Is street magic worth it?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by chriswiehl, Aug 6, 2014.

  1. #1 chriswiehl, Aug 6, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 7, 2014
    I hear and see many magicians discuss the genre of magic called "Street Magic". There are many arguments against it, as it is sometimes not considered a real performance setting and many seasoned magicians scoff the idea. I have heard many top creators say that street magic is only done when we are trying to film a dvd and sell it, or that it is only good for TV magic (David Blaine, Angel, Troy, etc.) and that we should be working on actual shows and performances for money. Should we encourage the practice of "street magic"?

    In short, my answer is YES. Street magic as I am writing is not the same as busking. With busking, we set up in a location where there is traffic and build up a crowd by saying we are doing a show and performing. I do not professionally busk, and never had. I have read some materials on busking etiquette and tips, but I have never worked a "pitch" or had an official "Hat call" so I will not discuss busking. I have had experience performing Street Magic.

    Why do I feel that street magic is important? Because it allows you to do many things that an actual gig will not allow you or inhibit you to do.

    1. Street magic allows you to practice new effects. When doing a professional gig I will usually do my tried and true material. Rarely will I throw in something completely new and not tested on someone else or another audience. This is where street magic can come in. Go out and perform your new magic to anyone. If you mess up, oh well you will most likely never see that person again, or you can go on and do something completely different. You can almost even tell the person that you are going to show them something completely new and then try it out. Yes you can test your tricks with your family, but if your families are anything like mine they know a double lift and a pass and will not take in consideration your built in misdirection or answer your questions. They are your hardest critics. When performing street magic you can perform these moves and actually get away with it because they do not know what to expect (much like a real lay audience would). Another side effect of street magic is a sense of honesty between magician and audience. Many times if you do something wrong, there is less of an appropriate boundary for performance etiquette. If you mess up or flash, some people will defiantly call you out. This is a fantastic piece of advice for a performer. If you flash, then you know what to work on. If someone isn't fooled, then you can fix what is not fooling to make it more deceptive.

    2. Builds Confidence. This is a HUGE advantage of street magic. Unlike a show or a paid gig, you actually have to introduce yourself and people are not prepared for a show. If requires you to go OUTSIDE your comfort zone and to become... uncomfortable. We cannot change ourselves if we stay comfy. If we stay in our safe zone, then we will never grow as a performer and going up to a total stranger on a street or a mall or festival and doing magic can be one of the most awkward things you will do. But once you do this and perform and see how awesome they think you are then you will see how easy it is to approach someone and introduce yourself and your magic. There is however a caveat there. What if they say NO!? Seriously!? People will actually say no to magic. Some people are too busy, don?t want to be bothered, and may also be just as nervous as you are to participate. Think about walking down a street and someone asking you to participate in a study, try a new hair product, to give some change, or to lean about our lord and savior Jesus Christ. I am pretty sure that you might not want to participate (I know I would be nervous). That is why by doing street magic you catch people off guard and not sure of your true motivation. When I do street magic, if I am not with someone filming (which I will touch on later) I will introduce myself and explain that I am performing magic for free or practice and be as honest as I can be. I will not go up to them and automatically put them on the spot or be rude, but I will be genuine and honest about my intention so there are no surprises.

    3. Builds Fluency. Short and simple, by practicing, we become better and more fluid in our performance style and scripting and it allows us practice

    4. Gives us practice. By doing street magic (same with a restaurant or strolling gig) it gives us several opportunities to work on a show or set. Every time, EVERY TIME, I go out and perform street or strolling magic I am able to find and learn something new about a trick I am doing or a routine I have been practicing. My greatest gains in routines and effects have come from what others have said or what I have found myself thinking in a particular moment during a performance. Also when I go out and do street magic I will often find a friend to come with me. This does 2 things. First it gives me someone to talk to when no one is around, and second it gives me a second pair of eyes / a camera man. I love filming my street performances or any impromptu performance because it gives me reference for later. I always try to have someone film my performances for a few reasons. I love to have promo material, and if a performance is being filmed and someone freaks out on camera, then I can use that later (if I ask permission). Second it allows me to see my performance and to determine what I did right and wrong. I always watch my shows and think to myself, well that could have been better, I guess I should stop saying "ok" or "you know" so much. Lastly I film because it allows me to see if the reactions from the audience are what I want or not.

