Better Magic In 2014

Posted by Michael on January 6th, 2014

Have you promised yourself that you will be a better magician in 2014?

Perhaps you have some holiday money burning a hole in your pocket or maybe you made a New Year resolution to “take your magic to the next level.” Here are a number of ways (some even free) to improve your magic without buying new tricks and toys.

The start of a new year is traditionally a time for new beginnings. Not only is January 1st the arbitrary start of a new collection of months, it denotes the start of some real, definable things. The new year is a new tax period, for example. It is also a new salary period for many people with “normal” jobs. The new year may also mark new budget periods or a time to establish new contracts for clients. Plans for changes and improvements might as well start with the new year.

There are many ways that you can improve your magic without resorting to the classic strategy of simply buying more magic. Some of the suggestions presented here will improve your presentation, others your knowledge and some are actually aimed at your magic business. Some of the ideas are even free, but they will all take time and dedication.

There are basically two general ways to improve your magic: improving your technique and expanding your knowledge. Both have benefits, so you need to choose which strategy is better for you based on your needs, opportunities and time. It is possible to undertake expanding your knowledge and improving your technique at the same time, too. It all depends on the time and effort you can dedicate to improving your craft.

The strategy of improving your technique covers not just your technical magic skills (sleights and such) but your entire performance technique. While the very obvious way to work in this area is to simply dedicate more time to practice, it may not be the best way for you to grow and improve. You need to honestly look at your magic act and your work ethic and decide if simply practicing more is enough. It is a distinct possibility that you have done all you can on your own. If this is not the case, then by all means, practice more. It it is, maybe it is time to practice in a different way.

A free way to practice with others is to start a magic jam session with a few friends or colleagues. It does not have to be a formal club, just some time to sit and try things in front of other magicians. This gives you the chance to perform material that is not quite ready without taking the chance of blowing it in front of a real audience. Your group can exchange tips, ideas and help each other in so many ways. All you need is a place to meet up and a few drinks. Of course, joining a local magic club is also an option if you have the time, money and a club in your area. Check with your local magic store for area clubs or visit the websites of the Society of American Magicians, the International Brotherhood of Magicians or the Fellowship of Christian Magicians to see if they have a group close to you.

If you have the money, you may really want to consider magic lessons. This automatically offends many magicians for some reason… some of you might already be thinking that you already know magic so you do not need a class. Obviously you should not take a basic magic class at the local shop or continuing education program to learn french drops if you are past that point. However, that does not mean that you can not learn more in a class style setting. Think of it more as coaching. Professional athletes still have coaches, as do many dancers and even actors. They lean on the experience, and outside observations, of their coach to improve. You can benefit in the same way.

If you are lucky, there will be a knowledgable, seasoned performer in your area who offers lessons. Live lessons will probably be the most effective option for most people, but it is not always possible. Luckily, there are a few other options. You could, for example, go through the entire Tarbell Course or Wilson’s Complete Course on your own, which may guide you through to a few new discoveries but will not offer feedback. Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School offers many online learning options, including one on one Skype sessions with instructors. Most classes are offered as streaming or downloadable videos, though. Dale Salwak’s branch of the Chavez School of Magic still offers a correspondence course and requires students to send in performance videos to be critiqued by the staff.

Lectures are another great way to learn from other magicians. If there are live lectures in your area, you might actually get to interact with the presenter but this is not a guarantee. Of course there are online lectures and lecture videos available, too. Penguin Magic has an active online lecture schedule and all past lectures (there are something like 100 available) are available as downloads. Another great option for learning on video are the Essential Magic Conference collections. Each package contains lectures, performances and more.

There is one other great option for live learning that too many magicians never even consider and that is taking non-magic classes. Remember, you are performing magic and there are many classes available to help you improve your performance skills. Public speaking, acting, dance, comedy and improv classes are all widely available and all could help you to become a better performer. They may also help to connect you to other performers in the area and lead to future opportunities.

Of course, one of the best ways to grow as a performer is to perform, so if you really want to improve your magic you may consider simply doing a great deal more magic! This could mean getting more gigs but it could also mean volunteering to perform for charities, senior centers and hospitals or even just doing more spur of the moment magic during your normal day.

