Magician Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell
Whether you want to learn a few tricks to impress your friends or work toward becoming a semi-professional or professional magician; this web page will help to get you started. Unlike many of the "wiki" or "how to do everything" sites, this site will provide you with practical, action-able information on how to become a magician!
So what is a magician? Many books on magic use Robert Houdin's definition, which simply put says, "A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician." Having spent nearly half a century in magic, I can say without equivocation that this definition is 100% accurate. The best magicians are without doubt those who have mastered this role. In this regard, no magician has been more admired or respected than the great Dutch magician, Fred Kaps. Kaps personified what it meant to "BE A MAGICIAN." But why keep talking when we can let you watch a short video clip of the master at work. Yes, the video is old. However, watch Kaps' flawless technique, timing and acting! It's timeless.
Fred Kaps, the magician you just watched in the YouTube video clip, is a "manipulator." Manipulation is the purest form of magic and relies primarily on sleight of hand magic with small or lightweight objects; such as cards, coins, balls (billiard balls), thimbles, steel rings, silk handkerchiefs, cigarettes, etc. These objects may appear or disappear, multiply, or be transformed into other objects. Manipulators use few if any "props," other than holders and receptacles. They sometimes also employ unseen gimmicks, including secret pockets, holders and other accessories. Manipulators often perform their acts to music with little or no patter (talking).
Many TV, club and banquet magicians will include one or two larger scale tricks (or illusions) in their show. These are often illusions that break down small enough to fit in the trunk of the magician's car. Some of these can even be made from cardboard. UF Grant, a long-time and extremely clever inventor of magic, wrote a book called "Victory Carton Illusions," when many common illusion building materials became scarce during the Second World War. 70 some years later, these inexpensive cardboard illusions are still popular with magicians worldwide.
The great Hans Moretti used a cardboard swordbox throughout his professional career that was as baffling as any illusion in magic. We've included a YouTube clip of it below.
More magic books have been written about card magic than any other area of specialization. Most all magicians, even if they do not consider themselves "card men" (or women), have at least a few card tricks at their fingertips. While many card tricks require some manipulative ability, there are also card tricks that rely on subtle principles, such as a card control system like Si Stebbins, key cards, and even gimmicked or trick decks. You can download Si Stebbins Card Control System and a couple of other terrific card tricks (in PDF format) FREE here.
Card magic is the easiest way to get started in magic and requires no more investment than a deck of cards and couple of books or DVDs. Jean Hugard, one of magic's greatest teachers, along with Frederick Braue, co-wrote one of the best books for anyone who aspires to do card magic called, "The Royal Road to Card Magic" - a book that helps newcomers build their skills and expertise, step-by-step. "The Royal Road to Card Magic" is available as a PDF ebook from Trickshop.com.
Many consider Jean Hugard's "Encyclopedia of Card Tricks," the single greatest book ever published on cards. Practically every known card trick is explained. Twenty chapters of the finest card tricks known and containing every variety of artifice known to the subtle card worker, hundreds of choice secrets of the world’s card experts assembled and classified in such form that you can find what you want instantly at your finger tips...Card Miracles contributed by such legendary cardmen and magicians of the last century, as Dai Vernon, Al Baker, Ted Annemann, Dr. Jacob Daley, Glenn Gravatt, Chas. T. Jordan, U.F. Grant, William Larsen, Howard Albright, Victor Farelli, Ralph Hull, Tom Seller, Audley Walsh, Arthur Buckley, Stewart Judah, S. H. Sharpe, and many more, plus the Nikola Card System. 358 big pages! Available in PDF format from Trickshop.com.
Jean Hugard wrote a complete book on the subject called, "Close-up Magic." Hugard's book along with Tom Osborne's book, "Cups and Balls Magic," are two excellent starting points for anyone interesting in learning close-up magic. The Matrix is a strong visual close-up trick that uses just four cards and four coins.
Most magicians who perform magic professionally or semi-professionally (part time) are stand-up magicians. They may work on a stage, raised platform or even at floor level for clubs and service organizations, school assemblies, colleges, night clubs, cruise ships, hotels and resorts, corporate meetings and trade shows, and banquets. Stand-up magicians generally use some props and/or "box tricks" and an illusion, along with manipulative magic with cards, coins, ropes and silks, and lots of audience participation. Many stand-up magicians also use tongue-in-cheek comedy "patter" in their acts to keep their audiences laughing while they are being fooled.
Some stand-up magicians specialize even further, catering to a specific type of audience, such as children (kid shows). These magicians structure their act and market it accordingly.
There are books filled with comedy lines or patter written specifically for magical entertainers. Most of this material can be performed even by magicians who are not naturally funny; though good delivery and timing is essential.
Magic of the mind is called "mentalism." Next to card magic, mentalism is the second most popular form of magic performed today. Magicians who perform mentalism exclusively are called "mentalists." Most mentalists began as magicians, like the great English mentalist, Al Koran. Professional mentalists create the impression that they are able to read the minds of audience members through various "tests" or experiments. These include: book tests where a word or phrase randomly selected by a spectator is revealed; "add-a-number" effects where the total of a series of random numbers given by the audience is predicted; or Q&A acts where questions written and sealed in envelopes beforehand are "answered" by the mentalist. Mentalists usually work with common everyday props that are above suspicion, such as pads, clipboards, books, envelopes, playing cards, etc. While some mentalists shun the use of playing cards, many of the mentalism greats had no problem using them, including Al Koran, German mentalist Ted Lesley, and of course, Ted Annemann who was a master inventor and performer of truly subtle magic and mentalism effects with cards.
