On being a professional close-up magician 1
As a close-up magician, it is easy to take for granted that everybody knows exactly what a close-up magician does, or how he or she would fit into an event, especially a high-end corporate event. But I have met a fair few people recently who have never seen a live, close-up magician. The cheesy of 1980’s style magician, or the jolly but bumbling uncle that knows a few tricks, do seem to be the default images that spring to mind for many. This can, for me, be both a gift or a curse. A curse because it can be tough to convince someone that I can enhance their event, so tough in fact at I tend not to bother anymore. Think about it, I could bang on about how good I am but my opinion would be naturally biased. So I tend to let the testimonials and a videos speak for themselves, answer as many questions as I can and be completely honest about what I do.
The negative magician stereotype can also be a gift. A gift because when people do see me (or one of my ‘type’) work, they can immediately see the difference. Usually this is a mix of skill level, communication and a feeling of confidence with that all important lack of arrogance. For me, these are the key ingredients for being a successful close-up magician. You can be the finest card and coin handler in the world, but the second you add a bit of ‘look how clever I am’ into the mix, you alienate your audience and become nothing more than a show off. In a time of YouTube, we can see all manner of everyday folk doing extraordinary things. The mark of a true professional is to be able to use your skills and make people LIKE you at the same time. This is usually a case of just being yourself, showing your human side and not trying too hard to be ‘cool’. Easier said than done I know.
There is also the flip side of the coin. Some people believe you should show no skill at all in your magic as to make the magic more,well…magic. The argument is very valid. However, I do feel that when someone has paid good money for your performance, it’s good to show that you are doing stuff that doesn’t simply rely on knowing a secret or having a gimmick. The sad truth, that we magicians need to admit, is that most people know that what I do is an illusion and that I have no real magical power (and if I did I wouldn’t tell anyway). But it is heartbreaking to walk away from a table and hear someone say ‘my son has one of those trick decks’. Especially when you have just performed a card routine that you have been honing for the last 10 years. Again there is a fine line between showing off and showing a bit of skill. If I feel a bit flash I find it good to add a little self-depreciation after my indulgence, as a softener. I also like to know that if someone goes home and looks on YouTube to see how one of my tricks are done, they still wouldn’t be able to do it without ridiculous amounts of practice. But each to their own.
So one of the many distinctions between a professional and an amateur (neither being positive or negative) does seem to be the work we put into how we present our magic and an understanding that the routine we have worked on tirelessly for years may still die on its arse if we present it in a cocky, arrogant or even insecure way. This can only really be achieved by a lot of trial and error and an acceptance that failure is part of the journey. A good lesson in both magic and business and a rule by which I live.