How to Make a Beginner's Routine

Oct 23, 2014
108
102
Hello all!

With kids and work and all sorts of life responsibilities, I've had a really tough time keeping up any serious practice with magic, even though I've been seriously interested in it for 15 years now. I find I always come up against the same mental block:

I'm no longer interested in just doing random tricks for friends and family. I actually want to put together a short performance routine that has some sort of substance to it beyond the simple amazement of the effects themselves. The problem is that, when I try to fit together a few of the effects I know (or could learn without too much trouble), I have a hard time finding a theme or story that ties them all together into something that fits my sensibilities. On the other hand, when I think about the kind of stories I want to tell, I find myself out in the weeds with elaborate or difficult effects that I'm just not ready for.

Because of this block, I find myself practicing a few effects here and there, or running through a bunch of sleights, but never getting down to serious practice because I feel directionless. So my question is: how do you go about creating your first routines, as a beginner, using simple effects you can achieve but fitting them to your own storytelling sensibilities?

Maybe it's an unanswerable question, but I thought I would give all you smart people a stab at it. Thanks!
 
Aug 9, 2018
15
2
Start with two or three effects that you already know and see if you can put them together with a short story. Use the effects to punctuate points in your story.

or...just pick three effects that work well together in a specific order. Maybe a few card effects where you ‘up the stakes’ each time by making them (seemingly) more difficult.

A show doesn’t need to be a grand production, just have some fun with it!
 
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WitchDocIsIn

Elite Member
Sep 13, 2008
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I always create performance material in the same way - I start with what I want the audience to experience or think about, create a rough script around that, then I look for tricks, methods, or routines that will highlight that experience.

So, as an example, I wanted to do a routine where I got to share a surprise moment before the rest of the audience did. Basically the premise was that I was envious of the audience, because they get to see this material for the first time and I know too much to really be able to have that experience. So I'm going to do something a little selfish and try to have that experience vicariously through a volunteer.

I had the visuals in mind of what I wanted the final reveal to be - volunteer on stage with something in his hands outstretched, me covering it with my hands so I can reveal it to them first, then we reveal it to the audience and the volunteer gets the applause.

The trick I decided to use was The Solution by Michael Murray. I'm not going to go into my specific scripting but the end result was a very nice reveal where the final reveal turned into two reveal beats because the audience sees the volunteer's surprise first, then they get to see the successful result themselves.

That ended up being a 6-7 minute routine when all scripted out.
 
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RealityOne

Moderator
Nov 1, 2009
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New Jersey
Hello all!

The problem is that, when I try to fit together a few of the effects I know (or could learn without too much trouble), I have a hard time finding a theme or story that ties them all together into something that fits my sensibilities. On the other hand, when I think about the kind of stories I want to tell, I find myself out in the weeds with elaborate or difficult effects that I'm just not ready for.

Because of this block, I find myself practicing a few effects here and there, or running through a bunch of sleights, but never getting down to serious practice because I feel directionless. So my question is: how do you go about creating your first routines, as a beginner, using simple effects you can achieve but fitting them to your own storytelling sensibilities?

It is very hard to tie distinct effects together with a common presentation.

Think about the context we typically use the word "routines" -- ambitious card routine, cups & balls routine, linking rings routine, Wildcard routine, Three-Fly routine. What do they have in common? They all use the same props, similar effects but different sleights for each phase and variations in subplot.

Three different effects performed in sequence is not a routine, it is a "set." Ten different effects performed in sequence is not a routine, it is a "show." What ties a "set" and a show together is not a singular presentation or even theme, but rather the performer's character and style (evidenced through the chosen effects and developed presentation).

I can't think of any distinct effects that I perform that have a common presentation. The closest I have come is thinking of using an airborne bottle variation using a lemonade picture as part of bill-in-lemon routine. I've sketched out two different shows (but never performed them) that have a common story. One is a Christmas show, that follows the Gospel story of the birth of Jesus, with different effects for each part of the story. The other is show about a magician who travels across the world to save his wife (assistant) who has been kidnapped (think Indiana Jones combined with the Adventures of Tin Tin) with only his magic and a sarcastic (animatronic) Toucan. The closest I've come in performance is a Harry Potter themed kids show where each effect had a different presentation related to the story.

My advice is to take three effects and develop presentations that fit your style. Perform those three effects as a "set." I'd be glad to help you develop your scripts, either in a thread or in a "Conversation" (PM). Then start working on other effects and presentations. After a while, you will have several sets of effects.
 
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obrienmagic

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Nov 4, 2014
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One thing I like to do is inject things I enjoy outside of magic into my performance. I perform a standard card to pocket routine with Pokemon cards and a pokeball. I do a mind reading book test routine using my favorite manga.

