It is so important to know what you want to say when you are communicating to others. Particularly when you are performing to an audience. Whether that be on stage, virtually, across radio or even in an email to a customer. What we say about ourselves to others and the script we speak during our live shows sells. Not only the art we do to potential customers but it can change peoples perception of live magic.
As magicians we tend to work with props when we perform. From a small deck of cards in our hands to grand illusions like sawing people in half. If we do not communicate properly what we are doing when we are doing it, is the effect clear?
Confusion is not magic
The Professor once said that a good magic effect should easily be described in one sentence. Sadly a lot of performers overcomplicate and overcompensate magic with words.
Of course there are some visual effects that do not need explanation. For example a lit piece of paper changes to a silver dollar in a flash. However, is a visual effect enough? For me, it boils down to what needs to be explained and what does not. These alternate attitudes to performing effects can be layered throughout an act to build a varied show. For example beginning by producing something from thin air to get across that you are a magician without words. Then introduce yourself as you take out a pack of cards for the next effect.
A lot of performers in magic do too much of one thing. You would think it’s asking spectators to pick a card. However the real difficulty in staying connected to the magic we watch is down to whether a performer talks too little or exceedingly so. A good technical performer can completely overshadow an amazing effect they are performing by talking way too much. Finding a balance is key. One of the ways to become more aware of this I mentioned on a previous blog post. You must record and watch yourself back on camera. With the screen covered.
You can also script your magic which I’ll get to further on down this post.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil!
We all tend to say lot’s of unnecessary things before we introduce a premise or prop. Long winded stories explaining what will happen before it does. Then when you bring the audiences focus to the action you have nothing left to say. It’s like silence of the lambs. It is far more interesting if you learn to combine words and actions together.
This idea is a hard one to get your head around. Especially when we are so used to structuring routines with words first then action. If you apply the rule below to your magic I guarantee your performance will become immediately more interesting. So remember,
Don’t say before doing, Speak as you are doing.
A brilliant side effect of this combination is that it tightens up your performance, script and movements. Meaning that they happen simultaneously. Guaranteeing that all the extra bull**** vanishes. It literally cuts minutes off effects by getting straight to the point.
Scripting over winging
The longer you are performing for, improvising on the spot becomes effortless. It’s easy to think “ah I’ll just decide what I’m going to say with the trick on the night.” Some people can get away with this but I feel it’s much better to do some preparation before one takes to the stage with a brand new effect.
When I watch performers that have rehearsed their scripts it’s obvious they have prepared. Compared to someone who has done no preparation at all. Perhaps this is the actor in me. The difference is black and white. I understand that maybe there’s a need to make the script seem spontaneous. However for me that’s where good acting skills should come in.
Keeping words and actions alive
When I recite my FizzWizzPop show intro which I have done for 13 years, I try to do it as if it’s the first time I ever spoke it. The same is true for all the effects I perform in that show.
I am so lucky to say that I’m still finding new material in the stuff I created all those years ago. This is because I try to keep what I do and say alive.
This technique I developed when studying my degree in theatre. Even though you may have heard the lines in your script umpteen times, the audience watching you are hearing it for very first time. If we learn to treat each performance as a brand new experience the audience will feel this too.
Personally, when I script I physically write things down. Not only does this help me learn what I need to say but it means I have all my ideas and variations on record in ink. Writing a script down on paper means I can keep editing with the knowledge that all the information has been stored safely in my notebook.
You will all find your own methods for scripting. Whatever you do I encourage you to log it. All information is good information and something not written down could be a brilliant idea lost.
Tips on scripting
When I’m searching for an idea for why I’m doing the magic and what I want to say I either go with the honest approach – to create a story that I can relate too. Or the complete opposite, the defiant approach. Javi Benitez does this beautifully in an effect I always call, “Why I Hate Magic?”
Lots of Javi’s magic uses scripting hooks like this to get the audience connected to the magic he is performing. And as it happens I found a little snippet of his “Follow the Leader” routine here. It is just genius and so much fun! https://www.javibenitez.com
All performers have to face that dreaded feeling we get just before plunging ourselves into the deep end that is, walking out in front of an audience to put on a show.
We all experience and react to this excitement in different ways. Some pace, some go over their scripts. Some perform breathing exercises and have physical or vocal warm ups. Guaranteed we all experience every kind of emotion before performing. Some even say they feel nothing. Developing little rituals to cope is completely normal too. These repetitive comforts help us to feel in control before we thrust ourselves into a situation where we have none. These dreaded feelings we all experience are Nerves.
“Being nervous isn’t bad, it just means something important is happening”
Feeling nervous is actually a good thing. It means your body is preparing itself physically to do what you need it to. Having nerves before a show is usually a stress response to a threat your body is feeling – I know the threat of an audience watching can be terrifying to some people. But nerves usually kick in preparing the body by pumping adrenaline through our veins.
The good thing is, that over time you get used to that uneasy feeling. When it arrives, it explodes via a combination of anxiety, dread and excitement all at once. It is possible to learn to recognise and suppress it in order to perform. Nerves can be both good and bad. For example, if you are performing a new effect and you are scared that it might go wrong beforehand, the nervous dread I find sometimes gives me the physical energy to get through it. (It won’t be perfect) However, sometimes I look back on nervous performances and laugh at things I said that I didn’t rehearse.
There are also bad side effects to nervousness. If someone does not handle their nerves well they sometimes do more to suppress them. Like drink alcohol, take drugs, smoke, or even just refuse to get on stage when the time comes for fear of failure. All of these options I think are ways to avoid facing the actual problem. And quite frankly if you are needing something ‘stronger’ than yourself to get on stage well, I don’t think you should be getting onto a stage at all.
Performing on stage is already addictive for most people. That feeling of glory when the audience claps. Combining that with a drug, or an addictive relaxant will lull you into a false sense of security and it is easy to begin needing it before a performance. Sadly some performers cannot get on stage without it.
At first I was afraid, I was petrified… but I grew strong.