Ted Annemann was one of the most creative and prolific mentalists (and magicians) of all time and his book, "Practical Mental Effects" is a virtual "how to" course in mentalism with nearly 200 powerful, yet easy-to-perform mental effects and routines, organized into 12 categories.
While mentalists usually work for larger groups, some also work one-on-one performing "private readings" using a process called "cold reading." With cold reading, mentalists are able to seemingly reveal details about a subject's past, present and future.
Robert Nelson was magic's leading authority on mentalism Q&A acts, and cold reading. Robert Nelson Enterprises publications remain a must-have resource for all serious mentalists or those aspiring to enter the field.
Street magic or "busking" pre-dates all of the other areas of specialization by hundreds of years. In the Middle Ages, "mountebanks" would perform at street markets and fairs, often in collusion with pickpockets and other ne'er-do-wells. Street magicians today combine close-up and stand-up magic, as well as comedy magic. Their success and livelihood depends upon their ability to draw a crowd and perform their miracles under demanding conditions. This often means being surrounded by spectators. As a result, street magicians must understand their "angles" as well as be experts in the art of misdirection. One of the best books ever written on this subject was "Secrets of the Street Conjurer" by Wilfred Huggins & Frederic Culpitt.
In recent years, there have been a number of popular "street magic" television specials. While not traditional street magic in the sense of the busking performer; they do share the approach of performing magic for strangers. TV street magicians work mostly with everyday objects instead of "magician's props" and often include mentalism or mindreading tricks in their show. These shows are often carefully edited to promote only the most spectacular results and reactions, when they occur.
Two of the most successful TV street magicians in recent years, have been David Blaine and Criss Angel. The video clip below shows David Blaine performing the "Card Thru Window" in his first street magic TV special. Many of the other effects in Blaine's breakthrough magic TV special are explained in Extreme Magic, available from Trickshop.com.
There are of course other areas of specialization in magic, including magicians who perform almost exclusively with a certain type of object, such as Coins, Silks, Cigarettes, Watches or Clocks, Escapes, etc. Aside from coin workers, who often perform close-up, these types of acts came largely out of Vaudeville where the intense competition demanded "something different."
Being a magician means more than learning how a few tricks work. It means having a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of magic. Whatever type of magic or area of specialization you choose, all magicians must know and master the basics if they want to fool and entertain their audiences. Both are important, if you want to be a successful magician. Here are the core fundamentals of magic.
Before you get started, it's important to understand that magic is a "performing art." This means the first step is to learn to "act" like a magician. Remember Houdin's description cited earlier that a "magician is an actor" playing the role of a magician? In magic, we call this Showmanship. In a nutshell, showmanship is the study of how you walk, talk and handle your audience; as well as how you present your tricks for maximum effect. In magic, presentation is EVERYTHING. Presenting a simple trick well and in an entertaining manner is far, far better than presenting a complex trick poorly. The latter entertains no one and does nothing to advance the art of magic. Know your limitations at every stage of your development and work within them. Dariel Fitzkee wrote the definitive book on the subject called, "Showmanship for Magicians."
"Angles" are the lines of an audiences' sight a magician must be mindful of when performing a certain sleight, move, steal, or even a trick with a prop where the load needs to be concealed, etc. This will vary with the trick you are performing, the performing conditions (where you are performing); and the size, proximity and location of the audience. Will you be working at floor level, on a raised platform, or on a stage? All may affect your angles differently and very few magic tricks are completely "angle-proof." For example, when working a banquet on a raised platform, the audience may be seated at tables in front of you, but they will also probably be on your sides. When doing magic in a person's home for a children's party, you will be at floor level with the kids sitting very close, often within a foot or two in front of you. They will also be seated and looking up underneath any props you might be using. When working a show inside a shopping mall, your audience may surround you, as well as be looking down from an upper level. If you're doing a card trick at a party, you may have people both seated and standing all around you. In all cases, you must understand what your angles will be and prepare your trick selection and presentation accordingly.
Hugard’s Magic Manual
If you’re interested in learning sleight of hand magic with cards, coins, balls, rings, bills, thimbles, cigarettes, watches, as well as self-working tricks and mentalism, Jean Hugard’s “Modern Magic Manual” is an excellent magic textbook. The "Magic Manual" is 310 pages with 17 chapters and teaches a wide array of new and classic tricks – covering everything from proper technique to misdirection. Plus all is explained in clear, step-by-step fashion with excellent Nelson Hahne illustrations. This classic magic textbook is now available in a high quality, yet reasonably-priced PDF edition. Visit the link below for order information and a complete list of contents by chapter.
You won't find this in many other places or books, but the best magicians "surprise" their audiences. So don't do the same tricks in the same way as everyone else. Good magic, like good comedy, has to surprise the audience to be really effective. Think of the funniest stand-up comedians you've seen. The ones that make you laugh outloud are usually the ones with a punch line that you didn't expect. Magic is no different. It's far more entertaining if you give the ending a unique "twist" and one that the audience didn't see coming. Think about that. After all, it's not enough to just fool your audiences. That becomes very boring very quickly. You must entertain them as well. If you can do that, you "will" be a magician.
Now that you understand what it means to "be a magician." Here are some resources to get you started.
Everyone learns differently, however many of today's leading magicians will tell you that they prefer books. So unless you're completely adverse to reading, this is probably the best place to start. Most of the magic books mentioned on this page are available as inexpensive PDF eBooks from Trickshop.com. Trickshop.com also offers several FREE ebook downloads.
DVDs are also an incredible learning tool, however beginners run the risk of just learning to imitate or mimic what they see - never really understanding the underlying principles or crafting a unique presentation and approach that suits them and their own individual performing style. That said, there are some excellent instructional DVDs on the market.
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