Ballpark Estimate: $100 to $2,500 or more to get started
If you’re a big fan of Harry Potter, you may be captured by the mystical word of wizards that author J.K. Rowling has created, complete with all of the magic, mystery and suspense that your heart could desire. You may even wish you had some of your own special powers. But if your own natural abilities fall short of qualifying you for entry into Hogwarth, you can still learn some impressive magic tricks sure to captivate an audience.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
The earliest forms of magic can actually be traced back to ancient times. There are many references to magic in the bible, and the three wise men are also referred to by some as having magical power. But while many of the oldest magicians were thought to possess supernatural talents, today’s counterparts are just regular people who have mastered the art of fooling others with sleight of hand movements, deception, misdirection and other forms of trickery.
The Greatest Magician
You’ve probably heard of Harry Houdini, who was one of the most well-known magicians ever. He become famous at the turn of the 20th century for a variety of conjuring tricks and escape techniques and could use these to successfully remove himself from many different confining situations. Houdini was also one of the first magicians to explore the relationship between a performer and his audience. To this end, he captured people’s attention and made them care about his situation and believe in his magical abilities. Today, such a bond with the audience continues to be at the heart of most modern magicians’ successes, since they need to convince the audience that their tricks are “real” occurrences.
Do Your Research
A Page From the Past
If you want to become a successful magician yourself, you will want to begin by getting a feel for the field and determining exactly how and what you want to do in this role. A good place to get your feet wet is by reading up on the history of magic. By learning what Houdini and his counterparts have been able to accomplish over the decades, you will get a better understanding of what it takes for a magician to be effective.
A Connection to the Present
You may also want to find out what resources exist locally to help you in your quest to becoming a magician. You can find out if there are any local groups dedicated to magic in your area. Check the local newspaper and research your city online. You may just hit upon a local magic circle or magic workshop that could help you get started, and will help you understand exactly what this new skill will entail. This can also be a great way to meet with other magicians and learn from their experiences.
Paving Your Career Path
Once you’ve gathered enough information to reinforce your career decision, it’s time to sit down and get serious. The first thing you should ask yourself is what type of magic you prefer. It helps to pay close attention to what gives you the most pleasure when you watch other magicians perform, so you can narrow in on different areas and add the same types of things into your own repertoire.
Different Types of Magic
There are several different types of magic, each with a different tradition and skill set. Some of the most popular options include stage magic, prop magic, close up magic, escapist and mentalist. Choosing a style that is right for you is important from the outset. Even though some of the different types of magic can overlap, experts in this field put great stock in treating them as completely separate traditions, with completely different skill sets for their performance.
Stage magic is perhaps the most popular type of magic. This is the most showy and most well recognized approach and usually relies on props to achieve the effects. Close up magic is also known as sleight of hand, and involves being right up and close to the mark you are trying to impress. Sleight of hand is often seen as the most challenging form of magic, but keep in mind that most audience members consider this the least impressive to watch.
Prop Magic can be close up or stage magic (although stage magic is almost always prop magic). This usually uses an automated gimmick or trick that requires very little interaction from the magician itself, allowing the illusionist to focus on the art and entertainment and not disguising the trick from the eyes of the audience.
Mentalism is one of the more controversial aspects of magic. Mentalism uses what is known as hot and cold reading to create phony psychic abilities. Even though this is a trick, like all other magic, some mentalists claim they actually have otherworldly powers. This claim is known as “laying it on strong” or “acting strong” and is looked down on as manipulative and even in some cases is considered an act of fraud in the magician community.
Escapism was made popular by Houdini. It basically consists of escaping from locks, cages and the like. The most infamous escape was immortalized in the Houdini movie, where Houdini is shown to die in the water torture chamber. In real life this never happened- he died after a show, not during an act. Of course, the truth of that is far less dramatic and is usually ignored when other magicians attempt “The Act that Killed Houdini.”
To become a professional magician, you’ll need to learn some basic tricks of the trade. Usually this starts off with simple, miniaturized versions of the larger feats, getting used to the different ways of misdirection and fooling the audience.
You should always practice in front of an audience or a mirror, since this will enable you to practice the same small trick over and over and over again without you boring a live audience with your repetitiveness.
Depending on the kind of magic you are learning you might also need to buy some simple props. For instance, close up magic requires cards, escapism requires trick handcuffs, prop magic requires trick cards or ball and cup tricks and stage magic requires all the props you would need for the trick.
Perfecting Your Act
Once you’ve gotten a few simple tricks under your sleeve, it’s time to start working on more complicated deceptions.
Some magicians combine smaller, simple tricks together to create new and interesting ones. Others go out and buy complicated props in order to get the latest and greatest gizmo effects. Whatever you want to do next you will need to create a persona for yourself and learn to be more of an actor, since part of being successful as a magician includes becoming a great performer as well.
Of course acting and charisma may not come easily to everyone. If you are struggling in this area, you might consider taking some courses in acting or public speaking at a nearby community college.
Regardless of your training and practice, you will need to select a performance outfit that fits. Many magicians go for the suit and bow tie route for the classy debonair look. But some prefer to opt for the eclectic stage personas of magicians like Penn and Teller or Chris Angel. Others go for the renaissance look of an alchemist or an old wizard in robes. Whatever your look, make sure you base your tricks on that design, so it will all come together professionally and effectively as well.
What It Costs to Get Started
What it will cost to become a magician depends a great deal on what you will do with these skills. If you simply want to have a few tricks you can use to entertain people at social functions, you can get started with an investment of under $100 and a month or two to perfect some of the details to be adept at them. But if you want to get the professional training and expertise so that you can take your skills on the road to perform for paying audiences, you should plan to spend considerably more in classes and tools you will need, as well as in the time you will spend on this endeavor. This can be a few thousand or more, when you add up all of the expenses. Here is a breakdown of some of the things you will need:
- Joining a magic circle – $75 to $100/year
- Becoming a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians –$65/year
- Magic lessons – $100 to $1,500 and up for a weekend workshop (keep in mind you may want to take several)
- Props – $20 to $500
- Costume – $75 to $300
- Acting lessons – $200 to $500
So becoming a magician can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,500 or more to get yourself equipped with the skills and tools you will need.
If you want to get some performance experience without a lot of money, consider providing the entertainment at parties. This can be a great way to develop your prop magic and sleight of hand tricks. You may want to do your first few shows on a volunteer basis, but once you come adept at your tricks and your timing, you can ask people to pay you for services.
Another good place to find work is at most underground music clubs and bars. Look for places where Goth and electronic bands play, since they will more likely be interested in hiring a magic act to complement the other performers. Starting out you may earn anywhere from under $100 a show on up to several hundred or more for your performance skills as you get better and better.