There are some things I have found that helps me to alleviate the scale of apprehension I feel before performing. I call it the,
It is amazing that you can manage get to the exact second before stepping onto the stage without feeling nerves and then it hits you. That churning feeling in the tummy, the faint feeling in the body and shaking off the hands. However, if you identify this immediately as your nerves kick in, no matter when they come you will be able to justify them. Being ‘nervous’ will become a familiar feeling and an accepted component of the process to getting on stage.
Before entering a birthday party, if I am feeling particularly nervous I always say to myself “You know as soon as you ring that doorbell, the show will be over because when you enter performance mode, the time will fly.” And it’s true. It happens all the time. The longest period we feel is the apprehension seconds before we have to perform. If you can recognise this feeling immediately you can rationalise an end to it. That will be enough to enable you to get through it.
Time is very important. And planning time is essential. If you are mentally and physically prepared for performance it really helps you to feel confident in your material. Especially if the effects are brand new.
I remember when I started in magic I was afraid of performing sponge balls. But forced myself to learn them because every magician learns them. At the time it was like a right of passage and itt took me a very long time to be able to perform a false transfer with confidence. In order to prepare myself for each show, for about 3 years, I rehearsed my spongeball routine before every performance in my car, even if I had three shows a day, I rehearsed before each of them .
Now I am at the point I could perform this trick in my sleep. So it is always good to rehearse whether it’s physically, verbally or running through the motions in your head. Preparation for performance is key to the success of it, so make sure you give yourself time before shows. And don’t be late. The anxiety you face on top of normal nerves is enough to make one never perform again.
It is important that you begin to believe in yourself. Personally, my 20’s were fun but I had to deal with a lot. The repercussions of this was that three years ago my self esteem hit rock bottom. When you stop believing or rather investing in yourself as a person you give your brain complete control and lousy feelings take over. Some of which you begin to affirm even if they are not true. We are programmed in a way to not like ourselves, or rather be extremely critical of what we do. It’s like a default switch you must learn to turn off. Or at least control.
If you are having bad thoughts, say them out loud. I bet they don’t sound nice when you actually say them to yourself, right? But it’s somehow ok for your brain to think those thoughts all day long. Don’t let it control you. The only person you are competing against is yourself. You must become your own super fan, because no one else will become that for you.
Having nerves are normal and you will feel them whether you are performing something old or new. You will of course feel more nervous with new material because you have no idea how it will be received. But, if you never try it, you won’t know if its good or terrible. As performers, we must try new things daily to become more experienced, progress our skills and more importantly prevent boredom. This is one of the reasons I love and hate performing new material. The feeling I get performing something brand new is a mixture of sickness and elation combined and that edgy feeling is addictive – once you get used to it.
Please aim to be brave. The worst thing you could do is not to try at all because of nerves. Do not let them win.
Remembering to breathe properly is essential. It keeps your body regulated and calm. A little exercise I do before each performance is this below. It actually came about when I was a box jumper. (Other illusionists who have been in tight spaces for any amount of time might recognise this). When you are confined to a small space, it helps to be relaxed. If you are tense the space becomes even tighter and uncomfortable. Taking a deep breath before entering a small, dark, cold box helps.
Try this. Take a deep breath in through your nose and hold it for five seconds or as long as you can. Then release it slowly through your mouth. This exercise will help slow down your heart rate by pushing oxygen around the body and brain. (I normally repeat this exercise a maximum of 3 times as any more than this you will begin feeling dizzy). Doing breathing exercises help to make us aware of our bodies and lungs. Our essential performing tools.
Know the material inside out that you are about to perform and organise props efficiently. Struggling to find the props will only exacerbate those nervous feelings you have already. And, if you are unsure of the material you are about to perform, anything could happen. Being prepared as much as you can helps you to remain calm, no matter what happens. Trust me, I have learnt since I was twenty one that every outcome thought of will happen at some stage when performing magic. In the moment it will surprise you, but if you are organised you are more equipped to deal with it. Or rather have an exit strategy out of a sticky situation.
On that note if anyone watched me last Friday on the Chicago Magic Lounge I had an epic fail however managed to sneak my out of it via the thinking behind Dai Vernon’s “The Trick that cannot be explained.” It was terrifying at the time, but I did it and have learnt to make sure my material (especially mentalism effects which I am quite new too) have no loose ends. It is good to take risks in magic, but not walk into them blindly.
Work on it
Being a magician you learn quite early on that practice makes perfect. We need to treat our nerves like magic. Get to know the feelings before they occur. Expect them even. If you give the same amount of time to working on your neves as your performance, you will indeed flourish.
I hope you find my R.A.I.N.B.O.W method useful.
And (being Irish) remember at the end of a rainbow, there is usually a pot of gold. The gold being becoming a better performer.
One of the best lessons I ever learnt about performing from an expert is that we must perform.
I know this is a very strange sentence but since isolation has hit the world of magic, our online presence as an industry has exploded! This is wonderful for us magicians however, like all things it exposes some very bad performances that shouldn’t be put online as soon as they are and lots of bad technique.
It’s not always necessarily bad in terms of the magical effect – though sometimes it suffers too – but the focus in some videos is not really where it should be. I have one answer to why this might happen.
I learnt this term after making my very first attempts at recording myself on camera in 2018. Before this I never really used mirrors to practice with. Since then I’ve found out that working with mirrors is a controversial topic in magic. Some people see the benefits, others see the damage it causes. Using a camera in ‘selfie’ mode to film proves to have a similar effect to that of a mirror.
The fairest of them all!
I did not quite understand the term to be Mirror damaged nor did I see the effect at first, but it’s amazing how once you see mirror damage you cannot un-see it. When you realise you are doing it, it’s blindingly obvious. And to be honest its very distracting to watch a performer do it whilst they are using their hands. Perhaps why it seems to affect magicians. In the last few years I have made an active attempt to prevent this from happening when I video my work.
What exactly is it and will I get seven years bad luck?
Here are some of the traits that happen when you fall down the rabbit hole and begin watching yourself in a mirror or camera -apart from becoming an egotistical maniac like Johnny Bravo, I’m kidding!
Your focus becomes distorted.
You start fixating on looking ahead. Almost like a dear stuck in the headlights if you know that expression.
