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Why Are There So Many Card Tricks?

February 26, 2014

Magicians and playing cards go hand in hand. (Play on words not intended, but noticed and enjoyed!) It’s gotten to the point that it’s an almost sad cliche. In fact, I don’t know a magician who leaves the house without a deck of cards. Personally, I’ve usually got one in my coat, a few in my glove box and one or two in my sling pack, which is with me more often than not.

As a magician, I think this is fine. I’ve met people who can perform absolute miracles with playing cards. It’s incredible. The reason it seems so odd to so many people though, is that the average person thinks all card tricks are the same. And most card tricks that people have seen in their lives are quite dull.

You pick a card. Put it back in the deck. I’ll tell you what it was. Who cares?

Why then are magicians so into these things?

The reason is that they are one of the most versatile prop a magician can own. You can do everything with them, and this goes far beyond that simple plot just described. In fact, there are so many things you can do with a deck of cards that it’s nearly impossible to find a book about magic that doesn’t include card tricks. Sure, but how many books on magic are there? There is actually more published on magic every year than any other art form. By far. Houdini owned enough magic books to fill a couple moving trucks, and he died almost a hundred years ago. The volumes have increased dramatically since then.

What makes them so versatile? What makes them so special? Let’s start with the obvious: Everyone knows what they are. Not everyone can identify the suits, and not everyone can play the games, but they are recognized as being a stack of unique designs. 52 in each pack to be exact — plus jokers and advertising cards.

They also are quite finite, but not to a small degree. To a large degree, while still being compact. Here’s the thing: If I said “Think of any number”, and I then told you the number you were thinking of… that would be a miracle. Unfortunately there would be no entertainment value there. I mean, that would be pure magic. And to be entertaining, I think for the most part, magicians need to present something that is “seemingly impossible” and not truly impossible.

Hence playing cards. There are 52 possibilities. Guessing your card could just be luck. Or maybe I peeked. Or maybe I tricked you into taking the card I wanted you to take. Of course, you don’t believe I can be that lucky that often, and you know you didn’t see me peek, and you could swear you had a free choice.

Like that, playing cards breed dramatic magic. And then they continue: Cards can appear, disappear, travel mysteriously from one place to the next and transform from one into the other. They can be torn and put back together, they can fly and they can hover. Combining those possibilities with a diverse range of plots and you can put together hours worth of entertainment with a pack of cards, without once saying “I’m going to guess your card”.

You Can Learn to Be a Magician

December 11, 2013

I’m always being asked how I learned magic. Usually this is asked out of pure curiosity. On occasion it’s asked because someone wants to learn as well, and they want to know the path I’ve taken. For the former I tend to make up elaborate stories, for fun. For instance, an owl once dropped a letter through my mail slot… Then I tell them the cold dull truth: I read a lot. I practiced a lot. Then I read more and practiced more.

For the latter, people who have the desire to learn magic themselves, I point them in a few different directions, depending on what they think will work best for them. I’ve written about this elsewhere on the site, but not from this viewpoint. So here are the key directions I tend to point people towards. First, take a look at the internet and see what tutorials you can find there. Here’s a hint: You’ll find many. This really is a great place to start but don’t get carried away. The important thing to know, and I can’t stress this enough, is that videos and instructions you find online are great to get you started, but will completely backfire once you want to advance.

This means you can learn a basic coin vanish, but don’t start learning complicated or advanced routines and moves. Simply put: online instructions stink for this! Now, even I’ve posted instructional videos, but they are targeted at beginners. Most of the advanced instruction you find online is put together haphazardly by people that don’t really understand what they’re doing, let alone how to teach it. The other place to start is in your library or bookstore. Pickup a copy of a magic book, such as Mark Wilson’s Course in Magic, that are geared toward beginners. The things in these books are usually quite practical and involve tricks and theories that professionals put into use.

Explore this learning material. Then learn. And practice. And try. And repeat! You’ll soon have a few effects mastered, but more importantly, you’ll have a sense of what kind of magic you like. Now you know what direction to take for your big steps ahead.

If you live in a big city, you may have a magic shop there that you can visit. Go. Talk to the people behind the counter. Tell what you’ve been learning. Tell them what you like. They’ll easily be able to guide you from there.

If you don’t live in a big city, hit up some online magic stores. Frankly, these aren’t exactly the busiest retail places on earth, so you can even email them questions about what you should learn next… and they’ll probably reply!

When you do this, the trick is not to get caught up in the store-bought magic tricks. Get some of these, of course. For instance, an “Invisible Deck” if you like card magic, or “Hopping Half” if you like coin magicians. These will work wonders for you with a little practice.

These props will also keep you motivated as you do the real learning. That learning will come from books and DVDs. The magic shops will offer books your local bookstore couldn’t get if they tried. These are books and videos made specifically for magicians and to be sold in magic shops. This is where you’ll find advanced material to learn, and where you’ll really start discovering some of the big secrets.

Remember though, through all of this, respect the magicians that came before you. Centuries of thinking has gone into what are now standard magic tricks. Don’t perform them for your friends until you can do it well. Don’t start spilling secrets left and right. You owe this to your teachers, whether these be authors or magicians you actually know. Besides, you’ll get a lot more out of your new skills when you keep the mystery alive.

The 2013 Holiday Show Is Here!

December 3, 2013

December is finally here and it’s time to start performing my 2013 holiday season show. I’m excited because this year’s show features some new and exciting props and incredible tricks. I’m confident this is going to be enjoyed by both kids and adults.

