How Many Illusions in a Show?

First, the general accepted trade definition of an illusion is a large scale magic effect.

General expectations that come with an illusion performance are a physical illusion prop, scale and production value. The general expectation of an illusion show (that distinguishes it from a stage magic show) is that the show features a number of illusions.

There are no rules to the maximum number of illusions in a show as you will ultimately be limited by your own illusion repertoire, stage size, backstage size and availability of crew. However, depending on the duration of the show, you probably need at least 2 illusions for the show to be considered an illusion show. In a 30-minute show, 3 or 4 illusions is a good number.

Crystal Metamorphosis

Most of my shows are between 30min – 75min. I have never done a show with more than 10 illusions in a single show. Here is an indicative guide of what I think will fit most illusionists:

  • 30 min Show: 3 – 4 Illusions
  • 45 min Show: 4 – 5 illusions
  • 60 min Show: 6 – 7 illusions
  • 75 min Show: 7 – 8 illusions

The general formula for an illusion show is to alternate between an illusion with a stand-up or silent stage piece. This creates variety in the show and is also a practical structure as it allows the crew to set the stage for each illusion number.

Most illusion shows will open with an illusion or an impressive silent stage magic act that leads to an illusion. Many times, the silent stage act is performed first because of the loads and pre-sets needed.

Most illusion shows also close with an illusion, although it is also common to close with a sentimental stage piece to end on an emotional high, as opposed to a visual spectacle. I have used both types of performances to end an illusion show.

How many illusions do you have in your show?

If you enjoyed this article, you can check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs 
HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014″ upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

Leveraging Your Artwork to Promote Your Theatre Show

If you are staging an independent theatre show or any form of ticketed show, there is no doubt that you will be investing in having artwork designed for a show. Along with the cost of having the artwork designed, other associated costs will likely include photography, make-up, costuming and printing if necessary.

So, with the investment made on your artwork, you should try to maximize your use of your custom designed promotional material beyond just posting it on your website. I will not go into a detailed discussion on graphic design or how to go about designing a show poster, but here are a few tips that have worked well for us:

1) Have good photos. Depending on the concept of your poster, you will need either studio promo shots or high quality live performance shots or a combination. You need professional photos to have a good poster. Good photos also form the foundation of a good poster and ensure the graphic designer has good material to work with. If the photos are of poor quality (composition, framing, pose, resolution etc), even the best designer in the world cannot create a killer poster.

2) Hire a professional designer. Unless you are a graphic designer, don’t try to put the poster together on Powerpoint. You are an expert in illusions, let the expert in design work his/ her magic.

3) Make sure visuals and photos are large and spaced out. Bear in mind, large format posters may be viewed from a distance and with the advent of the smartphone, many people will be viewing your e-poster on their phones. You want to ensure your poster is easy to read so that it does not get passed over because it is too difficult to read.

For a more in-depth look at graphic design for theatre show marketing, check out Clay Mabbitt’s,, a theatre marketing blog. Specifically, read his post “The Role of Graphic Design in Theatre Marketing” and listen to his podcast on working with a professional designer here.

Here is some of the artwork from our past shows.


UMPosteriotm_preview-webUlitmate Magic Revolution

Mega Stunts

With this poster, we decided to go a different route and move from a photo-based poster to a hand-drawn artwork piece. One reason was that the two stunts we were attempting were in the vein of Houdini, so it was a throwback to old Houdini posters. However, we choice for a modern Asian Manga-style as it fit our image and heritage.

Which is your favourite? 🙂

Here are a few ideas to maximize the use of your artwork in multiple ways and on multiple platforms.

Promotional Channels

The most obvious and natural way to use your artwork is to share it on your promotion channels to market the show. The most cost effective way is to promote your show online:


Your artwork will be featured prominently on your official website with clear links to info on the show and ticketing.

Social Media Platforms

Currently (in 2013), Facebok, Twitter, Instagram and blogs are the most popular social media websites. This will no doubt change over time as the next cool thing is embraced. Use your social media platforms smartly and do not flood them with your artwork. 

You might want to tease the artwork by showing different parts of the artwork first on different platforms, before finally releasing the entire artwork on all platforms.

For Facebook, create an “Event Page” and use it as your central social media channel for the latest updates, photos, press releases and videos.

If you have a blog, it will be one of the first places you announce details of your show. To get extra mileage out of your artwork, write a subsequent follow up post to explain the concept behind the artwork and the process of the design. This can include first drafts of the artwork as well. So, you get two different blog entries that feature your artwork.

Be sure to create temporary customized avatars, banner heads and profile icons for all your social media platforms.

