Selecting Magic to Perform

Eugene BurgerA few years ago, purely as a personal experiment, I asked myself the following question: In order for a particular piece of magic to make it into my performing repertoire are there any criteria that must be met? What features must this particular piece of magic have – or not have – for it to be something that I would like to perform?

As I thought about it, several criteria did appear. I have noted eight criteria that must be met before I begin performing something professionally. Two years ago I shared these criteria with the teens at the Lance Burton Teen Weekend of the World Magic Seminar. And now I shall share them with you.

The first criteria that must be met before I add a piece of magic to my repertoire is that the magic effect must call to me. It must be a piece of magic that connects with me on some level so that I want to perform it. When I am performing material that gives me joy to perform, the audience “catches” my enthusiasm – just as they might catch chicken pox or any childhood disease. Enthusiasm communicates from the performer to the audience. The great 20th century master of this was certainly Doug Henning. I think that whether a piece of magic calls to me is the most important of the criteria because, if it does not call to me, there is no reason to add it to my repertoire.

The second criteria asks whether this piece of magic fits in my pockets. When I perform at a corporate party, I do not carry my little box; instead, I work completely out of my pockets. So, if this piece of magic I am considering, does not fit in my pockets, it does not make it into my repertoire.

The third criteria asks whether the effect under consideration requires any reset. The truth is that I have enough magic in my present repertoire that requires reset and I really do not need any more.

Fourth, to perform this effect do a need a table. Again, I have enough material that does require a table and I would rather not be burdened with more.

The fifth criterion asks if the plot of the effect is simple. There is so much magic that isn’t simple to follow and, as Vernon always said, magic is not confusion. I personally want simple, easy to follow and memorable plots.

Sixth, is the action of this effect up by my face? If I have any hope of appearing on television this is where the action is best. I am selling myself not my belt! I want myself – that is, my face — in the action. It’s simply better theater.

Seventh, if I add this piece of magic to my repertoire will I need to check luggage on flights? I am now in the enviable situation where I can go to Europe for a month, often with material to sell, without needing to check luggage. Frankly, I would rather not trust my magic props (or clothes for that matter!) with the airlines. And there is nothing better than getting off an airplane and, without stopping and waiting for luggage, to go directly to a taxi.

Eighth and finally, how many people can be in the audience for this effect? The fact is that I want a balance in my repertoire. I want material that is intimate and best performable for two or three people; but I also want material that I can perform for a thousand people. Before any effect enters my repertoire, I asks myself how many people can be in the audience.

These, then, are the criteria that I use when selecting material for my own repertoire. I am offering them for your reflection. I am certainly not suggesting that these criteria are perfect for you. No, on the contrary, they are but signposts on a path – the path to better magic.

Have you ever asked yourself how you go about adding material to your repertoire? If you do ask this question – if you ask it honestly – you might be surprised at the answer.

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