic” (if you are a comedy performer), or “Specializing in the wow-factor”.  Find something to say that makes you seem like the “stand out” choice to make.

Insight based on truth means people need information and the information needs to be true.  The fact that benefits and emotion are important, does not mean specific details do not matter.  Once people decide they are interested in you, they want to know more.

There are some who have under-estimated the importance of truth in advertising.  They call themselves, “Internationally awarded” when they are not.  They speak of “As seen in Las Vegas”, when all they ever did in Las Vegas was show a card trick to a friend.

These people think that all that matters is getting people to come through the door.  Apart from the ethics involved, they do not understand how important repeat business and referrals are to surviving in show business.  If the word gets out that a show does not live up to its own advertising, that gets around quickly and means death for the venture.

Expectations about a show or individual performance must be based on reality.

As an aside to this:  After the first season of our Grand Magic show, we learned that part of the information that we need to put on our posters is the price of tickets.  Well meaning individuals, with experience in show business, advised us that, if people see the ticket prices on the posters they will not call to ask about them, which means you will not have the chance to talk them into coming to the show.  They told us it was a big mistake to put prices on promotional literature.

We have decided against that approach for our new season.  Experience led us to conclude that it is a courtesy and service to let people know the cost up front.  It is a matter of “putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer”.  If I was a parent who was thinking about taking my kids to a magic show, I would immediately wonder about the cost and whether or not the possibility was within my budget.  As an adult trying to make choices about evening entertainment, price is always a primary consideration.  We figure, why not let them know the cost right away, it is what we would want to know!

I realize that individual performers should not do this.  If you post your prices, a competitor will make his prices a few dollars less so people will come to him first.  When working on the basis of booking individual shows, it is wise to wait until direct contact with the client before getting into financial details.

In our situation, where people are making a choice about attending a theatrical performance, we want to help them make good decisions based on necessary information.

Moreover, I do not want to talk anyone into coming to the show.  It is much better to promote the value of the show in such a way that, when seeing ticket prices, people think, “That looks like a good deal”.  It is my job to ensure that advertising communicates the quality of the show.

The challenge we are dealing with now is designing marketing materials that do what needs to be done.  They must convey a good feeling, indicate why seeing us is a great choice to make, and accurately inform potential costumers about what we offer.

How are you at Connecting with an Audience?

A good showman understands the necessity of being able to immediately convince an audience that they have made a good decision in choosing to experience his performance.

He knows that the following concepts are critical to making this happen.

  1. The Power of the First Impression
  2. The Truth of the Self-fulfilling Prophecy
  3. The 15 Second Rule
  4. The Means by which Audiences Make Quick Judgments

I. The Power of the First Impression

The fact that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression is well known.  The vital nature of this fact is not always understood.  The fundamental issue is that people typically abide by their first impression.  Especially in context of a show.

In normal life there may be time to create a second, or further impression, that leads people to leave a first impression behind.  This is not something that normally occurs, but it can occur.

For a person who is on stage, there is rarely and almost never time, nor the means, for undoing a first impression.  The first impression is likely to also be the final impression.

This knowledge leads a good showman to put as much, or more, thought into how he makes a first impression, than he does into any other aspect of his show.  He is careful to consider when and how the audience will first see him.  He is aware of the fact that the first judgment they make about him happens at their first glance, and at his first appearance.  He does not view himself as only “on stage” when he begins performing his first routine.   He understands that he is “on stage” the moment he is in view.  He is determined that his first impression will be a great impression.

This is a lesson I learned from the wonderful Japanese Magician, Fukai.   I was at a convention with him where several of his students were competing.  The competitors stood in a line along a wall waiting for their turns in front of the judges.  While waiting, most of the competitors adopted a casual and careless attitude.  They slouched.  They stared off into space.  They messed around with their props.  In their minds, they were not performing.  They were only waiting.

Later I heard Fukai chide his students about this.  He said, “When people see you, they are judging you. They cannot help but form opinions about you any time they notice you.  If you want to be great, even if you are only standing by a wall, you must behave like a professional!”

A good showman knows when and how the audience will first see him and takes every aspect of the matter into account.  He considers how his first step will be viewed.  He considers how he will walk and then stand when being introduced.

He especially pays attention to his first words.  He does not leave his opening remarks to the inspiration of the moment.  Instead he carefully crafts what he will say to be sure the first thing that comes out of his mouth is the most appealing and interesting thing he can possibly voice.

This is a place where many performers immediately hurt themselves.  I recently was at a concert where I experienced a singer do just that.  When she walked on stage, she acted unsure of what she planned to do.  After adjusting her notes, and figuring out where she wanted the microphone to be, she sat down at the keyboard and said to the audience, “How are you doing?”  It was an obvious and mundane remark.      Then she proceeded to ramble about how her day had been, and how she was glad to finally be able to preform her music.  The problem was, she was not preforming.  Instead she was engaging in meaningless chatter.

When she finally did start singing, she proved to be talented.  I think the audience did enjoy the sound of her voice.  However, they had already been convinced that she was just an amateur who was there to hopefully fill the time in a pleasant way.