Here is an example of using a trick you already know and turining it into an original performance. Let’s say you are into roll playing games like D&D or warhammer. You can introduce some warhammer figures and a couple 20 sided dice for them to examine as you explain what WH is and why you enjoy playing. Then ask them to roll the dice and whatever number it lands on, you count down that many cards from a deck of playing cards. You turn over the last card and reveal it is the 7 of diamonds. You then show that the warhammer characters actually all have a small 7 of diamonds painted on their bases.

at its heart all you need is a svengali deck. You could easily say “name any number” and pull out a prediction from an envelope. But that has no personality to it. Simply by injecting something you love (in this case WH) it instantly makes it more enjoyable to watch!
 
Oct 23, 2014
108
102
Thanks for all the great advice!

just pick three effects that work well together in a specific order. Maybe a few card effects where you ‘up the stakes’ each time by making them (seemingly) more difficult.

A show doesn’t need to be a grand production, just have some fun with it!

The only set I've ever felt pretty good about used this approach. Maybe I will return to it!

I always create performance material in the same way - I start with what I want the audience to experience or think about, create a rough script around that, then I look for tricks, methods, or routines that will highlight that experience.

I think this is the approach I want to take, ultimately, but I'm still so greenhorn that it's difficult. I suspect it gets easier as you solidify your style, sensibility, and character? All things that are probably going to take some time for me.

It is very hard to tie distinct effects together with a common presentation.

Think about the context we typically use the word "routines" -- ambitious card routine, cups & balls routine, linking rings routine, Wildcard routine, Three-Fly routine. What do they have in common? They all use the same props, similar effects but different sleights for each phase and variations in subplot.

Three different effects performed in sequence is not a routine, it is a "set." Ten different effects performed in sequence is not a routine, it is a "show." What ties a "set" and a show together is not a singular presentation or even theme, but rather the performer's character and style (evidenced through the chosen effects and developed presentation).

My advice is to take three effects and develop presentations that fit your style. Perform those three effects as a "set." I'd be glad to help you develop your scripts, either in a thread or in a "Conversation" (PM). Then start working on other effects and presentations. After a while, you will have several sets of effects.

Thank you for this clarification of terms. It's incredibly helpful. I think I've been looking at sets as if there has to be some sort of through line that brings them all together, but I guess you're right that very few magicians actually do that. I will follow your last piece of advice and see what I come up with for three distinct effects, and I may very well take you up on your offer to help with scripting! Thank you.

One thing I like to do is inject things I enjoy outside of magic into my performance.

Two big parts of my life are filmmaking and philosophy; so I have been trying to figure out ways to tie in stories or concepts from those disciplines. I like the idea of using magic to talk about epistemology, metaphysics, etc. Lots of possible plays on perception and certainty. Thanks for illustrating with the WH example--it's helpful to see how simple effects can be made better just by association with something else!
 
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WitchDocIsIn

Elite Member
Sep 13, 2008
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I think this is the approach I want to take, ultimately, but I'm still so greenhorn that it's difficult. I suspect it gets easier as you solidify your style, sensibility, and character? All things that are probably going to take some time for me.

It's easier than you'd think. Just think about something you found fascinating/interesting/emotional and then try to think of a way to put a similar situation in front of an audience.
 
Nov 3, 2018
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414
I suspect it gets easier as you solidify your style, sensibility, and character? All things that are probably going to take some time for me.
This book might give you some help developing your character. I haven't read it myself, but I've heard good things about it.

Two big parts of my life are filmmaking and philosophy; so I have been trying to figure out ways to tie in stories or concepts from those disciplines.
If he's willing to share it here, @RealityOne has a nice routine using prayer beads and quotes from famous philosophers that might give you some ideas for presentations.
 

RealityOne

Moderator
Nov 1, 2009
3,578
3,849
New Jersey
If he's willing to share it here, @RealityOne has a nice routine using prayer beads and quotes from famous philosophers that might give you some ideas for presentations.

Actually, it uses worry stones (the original from Eugene Burger uses the prayer beads) and I quote a Pop Star, a Russian novelist, a Dutch Theologian and my Mom. I'd be glad to share it with Kenneth, but I don't post the scripts for my performance pieces because it is too easy for someone to take it and perform it poorly.

@kennethcmerrill - You may be interested in Larry Haas's book Transformations. Larry was a professor of philosophy before becoming a full-time professor of magic. Also check out books by Eugene Burger and Robert E. Neale for great examples of magic with meaning.
 
For me when I first created my first routine I honestly just wanted to make people laugh while performing magic. One of the first routines I ever performed for a birthday was a sponge ball routine and with the help of my mentor, I told people I was afraid of clowns so when they scare me I beat them up and take their noses. I'm not actually afraid of clowns but everyone gets a good laugh out of it. Then I explain why it's a clowns nose because it does all these things and I start performing from that. Even after all these years I still present this story even though it's a silly thing.