The second strategy to improving your magic in 2014 is to expand your knowledge base. This means learning things that are not technical or performance skills. There are many things that may not lead to an improved double lift or muscle pass that can still make your magic better. This is particularly true if you are a professional magician because in your case improving your magic really means improving your magic business.

One of the easiest ways to expand your knowledge base is to regularly read one or more magic magazines. Subscribing to Genii or (or both) will give you a monthly dose of history, theory and inspiration. It will also keep you up to date on most of the new tricks and gimmicks. If you are more interested in something like history you may want to consider a specialty magazine such as Magicol. If you are on a limited budget (or even if you are not), try Vanish Magazine. It is free to download. Of course, reading iTricks every day will help keep you up to date with the world of magic as well!

Adding to your personal library can greatly expand your knowledge. There are several great magic book suppliers, of course, and many places to download magic books such as and the Conjuring Arts Research Center. Although this may not be quite as satisfying as owning a physical copy, downloads are often much cheaper. They also make it possible to carry an extensive magic library on your computer or tablet. Visiting your local library is even cheaper. Their selection of magic books is probably quite limited but there are probably many non-magic books, such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, in the library that may be of benefit.

For access to a real magic library consider joining the Conjuring Arts Research Center. Both annual and monthly plans are available that will allow online access to the library of books and magazines, so a membership may be more affordable than you realize. You should realize that access to the Conjuring Arts collection is not meant to allow users to simply browse material and read through the holdings. It is designed to be a research library that allows users to search for specific terms and retrieve every page in the collection with said terms. It is an incredible tool for researching the history of magic or specific techniques and tricks from the past.

You may also want to consider taking a few classes. Classes on stagecraft, lighting and audio equipment are not specifically magic or performance related but may improve your act. If you play a character, such as a Victorian gentleman or a mad scientist, you may also consider taking some type of classes that will help you understand the character, such as a history class or a basic physics course. This can help you “sell” the character. For professionals, classes on small business accounting, marketing and tax law may hold even more important knowledge. If you can not afford to attend classes, or can not spare the time, a trip to the library or bookstore may help you learn more about these topics.

Another way to expand your knowledge base is to rent knowledge. This might sound a bit odd, but it is a very common practice. If you do not have the knowledge necessary to fix your car, you pay someone who does to fix it for you. In your magic business there are probably several areas where it would be more beneficial to pay a professional than to try to make do on your own. Website design, videos and other promotional materials and your taxes are just a few things that may be better off in the hands of professionals. While many magicians try to do everything themselves, it should be remembered that the most successful magicians have a staff of people helping them to write, choreograph, market and manage their shows.

If 2013 is any indication, 2014 should be a great year for magic. By taking the time and effort to improve yourself and you act, it can be a great year for you as well.

Instant Tree Trimming Paddle [Free Magic]

Posted by Michael on December 20th, 2013

Happy Holidays! iTricks is getting into the spirit of the season by sharing some free Christmas magic from Michael Lauck’s Santa act. Over the next week or so we will post a couple of tricks that will either take items from your magic junk drawer and give them a holiday make over or can be easily constructed. Even though Michael actually performed as the Jolly Old Elf, these Santa themed tricks can be done by anyone.

Well, we have less than a week to go before Christmas and I would like to pass along one last piece of Christmas themed magic. This one you will have to make yourself, but it is super easy. One of the things I experimented with when I performed as Santa was magically decorating a tree. I live in an area with a pretty large population of families originally from Germany and other European countries with a tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve. Some families even wait for Santa to deliver the tree along with his presents! I came up with a few sweet ideas, but they all involved carrying a fairly large amount of props. Since I was not presenting a magic act but a visit from Santa, I only used props that I could carry in my costume so I couldn’t really use any of them.

Then I decided to just make it into a little paddle trick. I have included two sets of templates (one with a red background and one with a “sky and snow” background) that you can use to make your own paddle. Just “Save Image As” (right click on a PC, CTRL-click on a Mac) and print them. The images are small enough to use on the paddles included in the cheap, plastic magic sets that can mount a quarter if you have one of those lying around. I would make my paddles out of drink stirrers from the party store that had a small ball on one end and a flat piece on the other with a sticker of some sort on it (martinis, penguins or whatever). These are sold as drink stirrers, “swizzle sticks” and as drink markers or flags. I suggest printing the images out on card stock so that it does not warp or wrinkle when you glue it to your paddle.