    I honestly feel that with street magic it gives us many opportunities to refine our craft and to improve us as people and performers. From Practice, to confidence, to fun, it gives the best of magic. Heck, we can even get tipped from street magic if we want. Street magic is not just for promo vids and TV shows, but can be an essential part of our growth as magicians.


    Street magic teaches us confidences, provides us with practice, and gives us an environment for honest opinions and criticism from someone other than our parents.
  2. First - Can I just say some formatting would make your post a lot more readable than it currently is. I don't know if the forums just mangled your post or what, but I think it's best to break long posts up a bit more. Add extra lines between paragraphs and keep the paragraphs smaller. This makes it much easier to read on a forum.

    That said - I agree with most of the benefits you talk about. The one I have an issue with is the idea of practicing and becoming fluent in front of an audience. I believe one should already be fluent before doing any performances of any kind.

    I think a big part of why people look down on 'street magic' (which I think of as guerrilla magic) is that the people doing it tend not to be very good. They tend to constantly do new tricks without ever perfecting anything. Which leads me to the point about using the streets to test new material - For a stag performer you just add a new bit between existing bits. This does two things - it keeps the mood going well, and keeps you from adding new stuff too quickly.

    I agree that street magic is a way to build all of those skills - but it's certainly not the only way. For example - learning to socialize without any magic involved will build your confidence just as much as performing. If not more, because it's just you and not you hiding behind magic.

    I'm not trying to slam on you - I do agree that there are benefits to performing for strangers - I just think that a lot of people don't do it very respectfully, or very well.
  3. I mean, I don't know that I'm thrilled with the effects that we label street magic effects - they're sometimes bland and samey - not am I excited about awkward teenagers mechanically playing with a deck of cards, but I love the idea of impromptu theater. The possibility of seeing something really cool from an intriguing, appealing character in an unexpected environment is exciting and, coming from a hipster weirdo art school city, something I would actively seek out.

    Whether or not it's there yet, or if it ever will, or if street magic's ship has sailed, I don't know. But "be the change you want to see in the world" and all that.
  4. Truth!

    Jonny ain't reading that eyesore block of text, yo! Break up that funk, chriswiehl!
  5. I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon. Too many people without another way of getting the attention they crave are doing it. I don't mean that in a bad way, either. It's a legitimate means of expression for those people and it honestly still seems to be gaining popularity. My perception of that popularity could be skewed, of course, since I work for one of the largest magic companies in the world and we cater to teenagers and street magicians.

    I like the idea of self-expression but the point to which I like it extends exactly to where it starts being annoying to other people. Which is where the majority of my issues with 'street magicians' comes from. Too many of them don't have the social skill to recognize that they just shouldn't be bothering a certain person.

    Not everyone loves magic like we do. That can be a hard truth to accept.
  6. I loathe "ambush" magic in any form, it's unprofessional, imposing and invades people's space. As has been said, 90%of those that do it SUCK! They are unpracticed, trip over their tongue half the time and aren't comfortable with the routine and handling it.

    Yes, it is an excellent way of developing moxy and learning audience management and most importantly, how to ENTERTAIN folks vs. trying to prove yourself to be someone special. . . you're not . . . and you're not David Blaine!

    The other thing to clarify here is that doing sidewalk work in this manner IS NOT the same thing as doing a show, so stop saying that you "have a gig" when all you're doing is twisting aces at the local mall's food court; you're just out doing tricks and that's where my biggest gripe comes into play. . . you're teaching yourself really bad habits!

    If you go out to do this sort of thing HAVE A ROUTINE. . . an actual set that you are developing for getting work not a jumble of random tricks that you bounce to. Be prepared, scripted, and rehearsed so you can use these created opportunities as a kind of "show case" -- that's how (and why) people video your work and up load it to youtube; you've impressed them! BUT and many of you aren't going to like this but, the videos that tend to get the most play are those that reveal actual skill e.g. manipulation routines that display confidence and control . . . you don't have to be Channing Pollack or Lance Burton but you do need to prove yourself a "Magician" which means going further than doing mechanical effects and packet tricks.

    Be Picky when it comes to where you do this sort of thing; food courts are an excellent choice as well as park area. . . we're talking about places where people gather to take a break vs. where they are and trying to get from point a to b -- they're busy and really don't have the time to be bothered so take that into consideration. Maybe learn from the buskers in how to build a tip and get that attention so as to invite those that have the time AND THE DESIRE to see what you're going to do.