I later learned that this singer, for many years, has had the dream of being a star.  She may have the vocal talent to be a star, but it will never happen unless she learns that the quality of her voice does not compensate for the incompetence she demonstrates at the beginning of her relationship with an audience.

A good showman never neglects, nor fails to prepare, for making a powerful first impression.  He understands that it is not just a matter of there being no second chance to make a first impression, it is the matter of the first impression being of critical importance.

II.  The Self-fulfilling Prophecy

This is a fascinating aspect of human psychology that especially applies to a person who works in front of groups of people.  It has to do with the fact that, in light of a first impression, people make judgments and then assume the judgments are correct.

This is a matter that also involves ego.  People want their judgments to be correct.  They like to believe they are right.  Therefore, once they draw a conclusion, they quickly notice anything that corroborates the conclusion and tend to ignore those things that contradict the conclusion.

In actuality, the concept works like this:  If a person looks at a performer and, upon first impression, concludes, “This guy is going to be good,” that person will then be attentive to anything that verifies the conclusion.  For the rest of the show, any time something happens that is pleasing, the person will say, “Yes, that’s what I thought.  This guy is good!”  So the audience member is looking for, and believing in, the performer’s success because the first thing he thought is “this will be a success.”

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy in the sense that the person works to make his own prediction come true.  He wants it to be true.  He wants to be able to pat himself on the back at the end of the show and say, “I knew it all along, this guy was great!”

This is something that any entertainer wants.  What a wonderful thing to have members of the audience desiring and expecting his success!

If the performer does not make a good first impression, the self-fulfilling prophecy works in the opposite direction.  If the first thing members of the audience think is, “This will not be good,” they will spend the rest of the show looking for verification of that.  Any time the performer makes a mistake, or does something that is weak, they will focus on it with the attitude of “That’s what I expected.  I knew it would be like this.” Because the performer did not start well, and the audience made an initial judgment about him, for the rest of the show he must fight an uphill battle to win them over.

It is a simple equation relating to performance:

Weak or poor first impression = 

An audience that focuses on every mistake and misstep a performer might make.

Good and appealing first impression = An audience that overlooks mistakes and instead focuses on every good and appealing thing a performer does.

This means, if a performer wants an audience to be expecting and hoping for his success, he must make sure that he starts the show in a wonderful manner.

III.  The 15 Second Rule

This really is not a rule.  It is an observation, made by a number of wise people in show business, that should be treated like a rule.  The observation is that audience members typically form their first opinion of a performer, and what they can expect out of him, within fifteen seconds of his coming into view.  First impressions happen quickly!  If it takes more than fifteen seconds to create a good impression, the audience likely already has come to possess a bad impression.

In practical terms this means performers must figure out how to immediately project a positive image.  It should be a paramount concern to instantly capture interest.  It is a good idea to literally put a stop watch to the first moments of your show to see how long it is before you do something that is truly worthwhile from the spectator’s point of view.

This is why the typical superstar entertainer comes on stage with fog, lighting effects, and fireworks surrounding him.  He is telling all who have come to see him, “This is a fantastic show.  You know it the moment you see me”!  The performer, if a singer, will then immediately launch into one of his well known songs that gets a cheer out of the audience when they hear the first notes.  Within 15 seconds, he has them “eating out of the palm of his hand”.

If a person is a magician, the first trick he does must happen right away, or the first thing he says must be quickly and distinctly entertaining.  There is not time for careless comments.  There are only fifteen seconds to make the audience glad you are there.

If a person is a clown, the moment he is in view he must walk in a funny way, or make a funny expression, or deliver a funny remark.  He must work as if there are only 15 seconds to deliver the message that he can, and will, entertain with humor.  Whatever kind of entertainer or communicator a person might be, the window of time in which an audience can be captivated must be viewed as only being open for one fourth of a minute.

Even if a person does not believe in this 15 second rule, and thinks there are more seconds to work with, it is good discipline, and it really can’t hurt, to attempt to perform by the 15 second rule anyway.  Why not work at instantly making the audience delighted with your presence?

IV.  The Means By Which Audiences Make Quick Judgements 

Once a person accepts the necessity of making a powerful first impression, and understands the matter of self-fulfilling prophecy, and embraces the 15 second rule, what can be done to take advantage of these concepts?

 The first thing to consider is the ears of the audience.  Music is a great tool for making a positive impression.  If the moment the announcer says your name, people hear the exciting and appealing notes of a song, they are likely to get a good feeling.  This is why many well-known entertainer have a theme song.  This is why talk shows have upbeat music playing when hosts and guests are introduced.  This is why TV shows and movies almost always have a musical soundtrack that starts immediately.  A wise performer gives much attention to the music that plays before and when he walks onto the stage.  A performer sho does not combine music with his introduction has increased his difficulty in making a good first impression.  To state the matter simply:  give yourself a theme song, or a least a few notes of “walk on” music.  If the “best in the entertainment business” use this technique, why wouldn’t you?

