A question to pros about magic theory books

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.
Ian Kendall
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Ian Kendall » March 24th, 2008, 2:13 pm

If I may put on my teacher's hat for a moment, it may be possible to explain the '500 shows' idea.

There are four levels of learning; rote, understanding, application and correlation. At the most basic level, they can be explained as follows:

1. Rote: This is 'parrot fashion'. If we take an example of misdirection; a person with rote learning will say 'Don't look at your dirty hand'. Practically, it is almost useless, as there is no understanding of what that sentence means. Which takes us to...

2. Understanding: This is where the person knows what the sentence means. In our example, they will know that, subconciously, humans are aware of sightlines, and that if we pay little or no interest to an object there is a very high probability that our audiences will also pay little attention.

3. Application: This is where our intrepid subject is able to take that understanding and apply it practically. In this case, they might be able to execute a simple false transfer of an object without drawing attention to the dirty hand.

4. Correlation: This is the final point where one is able to take one technique and apply it in a different situation. For us, this may be mastering the Crossing the Gaze switch, where sight lines and hand movement work together to create the deceptive switch.

Now, it takes very little work to get rote down. Simply reading a book once, or watching a DVD or video is often enough to be able to quote back passages or soundbites. This is why many beginner magicians like to make statements with an air of authority, but are unable to expound further because they lack the understanding. This takes a lot more work, and can lead to some interesting discussions, but it can be easy to spot people who have not made the practical step to application. It is when this step is reached that we start to think about the subject in a useful manner. And when we have a solid grasp of the application, we can correlate this with other techniques and miracles happen.

Okay, so much for the theory. How does that relate to the books in question? Many of the cited books have been written by very experienced magicians, and the information has been mined from the trenches, as it were. However, unless the knowledge is taken and _applied_ and _correlated_ it is largely useless. The other thing to appreciate is the maturity of the reader, and their ability, and willingness, to put things into action.

I read the Kurtz book when I was starting out (back when it was an A4 book) and Strong Magic when it first came out (1994). I got things from both books, but it wasn't until I read them again, ten or more years later, that I got a whole lot more. The greater maturity I have now, compared to all those years ago, means that I can better _understand_ and therefore _apply_ the information to my work. I'm happy that I got Pete McCabe's Scripting Magic at this stage of my life for the same reason; now I can appreciate the importance of the book, fifteen years ago I probably would have glossed over it.

I think 500 shows is an arbitrarily large number to place as a starting point, however, it is closer to the real target than 5, or even 50. The bottom line is the performer's ability to _accept_ information and, coincidentally, this tends to come with experience.

As for books that helped, as well as the three cited above, the first such books I read were Kirk Charles' Manual of Restaurant Magic and Standing Up Surrounded. Ironically these two books were instrumental in forging my early performing manner. I'd love the read them again...

Take care, Ian

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Q. Kumber
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Q. Kumber » March 24th, 2008, 5:04 pm

Humans (and magicians) learn from their mistakes. Once you've done a few hundred shows you have at least a basic understanding of performing.

Let's take Tamariz' Five Points of Magic. I don't see how a beginner can get much value from it, because they have nothing to measure his arguments against. After a few hundred shows, if you've any wit at all, you will begin to grasp what Tamariz is talking about. In fact you may have discovered some of his techniques by osmosis. Now comes the realisation and understanding, and hopefully implementation.

You can read a hundred books on swimming and talk about it with great authority but you won't make any progress at all until you get into the pool.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 24th, 2008, 7:39 pm

You have to be very careful with theory books. Some are good and some are dreadful. Or to put it another more accurate way some theories will suit the performer and some won't. That is why it is indeed wise for the beginner to be out there performing for a while before he reads the books.

On the other hand someone can be performing for decades in magic even as a professional and still be a mediocre magician. I have seen this dozens of times and so I am sure have many on this forum.They have ingrained all their bad habits as part of their being and it is too late for them to do anything about it.

On balance a beginner SHOULD read theory. In fact I think I would say it is essential. The problem arises "which theory?" He could well be reading the wrong theory. I have seen Fitkee's work praised in some quarters and criticised in others. Ditto for the Strong Magic book by Darwin Ortiz. I won't give my verdicts on these books since it doesn't matter anyway.

Now you could argue that the neophyte should wait a while until he has the good judgement to make his own decisions on theory. The trouble is that the correct theory is an essential tool of his trade and if he hasn't mastered that tool he could end up as a pretty horrific performer.

A lot of theory is based on the teacher's personal biases and what works for one person would not necessarily work for another. You had better choose very carefully when you first start.

I personally got more out of a certain section of an old book on card tricks than anywhere else. There was a chapter therein consisting of 19 pages only and it talked about presentation. I have never seen this chapter mentioned anywhere yet it did me more good than anything I have ever read since includind the tomes listed above by Erlandish. There was not a single trick described but to me the greatest secrets of presentation were in those 19 pages.The first 4 and a half pages were pure gold to me. I read them when I was a beginner and have followed them ever since.

