“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.

We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.

We all go through this.

And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

-Ira Glass

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Ten

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

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We continue with our last point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”
10. And last, but basically a first requirement, be a technician, as near to a perfectionist as possible. Learn to do all your moves automatically and effortlessly, so you can project you personality and do a real selling job.

If you can’t do ‘the work’ then you can’t do your job – period. Nothing should ever look difficult unless you’re making it look difficult intentionally. The “selling job” he’s referring to is not getting them to give you money per se. It’s getting people to invest in YOU.

When people witness a performance they have to buy into it. Imagine a bar where a band is playing. It’s unlikely that anyone says to their self, “Great I love music this will be awesome!” Typically people listen a bit first, waiting to see if the band is any good. They want to know there’s not going to be terrible vocals or sour notes. Once they know the band is good they let down their guard and ‘buy into’ the experience.

The same is true in magic – one needs to master their act if people are ever going to fully give themselves over to the experience. When they do the act goes from “watching a few tricks” to a suspension of disbelief and investment into the experience.

That’s when the real magic takes place.

I hope this inspires you in your craft, art, hobby or passion. I believe there’s something here for everyone in any occupation. I would even go so far to say in every personal relationship as well. Ultimately our performances are a form of relationship.

I hope all of your relationships are good ones. Cheers!

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Eight

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

To get a copy of, “Bert Allerton: The Close-Up Magician. “ Visit: http://www.magicinc.net/closeupmagician.aspx

We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

8. Be a gentleman. Be careful of your manner of speech, your patter (blue material should be avoided), your dress, and you general conduct. Smile graciously and be friendly.

So very important, and so very often ignored… “Working blue” (swearing, using sexual innuendo or foul language) or being rude are easy ways to get laughs. However that kind of thing can only work for a bit…it’s a voyeurism meets train wreck meets curiosity and it wears thin fast (as a rule of thumb the more intimate the setting the quicker!)

I started out that way (over twenty years ago) and I can tell you when I see videos of myself I cringe. I’ve changed as a person and so I’ve changed as a performer. I’ve had people ask me if I could “work a little dirty” because it’s an adult gig and I make them this deal; I’ll work completely clean and if you think you missed a single laugh because of it I’ll give your money back. I just don’t need to work dirty and it wouldn’t fit my personality to do so.

“Smile graciously and be friendly.” Seems really obvious right? But I’ll tell you it’s not common. In fact a genuinely wide smile and welcoming handshake is so rare that it makes a huge impression on people. Civility in general is almost a novelty, but people do still recognize it and respond well to it too!

How to dress…again one would think that common sense could be relied upon. But with the success of Criss Angel there are a new crop of would be performers who believe they can dress in ripped jeans and open shirts regardless of the venue. Your costume is part of your character – but unless you’re Lady Gaga your character should adapt his or her style to the surroundings in which you find yourself.

…and yes, shower, brush your teeth, clean your nails, and tie your shoes.

There’s a small but none the less important point that I would put under this heading as well: In as much as you are able, take the time to talk with your audience.

Think of a conversation you’ve had wherein the other person simply talks at you instead of to you. It’s made even worse when the subject is about them, they’re achievements, awards, abilities, etc. This is an easy trap to fall into for a performer because they’re supposed to be the center of attention…well, sort of.

So for the close-up magician, or the conversationalist, salesman, statesman, or human being take the time to understand you can be the center without being self centered…it’s tricky, it’s often intuitive, but it’s always worth it.

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Nine

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

To get a copy of, “Bert Allerton: The Close-Up Magician. “ Visit: http://www.magicinc.net/closeupmagician.aspx

We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

9. Have a sense of humor, and if not naturally a comedian, be able to build up situations with your magic that produces laughs.

Circa 2003

I happen to be a natural comic but I don’t think I completely agree with Bert on this one. I think that every performance ought to have at least one opportunity for laughter. Those moments are needed to relieve that tension that builds and can really make dramatic moments more significant.

However, I love to watch a serious performance of close up magic so long as the performer can pull it off. It’s very difficult not to appear pompous or cheesy while performing magic seriously. I think it’s even harder to do in a close up environment.