Social media craves new content all the time. So, to get twice the amount of mileage, have two versions of your artwork. It will not cost you twice the amount but will get you twice the amount of promotional leverage.


Insert your artwork (in e-mail friendly sizes) into your emailers that are sent to clients, friends and people on your email list.

Advertising & Event Listings

As most small independent theatre shows do not have a large advertising budget (if any), your choice of ad placement will be very selective and specific.

Targeted online ads such as Facebook, Google Adwords and Youtube are affordable channels that you can explore.

Contact social, entertainment and theatre magazines and websites to list your show. This is free but you have no control of whether your artwork will be published along with your listing. For listings, give the editors a “stripped down” version of your artwork. That is, it will only feature your graphics, title and names of the stars. Remove all other details as these will be stated in the event listing. The more attractive your artwork, the higher the chance that it will be used.

Contests/ Auction

A novel yet not uncommon promotional channel is to create an online contest where you give away free tickets to the show or merchandise from the show (if any) or set-up an auction (Ebay) where you auction off memorabilia from the show.

These promotional activities should be done towards the lead-up to the show, even though the auction item will only be given to the winning bidder after the show ends.

Besides promoting the show in an interesting way, your artwork will once again be seen on different platforms.

Physical Items


Even in the digital age, you will still likely print physical posters. The good news, is that with digital printing, you can print on-demand and print as little copies as you need.

Posters will be needed for the venue and any supporting physical outlets that are promoting the show for you. You can then recycle these posters (assuming they are in good condition) for your auctions or giveaways.


If you intend to create merchandise items such as program books, caps, bookmarks, postcards or T-shirts, aspects of your artwork will be on these items. Remember, artwork is part of your branding, so artwork seen on merchandise that audience members bring out of the show will be promoting your show beyond the show.

On the Tickets

If you are staging a ticketed event, you will definitely be issuing tickets, whether they are printed or e-tickets. Either way, this is an opportunity to feature your artwork once again.

In Performance

This is a unique way to leverage your artwork that is specific for magicians and illusionists. You can use your artwork as a magic prop or the subject of a magical effect. This highlights your artwork (branding) in a live show setting.

Here are some effects that you can create with your artwork:

  • Self-printing/ Self-Colouring Artwork ala Magic Colouring Book
  • Torn & Restored Effects. Poster-sized ala Axel Hecklau’s “News Flash” or namecard-sized ala Shawn Farquhar’s “T2P”.
  • Productions from a Rolled up Poster or Poster Cone as taught in Jeff McBride’s Magic On Stage DVDs.
  • An Artist’s Dream-type illusion
  • Any illusion prop that you can logically customize to bear the image of your artwork. For example, a mirror box that magically produces merchandise from the show
  • Card Printed on Poster. You can design your artwork with a magic effect in mind where a selected card magically appears printed on the poster. If you use Gaeton Bloom’s “Intercessor”, you can create an even stronger effect with a torn corner ploy.

Here are some avenues to showcase your “artwork magic”:

  1. Video Teaser for Show, Television Appearances, Live Promotion Events
  2. The Actual Show

The first few platforms are promotional platforms where you can showcase your artwork in the context of “branded content”. The audience watching you will be exposed to your artwork for an extended period of time and not just a 3-second flash on screen. This has very strong visual retention with the audience and is great brand identity building.

Presenting your “artwork magic” in the actual show(s) may not bring people to the show, since they are already at the show. However, think of the ways you can leverage off the performance with photos and videos that you can use to promote your next run of shows or simply use as post-show publicity.

If you have any novel ideas of leveraging your artwork for promotional purposes, please share it with us!

If you enjoyed this article, you can check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014” upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

5 Things Theatre Marketing Can Teach You About Promoting a Magic & Illusion Show by Clay Mabbitt

J C’s Note: I’m so pleased to have this article contributed by Clay Mabbitt who runs, a theatre marketing blog & podcast. Bookmark his website as everything he shares on theatre marketing applies to promoting a magic or illusion show.

I requested Clay to write an article for magicians and illusionists. I think his insight as a non-magician but a professional in the arts & theatre arena is valuable and he highlights several key points that magicians often do not understand or accept; especially points 2 & 4. Enjoy!

When J C asked me to share some of my marketing insights with this audience, I was surprised at first. While I enjoy magic and illusion, I have no aptitude for them myself. I couldn’t even convincingly pull off the set of linking rings that I got as a birthday present when I was a kid.

I’m just a theatre guy. I act and occasionally sing. Marketing those type of stage productions is what I’ve been blogging about since 2010. But the more I think about it, the more I started to see a connection.