I am not sure it would have been wise of me to read them later.

Read the theory by all means but use the best judgement you can as to what theory suits you and what doesn't.

Incidentally for those of you who do children's shows I will stick my neck out and say that the best advice I ever read on the theory of that was also contained in a few pages. The opening chapter of "Open Sesame" by Wilfrid Tyler and Eric Lewis is pure gold.

Sometimes you don't need a whole book.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby David Alexander » March 25th, 2008, 12:03 am

Too often, books on theory are written by people who have little to no stage experience and are writing about how it should be, rather than how it is.

I would also point out that being reasonably good as a close-up magician does not automatically translate into being able to walk on a stage in front of 1,000 people, command their attention and entertain them. The skill sets are very different.

If you want to be a successful working pro you essentially have to get beyond why you became an amateur magician in the first place. Being an entertainer isnt therapy and it isnt doing something that makes up for real or perceived deficiencies in personality. Most books by amateur theoreticians dont address that because they have comfortable day jobs and can pursue magic as an art and not a service business that must be customer centered. You are providing an entertainment service that satisfies your customers needs. It can be done artfully, but dont fall into that nonsensical trap. As an amateur you can perform for your own satisfaction. As a pro, your needs are secondary to those of the people who pay you.

I agree with Quentin that experience performing is a necessary requirement although Ive seen any number of performers whove done dozens and dozens of shows and they hadnt learned much from their experience. And those first shows shouldnt be paid performances. When I was a kid the local SAM assembly did shows for a variety of places that did not have money for entertainment, the most memorable being the Ventura School for Girls.a prison. I worked for nothing and got time in front of an audience.

The very best way to learn is with an experienced, working pro who will act as a mentor. They are hard to find.

The Great Leon, a highly successful vaudeville illusionist, was once asked why he didnt write a book. His reply was something along the lines of, The amateurs wouldnt pay any attention to it and the professionals already know.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Jonathan Townsend » March 25th, 2008, 8:09 am

Why on earth would one attempt to discuss the "how to" - much less a "theory" of entertaining in our trick shop? Context is everything in social interraction.

It's like asking special effects technicians if they wrote any good books on the theory of making good movies. Sure they know about how to get an effects shot realized - and that's not quite all it takes to offer a good movie or get one made.

Theory is usually based on sufficient experience to form hypotheses and then LOTS of careful testing. Not exactly congruent to our craft of offering contrived appearances and irreproducable results. ;)

To amuse those who wish to take the path toward theory - perhaps start with some helpful test audiences who question your actions/motives and ask you "why did you do that" rather then swoon over "how did you do that".

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erlandish
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby erlandish » March 25th, 2008, 11:57 am

David Alexander wrote:Too often, books on theory are written by people who have little to no stage experience and are writing about how it should be, rather than how it is.


Would you be able to comment on which books of the above list, or other popular magic theory books, were written by the sort of author you described?

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 25th, 2008, 6:04 pm

90% of your list seems to be written by professionals. However I did see one book on there that I know for sure wasn't. It may be coincidental or not that it is a book that I really got nothing out of. In fact in some ways it was detrimental to my progress.

I do notice one book that is not on your list that should be. It is a wonderful book even though it was written in 1910 or thereabouts. "Our Magic" by Maskelyne and Devant. The theory section is fantastic although in this day and age it would be pretty heavy reading to wade through. I think the effort would be worth it and I also think most of the theory would apply now just as it did then.

The interesting thing is that the theory section was written by Maskelyne who wasn't quite a good a performer as Devant who wrote the trick section! I am not sure what that proves of course but I can certainly say the knowledge contained therein is of some brilliance.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby erlandish » March 25th, 2008, 6:57 pm

Aldo,

Which book are you talking about? How did it negatively impact your progress?

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 25th, 2008, 10:20 pm

I prefer not to get into a discussion about it. However I will tell you that it was "Magic and Showmanship" by Henning Nelms.

Strangely enough I lent the book to a famous magic dealer of the time (this was when the book first came out) and he wanted to read it on the grounds that "it is about time someone wrote about this". However when he returned it to me he said "It is just padding"

I don't know if he was right or not but the book hindered rather than helped me. Perhaps this is simply an example of one man's meat is another man's poison. I have no idea.

I will say that this magic dealer knew books very well and he published some classic texts that are still revered today.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 25th, 2008, 10:46 pm

The number 500 struck me for a coincidental and odd reason. When I began teaching myself to draw, and decided to illustrate a book, I drew 500 illustrations--then stuck all of them in an envelope and put them on the shelf, where they remain today. It took me that many drawings to BEGIN to figure out what I was doing. And if you look at my illustrations prior to The Complete Works of Derek Dingle, you'll see that the learning process continued, albeit in public.
All in all, I would say it took me about 3000 illustrations before my work was satisfactory.
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Glenn Bishop » March 26th, 2008, 8:33 am

One of the things my Dad (Billy Bishop) was fond of saying was "The difference between an amateur and a professional magician was about 200 shows".