Not only do you look ahead but you become fixated on looking at what your hands are doing – the method. When we have to do something tricky or difficult your eyes sadly can give the game away too. Think about that. If you’re trying to hide something in your hand or produce something from somewhere and your eyes dart towards what you are doing, flitting to where the move needs to happen it’s not really magical any more – is it? The audience now know exactly where to look and when the method happened.
You can also stop other motions because you are focusing on one thing and performances become disjointed and out of rhythm. Kind of like doing two things at the same time. For example, patting your head and rubbing your tummy. Which is weird when most of these videos right up until the ‘move’ all begin somewhat smoothly.
See it to believe it!
Here is an example of a magic trick, I think ruined by the fact that this performer cannot take his eyes off his screen for nearly 20 seconds (I counted). I don’t care what anyone says. Unless you are doing a Shakespearian soliloquy and even at that 20 seconds is an INCREDIBLY long time to stare at anything. I don’t even think I could do that in a staring contest. What this translates too, is a lifeless, dull performance. Very soon there’s no reason to keep watching. The connection stops dead and I want to hang up. Click the link here to watch and see if you can spot it too. ‘Dead staring disconnects from the magic!’
I feel bad using this example without doing one myself. We all suffer from this me included. I’m no angel but I did find it hard to locate a bad clip in the end HA! But this one I’m staring way too long at the camera in the beginning. Have a look.
Kudos to this performer above. Anyone who performs magic has put time and effort into learning, and practicing it. The actual effect is quite beautiful. However, his performance, in my opinion, alienated me. It became too much about his hands and the cube meaning he melted away. I got bored. He could have been performing any effect by the end, I didn’t care about it or him.
This is bad for magic and performance. We don’t want to turn people off watching magic, we want to keep their interest, spark it even. If your audience doesn’t care about what you do, they will question why they are watching it and very quickly move on. I learnt this through performing for children for years. You need to grab their attention and keep their interest. I try to do this through my voice and character.
However, videoing is different to live performance. You have to make your point quickly and retain connection. If you do not know where to look when performing on video, how do you expect the audience to keep focusing on you?
So how do we film ourselves in a way that we won’t be tempted to watch? Especially if we are using our phones, iPads, laptops that have front facing cameras? I do this one of two ways.
I either film with the actual phone camera (the one on the back). This takes a little bit more time to set up if you don’t have a stand alone holder that can hold your phone. and like me, I am using a wall, cupboard door, you know all the places you gaffer tape your phone to, to make your magic vids pop. This phone camera is also better quality than the front facing camera or selfie camera, so it is better to use this camera where possible for better quality filming.
Or if you have to film selfie mode you should set the camera to the position you need it, press record then cover up the screen. Covering the screen prevents you from peeking at your performance and allows you to forget the camera is there. You are more likely to get a natural performance this way and see what you are doing and need to work on when you should – after the performance. I bring us back to the first sentence of this blog. We need to perform – we cannot perform if we are watching a mirror image of ourselves. Well we can but it looks strange.
Guilty as charged
It’s funny that once you recognise mirror damage and understand these two simple principals above, it becomes very obvious when something sneaky is about to happen. Sadly, a result of performers being isolated and not familiar with working in a video format, there is A LOT of predictable content online.
I am no expert, and I’m guilty of it too. However, our job as conjurers is to make magic appear spontaneous and real. You will never achieve this if you are looking directly at what you are doing, or staring straight into the lens to watch a mirror image of yourself.
Remember people are watching because they are interested in what you do. They want to connect with you. Not a lifeless zombie.
Another thing I don’t like seeing in magic is this.
I understand that this sort of frame might be good for teaching an effect at conventions or lectures but to have this type of shot for an entire magic video truly baffles me.
Then there’s the middle one. I’m just throwing it out there. This type of shot is just a monstrosity! It should NEVER happen in any context apart from pornography. At least then you’re somewhat ready to embrace the open crotch position.
I understand the reasoning for this type of thing. Perhaps it’s comfort. You don’t like to watch yourself on camera. You want to highlight and focus the magic you are doing. Perhaps it’s even so you can look at what you are doing without us seeing you do it. Avoiding dealing with mirror damage. Or perhaps it’s because it’s the done thing. Other people do it so, I will too. These videos are not interesting in the slightest to me for one reason. I cannot see your face and more importantly, I cannot look into your eyes.
The whole picture
“Facial expressions are important to how we communicate and develop impressions of the people around us.”
Kathleen Bogart, Oregon State University
Let’s flip the above idea on its head. When we perform how do we know our audiences are enjoying what they see? The simple answer is, we see it in their faces.
How does an actor playing Macbeth on stage portray the struggle he faces living with what he has done to become King? He portrays this through his body language but mostly through his face.
When David Copperfield performs his flying sequence. Yes it’s fantastical and incredible to watch visually but, the reason we connect with it and with him is because of how he reacts to flying for the first time in his body and his face. Watch this clip; pay particular attention to David’s face and eyes. They tell a story, without words and his body reacts to what is happening to him. Perhaps why this effect has become The Greatest Illusion of all time.
Is there a force greater than magic?
“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.“
When we perform without our faces in shot, we miss out on exploiting one of the greatest aids in magic – ‘the Gaze’. Our eyes are THE next best tool we have to our hands as a magician and performer. An actor knows, that when you feel emotion internally (with little effort) it will be displayed externally through the eyes. Our eyes betray our feelings all the time and they can be used as an advantage, to direct an audience towards something or completely ignore it.
John Ramsay figured out an amazing principle which just works. If you wish the audience to look at something you must look at it. If you wish the audience to look at you, you must look at them.
When you use this tool correctly you can predict where the audience will look. Is this not the best tool to use as a Magician? We know exactly what we don’t want the audience to see. So why not use something that automatically works to make them focus on something else without even thinking about it.
Here is an example of what mean try it. Record yourself and watch it back.
