Your Magic Origin Story
Once I’ve been outed as a magician and I’m having a conversation with a stranger, be it before, after, or during a show, they nearly always ask “So how’d you get started in magic?”
It occurs so often there must be some universal curiosity about it. Most people have never met a magician before, and this is one of the first questions they ask. As performers we’re always looking for ways to get the audience interested in what we have to share, so take this invitation to catch a free ride on their inquiry.
Answer the question, but apply the actor’s mantra; show, don’t tell!
Your assignment: Be prepared for the moment by developing a routine featuring the very first magic trick you ever learned.
Now hold on, put your eyebrows back down. You may be thinking, “no way, Ryan, the first trick I ever learned was stupid simple. It’s not a good trick! I’ve learned way better stuff since then.”
If you’ve dismissed your beginner tricks from your repertoire, you may be missing out on some gold.
First, it’s not about the trick. It’s never been about the trick. Audiences and magicians don’t see eye to eye on this. (thankfully!) Magicians are attracted to tricks which have clever methods. Audiences enjoy tricks which are surprising. Those two have no correlation. You’ve given up on those simple beginner tricks because the method isn’t clever enough for you, not because they stopped working for an audience.
Second, this particular assignment is even less about the trick. It’s about the story. The story people are begging you to tell; your origin story!
Even if your first trick was truly bad, you can still share it. Share how it made you feel, how it opened up the doors to this crazy hobby/profession which has since consumed your entire life. Make it personal. The audience wants to experience your beating heart, not your flicking fingers.
It took me about 20 years in magic to make this realization for myself. I created my first heart-driven show in 2019 and sure enough, the show began where I began, as a kid on christmas morning opening up The Klutz Book of Magic.
The ol’ ‘ring off rope’ trick truly was the first magic trick I ever demonstrated, and the first trick I ever abandoned as I went off and became a “card guy” for the next decade or so. Since bringing it back for this show I’ve been spending more time with it, and worked out some way to improve my performance. Not to make it more clever, no, but professional touches to make it seem more magical. Imagine that… twenty years of additional experience helped!
Yes, you can take that “stupid simple” beginner trick of yours and turn it into a great performance.
Figure Out Your Origin Story
What was the first magic trick you remember learning and/or showing people? (it’s okay to blur the lines on this a bit to pick an early trick which really captured your imagination.)
Alternate origin story: It could have been a trick or performance you witnessed which sparked the fires of your magic passion. You could recreate that performance, and your experience watching it.
Let’s flesh out the details of your memories
How did this trick come into your life? Who was involved in making that happen? Was there one fateful decision which could have taken your life in an entirely different direction?
Where were you, and what was your life like at this time?
Try to recall as many details as possible about the critical moment.
How did this magical intervention impact your life?
You likely won’t regale your audience with all the above details, but having more than enough raw material lets you edit down to share the best parts of the story.
Now let’s shape this into a working routine
Is it practical to be able to replicate the performance of this trick? What props are required? If it’s not practical, what could you perform as a reasonable substitute? (theatrical license)
What would be the ideal setting to perform this trick?
Could you make the effect larger for a stage show, or smaller for a close-up performance?
What could you do to theatrically recreate the original setting for your first performance? (have audience play roles, set dressing, etc.)
Is there anything about the trick which could be improved? (without losing the charm of a simple trick)
If the trick itself is not particularly impressive, what improved version could you follow-up with to show “I’ve learned a bit more since then…” (the same effect, but different method suited for challenge conditions)
What could happen next? What else could you do using the same props? How do you transition to the next routine?
You may not get all these bits and pieces together right from the start. That's alright. You can let it evolve. For me it all started when I dusted off the ring and rope, preparing to teach a magic class, and was surprised by how well the trick played with my test audiences. Maybe you need a similar expereince to boost your own conviction and fuel your process. You can begin by saying "hey, you wanna see the first magic trick I ever learned?" and let Houdini take the wheel.
I enjoyed your video presentation. I also like the idea of adding how I got started in magic to my show......a question often asked.
You’ve got my gears turning…
Almost every show I do I usually begins with something like “People always ask me, How did you get started in magic?” The true answer is really a 2 part answer. I usually tell part 1, which involves my Uncle who taught me my first card trick when I was maybe 9 or 10. I then do a card trick, usually NOT the one he taught me though. Your suggestions have got me thinking about how I might flesh that story out some more, maybe actually do that first card trick and maybe even springboard into the 2nd part of that answer. (BTW: the 2nd part is a little longer and involves a college theatre production, the Mark Wilson Course in Magic, and a very young Mac King.). Thanks for the inspiration!
Really love this idea. It’s making me think back so many years to the why’s and wherefore’s as to why magic was the thing that inspired me as a way to interact with people and why it piqued my interest. I can still see that magic set from my grandmother, and didn’t appreciate those plastic articles were replicas of many a famous trick. Time to get planning! Thank you
You’ve inspired me! Again! You’re routine was fun and I love the super-sizing of the hoop and rope. Tying all your first three pieces together is beautiful! Thanks!
First trick that I learned
It was a Sunday and I went to my first magic shop in chicago to Mr Ash magic store and he showed me a trick using the Svengali deck. I was so surprised how the 9 of hearts continued to appear and he never missed it. Of course he sold me the deck and I carried that deck everywhere I went. At the time I thought it was the best trick ever, but I abandoned it so after reading your article I had to take it out of the drawer and do a trick with it again. It is an impressive concept yet simple and easy to do and magnificent once you incorporate your learnings of years in magic. Thanks for your great article and I enjoyed the performance of the ring and the rope.!
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