I have written a lot about that over the years - the pro magicians - a lot of them seem to agree. But many amateur magicians on the web don't seem to take it to kindly when I write about such things or say something like "It takes about 200 live performances to start to get comfortable when performing a new trick in a show".

"Or it takes about 200 live performances in front of different audiences to help get the magic act honed."

Just after my Dad had his stroke that put him in retirement Jay Marshall called our shop on the phone and asked how my Dad was doing. At the time Jay was doing a lecture at the local magic clubs and talking about magic and his life in magic - he did not do any tricks or explain any tricks. He just talked about his life.

He said - "I did a lecture a few days ago and told the audience your Dads line - it takes 200 shows - Your dad is right on."

I miss both of them!

Just an opinion.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Michael Kamen » March 26th, 2008, 11:20 am

I will not offer an opinion, because I have never made my living performing magic, and Erlandish specifically asked for the views of those who do. Erlandish asked about the value of books, not the value of numbers of performances. Nothing seems more obvious than the value of number of performances. However, the value of books on theory, of which there were few until recently, is an interesting question to ask of pros. It would be great to hear more views on that subject.
Michael Kamen

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Ian Kendall » March 26th, 2008, 1:14 pm

The discussion was more about the number of shows it takes to be able to use the information wisely.

Take care, Ian

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Pete McCabe » March 26th, 2008, 1:41 pm

I am not a professional performer, but I am a teacher, and this basic question of how soon to study theory comes up in my job every single day.

I agree that it takes a lot of experience to be able to apply theory effectively. But there is still value in reading theory even before you can apply it. The theory you read as a beginner will affect the way your brain processes the experience you are gathering -- the same experience you need to fully appreciate the theory.

In other words I believe you will be best served to read some theory, then do 500 (or however many) shows, and then reread the theory.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Glenn Bishop » March 26th, 2008, 2:19 pm

Here is the list of books erlandish gave when he asked his question on reading magic theory.

Strong Magic, by Darwin Ortiz. Designing Miracles, by Darwin Ortiz. Magic and Showmanship, by Henning Nelms. Strong Magic, by Darwin Ortiz. Designing Miracles, by Darwin Ortiz. Magic and Showmanship, by Henning Nelms. The Magic of Ascanio, Volume 1, by Etcheverry. Leading With Your Head, by Gary Kurtz.
Maximum Entertainment, by Ken Weber. Magical Voyages, Volumes 1-3, by Eugene Burger. The Al Schneider Technique, Volume 1, by Al Schneider. The Magic Way, by Juan Tamariz. The Five Points of Magic, by Juan Tamariz. Seriously Silly, by David Kaye. The Magic Mirror, by Robert Neale. The Books of Wonder, by Tommy Wonder.

You could probably add Fitzkee, Maskelyne and Devant and others to that list as well. So, again, to professionals, have you found that books on theory have been helpful in your professional development?

The answer is still NO.

Having said that I would also like to add a few thoughts into the mix. There is more written today about theory but I often wonder if the information is useful in todays magic world of the professional magician.

Magic as a "performance art" When it is the way you make your living is magic as a "Commercial Performance art". Making money and a living doing magic shows.

Back in my dads day magicians didn't write books and do lectures. They did not make a living or add to their income by doing a magic lecture - or writing lecture notes or selling products at magic conventions. My dad only got involved with doing this kind of a thing later on in life after he got into the magic shop business.

It can be argued that writing books and doing lectures is making a living off magic. If so - it is not the same as making a living doing shows in night clubs and what was left of the vaudeville stages in the USA. As it was for him many years ago.

Having said that - my opinion of magic theory is that if a magician works at getting better - over the years - learn as they perform shows. They learn magic theory by learning what works - by doing shows over and over again - over years from different audiences.

In reading theory - I agree with what some write about theory and don't agree with others.

But - in my opinion in order to understand the theory one of the most important things is to know who wrote it. And what their own performing experiences are. And "why" they wrote it! I look at the above list and think - not one of them ever performed at the Palace theater like my Dad and Jack Gwynne did.

Now what I am saying by saying that is that show business as a business "has changed".

But it is also important to me when reading any kind of theory in magic to know where and who the information is coming from.

Take the book Our Magic - My Dad and I talked about this book and it was his opinion - that the book was written to sell at the Maskelyne and Devant theater. To magicians and the lay audience that was interested in magic. I have also talked about this at great length to Jay Marshall, Jack Gwynne, Don Alan and many other magicians back in the old days.

Why is that interesting information to me?

