Five More “New Rules for Magicians…”
I had the good fortune of working with comedian Bill Maher at “The Horn” nightclub, in Santa Monica, during the early ‘80s. I enjoyed his comedy then and still do all these years later. Every now and then I like to dedicate a column to a concept similar to the “New Rules” segments featured in his HBO series “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Here is the latest edition of my own personal “New Rules for Magicians.”
New Rule #1. Never “See how much time you can get out of a trick.” Instead see how much you can get out of a routine in the least possible time.
Again and again I hear performers use expressions such as, “I can get 15 minutes out of the egg bag.” The true goal of a strong entertainer is to tighten his performance and get every bit of impact from a routine in the least possible time. You can eventually proudly say, “I’ve finally got my egg bag routine down to 15 minutes,” if every one of those minutes is strong and vital entertainment. Look for the padding and then surgically remove it from your show; you will be a much better and more commercial performer. The next rule is an extension of this first one…
The audience doesn’t care if the new prop you just purchased cost you a king’s ransom, they are just interested in how much it intrigues and entertains them. Be ruthless in pruning your running time and never let cost be a factor in your consideration. If you spend a grand on a prop that achieves an effect in just 30 seconds, then don’t feel a need to make it play for 35 seconds, unless you have really added to the impact with that 5 seconds.
New Rule #3. Just because you can do something in a routine doesn’t mean you should do it.
Performing, like life, is a series of choices and it is important that you are discriminating in your choices when it comes to structuring a powerful routine. Decide whether each phase or element in a routine really moves it forward or if it just confuses or dilutes the overall effect. Learn every possible element that can be used to perform your effect, and then begin to look objectively at what they really add to the trick.
If all they add is time or repetition then ruthlessly eliminate them. In magic it is important to remember that to the lay audience less is usually more.
New Rule #4. Be original in your publicity material or any seasoned booker is going to assume your actual show is just as unoriginal.
There is a tendency for magicians to see photos and publicity material that other performers are using on sites like Facebook. I’m sure there was a first person to stage an 8X10 with a fire wallet but now it is pure cliché. The current trend is the photo holding a hidden ace in the hand. A cute idea but fast becoming another instant cliché. These pieces of press material are the first items a buyer often sees of an act. He is also probably looking at many performers materials so why not use something more original. Even a good picture of the performer himself is unique and unsullied by over exposure. Why would he think you are going to be different and unique if your photo isn’t? Which leads rather neatly to the next rule…
New Rule #5. If you aren’t Jeff McBride then there is really no need to dress like Jeff McBride.
McBride is a wonderful performer and teacher of magic who has a truly unique approach, not only to his magic, but also to his singular choices in costume and character. With his Kabuki style make-up, top hat and eccentric sense of style Jeff looks equal parts magical troubadour, steampunk visionary, exotic magician and Asian warrior! It is a look that is all his own and indeed is as unique as the man himself. I bump into a lot of magicians who have learned much from the invaluable lessons that Jeff teaches at his celebrated “Mystery School.” However, quite a few of them seem to have borrowed liberally from his sartorial style as well. Sorry guys, for the most part, you really have to be Jeff to make it work for you. Learn the lessons that Jeff teaches and then make them your own beginning with your own personalized fashion style.