Performing Magic

by Jonathan Goodwin


Magic is a performance art, i.e. a medium for entertaining an audience. Its exponents should not only be skilled in sleight of hand, but also deft in showmanship and stage craft. There is as much to learn in this field as there is in manipulative technique, and if you are well versed in performance theory, then your magic will become more amazing.


As Geoffrey Durham quite rightly says, "The first thirty seconds of your act is the time in which your audience decides whether they like you or not". It is up to you then to make an entrance. Whether you perform Close up magic or Stage, you have to engage your audience, and it's not just a matter of walking out and saying, "good evening". Your body language, facial expression, eyes, and the speed with which you enter, all make a difference to the reaction you will receive from the audience.


At a recent convention, I was amazed that several of the acts walked on stage, and performed an entire trick before they even looked at the audience. In the same show, a ventriloquist, who has been in the entertainment industry for years, walked on stage and sent his enthusiasm around the auditorium, looking everywhere and smiling radiantly for a good ten seconds before he even spoke. The difference in the audience reaction was astounding even though both acts were technically superb.


Spectators want to be involved in the action. This is why the biggest laughs in most shows come from apparent adlibs which relate to members of the audience, or current events. If the audience feels that the performer is talking to them, and for them, rather than reeling off a routine which he has done fifty times before, then they will be more positive in their response. The Simmons brothers, a wonderful comedy magic act, have created routines with what seem like adlibs built in; because they know that if you incorporate the audience, rather than keeping them passive, the reaction they will get is far greater.


If you watch any of the old professionals work, they talk directly to the audience. When Ken Dodd is talking, you feel he is performing his show for you, and talking to you. He walks onto the stage through the audience, including them; and his opening lines are full of humility and incorporate everyone. "How tickled I am to be here with you this evening". All of these old professional performers exude a warmth and charm which is infectious, and makes you smile even before they have done anything.


Perhaps we should examine the methods of these more experienced performers, and seek to grasp some of the finer points of their technique in order to apply it to our own shows. I know that the ventriloquist who was at the convention I mentioned, once shared a bill with Laurel and Hardy; it is that wealth of experience which is available to us, and used properly will help us to elevate the art of magic.


Jonathan Goodwin July 2000