As a magician I am always impressed by people who can do great tricks, however as an entertainer I am in awe of the magician who can turn those tricks into a strong act. As a magician I was lucky enough to have had three wonderful mentors in my formative years, they were Ken Brooke, Billy McComb and Maurice Fogel. I was fortunate enough to learn a great deal from each of them about the art of transforming a series of tricks into a powerhouse act.
I am a devout believer in utilizing the strongest effects possible when putting together a magic act. If you are building a house then you should use the very highest quality bricks that you can get obtain, and then you had better not skimp on the cement that is holding them together. Your goal is to construct a structure that will hold together securely and not buckle or fall apart when pressure is applied to it. Having an audience watching your every move does indeed qualify as having pressure applied.
To make explicit everything in this fairly basic metaphor, let me clarify that I am using the concept of bricks as a substitute for the tricks that are performed and cement is an analogy for the linkage that transforms that collection of tricks into a solid show. In this article I want to outline some of my thoughts and ideas about how to improve and strengthen the basic structure of any magic act and make it as bulletproof as humanly possible.
Let me begin with seven general rules that I have formulated on this topic after spending many years performing magic shows for a living.
1 Your opening effect is all about letting the audience get to know you. Make sure you know the trick really well, that it doesn’t run too long and also that you have plenty of chance for making eye contact with the audience. Don’t waste your best trick by using it up front in your show because the audience is primarily judging you at this junction. The old saying “You only have one chance at making a first impression” is particularly true for a performer. Don’t waste the opportunity to start your act strongly, as you won’t get another chance to do so until the next showtime roles around.
2 The closing trick in your show should be your strongest applause generating effect. Notice I did not say strongest piece of magic. It is generally best not to make this effect too cerebral, because an audience lost in thought may not be applauding as much as they should. I am also adamant in my belief that you should never have a closing effect that leaves you with any audience members onstage. It is vital that the audience is focused on you when the show ends. It only slows things down and muddies the water having to get participating spectators offstage and back into their rightful place in the audience.
This is probably as good a place as any to add the age-old words of wisdom — always leave the audience wanting more. Less can often be more when it comes to performing for an audience especially with something as potentially mentally challenging as magic. Play it on the safe side and plan on doing a show that doesn’t run too long and don’t run the risk of introducing an element of diminishing returns into the proceedings.
3 The show doesn’t close with your final trick, it finishes with your bows. Your final bow should be extremely carefully planned, rehearsed and executed. I have seen many good magicians end their shows with terrible bows that undo all the good that preceded them. I have also seen some pretty poor acts save the day with a nifty final bow. Take the time to really plan and rehearse the way the audience will receive their last impression of you. Personally I make it a point to have my hands free of any props for that final bow. I want them to register me and not my props.
4 Dynamics. Make sure that all your tricks are not running the same length of time or being performed at the exact same pace. There should be variety involved in your set list, with longer and shorter effects carefully balanced to maximize the attention of the audience. There is a sometimes an unhealthy emphasis amongst inexperienced magicians on how much time you can ‘get out’ of a trick. Fly in the face of this pitfall by finding a couple of effects in your show and seeing how short you can make them without weakening their effect. Maybe you can combine two separate tricks into one effect to create a double punch to the viewers. I will discuss the importance of verbal and visual dynamics in much more detail in the second part of this article.
5 Texture is a key ingredient in planning a show; so do not make the mistake of allowing several items in your show to involve exactly the same elements. Don’t do three card tricks in a row, some people just don’t like card trick—they might put up with one but you could lose the battle if you do three. Magicians are considered a variety act for a very good reason and it pays to make sure that we incorporate that concept of variety into the very fabric of our show. Be particularly careful not to unintentionally duplicate specific genres of effects such as restorations, transpositions or predictions. I will be discussing the topic of texture in some depth in the second part of this article. I consider it to be of paramount importance in the constructing of a really strong show.
6 Don’t be tempted to do too many tricks in your show that involve bringing audience members up onstage. It is fine, and indeed important, to break that fourth wall occasionally but if you keep bringing people onstage and then herding them back to their seats it can become repetitious and monotonous. At the very least never do two tricks back-to-back that require bringing assistants onstage.
7 Always have at least one extra trick in your case/pocket that can be performed if you need it. Sometimes shows run short, tables get knocked over, things go wrong or you just simply want to do something a little extra. I always have my Ultimate Cards Across and the Six Card Repeat in my pocket, which leaves me prepared for any eventuality. I am particularly fond of the Six Card Repeat as I can use it to open or close a show or slip it into the act anywhere in between. Even if you never need to use that extra trick it will give you a lovely sense of confidence to know that it is there.
This list is primarily about the tricks that you will construct your show with, however the easiest way to spot a real pro is by paying attention to the way he blends these tricks together into a seamless presentation: so let’s discuss the cement holding your magical bricks together. Nothing signals more quickly to an audience that they are watching a rookie, or infrequent performer, than when they are jarringly aware of one trick ending and another one beginning. As much thought and rehearsal need to go into these transitional moments as you give to the magical tricks you feature in your show. This is area I refer to as linkage. The dictionary defines linkage as the action of linking or the state of being linked, and that seems like a good way to begin our discussion.
There are many times when a visual or verbal gag or some magical “trifle” can be the perfect linkage in your show and can enable you to adroitly adjust the pacing and change the tone of your act. These pieces of linkage are like the sorbet served between courses during a fancy meal in a fancy restaurant. They aren’t designed to replace the protein— they just enhance it by refreshing the palate. Careful attention to these moments can result in a huge improvement in the quality of your show.
As important as this linkage is however, never forget that the true heart and soul of your act are the strong pieces of magic that are being united into a fully cohesive single entity. You wouldn’t sit down in a ritzy restaurant and order 6 different kinds of sherbet or sorbet as your entire meal, yet I have seen many comedy magicians who seem to think that this is professionally acceptable. Just because you are performing a comedy magic act it doesn’t mean that you should present the magical equivalent of a sorbet buffet.
When attempting to create a strong comedy magic show your primary focus should be on two things, strong magic and strong comedy. If you don’t correctly balance these two items then you are shortchanging your audience, so don’t make the mistake of doing too many sight gags or you may begin to fall into one of the only entertainer categories held in lower respect in the entertainment industry than a magician–a prop comic. I will let you take a moment or two to register the enormity of this scary prospect. The next thing to happen is the airline loses your case and ZAP–you are a mime. Cue scary music…
Amazing, unbelievable and incomparable are the only words to describe the amazing feats of Nick Lewin.” – What’s On in Las Vegas
“One of the best in the business…” – New Jersey Star-Ledger
“Had the audience on their feet cheering….” – Showtime
“Lewin blends impeccable sleight of hand with a razor sharp British wit.” – Entertainment Today
“Smooth and skillful, this Brit is a hit!” – Showbiz Weekly
“He had the audience in the palm of his hand” – Hollywood Reporter
“Anyone who thinks you can’t do two things well, should see Lewin seamlessly blend reality and fantasy, magic and comedy. Reality suddenly becomes helluva concept!” – Los Angeles Times