Performing magic to the public… By Stephen Ward

Can't find a suitable category? Post it here!!

Moderators: Mandrake, bananafish, Lady of Mystery, support, nickj

Best prices around! Manufacturer of modern & unique magic apparatus! Web Design for Magicians Dude That's Cool Magic Best prices around! UK's Online Magic Tricks and Jokes Shop offers kids and beginner magic tricks and jokes.

Performing magic to the public… By Stephen Ward

Postby Stephen Ward » Jul 31st, '07, 16:24

This publication has been produced for the exclusive viewing of Talk Magic and its members.

About The Author

Stephen Ward is a full - time professional magician and mind reader. Most of Stephen’s work is done for corporate functions such as trade shows, product launches and corporate dinners. When his schedule allows he sometimes performs wedding magic and private dinner parties. Stephen performs shows all across the United Kingdom for a wide variety of clients.

His love of magic began when he was child. Watching magicians such as Paul Daniels and Wayne Dobson really inspired Stephen to take up magic as a hobby. As props were sometimes very expensive in those days Stephen mainly learnt his magic from books. The three main books he started with was ‘The Royal Road To Card Magic’, ‘Modern coin magic by BOBO’ and ’13 Steps to Mentalism’. Stephen spent many a night slowly perfecting the moves in the book.

He kept up his love of magic through school and then University. After leaving University and working for a few years he decided to take a risk and try to become a professional magician. The risk paid off and Stephen now works in the business. He performs a variety of shows including some bizarre Magick


1. Choosing the right effects
2. Character Development
3. Test Show
4. First Paid Show
5. The Bar
6. The Restaurant
7. Corporate = Money!
8. Advertising
9. Final Thoughts


The main aim of this booklet is to help assist the magician who wants to move from performing magic for friends to working with the public. This booklet is the result of many questions I see regularly on Talk Magic. I hope that you will find this information useful and I had great fun writing it so I hope you enjoy it! Of course this subject can never be fully covered in such a short space. However, I have covered the main areas I consider important. Not everyone will agree with all the points made but that is a good thing really as we can have a good discussion about it!

Performing for strangers can be a lot harder than it looks sometimes. You never know how they are going to react and to be honest anything can happen! However, do not let that put you off my friends! That is the fun part of performance, the unexpected is always fun but can be scary. So it was with this thought in mind that I decided to write this booklet . If you like then please let me know! And feel free to save or print this document if you wish. However, please do not put this on any other forum, I have created this piece for all my friends at Talk magic and it is exclusive to them. A booklet of this size cannot cover every angle but I hope I have covered the main points. I may revise it at time to time but I will let you all know if I do this. So let us begin….

Choosing the right effects.

This may seem such an easy thing but believe me I have seen some horrible mistakes made in the past. You want to make sure that the effects suit your audience venue and time-frame. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Table - Hopping

This is probably what most of you will do the most and it is great fun. Remember that you will probably only have 10 - 15 minutes per table. So straight away you have time constraints. All those long and involved routines you learnt are no use to you now! You need some quick and snappy effects but you will also be having a little chat with the guests on the tables. Of course we also have another problem, there will be probably be tables all around you so that brings us to our old enemy ‘angles’. The magician’s nightmare! Remember to pick tricks that can be viewed at all angles, it seems really obvious but believe me I have seen people forgetting this. So with those problems solved we can think about another major issue which is reset time. Yes, don’t forget you want effects that have no reset or can be done quickly and without people seeing.

You will probably be aiming to perform 3 or 4 effects on a table and want variety. So maybe choose one or two card effects, a coin trick, maybe even a prop based effect and some Mentalism. Give them a good mixture and they will enjoy it so much more. Thinking of props you must always think of size. You want to be able to fit your props in your jacket or a close-up case. No good carrying bulky props that will impede you is there? As a general rule it is best to keep plots and patter quick and simple, don’t write a script the size of ‘Lord of the rings!’ you won’t have time to finish it.

Mix and Mingle

This is much the same as the above except for one important factor. Guests are often standing and they may not be any tables. I have done art galleries and this is the case. So you need effects that can be performed in your guests hands or your own. Apart from that the same rules as above applies.

The Cabaret Floor / Stage

My cabaret show is 45 minutes long and I suspect yours will be the same as well. Here we have a different set of problems. Sometimes angles are not the issue here. The main problem is ‘playing big’, if it is a magic effect then the trick or prop should be big enough for the audience to see. If it is a mind reading routine then try to do something that involves several members of the audience at once (e.g. blackballed).

