Introduction to Magic

A magician is a powerful and a cool thing to be. The ability to make magic happen (OK, appear to happen) sets the magician apart from the rest of humanity and, in favourable circles, commands a high degree of respect and admiration. To be a real magician – as opposed to a dabbler – takes years of hard work. It is not something that can be achieved overnight. However, the time and effort invested will pay enormous dividends; the satisfaction and elation you will derive from performing great magic, and the joy and excitement your audience will derive from watching it, will far outweigh the sacrifices and frustrations of months of solitary practice.

This is not intended to put you off becoming a magician. On the contrary, it’s meant to encourage you to get started straight away! The sooner you begin putting in the study and practice, the sooner you’ll be ready to wow the public.

Magician at conventionIf you’re serious about magic and want one day to make your living by it, you have no time to lose. If you are very young, you have time on your side but it’s still a good idea to learn as much as you can while you are still at school. Most of today’s top magicians began by performing tricks at their friends’ sixth or seventh birthday parties. However, they didn’t all, so, if you are already grown up, don’t feel you have missed the boat. Many of today’s top magicians came to magic as adults. The main disadvantage you have is that it can be more difficult to put in the hours if you’ve got a job and a family to look after. If you are able to find the time to practise, however, there is no reason you shouldn’t, in five years’ time, be just as good as someone who started aged 4.

As Roy Castle used to say, “Dedication, that’s what you need.”

Of course, magic may not be your top priority. Perhaps it is just a hobby to you, a nice way to entertain your friends and relations. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, provided you abide by the two cardinal rules of magic:

1. Never reveal the secret of a trick or illusion to a non-magician, however much someone may beg, plead or threaten you.

2. Always practise any trick or illusion you are going to show non-magicians until you can do it well enough for it to seem like magic.

Getting Started: The Basics of Magic

Think about great magic you have seen. What do you remember? How did you feel while you were experiencing it? What did you enjoy about it?

The chances are, you remember what the magician wanted you to remember. If you’re like me, you felt a sense of wonder and excitement, and you enjoyed both the amazement and the magician’s way of conducting the show (comedy, mystery, story-telling, spooky, shock & horror – whatever style appeals to you).

These, then, are the questions to ask yourself in relation to your own audience:

What do you want them to remember?

In your patter, emphasise the effect and don’t mention anything that may give them a clue as to how you do it. It took me a long time to believe this but it is remarkably easy, if you make all your movements appear natural, to manipulate what people notice and what they don’t.

How do you want them to feel while they are experiencing your magic?

You want them to be relaxed and free to be filled with wonder. There are two essential elements to this. Firstly, you must appear confident. This is difficult if you’re nervous but practise until you know it can’t go wrong and do some deep breathing and positive thinking before the performance. You must appear confident or the audience won’t enjoy the show.

Secondly, be nice! If you present your magic as a challenge to the audience to work out how you do it, that’s how they will take it – and they might even succeed. If you treat your volunteers as if they are stupid or make jokes at their expense, the audience will feel uncomfortable. If you treat everyone with respect and exude a positive aura, people are much more likely to respond well. An unpleasant magician has to work much harder to impress people than a pleasant one does – and, even then, people are less inclined to book someone they don’t like, however brilliant he or she may be. Magic is meant to be entertainment for the audience, not some sort of test.

What will they enjoy about your performance?

A large part of this comes back, again, to your personality. If they like you as a person, there is a far greater chance that they will like you as a magician. By all means, cultivate a stage persona – mysterious, humorous, bizarre, whatever suits you – but you still need to treat your spectators as intelligent human beings, worthy of respect and of the best you can give.

The other important factor is showmanship. You may be technically first class but your magic won’t become real entertainment until you can make it into a performance, rather than just something you do. Being able to make a trick work without anyone being able to see how it’s done is the first step, of course, but then you need to create a story around it and big it up. Low-key magic is wasted; let people experience the full impact of what you can do.

The Principles of Magic

Optical illusion to illustrate the magician's job: to persuade people they see things they don'tThe three main principles on which magic is based are:

  • concealment
  • misdirection
  • make-believe

Magicians are famous for hiding things up their sleeves. In fact, they hide things in all sorts of places, but concealment is, obviously, crucial to the effect. You need to be careful with angles and think about what the audience might be able to see from where they are sitting.

Misdirection is the age-old method by which magicians get the audience to look the other way at the precise moment they make the secret move.

Magic is frequently disorientating for the spectators and this gives you quite a bit of room for rewriting reality. Tell them what’s happening and, if it makes sense, they’ll believe you, whether it’s true or not.

The Rules of Magic

Some rules are there to help you personally; others exist for the general good of the profession. (If you are a decent magician, these two will merge for you anyway.)

The first two are the cardinal rules mentioned above in the introduction.

1. Never reveal the secret of a trick or illusion to a non-magician, however much someone may beg, plead or threaten you. Besides letting down yourself and any other magician who might want to perform this trick, you will seriously disappoint the punter. People practically always wish they hadn’t asked, because the truth is so mundane compared to the effect it creates. It’s not in their interest to know and it’s certainly not in your interest to tell.

2. Always practise any trick or illusion you are going to show non-magicians until you can do it well enough for it to seem like magic. If you make a hash of the trick, you will feel very foolish, as well as exposing the secret. Don’t let this happen.

3. Never repeat a trick for the same audience. If they know what’s coming and what to look for, they may spot the secret move. (There are times when this rule can be relaxed, for example if there is no secret move to make – but it’s definitely a useful guideline.)

4. For the same reason, never tell the audience in advance what the effect is going to be. If it goes wrong, you may be able to salvage something by making it into a different trick, but you won’t be able to if you have already told them what is meant to happen. Besides, it can spoil the surprise. Make it very clear what has happened, but don’t tell them what’s going to happen.

5. Learn from your fellow magicians, as much as you can, but don’t copy their ideas without crediting them. People will know that The Great Magini thought of it first, so you won’t fool anyone and it’s just dishonest. You can come up with your own ideas – and you won’t want anyone stealing them.