Coming Soon…

‘Adventures in the “Psychological Stop Trick”‘, and some more DVD reviews.

Never forget….

A trick such as this, done with good humour and mock seriousness, will often be remembered when more pretentious efforts have been forgotten, for it affords an audience the opportunity of doing which they most desire to do – have a good laugh, first at the magician and then at themselves.

- Hugard and Braue,  Expert Card Technique

I can not think of a better quote I’d rather have permanently etched into my brain than this.

Thought for the “Hit” double lift

If, like me, you occasionally struggle to get two cards for the Hit double, instead getting only one and having lift up the second in a “pick pick” kind of action, try this:

Instead of trying to get two, try to get about ten, then let them drop off your right index finger until you feel that you’re holding back only two, in a similar way to when you do a dribble double. This doesn’t need to be a totally hidden action; you’re just riffling up to one card.

It doesn’t need to be as many as ten, but the point is that dropping cards OFF the finger is a hell of a lot more convincing than trying to pick up one. The added advantage of using a technique such as this for all your lifts is that it they will all look identical.

Review: The Business of Street Magic – Will Stelfox

I’ve been a big fan but, sadly, not a big practitioner of, busking for a few years now. I see it as the ultimate venue; the ultimate challenge in magic: how can you get people to give you money for a show that they didn’t know they were going to be a part of?

Having got the Cellini, Kozmo and Gazzo DVD’s, I was quite curious to see what Will Stelfox, someone I’ve never actually heard of, could tell me about this fine art that I hadn’t already heard before.

I’ll be honest (because I can be, it’s my blog); I wasn’t expecting great things. In fact, I’ll be totally honest – I was expecting it to be shit.

It isn’t. Not by a long way.

Though he’s only young, and despite the disability of having very strange hair, Will Stelfox has produced an excellent DVD that tackles an area of busking that will appeal to many, but has never really been tackled up to now – the nice guy busker.

We’ve all seen and heard of buskers yelling and cajoling crowds, getting people to clap and cheer for no reason to build a crowd before hitting them with hat line after hat line, berating them should they leave without putting some money in their hat. To some, including me, this is an aspect of busking that has turned me off. I could never do it.

And now I don’t have to.

In this 80 minute DVD you will learn how to perform, and earn money, without being aggressive. No shouty crowd builds, no stock comedy lines and definitely no aggressive hat pitch. If you’ve ever been afraid to busk because of this, you’ll enjoy this DVD.

One caveat: this DVD covers close up busking. Will talks about using 5 minutes sets of 3 or so tricks for a small crowd of people at a time. This is no big circle show (and that’s fine), but it’s an important aspect to consider.

The DVD starts with a voice-over of some live action video, telling you what the DVD will cover. It has some light background music which I thought would end after the voice-over, but it doesn’t. It runs throughout the whole DVD.

Yes, the WHOLE DVD. Actually, it’s not that annoying, though it makes you feel like you are watching an 80 minute magic demo video. There are also lot of visible edit points throughout the DVD during the ‘to camera’ pieces. This is not a major problem and it’s not terribly off putting, but you do notice them.

The introduction talks about the fact that Will focuses on close up busking; short sets for a small amount of people. He also mentions that, over time, you will want to start to build your show to 10-15-20 minute sets, though this isn’t dealt with at any length. This is similar to Kozmo’s advice of doing “ten minutes for ten people for ten dollars”. Less is definitely more on the street.

After the introduction, Will talks you through your busking kit, from the props you’ll need to rope and table to make your stage. He explains how and why to use a rope and how to position yourself on the street. He also talks about location and gives some good ideas about which areas to choose. This kind of thing is on every busking DVD, but it’s covered very well here, as it should be.

The next part of the DVD covers getting the audiences attention. Will’s ideology of “showing they will have a good time, rather than telling, or shouting at, them” gets the thumbs up from me. His ideas about stopping people because they WANT to see are excellent. He even does a demonstration of yelling at the crowd..”COME SEE THE WORLD’S GREATEST MAGIC SHOW! STEP UP TO THE LINE…YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS WITH THIS PACK OF CARDS”. Needless to say, he attracts no one with this build, but it was good to see him actually SHOW why that technique doesn’t work…and then demonstrate his own.

He is joined at this point on the DVD by Andrew Gerard who, by his own admission, has never worked the street, and is probably more famous for his mentalism and hypnosis magic. Will and Andrew chat about how this “soft build” of crowd works, and Andrew offers some good insights from a psychological insight as to it’s benefits. These chats pop up throughout the DVD are a good break from the large amount of “to camera” pieces.

Phase two is all about getting them close. Will demonstrates his way of getting people up to his performing area – again in a way that is not overly forceful or pushy – it’s good and it works. He shows that you can be friendly, yet direct, to get people where you want them. He also talks to Andrew about how he alleviates spectator concerns that they may be embarrassed or picked on in the show. This is a great point raised, and it highlights Will’s ideas about spectators actually enjoying the show, rather than creating a show to make as much money as possible. The idea of spectator experience permeates throughout the entire DVD. You get the feeling that Will is a nice guy who genuinely wants to give people a great time. I want to tip him a five already….

If you want to break barriers and break the ice, humour is what you need, and Will talks about how much and what kind of humour you need on the street. Kozmo and Cellini always say that “funny is money”, but, the good news is, that you don’t need to be a laugh a minute guy or have a bunch of stock lines to get people to smile. Will talks about creating genuine humour; lines that seem off the cuff and improvised, rather than tired and clichéd. Again, what comes across from Will is that you should focus on the experience, rather than the effect, which is echoed by his use of “soft” and funny hat-lines to politely let people know that you take donations, without ramming it down their throats. He has some good ideas in here that help build a fun magic show that isn’t screaming “GIMME YOUR MONEY!”