Pacing the show is very important too, make it slow and dry and the audience may lose interest. In my own show I do have 2 routines that last for 10 minutes each but they are spaced out over the 45 minutes. In-between I have shorter more faster paced effects. Also remember to allow time to greet each assistant, don’t just get them up and starting the trick. Make them feel welcome. So you need to allow time for that as well. You may find that 5 or 6 effects is enough or you may want 8. Try different combinations and find out what suits you best.

Choosing spectators is another issue here. I normally throw out a small beach ball for the audience to catch and the person that catches it comes up to assist. I would never force someone to come up, if they catch and don’t want to come up I tell them to please throw the ball again. Never try to force someone to come up on stage and make them feel bad if they do not want to. Some people are very shy and the thought of standing on a stage or cabaret floor is a very stressful thing for them. When the ball is thrown I always tell people to raise their hands, why?, simple… to stop it hitting any glasses on tables. We don’t want spilt drink on our clients do we!

Character Development

Let me begin this section with a true story. This is a perfect example of what this section will discuss. I was once in a magic shop talking to the owner and a young guy comes in. He said he wanted to "Be like David Blaine" and asked how many tricks he needed. We could not believe what we were hearing! It turns out this guy was a complete beginner, had no experience in magic and yet he wanted to spend potentially hundreds of pounds to be like Blaine. Here lies the other problem, he had no skills in magic and many of the tricks he wanted to do were simply too advanced for him. Luckily we were able to point him in the right direction and find him some good books and a good effect he could do straight away. He went away happy.

So let us spend a little while considering the problems of hero worship. The first major mistake many beginners in magic make is trying to copy their favorite magician. They see the latest David Blaine or Criss Angel TV special and they want to be just like them. Well forget all about that for a moment if you have only just began in magic you are not going to be able to perform all the fancy tricks you see on the television just yet. You should remember that these famous magicians have many years of experience, they have a very big budget and often have effects built for them. You are not going to be David Blaine or Wayne Dobson. Why? Because there is only one of them. You are yourself and that is what makes you unique! I have a saying I always quote to beginners in magic:

"Being yourself is great and who knows, maybe one day people may want to be the next you"

All the great magicians have their own style, this sets them apart from other magicians. As a professional I know that the companies that book performers are always looking for something different. They don’t want people performing the same old magic and using the standard speech. They want a high-quality and original entertainer for their next event. This could be you with the right amount of dedication and practice. From the moment you purchase your first effect you need to thinking about the style of presentation. Even if you are only performing for friends and family you still need to be entertaining. You need an identity, so let’s consider this first. When I used to perform traditional close-up and stage magic my performing style was mainly very upbeat and friendly. People knew they are going to get a slightly cheeky but respectful magician. I presented my corporate close-up in a light-hearted way. People felt relaxed because I felt relaxed. I never forced someone to do something they do not want too. Also I would never makes jokes that I feel would offend people. When I changed to performing bizarre magic and mind reading my style had to change. These effects needed a more serious and even sinister presentation. So I had to set about creating a whole new persona for myself.

So how about you? What do you want? You may want to be a cheeky comedy magician, or how about a more laid-back serious style. You may want to be a traditional magician, friendly and not cheeky. You may want to be a mixture of the three. So I am going to set you an exercise. Here is what I want you to do. Forget about tricks for a minute and think about presentation. Get a piece of paper and write down some comments about magicians you have seen. Consider these points:

· What did you like about them (presentation)
· Were they funny or serious
· Was there anything you didn’t like about them?
· Did they say anything you would not say.

Now look at the list and see if their is anything you can use. Develop a style. You are probably saying "why bother now I have only just started". Well, the point I am making is that when you practice your first magic effects you should practice them in the style you would If you were performing. This gives you confidence when you do come to perform the effect for people that you do not know. Remember that performers like myself spent many years as a child learning magic and developing our own style. So when we came to perform our first shows we had the confidence in our effect and in our presentation. It is essential you are comfortable and confident with the style you adapt so please make sure you choose very wisely.

The other problem with being a carbon copy of someone is that it can be very expensive and a waste of money. You could go out now and purchase many effects that are used on the TV specials. The problem is that if you are only just starting in magic you may not yet have the technical ability and the performance skills to pull off some of these effects. Some require great experience in audience management and mis-direction.

To illustrate different styles lets consider two of my magical heroes. Namely Paul Daniels and Wayne Dobson. On the surface they both seem quite similar, they both had successful magic series on television. However they are completely different. Paul Daniels is a very traditional magician, his approach is friendly, a little bit cheeky but not too much. Now Wayne Dobson can be very cheeky and suggestive when he likes, his style at the time of his TV show could be quite manic. He introduced a vent act into many of his routines, he would throw his voice and make the spectators seem like they were saying some suggestive things. Paul does not do that, so Wayne has developed a style that makes people remember him.