Get a coin, hold it up, look at it. When you transfer the coin from one hand to the other look forwards and out at the audience. Due to Ramsay’s rule they will no longer focus on your hand doing the naughty stuff. They will react and look into your face. After the false transfer of the coin, refocus your gaze back on to your now empty hand. This will bring the audiences focus back to your hand where they believe the coin to still be. Then with a poof you can open your hand and show them the coin has now vanished.
Should rules ever be broken?
When performing live shows, streams, Zoom lessons and performances, I have discovered through watching my videos back after, that focus needs to be approached slightly differently when filming Live.
When we watch performers talking directly to the screen, it’s better when we see them focusing on us. Why, because it is more personal. How we do this is by focusing our gaze directly into the lens. If you don’t do this, the audience will get a sense that you are not talking to them. I believe this might be a technique that newsreaders and presenters utilise too when they are talking to home audiences.
To recap, don’t watch your reflection, focus on the lens when you are talking directly to the camera in live performances. Especially when asking people to help you directly with your magic.
I’ve just realised I’ve written quite a lot on this topic above. Take what you can from it or don’t. This really is how I feel when I watch videos, what I expect from them and the direction I am trying to take when I make mine. We should all strive to keep learning and one way is to learn from one another. Especially in this time when we are all forced to work in the scary brand new medium that is video for the foreseeable. If we can all help each other to improve how our magic looks online, I think we will improve the image of magic as a whole.
Let’s have a celebratory dance to learning new things together. I hope you find this a fitting choice to bring this weeks blog to a close.
P.s I have a brand new colour available in the Arkane Knots, Aqua.
Greetings Arkane blog followers. I am happy to report that after two full weeks of illness I am finally on the mend!
This weeks blog title is one of my favourite songs of all time. I wish that this blog post could be all about the man, the legend and my idol, David Bowie. But you came here for magic, and magic knowledge I will bestow upon you.
You will hopefully learn why I think it is important to encourage our rebellious tendencies when creating magic.
As a kid I was anything but rebellious. My family might say otherwise. In school I was an A* pupil trying to be good and I always did what other people expected me to.
I’m just a creative anarchist, baby!
Although educationally, I was prim and proper, creatively I was responsible for a lot of anarchy in my childhood home.
When I was 5 I painted all my teeth with multicoloured highlighters because the boys in my class coloured in one of their tooth’s with a marker. Sadly I have no photographic evidence of this and thankfully since then the colour did not leave a permanent reminder of my stupidity.
In another incident I covered my kitchen with bright blue poster paint attempting to replicate a ‘splattering’ method Neil Buchanan demonstrated on the English afternoon television show called Art Attack. (Oh that theme music brings back memories). Except I had no cardboard to run the brush bristles across to create the flicker. My thinking was if I just shake the brush and paint towards the paper it will go onto the page. I didn’t think that the whole kitchen would end up covered by this new painting method I’d had tried to re-create. I will never forget my mother and fathers face when they entered the room that day. Thankfully all they could do was laugh.
After surviving childhood I ended up a magician, no surprise to my parents. I was always breaking, making and creating stuff.
Performing magic since I was 21, I have kind of followed the rules of being a girl in the magic artistically. I began a box jumper, assisting ‘the magician.’ I created my own magic shows for working with kids. But I always wanted to be more than just that. It was when I decided to rebel and take on the type of performances I was afraid to do, life become exciting, and so did magic.
In this unprecedented time where I am spending a lot of time with myself, I have had to get creative with stuff I have at hand. Parcels aren’t delivered regularly anymore because of the pandemic so when I wanted to create an effect I have had to simply reach to the items from my bedroom. When you limit yourself to only things that you have at hand it’s amazing how creative you can become. Over the last two months I have worked more with glue, tape, black art, safety pins, magnets, wire, thread and all the utility devices at hand to make my ideas work. No item is disallowed. Everything is in play.
I was challenged to come up with a method to change a deck from red to blue and within the space of an hour I managed to pull together this, never ever doing anything like it before in my life. No bought gimmicks involved. All made by yours truly.
I’m finding the longer I am locked in my tiny space the more I am enjoying creative challenges. Why is that?
Magic effects I have learnt to look at as a puzzle. There are so many ways to solve a puzzle. The easy way, the hard way or my way.
If we breakdown the effect I performed in the video above it can be solved in many ways. Heck people have invented methods for years on this. But what makes this version unique is that the thinking behind it is mine. This is how my brain solved this exact puzzle – How can I show a red deck of cards change to a blue deck?
If you were faced with the same problem you might come up with a different method. This difference of artistic thinking is what I find brilliant about magic. We all have our own artistic vision for what we wish to achieve. Mine is growing day by day in this isolation as I’m comfortable knowing what I want to achieve when I set myself a challenge. How I wish it to look and what emotions I wish people to feel from watching me perform. This takes a long time to get there. Trust me.
How to solve the unsolvable puzzle?
Speaking of puzzles. This week I had to come up with something for my Spark Creative group. A group of artistic people from around the globe that Carissa Hendrix has brought together on Facebook. Carissa then drops in a prompt for us all to create a piece around. It can be a video, a painting just something inspired by the weekly theme.
As Carissa has entrusted me to be a founding member I want to contribute as much as I can to inspire others each week. This weeks prompt was ‘Comfort’ using an unfamiliar prop. Immediately I wanted to perform something in my onesie. When do you ever get to perform magic in a onesie – unless you are Magic George a.k.a George Firehorse. A friend and Belfast comedian and magician who often is seen prancing about in his superman onesie on stage. (He must have deleted every picture online of himself in his Superman onesie).
Lying on my bed, I seen a pair of fluffy earmuffs and it hit me. The project has to be about ear muffs. But what shall I do with them? What if I passed something into one muff and it came out the other. What a sentence!!! I decided then that was the challenge. At first I asked Tom was there anything that existed like this before to which he replied, Brain Floss. Only thing was the whole world and her mother knows the method. Tom suggested that it might be cool to be able to take on and off the muffs freely to show there was no connection between the two. Here’s what I came up with below.
I am quite pleased with how it turned out.
Rebel is as Rebel does
As this post is all about being a rebel, I now must do what I should never do being a magician. Reveal the method.