Will’s ideas about street magic are that, if you give people a good time, they will pay you. He talks more in depth about the “spectator experience”, how you can improve this and how it is critical to a successful street show. Personally, I would go further than that; I would say that it’s critical to ANY magic show that you perform. It doesn’t matter if you’re working for tips, or if the cheque has already been cashed, it should ALL be about the spectator experience. Anything less and it’s about your ego.

One thing that I don’t think has been touched on in magic often is the different personality types that you will encounter on the street. From the heckler, to the over eager, Will takes you through how to perform for each and what you should consider when choosing volunteers, trying to draw attention back to the show and dealing with hecklers, including Why you should always deal with them. This is not a psychological textbook of personality types, but it is a great look at people and if you’ve ever performed for a living, you will immediately recognise the types. Though, at 37 years old, I don’t think I could get away with Will’s line for a heckler. No matter though, as he explains why he feels that people heckle and why his line works. If you don’t think it’ll work for you, his insight will help you create you own.

When you have a crowd that seems to be a diverse demographic, it can sometimes be difficult working out how to perform. Should you focus on the rich people, should you play it safe and dumb it down for the kids or should you flirt with the hot twenty something, stood at the back on her own, naked and covered in honey (I may have made that up)? There’s some good advice on this DVD about crowds and who you should pick as your volunteers etc. It’s not something that I’ve seen dealt with to the depth that has been done here, so I learned some new ideas. He talks about performing for teenagers, kids and couples with both jealous and confident guys. There really is a lot of information here and, while some of it will be common sense to some, it will give more inexperienced magicians a great lesson in how to get people to relax and enjoy your show.

Once you’ve developed a show and, hopefully, improved, you may want to start looking for professional work. Will takes you through a practical approach on what you should do if you need a website, business cards, photo’s, demo video and testimonials etc. What he says is solid advice and, though not entirely ground breaking (a “hotmail” email doesn’t look as professional as admin@willstelfox… for example), it would be an excellent foundation for new guys coming into magic, which is what this DVD is aimed at.

There is also a financial planning section of the DVD which details the calculations that you need to make to work out how much you would need to earn if you wanted to busk full time. This part of the DVD is responsibly done and, while very simple, does give people sound advice about figuring holidays, time off, sick days and taxes into account when working out your financials. Again, it’s nothing that anybody with a GCSE maths and some common sense would figure out, but, then again, not everybody has a GCSE in maths and common sense…

The final section of the DVD is where Will teaches two tricks: the coin levitation and the card transposition. Nothing much to say about these, they are both pretty standard tricks that you probably already know. What I will say though is that they are both excellently taught, both the technique and how they fit into the street show. Will also shows how you set up both so that you have enough supplies for a day, without you fumbling in your bag, trying to separate invisible thread on the street.

As I said, I was expecting this to be rubbish. After all, who is Will Stelfox? I’ve never heard of him. He has weird hair and he’s younger than me! What can he teach me about putting together a magic show that will work, and earn money, on the street without me having to yell at people?

Quite a lot actually.

Not only is this a good DVD for wannabe street magicians. The ideas talked about personality types, and the ethos of a spectator experience are fantastic concepts to bring to any aspect of magic.

If you’ve never worked for a paying audience before, and want to take the next step, get this DVD. If you get out there and perform, in a years time you’ll be a in a place you can only dream about now. And, if you do earn money from paying audiences, still get the DVD. I’m pretty sure that you’ll get something from it.

Card to pocket

For those of you who have the “Encyclopedia of Card Tricks” by Jean Hugard, check out “The Card From The Pocket” by C. O. Williams, located on page 342 of the paperback edition.

It’s such an elegantly simple (and strong) way of performing a one phase card to pocket routine. It is well worthy of your attention.

DVD reviews….

I’m hoping that in the next few days…weeks…months or whatever, to post up some reviews of some DVD’s I’ve purchased recently.

The first few will likely be:

- “The Business Of Street Magic” by Will Stelfox,

- “Card Startlers” and “Blockbusters With Cards”, both by Paul Gordon.

 

Practicing Sleights

We are constantly told that “practice makes perfect”, or, by even more helpful people, that “PERFECT practice makes perfect”, but exactly HOW are we supposed to practice? Rehearsing each individual element that makes up a card trick, a painting or a composition is all well and good but, sooner or later, these elements are going to have to blend together into a synergistic piece of art (or a card trick).

With regards to card tricks, I am an appalling “practicer”. I toy. I fiddle. My worst habit though is practicing the same thing, again and again until I get it right and then lying to myself that I have achieved some level of mastery. If we take a move such as the top change, it is not acceptable that we can get it right “once we’ve warmed up a bit” or after I’ve botched it 5 times “just to get my eye in”. In real performance, you only get one chance: the first one.

Paul Daniels tells the story about a famous magician (I think it may be Johnny Thompson) who, when practicing the top change, would have decks of cards all over his house. When he passed a deck, he would do the move. Once. No warm up and no rehearsal. The cards would then be put down and he’d be on his way.

If you’re practicing a sleight that you want to rely on in the real world, you need to adopt this kind of practice mentality. Practice the move, then do something else, even if it’s putting the cards back in the box before getting them straight out and trying again.Whatever it is, make it something that acts as a break, both physically and mentally.

If you’re learning different moves, you could practice them one at a time in rotation, for example, do a top change, then a false shuffle, then a double lift, then a palm and then go back to a top change and start again. Do this sat down, stood up, leaning against a wall, indoors, outdoors or hanging from your gravity boots. Do it in every position possible that you are likely to find yourself performing in. The rotation ensures that each time you practice the move, you do it from afresh, changing your position ensures that you’ll KNOW the move inside out, helping you to develop more natural misdirection and cover.

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