Jack writes: 'I've been learning magic for around 7 months now, and am starting to think about performing for 'strangers'. I have shown quite a few tricks to my friends and family which went down well, but I'm looking to progress from that and take my magic to the next level. I was just wondering if there are any tips you could offer such as; maybe a small 'checklist' of things I should know how to do before I start performing (so I'm not trying to run before I can walk), the best ways to approach people, and how I might have an indication of when I'm ready.
I've set myself a target to go out and perform to people on the street by January 1st next year at the latest, but thought I would email for any tips/advice I can get from you.
P.s, loving the merchant of magic podcast! Keep up the awesome work! I only started listening a week ago and I'm almost up to date!
Congratulations on deciding to take the next step, moving from practice to performance in a street magic setting. Here's some tips that might help.
Checklist for performing street magic to the public
1 Choose your location wisely and be safe
If you are deciding to perform for the public then always make sure you know your area and that you are in a safe environment. Do not perform to people down alleyways and in rough areas. It is better to be safe than sorry. You may get any sort of reaction from the public so you need to be somewhere safe, preferably somewhere where there are lots of other people around.
2 Check your PL insurance policy fine print if you are going to do anything with fire or with a borrowed item.
It is important to be aware of potential problems when performing to the public. What if you use flash paper and accidentally burn someone? What if you borrow a ring and genuinely lose or damage it? In most cases people are forgiving but in such a circumstance you could find yourself being sued or reported to the police. If you do not have any performer’s public liability insurance then you could be in a sticky situation.
We would recommend insuring yourself if you are going to attempt to perform anything in public with borrowed items or especially fire. Fire performers have to have a special type of insurance that is specific to their act so we recommend you look into that. Check this website out:
3 Be personable and smile
With all of the boring stuff out of the way lets talk about more fun stuff! It is important that you have fun yourself. If you don’t allow yourself to have fun, how are your spectators to have fun? Make sure you smile and that you are personable. Be kind, pay people compliments, maybe address how weird this situation is in a cheeky way, say something like:
‘It’s not every day you are stopped by a stranger offering the promise of miracles is it?’
With a cheeky wink and a smile when you perform, can set people at ease and let them know the next few minutes of their lives will be enjoyable. If you are very nervous and quiet, looking down at your props rather than making eye contact then you run the risk of making your spectators feel awkward or disinterested. Spectators that feel awkward will not give you a great reaction, and that in turn may make you lose confidence a bit in what you are doing making the next approach even harder. It can be a perpetual downwards spiral. So make sure you do not fall into that trap.
4 WWYDIA? What Would You Do If Approached?
This is always a great way to figure out your approach to spectators. Put yourself in the firing line, imagine what you would feel like if someone walked up to you and approached you how you are approaching people. Would you feel uncomfortable? It is far too easy to just think, ‘I would be fine with that’ but be honest with yourself. If you were marching through a town centre and someone walked up to you and stopped you your initial reaction would be to say ‘no thank you’ before they have even said anything. We are so used to people only ever stopping you in order to get something from you, whether it be for research purposes, to try to sell you something or even for money that your initial reaction will be of dismissal. Make sure you do what you can to show it will all be fun, maybe try performing an instantaneous piece of magic, drop something and make it float back up to your hand, cause something to vanish entirely like a pen you are holding or even do a quick opener like Unboxing to grab their attention. Just put yourself in their shoes and you will soften your approach to something a lot more manageable.
5 Be aware of your audiences and respect their wishes
Being aware of your audiences and being respectful of their wishes is very important. If someone does not want to see any magic, do not force it on them. If someone is looking like they are uneasy then reassure them. You may wish to perform a trick with an item like a ring that you borrow or a borrowed banknote, if someone obviously does not feel like they want to let you perform with their item then do not force it. However you will find that if you are personable and make people feel at ease with you then you will find you experience less spectators having nervousness about your performance.
6 Have tricks that can be cut off at any phase
This is something not many people think of but stuff can happen, phones can ring, people can suddenly be aware of the time, they may even have a friend recognise them in the street and interrupt you. Be mindful of this, so try todo sets of tricks that are quick and can be cut off at any point, try to avoid routines that have something happen and then you do 5 other tricks before a big reveal as they may need to leave before the reveal happens. For example if you have vanished their banknote and you are going to have it appear inside something that you produce at the end of the routine make sure your method allows for you to have it already to go at any point. If your routines in-between are an integral part of the misdirection for doing such a load then that may not be the best routine to perform in a street magic set.
7 Try to nail your first opener trick quickly to give them a quick taste
This subject was briefly touched upon earlier. If you can capture your spectator’s attention and make them hang around by performing a good opener trick that is something quick and snappy, then that can only be a good thing. This does not go for all performances but it can certainly help with quick street magic performances. Show your spectators that you are worth their investment of time and that it won’t be wasted for them.
8 Make sure you are prepared and know what it is you are going to do
It is essential that your performances go smoothly. Really work out your pocket management, know what tricks you will perform and how you will perform them. If you are unprepared and can’t find, for example, a Sharpie, then two seconds later you cannot find a lighter or the correct prop you will lose your spectator’s attention and they will begin to feel like they are wasting their time. Of course how you address them can make all the difference but in general if you are interrupting someone’s day then the least you could be is prepared! By doing this it will make your performance stronger too. Seamless transitions from effect to effect or minimising dead time whilst you search for something will all help to keep your spectators in that ‘wonder bubble’ where they are not thinking of the time or where they have to be, you are simply helping them stay in the ‘moment’.
9 Unless asked try to keep it to a set of three effects for maximum impact
It can be very easy to get carried away when performing and keep wanting to show just that ‘one more trick’. It is always better to leave them wanting more than to over stay your welcome. Try to keep your sets to a limit of three tricks. Pepper as much magic throughout such as making Sharpies appear or vanish, decks vanishing or sudden moments of magic like a neck cracker; but always keep the sets succinct and to the point. Unless they are begging you to show more (in which case you should show just one more… maybe!) then be aware that the moment you stay to long is the moment you go from amazing and enthralling to ‘not as important as the other things I have to do’.
10 Always thank them for their time, even if they thank you.
Be gracious to everyone who stops and gives you some of their time, if they thank you and are happy you stopped them, thank them back, after all, without their time you would not have had the chance to perform anything. Also do not be rude to anyone who doesn’t want to see magic, if they stop even for a moment to hear what you have to say then thank them and wish them well on their way. Remember that without spectators magic is nothing, it is just moves and sleights you have learned, you will not see the magic, only a spectator can so if anyone gives you the time of day to watch what you have practiced then you should be thankful and appreciative of their generosity with their own time. If you think about it, time is the most valuable thing we have and to share that with a stranger on the street really does mean a lot.