Whether an illusion show or a play, you’re still asking a roomful of strangers to buy a ticket, sit attentively, and suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy an experience that transcends the mundane world – even if only for an hour or two. The product we put up on the stage may be very different, but the process of enticing strangers to trust us with their money (and even more importantly their time) has some parallels.

With that in mind I give you some valuable principles of theatre marketing, and how (from the outside looking in) I think they might translate to marketing the art of illusion.

1) People are terrified of being disappointed and trapped

When it comes to entertainment, the average person doesn’t like taking chances. There are exceptions, but most people only want to commit to buying a ticket to a performance when they are absolutely certain they will enjoy the experience.

When we carve out a few hours to go to a live event, that time is precious. We got dressed up. We found someone to watch the kids. There’s an enormous pressure to have a good night. As professional entertainers the stakes aren’t as high for us. Even a bad performance is an opportunity for us to observe things not to do, and we can use that to improve. That’s not true for most of the people you want to come see you perform, though.

In theatre a big part of how we reassure people is to communicate in our marketing that the people involved in this production are skilled, and that they are doing their best work. Successful marketing conveys that the team behind this show are competent and committed. I have to assume that’s just as important for an illusionist.

2) Everyone wants to see something unique

Why do I need to see your show? Even if I love magic, why do I need to see your magic? If I don’t buy a ticket, what am I really missing out on?

These are the questions your potential audience is asking themselves, and you better have an answer. When I promote a play I comb through the script, the venue, the people involved, the costumes, the props to find reasons this production will be unlike any other entertainment option someone could choose.

It isn’t enough to promise in your marketing that you will amaze an audience. You can’t just say you’ll show them things that defy their understanding. You’re in the magic business, and frankly that’s just expected. The real question is how are you doing that in a way that no one else is? That’s what people want to know before they buy a ticket.

And if they’ve seen you perform before, what are you going to show them this time that they haven’t already seen. (Ning’s recent article on evolving is required reading.)

3) Marketing is entertainment

The second someone’s eyes fall on your advertisement, the show has begun. You don’t even know it’s happening. You could be miles away. But someone’s already being either engaged or turned off by the very idea of your show.

They’re forming opinions about what the experience of seeing your show is like. Now they may not have a sense of what sort of illusions you create or how you execute them, but they are already imagining with the tiny bit of information they have what they would feel like if they were sitting in the audience watching you.

Are you funny? Sexy? Lazy? Unprepared? They already have an answer if you ask them.

Which is more important to an illusion establishing the premise in the mind of the audience or doing that thing that breaks the expectations created by the premise? You can’t separate them, right? Both elements working together is what makes a successful illusion.

What if you thought of your entire show as a single illusion? The performance is where you delight and astonish the audience by showing them things they didn’t think they could see. Your marketing is where you establish your premise. One couldn’t exist without the other.

4) The quality of your promotions is a reflection of the quality of your show

Is that always true? Not always. Do people always believe that it’s true? 100% of the time.

Just like in the world of theatre I’m sure there are illusionists who spend all their time and energy crafting the product that they are putting up on stage. They ignore promotion because it’s somehow beneath them. All they need to do is create an amazing act, and word of mouth will spread. It sounds… almost noble.

The enormous problem with this approach is the false assumption that your promotions and your performance are separate. (See #3 above.) To the general public they can’t be distinguished. Someone who has only seen a cheap, thrown together flyer about your show forms an opinion. Based on that flyer, their opinion is that your act is cheap and thrown together.

Now they’ve never seen your act, but that doesn’t stop them from having an opinion. When their friends are trying to figure out what to do this weekend and someone mentions your name, what happens? “That show doesn’t look like much fun to me. I can watch my little nephew do magic tricks at home. Let’s do something else instead.”

5) If you want press coverage, hand them a story

The fact that you are an illusionist putting on a show is not newsworthy. The world is bursting at the seams with entertainment options, and the mere fact that you are one of them doesn’t warrant a mention in any news outlet. So if you send a press release with the date and time of your upcoming show and a list of places you’ve performed before, expect that press release to end up in the trash without a second glance.

Every publication serves a particular audience. Maybe it’s the people who live in a particular city. Maybe it’s a trade journal for people in a certain industry. Any feature that appears in those publications needs to have an angle that matters to that audience. Are you partnering with a local business? Is your show big enough to have an economic impact on this community? Did you invite local schools to a light version of your show the day before the big event?

I can’t tell you what “newsworthy” angle is right for you. That’s very personal, and it’s certainly different for everyone reading this. What I can tell you is you have to do something unusual and impactful if you want to get covered in the news.