My style is comedy punctuated by moments of serious astonishment. Modesty aside, it’s like a sudden realization that the guy you’ve been laughing and having a great time watching is actually really, really good.

It’s the money hidden in the wallet you got on your birthday, the gift within the gift…it’s one of my favorite moments….

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Seven

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

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We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

7. Routine your presentation, with careful arrangement of effects, psychologically selected and performance tested. The opening is important and should break down as quickly as possible the normal dislike for magicians on the part of so many people, apparently due to unimpressive performances they have previously witnessed.

Emcee for a marketing event


Every effect must sustain interest as a closer-up performer has distractions which no stage performer encounters – music, dancing, waiters, kibitzers, etc. As in any good performance, the climax or concluding effect is exceptionally important. If possible, leave ‘em laughing.

This touches on several of the most daunting aspects of my job. The first and most frustrating is, “possible the normal dislike for magicians on the part of so many people, apparently due to unimpressive performances they have previously witnessed.”

I’ve said it many times – When people see a bad band they say, “Wow that band sucked.” But when they see a bad magician they say, “Wow magic sucks.” It’s painful and there are a huge number of bad magicians out there. Worse still is that many of them are great marketers! They get tons of work (though not for the same client twice….) But still, like a virulent flu, they manage to spread out and infect mass amount of potential clients with a genuine dislike for magicians.

That makes it hard for the good guys to get booked…when I tell someone I’m a magician the first thing they think of is a kid’s party entertainer. Most of the time it’s a quick way to insure that you won’t be taken seriously at all. On the food chain of entertainers magicians are only slightly above clowns (another very much maligned group.)

Through years of experience I’ve learned that I need to survey a crowd before I enter into the fray. One of my favorite types of work is the “walk around” gig – where I’ll be mixing and mingling with guests as they socialize with one another. I know that the key to ‘breaking the room’ is to find that first friendly group and to impress them enough to get a buzz going that will spread throughout the room and into the rest of the event.

Of Equal important is knowing who to avoid. This can be the groups that are heated conversation. Perhaps it’s the group who are too close to the band where I’ll have no chance of being heard (which just causes frustration and ultimately dis-interest.)

As a result of many, many years of doing this I have learned how to win over the ambivalent. I wish I could secretly video the process by which a table transitions from barely tolerating my interruption to clapping, laughing and wide-eyed-opened-mouthed amazement. It is satisfying, but it’s so much nicer to deal with people when you don’t have to undo what a poor performer has done before.

There are a hundred other things that can wreck the moment that I’m working to create…or at least they could destroy it if I hadn’t been through it before and come up with a way to deal. I started out doing magic in bars, dealing with drunks, aggressively inquisitive and downright grabby customers, over protective boyfriends, and people who can’t stand to have their friends pay attention to anyone but them.

On top of that are bands and DJ’s who make up for their lack of skill by increasing their volume, servers and hosts who step right in the middle of an effect to refills drinks….and the list goes on. So how can one possible negotiate this sea of chaos? Good humor and a solid refusal to be thrown off or get angry at any circumstance go a long way.

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Six

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

To get a copy of, “Bert Allerton: The Close-Up Magician. “ Visit: http://www.magicinc.net/closeupmagician.aspx

We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

6. Be a student of psychology, for there are many startling and unexplainable effects that can be performed as a result of knowing what people will do under a given set of circumstances.

In the last post I talked about, “a 90 minute conversation between workers discussing the timing of a move or the effect that changing the rhythm of a storyline might have. “ That’s the kind of thought that the real workers invest – it’s the kind of thing that elevates magic from a craft to an art.

It’s been said that within the context of the performance a magician knows more about psychology than any professor. Without tipping any secrets I can tell you that careers have been made and legends set on the foundations of knowing what people will do under a given set of circumstances.

In fact knowing how people perceive events, interpret language, and even how they remember things opens an entire world of possibilities. One might even disbelieve the idea that some effects are designed so that the amazement is the result of mis-remembering a series of events rather than fooling someone outright…but I can tell you – it’s true!

