Thursday, December 30, 2004

Why do magicians wear tuxes?

By J.L. Siefers

This wonderful question has rarely bothered magicians for decades. It should. Some possible answers might include:

  • He is getting married today.
  • He just got off work as a waiter.
  • He is going to the prom.

Wait! The man is about to do magic. Surely anyone doing great magic wears a tux. It logically follows that a person dressed in attire not worn generally by the public in nearly sixty years must be a well trained and entertaining artist.

I encounter responses such as:

“People won’t know we’re magicians if don’t wear our uniform,” bemoan penguin-like prestidigitators.

“Real magicians must wear tuxes,” cries the part-time professional in his ill fitted and second hand attire.

The question of what magicians should wear has been around for more than a century. The correct answer has been around just as long. Unfortunately, many magicians don’t get it.

Jean Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic, looked around at how his fellow magicians dressed. The common uniform for a “real magician” was to dress up like a wizard complete with a conical hat. Robert-Houdin chose to view magic as an art. He devised many wonderful effects. He would go out on a bare stage to present his magic dressed in formal evening attire. The attire was appropriate and commonly worn for evening theatrical productions. Instead of dressing in way completely different from his audience, Robert-Houdin dressed just like his audience.

The point being made is simple. If you want magic to be viewed as a fine art, take your performance and dress seriously. Let the quality of your magic performance speak to the level of your magic artistry. If you want to be a magic clown, then dress like a penguin.

What about Lance Burton? Great question, thanks for asking. Lance’s performing personality makes wearing a tuxedo appropriate for his performance. Mr. Burton consciously links back to magic’s historical roots. Figuratively speaking, he wears the mantel of magic passed down through the ages. He portrays the great magician out of our past. Lance performs classical magic effects while donning the classical magical attire.

This is completely different from the approach of 99.998% of the other magicians wearing tuxes. Most part-time professional magicians wear a tux without regard to their performing personality. The key to what to wear is your performing personality. Begin with the assumption that a tux is not an option. Examine the key elements of your performing personality that you want to communicate to your audience. Tailor your dress to consciously communicate those key elements.

Another factor to consider is whether you want to stand out or blend with your audience. Let’s say you want to blend with your audience. This is common approach for the restaurant or corporate magician. What will your audience be wearing? Try to dress a little above your audience. Let’s say you want to stand out. Find ways to contrast with your audience that communicates positively to your performing personality. For example, assume your performing personality is that odd middle aged uncle that all the kids love but make parent roll their eyes. You know the type, every family has one. His style sense will be decades out of style but he will be clueless that he isn’t the hippest guy around. If that is your chosen performing personality, then the performer’s style will match the outfit. The point again is that the outfit chosen by the magician must relate to performing personality.

Let’s get back to the original question. Why do magicians wear tuxes? Nobody knows including the magicians. Know your performing personality. Select your dress to complement your venue and performing personality. Treat your magic performance like the artistic performance you want it to be.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Performing magic for kids

By J.L. Siefers

You have just discovered the wonderful world of magic. Trip after trip to the magic shop has added to your ever growing arsenal of magic tricks. Thirty-three days later the credit card bills arrive to remind your wife that this IS an expensive hobby.

No problem! You will make back all of the money you’ve spent and more by becoming a part-time professional magician. Looking around for places to hone your craft, you suddenly remember that you niece has a seventh birthday coming up. You call you sister and offer your services in lieu of a gift.

Two weeks later the performance time arrives. You pack all of your “A” material into two large cardboard boxes. You start the show for sixteen first graders and all of your relatives. The show goes well. Everybody is laughing and having a good time. You take some theatrical pauses to build suspense as you search your boxes for the next great trick. Finally, your fifteen minute show concludes after fifty-three minutes. You never realized you had that much great magic. The kids cheer and applaud for your debut magic show. Even your sister, wiping the tears from her eyes, says, “I have never had more fun than I did watching your magic show. It was great. John got it all on tape.”

This is how many part-time professional magicians attempt to begin their career. They look around and decided that doing kid shows is the best way to start. Performing magic for kids is one of the most difficult areas of magic to do well. This article explores some of the challenges of performing children’s magic.

You are training children

Children don’t understand many of the common cues in a live performance. Most children are raised in the age of television. Not a bad thing, except the laugh tracks prompt the children when to laugh. No laugh tracks and the children are left out in the cold. They are quick and will get up to speed in no time. But they need your help.

The same issue is even more problematic with applause. Children are not used to clapping. They don’t understand applause cues. Those wonderfully timed applause cues will leave you and your audience with a lot of uncomfortable silence.

What can be done? Everything. One of your most important tasks as a children’s magician is your opening. The beginning of your show must do four things:

  • Establish audience control
  • Teach the children to react to applause cues
  • Set the tone for the show
  • Introduce your performing personality

The audience needs to be warmed up prior to your magic show. It seems hokey and a waste of time, but it can make the difference between a great magic show and a horrible one.

Children love to have fun. Even in school children are taught to obey those in authority. For some reason, many magicians forget to establish authority early in the show. The result resembles a saloon brawl in the wild west.

When you step out for the start of your show, you have the perfect opportunity to establish the ground rules for the show. I don’t mean that you should bring out a list of house rules for the show. Instead come out with confidence and warm up your audience.