I don’t pretend to know what it takes to create a successful illusion. Truthfully I can’t even claim to know exactly what it takes to market yourself as an illusionist. I promote theatre.

I do know there is a general principle that I believe holds true for marketing any kind of entertainment. People just need to know they’re in good hands. Whatever approach you take to your own marketing, make sure that message comes through clear.

Comedy Techniques for Illusionists

J C’s Note: This essay is adapted from a piece I wrote in 1999 entitled ‘Comedy Techniques for Magicians’, which was in turn produced into a short lecture for IBM Ring 115. It has been revised significantly with the illusionist in mind.

While not everyone performs a comedy illusion show such as Nathan Burton, Scott & Muriel or Rafael, any Illusionist can benefit from adding comedy to his/ her show.

Most illusionists choose a performance style that features illusions performed as high-impact, dramatic or straight magic pieces. To add texture to your show, you might considering adding a comedy illusion to your repertoire. Or, if you prefer to keep your illusions dramatic and flashy, you can design your supporting/ filler material to be comedy interactive pieces; and this is a popular choice with illusionists.

I consider comedy techniques an important subject that should be studied in depth by all magicians, regardless of your style, performing status and ability level.

Comedy is a great enhancement to any show. If you are doing a show for more than 10 minutes, comedy can definitely add variety and entertainment. Applying certain comedy techniques to a straight act can do wonders. It breaks the monotony of the show and allows the audience to catch their breath and let loose.

Comedy is not accidental or simply telling a joke. Just like slick illusion choreography, comedy has to be well thought out and designed before it is infused into your show. When comedy is not ‘played’ well, it can look really cheesy. You will see this at times in illusion performances. The illusionist ‘tickles’ a body part of his assistant and she laughs in a fake way.

So, What is comedy?


Ah, that is a philosophical question that is being debated till date. A man slipping on a banana skin can be funny, so can a person standing on stage and doing nothing. A raised eyebrow can crack up an audience and so on. The thing is, anything can be comedy depending on which way you are seeing it.

In this essay, I will try to suggest time tested techniques which can bring out comic situations and increase the comedy element in your illusion show. This article is by no means exhaustive, but should be enough to get you thinking. I offer a set of readings below.

First, it is useful to identify three different types of comedy

  • Visual Comedy – This is a universal form of comedy that is communicated visually. Slapstick comedy ala Charlie Chaplin is a classic example of this type of comedy.
  • Verbal Comedy – This type of comedy is primarily used by stand-up comics who utilize verbal jokes, anecdotes and one-liners to create humour.
  • Situational Comedy – Creating a situation that is funny on stage is difficult but mastery of this type of comedy will be appreciated by the right audience. Slydini’s ‘Paper Balls Over Head’ is an example of this type of comedy. The ’tilting table’ that tilts and causes items on the magician’s table to fall to the floor creates a situation where the spectator on stage is blamed for the ‘accident’.

Here are specific techniques that you can use to create the different types of comedy as mentioned above. Let’s start with a common one:

The Call back or Running Gag

One technique often used is the “call back”; magicians know it more as the running gag. (No, it is not a joke during the 100m dash)

This is basically saying/ doing a gag at some point in your show and repeatedly ‘calling it’ back to it later in your show. It is the repetition which makes the whole thing funny.

Magicians have made reputations with running gags which run through their show. Mac King has one with his Fig Newton’s. Kohl & Co. have one with their Amazing Growing Plant (Botania). It does not grow throughout the act but eventually it does.


David Letterman is a master at this and is evident by the way he handles his guests. His team of writers are also fantastic! There was one running gag which ran through his show throughout the week. He explained at the beginning of each show that at some point of his show, a guy on fire will run out, scream and shout, run around the stage and run back to the wings again. This happened every night for a week. It was a very visual running gag. Furthermore, Letterman would tell the audience each time that it cost US$2000 each time for the guy on fire to run out.

The beauty and genius behind this gag was actually what they did the following week. Letterman explained the that it cost too much to get the guy on fire to run out, so this week, they would have the guy run around and scream but without being on fire. He added that it would cost only US$600 and thus help save US$1400 for the network each night! This running gag ‘killed’ every single day.

A practical example for a magician to use is with a Lota bowl and a novelty called the invisible dog leash. The leash is made of a bent wire clad with leather. By holding the end of the leash, due to the way the wire is bent, it would appear that an invisible dog is at the other end.