I grew up in somewhat isolated conditions and as a result I’ve always been a bit of an observer. Additionally my major in college was behavioral science; my area of concentration was learning theory. I have a great interest in people in general and it’s served me well. Fortunately I almost always use my powers for good….

maestro

Maestro


My favorite demonstration of this point was one of the performers in Cirque de Soleil’s show, “Nouvelle Expérience.” He was a silent clown who began by walking through the crowd. Sometimes sitting with them or pretending to talk to them, leading people all over the place before finally giving up and handing them back their tickets…in general he seemed to be playing with them.

But his play had another purpose – later he would need to pick four people out of the crowd for his act and it was critical that he pick people who would have a natural sense of playfulness and composure…his time playing with the audience was a super quick study of potential volunteers.

The entire act was a reenactment of a movie scene being shot. It was done in pantomime with him playing the part of the cameraman. One volunteer played the part of the director, another was the ‘good guy’ there was a damsel in distress and the ‘bad guy.’

Keep in mind that the whole thing is being done with people who are making everything up off the cuff – and one extremely talented “puppet master” who is creating openings that he knows his imaginative and playful volunteers will take advantage of to produce hilarious results. And so they did! It was masterful and brilliant!

I remember seeing this kind of thing in other performances as well; something would happen and a spectator would act in an unexpected way that forced the performer to improvise with funny or amazing results…and it seemed to happen more or less the same way every show!!! At first it seemed like a bit of a letdown – like it was contrived.

Later I realized the amount of work that went into creating those moments was incredible and could only be honed through repeated performance. I began to understand the level of complexity masked by simple events that seemed to be happening organically, and how carefully they had actually been constructed.

I use this literally in every performance I give. I use it to test the volunteers I will select during the show and in a variety of other ways that I am disinclined to share – after all the illusion is paramount for your enjoyment and so it is my priority 🙂

P.S. If you’d like to check out the Cirque’ performance I spoke of you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IcnZE3rjoY (at least until it disappears!)

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Five

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

To get a copy of, “Bert Allerton: The Close-Up Magician. “ Visit: http://www.magicinc.net/closeupmagician.aspx

We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

Tradeshow

Tradeshow circa 2006


5. Have a sense of timing, which can only be fully developed by experience. This is one of the most important factors in successful presentation of close-up magic. Learn how to build up suspense, create surprises, and produce laughs.

Experience can keep one from making a lot of mistakes. And how does one get experience? By making a lot of mistakes….

A wise performer will also study, study, study, observe, test and reflect. We read other performers thoughts and opinions. We talk to one another telling stories and hearing about other’s failures and successes. We look into other disciplines such as acting and comedy.
We make our own mistakes and cultivate our own learning opportunities.

I have been extremely fortunate to have known scores of great performers. While I lived in New Orleans I would regularly attend two different meeting for people who were “on the inside.” One of them was a weekly get together for street performers who were world travelers – magicians, puppeteers, jugglers, and musicians – folks who were skilled enough to make a living in the streets and cool enough to be invited to the get together.

These people would tell stories more engaging and amazing than any TV show or movie out there…and a sharp observer could learn as much from the way they told the stories as what happened in the story. We would eat together, tell stories and invariably show each other the special stuff. Sometimes it was our best stuff, sometimes our projects in their infancy sometimes just all out silliness…but everything had some ‘thing’ some potential that could be grasped by an inquisitive mind.

The average non-performer would be bored to tears to hear a 90 minute conversation between workers discussing the timing of a move or the effect that changing the rhythm of a storyline might have. But all these things work together to build a ‘lab’ that lets us test things before the public ever sees it.

Often we’ll have a good idea of what will work…but in the end it’s got to be worked out in performance. Trial, analysis, and more trial…It’s no wonder why seasoned professionals prefer to work with people who value their time and experience. It’s a very tough and very satisfying process.

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Four

Backyard magic! Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

To get a copy of, “Bert Allerton: The Close-Up Magician.“ Visit: http://www.magicinc.net/closeupmagician.aspx

We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

4. Be a salesman to the extent of giving the public what you can do that really entertains them and not using the effects that you merely think are good or merely like to do.

