1) Thoughtful Practice: Good magic requires practice. To master magic you will have to acquire skills…period. More than you would believe, people proudly tell me things like, “I’ve been doing magic twenty years, but I never do anything that requires a lot of practice.” I’m not sure I would be bragging about that. If you want to be a magician, you’ll need to pursue thoughtful practice. I include the word thoughtful as I think it adds an important distinction. Practicing poor technique can be worse than NOT practicing. You need to pay attention to what you’re working on – study each move, each moment. Video tape yourself when possible, take notes, and see what can be improved. If possible, seek the advice of others whose work you admire and get input.
2) Conscious Performance: Each performance, casual or formal, is an invaluable opportunity to improve. Just as with thoughtful practice, conscious performance requires that you are in the moment. Pay attention to the audience’s responses and reactions. Not only the audible ones, but also the more subtle nonverbal ones. Do spectators engage you or each other at an unexpected moment? Are you rushing through the effect to get to the “finish line”? Are you telegraphing key moments and reducing their impact? Again, video can be helpful here, so tape and take notes when possible. And seek good consul when possible.
3) Build the Foundation: I’ll start with an example, prior to Jeff McBride releasing his Art of Card Manipulation videos there was no single easy source for all that information to be learned. Learning those techniques required magicians to track down obscure reference material, decipher cryptic descriptions, and solicit the help of those who had already mastered the skills. Jeff’s videos put a huge amount of high quality information in the hands anyone willing to learn. Jeff remains one of the finest card manipulators in the history of magic, even after the release of those videos – there are few that rival his skill level. And he became that good without the help of his own videos! My point is he did the work. Don’t misunderstand me here. His videos are a MUST for anyone tackling card manipulation. But don’t think that there is any single source for all the information. You will need to seek out as much quality information on the topics that interest you as possible. Study and digest this information in an effort to synthesize your own approach and position.
As a side note, remember that the vast majority of GREAT magic and magical thinking has NEVER appeared on video…don’t be afraid of books. This is not a knock on videos, it’s simply a fact. If you have a hard time learning from books, I have a sure fire method to resolve that: keep reading. Learning from books requires practice…the more you do it, the better you’ll become at it.
4) It’s Not All About the Tricks: I have one primary approach to the material I choose. I try to choose tricks that are clear in effect and appear impossible (or at the very least, highly improbable). That’s it…not a big secret. But YOU, as a person, need to make this stuff interesting. The best way to do that is to BE interesting. Read material outside of magic, pay attention to current technology and culture, watch documentaries on topics of interest other than magic, go to lectures and shows, be a life long leaner and try to bring that substance to your performance. In my experience, compelling people make compelling magic.
5) Question Perfection: Salavdor Dali said, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” You can’t wait until everything is perfect. For the most part, achieving perfection in any thing is impossible. Work to get close – but know that you are never there. Stop thinking there is a single “perfect” coin in bottle, the “perfect” any card at any number, etc. There is no “perfect” – just what is perfect for a particular moment, environment, and situation. The person who is appears most “perfect” is the person who is best prepared. That’s why those first 4 ways are so important.
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