Come out at the beginning of your show with your invisible dog. Due to your clumsiness, your dog escapes from your leash. Unable to find him, you start your show proper, but you place your dog’s urinal bowl (Lota bowl) at the corner of the stage, just in case. Throughout the show, you repeatedly empty the bowl to show that your dog has been around.

invisible dog

There are many other possibilities, just use your imagination.

The Magician in Trouble Plot

This plot is so common that I need not even describe it. The problem with this plot is that it has been overused. It is time to add some sophistication to this plot. Audiences are smarter and more ‘in-tune’ to this “magician in trouble” routine.


Image Credit: Captain Basilisx, U.S.A.

Acting and subtlety are the keys to making this plot successful and convincing. The audience must really believe that something has gone wrong and that you are reacting spontaneously. A few points to note: This plot, of course, cannot work in every routine you do, unless your character is the bungling magician who always messes up (e.g., Kohl & Co.) If you do so, it becomes expectant on the part of the audience. The best way to incorporate this plot into your act is to do a couple of straight successful routines then hit them with the ‘magician in trouble’ routine. This would be more credible and believable for the audience and they will have mixed feelings of anxiety, pity and probably glee.

There are two main ways of presenting the ‘magician in trouble?plot:

One, the magician knows that he is in trouble at the same time as everyone else. For example, like in a ‘Cut & Restored Rope’ routine, the ropes are suppose to restore but when you take them out of your magic bag, they are still in pieces. This is the more common of the two versions and is easier to make convincing.

The second version is a more sophisticated way to present the ‘magician in trouble plot’. It is to do with the ‘hidden element’ subtlety. Basically, the magician has no idea that he is in trouble but everyone else does. For e.g., the magician is supposed to make a silk vanish from a box but the silk ‘accidentally’ drops out from the bottom of the box without the magician knowing. (Please do not the mistake of giving exaggerated astonishment and ‘fear’ when you finally ‘discover’ that something went wrong. I have seen magicians who go, “Oh no! How could I be so careless?!?” Audiences can see through this false presentation and can telegraph that you are ‘faking it’ to get cheap laughs. They will not appreciate it. Remember, acting & subtlety!)

Usually, the magician has the last laugh as he ‘makes everything right’ eventually. This is known as a ‘Sucker effect’ which is also a common comedy magic plot.

Comedy Props and Sight Gags

These are one of the most common ways for magicians to obtain laughs. The classic Breakaway Wand & Fan, Wilting & Drooping Flower, Clatter Box and all examples of magicians’ sight gags.

Some performers have built routines around comedy props and sight gags. These include crazy inventions and visual puns. A visual pun is not a play on words but rather a direct translation of the word into a physical prop. For example, if you were to say: “I like to eat some peanuts.” And you bring out a can of metal nuts (nuts and bolts) with the letter ‘P’ written all over the can. This would be a visual comedy pun.

Novelty shops carries several of these type of visual puns from time to time. One notable item is a three karat ring which is actually a gold band with three orange carrots sticking out of it.

Other comedy gags can include the technique of exaggeration and understating. This simply means making something too big or too small. For example, giant props like toothbrushes, scissors, combs and wands are funny exaggerated props. Miniature dice, cards and coins are understated props.


You might like to invent your own comedy props. Karrell Fox’s books have a lot of comedy props. There is also a book at book stores called 99 More Useless Japanese Inventions. Some are really hilarious. Comedian, Carrot Top, made his career out of creating comedy props.

To get you started, here are a few props:

  1. A toothbrush with a wire and a plug attached to it. This is your ‘electric tooth brush’
  2. Break off the blades of a pair of scissors and call it your 100% safe scissors.


I will talk about comedy resources, in particular books. This can act as a guide to help you build up your comedy foundation and library.

There are thousands of books on humor on the market, but please, do not confuse joke books with comedy books. There are also books written by comics for light-reading but are not comedy books.

Joke books are plentiful but you must choose them wisely. Some are specially catered for children while others contain very long jokes which are unsuitable for performances. Your best bet is to look for books which are specifically one or two liners. These are jokes which has a set-up and punch-line all in one or two sentences.

An example of a one-liner is:

“If you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, you don’t need advice.”

An example of a two-liner would be:

“I nearly got killed today. I went into an antique shop and said: “What’s new?””

This might be new to you, but jokes have very specific formulas, just like mathematical equations. The basic structure is the set-up and the punch-line, but these can also be structured with reversals, ironies, paradoxes etc. Books on stand-up comedy in particular focus on these areas.

I recommend books by Gene Perret and Harry Allen as a start. The books by Robert Orben were considered a standard text but are very dated now. Currently, there are at least a dozen good books on the subject. Magic book catalogues should also carry several books on comedy magic.