So as you can see, being yourself can have many advantages and copying other people can be very expensive. So the next time you see a TV special think on and please remember what I have said. I hope you know see what I am saying. It is not just the tricks that make us magicians, it is the way that we present it. So before you go out and get work make sure you have a solid presentation an even maybe a character that will make people remember you.

The Test Show

When I create a new show I always arrange a test show. Why? Well here is why, I need to think about several factors:

· Is show the correct running time?
· How much time will I have to speak to spectators?
· Does the patter make sense?
· Are the effects too confusing?
· Is the running order good and well paced?
· Are there angle or reset problems?

Of course I could go on listing for ages but I am sure you get my point. You need to know that your show will work in the real World. So start off by getting friends and family together to sit and watch the show. Ask them to make honest notes about what they thought. You really want them to be honest so when you get to do the show for paying customers you are happy that it will work. Also it is a good idea to try and get someone to film the show for you (I always do this). This way you can sit back and relax after and watch it. When you watch try to be as critical as possible. Think about what you could have done better. You may find out that certain effects need to be changed or moved to a later part of the show. You may find that some patter or jokes do not work. All of this must be considered.

First Paid Show

So you practiced hard and you are now up to the point where you are considering your first paid show. Well let us stop for a moment and consider a few important points.

Are You Really Ready?

This is not meant to be insulting but a friendly piece of advice. Many people try to run before they can walk. When you perform your first show you want to enjoy it and for it to go well. For this you need a solid act that is well rehearsed and with good patter. Do you know your effects well enough? the things you need to consider include "can I perform the trick while standing, talking to people etc.". It is all well and good being in a nice warm bedroom performing a trick, but in the real World it is different.

Do you know what you are going to say to people. I firmly believe that having good patter is just as important as having a good effect. It is the little jokes and stories that help make the effect entertaining to the audience. So I assume by now you have practiced your patter.

Are you confident? it takes a lot of guts to go up to strangers and perform magic for the first time. It really is harder than it looks. They do not know who you are. They will be a lot more judgmental and harsh than family and friends will ever be.

'When can I start charging people for my act'. This is a real bug bear of mine. Too many people try to run before they can walk. Anybody can go into a magic shop, buy some tricks and call themselves a magician. Magic is not about tricks, it is about people and how you interact with them. You are an entertainer and need to make sure the audience have a good time. Never advertise your act until you have a full act that has been practiced and you are confident with. A bad act could really affect later bookings if word gets round in your area. When you are at a booking you are doing so much more than magic. For example when you work a restaurant you are providing business for the owner, you help distract the customers if the meal is late etc.

Great, so you are confident that you are ready and know all the tricks and patter. It is quite common to feel very calm the night before your first show. However when the day comes you are probably going to be very nervous. You may worry about people being rude, not interested and even tricks going wrong. Well try not to worry too much it happens to everyone at some point. Remember to arrive at your venue nice and early, this will allow you time to relax and unwind before the show. Just take a little time to calm down and think positive. Do some breathing exercises and maybe have a cup of tea. The best thing you can do is to slowly go over your act, remember the order you want to do things in. If you are calm and prepared you will feel so much better when the performance begins.

Now to the act! You want to begin with a nice simple trick, one you are most confident with. It is good to do as this will relax you. I have been starting off with "It's a steal" (Martin Sanderson). A nice quick and snappy effect that gets people into the magic. Why do I do that trick? because it is quick, simple, entertaining and gets me ready for the complex stuff. It is good to start with something simple then the audience will be even more impressed when you perform the harder stuff. Remember to have a little chat in-between effects. Show an interest in the audience and they will do the same to you. Once you feel relaxed you can move onto your more advanced and involved work. You really need a good selection of material. I normally vary between card effects, coin, Mentalism and maybe the odd prop. If you are performing card magic you really need a few tricks up your sleeve. Variety is the key here and will help you stand out from the other performers. I would not do the harder stuff first as you will be stressed if it goes wrong.

The Bar

Many people want to work in a bar and who can blame them it is great fun. However, the first time can be stressful and harder than you think. The first thing I will say is please just don't walk into a bar and start performing magic Make sure you have the permission of the bar owner before you go ahead. There have been nasty incidents were people just go into bars and start performing magic.

If you drink in a local pub then have a chat with the landlord and see if he wants a free show one evening. Yes I did say FREE!, why? because this is your practice run and if it goes well you can charge the next time. If you get a booking for a free show then try to get a mid-week or Sunday night show, believe me when I say working a bar on a Friday and Saturday night can be very hectic. You really need good experience for this.

