20 Magic Tips for 2020
Normally my magic articles are a deep dive. I love to get into the details and the nuances of our work. It is often subtle differences that make a big impact. That said, I’m also aware of my tendency to over-share in my desire to express these subtleties.
This time around I’m over-correcting with the goal to pack as much value as I can into one short article. I present to you my twenty, not top twenty, but just twenty magic tips to help you be a better magician this year. Some general advice, others weirdly specific to my own experience. After each tip imagine me leaning back in my chair and saying “just trust me on this one.”
Organize your props into zip-lock bags.
All the props you need for each routine goes into its own bag. Write on the bag the name of the routine and an inventory of required items. You can check with a glance that you have everything you need for each trick.
Carry a back-up for your buns.
I perform a signed handkerchief to bun effect (inspired by Murray Hatfield’s lecture) requiring fresh buns for every show. After scrambling a few times to locate this last-minute prop I started carrying a set of four colourful coin purses. In a pinch, I have a nice showy destination in which the silk can appear.
Dampen your sponge balls.
Adding a little bit of water to your sponge items makes them puff up almost double in size. Dry them by squeezing them in a towel. You don’t want them to feel wet when you hand them to the audience. (eww!)
Tuck your rope ends.
Prevent your cotton rope from fraying by tucking the ends back into themselves. Using a pointed object (pencil or stick) push one edge back into the hollow rope, and repeat going around the edge. It takes about five or six tucks to get the complete edge inside, and it stays quite well. To make it permanent you can squeeze some white glue inside the end.
Use music in your show.
Loud intro music at the beginning will focus the audience’s attention. Soft music will underscore your routines and make slower paced routines more interesting. Using music will simply make your show better. If you’re not already using music in your show, start now. If you already are, add more music.
Blue Sharpies are best for signing cards.
The blue ink stands out against both red and black card faces. Clickable sharpies are great for strolling, no cap means one-handed operation.
Wear socks on top of socks.
If you perform any type of “sock prediction” (such as the great routine from Montreal magician Michel Huot) wear your prediction socks over your normal socks. It’s quicker to slip them on and off, and the inner sock keeps the sweat off your show socks. They won’t get funky so quickly.
The torn and restored newspaper trick doesn’t play well for kids.
I’m not sure why, but I have confirmed this through repeated attempts. Adult audiences react with an audible gasp, while kids don’t care one bit.
Simple beginner tricks can be great performance pieces.
Don’t make the mistake of judging the quality of a magic trick based on its price tag or prestige. In my work teaching magic to children I’ve been pushed to discover the effectiveness of tricks I would have written off as too simple. Several of them have become part of my regular repertoire.
Frame your magic from the elbows up.
Every prop should be held up above the elbows. Every action should be happening up near your face. Most performances are not in proper theatres, and sightlines are not good. Keep your magic up so the audience can see everything.
Don’t talk and do magic at the same time.
You can talk or you can make magic. You can’t do both. If you do, the audience will miss the magic and won’t understand what you say. Talk, [pause] magical moment, [pause] talk again.
Review your game tape.
As much as you can bear it, watch your own performances on video. Watch it without any sound and you’ll notice surprising things about your physical movements. Listen to it without visuals and you’ll notice more about what you say.
Magic shops don’t want you to be a better magician.
If you bought a magic trick and seriously studied it for 6 to 12 months, really learned it, before buying the next trick your favourite magic shops would go out of business waiting for you. The magic shop wants you to buy new magic as often as possible. Don’t let them push you around.
Nobody ever notices marked cards.
I use a marked deck all the time. My family borrowed it to play cards over the holidays. I’ve never been questioned about it.
Most people have never seen a magician in person.
I regularly take an audience survey. The majority of people are seeing a magic show for the very first time. Children and adults included. I take this to mean I can put less energy into being a unique magician, and more energy into giving each audience a great first magic experience.
Organize your show case.
The more you can grab the next prop without thinking, without looking, the better your show gets. Use foam, velcro, and clips to make sure props are in the exact same position every time. You look like a true professional when you can pick up props fast.
Make coins slide silently with packing tape.
As I was working on producing coins from a stack in Downs Palm I found covering the coins with clear packing tape would let them slide against each other silently. Stick the tape over the coin, then use a sharp blade to trim around just inside the coin edge.
Learn a 20 second trick.
The ideal trick for everyday life takes less than 20 seconds, doesn’t use playing cards, and can be done without speaking. Something that fits in a pocket and you can show anytime, any place, to anyone. Swap in a new trick every six months and you’ve got all you need to become a local legend.
Leave them wanting more.
Most magic performances would be twice as good if they were half as long.
And always have one extra trick prepared. It will save you in moments of emergency, and make you look like a real professional when you're suddenly asked to cover for somebody else.