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The Real Work

December 2, 2017



I love secrets. 


As magicians, perhaps we all do - until we realize that some secrets are kept from us. 


As a completely unscientific experiment, I once conducted a test of magic audiences at lectures across Europe. The tour was based on a set of notes called Omertà, featuring card and coin effects plus a lovely, compelling bar stunt I had routined into a three-phase routine. For the first couple of lectures I explained the method to everything but on the third or fourth lecture, I didn't have time to describe the secret to the bar stunt and as a result, sold more lecture notes than I'd expected with the audience quite clear that this stunt was their favourite effect in the lecture.


The next day, I decided to do the same but withheld the method to a different effect and - sure enough - the trick I didn't explain was the highlight of the lecture and the main reason for buying my lovely notes.


So it continued as I travelled from city to city, each night choosing a different effect to withhold and each night being told that the effect with the mystery method was the best.


While I found this to be fascinating, I also thought it disappointing that people seemed more interested in learning the secret than performing the trick itself.


As I attend lectures and conventions around the world, I see this more and more often, especially with the trend to better packaging for poorer tricks and effects. 


In the past, dealers often duped buyers with tricksy descriptions that teased every detail of what was not the secret in order to distract from the disappointing truth of the actual method, which was often impossible to perform rather than a performance of the impossible!


The modern equivalent uses slick, cookie-cutter video techniques with selective focus, careful edits and (often) ridiculous voiceovers from over-excited hosts and it all reminds me of something my uncle told me, years ago:


I had seen an infomercial on TV for a fishing lure that was (apparently) the latest technology for serious fishermen. It spun in the water as it was dragged by the line, it rotated in the current and was peppered with tiny reflectors to attract fish and had a brilliantly concealed triple hook that was guaranteed to hold the fish when caught. The commercial was several minutes long and described every detail and benefit of this magical lure from the materials it was made of to countless recommendations from satisfied customers. I'm not a fisherman but my uncle is but when I mentioned it to him, he laughed and told me that products like that one have been around for decades while the best lures and techniques haven't changed very much for centuries.


Ultimately, if you want to catch a fish, you have to learn the real work; there are no easy shortcuts and people who fell for that infomercial probably learned this the hard way.


As my uncle put it: that lure catches more fisherman than fish.


The same is true for magic, where expert pitchmen offer seemingly practical effects that prove far more difficult when you get them home. Many of these are created purely to sell but I'd venture to say that the majority of tricks available to buy at your average convention are absolutely do-able and could be elevated to miracles if you are willing to put in the work required. The big lie is that dealers all know that "work" is a four-letter word when it comes to sales and "easy to do" is a far more profitable description than "requires practice".


But here's the rub: the term "easy magic" is an oxymoron and you should never believe any description that states a magic trick of any kind is in any way "easy".


Believe me? Perhaps not.


The problem is that some tricks are physically easier than others and some are easy to convey - in other words, they evoke a reaction more easily than effects that require more from the performer than to merely demonstrate.


You know when an effect is more accessible because everyone starts doing it and if it's purely visual (i.e. Yves Doumergue's lovely effect "Split") you'll see people doing it all over social media. So yes, some tricks can be learned quickly and demonstrated almost immediately but the real secret to magic is not how something is done but how we as performers choose to do it.


Personally, I spend years on some tricks, searching for the best method and presentation to make it more powerful and engaging. Some, I do whenever I feel like it and others I create, share and put aside until I feel the need to play with it again.


Several years ago, I purchased an effect that I really wanted to incorporate into my formal act. It was on DVD and I spent two weeks reviewing every detail of that routine, even writing every word and action into my notebook before re-writing it to my own style to incorporate my own ideas. Over years, I honed this routine until it became my own. I developed a new ending, worked for months on the initial set-up, the presentation, the script and every possible outcome or opportunity. The DVD cost me thirty dollars but adding the effect to my repertoire cost years of effort. 


Don't worry - I don't think that's true of every trick you (or I) might want to learn, play with, add to our arsenal or incorporate into our acts but everything we study demands real effort to varying degrees. This is the real work that real magic demands.


This site has taken almost a year to build because it was important for me to have a direct connection with people interested in these ideas.


These ebooks and videos teach material that I believe in and have performed recently or in the past and I have made every effort to include all the necessary details required to master each routine. That's my job. Your job is to experiment, perform and adapt to your own style. If you have questions, I'm happy to answer them when time permits either directly or in the form of an FAQ. The purpose of this project is to share but the price of admission is not just the cost of a book or a video but the time spent working it out for yourself. 


The best seller at the next big convention will not be the best effect or the most baffling - it will be the easiest and most visual. At the very least, we must adapt and experiment with every method or effect to make it in some way personal. If it's completely automatic, anyone could do it and anyone often does.


I'm often asked at seminars if I will teach the material from my current act rather than from my past repertoire, and I reminded of that European tour where every night I kept a different secret and that was the trick people most wanted to learn.  


Forget about the secret and pay more attention to the effect. If you can appreciate the real strength of a trick you might imagine  how you could improve that routine by adding the one ingredient that's unique to you.


















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