Producing a Street Magic Act

More accurately, the title should be Close-up Magic act but “Street Magic” is probably a more trendy term. Regardless, the requirements and conditions are almost the same. I’m not talking about Street Magic for TV or Youtube but for real performing conditions and real audiences, especially with the intention of performing it commercially.

The most basic requirement I always suggest is the “Rule of 3”. Pick 3 routines/ effects to form an act. The “3 Act” structure used in theatre, film and story telling has stood the test of time and is an excellent structure to follow for the new magician.

In terms of duration, less is better than more. I suggest a complete set of maybe 5 – 6 minutes maximum for an act. A good guide would be as follows:

  1. Opener – 1min
  2. Filler – 2min
  3. Closer – 2 – 3min

There is no restriction on the type of material to perform. It does not have to be all cards, all coins or all mentalism etc. However, your opener should be similar to what stage performers call an “in-one” piece. That is, it is just you performing it without audience participation or too elaborate set-ups.

The purpose is to establish your personality and capture the audience’s attention. So, avoid having the first thing you do to be handing props out for examination. This is the rookie mistake I see so many people do. Handing out props at the start is dead time, does not allow you to establish personality and pulls all focus from you to the props they have in their hands. It is much better to perform, say, a coins across routine and then hand out the coins for examination that then leads to your second routine.

The filler should be solid and entertaining. This is also the time that you can do a participation piece like having an audience member sign a card for an Ambitious Card Routine.

The Closer must be the strongest routine in the whole act and have a definite finish that signifies it is the end of your act. Nothing is worst than having an anti-climatic closer with the performer standing there staring blankly at the audience or sheepishly mumbling something like “that’s it”. I’ve seen it many times before so it is not something I’m making up. Choose a routine that has a definite strong ending like a card in  shoe or impossible prediction and close with an ending presentation that tells the audience the act is over to receive your applause.

When you develop an act, many magicians go with a single prop such as a deck of cards and do 3 different card routines. While there is nothing theoritically wrong with this approach, new magicians may find it hard to hold an audience’s atteniton with 3 card routines in succession due to their underdeveloped performance ability. Variety is the spice of life and it is safer to go with 3 different “props” and plots to ensure you can retain your audience’s attention.

I know some like to approach an act with a mentalism presentation such as “I would like to show you 3 demonstrations – one of divination, prediction and muscle reading.” The problem of this approach is again, the strength of the performer and the inherent strength of the effect. In mentalism, the expository phase (the setting up of the effect in performance) is much longer than in a visual magic routine, so the payoff must be strong and properly presented, otherwise it can seem anti-climatic and unimpressive. Imagine, it that “bombs”, the audience will not be pleasantly anticipating 2 more similar “demonstrations”.

The same can be said of “same effect” type demonstrations. For eg: “Today, I’m going to show you the ability to move things with the mind with 3 objects – a pencil, sunglasses and a nail.” In the hands of an inexperienced new magician, this approach (while a killer in a good performer’s hands) may flop.

One approach you can adopt is to go with a theme or similar props but have completely different routines to make up an act. Check out the latest episode of “M for Magic” where Adeline does just that. Her loose theme is magic with Dice but technically, only the second routine uses physical dice. You can watch it here on Youtube.

So, you can apply the same format but with a different set of “props”.

One final approach is not to worry about theming at all and just have 3 disparate routines. In fact, this is generally my approach as it allows for variety and I’m not dependent on a theme in a performing environment that is fluid. That is, I do not have to worry about people joining in halfway or being disrupted by a service staff or wanting to cut the performance short when I realize half of the group is drunk.

Interesting Note: I always start with a routine with money (coins or bill) OR an intriguing prop. (See Darwin Ortiz’s “Strong Magic”)

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About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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One Response to Producing a Street Magic Act

  1. Maximilian Draco says:

    Great post! As allways, J.C´s advices are gold! I found that variety works best for me and that the audience likes it best. Also If you do different things, you will let the audience thinking that you are very complete, because you dont just do cards, but also coins, handkershifs, balls…
    A solo opener to get the audiences´s attention is a safe option. Also keep in mind that in one way or another the audience is always involved because you are performing up close. That is what makes street magic strong. You are allways in touch with the magic. Be prepared to improvise, because something unexpected can allways happen, and that can turn into good oportunities to even make the magic stronger.There are no bounderies in magic, do your thing, be yourself, and remember that you are there to entertain them. Don´t be a trickster, be a magical entertainer!

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