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Inner circle
It's taken me 10+ years to make
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Profile of Vick
"It seems inevitable that sooner or later someone must take up the matter of showmanship and presentation for magicians in a detailed manner. Too many performers of magic, increasingly so in recent years, either do not know or totally disregard the fundamentals of modern entertainment as exemplified elsewhere throughout the amusement industry.

Years ago Dr. Wilson said, "Magic is an art that sometimes instructs, often amuses and always entertains." This writer disagrees emphatically with very much of that statement. Particularly does he question the "often amuses and always entertains" part. He is inclined to think that the doctor was somewhat carried away with his enthusiasm for a hobby.

It is a pretty set of words. But it's also an ugly infection.

In my belief he would have been more nearly correct had he written, "Magic, as exhibited by the majority, is the indulgence in a hobby that rarely instructs, seldom amuses and almost never entertains." Pure magic, as the presentation of a puzzle to be solved, particularly as performed by the too enthusiastic and poorly prepared devotee, almost never entertains anybody except the enthralled practitioner himself. And if this devotee is not watched, he is extremely likely to become an insufferable bore.

Unquestionably this attitude will meet with considerable disagreement. But the bulk of opposition will come from those with little experience.

The performance of magic is a minor branch of the entertainment field. We are not here concerned with the collecting of apparatus or books, the manufacture of magical apparatus, the recreational hobby aspects or any other auxiliary activity connected with the general term magic.

Here we are entirely occupied with magic in its ultimate form. That form, of course, is its performance in the presence of spectators. In any other form it becomes research, exercise, recreation, hobby, or even a particularly exotic type of egotistical narcissism.

Even if one of the alternative basic forms is the cause of a beginning in magic, sooner or later the doer-of-sleights or the collector-of-apparatus ventures outside his secret hideout and elects to "perform" for somebody.

Then it is that the damage starts.

Usually this type of "magician" is inadequately prepared and quite without any right to consider himself an entertainer in any degree. Of the thousands of performers-of-tricks who daily exhibit their wares throughout the world, but a minute percentage has given any thought to presentation or showmanship that is the heart-beat and the life-blood of the entertainment field.

Yet just because this tyrant's exhibitions may be limited to but a few admiring and, let's hope, forgiving friends or relatives, the writer must insist that he still has no right to do so without some intelligent preparation in selling entertainment to an audience, whether his audience is large or small.

The chief trouble is that the damage is not personal only. It is not limited to the bungler himself. It goes much further than that. It hurts all magicians as entertainers. And it injures all magic as entertainment.

Take the number of exhibitions of magic that are given throughout the country in a single day. This means all of them--good, mediocre and poor. Fully seventy-five percent of the performances are poor according to modern entertainment standards. Another twenty-four percent are mediocre.

The writer feels certain he is being conservative when he estimates that not more than one percent of the daily and nightly performances can be called smart and modern.

When ninety-nine percent of a product is poor or mediocre ALL of it is classed that way. That's why every poorly prepared magical performer hurts the entire field."

From "Showmanship for Magicians" - The book should, no MUST be read by everyone and anyone who hopes to have any sort of career performing magic.

Tommy Wonder learned to read English to read Fitzkie's trilogy it is that significant

Yes the piece above is rough on so called performers of "magic" but it is because they have earned it

PLEASE CONSIDER THIS, we as performers do not compete with other magicians, we complete with the NFL for entertainment $$$, with the latest hit movies, Broadway shows and concerts.

Yet many wear shabby, out of date clothes with no thought to their grooming. Let's us not forget the strange looking boxes and contraptions that have no place on the modern stage and can be nothing but an out dated device. Many have no aspiration to present modern entertainment or as hard as it is to beleive know of nothing better.

In the 1850 magic exhibitions filled theaters in town after town

Houdini was as well known and sought after as many rock stars were in the 1980's & 1990's

It is the art and the work of all who went before that is harmed, it is the professonial today who aspires to presents theater, we can not allow nor tolerate that

Today's big acts know this, but that is less than 1% of all who will present their (many are heinous) acts to the public today

It is your choice what you will be, as a beginner your focus may be on the mechanics but in your mind you need to start seeing a performance art

The Fitzkie Trilogy will help you do this
Unique, Thought Provoking & Amazing Magical Entertainment Experiences
Illusions By Vick
Blog of a real world working magician
Magic would be great, if not for magicians
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New user
Fayetteville, TN
60 Posts

Profile of tnmagicgator
Thanks for starting this topic. I know that SFM is highly regarded, but could you comment / compare it in relation to "Showmanship" by Nelms or the Ortiz "Strong Magic" book? I'm looking to buy one book on this topic and would appreciate your thoughts, if you can comment on them. Thanks.
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Eternal Order
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Profile of JamesTong
You won't regret getting all three of them. And after reading all three of them you would also go for the others.
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Inner circle
It's taken me 10+ years to make
1120 Posts

Profile of Vick
Tnmagicgator - your are welcome, it's my pleasure (duty and goal) to point in a direction that can help you on your journey

Sorry I don't know where you are in your work so it's a little hard to say. As much as I like the Fitzkie books (required reading for everyone) and just saw Ortiz give a great lecture last month I might suggest "Magic and Showmanship" to start.

