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BrianMillerMagic
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Hey folks. Yesterday I had my weekly private magic lesson with an 11 year old student who has been with me for nearly a year now. This kid is an absolute prodigy; easily the finest magic student I've ever had.

For the first time, we dedicated yesterday's lesson entirely to talking about the art of routining, so that he could learn to put together a 10-15 min act to perform for friends and family during the upcoming holiday season. Most beginners don't have the experience to know that putting on an act is not merely stringing a bunch of tricks together. In other words, an act is not merely the sum of its tricks.

Here are some of the simple but important thoughts that came out of that lesson:

Open strong. While your act should have a sense of build, it should open with a high point. Comedians like to talk about opening with your second best joke, and closing with your best. Same idea in magic. Open with something that is powerful and gets to the point quickly. Your whole act depends on how your audience perceives the very first thing you do.

Ebb and flow Again, your act should have a sense of build, but it shouldn't be a straight shot upwards. You need to have what Jay Sankey likes to call "interlude pieces", which are bits of magic that may not be HOLY CRAP but instead are enjoyable and amusing. These should be placed in between pieces of HOLY CRAP effects in order to avoid exhausting your audience's emotions.

Transitions Arguably the most important part of your act are the moments between the tricks, because it is in that gap of time when you have the highest potential to lose your audience's attention. Most magic tricks carry enough intrinsic interest to keep an audience's attention, even when performed by a particularly bad magician. But there is nothing intrinsically interesting between tricks. I instructed my student not to forget about the audience while he thinks about grabbing the props for the next trick. If your focus goes to your props, the audience's focus will disappear. Remember to engage the audience while you get your next trick ready. Ask a question, make an interesting comment, or small talk with some of the members. If you're funny, tell a joke. If you're not, for the love of God please don't.

Themes Many magicians harp on consistency and theming the entire act around something. I believe that your act does not require a single theme to tie it all together. I'll refer to Jay Sankey again, who reminds us that human beings are inconsistent by nature. There is nothing wrong with doing a variety of different things during your act. It's human. However, it's not a bad idea to group pieces in your act that are already loosely themed around the same thing. If you have multiple card tricks in your act, by all means do them together. It keeps the audience from getting magic A.D.D.

Closing Of course your closing piece should be your strongest one. It's important to maintain a rhythm and energy that builds to the climax, and to follow that energy through the climax and after so that you can say "Thank you" and end your act on a high note, while the audience is in that state. Nothing is more awkward that ending the last trick, the applause ceases, and then saying goodnight, causing the audience to force an applause.

Just some thoughts. Lots more on this, but I'll allow a discussion to take care of that.
SmithMagicMan
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I'd like to hear peoples opinions on their strongest trick - the one performed at the end.
Mr. Woolery
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I have two closers. Before I tell you what they are, please let me state my position. I am a hobby magician and my focus has been kids for a while. I've been a school volunteer and have done a few birthday parties. That's it. For what it is worth, I like kids a lot, they can tell I like them, the parties have gone very well. But I'm not a paid performer at this time. So, don't take this as a pro's views about the strongest closing effects.

For one type of performance, I like the quarter in the ball of yarn as a closer. It has two kids up as helpers, there's the impossible travel of the coin, the ball of yarn unwinding just emphasizes how impossible the whole thing is, and there's opportunity for silly byplay. I'd love to see what Terry Seabrook would do with this trick... But it is a strong one and there are few stronger for magical effect.

My other one is Chico the Mind Reader. I don't follow Bill Abbott's routine exactly. I have some silly gags with a balloon, a dumb rope gag, and so on. But the core is still Chico. That one is nearly impossible to top for a silly closer.

The choice of close depends on what the audience will be. For younger kids, the puppet rules. For over 10, I like a more magical trick. The whole challenge magic thing tends to favor the stronger magic tricks as opposed to the silly tricks that younger kids like better.

If I had my way, I'd love to do a whole act inspired by Hocus Pocus Jr. and close with cups and balls. I am sort of working on putting together such an act, but not being very dedicated about it because I have no place for it. However, the subject interests me enough to keep revisiting it, so perhaps one day I'll get it together.

-Patrick
Drosselmeyer
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Hi Brian,
I think this post is great! My act is strong on story, theme, and routining ... but a lot weaker on actual magic tricks than I would like. Even so, it is well received by the audience. So, yes!, proper attention to routining can prop up some weaker gags and make the whole thing shine. Appreciate your well laid out advice here!
Regards,
--Drosselmeyer
Regards,

--Drosselmeyer
55Hudson
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I like to close with spongeballs - variation of Eugene Burger's routine. Some times I will open with them, but I find nothing stronger than magic in the hands of the spec.

