Minimalist Magic Show

The Minimalist Magic Act

I was invited to be the opening act for a comedian, doing a 25 - 30 minute set before his full hour, in a small theatre for about 70 people. I assumed he’d be following right after me, so I wanted to make sure I could quickly pick up and go after my spot. It was the emptiest I’d seen my prop case in a while, and was inspired to share my process of packing light.

Working Clean

When you’re just one act on the show I consider it unprofessional, and even disrespectful, to clutter the stage before or after your performance. Making other performers scuttle around your garage sale display of props, or slip on your scattered playing cards, diminishes their ability to do what they do. Much like camping, the considerate variety act will carry everything in, pack it all out, and leave no trace behind.

Just In Case

In years previous I had felt pretty proud of myself when I could do a short set entirely out of my pockets, but then I took a peek at the video. I looked like frumpy Uncle Fun-Pockets. Lumpy all over, and regularly patting myself down searching out the next item.

It was that aesthetic, or lack thereof, which led me to ditch the suit jacket. My costume these days is a vest over a dress shirt. It has posed many a methodological challenge in the department of pulls, ditches, and steals, but I think it’s a clean look worth fighting for.

The energy I used to put into pocket management has been turned toward case management. That said, for this minimalist set the case was pretty easy to manage; it was mostly air!


This was the first time out for this small leather “doctor’s bag” (purse!) , which I acquired for the specific purpose of developing a full show to fit within its cozy confines.

The Set Breakdown

I’m always curious to get a glimpse at other magicians’ cases to understand what they’re doing and how it all comes together. Step right up for the guided tour!

As I was the opener, this case was able to be pre-set on a stool, with a couple props pulled out and set behind for easier access. I added a fitted piece of white corrugated plastic which, when wedged sideways, holds the top open, and prevents the bag from drooping. As the full show plan progresses it will have props attached to both sides of that board.

Water Rocket

The opener is based on “Bottle Rocket” from John Lovick’s book Handsome Jack, Etc. It begins with a playful joke, then I produce a glass of water, rather than Jack’s beer bottle. It delivers a solid laugh and strong magic within the first 30 seconds. The only thing I walk out with is a handkerchief in my pocket, and the glass in its secret spot.

11 Fingers

Another quick bit of a character-building playfulness as I introduce myself. “I was pretty much born to be a magician, being that I have 11 fingers.” Then I prove it with three progressively obtuse counts.

Ring & Rope

In the south side of the case you’ll see a bundle of orange rope surrounded by a ring. I pull out the bundle and tuck the ring into my pocket for later. I tried a new bit to get the three ropes into the audience for inspection. I show the short, medium, and long pieces, grip all the ends in one hand, then approach audience members to “draw straws” alluding to the idea of getting volunteers to help me. Not knowing who’s going to pull what, I look for three people who seem like candidates for onstage volunteers. (engaged, attentive, smiling)

I head back to one person and say “I’m going to need somebody to help me out up on stage, and unfortunately you drew the short straw… but getting to participate in the show is a great, fun experience which means,” I head back to the person with the longest rope, “you’re the big winner with the longest rope!” I invite them to join me on stage and bring their rope.

I think it’s important to skip out on those jokes that make helping the magician seem like an undesirable chore. You get to set the tone. Michelle is on stage with me, she inspects the rope, then I introduce the ring and hand it over for a check-up.

I tell the true tale of my magic origin story. Short version; I got the Klutz Book of Magic for Christmas, which came with a ring and a rope, and that very day gathered my family on the chesterfield for my first ever magic performance. This was the trick I did that day…

The ring is slipped onto the rope, Michelle holds one end, I hold the other, and the ring melts through the rope. [audience gasps]

Then I go into three more phases of Ring & Rope, on and off, and on and off again. Each one gets an audible reaction. The final phase grants Michelle the power to remove the ring. Sharing the spark of magic that got me started almost 30 years ago.

As Michelle returns to her seat, I pass the ring and rope to other audience members to hold on to.

Cards Across

I’ve been playing with Cards Across for over fifteen years as the biggest presentation I can do with a pack of cards. It is my icebreaker and audience energizer. Literally everyone in the room gets to participate in this one. Carmen has the job of counting and verifying, Jennifer holds envelope A at the far right, Matthew holds the envelope at the far left, and everybody in between plays along.

When performing for an attentive adult audience I use a version which amplifies the mystery; passing two thought of cards from one packet to the other, after being cleanly counted and tucked into envelopes.

Bi-Kolor Kuts

After the chaos and excitement of Card Across, I settle down for a solo act standing still. I propose a puzzle. A large square of paper printed with alternating red circles and blue squares is displayed, asking how many cuts it would take to separate the squares and circles. Perhaps… one single cut? I fold the paper in the right way, snip, and open to reveal all the blue squares have been removed. There is no magic here, just an interesting stunt, and it gets an audible “oh wow!” from all around the crowd.

