How to make the most out of a trick.
By Dave Taylor
All tricks are an impressive way to get work, entertain and make a living out of. Like all art forms there is an element of performance required. This is what makes your trick. No matter how hard you practice and how much you work towards having the perfect trick it is nothing without the correct patter and performance. Harold Geneen said “Performance stands out like a ton of diamonds. Non performance can always be explained away.” When you perform and perform well it clearly stands out. Hopefully I can give you some tips on how to make your tricks great with some great performance.
Firstly let me say that no matter what you think we can all perform. We do it every day. From whether its saying that we are OK when we are not, or chatting to someone we know. ‘The world is a stage and everything in it’ (William Shakespeare). Everything we do is a performance so no one can say that cannot perform. As a theatre director I have seen many people who claim that they cannot act and this is not the case, it is simply a matter of working up the confidence to do it.
OK lets get down to the hub of the matter. Firstly when looking at how to perform there is one thing that is of great importance. Relaxation.
Whenever you perform you will be nervous. A great director once said to me that ‘If you are not nervous when you are performing, I don’t want you to perform to me’ Nerves play an important role in your performance, physically they increase the flow of adrenaline into your system making you more alert and help keep you more focused. It also can allow you to seem more realistic which does help. But there becomes a point where you shouldn’t let nerves take over completely. You should make sure you are relaxed before you perform (but not too relaxed), allow yourself to be nervous, but don’t let the nerves overcome you.
Part One - Plan
Now before you even get on stage there is something important that you should do. Plan. Every performance should be planned out in stupid detail. When people look at performers on stage, especially people like stand up comics they believe its all improvised. This is not true – if you can afford it watch the same show on two different performances. When you do this you’ll see that 90% of the material is the same the other 10% is just situational. When I create a performance I usually write it out in a notation form (when performing magic this usually includes the tricks). For example this was part of a show that I performed and this was the first draft of this performance. (note some of the tricks are not available on penguin magic)
- Card Trick – The wonder of cards – Ambituous Card
- LINK (connection between routines)
- Escapology, often follows a story – Count Of Monte Cristo Escape
- Straight Jacket
There was more to this performance but I haven’t included it. This is just so you can get an idea. I know what I am going to perform and in what order. The next part of preperation is to write a second draft
The second draft usually goes into more detail about what you are going to do. Often I write out what I am going to say near enough word for word. Take for example the straight jacket link. In this case it was
“When people think of escapology they think of people like Harry Houdini, a great escapologist and the equipment he used like a straight jacket. In fact the straight jacket has become renound for the escapes that have been done from it. In fact I’ll show you the amazing feat of escaping from a straight jacket...
...now I borrowed this one from the local mental health unit I used to work on. There was a guy there who was more then happy for me to have it, as long as I took it off him. Nice guy, although he was a bit concerned about people in white coats. You know I never knew why I got fired from that job. Oh well..."
The whole script can be worked out that way and you’ll soon find that you have got things in there that might not be in your original first draft, if you are going to take notes on stage (this is ok to do) then its a good idea to shorten them again which makes it easier to see and rehearse with.
Now I know that I have focused a lot on big performances, but this is still applicable to doing a single trick to your friends. Plan what you are going to say at each stage, even if it is just something innocious like “hi how you doing”
Part Two – Rehearse
I know that this is really redundant saying this to magicians but rehearse. Rehearse everything not just the sleights, but the words you will used, how you will approach people even how you thank people add up to that performance. If you look at the videos on this site you can see how people relate to each other and the best way to do this is just practice.
Practice infront of a mirror and then to friends.
Friends are the best people that you can practice your performances to. Normally they will only give positive critism and make you feel good. Never ever take a trick straight out to the public because you’ll find out that things dont work, and especially when you are in a business situation where this could add something to your career. I’d suggest finding a close friend who is willing to watch your performances and who will be happy to tell you what works and what doesn’t. I have a friend who I have known for many years now and I have worked together with in many shows. One particular show involved magic tricks performed by me (including a straight jacket escape). During rehearsals I found that it helped that he was able to watch and instruct me on what worked and what didn’t work.
So that way I could make jokes at the right points and make the performance the best that it could be.
Only when you are confident that the performance is the best it can be should you move onto performing for others.
Part Three – Starting off
So how do you start off a routine? It is important when performing to start it off well. They say that you make your first impression within 15 seconds of meeting a person. Make that a good one. Smile, be polite and be nice. You’d be surprised at how many grumpy performers there are.
As I said earlier, relax. Make yourself comfortable. After all if you are comfortable so will your audience be. This sounds almost obvious, but make friends with them. That doesn’t mean take them out for a drink but be friendly and open with them. I’ve found that joking around and making a performance light hearted always helps.
Part Four – General Tips
So what can I give you regarding tips on how to perform well? Be confident and relax. There’s no need to panic about it all. If you rehearse till you can do it in your sleep everything will be fine. Here are some general tips about making the most of your performances
When you make a mistake, carry on. Relax and maybe joke about it but
don’t make a big deal about it. Your performance here really shows whether you are a good performer or not. Many times I’ve had backdrops collapse behind me, computers break down leaving me with no background music or even breaking invisible thread three minutes till a show. It’s how you deal with this situation that shows what kind of a performer you are. Like they always say ‘the show will go on’ Continue with it.
Enjoy the moment. Many people don’t realise this but if you don’t enjoy performing, your audience won’t enjoy it either. In all honesty I don’t want to see someone who is just performing for money or to try something new. I want to see someone who enjoys their craft so much that they want to spend time and effort on making it the best that it can be. When you enjoy your performance, so will your audience.
Be ready to perform. By that I mean make sure that when you are performing, you want to perform and you have everything you need. You need to be in control Impromptu performances are fun, but you need to be ready for it. If you haven’t practiced enough to perform off the cuff then don’t perform. It will just make you look bad. People will always ask you to show something new, but if you aren’t ready then don’t.
There is so much more that I could say about performance, but there is only one thing you need to know and that is REHEARSE. I know it sounds stupid but it is important. Rehearse, Rehearse, rehearse. Rehearse until you are sick of a trick and a routine. Rehearse until you know something so well you can break it into little parts and create a new trick from each part. That way when you are performing you will be ready and able to go and do anything.
Finally remember “People tend to remember my performances, not me.” (Ellen Barken - actress). People will remember what you do. I once performed for some queues for an event that was being held at the local bar. A couple of months later someone came up to me while I was sitting in Subway eating my lunch and said "hey, you're the guy who performed at the SU. I loved the spider trick". People will remember your tricks and your performance and I can tell you that its one of the best feelings sitting in subway and being recognised for what you do!
Have fun with your performances, and best of luck