Here are some books I recommend. I have divided them in two sections:

Stand-up Comedy in General (must read)

  • The Comedy Magic Textbook – David Roper
  • Zen & the Art of Stand-up Comedy – Jay Sankey
  • Successful Stand-up Comedy
  • Stand-up Comedy –The Book – Judy Carter
  • Sleight of Mouth – Harry Allen
  • How to be a working Comic – Dave Schwensen

Comedy Writing Techniques (formulation of jokes etc.)

  • The Comic Toolbox – John Vorhans
  • Funny Business – Sol Saks
  • Comedy Writing Secrets -Melvin Helitzer
  • Comedy Writing Step by Step – Gene Perret
  • Comedy Techniques for Entertainers – Bruce Johnson
  • Steve Strotts Comedy Course

Problem? – In context

Most are probably wondering what this means. It has nothing got to do with mistakes one make’s doing comedy but it is specifically discussing certain ‘perception?problems when one does magic and comedy. If you include only a little comedy in your otherwise straight show, there is no problem. However, if comedy is combined with your magic content runs throughout your show, this is the basic problem:

Because of two elements, magic and comedy, there is a high possibility of one element overshadowing the other. It is extremely hard to have both equally strong although it is very easy to have both equally weak. That is where the second part of the title comes in ‘in context’ This problem will only be a persisting one if you do not have a certain ‘image’ identity or clear performing character. Another possibility is that you do, but your magic is not translating this point of view.

If you bill yourself as a magician or illusionist, your magic must be stronger and the more dominating element in your act. Likewise, if you are a comedian, vice-versa.

Even if you are a magic comedian or a comedy magic, your second title usually points out your specialty or base trade. Thus, the stronger element must be in-line with your base trade. If you are a comedy juggler, the impression created to your audience should be of a funny juggler and not of a comedian who can juggle. It is important for you to make this distinction clear to yourself in order to progress in the art of magic and to be a better performer.

Let me relate some personal experiences regarding this problem. When I first wrote this article about six years ago, I was working very hard to develop my corporate stage show. I had already developed several strong routines and it was a matter of scripting the whole show and bringing all the acts together. I did succeed (or so I thought) to come up with an entertaining and magical show. All along, I had worked hard at being a technically sound magician and it had only been in the last year or two (at that time) that I seriously studied various comedy techniques and applied it to my act.

Here came the problem, after presenting this particular show at a number of functions, feedback was very positive but not what I wanted to hear. Positive in the sense that, comments ranged from “very entertaining”, “funny” and “like a comedy show” etc. This would be okay if I viewed myself as a comedian doing magic, but I’m not! I am a magician. Strangely enough, I never had any problem when I performed close-up or parlor. This strongly suggested my lack of competence on stage.

After, evaluating all these shows, I realized the problem. I had too many “comedy items” more specifically, 50% of the show was made up of sucker/ gag type routines. That strongly diminished the impact of my intended strong routines. The impression I created was of a comedian doing magic. So people viewed my intended strong effects as clever puzzles or ‘tricks’ This forced me to modify some of my routines, add more straight and visual pieces of magic and cut down heavily on the sucker effects.

This proved to be a good choice as the balance of straight magic to comedy in the show is a healthy 75% magic, 25% comedy – most of my comedy is situational and verbal. This is ideal for my performing style and clientele.

However, just like magic, comedy is very personal. What works for one may not work for another magician. The only way one can improve is by performing and trying it. I suggest adding new lines and jokes to your act little by little. In this way, you can see if the joke falls flat or plays well.

Good Luck and be Funny!

Evolve Your Magic & Yourself Before it is Too Late by ‘Magic Babe’ Ning

J C’s Note: 3 years ago, I wrote an essay called “The Magic Evolution & You”. Ning has expounded on this issue with her own thoughts, mirrored by her ever evolving magic, style & image. Just check out how much her magic and image have changed in just the last 5 years. Here is the essay in her own words:

Question: David Beckham, Madonna, Ellen DeGeneres and Leonardo DiCaprio… What exactly do they have in common?

These stars are all hugely successful mainstream artistes who have kept themselves in the spotlight by creating their own unique brand of entertainment (sports, music, comedy/ talk show, acting, etc) that hold a wide mass appeal. These individuals have also put much effort and thought in constantly revamping their style, image and chops to ensure they remain interesting and current to their audience.

As fellow entertainers, we magic folk can certainly learn much from our sassy commercial counterparts. Magic performers need to do the same constant evolution, prob­ably not at the same radical level but it is so very essential for your magic to be current, relevant and mirror mainstream pop culture entertainment.