This year’s Christmas & Holiday Magic Show features routines with a giant gingerbread man, a vanishing Santa Claus and snowman that colours itself in!!! I’ve also created a routine with some colourful bracelets, and can’t wait to finally debut it.

The snowman trick will be a lot of fun. It features an outline drawing of a snowman that the kids will help colour in. But, unlike similar tricks that I’ve performed in the past, the audience is actually going to see the snowman while it gets coloured in. It’s a beautiful illusion and one of the rare ones that I find myself being amazed by while I perform it! My eyes still can’t believe what they see when the colour appears on the picture.

The gingerbread man is a hilarious update of an old classic. It’s one I’ve never performed myself though, so this will be a lot of fun for me. It’s one of those magic tricks that has everything. Laughs, magic and… balloons! The gingerbread man loses his head, and a balloon ends up filling in its place. A little holiday cheer and the balloon bursts, only to find the head goes right back to where it started!

The bracelet trick should be a lot of fun. These will be displayed as “gifts” that I bought for the holidays, but need to keep them safe from the Grinch. So, what do I do? I tie them up in rope! Now no one will be able to get to them. Unless they know the magic words. When those are said, the bracelets penetrate right through the ropes.

If you will be in the audience for one of these shows, you’ll hopefully enjoy these routines as much as I do. If you aren’t going to get the chance to see any of these shows, there should be some videos being posted with clips from these magic shows soon.

The Elephant In the Sleeve

October 14, 2013

Why does everyone always think it’s in the sleeve? And even then, why do they write it off as no big deal? It’s something all magicians hear, both from kids and adults. And I’m not about to say it’s a bad thing for someone to say or think, or that there’s anything wrong with it at all. It’s just that it often surprises me how casually it’s said!

First, let me say something that I often preface my shows with. You can think it’s a trick, or you can think it’s magic. You can believe that what the magician is doing is actually on a supernatural level, or you can think it’s all sleight of hand or illusion. Maybe it’s a bit of both. While I’ll never try to convince anyone I’m doing these supernatural things, I do remind people how much better life is when they just let it be magic.

Okay, back to the sleeves. The magician holds something. You see it’s there. Suddenly you realize it’s gone. Where did it go? Did it vanish? Or is it hiding? If it’s hiding, where? The sleeve? That’s what so many people think, but why?

This is something that’s been adopted into our way of thinking. It’s basically a cliche, and so it’s easy to fall back on. We’re told as kids that this happens, and we accept it, and somehow cling to it. Of course, when kids say it, it often defies all rationale.

As mentioned in an earlier post, kids will often think that anything can vanish in the sleeve. However big it is. I perform in short sleeves most of the time these days, and still the kids say it’s in my sleeve. Not always. Not even often. But, if they are going to call out their explanation, that’s what it is more often than not.

When performing in a suit, either professionally or socially, the “sleeve” explanation is given by a lot of people. Normally it’s said as an aside and not really meant for me to hear. But, when appropriate, I’ve started to respond to it.

“Wait, wait, wait. You think that someone I’m getting an object to go all the way up my sleeve at will? You think I then continue to do things and then retrieve that object later on from my sleeve? And you think I do this all completely undetected? And this doesn’t impress you???”

From my point of view, I feel like that’s akin to saying “All the juggler is doing is catching the balls at tossing them back up before they hit the ground,” or “All the musician is doing is hitting the right keys at the right time with the right amount of pressure.”

I suppose the lesson I take from this is that context is everything. The juggler wants you to realize he’s doing that. The musician wants you to know she’s doing that. The magician, on the other hand, wants you to think it’s magic. Still, I think it’s better that way!

Funny Things Kids Say

October 8, 2013

As a magician I perform shows for all types of audiences. In a given week I may be entertaining at a couple of weddings, a corporate lunch and a store opening. More than anything else though, I’m hired to put on magic shows at children’s birthdays. I’ve done my show at hundreds and hundreds of those!

In all of those shows I have heard the kids say some of the craziest things. Some of those things leave me scratching my head, but others just leave me laughing. For instance, earlier this year I overheard: “Where’s the magician?” “He’s in the bathroom.” “Wow. What’s he doing in there?”

A few weeks back I was performing my show to a room full of six year olds, and all of them were laughing louder and louder. Suddenly a child looked back at the parents and called out “How much does he get paid?” A fair question, I suppose.

Most regularly, the things I hear have to do with the magic tricks themselves. Just like anything else, kids like you to know what they know about what you’re doing. In this case it’s often “I’ve seen this one!” In most cases, they soon realize that I’m actually doing something they haven’t seen before, and is usually followed by “Huh? Wow!”

Just a couple weeks ago I was setting up my show and heard an entirely new type of “I’ve seen it”. A child excitedly pointed at something as I was getting ready and proudly told me “Oh, I’ve seen that trick before.” He was pointing at my table!

Some kids go a step further and yell out how the trick is done. It’s hard to resist sharing that knowledge, right? In almost every case the children don’t really know how it’s done, but it’s not like a magician can just stop in the middle of the show and demonstrate how it really is done. What fun is that?

“It’s in his sleeve!” was always said the most. So much so, that I started wearing short sleeves just to avoid it. Why not? It makes things that much more amazing! Of course, the reason why so many children think they know how it’s done is because they aren’t yet able to reason their way through their explanation. That’s why I’m certain that if I were to make an elephant vanish, there will still be children saying “It’s in his sleeve!”

Every week I add to my list of the funny things I hear the kids say. Hopefully soon I’ll post a proper list in this blog. For now though, I leave you with my latest entry: “Oh, I saw you before. I thought you only performed at Sarah’s birthdays.”