If you don’t know the paddle move… well, I am sure the Internet explains it somewhere!

Santa’s Secret Key [Free Magic]

Posted by Michael on December 4th, 2013

Happy Holidays! iTricks is getting into the spirit of the season by sharing some free Christmas magic from Michael Lauck’s Santa act. Over the next week or so we will post a couple of tricks that will either take items from your magic junk drawer and give them a holiday make over. Even though Michael actually performed as Santa, these Santa themed tricks can be done by anyone.

As Santa, one of the most common concerns I would hear from children was that their house did not have a fireplace. Since everyone knows the Big Guy slides down the chimney, this was a major cause of alarm for many kids. I would assure them that it would be okay because even though Santa was famous for taking the rooftop to fireplace shortcut, he could still get through any door thanks to a very special key. Producing a haunted key, I would show it to the kids and explain that it was made by the elves. Santa does not need to open every door, of course. He only needs to open the doors that belonged to houses with good children waiting for his visit. If they wanted Santa to come inside, then their thoughts would turn the key and open their door!

I am not going to get into how to use the haunted key here; if you have one then you should know how it works. If you are not playing Santa you can pretty easily introduce the subject of how Santa gets into houses without fireplaces whenever you are talking to kids (or even adults who still believe) about Christmas. Personally, I like to maintain that I actually know Santa and he has shown me a few of his secrets.

When performing for adults you can add a little comedy by explaining that the key only opens for those of the Nice List. After it turns for one or two spectators you can hold it in front of someone without it turning… thereby proving that they are on the Naughty List! Don’t ever pull this prank on kids, though, because they take Santa seriously and you will end up on the Naughty List.

Free Houdini eBooks From CARC

Posted by Michael on October 25th, 2013

The Conjuring Arts Research Center made summer a bit more magical with their free reading program and they are at it again with Houdini-palooza! Starting yesterday (October 24) at 1:26 Eastern they began offering a free Houdini related PDF each day until 1:26PM on Halloween, the anniversary of Houdini’s death. They are also offering their other Houdini books and materials at an amazing 50% off during Houdini-palooza.

You can still get the first offering, The Right Way To Do Wrong, until 1:26PM Eastern, when it will be replaced by Handcuff Secrets. The other books will be: Elliott’s Last Legacy, The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, Houdini Exposes… the Medium “Margery”… and finally A Magician Among the Spirits.

Download your copy of the books and learn more about Houdin-palooza at the Conjuring Arts Research Center Store.

TED Ed Lesson on Stage Fright

Posted by Michael on October 16th, 2013

Stage fright is the bane of all performers (well, that and being upstaged by precocious children). Many very seasoned and experienced performers still have to deal with it. In this TED Ed lesson, the causes and reasons for stage fright are explained and then strategies to lessen its affect are revealed.

Free Summer Reading Program Ends With Something Great

Posted by Michael on September 16th, 2013

All summer long we have been reporting on the Conjuring Arts Research Center free summer reading program, the series of free downloadable ebooks offered to celebrate their new download store. Sadly, the program comes to an end this week. However, they have truly saved the best for last!

From now until 1PM Eastern time on Sunday, September 22 the CARC is offering free high quality PDF downloads of The Tarbell System Incorporated– the original Tarbell correspondence course. This exclusive ebook version was created by the Conjuring Arts Research Center is well over 1,200 pages and the entire course is fully searchable, making it a useful tool even if you have the print version. Careers have been built on the Tarbell course and it really does truly belong in every magician’s library.

Claim your copy of the Conjuring Arts Research Center’s Tarbell System Incorporated PDF today by visiting the CARC website. Be sure to tell them iTricks sent you!

Get Robert-Houdin’s Secrets For Free

Posted by Michael on September 9th, 2013

Every magician knows that it was Robert-Houdin who wrote “A magician… is an actor playing the part of someone with real powers,” but surprisingly few have actually read his statement in context. The Conjuring Arts Research Center is giving you the chance to truly understand Robert-Houdin’s words with the tenth in their series of free summer reading for magicians: The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic by Robert-Houdin. Once again they are offering their extremely high quality PDF for free, but only for a limited time. You must visit their download store before 1PM Eastern Time on Sunday, September 15; after that the text will be available but no longer free. Visit the Conjuring Arts Research Center for you free copy and do not forget to check out their other downloadable magic classics.