But there’s always more than one solution to every puzzle. I remove a second sheet and do the same thing, separating the squares and circles with one cut, but this time in a magical way. Finally, a third paper is pulled out with a more complex pattern. It takes three cuts, but ends with two separated, yet impossibly linked, rings of paper.

This is all based on Bi-Kolor Kut from Stewart Judah and Leslie Guest circa 1930, with a second phase original with me, and a third phase based on the work of Isao Komine. It makes a nice trio which packs flat as three sheets of paper, plus some tough scissors. I realized I need to make a smaller set of papers (by an inch or so) to better fit in this bag.


This routine using a roll of toilet tissue is the newest addition for me. It’s a Patrik Kuffs idea from The Hermit magazine. This would have been my second time performing it. The first time went over great, with more opportunities for creating unique imagery and the playful audience interaction I crave. I ended up skipping this one for the sake of timing. The audience was having fun, and so was I, which leads to more back-and-forth and longer run times. I had to flush the TP because… I was on a roll.

I tend to plan my timing based on “soldiering on” with a tough crowd, having a routine well-suited to be time flexible just before the finale. I can do it quick, stretch it out, or skip it entirely.

On that note, I also had a set of my jumbo E-Y-E cards tucked in the case as my emergency trick. Tucked up with the divider, it takes up no extra space. In case I needed something extra it’s there… in the case.

Professor’s Nightmare and 3-2-1

“Does anybody happen to have a piece of rope I could borrow?” More playful jokes transpire as I’m baffled that, not one, but three(!) people brought their own rope to a magic show. I collect the three ropes from the audience, slowly line up the ends in each hand, and stretch them out.

Magicians are numb to it. They dismiss this old trick too easily. When done right, and I managed to do it really right this evening, the stretching gets a gasp, and the individual count of ropes gets an applause break. It’s a visual miracle.

The three medium ropes get tied end-to-end, gathered into a clump and mystical passes are made. I heard that wonderful sound of somebody muttering “no way” as they realized what was about the happen. I toss the bundle out, the knots are gone, and it’s one long 8 foot length of rope.

Thank you and good night!

I suspect some folks might be thinking “I do Professor’s Nightmare… but I wouldn’t close with it.” Yeah, I’m not certain I would either. It’s strong, sure, but it doesn’t have the dramatic build of tension and release that makes for a spectacular finale. Remember though, I wasn’t closing.

That was only the end of my act, not the show. I consider it a matter of professional courtesy not to squeeze out all the juice from the audience. That’s the headliner’s responsibility.

Walk Away

The ropes got stuffed back into the bag, as had every other item I used previously, leaving nothing left behind but for a few scraps of paper having fluttered to the floor from Bi-Kolor Kut. I grabbed my little purse, and vanished from the stage.

Oh, and afterwards I picked up those scraps of paper myself.

Lessons For Lightening Your Load

It’s easier to make a show for your case than find a case for your show. Pick your container based on practicality, aesthetic, and portability then make it a guideline for your repertoire. If it doesn’t fit in the case, it’s not in the show! No exceptions.

Recycle props in different routines. You can see how I used those ropes in two different routines. This is different from making routines longer. My goal is variety. I also had two more bits of audience interaction with those ropes. The scissors from the paper cutting had a comedy moment in the rope routine, even though the ropes were not cut. When I expand this show to an hour I’ve still got a handkerchief to put to use, as well as a ring ready for an encore.

You don’t have to become a mentalist. Many people, in an effort to pack small, get sucked into mentalism. It is a way, but not the only way. I want to be a magician!

Entertainment is about the intangible experience. Nobody is going to remember me for having a nice walnut and brass prop. The show is about me and my playfulness with the audience. I can have fun with a square of toilet paper, or I could have fun with an arm chopper, but only one of those will fit in my bag.

Rely more on yourself. You’re the one that’s going to turn your bag of junk into entertainment. I hope nobody is taking notes from my set list thinking “okay, these are the tricks I need” because my pile of junk is no better than yours. It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it.

I Perform What I Practice What I Preach

If you are looking to add some new magic to your "pile of junk" some of the things in my show are the very same routine I share and teach here at Tips & Tricks for Magicians!

You can get your own printable performance piece with my collection of Bi-Kolor Kut templates and ideas.

My emergency E-Y-E Cards are the largest of three sets which come together in a package.

My clean, clear, and magical handling of the *Professor's Nightmare" along with the big finish of the 3-2-1 (three to one) Restoration are carefully explained in my Show Me The Ropes video course.

The Cards Across is also my own creation, as found in my 2015 lecture book Magician In Progress, but it's not currently available. (perhaps coming again soon?)

Published: March 5, 2024

Channel: Practical Tips

Access: Public


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