Monday, February 16, 2009

Practice Makes Better

In a business meeting the other day, a colleague mentioned she often uses the phrase "practice makes better" rather than the standard "practice makes perfect."

Interesting. It makes sense really. I'd rather consider perfection an ongoing ideal, not a destination where there's nowhere else to go. If you reach a level of total perfection, does that mean no more practice is necessary? (For the answer to that, see my earlier post, "Ladder to Mastery.")

So about practice. I practice my magic incessantly until moves become second nature. This allows me to focus my presentation on connecting with people. I practice almost every day. I have decks of cards all around the house (sorry, Debbie) so practice is always at arms reach. And I don't just practice moves and effects; I practice grace and finesse. I practice holding the cards with the lightest possible touch and doing the moves with a fluid motion. Having a refined touch with the cards helps separate the above average from the average.

I often practice without holding any props at all; I simply pantomime with my bare hands. It helps to heighten my awareness of movement and motion. Try it. Practice an entire effect using nothing but your hands. Pretend to hold the cards; pretend to do a your sleights; pretend to make a coin vanish. Watch your hands. How do they look? Are they cramped? Do they move with grace and fluidity? Magic should be a beautiful thing to watch, even when something magical is not happening.

I also practice in my head—by reciting patter, dreaming up potential plots and making mental notes of things I'd like to try. Carry a pocket digital recorder with you (I have mine in the car). This way, if an idea strikes you, you can record it at a moment's notice.

My favorite way to practice is to have card sessions with fellow magicians. Whether at the Magic Castle, the local magic shop, or magic convention, it's a great opportunity to exchange ideas and chops with fellow magicians. It's how my first DVDs got their name: Brainstorm.

The best practice comes when actually performing for people. Let them be your true mirror. Test out new tricks with small groups to help work out the kinks and build confidence. This also helps develop the presentation, choreography and address issues that did not arise during solo practice sessions.

And finally, be sure to practice the right things. As Richard Turner put it in the latest ReelMagic magazine, if you practice something over and over again, but do it incorrectly, you've pretty much mastered how to do it wrong. So be sure to use sound technique, always!

And when you feel you've reached a level of perfection, keep practicing, because practice makes better.

Friday, February 6, 2009

T.I.P.S. (vol. 1)

T.I.P.S. - Tested Ideas and Practical Suggestions
A friend recently asked for my advice on an upcoming strolling gig. He's fairly new to taking his skill into real world performing situations, but is by all means ready. Formulating a response meant looking into my own practices—a learning experience in itself. Here are some nuggets I shared:
  • Focus on cohesive sets of three.
  • Plan ahead. Instead of just listing the tricks, be clear about how you want your audience to react to you (see "The Napkin Approach").
  • Your opener should be quick, visual, and authentically you.
  • Know as much about the gig, environment and guests before the show. Standing only? Small groups? Round tables of 8-10 seated guests? Ambient noise? Number of guests? Plan accordingly.
  • Dress one level above your guests.
  • Be a people person. Make eye contact. It's about you and them, not just about the tricks.
  • Exude confidence.
  • I usually make my set list by listing primary and alternative effects. This gives me breathing room to change things up a bit. Here's an example from my own repertoire:
  1. Rubberbands routine (or Full Circle)
  2. Casino Chip and deck production (or Copper/Silver)
  3. Optical Opener (or Ballet Stunner)
  4. Card Transpo (or Triumph)
  5. Homage to Homing (or Palm Reader)
  6. Ambitious Card (or In a Flash)
  7. (Encore if appropriate: Invisible Deck or Constellation)
  • After the gig, be curious. What worked? What could have gone better? What surprised you? What did you learn?