By reading it I can understand the time and the place and the why. Well, when I was reading I could tell that it was written to heighten magic as an art - in the eyes of the public - that went to the Maskelyne and Devant theater and enjoyed magic.

Some magic books that are written are a promotion - as well as a how to do magic. Our Magic may be sold in magic shops today - but when it was published it was sold at the Maskelyne and Devant theater. To just about anyone that wanted to buy it. Lay audience and magicians alike.

And that is just my opinion.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby erlandish » March 26th, 2008, 3:40 pm

Pete McCabe wrote:I am not a professional performer, but I am a teacher, and this basic question of how soon to study theory comes up in my job every single day.

I agree that it takes a lot of experience to be able to apply theory effectively. But there is still value in reading theory even before you can apply it. The theory you read as a beginner will affect the way your brain processes the experience you are gathering -- the same experience you need to fully appreciate the theory.

In other words I believe you will be best served to read some theory, then do 500 (or however many) shows, and then reread the theory.


Ha ha... Well, you DO have a vested interest in this discussion, given you've got a book that falls into this general category out on the market.

Seriously, though, Scripting Magic has been an excellent read thus far. Great book that'll certainly make my personal recommended list once I've finished with it.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 26th, 2008, 3:48 pm

Actually even though it is common sense that the more shows you do the better you get it isn't always true. The magician could just be getting more practice at doing things the wrong way. After a while he could be doing things the wrong way for so long that the bad habits are so ingrained that he will never be able to get rid of them.

Mere longevity doesn't always denote a superior performer. I have seen people who have only been performing for a very short time who are actually better than magicians who have been doing it for years. They are fresher and more enthusiastic and it shows. And they are often more talented.

And someone who performs for years and years often drops little details along the way. He or she forgets the little details that used to work so well and one day wakes up and the act isn't any good any more.

I have personally seen one of the performers mentioned above deteriorate slowly over a period of 40 years or so. He still got standing ovations from magicians but he was well past his prime at the end.

No. Just because you have been performing for years and years doesn't always prove very much except that you have been performing for years and years.

With regard to theory I suppose the main problem with it is that it is just theory.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby John Carney » March 26th, 2008, 3:54 pm

Quentin makes a good point in referring to what Bruce Lee called "dry land swimming". Theory is all well and fine, until you are tossed into the deep end of the pool.

Because I have written about magic, most people assume I enjoy "theory." But in general, I find that the only worthwhile theory comes from relating what is learned from experience. Rarely does someone dream up or read a theory and then apply it directly in their show. The best "theory" comes from someone discovering something through experience, then trying to explain what happened, and if it is positive, how to make it happen every time.

I read "Our Magic" in my teens, because I was told it was important. I enjoyed the book, but much of it was over my head. Over the years, I have revisited it many times, and each time I rediscover a concept that I have learned from experience. Now, it all makes sense and it is so well expressed, I don't know why I didn't get it on earlier readings.

In the same way, until you've gotten a broken heart, you just don't get what all those people are singing about!

Theory books may not be for the beginner. But when they have been in it long enough to decide that they now want to get serious, that would be a good time to read a little theory.

The value may not be so much in specifically how to think about your magic, but that you should think at all. This may come as a revelation to some. Most laymen and beginners (or old timers that never progressed) don't even realize that magic has so many more levels to it. They only see the little they know.

A little theory can bring the realization that there is a method, a process, and that it is the responsibility of the performer to take it beyond the trite. It is not the job of the theory writer or the magic dealer.

Theory has done its job if it can convey that there should be good reason for your choices, not just chance; that what you have before you are only the basic tools. Now, start thinking.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby erlandish » March 26th, 2008, 4:23 pm

John Carney wrote:Quentin makes a good point in referring to what Bruce Lee called "dry land swimming". Theory is all well and fine, until you are tossed into the deep end of the pool.


I think this is something that can go in several directions.

In driving school, I learned that if you're slipping on the road, pump the brakes (this was back before ABS was everywhere). One day, I was slipping on the road, and I pumped the brakes to stop. The instructions that I got before I was put in the situation helped keep me from going out of control -- I didn't learn by doing, I learned by learning. Had I not gotten the instruction and retained it, I'd have been in trouble. My intuitive solution might have been to press the brakes harder or perhaps trying to remedy the situation by over-compensative steering, etc.

Here's another situation that's a little less strained by analogy. I'd finished my run of a couple of hundred kids shows in Korea before reading Seriously Silly. I'd been performing for the age group that begins its distrust of magic and loves to bust the magicians. After confronting that, I'd taken preventative measures to avoid getting busted -- doing tricks they'd never seen before, audience management to control outbursts, etc. After reading Seriously Silly I learned that I'd been approaching it the wrong way. I'd dropped effects that had been exposed rather than taking that audience knowledge and twisting it to my advantage -- this sort of thinking resurfaces for adults when looking at the School for Scoundrels theories on getting agreement.