    Trust me, for as much as I love magic and encourage young people, if some young snot jumped out at me and asked me to pick a card I'd knock him on his butt. It's rude, offensive, and serves no one in a positive manner, so stop thinking that way.
  7. I guess it really depends on what you'd label street magic. I prefer the term sidewalk work or guerilla magic because I think that "street magic" is more a genre of effect and character presentation. The props tend to be simplistic, familiar, and "gritty," there's a generous helping of shock magic to a lot of it...the only way to make that kind of performing profitable is to put it on television. Most performers aren't making their bread and butter doing arm twists and the Two Card Monte for random New Yorkers. That being said, a lot of the effects being developed and touted as "street magic" effects would fit just fine into stage, roaming, or busking work because much of it is simple, visual, and designed for heavy and lasting impact. Not all of it will fit every character, but that's true with most magic.

    All that being said, I think guerilla performance is great. My act is kind of like a hidden camera show with no cameras in that I'll just get into costume and character sometimes and go about my day; sometimes I'll run a few errands, go to the park, maybe do some poi busking, and if anyone stops and talks to me or asks me questions, I'll introduce myself briefly and often wind up offering to show them some magic. I don't ask for tips and I usually don't make any during these encounters, but I do get a lot of business cards handed out and get a lot of networking done.

    Owing to the fact that pink wizards stand out from the general public, it's not uncommon for people to approach me and ask questions, ask to take pictures, etc., but I also find most people aren't offended or bothered when I introduce myself as Staunton's local Wizard and ask if they'd like to see a little magic. It's just a matter of knowing how to pick your audience. I don't bother people who are walking or standing somewhere; people seated at tables or a bench are usually a much better choice. I agree that it's generally a bad practice to just randomly ambush people with a deck of cards the way I see some people doing online, but I also think it's possible to accomplish impromptu, guerilla-style performance without disrespecting or inconveniencing anyone.

    One of my favorite shows was an impromptu session in the park that wound up on my youtube channel. I noticed some young adults seated at a picnic table and sensed that it might be a special occasion, so I walked up, introduced, and offered some magic. I didn't find out until midway through the performance that the spectator filming it on my phone was holding her birthday party when I strolled up. I'm afraid it would have ruined her birthday terribly if somebody had decided to punch my lights out for daring to "ambush" some people with my wizardry ;)
  8. Unfortunately so! I think it's also telling that, as magicians are aging, they seem to be less and less concerned with this type of persona and evolve into something else. Usually something that gets paid - which they should be, if they're practiced and good!

    There's a lot of good information presented here so far - aim for places where people are chillin', stay away from people who are clearly busy or not in the mood. Practice and know how to deal with people. One of the challenges of not doing a formal show is you're not doing a formal show, and as such anything can happen.

    I'd like to see the street theater example taken in a new direction. Instead of clumsy teenage stereotypes, a new paradigm for impromptu magic theater.
  9. The problem with using these words together..."impromptu magic theater" is that most people who "do" magic don't know a THING about performance as an art. I have said this countless times over and over in both my lecture and in the forums: STUDY MORE THAN JUST MAGIC.

    If you want to better yourself as a PERFORMER, then look beyond Card College and Bobo's. Learn theatrical basics, improv, scriptwriting, blocking, timing, etc etc.

    ChristopherT stated: "That said - I agree with most of the benefits you talk about. The one I have an issue with is the idea of practicing and becoming fluent in front of an audience. I believe one should already be fluent before doing any performances of any kind."

    So please explain how to become fluent before you perform?

    Magic aside, you will NEVER be fluent in front of an audience unless you perform in front of an audience. I don't care if it's playing a guitar, singing, stand-up comedy, putting on a play, etc...

    So that is where I DO agree to place a new effect you are working on in between the effects you are already polished on...though not everyone does it like that, it's still a good formula.

    To touch on what Mr. Browning wrote: "Trust me, for as much as I love magic and encourage young people, if some young snot jumped out at me and asked me to pick a card I'd knock him on his butt. It's rude, offensive, and serves no one in a positive manner, so stop thinking that way."

    Some people find it rude and offensive when they are approached in a restaurant by someone who is actually hired entertainment. I know I have had my personal space invaded before...

    If you do it CORRECTLY, then "street magic" isn't such a bad thing. Not all who perform magic want to be paid for it. Some just like making others smile. Some want attention. Some do it for all the wrong reasons and some do it for all the right reasons...

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