Reason being is Nelms will address a concept about presentation or performing and then give you an effect that illustrates that concept, the whys and thoughts behind it. Don't feel bad if you don't do every effect in Nelms book. Just the reading is quite an education and will give you food for thought, better understanding of concepts, presentations and how to create magic/art.

Most likely over the years you will read (and re-read) all of them and others you find beneficial. "Our Magic" and Tommy Wonder both have been influential on my work among many others

Please pardon me if this isn't the most lucid message, it's late and I'm coming off a late show performed tonight for New Years

Best of luck to you, usually you can find a copy of "Magic and Showmanship" reasonably priced
Unique, Thought Provoking & Amazing Magical Entertainment Experiences
Illusions By Vick
Blog of a real world working magician
Magic would be great, if not for magicians
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Inner circle
Puerto Rico
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Profile of Hansel
If I need to select one it could be difficult but I will go for Strong Magic by D. Ortiz.
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Inner circle
Yuma, AZ
2286 Posts

Profile of Ed_Millis
Vick - I'd like to recommend Steve Martin's Biography "Born Standing Up". There is no excuse for publicly presenting a stinky show, but there is much to be said for being as good as you are and staying where you are good. I am not good enough to command a large stage or a well-paying audience. I am good enough to keep a small group og kids and their parents entertained for about 35-45 minutes.

One of the biggest things that hit me in Martin's story is the "moment of change", in which he'd been performing just like everyone else for about 15 years. Nearly overnight, he scrapped everything and completely changed. He tanked at first, and then rose higher than before. You might argue by your philosophy that he should have waited until he got that epiphany about how to hit his stride before going on stage. I will contend that he never would have gotten to that moment unless it were built upon the previous years of bad-to-mediocre (ie: "learning") performance.

And comedy - like magic - has survived lo these many years.
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Inner circle
Chattanooga, TN
1909 Posts

Profile of DWRackley
Agree with you, Ed!

Wow! Great article, Vick. Thanks for posting it!

I think I “agree in principle” with what is being said, but how many garage bands who happen to score a few dollars at the high school prom really impact the revenues of Billy Joel or Pearl Jam? is listing the Rolling Stones as the top search right now, and I don’t think they much care if RayBob and the WetHeads can’t tell a Circle of Fifths from a Fermata.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be working hard at perfecting our skill (performance skills being the most visible), but generally speaking, the wannabes either figure it out or they finally go away. Sooner or later another unknown will come along to fill the gap, and the exact same choice will be theirs: get it right or die. The ones who really “want it” will eventually “get it”.

The headliners remain. The fact that Houdini is mentioned in the article (being dead since 1926) is a fair indicator that he had some aspect of it right. (In fact, some think he wasn’t really all that great at straight Magic!) There were A LOT of people doing magic in that same time frame, and how many do we remember? Blackstone? Kellar? Thurston?

On the flip side, how many remember…uh…what’s his name…?

I’m going to get this book, in no small part, Vick, because you recommended it, and I want my performance to be better next month than it was last.

But not yet having read it, I am forced to wonder, where the “training” is to come from? We must all, at some point, stand before an audience not of our peers, who judge us not by our friendships but by our pure raw talent. Showmanship must be learned by experience.

I didn’t start driving a car simply by reading a book, although much study (including books) was essential. I had to get IN the car, white knuckle death grip on the wheel, and take my foot off of the brake. It wasn’t smooth the first time, but I didn’t die, and neither did anyone else. And the “art” of driving is still around.

Another thought: I’m not sure we’re really competing with all those other entertainments.

For example, I’m not a prospective audience member for anything NFL related, not even if the tickets were free. People like various forms of entertainment, but most tend to stay within the same genre. I’m pretty sure most of the NFL fans I know wouldn’t be caught dead at an opera. I’ve never been to a “car show” and have no real interest in doing so (half naked girls notwithstanding). Give me a classic stage clown, or a full orchestra or even a piano duet, and I’m front row center.

There are some people who are simply not going to be in our audience, ever. And I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to say that we’re “competing” with Whitney or Britney or Disney or Rockney.