Had I studied Seriously Silly earlier on, I would have had more options. For instance, I'd have learned how to fool them with a thumbtip when they know about thumptips, rather than avoiding the thumbtips altogether. My experience had given me a narrow-mindedness that would have continued to a detrimental extent, had I not read the theory.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby George Olson » March 26th, 2008, 5:45 pm

Theory:

Over 30 years ago, a well known publisher here in the Northwest and I were discussing Magic Books. I had an idea to write a book about Restaurant and Bar Magic based on my experience. His sage advice was that "Magicians" won't buy books about "Theory" they want tricks. He also told me that a magic book is a super seller at 500 copies.

ALthough I love "theory" books my self, I do know most folks I meet really want to know "What's new?" Some time ago when I wasn't doing magic, I hired a business professor of Sales at a local University. He wanted to test his theoretical knowledge ia a real life situation. He failed miserably, despite weeks of field training. He couldn't find the passion to succeed; that is to pay the price.

GO

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby NCMarsh » March 26th, 2008, 8:21 pm

I find that many conversations about magic are infected by imaginary dichotomies: presentation v. technique, theory v. experience...

The truth is that all of these work together and our interdependent...for me, so-called theory books (by which I mean books dealing with anything that improves the audience's experience and does not involve the mere mechanics of the trick) are force multipliers...

When I read Geoffrey Durham discussing how changing the rhythm of certain pieces has enhanced the reaction, or how Tamariz stays connected to his audience by visualizing strings running between his eyes and theirs, or what Roy Benson found to be the most effective guidelines for determining the running order of a magic show, or how past masters would warm themselves up emotionally before hitting the stage, or how they would make an entrance... I now have new tools to experiment with with my audiences.... Is a piece not getting the reaction I thought I would? What if I alter the rhythm of the revelation... are they not "with" me, what if I enter in this way...

Now I have options, choices, with which to experiment... I have also learned something about the process of crafting professional magic -- about the kinds of questions that high-level performers are asking themselves about their work, and about the way that they are experimenting...and the things they have taken away from their in-the-trenches experience

I think that the process of improving magic is a helix: you take the things you've learned about effective magic -- from whatever the source -- and you apply them as you are making decisions about the piece you're working on... you put it in front of an audience and you see what sticks... and then you repeat the process based on the results you see in the field...each time with more information -- and the result is continual growth

As an (admittedly young and early career) full-time professional, I can say that books on theory have been undoubtedly helpful as a part of my process...are they necessary? Of course not...

My thinking: if you care about creating an extraordinary experience and constantly improving, I think it is foolish not to at least be aware of what others have learned from combined centuries of considered experience...which means reading books on "theory" (what an unfortunately ambiguous and loaded word!)

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Cugel » March 27th, 2008, 4:44 am

David Alexander wrote:I would also point out that being reasonably good as a close-up magician does not automatically translate into being able to walk on a stage in front of 1,000 people, command their attention and entertain them. The skill sets are very different.


Your first sentence is correct, but the second is debatable. To frame things in the reverse, being "reasonably good" in stage magic doesn't automatically mean you will be stellar, or even acceptable, in a close up context.

The fact is most stage and close up magicians aren't stellar.

But the kind of qualities (drive, intellect, creativity, self-criticism, a modicum of inborn talent, etc) that shape a very strong close up performer are the same qualities that shape a very strong stage magician.

Equally, the qualities and factors that create poor close up performers (laziness, lack of talent, poor-mentoring, etc) are the same ones that ensure we see dozens and dozens of poor stage magicians at every convention.

It is a human trait to seek identity in the context of a group and to define yourself via the differences the group perceives in regard to others. But just because one is a stage magician or a mentalist or close up magician, we should never be so presumptuous as to believe as a fait accompli that mastery of our genre is naturally more difficult than another and requires superior intellect and skills unattainable or not present in other genres. That assumption would be sadly misguided.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Glenn Bishop » March 27th, 2008, 9:08 am

Aldo Romano wrote:Actually even though it is common sense that the more shows you do the better you get it isn't always true. The magician could just be getting more practice at doing things the wrong way. After a while he could be doing things the wrong way for so long that the bad habits are so ingrained that he will never be able to get rid of them.

Back in the old days of vaudeville and the night clubs there were directors and people that were not in the show that were there to make sure the performers looked good and the show was spot on.

Today magicians are mostly self educated. There are magicians working and magicians working and also working on getting better.
Aldo Romano wrote:Mere longevity doesn't always denote a superior performer. I have seen people who have only been performing for a very short time who are actually better than magicians who have been doing it for years. They are fresher and more enthusiastic and it shows. And they are often more talented.

And someone who performs for years and years often drops little details along the way. He or she forgets the little details that used to work so well and one day wakes up and the act isn't any good any more.