Shift and dare to change, or be left behind in today’s fast moving world where the Internet is a double-edged sword. Like with any art or entertainment form, the image of magic evolves over time. The trend of today’s magic is incredibly different from the style magic from just last decade. If you are still performing for today’s audience in top hat and tails, producing silks from a classic change bag, or making a rabbit appear, you are unfortunately behind about three decades.

The recent movie, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”, poked fun at magicians and showed how “out of times” and “out of sync” they are with modern pop culture. In fact, the movie showed how lame magicians generally are. Sad… but true.


The only thing constant in life is change, and I’m sure that you would have noticed that the image of magic worldwide has always been constantly evolving. Every two decades or so, there is a dynamic shift in the presentation of magic. The look of magic is usually set by the most influential magicians of that particular time. Top performers like Robert Houdin, Harry Houdini, Channing Pollack, Doug Henning, David Copperfield and more recently David Blaine & Criss Angel have all been responsible for creating the image of magic of their time.

If you acknowledge your show is not in line with modern audi­ence’s expectations of magic today, there is hope yet because you see the possibilities of growth. Set aside your pride and ego for a bit and challenge yourself to explore what can be done better, since you are a living reflection of the image of magic as much as any other magician.

Now, I am in no way encouraging or even suggesting that you should be a clone of David Blaine, Criss Angel or whoever that may be the hottest flavour of the time. Jumping on the fad bandwagon will just make you look like a carbon copy and part of the indistinguishable ‘me-too’ crowd. So, bad idea to be a cookie cutter! You owe it to yourself to be your own person.

Consider for a moment, without pride or ego… When was the last time you revamped your act or added an act that elevated your performance so that it is reflective of current times? Have you been performing the same material for the past 10 years and not given it a commercial overhaul? And, I’m not talking about technical refinements or changing the colour of your cards/ silks/ birds/ canes/ parasols, so please, don’t even go there, unless you’re a jackass. Then I’ll personally come over to smack you in the face with your plastic appearing cane.

Thanks to globalization, our world is getting smaller and life seems to move faster every single day. Social media, the Internet, growth of new economies and countries influence pop culture trends and trends. There are fads and there are trends. Fads last months, trends last longer. Trends used to last around 5 to 10 years, now they last just 2 to 3 years due to the speed the world moves. Of course, this is dependent on your target market but I’m using international standards as a benchmark. People are easily bored and want to be wowed by the next ‘in’ thing.

What’s needed is to identify and pick elements, which reflect the current evolved image of magic as well as pop culture and infuse it into your style and/or act. Here’s some tried and proven things I’ve personally utilized in my commercial magic career, that you can also use to spruce up your unique image and brand of magic. Dedicate some soul-searching time to consider…

Choice of Material:

Is your choice of show material and props used considered current to your audience  If you are performing an act still using cassette tapes, Walkmans, old-fashioned bulky TVs, ancient typewriters, bulky mobile phones or other things that society has pretty much considered “retired”, your act will inevitably look dated. That is, unless you’ve structured your show to be themed in a “blast from the past” type of feel.

While some things may be respected as iconic and classic in magic, do bear in mind that while these are things magicians embrace, the rest of the world (i.e. mainstream public and media) may regard otherwise when they see top hats, canes, and rabbits. Don’t fall into this trap because when you follow the herd, you step on a lot of crap.

Structure of Magic:

Is the structure of your act just like everyone else’s? Certain acts have almost a template feel to them and the only difference (to the lay public) is just the magician performing it. At one time, everyone was doing doves, zombies and cards. Then it was the incorporation of canes, silks and snowstorms. Now, one of the magic fads is the CD manipulation act.

Can you honestly say you have a uniquely different product, or does your act/ show have the same formulistic structure that other magic acts commonly have? Can you change your act or show order, so it breaks the conventional rules or typical structures of magic shows? Award-winning mainstream movies like “Memento” and “Usual Suspects” did not follow conventional storytelling of film making and stood out from the norm. Use that for inspiration, to shine out!


What do you wear when you perform? Are you still in a 1990s Matrix-style black leather trench coat or god-forbid 1940s black tuxedo or even worse, painfully shiny 1970s sequined jacket? Are you in an obvious costume or dressed in something more normal? Where do you get your clothes from? A high-fashion retail outlet? A costumer? Does your mother/ wife/ girlfriend dress you?

