Steve Shufton is a highly respected inventor and manufacturer of high quality magic tricks and props for professional magicians. Known for his own distinctive creative style, Steve's inventions are used by magicians worldwide. X-Ray is one of the MoM teams favourite tricks.
Dominic Reyes caught up with him, to ask a simple question. Steve's experience in magic is formed by years of performance, not just to the public, but also to a much harder crowd to please: Magicians! They provide valuable advice for magicians at any stage in their career:
Dominic Reyes: If you could go back to the start of your career what three things would you do differently?”
Steve Shufton: This is certainly an interesting question, especially since it is difficult for me to define precisely when the start of my magic career was.
Dominic: So it's hard for you to locate an exact moment that your career started?
Steve: In a way, yes. Was it when I was bitten by the bug? Was it when I gave my first performance as a child? Was it when I started to earn a substantial part of my living from magic?
Dominic: Your saying that a magic career isn't necessarily defined by professional performance?
Steve: I knew, the very first time I attempted to learn how do a magic trick, that this would remain a curiosity for life – I was bitten, and had it bad. Where did the coin go? How can I learn to do that? So, this certainly must have been the start. After all, some of the very best magicians in the world are “amateurs,” who have also embarked on a magical career, although an unpaid one. Why should they be excluded from the conversation? Yes – although I make the greater part of my income from magic, I do not earn my money from performance – I earn it from inventing and manufacturing. I have to fool professionals – never mind the lay audience. And yes – I make my money this way. But since I do not earn the bulk of my income specifically through performance, I am little different in that regard than an amateur.
Dominic: But, you agree that there is a difference between you as professional or amateur?
Steve: If there is a difference, I would say it would have to be 50 years of practice and performance experience, although in close quarters, thereby qualifying me to offer my opinion on this matter unashamedly.
Dominic: So, looking back, what would you do differently?
Steve: As a child I remember being so eager to “present” each new trick, it frequently happened on the same day I read it or purchased it. The word “present” is in quotes, because this was not a presentation at all! To properly present any effect, certain phases of learning the effect must first occur.
Dominic: Can you explain this process, in more detail to us?
Steve: First, you must study the effect with your mind – with your inner eye. You are to convince an audience that you have done something, using only magic as a possible explanation. Therefore, understanding what an audience will perceive is of highest importance! Is fumbling, stuttering and rocking back and forth as one tries to recall the steps in achieving a goal magical? The answer is self-evident. I wish, as a small child, someone had held me back from demonstrating any effect until I fully understood the effect myself. If I could go back to my first experiences with magic, I would take much more time only contemplating the effect.
Secondly, the working of an effect must be second nature. A pianist (I happen to be one) must practice music until it is deep in the soul. It must proceed from within, without any thought process intervening with the outflow of music.
Dominic: Why is that important?
Steve: Because, otherwise, it remains an intellectual exercise and will never come across as something natural and beautiful. Dai Vernon, when he offered the advice, “Be natural,” was offering the most profound advice for the performance of excellent magic. In order to be natural with your magic, you must practice it until it transcends the intellect – transcends thought. It must flow out of you as if you have been doing it your entire life – just like walking.
Dominic: That makes a lot of sense. We receive a lot of questions from magicians, who resist the practice of rehearsal, through fear that their performance will sound too 'staged'. We recommend that their practice should continue WAY past that point, until a naturalness develops from the total familiarity with the 'lines'. What's the final stage?
Steve: Finally, it would be a good idea to learn as soon as possible that the trick is not the entertainment. You are. The effect is simply a vehicle for entertainment. Many beginners think that by showing a spectator what arrived in a box this morning, they are providing entertainment.
Dominic: And that's not the case?
Steve: If that were, we wouldn’t need magicians at all – only boxes of stuff. The solution is to have a presentation. This far outweighs needing a trick! The difference between a good trick and a bad trick is often the presentation. If you are just showing them something, you are not doing your job as a magician. You are the show – the tricks will always be secondary to that.
Dominic: So what practical steps can magicians take to prevent that?
Steve: Find some way to make the effect yours. Imitators will never be as great as originals. Develop rapport with your audience. Take the time to develop a worthy presentation. Practice it as much as you practice the effect – until it becomes second nature and your delivery is natural. Lose your ego and let your audience into your world. Learn from your mistakes. Accept criticism. Have fun!
The Merchant of Magic would like to thank Steve Shufton for taking the time to give us this interview.
Also check out the DVD set: wrinkles on the table, it's a supurb collection of original moves and magical thinking from over 40 years of performing experience.