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-incredible-burt-wonderstone

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!

Dressing:

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*

Hairstyle:

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:

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!

Script:

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.

coathangers

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!

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.

Selling an Illusion Show

As an illusionist, how do you get shows? How do you sell your magic and make your show commercial?

I am aware that many budding illusionists are interested to do paid shows. Here is a selling point which you might find useful when you are pitching your services to a potential client.

I am assuming the following things first:

  • You have some form of illusion act that is suitable for your target market.
  • You have rehearsed this act diligently in front of your faithful mirror, friends and family. You may even done a few shows.
  • You are mentally prepared to give a full show to entertain an audience.

Understanding Magic as a Service

You must first realize that what you are selling is invisible. It is non-tangible. You have no fancy hardware to show, no buttons to press and the prospect cannot examine it before purchasing your service.

Imagine, you have to convince and assure your prospect that you will do a good job – all she has is your word that you will do a good job. We are use to be able to test products and even try them out for 30 days if we like. In our over populated product market and skeptical society, your word may not be enough. We need another approach.

The traditional way to sell your show is to tell the prospect how happy it will make her guests, how the show is value for money, how your show is self-contained and relieves the worry from her etc.

This is fine but may not be enough. You must try to penetrate the mind of the prospect. Marketing and selling is about communication to the mind.

When selling a service, which is intangible, try as far as possible to attribute it with tangible qualities. Spawn by the product era, we are conditioned to judge things by its tangible qualities.

For example, when you buy a new car from a new dealer. The main factor influencing your choice would be the car. The design, colour, motor, CD player etc. After sale service may not seem like a big factor initially, right? However, after you buy the car and receive excellent after sales service and treatment, you would most likely recommend the dealer to friends and would probably buy your next car from them as well.

Well, the same type of strategy can be applied to magic and specifically your illusion act. So, what tangible qualities does magic have?

Tangible qualities can be things like the props you use, costumes, stage setting, magic furniture etc. Have action photographs of you performing for a live audience with your props. Do not just have a picture of you smiling and standing on stage. Have tangible items such as illusion props, stage settings and costumes. Photographs and descriptions of these tangible items help sell the show. How often have you been more impressed by a photo of a magician with a cage and tiger than a magician just smiling and posing?

Your show descriptions should detail elements that the audience can visualize – impressive modern props & sets and elaborate colourful costuming. Also, when writing your show description, ensure that you describe visual effects that can summed up in a single sentence. For example, ‘a girl vanishes in a blink of an eye and reappears in the audience’ or ‘the illusionist levitates and vanishes in mid-air’!

arena stage 1

At this point, many must be yelling their heads off. “What? Props, costumes, what? You are in the business of selling you, not your props and costumes! The client should book you for who you are, not what you have!” I would agree with you in an ideal world but the truth is, the psychology of buying is very different from what you would want. Marketing is perception and often people buy what they perceive is good. So, it is important o make them perceive you are good and not reply on them forming their own conclusions. You have often heard the term ‘packaging’ when it comes to the marketing of music stars – YOU are no different.

Understand this: What you market, sell and make money from are different things.

MacDonald’s advertises and markets their burgers heavily and sells fries, but makes money on their drinks. Likewise, you can advertise and sell your props, costumes and other tangible qualities to your client during the point of sale. But during the show, they will receive much more in terms of entertainment and the intangible qualities which were harder for them to perceive or fully understand initially.

So, getting bookings is not just having a good act! To get more shows, you need more than just to improve your act. You could have the best act and still not get shows. Fight fire with fire. A marketing problem must be solved with a marketing strategy.

Understanding that your magic is a service and using methods to sell a service such as attributing tangible qualities to it will allow you to penetrate your prospects’ minds.

Recommended reading:

The Event Magician

 

Working with Female Partners by ‘Magic Babe’ Ning

Featured

Here is a great article by Ning that has been published in a few international magic magazines. It is an insightful and modern look at male performers working with female assistants, partners or co-performers from a female’s perspective. It is a worthy read for all performers looking to expand from a solo act to a show that incorporates other female performers. Here is the article in Ning’s own words:

Ning Revollusion

Stage magicians and illusionists will at some point, seriously consider having an assistant or performing partner be part of their show. This could be an effort to increase the scale of the show, making things look bigger and more lavish, or to be able to employ magic methods and techniques that utilize one more person.

Besides my solo show, I also perform in an equal partnership role with a male magician. JC Sum & I work with assistants (male and female) as well as female dancers. In this article, I will be sharing my perspective as both a female stage performer & an objective audience member watching male magicians work with their female partners and dancer/ assistants.

Define the Role of Your Female Partner/ Assistant to the Audience

So how do we first begin? Well, the very first thing to do when working with a female partner is to be extremely clear what role she plays in the show.

Clearly define: Is she your stage equal? Is she a stage assistant or stage hand?

If she is your stage equal, she must hold an equal role and not just be billed as an equal. It is essential that she have an equal time being the protagonist on stage and hold the stage as strong as you would. Her costuming must be as loud or attractive as yours so that both of you shine as brightly as stars, together.

If she is an assistant, however, her principle role is to support the show and not pull focus from the show and you, the magician. Her position on stage should always be a step behind you and her actions must compliment yours. Her costume must not be too loud so that it pulls focus away from you every time she steps on stage, because you are the star.