Why, because the method is beyond hilarious and the length I went to in order to make this effect work you will understand that ANYTHING is open as a method. And I will most likely never perform this again, ever!
Remember there are no rules in magic when you create something original. You make the rules and can break them.
Last chance any guesses how I flossed my ears???
If you don’t wish to know the secret keeping the magic alive, don’t scroll down past this image. But if you do… continue at your peril!
The D.A.D Method
The method I came up with worked however I needed help. My solution in the end had to involve a partner in crime.
Let me introduce my amazing dad, Philip.
He became the ‘prop’ I’ve never worked with before. Whilst my dad followed the instructions; even when his dictator daughter gave him so many directions at once, hence why it took two, two hour sessions to film it, he kept getting into the shot.
Aside from the filming taking forever, what was wonderful working with the D.A.D method was that every time we had to start over he kept saying to me, “don’t worry love we’ll get it this time.” His enthusiasm for helping me achieve my goal was overwhelmingly beautiful.
I almost gave up getting it when I thought what if I put a blanket over his head would it work? Upon grabbing a black blanket by accident and literally throwing it over his head a spark ignited in my brain. What if I covered my dad from head to toe in black. Gloves, a jumper the works. And it did work, we got it filmed first go. My dad was unbelievably kind and patient and really helped me by doing literally anything it took to make this video work. BONUS: I believe he actually understood the magic he was helping to create in the end too.
Going Rogue is worth the results!
What I’ve learnt this week is that teamwork is hard. Learning to work in sync with someone is very tricky. Especially when that person is not familiar with magic. But my word it’s rewarding and so worth every mess up we had to get that film shot. My dad and I laughed so much creating this. After this mad process I can finally say I taught my dad the greatest magic trick of all. Too ‘magically’ become invisible and disappear on camera. Something magicians have strove to do their entire careers.
This week has been a tough ole week for me. Tummy pain, headaches, vomiting and delirium followed by a doctor trip and two trips to the hospital. It would only happen to me during a pandemic!
Whilst that all was happening I managed to perform a magic workshop and two magic shows virtually in my bedroom. I do not recommend it to anyone! I have to remember that when my bodies telling me I’m ill, I need to rest up. But it’s hard as I just hate letting people down. I’m still not feeling great and if things aren’t better by this afternoon I’ll have to make my way to the hospital again. Though they do say third time’s a charm.
As I haven’t been well, I’ve been able to (for once) sit back and take in more of what others are creating. I was inspired and choked laughing at some posts this week.
I thought it might be nice for me to use this post to share my ‘Best Of’ videos that I’ve watched this week in the hope to cheer myself up. And remember that being sick isn’t all that bad with friends and family sharing things to make me smile daily.
My friend Ottar from Sweden introduced me to a friend of his whom is an artist that creates paintings with coffee. Her name is Kotte Konst and its really worth while checking out her website below. `There’s something really magical in these paintings. https://kottekonst.se/galleri/kaffemalningar/
I don’t know about you, but there is always someone on Facebook whose posts make me smile daily and Quentin Reynolds posts do that. From Ireland originally his wit and timing are impeccable and his posts truly match his magical performance style.
This post had quite a morbid sense of humour but it literally made me choke reading it!
Best Magic Effect
I am a member of Carissa Hendrix’s Spark Creative group on Facebook. For the past six weeks I have been truly grateful for her inspirational prompts every Monday to create. Even if I’m not feeling up to it, as I was this week, I have tried to find a way to contribute something. The amount of crazy creativity going on in this group from the array of talented people is mind blowing! It’s filled with colour, laughter and magic. Exactly what we all need during this pandemic.
A member of Spark Creative, Curtis Kam very kindly has let me share this on my blog. This is incredibly smart, creative and I thought you all might like to see it too.
I am biased with this next one haha. When I wasn’t feeling well I decided, after an idea came to me(at 3am in the morning) to learn the ukulele for a show that I was performing for children and families under the care of Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice. Immediately after the show I began vomiting and was rushed to A and E. Just before that crazy episode, I managed to record myself in costume singing and playing it. Evidence that I myself did something creative this week.
Best Funny Video
I wish I was able to share this with you, however the owner removed this post yesterday and I’m gutted because it was truly laugh out loud hilarious. If any of you got to see the video of the make up artist called Jaime French @jaime.french (Instagram) who drew a tiny nose and mouth on top of her nose and put a scarf round covering her real mouth you will know what I’m talking about.
SURPRISE and joy of all joys. I found it. This is EPIC!
In January this year I had very little work on, it was an incredibly slow start to the year. Meaning that I was stuck at home in my bedroom. I kind of got into a bit of a bad space and really hated my room and the fact I was stuck in it.
Feeling claustrophobic which is unusual for me because I was a box jumper for nearly ten years of my life, I didn’t feel creative at all. Just depressed.
… unlike a book, a theatre has one special characteristic. It is always possible to start again.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook page 157
Along comes a pandemic just two months later meaning I would be stuck in my room permanently for the foreseeable. I realised quite quickly that I can either see this as a prison or an opportunity to liberate myself creatively and use the space and time I’ve been given for me.
Self indulgence is not a normal Arkane trait however I have chosen to take this spare time I have been given to be selfish. To do everything I can to improve as a person and performer. To read, to write, study and explore. One of the things that I did (without my parents permission) was completely rearrange my room. If you read last weeks blog post you will know that I successfully created a miniature theatre space to perform and practice in.
Why all the effort?
To play needs much work. But when we experience the work as play, then it is not work anymore.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook page 157
The original idea was to make any performances I do feel like a proper theatrical production however it ended up being much more than this. Every morning I wake up and see the space I created, I want to get up and practice. I bought myself a proper close up mat so that I enjoy flinging cards on it. Creating a special place for me to do what I love has honestly changed my lockdown life, and made me creative in ways I never knew were possible.
Try to make a unique space to practice, perform and imagine in. If you feel joy during the process, the work you create will reflect that.
Thanks to some friends being intrigued about it, I put together my first iMovie describing how I created my home Arkane Magic Studio. If you have ten minutes to spare please watch it. I hope in creating something selfishly for me, I will pass on some knowledge to you.
