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Performing with Style

Performing with Style

Posted on May 13th, 2013 by Rick Lax in Articles


David Blaine is mysterious. Steve Cohen is classy. Juan Tamariz is crazy. Mac King’s goofy. Penn & Teller are clever. And Copperfield’s suave.

Seems like all the great magicians have unique performance styles. So how do you develop a style of your own? Start with the cliché: Be yourself.

I don’t think Mac King sat down and said to himself, “When I go on stage, I’m going to be goofy”; I think Mac is a genuinely goofy guy. And Tamariz? He’s naturally wacky. Now he might play up his wackiness — but he begins from an authentic place.

And then Teller. On stage, he’s honest, sympathetic, vulnerable, childlike and dark. How’d he get there? In his own words: “Very often, taking something away helps people like me develop a style. I dropped speech. By dropping that, I found a lot about what connects me to an audience.”

Don’t worry about adding to yourself. Worry about bringing forward the qualities you already possess.

“For me,” Teller continued, “style is just taste become visible. I like stark and simple. I like instrumental solos and chamber music more than I like orchestras. I like ‘Psycho’ better than ‘Star Wars.’ So what I do (and what Penn and I do) doesn’t come from a love of scenery, or a love of light and sound overwhelming the spectator. What we like is ideas, funny and dark and curious and honest.”

Now, if you struggle with introspection and don’t know who you are, here are two tricks you can use to bring out your true character:

1) Do a couple tricks for your friends and family. Ask them what one thing they like about your performance. Next time, bring that one thing to the forefront.
2) Study the magicians you admire—the actors and musicians you admire, too. Ask yourself what, specifically, you admire about them. Why you relate to them. Use that as a jumping point.

“Create your own visual style. Let it be unique for yourself yet identifiable for others.” – Orson Welles

If you do all that, before long, you’ll have a style of your own. And before long, people might be imitating you.

Rick Lax is a theory11 artist and creator of Vertigo, Detach, HighRise, ReCord, and Filter. Check out his work on theory11 and on The Wire, with his latest release Soul Paper this past week.



1 year ago
Great advice in this. Honestly, the biggest impediment for me personally in finding my own performing style was just finding my own style in general. When I was 13 years old and trying to find my own style, that was the problem: I was 13 years old and trying to find my own style. At that age, I was still figuring things out - what kind of music I liked, what kind of movies I liked, books, clothing, everything.

Once I developed and discovered more of my own tastes, and style, the performing part of things worked out on it's own. In the process, I studied and meticulously watched the performers in magic I admired the most.

Like mentioned in the article, I studied what they were doing and how they were doing it - what made their style THEIR style. What was unique about it. And then, thereafter, I was more easily able to apply those applications to my own performance.


1 year ago
And if you are 13 and developing a style, that's just fine. Only be sure not to act like, say, a 40 year old (making jokes about politics and the economy); because it will come off as authentic. If you're 13, it's okay to perform magic like a 13-year-old.


1 year ago
Agree with that. Most magician have to create they own style in magic to create a strong character. So, people can easily remember the magician. Nice Articles and very helpfull. Thanks so much Rick Lax.


1 year ago
thanks for reading, burcuy.


1 year ago
Thanks for the article. I appreciated the examples. It sparked honest reflection.

Sometimes, the advice "be yourself" is just instruction about what NOT to do. So, if you're learning some effects from watching Dani Da Ortiz -- you should adopt his sleights and methods, but NOT his behaviors and mannerisms. Acting strange lessens your magic. I get it.

But, I don't think many (me included) fully grasp why we should think much about our own style beyond not adopting someone else's. Is it really all about remembering the performer better? If I'm casual and in the groove, and people are enjoying it, do I really need anything more? That's my question.

Yes, Teller and Tamariz and Copperfield and Houchin and Garcia and JB and you are way more entertaining than I am. But some of that is due to the fact you're just far more experienced and skilled than I am too. (Just give me time).

The point is that many of us suspect we'll get closer to being one of you spending our hours practicing the Pass than working on style. Experienced performers like you tell me I'm wrong. Few have articulated why. Help us out?


1 year ago
Hey CJennings, Fair questions. I guess if you're just performing casually for friends and family, personal style isn't all-important. But if you ever want to achieve greatness or feel totally free when you perform, it is. When you're doing somebody else's's like there's a glass ceiling on your ability to delight. Somebody like Steve Wyrick...he put so much into his show ,but because he was copying Copperfield's style, it flopped. But if you are doing magic casually and people are enjoying it, I think that's awesome--totally apart from personal style. Any time you're doing magic and people are enjoying it sounds ok by me!


1 year ago
But should I, at first, do tricks with other magicians methods? It takes time to invent new metheod, new gags and jokes. Sometimes, when i am performing, I am making jokes that i heard at magic performances of famous magicians. Then i feel bad, that i am not original. But i akm working on it.

You said that one of the best Pen and Teller shows have script. So can i have script for my close-up magic in my head? Is it bad?


1 year ago
janislawek, you definitely can have a script for a close up show...just make sure it doesn't sound overly-rehearsed. speak how you normally speak. penn and teller and ricky jay's extra-polished patter works because they're genuinely articulate in real life...

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