Ever see a magician who is more entertained by his or her routines than you anyone else? There can be a couple different reasons for this; some magicians are just self centered…These are the ones who are really just “in their own head” self centered in thought and action.

Then there are the others – normally good and “with it” pro’s who are in the process of working out a new effect or tweaking a part of their act.

Magicians have different criteria for liking effects than laymen do. Because they know many of the methods behind tricks they are often more entertained by the subtleties of an effect than the trick itself. It’s like appreciating the color of a car more than the car itself.

Additionally a magician may invest hours and hours into the practice and routining of any effect. They analyze the timing, angles, motivations – they live with it. Then they take it out into the world and it flops….

In these cases a pro won’t simply abandon the routine. They do their best to figure why it didn’t go over the way they thought it would. They will analyze, test and tweak. The process may take several performances and sometimes it’s the kind of thing that can only be worked out by performing it in front of an audience.

But in the end no matter what the cost in terms of time (and often money) invested the ultimate test as to whether or not an effect stays must be the audience reaction.

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Three

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

a certain magical mouse

A present from Heather age 6


To get a copy of, “Bert Allerton: The Close-Up Magician. “ Visit: http://www.magicinc.net/closeupmagician.aspx

We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

3. Have a natural adaptability for doing magic and using your own natural style.

I’ve always had a great admiration for people who can draw really well. Many years ago I was in the office of an illustrator with whom I had worked out a sweet deal; I taught him a few choice magic tricks and he designed a logo for me.

I mentioned how much I’d love to be able to draw but that I simply lacked the natural talent. He said that talent plays a part but really it’s a matter of a heck a lot of practice and hard work. The same is probably true of many things and definitely true of magic.

Using your own natural style as part of a performance takes your work to the next level. The problem is that many magicians haven’t taken the time to study and develop their natural style. They become automatons simply mimicking the actions of whoever taught them the trick.

I believe there are several “natural” talents at work in the great performers;

• They have an ability to relate to people.
• They seem interesting even when doing nothing.
• Their movements and slights are well motivated – that is they don’t simply shift props about with a reason.
• Their movements are fitting to their character. For example a person with a slow paced meter to their speech and a calm demeanor would break character if they suddenly began to move rapidly (unless they had a justified reason for the change.)
• Their observable nature does not change unless there is an observable reason why it should.
• All of these things need to blend seamlessly with whatever ‘moves’ or ‘sleight of hand’ is required for the effects to work.

There’s quite a lot going on beneath the surface of a great performance. Even this is really just the tip of the iceberg. A professional magician will view the investment in this area to be at least as important as learning tricks or practicing sleights.

Mike at the restaurant

Mike performing tableside circa 2005

“Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician. “ Part Two

Please note that each element of “Bert Allerton’s Rules for the Close-Up Magician“ has been reprinted with the express written consent of Magic Inc. (no part may be re-printed in other media without consent of Magic Inc.)

To get a copy of, “Bert Allerton: The Close-Up Magician. “ Visit: http://www.magicinc.net/closeupmagician.aspx

We continue with our next point in the series…
“To be a really successful close-up magician you must:”

2. Love people to the point of sincerely being more interested in their enjoyment of what you are doing than in the effect itself.

This is tough! Most magicians really love to watch magic. We have not only an obsession with it but a fascination as well. Some effects are just cool to watch, even when you know the secret. (In fact many are even more amazing when you know!)

There are tricks that are incredible when presented in a straightforward way that would be more entertaining when played for comedy. This may be because of the nature of your performing character or the context of the performance itself.

In these cases you have to decide what’ more important the audience or the trick? Sounds like an easy choice right? Not always…Sometimes a performer gets more mileage out of making the effect the main thing. It can sweep everyone up into a sense of something bigger than themselves.

But I think what Allerton is talking about is really a matter of being gracious to the audience (and it’s certainly my goal!) For me the bottom line is this:

If my audience has a choice between saying, “Wow that was an amazing show!” VS. “Wow we had an amazing time!” I want them saying they had a great time. It’s not usually a choice between the two – but if it were I’m going to choose to focus on them.

What’s Mike tweeting now?

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