***CAUTION: If you thought I was a bit crazy, after watching this I hope we are still friends.***
There is no doubt that a theatre can be a very special place. It is like a magnifying glass, and also like a reducing glass. It is a small world, so it can easily be a pretty one.
We all have had to come to terms with this anomaly that entered our world. I’m talking about COVID-19 a.k.a Coronavirus.
When lockdown began I didn’t want to believe what was actually happening.
All my bookings were immediately cancelled. (About 3,000 pounds in total). The prospect of any future ones put on hold for the foreseeable.
In the beginning I crumbled. I couldn’t face the prospect of not doing the one thing I love whilst this virus swept the world. Staying in my bedroom was consuming all my happiness. A ticking time bomb ready to go off at any second. And I did! I was emotional, cried, was angry and sad. A whole spectrum of emotions flooded in.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. But the one most responsive to change.”
Charles Darwin, 1809.
In the beginning I was not ready for change. I convinced myself that magic is a live medium. It could never work any other way, right?
After 2 weeks of misery, a customer got in touch. She asked the question I was avoiding answering.
“Hello we have seen some groups offering performances for their families online. As the FizzWizzPop show is so interactive, could you perform a show online for our group?”
I froze on the spot. And what came out in response was complete and utter honesty.
“I don’t see any reason why I cannot perform for you. I must admit I’ve never done that before. I agree with you that my show is interactive enough to hold the attention of an audience on screen. But… (and there was a big but) I cannot offer you this service for free. There must be some sort of fee because well, I’ve lost everything with the virus and I have no work for the foreseeable and if you want me to perform I have to be paid something, I’m so sorry to have to ask for this at this time.”
Even though I knew that other companies were offering free activities. Right now, I couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I do think there are certain projects that you should perform for free. Like helping family, colleagues in the business, charities, people who are in need of some cheering up.
Should we give everything away?
If everything becomes a free for all for the public like music, magic, songs, dance classes where does it lead? What tone does this set when things get back to normal? I think in a way it devalues our art if everything becomes complimentary.
If you decide to offer activities free to help when does that stop? Perhaps there should be a period of time you offer free stuff.
We must remember to support ourselves too. Balance here is key!
“You have got to fill a pocket or two.”
When I started out my business in magic I performed at loads of events, for free. It got to a point where people began to take advantage of my generosity. I even performed at a charity event that in the end turned out to be a regular family get together.
I had to set a policy that I would only offer a free charity performance once a year. And it was my decision what I supported and when.
Things then changed for the better. Not only did I gain lots from performing at these free events, I met likeminded people and learnt stuff too. I believe it’s important that you get something out of offering things for free. Whether that’s just a feeling of helpfulness. Using the experience to try out a new routine or making connections for future events.
Back to the customer
Not only did this customer wish to pay for my services. She actively wanted to continue to support facilitators during this time. Finishing the call she agreed to pay me £30 more than I asked for.
Before that phone call, I had literally given up all hope of working again.
A day later I was asked to perform Magic for a zoom birthday party.
Changing Rooms – Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen have at it!
As my first party was a kids show, I wanted to use my FizzWizzPop backdrop. Thankfully it fit in my bedroom. I chose effects that were really interactive. Colour changes, numbers tricks and a game with a magical ending. I agreed with the customer that it was best that she set up the meeting on Zoom. On the day, I agreed not to login until all the party guests were online.
Then FizzWizzPop’s face would hit the big screen. A magical entrance if there ever was one!
It took me a full hour to prepare for this show. I had all the tricks set up on my bed ready to go and easy to access. To my surprise is was not only a success, the show made people laugh and smile LOTS! The mums and dads in each household sat and watched with their kids. Even granny and grandad got involved. It felt like something everyone needed. In a way, it felt like we were together in the same room.
Don’t forget to make a wish!
Prior to the zoom session I thought it might be nice for everyone to sing happy birthday together. And for the cake be brought out to the birthday child. The mum and dad were delighted with this idea. I verbally warned the parents that I was on my last trick. And as I finished the effect, the cake came out, we sang the song and FizzWizzPop said her goodbyes.
Zoom has opened up collective thinking!
In just the space of two weeks I have not only performed shows as FizzWizzPop. I presented a Magic workshop with Clare The Party Professor another fab entertainer based in Northern Ireland. I never normally get the chance to work with her because we are both so busy.
Now we can put our skills together creating something unique for children to enjoy.
Prohibition or Pandemic… nothing stops Chicago Magic!
The most recent collaboration I have joined is performing with the amazing team at The Chicago Magic Lounge. A place I actual performed at last July 2019. What a joy it was!
When they were shut down, Joey, Cynthia and the team decided that they needed to continue supporting their staff. That people out there needed magic more than ever.
The result of this is that they are keeping Chicago Magic going by creating a unique Virtual Cocktail Hour!
All guests can buy tickets and experience what they would at the real lounge, on screen. Four top class magicians, a cocktail class and discovering the history of magic in Chicago.
I am grateful that the Chicago Magic Lounge wanted to collaborate with me. I feel like part of an amazing family.
After my first show alongside Luis Carreon, The Amazing Bibik and Justin Purcell a guest commented,
“I was able to sign up myself, my parents in Florida and my sisters in TN and FL for the show tonight – we loved it and wanted to say thank you. My mom said she felt like she was actually with other people.”
In the space of just one week my attitude to this horrible situation was turned upside down.
Remember if you must go through a path with puddles. Make sure you jump, splash and enjoy creating chaos along the way!
As I enter my forth week of isolation in my bunker a.k.a my bedroom, I’m beginning to feel slightly askew. I’m not sleeping or eating properly and I feel really all over the place. Kind of like Alice when she made it to Wonderland.
The one thing that has truly kept me going this whole time is my family, friends and magic. I was chatting with my friend and colleague John Carey over the weekend and he said something that made me extremely thankful for this wonderful world we have as magicians. He told me to remember,
“At least we have magic!”
Unlike others who don’t have something like this in their lives. We, magicians have a focus, a drive and a skill that requires feeding. There are alway things to practice, people to work and jam with and an opulent history of literature to browse.