Hudson
GB316
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Thanks for starting this discussion. Been practicing magic now for a year and I have to say putting a routine together is something that I find (excuse the pun) tricky!
Vick
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Well put!

My show is a little different by design, in the first routine I perform a variation of the "Floating Rose" (no dancing paper in mine) which is a very strong effect and usually elicits a good response. It appears in the opening routine along with appearing candles, water to wine, in the news (newspaper water pour). It's all part of a story about my date arriving 45 minutes ..... early and I have to magic the table together. It's performed to string quartet music, the floating, flaming then real rose makes a strong statement (I always hand the rose out to an audience member). It makes a statement about me, the show, the magic and what the audience can expect. It's an odd choice but for me it works

I close the show with my version of "Floating Butterflies" not the strongest effect ever but it is very beautiful and that's how I want the audience to remember the show (it does usually get 2 awws or gasps). Big, amazing, beautiful and colorful (plus if children are in attendance they almost always clean up the butterflies, I've seen people post pic of butterflies they kept). Worst part is I once overheard an audience member after the show saying "I expected him to produce real butterflies" I don't think the magic is that strong and it does give me an idea but .......

As for transitions, I'm always speaking with the audience into the next effect, leading them into it and there is a flow and connection throughout the show. I'm not comedy club funny and know it so I don't do straight up comedy but I can be humorous and that comes through a few times.

I have that problem with ebb and flow, it can't be a constant rise but I never want a piece that isn't strong or good enough to stand on it's own outside of the frame of the show. So the show becomes sort of layered and textured, with maybe softer spots or a change of tempo. Helps keep the mind fresh, both mine and the audience. You can't listen to the same beat (even house or rave music, which I don't understand) without loosing attention.

The only thing I wonder about Brian is if a performer has a few card tricks to group them together in the show. I guess for some it would be ok but I've seen say 3-4 card tricks bunched together in a show and the show started to lose me a little then. It also might have to do with the presentation and the effects that were chosen.
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BrianMillerMagic
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Quote:
On 2011-12-02 18:25, Vick wrote:
The only thing I wonder about Brian is if a performer has a few card tricks to group them together in the show. I guess for some it would be ok but I've seen say 3-4 card tricks bunched together in a show and the show started to lose me a little then. It also might have to do with the presentation and the effects that were chosen.


To me, grouping together card tricks makes a set within a set. In other words, the same guidelines that apply to putting together your entire act also apply to a segment of card magic. Open with your second strongest card trick in the set, something quick and to the point, and close with the strongest. You can't be too repetitive, and make sure to have solid transitions.

Watch Ricky Jay do a full hour with cards and never lose the audience's attention for a second!
Vick
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I could watch Ricky Jay read his grocery list for an hour and not get bored
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BrianMillerMagic
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Quote:
On 2011-12-10 11:03, Vick wrote:
I could watch Ricky Jay read his grocery list for an hour and not get bored


Which brings up the important point about presentation. It's much more important how you present what you're doing, than what you're actually doing. At the end of the day, the props are just props.
Ed_Millis
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So if you pick an overall coordinating theme or story line, routine each trick to fit into that framework, and then arrange these routines to tell your story with an engaging opener, progressive middle pieces, and a strong closer, you'll get more than the jumble of tricks usually called a "show"?

Ed
BrianMillerMagic
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On 2011-12-10 21:23, Ed_Millis wrote:
So if you pick an overall coordinating theme or story line, routine each trick to fit into that framework, and then arrange these routines to tell your story with an engaging opener, progressive middle pieces, and a strong closer, you'll get more than the jumble of tricks usually called a "show"?


I can't tell if the tone of your question is serious or sarcastic, but I'll respond anyway.

I do not support the idea that an entire act must have a theme which ties each effect together. That's like when magicians say you shouldn't mix mentalism with magic, because it's inconsistent. Jay Sankey once wrote in Beyond Secrets that human beings are themselves inconsistent. Having a collection of different kinds of things is not only reasonable but eminently relatable.

One certainly doesn't need a storyline that weaves through the entire act, affecting each trick's presentation and the transitional material. You can, but it's uncommon and not necessary. Better to have a strong sense of character which drives the act, individual presentations, and transitions than a story that you're sticking to.
Ed_Millis
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Honestly, Brian, it was a tongue-in-cheek but serious. I failed to go back and re-read your first comments about Sankey and a unified theme. And I know I've read a lot of other threads in which that was the general thrust.

I've admired and envied performers who can weave a story through their routines. But I kinda feel that I'm always going to be one of those "what's he gonna do next?!?" magicians. My "unifying element" is pretty much my character - just a jig goofball come to have some crazy magical fun with the kids and the families who love them.

Ed
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