Archive for the 'Performance' Category

What you CAN’T learn from the Paper Engine!

The Paper Engine was written to help you get more fundamental success out of your sleight-of-hand. But no matter how well you learn the material inside, there are many lessons about being a magician you can only learn from a living breathing audience.


close up room 2

A Truly Awful Spectator – What do you do?

In formal close-up situations, it’s often useful to choose a couple spectators to sit at the table with you for the duration of the show. My act, even more than others, is all about encouraging free and open interaction with my audience. At times I feel like 90% of the set depends on the quality of the people sitting in the chairs beside me.

Last week I performed my 200th show in the Magic Castle close-up room. One of the people I chose turned out to be a bad pick. I selected a big, hulking guy with what seemed like a congenial attitude. But within a few moments of starting the show, I saw forming what could only be called a situation.

The guy would not shut up! For every line I uttered, he spoke two. He stepped on the pace of the show relentlessly, and seemed oblivious to every single clue I offered as to his appropriate behavior. Over the next few minutes – his conduct got worse. He stepped on punch lines. He ruined effects. To be clear, I don’t think the audience felt he was ruining the show – but from my perspective, he was really crippling the act.

About halfway through the show, I felt we were reaching the point of no return. We were coming to the point in the program where the effects get notably stronger and more mysterious. I had no sense that this blackguard was going to let the show happen. He didn’t mean to be a turd – he just didn’t have any concept of how to behave. Plus, he was drunk.

So even though I normally work with the same spectator for the duration of the act, I asked the audience to give this bozo a round of applause, and had him switch seats with an amiable fellow in the front row.

The new fellow came up, the show picked up tempo and energy and ended as it should – on a high, satisfying note.


What you can learn from this sad tale

Don’t be afraid to relieve a bad soldier of his post. I knew this guy was a lame by the end of the first trick. Instead of waiting for him to do something truly terrible, I could have sent him packing at the end of the first effect, seemingly as a matter of course. Nobody would have known the wiser, and I could have saved myself about 6 minutes of heartache. And remember, 6 long minutes on stage feels like a lifetime of hard bondage.

To whether storms like this, on stage in real time, you require two things: experience and confidence. You need to have done enough shows to have suffered, and enough self-assurance to make the call quickly – and nip the problem in the bud.

When I first started, I endured this sort of thing often – at that point, I hadn’t had much experience picking spectators. Not surprisingly I bet on the wrong pony a good deal of the time. This week, I only put up with it for about 8 minutes.

Next time I notice a problem like this, I’ll give it about a minute, just to make sure I’m not trigger happy. Then I’ll fire the clown in question and get on with the show! 

Have you ever had a truly terrible spectator?

Drop a comment on this post and tell us about it. We can all learn from hearing these stories, and I’d love to read yours. Be sure to include how it ended, what you did about it, and what you learned from the harrowing experience!



Welcome to Card Magic

If you’ve recently decided to get serious about close-up card magic, here’s a tip that may make you a little angry. You’ll thank me one day.

Don’t Practice with a close-up pad!


dean mat

photo by Jason Dean


When my teachers first gave me this advice, I was about 18 years old. At the time, I loved my close-up pad and carried it everywhere. I broke it out all the time –either to do a few tricks or just to practice.  Not only did it make my magic look more “professional”, it made a lot of handling, like shuffling the cards, much easier to perform.

I trusted my teachers, generally speaking, but even so, I put up a fight. After all, if I was faced with a glass table, I could barely even pick up the deck. It took me a few months to finally get the point.


Real sleight of hand under any conditions

One of the most seductive aspects card magic is the promise of real miracles, done any time, anywhere and with any deck of cards.  It only took a year or so (maybe two) to learn how to handle cards effectively on a hard service.

Since that time I sometimes use a close-up pad in performance, but I never have to fear performing because I don’t have a close-up pad and can’t work without one. It’s a feeling of comfort you’ll always appreciate.

The campers at Sorcerer’s Safari learn these important lessons much younger than I did. It’s an awesome thing to see. One morning last August, just a few days into camp, I opened my cabin door one morning to find a gift from one of

the campers – a photo of the gift appears at the top of this post.

I was so proud I nearly cried.

Performance Terror Revisited: Shine a Light!


If you get a chance to go see the new Rolling Stones movie directed by Martin Scorcese, get out and do it. If you have any interest in performing magic before a live paying audience, you’ll find this film quite illuminating.

Besides seeing the band in a way never possible before, you’ll get to watch Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Charlie and Martin preparing for a long evening’s work.

Pay close attention to the sound check and presidential meet and greet. Mick is so uncomfortable about the number of cameras onstage and in the crowd, he can’t help mentioning it to Bill Clinton. Jagger worries that so many cameras will ruin the energy of the crowd. Bill isn’t worried about the cameras. Bill doesn’t have to rock. He’s only the MC.


The Hollywood Bowl: As you can see, it’s really too intimate for the Stones


Why is Mick worried?