After you welcome everyone to the show, look out over the audience and say, ”This looks like a really great crowd. Let’s see how loud you can clap. On the count of three ONE. . . TWO . . THREE . .Not bad! Let’s try it again. On three . . .” After some byplay conclude by saying, ”What do we do when we like the magic? (pause) What do we do when we LOVE the magic?” (pause and react strongly to the crowd)

Four things are being done by that warm up. You have taught the children to clap when they like the magic. It also trains them to react to the applause cues in the rest of the show. The warm up establishes that you are in control for this show. Finally, it sets a fun tone for the show. This is the first time your audience gets a sense of your performing personality.

You are not performing for the kids

You will learn quickly that the most difficult task facing the children’s performer is to design the show to appeal to children and adults at the same time and at different levels. No I don’t mean filling your performance with phrases that have sexual double meanings. Nothing is more pathetic and unprofessional than the performer that gets a child on stage and slyly eyes the adults in the crowd and says “Do I have a big magic wand or what? “

Children’s cartoons provide the best examples of the point I am trying to make. Take Loony Toons or Spongebob Squarepants for example. These cartoons work for children and adults on different levels at the same time. This is what you must achieve to be a successful children’s magician

This is very difficult thing to pull off. This is one of the main reasons that doing children’s magic is so difficult. You must DESIGN your show for both audiences. One key to the show design is your performing personality.

You are not yourself today

When you perform magic for children, you must have a distinctive and appealing performing personality. Long gone are the days when the children’s magician can come out on stage in a second hand tux and wow his audience with a formal magic show. Look at Silly Billy, one of the most successful children’s magicians. His performing personality is fun and engaging. His show tone is fast paced and humorous.

Even beyond children’s magic, examine the performing personalities of children’s television. Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rodgers, and Peewee Herman are examples of compelling performing personalities. Each one was successful, yet, had very different performing personalities. The common factor was that each performer engaged children through fun.

Your performing personality must engage you audience, children and adults, with fun and wonderment. You must draw your audience into the show by your performing personality, but you must wow them with a well designed show that delivers great magic. This is why doing children’s magic is so tough.

If you want to start your career in magic as a children’s magician, think again. Kids are brutally honest. There is nothing tougher or more satisfying than have a great children’s magic show. Being a children’s magician is not the best way to become a part-time professional magician.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Interesting Site

I know about an interesting site you should check out. It is called Magic-Trick-Demos. You can find it

The site is brand new. I only found one demo on it. It has great potential. I will be checking back often to see what happens. The design scheme is really funky. It reminds me of the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo.

Let me know of any unusual magic related websites.

Magically yours,

J.L. Siefers

Friday, December 17, 2004

"Read my honest review of Cellini's latest magic DVDs."

The Art of Street Performing by Cellini (Magic DVDs)

Reviewed by J. L. Siefers

Cellini Presents: The Art of Street Performing Volume 1

Format: DVD
Length: 57 minutes
Publisher: Magicman1234 Productions
Cost: $59.95

Cellini Presents: The Art of Street Performing Volume 2

Format: DVD
Length: 1 hour 25 minutes
Publisher: Magicman1234 Productions
Cost: $59.95

Cellini Presents: The Art of Street Performing Volume 3

Fromat: DVD
Length: 1 hour 42 minutes
Publisher: Magicman1234 Productions
Cost: $59.95

This set of DVDs is a constant source of consternation to me.

This is how Cellini talks about Volume 1:

"This video will do much more than entertain you. It will enlighten you and excite you. It can even change the course of your life. I have tried my best to explain this illusive art. You will learn how to attract,build, hold and entertain an audience, while making a good living. Those I have influenced found themselves transformed by the experience in ways they never imagined. All the secrets are here... it's up to you. It could change your life forever. It did mine!"

- Cellini

From that blurb, I spent my hard earned money to get the first volume. I was excited as I put the DVD into the player. I was going to see Cellini spill his guts about ALL of the secrets he had learned from decades of street performing. I sat on my couch, popcorn in hand, ready to be influenced and transformed by Cellini's sage advice.

A mere 57 minutes later, I was stunned. At twice the cost and half the length of a regular magic DVD, I mistakenly thought Cellini might perform in this video. Wrong. Cellini introduces various concepts of street performing, such as gathering a crowd. Other performers demonstrate the point Cellini is making.

I was mad and felt cheated. I put the DVD away for months. However I came back to it. After watching it again, I changed my mind. The material is good.

Several important aspects of street performing are taught and demonstrated. The DVD is expensive and short. However, if your are considering performing street magic, then you will more than get your money from the ideas you will learn from this video. Volume 1 is not at all what I expected, but it is good.

Volume 2 is everything I expected and more. I recommend this video to every magician.

Cellini’s work on the thumbtip alone is worth the price of admission. This is how the thumbtip should be used. Get out your old thumbtip and start to do some stunning magic. You might even fool other magicians!

You will also see classic and clean approaches to rope magic and the cups and balls trick. This is exactly what I had hoped to see in Volume 1.

Volume 3 is directed at the art and craft of street performing. Very good material if street magic is your thing. There are many tips and ideas given. The live performances are good as well.


Buy the whole set if you have any interest on the art and craft of street performing. It is expensive, but the material given is the real deal. It is a bargain compared to the tuition at the School of Hard Knocks.

Every magician should buy and watch Volume 2. This is a great example of what magic can and should be.

Magically yours,

J.L. Siefers


Welcome to the Learn Great Magic Tricks blog. This is where I let you in on information and secrets that will make magicians go nuts.

Magically yours,

J.L. Siefers