Rules for Playing Big

Seven suggestions to think about how to make a bigger impact with the magic you already have. Fill the room with presentation rather than props.

What does it mean to be Playing Big?

Based on the old adage “pack small, play big” it speaks to the value you are able to create as an entertainer. To play bigger is to use your available resources to offer more entertainment per minute and make a bigger impact on the audience.

I prefer to de-emphasize the “pack small” element. While I do like to be a practical minimalist, I believe in the words magician Giovanni Livera said to me; “Pack as big as you need to make the impact you want”.

These rules will guide you towards Playing Big in in any venue, whether it be on stage or at the close-up table.

Rule #1: Make strong choices more often

To be a better magician is a matter of making better choices. The more choices you make, the more unique your performance will be. Be bold and take risks. Nobody wants to watch a generic performer who is playing it safe.

This is the prime objective to Playing Big. All the other rules are just more specific ways to make strong choices.

Rule #2: Find and focus on your core idea

Each piece of your performance, from the big sections like the entire show and complete routines, down to the individual beats and moments, can only have one core idea. It’s the reason for being. Once you identify what that focus is you can lean into it and make it more about that.

Example: The core idea of “Energized Cards Across” is to be an audience ice-breaker and warm-up. I look for opportunities to make it a better warm-up routine, and how to engage more people. I do not try to make it a more amazing trick because that does not strengthen the core idea.

Rule #3: Put yourself in front of your magic

Many performers stand behind their props, both literally and figuratively. Nervous speakers hide behind the podium for safety, magicians stand behind their tables. In order to connect with an audience you must remove all barriers and shields. Be a real person, share yourself. Decide that you are a person worth listening to, even without the magic.

Rule #4: The trick doesn’t matter

There is no magic trick out there that is going to make you a hit. The clever nuances that attract magic trick shoppers are mostly irrelevant to a public audience. You’re better off investing to improve the tricks you already know. Too often we rely on our trick to have an amazing finish, even if it takes several minutes to get there. Make choices to add entertainment to the procedure all along the way.

Example: I was inspired to do a climactic Prediction Chest, which is usually a $1500 prop. Thanks to a few accidental discoveries I learned the delicate trickery that I appreciated as a magician did not have a big impact on the audience, and now I can get the same theatrical value from a cardboard box.

Rule #5: Communicate with clarity

Be seen, be heard, and be understood. Every word and movement should be done with intention. Each unnecessary action dilutes the strength of your message. Communication is a two-way connection between you and the individual people in your audience. Talk with your audience, not at them.

Rule #6: Break stuff and question everything

An artist is a renegade. When we pick up a routine from another performer it is a bundle of inherited choices, some of which may go back more than a century since that bit was first decided upon. Break the bundle apart and allow each element to be up for renegotiation. Bend and break the rules, and be selective about seeking advice. If you accept something whole, you have not made any personal choices.

Example: A transposition effect, where an object goes from one place to another is actually two separate things; a vanish and an appearance. The two halves can often be disassembled and changed independently, suited to your taste, instead of going by the book.

Rule #7: Be a magician in progress

If you are not growing, you are shrinking. Stay open to opportunities to improve your performance, and watch for things that are becoming stale. Regularly review your presentation with an eye for “plussing”, a technique to identify the weakest moment in your show and either improve it or cut it out. If you’re comfortable with your tricks, focus on your audience connection and engagement.

Published: April 6, 2019

Channel: Blog

Access: Public


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