The Beacon theatre is TINY by Rolling Stones standards – 2800 seats. I’ve seen the Stones play big rooms, like RFK Stadium in D.C., and relatively intimate rooms like the Hollywood Bowl, with only 20 something thousand seats.  For the Rolling Stones, playing the Beacon Theatre is like Copperfield playing the close-up room at the Magic Castle.

Mick Jagger really doesn’t need to worry about whether he’ll get a strong reaction in a 3,000 seat venue. But like any entertainer who cares about his work, he frets about any little thing that can spoil the crowd – even a little crowd.

And that’s just one of the things you can learn from watching this intimate film about one of the least intimate bands of all time.

Try and see the film in IMAX if you can. Much will be lost on a little screen.  And as Scorsese suggests at the beginning of his first great rock and roll film The Last Waltz, make sure you watch this  movie LOUD!

Your Turn

What did YOU get out of Shine the Light?  Go see it, then let me know!

The Best Way to Remember your Lines

Have you ever gotten so nervous on stage that you forgot your lines? I have. Today, I’ll give you a rehearsal method  that can help you beat the problem for good. 


Hollywood sign

Hollywood Hike: In the mornings, I like to hike up the hill by my apartment to see our little sign (pictured above). Sound like a great way to learn a trick? Read on.


Get Physical

Every day, magicians and actors struggle to learn their lines. They sit on the couch, or stand by the mirror or pace a few feet in front of the television. I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got to get these lines crammed into my head.”

But the performance of magic isn’t intellectual in nature; it’s a physical act. As much as it may seem otherwise, magic isn’t accomplished with the mind. It’s performed with the body. Your lines must come automatically – as reflex. Don’t think about it. Just do it. 



Credit for my favorite memorization method goes to Lawrence Olivier (You didn’t know he was a card man?). He often performed Shakespeare – memorizing those plays  can be a beast. They have many many very precise words. And every single syllable matters.

When Olivier was preparing a role with a great deal of language, like Richard III (for my favorite film version click here ), he would go to a chalet in the mountains (technically alps). He would rehearse the lines every day as he hiked up the mountain.  Thanks to the hardcore hiking, every single line accompanied real physical movement.

This differs greatly from learning your lines as you pace in the kitchen. Olivier’s physical activity anchored every word to his body. In the same way a card master owns the classic pass, Olivier owned the play. The words lived in his muscle memory. They were a part of him. 

Your Turn

Next time you want to learn a presentation, try this. Go outside and perform the lines as you walk, preferably uphill. Make sure not to go so fast that you can’t breathe or speak. That would make rehearsal difficult. Feel free to experiment with gesture, variety and articulation as you go through the lines.  Play with different readings and see which one you like the best.

As you work, you’ll also make discoveries about the trick, and you may consider  redrafting your presentation. That’s part of the fun.  In the process, you’ll learn your material more effectively and with better retention. Your magic will improve.

And to hell with magic anyway. You’re outside!

Let me know

After you try this, let me know what you think in a comment. Or if you have any sneaky methods you use to learn YOUR material, share it with me!


Are you a card man? This will improve your show.

Posh Bangers

England: Home of the Posh Banger.

Where HAVE I been?

Thanks for asking. It’s been a super exciting start to the year. The last month brought England, a convention, a lecture tour, corporate events in Las Vegas, bar magic, and a week on the main stage at The Magic Castle. WHEW!

And it was great! I got to work in so many different ways for so many different types of crowds. It keeps you awake, thinking and growing. It gives you good stuff to blog about.

Real card magic is physical

No matter how many passes you can do, or how many coins you can palm, the most important magic tool you can learn to use is your own body. That’s one reason so many authors have written about the value of theatrical training for magicians.

Here are just a few of the incredibly valuable skills you’ll acquire if you choose to study our parent art form- the theatre.

Vocal Training

If your audience either can’t hear you or has problems understanding your words, even the most beautiful presentation will fail. Especially if you have some regional dialect people regularly comment on, talk to theatre professionals in your area and get their opinion.

Your native dialect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You may perform as a river boat gambler and your voice may suit the role perfectly. But what if you live in a place where a truly authentic dialect can only be understood by your immediate family? Unfortunately, many strong dialects only confuse the audience. Be honest with yourself, and your magic will benefit.

A great book to help you explore this topic is here. Take a look at it and read the reviews. It changed my life, but it’s only for those who are ready to get serious.


Movement Training

I’ll say it again. The performance of magic is a physical activity performed primarily with your body. Whether you work on stage or as a walk-around entertainer, learning to use your body effectively will profoundly change your approach to magic as well as the results.

In fact, any work you do with your body, either at the gym or outside, can greatly aid your performance process. Look for a separate post on this topic later this week.

Acting Training

For all the talk since Houdin of magicians being ‘actors playing the parts of magicians’, the truth is, most of us spend our time learning how to honestly and accurately play the one role we will ever take. We strive to play ourselves, as accurately and honestly and compellingly as we can.

Basic acting training can really help you here. Don’t worry about the trappings – fancy accents and weird physicality helps advanced actors create vibrant, believable illusions. But you won’t need much of that to accomplish your immediate goal.

Focus on the truth of the moment on stage. Learn how to stand still under hot lights without worrying about ‘entertaining’ the audience. You’ll develop the ability, with help from your professor, to respond honestly and spontaneously to what the other characters give you to work with. Through this process, you’ll develop a taste for authenticity – a need to express yourself truthfully on stage. You’ll begin to truly understand why so many performers fail to grab your heart – and why others win you over immediately.

Once you really begin to learn these lessons, the audience will give you positive feedback – you’ll see the difference yourself, and fast. And it won’t be the private victory you celebrate when you master a long sought for sleight-of-hand technique. The entire audience will know how much you’ve improved.

Your turn: What do YOU think?

I’d love for you to send me some comments on this post. Perhaps you’ve had a class like this, and you want everyone to know how much it helped you. Perhaps you’ve thought about taking a class but didn’t go through with it. Why not?

Or maybe you really just want this blog to talk more about card tricks – I’d love to hear about that too. This blog is about how my experiences can help you become a better performing card man. Let me know if it’s working.

Thanks for reading!


Lee Asher Comes to Hollywood – All bets are off.

Lee Asher came to Los Angeles last night to visit for a few days. We first became friends when we went to college together, in a town noted for academic rigor – Las Vegas.

In those days, everything centered on close-up magic. Sure, we had classes too. But this wasn’t an ordinary college. In the gaming library, UNLV had a complete collection of Marlo Manuscripts. Allan Ackerman was a professor we could seek out on campus – he had office hours. After class I’d go over to Lee’s apartment, just next to the Hard Rock Hotel. We’d either be practicing, performing or hanging with the best magicians from all over the world. days.

These days the old gang gets together mostly for work related activities – gigs, conventions, magic camp. During work visits, someone’s always leaving the party for two hours to go lecture, or do a show. That sort of thing can really disturb the flow of a session.

Three Days to Blastoff…

Starting next week I’m working constantly for the next month. First, I’ll do half-pass workshops at the Session Convention, followed by a brief lectures series in the UK. Then I’ll return for a few corporate events in Las Vegas, and then return to Los Angeles and the main stage of the Magic Castle. I’m planning to release my new trick, Panic’s little brother, after I return from the UK.

So for the next three days, I’m hanging out with my college buddy, working on magic ideas and trying to build the perfect magic show.

I you want to see me in either the UK or Los Angeles – Here’s are the dates: Drop me any email – then com and say hello!

The Session Convention – January 26,27

The Magic Castle: Palace of Mystery – February 18-24

Card Magic in the Middle East

I spent last thanksgiving in the south of Israel on the banks of the red sea – we had turkey shawarma, no gravy.

Silly Billy, Josh Jay, Thom Peterson and I performed and lectured at Roei Zaltzman’s convention, Magic on the Red Sea (MARS). Our hosts were kind and gracious. The audiences laughed and came to be entertained. The board of tourism even gave us our own tour guide for two days after convention. It was a fantastic experience.

Though I gave my first magic lecture ten years ago, trips like this make me remember that magic can take you to incredible places. Take a look!


Not bad for a working weekend, eh?


Here I am with Josh Jay. He showed me some of the best close-up ideas I’ve seen all year. In the ten years I’ve known Josh, he’s become an incredible magician.


This is Ariel, my scuba instructor. I’d never been under water with a tank before, and it was even crazier than I’d imagined. Eilat is known for it’s diving and now I know why – it was like real magic.


This was taken after a performance for some local teens. Many people don’t know that Israel has compulsory military service – at age 18, everyone joins the army. These kids weren’t allowed to put their rifles down, even to select cards! While I’ve never performed for such a heavily armed audience, I have to say they were a lot of fun…and they love ambitious card.


Josh Jay took this and the next photo. He’s one of those guys that actually aims the camera first. Behind me is the Dome of the Rock. Am I flashing?


As you can tell from the cropping on this photo, I was definitely flashing in this shot.


I’ve known Josh and David Kaye (aka Silly Billy) for a long time now. But the two other guys in this photo were revelations. In the middle stands Thom Peterson. He performed and lectured at the convention. He hasn’t performed at many conventions – he’s too busy working cruise ships and corporate events out there in the big bad world. His magic and charm were both top notch. He’s got two videos out on the market right now, and they’re filled with audience tested, practical material.

The fellow on the left is Menny Lindenfeld. You may already have some of his many original effects on the market. If you don’t, you likely will soon. His clipboard is a wonder to behold.


Here’s a picture of my grandpa Melvin at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Uh..sorry. That’s Thom.


What did you get for Hanukkah this year kids? I got the SCUBA SUIT SILLY BILLY PLAYSET. It’s AWESOME!


That’s Roei Zaltsman on the right. He’s a card man, mentalist, TV personality and the organizer of the convention – He put on one hell of a conference.