I’m going to do what I do to the best of my ability. I’m going to target my audience. (That’s why somebody came up with “demographics”.) I’m going to play to the audience I get. And they’re going to be entertained if I have to stand on my head in a bowl of cold oatmeal (which of course will promptly turn into a silk handkerchief!)

I appreciate your posts, Vick, and I am going to read this book. You are a resounding call to excellence, and I applaud that with my whole soul. But I really think the Grande Entertainment that is Magic will somehow survive the onslaught of amateurs.
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Inner circle
It's taken me 10+ years to make
1120 Posts

Profile of Vick
Ed & DW

There is no doubt in my mind gentlemen that you both do well in and by the art. You care, you have heart, intellegence, respect and that desire/drive. <-- my gift for the obvious

I bust everyone's chops to help keep us on course (and out of frustration with the art or lack thereof) Smile

and yes we all needed a place to be bad, usually it's friends and family (I butchered my share and worked for a year as a pitchman)

Ed, a few years back Steve Martin did a great interview in Smithsonian Magazine. Part of it was about his change and how it progressed, including something like 16 apperances on the Tonight Show when Carson was the host (before he felt Carson accepted him, after his first apperance Martin was never back on with Carson for years and always was on with a co-host). It might have came from his book or been about the same time the book was released.
Some of the experimental work was bad for a reason, not because he didn't know any better or thought it was a quick, easy buck but to try learn and grow

DW, Smile we are competing with Whitney, Britney, Disney, MGM, Tarentino, The Baltimore Ravens, Shakespeare, Broadway, MMA and every form of entertainment.

There are only so many entertainment dollars Smile to go around and only so much time. While not everyone will be a fan of all or most there will be times when someone has to choose where their entertainment dollar and leisure time will be spent.

That is part of why I am so big on presentation, both of the act it's self and how it looks to the viewing public. We've got to at least perfrom and present with that same level of professionalism the public expects from other segments of the entertainment industry (excluding rap acts .... Smile )

Best to all and to all a good night! Smile
Be well

Unique, Thought Provoking & Amazing Magical Entertainment Experiences
Illusions By Vick
Blog of a real world working magician
Magic would be great, if not for magicians
Lawrence O
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Inner circle
Greenwich (CT)
6799 Posts

Profile of Lawrence O
"Meaning" is the best misdirection.

I would recommend reading first Darwin Ortiz's Designing Miracles
Then only, his Strong Magic
Then Nelms Magic and showmanship.

From there on, if you intend to go to stage magic read Maskelyne and Devant's Our Magic
Tommy Wonder's Books of Wonder
and Fitzkee Showmanship for magicians (his book on misdirection is much weaker)
Big Daddy Cool Theatrical Magic

If you want to go to close up
Gary Kurz booklet Leading with your head
and one of the books on emotional screenwriting. This is where magic will make its strongest advances in the XXIst century for the rest is already pretty much ahead.

After doing other people's tricks, you may want to make your own act and then you should go back to Darwin Ortiz's Designing Miracles with Dariel Fitzkee's Trick Brain and Derren Brown's Pure Effect. Read how spectators' perception works by checking on the net articles on the Gestalt Theory (essential understanding). You may also want to read De Bono's course on Intelligence.

Then there ae tools on intelligent scripting: Kenton Knepper's Words of Wonder (the first one with audio tapes) is very precious and so are his booklets on Suggestion and Indirection.

But I can teach you the biggest secret in one sentence: "focus on audiences expectations, not on your own narcissism (including in your perception of their expectations)"
Magic is the art of proving impossible things in parallel dimensions that can't be reached
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New user
San Jose, CA
53 Posts

Profile of mgcpwrs
Vick - thanks for this thread - it is a good reminder and I am going to leave it on my screen
and re-read it, so it sinks in. I have to say, my library has many of the books you and
others have mentioned, but I have not read them. This is the year.
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Elite user
Los Angeles
466 Posts

Profile of wkitwizard
After all these books are discussed and appreciated, one has been left out that stands head and shoulders above them: "Maximum Entertainment" by Weber. It challenges a performer to stop, take a deep breath, step away from the magic table and consider the "big picture". You first have to entertain an audience with your act, not fool them with puzzles and tricks. How many Linking Rings, Billiard Balls, Egg Bags, Dancing Canes can an audience stand? PLEASE! The audiences of today are hypnotized daily with "eye candy" from video games, tv, iPhones, etc. How about seriously trying to entertain them?
Nothing is truer than the incomprehensible, because the sum total of our knowledge consists of the fact that we know nothing. Our reality is an illusion. Thus illusion is reality-Punx
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