The next thing to consider is the eyes of the audience.  By the way of the ears it is possible to impress an audience even before they see you.  Apart from that, the thing that comes into their mind most quickly is what they view when you first step onto the stage.  With that in mind, do not ignore the truism that people do judge by appearances.  Have you ever taken time to ponder the fact that high profile entertainers rarely look like the “person next door”? As a general truth, if you were to take a high profile entertainer and remove him from the stage to put him on the street to stand among normal people, people around him would still realize he is somebody special, or at least wonder, “Who is this person”. It would be because of what they see when they notice him.

I know a successful magician who was on vacation in Florida. While he was looking around in a store, someone came up to him and said, “I don’t know who you are, but I know you must be somebody. May I have your autograph?” The magician laughs when he tells about it. The autograph seeker did not have a clue as to his identity, but did recognize that he must be someone of more than ordinary reputation. The interesting thing in this is that the autograph seeker was correct. The magician is a celebrity in the region where he performs.

The question is: How is it that just viewing these entertainers leads people to believe they are individuals of significance? The answer is: their style, their dress, and there carriage.

People who do well in the entertainment business almost always have confident movements and hair and/ or apparel that are interesting. Whether grungy or beautiful, careless or glam, cutting edge fashion or a throwback to another generation, there is something about them that calls for attention. They do not look normal and this is deliberate on their part. They do not want to look normal. Normal tends to be boring. The unusual is what is interesting.

So when a person is making a first impression from the stage, he should realize that his appearance is a tremendous means of generating interest, curiosity, excitement, and more. He will be wise to cultivate a “look” that makes people want to know more about him.

A performer who walks onto the stage in jeans, tennis shoes, and a polo shirt, just like what is worn by other audience members, faces an extra challenge in convincing people that he merits their attention.

A performer who puts thought and effort into dressing, walking, and styling himself in a manner that is appealing, unusual, and credible, gives himself a strong advantage. My opinion is that costuming is an often neglected and underused tool by many who want to be successful entertainers. They fail to understand that, as the saying goes, “looking the part is at least half the battle”.

Another means by which the audience makes a quick judgement is the setting of the stage. Fancy props and unusual stage furnishings produce a degree of excitement as people anticipate what might be done with them. A classy backdrop, along with a clean and well- organized stage, can suggest that one is an accomplished performer who deserves an audience. The goal in how a stage is arranged should be that of making people look forward to what will happen when the performer steps upon it.

Beyond music that is heard, costuming/styling that is seen, and creating a stage situation that is appealing; consider these things…

A. Walk with confidence. Step into view with your body open to the audience.
Let the audience get a good look at you, then move toward them. If your act is about comedy, add a humorous expression or odd gait to your movement. If you are a clown, learn how to do a good pratfall, then use it. Treat the manner in which you walk as part of the entertainment.

B. If you are using a microphone that is on a stand, rather than going directly to it, stop next to it. When you put yourself in line with the microphone, applause begins to die down because people want to hear what you might say. If you first step to the side of the microphone and do a slight bow of greeting, the welcoming applause will last longer. By way of the extended applause, the message is communicated, especially to those who know nothing about you, that you must be someone special.

C. Consider having your opening remark be a clever question. Good questions generate interest. Rather than the inane  “How are you all doing?” that so many inexperienced performers tend to say when starting their shows, try saying something such as, “By a show of hands, how many of you have seen me before, or are seeing me for the very first

time?” (It is a standard joke, but still effective as an opening remark). If doing a magic trick, your first words might be, “Does anyone here know how to make a full bottle of ketchup disappear?” (Then go right into the trick).
For the purpose of immediately drawing an audience into a relationship with an entertainer (or communicator), a query is normally much stronger than a statement.

D. Develop a strong routine that does not rely on words at all. Doing something that is flashy and fun, while great music plays in the background, may be the best way of all to make a powerful first impression as a stage performer.

E. Do not let technical glitches overshadow your efforts to make a good first impression. Check the level of your microphone and make sure there is proper lighting before the program begins. If you have to do this after you have arrived on the stage, it will likely detract from the positive image you need to create.

G. Have a written introduction to give to the announcer. Work hard in preparing it so it is brief, properly informative, and provocative. It should make the audience want to experience what you are about to do for them.

Below are two examples of how this might be done. They are not introductions for actual individuals, but they would work well if they were to be used. These introductions would be written out and the emcee would be instructed to read them as written.

Example #1. (For a magician)

What do you get when you combine award winning talent with a magical attitude and a love for having fun? What do you get when this combination of interesting and entertaining things comes from Columbus, Georgia? We are about to find out!

Please welcome to the stage….

Example #2. (For a clown)

His name is Bananas, his aim is laugher, his claim is that he would make a good president…because he would fit right in with all the other clowns that have already been elected to office.

Please welcome to the stage…

Give yourself an assignment.

Think about your most recent show and seriously analyze how it started. Hopefully it went well, but is there a way to do it better? Consider the next show you will do and figure out some ways to “amp up” how it will begin. If you are serious about improving your shows, the best place to start is at the beginning!