When you are 'working' your mind is racing all the time, you are constantly thinking about the effect, the patter, will someone try to grab the prop / deck etc. Choice of spectator is all important, I have a rule that I will never try to force someone to help if they do not want to. Some people are very shy and get stressed in such situations. So that is worth considering.

In the bar you will probably perform to groups for about 10-15 minutes. Now don't assume that the music will be turned down! I have worked in places with music so loud people can hardly hear you. Also you may get asked to perform mix and mingle to the customers that are standing around the bar / club.

Also remember that you potentially table - hopping and mix and mingle so you need effects to cover both situations. People are also going to be drunk (well only some!). Some drunks are great at reacting, some are not! Experience will tell you who to avoid. Some magicians like to include some effects with a drinking theme when they work bars. I really like ‘Drunken Deck 2’ by Chris Dugdale and really cannot recommend this highly enough. It is THE ideal bar effect with a very strong plot and perfect reset time.

The Restaurant.

The same time will apply to restaurants but you have a lot more to think about. Firstly you need to consider angles. If your effect is angle sensitive then you need to know where the tables are positioned. This may dictate what effects you perform on the night. The other thing is when to perform, I never disturb anyone when they are eating unless they ask. I simply move onto the next table and come back to them later. I say "I will come back and see you later, I hope you enjoy your meal".

Other thing is clothing! you need to be comfortable. These venues can get really hot you know! Find out what the dress code is for the venue. If a bar does not allow jeans they are unlikely to make an exception in the magician’s case. I often get sent a dress code when some clients book me. You need somewhere to store props, so if you do not wear a jacket you may need a close-up case.

Someone asked if people are willing to pay attention in bars / clubs etc. This is all down to the venue. When I work them, it is normally advertised I am on. So when people enter the venue they know there is a magician on that night. It also depends on the people in the venue, you may get families, a bunch of Toffs or the local Hells Angels gang! Each group of people will react different. The trick (no pun intended) is to try to get them to enjoy and join in.

People Approach for Bars and Restaurants

This may seem really obvious but you will be suprised how hard it can be. It is no good slowly walking up to a table / group and saying "erm... hi.. I .. am a magician". Be bold, friendly and confident! My opener is normally "Right! Good evening ladies! (pause) Good evening gentlemen! (pause) I am Stephen and I am the magician for tonight, OK so who is going to be the first star of the show". A nice friendly relaxed approach will get people on your side.

I like to get to know some of the table so I also ask a few quick questions like name etc. It is good to get to know people

Corporate = Money !

Many people consider corporate magic to be the ‘holy grail’ of bookings. This is probably due to the large fees you can get. So let us consider how we may get bookings.

Getting corporate work depends on the company booking. Some blue chip companies will only book through an agent. I can recommend some good ones if you need one. Many corporates like it when you can include effects that promote this company. I recommend looking at 'The Business' DVD by Martin Sanderson. The effect 'Storm force 7' is ideal for this use. Also if you are asked to hand out business cards for the company try using 'Revelation' by Wayne Dobson, the spectator WILL want to the keep the buisness card!


Advertising is not as expensive as you think. Let's assume you have done a test show and it went well, the next step to think about is getting paid work. The cheapest places to advertise are the those free local papers you get on a Friday. The adverts normally only cost a few pound a week. You can also have a card in a newsagent, I used to do this all the time and got a lot of work in the early days. A rather cheeky way of advertising for free is too find out if a local school or charity are having a fete and want some entertainment, sometimes a local press person is there taking photo's and you may get in the local paper .

If you want to try to attract more corporate clients (and you are ready!) then there are several options. I use the following:
· (very good and not that expensive)
· Google adwords (you can set your own budget)
· (you can an online advert and get placed in the book). This is a good one as it is sent out to many agents, bookers, cruise ships and media projects.


Yes I know, I have missed out a bunch of stuff but I am getting tired now and I hope I have covered the most common points. I could have gone on for longer but decided to stop there.

So in conclusion, be happy, be confident and have fun my friends .

Stephen Ward
Veteran Member
Posts: 5848
Joined: Mar 23rd, '05, 16:21
Location: Lowestoft, UK (44:CP)

Re: Performing magic to the public… By Stephen Ward

Postby Mandrake » Jul 31st, '07, 16:31

Thoughts and comments can be posted in the separate thread close by - thanks!

User avatar
Posts: 27467
Joined: Apr 20th, '03, 21:00
Location: UK (74:AH)

Return to Miscellaneous

Playing Cards for Magicians Sorcery Shop - Home of the ITR Visit Magicbox for all the latest and best effects! Aeternum Servare Secreta MagicWorld Magic Shop for Magic Tricks World-Of-Magic, Suppliers of quality Magic Worldwide A web site set up to sell my book, THE STRIPPER DECK, and future magical/mentalism titles.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests