By Malcolm Duff
What's the difference between magic props and magic gimmicks?
“Props” – as you almost certainly know – is the name given to anything that you use during your performanceof a magic trick that aids you in producing an effect.
A lot of magicians confuse the word “props” with the word “gimmicks”, thinking that they are interchangeable, that they both mean the same thing. They do not. Whilst it is true that all gimmicks are props, it is not true that all props are gimmicks.
For example, if you do card magic tricks then one prop that you will need is a deck of playing cards. “Duh..”.
Now, you can use a deck that is “gimmicked” in some way so that you can perform one or many effects that cannot be performed with an ordinary, genuine deck and so that deck of playing cards is a gimmick as well as a prop. However, there are many astounding magic tricks that can be performed with an un-gimmicked deck and so that deck is a “only” a prop.
Here is a breakdown of what I consider you need to know about props;
You should be able to manipulate your props (if they are capable of being manipulated) with ease.
There is nothing sadder than watching a card trick being performed by someone who is obviously uncomfortable with a deck of playing cards. Someone who cannot shuffle easily, or drops cards, or handles them awkwardly or too slowly. We've all seen them – and we do not want to repeat their behaviour.
So – if you do perform card magic tricks – you need to know that deckof playing cards inside out. You need to handle it as if it were part of you. Be sure that your spectators will notice this – even if they are unaware that they have noticed. They will be more comfortable with you if you are comfortable with your cards.
How do you get to that point? Well, yes, it is our old friend magic practise again. Always carry a deck of playing cards with you – and I mean always. You can hold it in your hand(s), shuffle the cards, cut the cards and so on, as you are doing something else – walking down the street, waiting for a bus or whatever. It is well-known that the best American Football Quarterbacks always carry a football with them – some even take one to bed! You need to be the same with a deck of playing cards. An added benefit of always carrying a deck is that you will come across situations where there is an opportunity for an impromptu performance. More practise right there. By the way, you will know when you have reached this point with cards; You will feel that something is missing if you do not have a deck on you and – even better – none of your friends will play cards with you for money!
All of the above applies to many props that magicians use – like coins, sponge balls, matches, silks and lots of others.
This only applies to a subset of gimmicks. It is almost too obvious to mention but it is important. Here is the scenario; You acquire a new (to you) magic trick from some supplier, get it home, open it up, follow the instructions, practise it over and over until you can adequately perform the magic trick and then slip it into your act. Now, you may be amazed to discover that there are some performers who do this without actually knowing how the gimmick does what it does. They make the gimmick work by following – blindly – the instructions. However, knowledge of how the gimmick works will mean that you know which parts of the magic trick are more important than others – which parts can you drop? How can you improve the effect? Etc. So find out – or figure out – how it works.
Before venturing out to a gig – whether an amateur or professional magician – you should make sure that you have all your props with you. Double check. Test them. Take spares for those props/gimmicks that can run out – like sharpies or post-it notes or whatever – also take spare batteries for those gimmicks that use them. If you are a successful magician – or otherwise wealthy – you might consider new batteries for every performance. If the prop/gimmick/effect relies on a separate duplicate of something – is that duplicate looking scuffed or dirty? Do you need a new one? If it relies on multiple items make sure that everything is present. One idea is to have a routine for when you “pack up” after a gig. Put those things that rely on each other in a separate bag or box. Maybe the original packaging?
I can illustrate this one by a quote;
“The only thing random about a magic effect is the punter”.
I do not know who first said this but I do know the impression that it made upon me. The performer has planned everything that they can. Leaving, surprisingly, nothing to chance.
If you do not learn “Planning”, I guarantee that you will just after it bites you – and it will.
However, planning is not everything – here is the next…
My favourite, mainly because I have fallen foul of ignoring this on more than one occasion – I know, I am a slow learner.
I currently perform most often to the same audience. I know them all by first name – they know me. This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include things like; you know the personalities of each punter, you know with whom you can or cannot “get away” with something, you know which type of effect will go down well and which will not, which punter will follow your instructions and which will try and ruin your effect – Oh, yes, they will. I find that surprising, since I am more than capable of ruining an effect without any help from a spectator.
Anyway, back to appropriateness. There are many effects that I cannot perform for that audience. Not because I cannot do them but because they know me too well.
For example, if I use a production wallet then I fail. They have never seen me with a wallet. Why do I have a nice posh black leather one now? Am I wearing a jacket with secret pockets? They have never seen me wear a jacket. Am I wearing “back tie” dress when the audience are all dressed casually?
Basically, this can be expressed as “Am I doing anything, wearing anything, using anything that is not appropriate for the audience or venue?”
If you do have a “regular” audience you can, of course, train them over a period of time as to what to expect about your presence.
Two things here; You have to obtain your props. You will – most often – be getting them from source(s) that are getting them from a manufacturer/distributor. This is more than fine. Find a magic dealer that has satisfied you. Stop using sources that have not. If you try a source – that you have not used – try them with some of their less expensive items to test their whole process. How was your experience?
The second thing about supply is that, as you get better at performing, you will be able to notice the difference between the products of different manufacturers of the same prop. You will find that you can handle one better than another. It could be weight, size, flexibility and so on. Cards are a very good example. Which “brand” do you like best? Why? How do different brands differ? How many have you tried? If you are really presumptuous – How can a deck of playing cards be improved?
Creation of props
I mention this one because it exists.
You perform magic tricks. There are only two types; Those that you have learned – by whatever means – and those that you have created. “Magic” tricks are a lot like chess. I do not mean that the skills needed are in any way equivalent or comparable, just that – in chess – you can regurgitate or create. More usually, just as in chess, you will do both.
So, if you do create a “new” magic trick, or an improvement to an existing effect, that needs one or more props then you could sell that effect and those props! It it's an adaption to an existing magic trick, you should gain permission from the origianl creator and credit them in full for their work. Yes! You can do that. That is exactly how you got the last one that you learned/bought. Someone else created it. It could be you that pushes it forward!