Sure, I understand that magic attire has specific needs, but that is still no excuse not to have a current look that is fashionable or stylish. Consider what celebrities wear. Would they get their outfits from the same place that you do? I’m not asking you to shell out tons of money for designer wear and don’t be a wise ass about Lady Gaga’s Kermit the frog get-up *wink*


What do you sport? Does it feel dated? Is it the same hairstyle you’ve had since the 1980s? On the flipside, is your hairstyle too extreme for the general audience? If you are losing hair, do something about it! Comb-overs maybe only work if you do comedy, but you really don’t want your audience feeling sorry for you.

Grooming is important, and whoever said your hair is one’s crown­ing glory, really got that right. But! Here’s a tip from a female of the species. If you are seriously losing hair and can’t get a good wig or hair plugs, just consider shaving it all off. Grow a nice goatee, stay in good shape, tweeze your brows… You may just look sexy and badass. Women love that. Trust me!


Music is always an accurate reflection of the current time and a fitting piece of music for an act or routine makes a good act, great. Besides creating the perfect mood and feel for your magic, music also puts a time-stamp on your act. If you are do­ing a deliberate classical, themed, or period act to a time period, your music choice will be specific. However, if you are doing a general magic act or illusion, then your music needs to be up­dated every 5 years.

Please refrain from copying the music from other people’s per­formances, though you may find it perfect for whatever your intended purpose is (a similar act or otherwise). If I collected ten bucks every time I hear that particular soundtrack from string-quartet Bond blasting in a magic performer’s show or card manipulation act, and gave all the money to World Vision, I think my adopted kid in Mongolia can afford a PhD by now. LOL!


How do you write your lines, plan your story, and work on your all-important script? Where do you research jokes or lines?

Unfortunately, many magicians tend to use the exact same lines and this is evident if you attend magic conventions or magic production shows. It does get old quickly for an educated audience and that obviously, works against the performer. Ensure that your jokes are “fresh” and your script is topical. Throwing in current buzzwords are good if they are in context because people like that.

That’s something the most successful comedians and speakers use, so it’d be wise to follow in their footsteps.

 Case Study

As I think it is always important for one to practice what they preach, I thought I would share with you my own process that I have used to evolve my image and magic as my stage character, ‘Magic Babe’ Ning.

When I first started out professionally, I was pretty clueless about most things. Dressed in a dark trench coat, I wore a white long sleeve shirt and black leather pants.

Early Ning

Subsequently, I swapped my conservative top for something a bit more showy. It was a bareback silver sequined number that is held together only by 2 strings. One tied to the back and the other at the nape of the neck like a halter. Obviously, it sold sexiness much more than the previous costume and I used it because my skill sets to agents and bookers were already established. Every year, I changed my wardrobe to keep it fresh; from a sleek black corset, fitted with boning within to a sexy red vinyl corset to a black sequin bare-backed top, which I had professionally customized for a better fit.

Linking Coat Hangers

Earlier last year, I had my long tresses chopped off, a big sacrifice since most women regard long hair as a symbol of femininity, and instead I had my hair layered short with shocking purple streaks. I was completely comfortable being in my own skin. My attitude oozed that, and that gutsy part of me was reflected. FLY Entertainment, my artiste management company, supported the move and the media and fans loved it. Comments started coming in that they liked the fresh change. Now, my hair is actually hot pink! Something, I’ve always wanted to do at least once in my life.


Besides my image, my material has also evolved over the years. The illusions I perform with my partner J C Sum are constantly being tweaked, whether it is a change in choreography, update in illusion design or update in music. We also add/ replace one or two illusions every two years to our show.

My favourite illusion “Crystal Metamorphosis” went through multiple changes over a 3 year period. An illusion we are quite known for “360 Sawing” has gone through two complete redesigns to make it even more deceptive. You can watch us perform the 2nd version in the recent NYE 2011 taping of Le Plus Grand Cabaret Du Monde in Paris and the 3rd & current version that we performed on Italy TV.

le plus2009 – 2011 Design

Italy TV

2012 – Present Design

However, my personal solo acts have also evolved since over time. I started with softer acts like a cut & restored rope performed under UV light and a linking coat hanger routine. Now, I perform more edgy acts such as a razor blade act, but with the addition of eating a torch of fire. I also added a “Human Block Head” routine (nail up nose) but with a 4” drill bit. This fits my more matured and edgy image.

For the longest time, I performed my “Straight Jacket Striptease” routine with a custom burgundy straight jacket. The routine has now been improved to a double straight jacket routine where I’m strapped up in two regulation-looking straight jackets. I still perform the “striptease” part but with two jackets “wink”.

straight jacket striptease

straight jacket striptease

For the sake of your pursuit in magic and for the sake of the art, please evolve!

Best of luck with your journey of evolution in magic!

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