Just who is the judge? Magicians or the audience? Magic as a performing commercial art - the audience is the judge - not the magicians in the audience. Having grown up in a home with a magician that performed in vaudeville. And having known a lot of magic acts. Most of the magicians continued to work on their own shows as a work in progress throughout their lives.

Working keeps their skills sharp. And in my opinion I have seen a lot of top magicians like my Dad - have lay off times - then after the lay off time - the Christmas season starts and it takes them a few shows to get back into the grind. Or back into the swing of things. But - because they have had so much performing experience - the audience still liked them!

Aldo Romano wrote:I have personally seen one of the performers mentioned above deteriorate slowly over a period of 40 years or so. He still got standing ovations from magicians but he was well past his prime at the end.

Well - it is my opinion that the magicians audience at magic conventions don't count. They are not a performance in front of a lay audience.

However - I have seen many performers do shows when I have heard a magician say that that magician was past his prime. However the lay audience still liked them.

I have seen over the years more than one magician do a show after a stroke, when they have been sick, after they broke their leg. ETC.

I have a picture of Jack Pyle doing a show - producing a rabbit with a broken leg. And he is standing on the stage holding the rabbit and he is standing with a broken leg on a home made peg-leg.

Yet - the audience still liked him.
Aldo Romano wrote:No. Just because you have been performing for years and years doesn't always prove very much except that you have been performing for years and years.

And then again there are people like me that think that performing experience has value - and being bankable and having a track record of success is an important part of the business of show business.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 27th, 2008, 10:15 am

I will say in a brief aside to Cugel that the skill sets required for a close up magician are indeed vastly different than those required for a stage magician. There can be no argument about this I would have thought. They are entirely different mediums altogether although I do take his point that there are certain qualities that would benefit both mediums. However those self same qualities that he mentioned would probably benefit all sorts of activities that have nothing to do with magic. I believe a talented flower arranger could use a bit of creativity, drive, self criticism etc; but that wouldn't necessarily make him a good stage magician and I am sure he wouldn't argue that being a wonderful flower arranger uses the same set of skills as a magician.

As for Mr Bishop's point I can assure him that I have seen countless professional performers who have lost their edge. Some keep their skills sharp by simply performing but just as many don't. In other words they go stale. They drop detail after detail over many years and they don't know they have dropped them.

No. Longevity means nothing except that you have been doing it a long time. You may have been doing certain things wrong for a long time but you do some things good enough to get away with it. Yet the act has imperfections which the performer may go through his whole life with.

And there are performers who go out of style and don't keep up with the times.

I do agree with Mr Bishop that experience has value yet there are occasions when it isn't the be all and end all. Even great performers go stale and make mistake after mistake. Then one day they wake up and are no longer as great as they used to be.

They find that the young whippersnappers have overtaken them. What the young hotshots lack in experience they make up for in freshness and enthusiasm.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 27th, 2008, 10:59 am

Not only are the skill sets very different, being a good stage magician is a hell of a lot more difficult than being a good close-up magician.
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Michael Kamen » March 27th, 2008, 11:11 am

Perhaps so. But being a good stage performer does not automatically mean one is an equally great close up performer. It does take focus to master either genre.
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 27th, 2008, 11:59 am

No, the talent sets required do not overlap. A person who has developed an interesting character and charisma as a close-up performer has no head start on anyone else in learning to work on stage. It's easy as hell to make contact with someone standing a few feet away from you when doing close-up magic. It's extremely difficult to make contact with hundreds of people when they're far away from you when you're on stage.
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Keith Raygor » March 27th, 2008, 1:22 pm

I think some of the talent sets do overlap, and likely the most important ones. We've all experienced close-up performers that do not engage their audiences, and it isn't until they develop that charisma and ability to listen and interact that they engage. With rare exceptions, I believe it is a skill set developed through experience. I agree that it's much more difficult to make that same sort of contact with hundreds of people from a stage because of the built-in barriers. Its been a hurdle for quite some time for me. But one thing I've discovered as I gained experience on stage is that when I apply the same skill sets I learned from close-up, that of character, charisma, listening, reacting - actively engaging the volunteers and the audience, a successful stage show follows (assuming other factors are in place such as good material).

In broadcasting, one of the first things you learn when trying to discern the difference between the OK talents and the great ones is that the great ones have the ability to speak to a microphone as if they are talking to friends in their living room. They develop techniques to personalize the experience for the listeners. From the listener's perspective, it should sound like he is speaking right to you, and not to 'everybody'.

I've learned it is the same with transferring these skill sets from close-up to stage.
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Donal Chayce » March 27th, 2008, 1:59 pm

This is a great thread. Thanks to everyone who has contributed thus far.
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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Glenn Bishop » March 27th, 2008, 3:19 pm

I would like to add some opinion on a few things that come to mind. Or - one of the things I have noticed while being around the magic happenings in Chicago. Over many years.

