Ken Weber, author of the book Maximum Entertainment suggested that only a small amount of people have ever seen live mystery entertainment. Indeed, only a very small part of the world population has seen any magic or mentalism in their lives.
You can do the same twelve tricks your entire life and let that precious dozen effects be your entire professional repertoire. Since most audiences have never seen magic (or you for that matter) then it would be easy to repeat those same twelve tricks and do them well enough so that it seems fresh to your new audience, every single time.
But… what about those audiences who have seen a great deal of magic already?
Recently I celebrated my twenty-first birthday again for the thirteenth time. The family took me out for a pleasant dinner at a Japanese steakhouse; the kind of place where dinner is the show in the Benihana type of atmosphere. I’ve been to a few of these places and this particular location is a local favorite of mine.
The chef rolled in his cart of ingredients from the kitchen along with utensils and a few novelty do-dads to put on a great show. Being an entertainer I’m always eager to see something fresh and new. With a big rush of fire on the grill the show was underway. The chef cut vegetables faster than you’ve ever seen. Stacks of onion layers were filled with burning oil to create a miniature vegetable volcano oozing out fire and smoke. Guests at our table were challenged to catch chunks of rice in their mouth as they were tossed through the air. It was delightful, but I had seen it all before.
I was a fairly regular customer at this grill as were many others in the restaurant. Even though the staff changes over fairly often, the material presented by the chefs is often the same from one chef to another. It’s a pleasant surprise when we see something new by our chef but it’s rare that this happens.
The same issue lies in magic. There are magic fans (not magicians or magic hobbyists) out there who love attending magic shows. They can be found at places like Las Vegas casino theaters, at the Castle and other magic-heavy venues. These people have seen it all. They love magic and they are hungry for new magic. The problem is that there is very little “new” in magic. Magicians often settle for monotony and mediocrity. It’s common to see the exact same magic show performed by a new magician. Copycat magicians tend to do much of the same material over and over.
The best examples can be found on cruise ships. Magicians who work ships tend to do much of the same material as other cruise performers. Half-Dyed Hanky and Cards Across are two textbook examples of common cruise ship pieces. They are ideal for use by cruise performers because these items back very small and play big on stage. Prop cases are filled with lightweight material so magicians can fit the majority of their act in their overhead luggage on a plane. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with these tricks or the magicians that do these effects. I too have a fly-on suitcase act that I can do in a similar fashion.
The issue becomes the audience. In his book Cruise Magic 101, Nick Lewin warns against this issue. Cruise ships have a large demographic of frequent cruisers. These cruise guests cruise at least once a year, usually more frequently than that, and they have seen a LOT of magic. Once they’ve seen Silk to Egg a dozen times there is no surprise factor anymore. It takes a lot of thinking and creativity on the part of the performer to show something new, complete with original routining.
There was a time when the same problem was found in magic contests. I remember attending numerous SAM and IBM stage contests where the same effects were being done by performers who were dressed oddly similar, and they would even perform to much of the same music!
Like many magicians, I frequently do children’s magic events. Sometimes when I remove a pack of cards or some other iconic item from my prop case you can hear a kid say, “I’ve seen this one.” Usually, this statement is a lie. Kids have seen something similar or seen a magician on television do something with cards or whatever object and in need for attention and validation they claim they’ve “seen it already” to try to get credit with their peers sitting around them. But if a child can predict the ending to your magic effect, then it might be time to shake things up. Perhaps another magician in town has also been doing the Strat-o-Spheres or Meta Morpho Spot Can and the kids know what’s going to happen. Maybe the kids have even seen you doing the same trick before. Shake it up! The sanctity of magic is the art of surprise. If there is no surprise, there is no more “wow factor” and the magic is lost.
The level of copycat magic out there is enormous and magic fans are taking notice. We don’t ever want for an audience to feel like they’ve seen it all. A good magician should be able to do original magic effects (or at least magic effects that are seldom seen or long forgotten so it’s still fresh on the audience), combined with original routining to create a thrilling and unique experience for everyone in the room; including experienced magic audiences who otherwise would say “we’ve seen this one.” Let’s work hard to surprise our audiences and do something unique that audiences have likely never seen before and never will see again.
Challenge: What’s one thing you could add to your act right now that you can honestly say is truly unique and original enough that not even magicians in your local club would recognize it? Start with just one routine and go from there and make something new.
What are your thoughts? Write to me at email@example.com