What do I need to learn to be a magician?
It’s a question that’s been put to me more than once over the years and one that often pops up on the magic message boards — often posed by beginners who are then summarily derided and ridiculed for daring to ask a question…but I don’t want to get started on that. It’s the kind of question that, when asked, tends to draw a lot of stock responses which are generally superficial and fail to get at the bone of the query. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with advising a young magician to study the classics or read Erdnase, but are those kinds of activities, in and of themselves, truly going to produce a better magician?
I think a large part of the problem is that when presented with the question many immediately start running through mental lists of moves that would be most helpful to the beginner. Mastery of moves won’t make you a magician. I don’t care if you have the best pass in the world or a double lift that can’t be detected with a microscope — those moves alone won’t do it. As a matter of fact, devoid of solid routines those moves would rate as minor curiosities at best.
To address the question we first must have a clear idea of what a magician is or, at any rate, what kind of magician the questioner wishes to be. First the questioner needs to ask himself if he wants to be one of the lost many who view mastery of sleights and the ability to impress like minded peers with said sleights as the end all of being a magician. If that’s what he’s after there’s really no problem. Study the classics, read Erdnase, etc. etc. Put in the work, make some videos of yourself demonstrating your pass, sit back and garner praise. It’s that easy.
On the other hand, if he wishes to be one who entertainingly pretends to do the impossible, the work has only begun. Actually he can throw out a lot of those hard won moves because they won’t be needed. I’m sure there will be those who will vehemently disagree, but that’s only because they haven’t taken their brand of magic beyond the bedroom mirror. The truth is in real life performing situations a double undercut will get you as far as the best pass in the world. It’s not about the moves.
So what is it about? Relating to people. Interacting with people. The ability — yes, it is an ability — to relax in front of others and offer them yourself and your magic. The truth is Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie can teach you more about being a magician than a thousand magic books. Because until you develop the ability to relax and have fun with an audience you’re just going to be butting your head against the wall.
I believe the best exercise you can do is to attempt to entertain without magic. Learn to tell a story, a joke, engage the interest of others without the tricks. That’s the ability you need to cultivate. All the rest is in a very real sense only window dressing. You’re the main attraction. Al Goshman said, “I’m in the business of selling me.” Any working magician worth his salt will agree whole heartily with that sentiment.
Now, maybe you’re sitting there thinking, Great, I’m screwed. Maybe you’re shy, introverted, unable to loosen up around others. It would seem many magicians share just those characteristics. It doesn’t matter. Remember, when you’re doing magic you’re playing a part, a bigger, better version of yourself. Some of the world’s most legendary performers have been shy and reclusive people. That kind of thing’s only going to stop you if you let it. But you will have to learn to get around other people and let yourself go, to relax and have fun. I guarantee you that if you will make a real effort to improve your ability to interact with others you will make significant improvements as a magician.
That’s it for now. I think next time I will talk a little about what moves you should study and what’s a big waste of time. In the interim take care and have fun.