All I have to say is don't rush it, great things aren't rushed. Just allow your audience to know who you are through performance but don't think too hard about it. Originally I wanted to be a shock magician when I was younger, now I center a lot around comedy. You don't have to settle for one thing right now, try out several routine ideas and run with one that you're comfortable a feel the best about. This is one of the reasons I love open mic nights because of the opportunity to try these new things before a paid gig. There's not much open mics lately but still there are ZOOM shows and such. I know I'm rambling but just be you when performing and if you don't know who that is yet just give yourself some more air time while performing, it will come to you.
 
Oct 23, 2014
108
102
Actually, it uses worry stones (the original from Eugene Burger uses the prayer beads) and I quote a Pop Star, a Russian novelist, a Dutch Theologian and my Mom. I'd be glad to share it with Kenneth, but I don't post the scripts for my performance pieces because it is too easy for someone to take it and perform it poorly.

@kennethcmerrill - You may be interested in Larry Haas's book Transformations. Larry was a professor of philosophy before becoming a full-time professor of magic. Also check out books by Eugene Burger and Robert E. Neale for great examples of magic with meaning.

I would be interested in reading your script, if you're open to sharing. Rest assured I have no interest in copying someone else's work. And thank you for the book recommendations! Larry Haas certainly sounds like someone I should read into.

All I have to say is don't rush it, great things aren't rushed. Just allow your audience to know who you are through performance but don't think too hard about it. Originally I wanted to be a shock magician when I was younger, now I center a lot around comedy. You don't have to settle for one thing right now, try out several routine ideas and run with one that you're comfortable a feel the best about.

Thank you for sharing your own beginnings! After years of collecting various effects and books but struggling to get past basic dabbling, I just want to find a concrete set I can work on that feels good to me and I can present in a way I enjoy. With other things like music, I've found I improve much more if I have a specific piece to master; so I guess I'm trying to do the same thing here, but with magic it's not as fun to simply play a piece as it's written--you have to make it your own. You're absolutely right though; I've always felt most comfortable when I'm simply being myself with the performances.
 
Jun 3, 2020
72
45
I'm at the stage myself where I'm trying to routine what I know.
Based on things I've read lately, the advice I'm planning to give myself is:

-Pick a few powerful effects that can flow into the next smoothly.
-Pick a few effects that are all different. A vanish, transposition, tore & restore, ect.
-Pick effects that don't clash with my persona or the type of show I'm about to perform.
-Start with a quick attention grabber and let each effect build, ending with the most mind-blowing effect.
-Plan for the audience response with laughter or shock and make a second of room (a beat) for it.
-Cut out any motions or patter that doesn't enhance the routine or could bore the spectator.
-Practice the routine with a script until you don't have to think about what you're doing.

I'm just a year and a half into learning but these are the notes I have for myself.
 
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Apr 27, 2015
39
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There is some great advice here. This has already been said...but...truly figure out who you are and why are you performing. Once you do that, the routines and scripting will all come together. Are you a Dad playing with his kids? Are you interested in mystery and the mind? Are you an engineer who likes to tinker? Imagine if you were to do an Ambitious Card routine but in each of those characters. Same moves. Same "trick." But a totally different performance and audience experience.

When thinking of how effects will and can flow together it depends on if you are doing an impromptu or a more formal performance. Things can change so quickly in an informal close-up setting that I feel I almost have to be ready with a "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" style. For more formal settings (Ex. part of a talent show) I can go with a more structured set as I have more control and time restraints.

Regardless of the setting, one "rule" I try to follow is what I call the "Escalation of Amazement." I'd be interested if anyone knows of where this has been explored in print as I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with it. I want my audience to experience small miracles that get more and more amazing as I go along, and when I feel they have reached their apex...I'm done. I want them wanting more at the end. For example, I don't open with "Invisible Deck" - it's too strong to grow from. A simple "Two-Card Monte" might be a good start, then to a full deck trick, etc.

I feel if you ask yourself these questions, sets/routines/scripting will fall into place...

Who am I and why am I doing magic?
What experience do I want my spectators to have?
How do I structure so that the amazement builds?

Enjoy.
 
Nov 6, 2017
8
5
If you have the available funds, i would pick up Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz! It won't give you tricks to perform, but it'll help you develop an understanding of what types of presentations are engaging for audiences. Also, it'll help with general routine structures once you have your tricks in mind. If you're still hungry for theory after that, check out Designing Miracles by the same author
 
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Apr 27, 2015
39
14
If you have the available funds, i would pick up Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz! It won't give you tricks to perform, but it'll help you develop an understanding of what types of presentations are engaging for audiences. Also, it'll help with general routine structures once you have your tricks in mind. If you're still hungry for theory after that, check out Designing Miracles by the same author

This is a great suggestion!
 
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