Sum of Your Choices

After succesfully publishing my Tips & Tricks email newsletter every single Tuesday for more than a year, I feeI I'm ready to add a new layer. Here it is! I've started a podcast!

I'm calling it "Theory & Thoughts for Magicians" because it will contain neither Tips nor Tricks. No tricks because, well, we've all heard enough about Danish elephants. No tips either as I'm looking to offer more questions than answers. The goal is to get you thinking about your own magic rather than telling you how I do mine.

Each episode aims to be focused on exploring a single topic, suggesting some homework for your pondering pleasure, and wrapping it all up in 10 to 15 minutes.

Speaking of short and to-the-point, let's get to it. Have a listen...

In this inaugural episode Ryan introduces a foundational belief in what it takes to become a unique, artistic magician. Why it's important to choose your own adventure in the magic world. The missing ingredient to the common advice; "be yourself."

These episodes are, by design, more thoughtful and less off-the-cuff so they do take some time and effort to prepare. I'm not making any promises about a release schedule. I'll stick with quality over quantity and let the inspiration flow as it may. That said, I've already started into episode two.

If you're a regular podcast listener you can subscribe to new episodes using "your favourite method." (Spotify, Apple, etc.) If you want to keep up on everything I'm publishing (podcasts and otherwise) the best source is my Tuesday Tips & Tricks for Magicians email newsletter.

Episode Transcript

Teller said; “Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.” This podcast, which aims to be short and to-the-point, will encourage you to spend more time thinking about your magic, and offer suggestions of how to grow as an artistic magician. I’m Ryan Pilling. Welcome to Theory & Thoughts for Magicians. Let’s get unreasonable.

I’m a 40 year old man who plays with silk handkerchiefs and does card tricks, but just in case there is any doubt, let me be perfectly clear; I’m not really into sports.

Citius, Altius, Fortius, the Olympic motto which translates to Higher, Faster, Stronger sums up all sporting events from my perspective. A bunch of folks get together, do the thing, and measure who did the thing more thingier than anybody else. Did you see that guy do the exact same thing as that other guy but 1/100th of a second faster? Wow!

My perennial interest in magic is a direct result of not being able to measure which magician is more magician-er. This is what makes magic a pursuit of limitless opportunities, endless inspiration, and unfulfilled potential. There is no one path. The further you go, the more paths you discover. This is both exciting and scary. Like somebody tossed a handful of random pieces from 1000 different puzzles into a box and said “good luck!”

Where do you start? You choose.

This is one of my fundamental beliefs in life and magic. We are the sum total of our choices. Your magic performances are shaped by the choices you make. The more choices you make, the more unique your performance will be. To be a better magician is a matter of making better choices.

If you were to read a book from your favourite performer, see a trick you love, and copy-and-paste it into your show, this is basically one choice. The choice to do that trick just like the other guy. For everything else in that routine, you are opting to go along with the multitude of choices made by the creator. The thing is, while those choices may have been right for that person, there are likely better options for you.

The routine may call for a classic pass because the originator feels quite confident in their technical ability. For me, trying to do a classic pass would be a poor choice. It would muddle up the smoothness of the routine. Sometimes the choices were made for a bad reason. A trick may use rough-and-smooth just to make it a saleable “no skill required” item for the magic shop, while anybody with intermediate card skill would be better served with a regular deck and a double lift.

The published choice may not be the best choice for you. Making your own choices about your performance will add up to a result totally unique, and tailored, to you. The common performance advice says “Be Yourself.” This is how to be yourself; make your own choices.

You’re already making choices without even knowing it. From the audience perspective everything that happens in your performance is done that way on purpose, even if it’s not.

I was watching an performance from a magician who , I can tell, puts a lot of thought into his choices. His costume is a custom-made jacket, his stage setting is carefully lit. It really jumped out to me as a poor choice when he held up a blue sponge ball which unintentionally disappeared against the black/blue background on stage.

I’m sure it wasn’t a conscious choice to use this blue ball. Rather, he purchased a mixed bag of multi-coloured balls and used one of each in his performance. The bad ball snuck in through this larger choice, to use a variety of colours, and it wasn’t considered on its own merit.

I’m sure at some point he will notice, or be alerted to, this camouflaged colour effect, it will become a conscious choice and a change will be made. Maybe use a lighter shade of blue, change his backdrop, change his lighting, or remove the blue ball. It doesn’t much matter what the choice is so much that a choice is made.

To create uniquely personal performances you have to question everything. It begins with the big questions like “Why am I doing this routine? What am I trying to say?” and goes all the way down to minutia such as “Would the switch work better if the deck was placed on the right side rather than the left?”

Assume nothing. Challenge everything. The regular way of doing things may not be the best route with your specific circumstances. Great discoveries await those who dare venture forth. The more attention and thought given to these moments of choice, the better they will fit you. Be the tailor for your own suit.

This is how you can put yourself into your magic. Make so many thoughtful choices that nobody but you could come up with the unique combination of decisions that form a routine.

If you currently perform the Linking Rings, you must have learned it from somewhere. So how similar is your performance to that original source? How many choices have you made along the way?

How many rings do you use? Why? Because Dai Vernon used six? Then it’s not your choice, unless you know why Vernon did it that way, and agree with his reasoning.

Do you perform it gracefully? Do you fumble for comedic effect? Do you talk at all? What do you say? Do your words add to the impact? What do you most emphasize? The magical effect? The history? How do you structure your routine, so the end is still surprising?

Richard Ross became a legend of the linking rings when he chose to perform it without any noise. Mike Caveney created a new trick when he chose to use coathangers rather than rings. Harry Anderson chose to do a rather short routine; “Once you’ve linked two rings,” he said, “you better think about wrapping things up. You’ve done it. Make a few pretty passes and get home early.”

All choices have an expiry date. When you’re on stage you must commit fully to your choices. Plant your flag and stand with the utmost confidence. Wishy-washy commitment makes for a half-hearted performance. Doubting your choices on stage is a weakness.

Once the curtain falls, however, doubting your choices becomes a strength. You’re evaluating what worked, what could be improved, and once again viewing all choices through questioning eyes.

You’ve likely witnessed a performance which was past its prime. We humans change, the world changes around us. The choices we made ten years ago may no longer be appropriate for ourselves or our audience. It’s worth a second look, and an outside perspective, to watch out for those old choices which have become worn and ragged.

The performers we admire are the sum total of a long series of strong choices. With every decision they choose to be more fun, more amazing, and more unique.

If you focus too much on the destination, it can feel overwhelming. I look down the road and see so much work yet to be done. So much progress to be made. Take a breath. One choice at a time. Incremental progress. Make a choice, commit to it, put it on the stage. One choice will lead to another, and another. Take a risk and experiment. You can always make a new choice later on.

You’re about ten strong choices away from seriously levelling up in your magic. Where are you going to start?

Thank you for listening to Theory & Thoughts for Magicians. I hope I sparked something in you. I love the opportunity to share my experience, and creative experiments, with my fellow magicians. While this podcast is focused on, well, theory and thoughts I also share plenty of practical ideas in my weekly Tips & Tricks for Magicians newsletter. You’re welcome to join in at

Published: March 4, 2022

Access: Public


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