Now, if her role is that of being your stage hand, she must be invisible to the audience. Ideally, the audience should not even realize that she is on stage, so her movements and dressing must be completely understated so that she performs the role of supporting your show discreetly. Think professional kabuki performers or stealth ninjas *wink*

Recruiting your female partner/ assistant

If you are lucky enough to have a supportive wife/ girlfriend/ sister who is willing to be part of your show – congratulations! You are a very lucky guy :) But FYI, this can be the best thing or worst thing for your show because it has the potential to go both ways.

As your partner off stage, they will be dedicated to your show and want to make you look as awesome as possible. But! It is also important that they know what they are doing and are properly trained to partner or assist you in a professional way.

If they have any kind of onstage role, they must look appropriate for stage, be it physical appearance or dressing. They must know how to move on stage and must physically and theatrically compliment you when performing together. In other words, have them go for lessons to be stage ready. They need not be professional dancers but the ladies should at least know how to stand, pose and move on stage.

In case you aren’t aware, your wife/ girlfriend/ sister may not be completely crazy about what they are doing on stage but are doing it because of you. If this is the case, for the sake of your show and reputation as a magician, it may be better to consider another alternative. Seriously, not only does it not help your show in the long run, it will also ultimately sour your offstage relationship.

If you are looking for a professional female partner/ assistant, I’d suggest working with a trained dancer; someone with performing experience and training will know how to pose, present, move and look their best for you and your show, on stage. With communication and over time, they will also know how to react if something goes wrong on stage and can assist to misdirect as you recover.

magic babe ning on stage

Play on Your Female Partner’s/ Assistant’s Strengths

The next important step is working out and identifying your female partner’s/ assistant’s strengths so that you (both) can design specific roles that best suit her strengthens. If your female assistant is not a flexible petite lady, PLEASE do not try to force her in small boxes. Contrary to popular belief we aren’t compressible like doves *shifty eyes*

Now, if your female assistant is good in understanding magic psychology and knows how to perform deceptive moves like loads and steals (believe it some of us have the natural knack for these things), do take advantage of that. If she is a good actor/ dancer, incorporate that into your show or act to give emotive texture to the performance.

On a related note, appropriate dressing an costuming is essential. Don’t make her wear “the usual” stage costumes just because you see other women wearing them on stage. Choose outfits that flatter her figure and dress her to compliment your show and not just like the typical cookie cutter showgirl. Allow what she wears to holler her unique character and personality.

Use your Female Assistant Only As Necessary

Some guys don’t realize this and I’ve noticed this happening more often than it should :(If your lady’s role is not that of your equal stage partner but she is just your assistant, please do not overuse her for every small thing. She is a utility and should be used only as necessary. This is where she can be most effective as a deceptive magic tool. Also, if you use her for every small task, it makes you look like an old school chauvinistic performer and that does not sit well in today’s forward thinking society. Food for thought.

If you perform larger stage acts and illusions, my sincere suggestion would be… Please don’t do that cheesy cliche dance thingy at the end if it is not crucial to your act or adds zero value to the performance. The dancing and posing before and after an illusion is a dated (1980s… That’s like 30 years old) piece of choreography and looks especially unflattering if you don’t know how to dance well or move pose gracefully like a dancer.

magic babe ning jc sum

Listen to Your Partner/ Assistant

Gramps used to tell me there’s a reason why God gave us two ears and only one mouth. When I just started University (way before I turned professional), I did a one off illusion show with a local aspiring magician (let’s call him Mr X). Two other guy friends, also magicians, helped out as stage hands for this big event. Sadly, it was a tragically unpleasant experience because Mr X would not listen to our suggestions for show content, choreography or the presentation of the acts.

Though Mr X was uncertain (he was watching VCDs of World’s Greatest Magic) and had no prior experience of how certain things should be done or presented, his ego permitted him from listening, discussing or opening himself to potential ideas. His own acts were under-rehearsed and under-researched and the three of us realized Mr X really thought himself as the star instead of team effort as it was supposed to have been.  One example of being unprepared was his part of the execution of the classic sword basket illusion. Mr X did not rehearse his part well enough and I was the girl in the basket. When I got into the basket in position, I suddenly felt the cold metal blade of a sword roughly shoved down the back of my pants (and panties). Being nervous, he had been clumsy and just stabbed the blade in against my bare bottom skin!

But that’s not it… Mr X’s show opener, a customized torn & restored act, was also a disaster because the clipped pack of papers with the client’s key messages fell from his jacket the moment he ran up on stage. He had refused my suggestion of getting the words professionally silk-screened on cloth, despite the backing of the other guys. His reason? Cost. So he hand-wrote everything with a marker on cheap sheets of paper. Well it certainly cost him the show because the client never touched base again. It cost him our friendship too, because no one wanted to work with him after this horrible experience, more so when Mr X kept a thousand for himself and everyone else got a few hundred bucks, when the contact wasn’t even directly his. Sigh. For obvious reasons Mr X isn’t doing magic anymore.

Anyway. It’s important that when you work with a partner/ assistant, you should listen to hear their perspectives (be they male or female) unless you have worked out with 100% certainty what is to be done exactly. As the magician, you are the chief executive officer and must provide leadership and direction. If you can’t, you need to be willing to see your partner/ assistant as a collaborator. Quite too often, magicians have tragically let their ego rule their judgment instead of a clear logical head.

Having a stage partner or assistant with the same chemistry as you can add tremendous value and production value to your show. However, you have to work well and seamlessly well with them to maximize their value. Treat her well and you will be rewarded with a team member that ultimately benefits your show. Best of luck with that :)

Wishing you all the best with this exciting journey!