One of the things that I have noticed is that - some amateur magicians seem to enjoy pointing out - how some pro magicians might be past their prime. Or how they saw some pro at some magic convention and they thought that the pro would have been better.

Things like that.

I am not trying to make excuses for the professional magician but I think that some of this has to do with this thread and that is how a professional magician looks at the magic that he does in the real entertainment world.

And how the amateur looks at magic from the point of view as a hobby.

In my opinion that has a lot to do with how the two groups look at magic theory.

I have watched a lot of magicians that perform in the real world grow old over time. I met many as an eight year old kid and I met them again in my teen years. And I met them again later on in my twenties and thirties and onward.

Performing magic as a living is owning a business and that business is selling an entertainment as a service. Some magicians that do this are better at it than others. Back in the old days they had an agent or a manager that would sell the act to a market (vaudeville and night clubs) that wanted to buy good acts.

You did not get there without first knowing your stuff - and first making it in the smaller houses. First - the number 3 theaters - then after you do good and got recommended by the theater managers - and if you were lucky - it was the number 2 theaters - then if they are lucky they are recommended in the number one theaters - and maybe later the Palace.

Television changed that and the business changed.

With less places booking talent - the harder it is to keep the act honed. Plus magicians are as vulnerable to age, and health problems and other things that happen in life. As life can erode us the same way life erodes others and other forms of show business and other businesses over time.

In my opinion most people that own a business find that life is a continuation of highs and lows.

I have found that many magicians that do not do magic as a profession have no idea how hard the job is. Driving all night to make it to the next gig. Little sleep - then doing the gig and then driving home again. Only to do the same thing the next day. I know how hard the grind of doing shows is. Doing grad night shows at two in the mourning two states away.

I have done some shows that were eight hours away. That is eight hours to get there to do an one hour show and then eight hours home. And the reason you did not stop at a hotel is because you had another show in the other direction and there wasn't enough time.

And don't get me started on the venues. I think that I have only performed in two venues that had a dressing room. Almost every show I have done over the years was at a place that was not constructed to have a show.

Most places I would have to bring your own sound, lights, and backdrop - most did not have a stage and when performing outside I have performed on flat bed trucks to on the lawn.

Show business is not an easy way to make a living. Jack Pyle used to compare doing magic shows as to being a lot like prize fighting. You got to give them the best shot you got - that is in you no matter how you feel. No matter how tired you are from travel - no matter if you feel sick - no matter the weather when performing outside - and no matter what the performing conditions are - these things in life knock you down and like a prize fighter you got to get back up again and give it your best shot - because your booked - and it is what you do.

Show business is a tough business. The rewards can be great - but only if your strong enough.

Just my opinion.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 27th, 2008, 3:44 pm

Mr Bishop is right. I have always thought that show business was a very hard way to make an easy living.

Years ago an agent told me that show business was probably the toughest business in the world. Often all show and no business.

You would be amazed to hear the names of certain magicians who are struggling to make a living. Good ones too. They are big names in the magic community but that is about it. I could probably reel off a dozen names but of course I won't.

And of course we all know that a lot of bragging goes on about how much work an individual magician gets. And the fees. I usually divide by half what anyone tells me.

And of course I think the biggest downside of being a professional magician is that the fun tends to go out of magic. When you need to put food on the table it tends not to be fun any more.

Pros often look down on amateurs yet it is often the amateur that is better off.

Mind you I do remember a distinguished amateur magician looking down on pros! It highly amused me at the time! I asked him if he had ever thought of becoming a professional magician and he snorted in great disdain, "Certainly not. All professional magicians seem to do is talk about themselves!"

He wasn't wrong.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Cugel » March 27th, 2008, 4:43 pm

I agree with Donal, this is a fun thread.

Richard Kaufman wrote:No, the talent sets required do not overlap. A person who has developed an interesting character and charisma as a close-up performer has no head start on anyone else in learning to work on stage. It's easy as hell to make contact with someone standing a few feet away from you when doing close-up magic. It's extremely difficult to make contact with hundreds of people when they're far away from you when you're on stage.


No question it's easy to make contact at close range, but that doesn't mean the performance will be great. There are many, many, many bad close up magicians pro and am, who make contact - but don't often seem to realise the negative nature of that contact. Look at Scotty York's videos when he uses all of his sleaze and innuendo and touches a lady on her arm. A second later she moves her arm off the bar and into her lap because she is not enjoying that contact. York is oblivious to this. He has some great tricks, but no idea about the effect his personality has on an audience.

Similarly, there are many stage magicians who have the stagecraft to project their act to an audience, but the act is not always worth projecting.