It’s the time to let your imagination soar…
This week I was surprised by the arrival of a book I have wanted for quite sometime. The book I got was Pure Imagination by Andi Gladwin Scott Robinson. Every time I spotted this delightfully delicious looking book it kept enticing me to buy it. So I did, as an Isolation treat for myself.
So far I have only worked on the first two effects and I cannot believe the mileage I have got out them. These weird and imaginative effects are fuelling my creativity. The amalgamation of unusual material and the strange mindset I am in works beautifully.
Curiouser and curiouser…
“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it!
I have a major problem as a performer and isolation is really bringing this out in me BIG TIME! I am sadly a perfectionist.
The more material I read and discover, the more I challenge myself. The more I challenge myself the more things I find I cannot do and when I do them, even with all the hours practicing in a day, to me, it’s still imperfect.
One of my personal goals during this apocalypse is to help myself let go of this perfect ideal. As at times it really drags me down and I feel that I’m not good enough (for what exactly, I wish I knew).
One of the ways I am trying to do this is by creating and working with loads of different magic that is alien for me. If I force myself out of my comfort zone daily, I have to stand up and face this perfection problem head on. And I can either curl up into a ball and melt into the wall or I can get up and do something about it.
Learning these strange effects from Pure Imagination has allowed me to think outside box. Challenging my thinking as to how I would present them in my own way. So far they have been far from perfect. Yet, the ideas are original and my own. Here is my version of the effect ‘Toy’ inspired by a theme of Light and Dark.
“Have i gone mad?
I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usualy are.”
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Falling down the rabbit hole…
For me, in isolation, there’s a pattern forming. I create a mess, clean and then mess it up again. My room is daily like the hole of Calcutta. Yet it is so worth it for the amount of stuff I have experimented with over the last four weeks. Don’t be afraid of mess. Embrace your inner demon and trash your room for magic!
The second effect from Scott’s book The Willy Wonka Card Trick I admit I struggled with, and still do. Big shout out to Scott for sending me through video tutorials helping me to see visually what exactly it is and where all my fingers should go. This little piece is amazing – but I need to work at it.
It’s so important to find what works for you.
If however I am going to perform this effect, I had to find a reason for it and why. And not just because it’s SO COOL to do. So after a few days pondering it and practicing it. I actually came up with an idea that suited me to use the effect. The Idea I came up with was: Find a Lady. Here’s my process as to how I got to this idea.
If I’m going to make something momentarily disappear what is the thinking behind it? Well, the queen that is used in find a lady card tricks needs to know sneaky ways to vanish right? That fits perfectly with Scott’s vanish effect – for me.
Once I had this idea, I began to concoct a story and over the space of three hours this evening. Relating to what I said earlier… it’s not perfect. Although I grit my teeth when I say this, I’m ok that it is not perfect because I am now going to work on it till it is.
If I think about the process in which this tiny effect began and went on to what I produced this evening, it’s mind-blowing. Here’s the step by step Arkane creative process.
Read Scott Robinson’s effect.
Practiced it – failed!
Scott Reached out and assisted.
With visuals I understood the handling.
Found a reason to use the effect with Find a Lady premise.
Jammed with Tom Stone. He suggested that I have three tens and I produce the queen from them.
Had no idea how to do that. Failed, again!
Played around and got a method to change a ten into a queen, nailed it!
Added in a sign to point out “Find a Lady.”
Practiced and recorded and watched back the routine over the course of three full hours to realise that the envelope is the key, but I’m not sure why.
EUREKA – The queen must return to the envelope!
My process in a nutshell.
However the frustration, time and effort to put this altogether truly was trying, and I did want to give up. Kind of like I didn’t want to write this blog post this week either. Hence why I’m publishing it at 4am this morning.
You can do anything you set your mind too. Make the impossible possible. Don’t aim for perfection. Do the best you can and learn to let it go.
When I was studying my degree in drama I was given the opportunity to stage manage a venue at the Belfast Festival, this venue was the Elmwood Hall. Primarily a music venue, the acts that generally were staged here in the festival were bands, musicians, speakers and sometimes comedians made an appearance too. I was so lucky as I got to meet and watch some amazingly talented people from Jack Whitehall (whom almost got me fired because he insisted on me taking him for a carryout just before his performance). E.S.T, Ed Byrne, Fascinating Aida, to Michael Palin (whom I had no clue how famous he was at the time and wondered why people were queuing for autographs out the back of the venue).
Across the three years I stage managed this amazing venue I met and worked with a performer whom I’d never come across before. An extremely talented musician and comedian that now we all know and love worldwide. He’s a actor, writer and all round talented, loveable guy. Tim Minchin.
This guy from start to finish ROCKED Elmwood Hall. It was like an awakening for me. Tim was so unbelievably talented and funny. He was able to creatively combine (and was friggin’ good at) all his skills as a songwriter, musician and personality to create an experience that I will, quite frankly never forget. His song’s had lyrics that were laugh out loud hilarity yet had poignant messages for us all to take home and unpack.
The reason I am writing this post is to remind you that when we pursue a career in something, it is good to find inspiration within the field. But when we are open to looking elsewhere the doors to creativity and what you can achieve burst wide open. The moment I witnessed Tim Minchin storm that stage was the moment I realised I need to keep my eyes peeled everywhere I go. You never know when that spark of creativity will smack you in the face. However, this is a smack you will gratefully receive with open arms.
Can we find inspiration during the apocalypse?
One word, Yes! There has been an implosion on the internet of sharing magic which is wonderful. And in the beginning of it all I wanted to watch and be a part of everything. It felt like I was in the best sweet shop in Sweden and was allowed to take everything I wanted.
However, this is just not possible. I’ve seen online so many people saying their exhausted keeping up online. It is exhausting having so much stimulation every day. And yes it is positive but if you exhaust yourself you won’t enjoy it and might retreat.