I've never performed traditional magic on stage, but I have performed in the theater in several genres and worked regularly as a comedy MC for groups of up to 600 people. I had no problem getting across and maintaining audience interest (even when doing some close up items such as a bill switch and some David Harkey stuff, etc). I've also worked as a mentalist for rooms of from 500 to 600 people and had no problem holding those people in the palm of my hand. And I don't consider myself a great performer when it comes to mentalism.

My point is that the personal characteristics that make the very few great stage magicians become great stage magicians, are the same personal characteristics that make the very few great close up magicians become great. People like Rene Lavand, Del Ray and so on.

Stagecraft is just stagecraft and can be acquired by almost anyone except the tragically inept. Tommy Wonder was a great close up magician for the same reasons he was a great stage magician: he was Tommy Wonder and he worked his ass off at achieving his objectives.

Michael Kamen put it far more succinctly than I.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Cugel » March 27th, 2008, 5:11 pm

Aldo Romano wrote:I will say in a brief aside to Cugel that the skill sets required for a close up magician are indeed vastly different than those required for a stage magician. There can be no argument about this I would have thought. They are entirely different mediums altogether although I do take his point that there are certain qualities that would benefit both mediums.


I wouldn't say vastly different but yes there are certain specific stagecraft techniques that are more applicable, more refined or more common to one than the other. For example, it could be argued that stage misdirection can tend to be broader and less subtle than close up misdirection (though that is taken to superlative levels by people like Tommy Wonder in both contexts). With close up magic, a great performer makes more use of human psychology in an interpersonal, interactive sense, as opposed to human psychologically from the perspective of passive observation which is relied upon more in a stage context.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 27th, 2008, 5:21 pm

I can do both reasonably successfully. However I must say that they are very different skill sets. On balance I found the stage more difficult to master as Mr Kaufmann states. Of course other people may well find the opposite according to their natural talents.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Cugel » March 27th, 2008, 5:34 pm

Aldo Romano wrote:I can do both reasonably successfully. However I must say that they are very different skill sets. On balance I found the stage more difficult to master as Mr Kaufmann states. Of course other people may well find the opposite according to their natural talents.


That's pretty much what I'm saying. But the idea that mastery of one form is inherently harder than mastery of another is incorrect.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby David Alexander » March 27th, 2008, 7:00 pm

Ah, Glenn Bishop...how true his words ring.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby David Alexander » March 27th, 2008, 7:02 pm

[quote=Cugel

That's pretty much what I'm saying. But the idea that mastery of one form is inherently harder than mastery of another is incorrect. [/quote]

Since you're a screen name without published qualifications, your opinion comes from what experience?

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 27th, 2008, 7:45 pm

I personally am not concerned with Cugel's experience or identity. He writes intelligently about the matter even if his views do not fit 4 square into mine. I do tend to think that stage magic is harder in some ways that close up magic at least for me.

However he does have a point; close up magic is a highly skilled operation and I may indeed be wrong when I tend to think the stage is harder. It may be for me but not someone else.

Some people have a natural knack for one type of entertainment over another. Thus not everyone can do kid shows effectively yet some take to it like a duck to water. Same for hypnotists. Many magicians just can't hack it where this is concerned and there is no shame in that. Yet others can do it as easily as pie.

The moral of the tale is that you do what you are suited to and find easiest for you personally to learn.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Glenn Bishop » March 27th, 2008, 7:51 pm

I found more success - faster with close up magic because there were more opportunities at the time to do it for people. This included doing close up in a magic shop (The Marshall Brodien Magic shop - Later Bishop's Magic Shop) as well as doing close up magic in restaurants.

The live short close up shows at each table night after night week after week and in the magic shop were an opportunity to learn how to entertain people with magic.

The success came faster for me just because of the opportunities I had to perform close up magic "live" for people.

Stage magic was different. Because there was less opportunity to do it - less of a grind - the success was slower for me. The stage magic had to be scripted and rehearsed "more" than the close up magic for me. Or what I call re-scripting - because I had to make changes after listening to the audience - re-scripting and editing was needed.

And to this day I still re-script and re-edit my show because it is a work in progress. Part of the reason is that I listen to my audience. And I try to get the strongest audience reaction I can and if that makes me have to shorten or edit my favorite routine - so be it. Because in my opinion audiences have only the time or interest in the highlights.

Just my opinion.

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Re: A question to pros about magic theory books

Postby Aldo Romano » March 27th, 2008, 8:00 pm

Glenn. I think you are correct. Stage magic is harder merely by dint of there being less opportunities to practice it befor live audiences.

With regard to close up magic I think the hardest part is not the technical side or even the presentational side. No. It is the psychological side. It is hard to explain but I do believe it is more important to manipulate the people rather than manipulate the props. It is a rare performer than can do that. I am still working on it. One day I will get it.

Of course you have to do this on stage too but it is actually harder to do this close up because you are dealing with individuals rather than en masse. If you are a good stage performer the audience becomes as one. A close up magician should be able to manipulate the people individually.


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