A solution which I have found – though I’m no expert – that works for me is to pick and choose what you want to be a part of, watch and learn from. And don’t guilt yourself for the coming days because you didn’t log in and say hi, or contribute to something. We can’t do everything. We don’t in normal life. But there seems to be this pressure building online to be a part of things and I don’t think its good. We need to breathe and take each day as it comes. And know that it’s ok to say no.
Rest so that you are ready to play.
On Friday last, I wasn’t feeling great. I had a bit of a sore throat (and I’m sure you all know when we get any symptoms of anything now your brain is automatically set to panic mode). This turned my mood inward and I didn’t feel like doing, watching or being magic that day.
I wasn’t massively enthused to do so, but it took my mind of everything going on for two full hours. After it I not only was in better form, but I got up out of bed and I began working on magic. I didn’t force myself to it, it just, happened. And I created this original piece of magic.
I had never been more inventive or open to creating as I was in that next hour. And it didn’t take me long to come up with this effect either.
If I had sat and forced myself to work on magic, it wouldn’t have come.
So, advice for creatively surviving this time in Isolation
Give yourself time. It’s ok to have a day off or two.
Don’t guilt yourself into doing everything, everyday for everyone.
Use this time to be a little bit selfish for yourself. Pick and choose what you can be a part off and can’t each day – don’t overdo it.
Leave stuff around your house, your bedroom that you can stumble upon and spark some creativity.
Keep looking for inspiration.
Watch, observe and help others when you are fit to do so.
Do things, little and often. You’ll feel like you get so much more done by the end of each week.
Be selfish, just a little for you. It’s ok to do stuff just for you, even for a day.
Keep laughing and smiling. We will get through this, together and hopefully be ready to take magic to the next level!
I am a terrible sleeper. I kind of always have been. Since becoming a Magician most of my best ideas spring to mind in the middle of the night.
There is a scientific reason for this.
As humans, we’re regulated by circadian rhythms, these are physical and mental changes that take place across the day. The circadian rhythms are affected by light and darkness, they can influence our sleeping patterns, secretion of hormones, digestion and the regulation of body temperature.
Since circadian rhythms are also linked to our psychological abilities, when we’re at peak circadian arousal time, our brain power is at its highest. Allowing us to solve problems we face daily.
These circadian rhythms respond when we have less light and our body is beginning to slow down for a night’s rest. Meaning the right hemisphere of the brain can actively function and benefit our creative impulses when we’re not in our most attentive state. (See the picture above). So idea’s ooze out from our brains like the Marshmallow man except we can’t call the Ghostbusters for help to stop the ideas generating that keep us awake.
How to prepare for brain activity at night?
What we all need to do is remember to write all ideas (even silly ones) down in a notebook, so they are not forgotten. Keeping a notebook stashed beside your bed at night is just one way to make sure you write them down. The closer it is the better. The less effort you make the more chance you have of retaining those thoughts. (I once woke up with my notebook at my feet under the duvet).
Weirdly last night I came up with a method to make a topit in my denim jacket and had an idea for my cups and balls and couldn’t get back to sleep until I got up and left a cylinder on top of my table to remind me in the morning to start work on the idea. Once I had done that I was out for the count.
What to do when a puzzle cannot be solved?
When I have ideas, I dream… BIG! And lots of the time I really don’t know how to solve these problems and make my ideas real. As a magician I’m still developing, reading and learning as I grow so there’s lots of things I don’t know how to make or execute.
I like to look at problems solving in magic as a puzzle. By turning it into a game the stakes are high. And when I solve it and win it’s so much more delightful. The playfulness of a game keeps difficult problem solving fun.
One of the ways to solve a magic puzzle is to enact what you wish to achieve first in your head and then physically. This idea of using ‘pantomiming’ as a tool to create is explored in detail by Tommy Wonder. He calls this method The Mind Movie.
As Pantomiming is delivering a story without words. We magicians in rehearsals can think a trick without executing it. Giving us a better idea how to take a fantasy and make it real.
Here is a summery of Tommy Wonder’s Mind Movie method below.
You have an idea – remember anything is possible. Imagine without limits.
Explore the effect fully, understand all you need to know to perform it and let it take shape in your mind.
By thinking the effect you get a clearer notion of what it might look like.
Run through the effect physically. Gather the props and use them during your “fantasy rehearsal” – Tommy Wonder The Books of Wonder Page 53.
By doing this Tommy writes you discover all the awkward spots, the things that do not work.
By this stage methods are not important anymore. Solving the puzzle is. Completing the task is.
But can a fantasy ever become reality?
So let’s link back to me developing as a performer and how pantomiming helped me achieve a completely new method (for me) that worked right away.
When I create and work with a new prop I haven’t a clue how to use it. This year has been my year playing with the classic, Cups and Balls. I researched a lot of routines by watching them, reading them and I’ve picked up some ideas here and there. However working through my own routine I have found it difficult to know exactly what I wish to do next in the routine. And when I finally find what I want to do next I have no clue how to make it happen.
For the record – This kind of thinking got me absolutely no where and depressed! So please join me and chuck this ‘we have to know the method before performing the trick’ in the bin.
Two days ago I began to think outside the box – making my predicament a puzzle to be solved. I began thinking, what if I set the ball where I need it to be so that I can get used to grabbing it from that position to place under a cup. This meant I didn’t put any pressure on myself to come up with the sneaky method right away. The idea was solely to find the best place for the ball to ‘live’ until I needed it. After doing this for two days with all my new loads sitting visible on top of the table a method popped straight into my head as to how I could hide the balls in those positions.
What I’m saying here is a clear method to hide the balls (which I had no idea how to do prior to enacting my mind movie for two days solid) came to fruition without struggle. It was simple, easy and without fuss and the first prototype I made (from cardboard and tape*) worked immediately.
*On a side note making prototypes of props out of cardboard and tape is a great way to see if your idea works without spending a lot of money to make something that doesn’t work.
I hope this post is something for you to ponder over a cuppa.
I’ll now leave you with the final lines from the Wonder maker himself.
“Your audiences will be able to experience your imagination and you. They will not experience a pale recreation of someone else’s imagination, or a hobbled version of your imagination. It will be a sincere, honest sharing of your dreams with the audience. You cannot share more. That is the ultimate!”