Guess What? You're an Actor!


by Aaron Aptaker

Reprinted from The Boston Mini-Wizard, with permission of the author

Have you ever gone to a play and it looks like you are seeing life unfold before you? The characters are saying their lines for the first time and they are thinking of what to do and say as the story unfolds. That is what it is supposed to feel like. If you have ever attended a rehearsal you would see a much different story. The actors have memorized their lines from a script, and know exactly where they are going, and how they are moving. An actor’s facial expressions are carefully planned out, and their gestures are nuanced to perfection. The actor has rehearsed the same thing hundreds of times yet everything seems off the cuff and inspired.

Robert Houdin got it right when he said, “a magician is an actor playing the part of a magician”. Go ahead and reread that first paragraph, only this time replace the word actor with magician, and the words play/theater with magic show. Still works doesn’t it? Looking at your magic through the lens of an actor is a great way to improve as a magician. I highly recommend every aspiring magician attend drama classes, and audition for local plays. Here are a few ideas to apply to your own magic.

Always have a script! Actors never go onstage without knowing their lines. As far as scripts, the only difference between a magician and an actor is that usually magicians write their own scripts whereas an actor gets their words from a playwright. The idea of scripting your magic can be a scary one; after all you have so many routines and no idea what to write down. Here is a method of script writing I have used. First, pick one routine you already perform. Then, write down what you already say (don’t create any new lines at this stage! Just write down what you have already been saying). Next, think about a story or theme for the trick. Maybe it is a trick that is themed around cooking, or maybe the theme is falling in love. When you have a theme that you think fits the trick, brainstorm everything you know on the subject (see how useful your notebook is). Put your brainstorming list down for a day then come back to your script with new eyes.

Think about what on the brainstorming list is related to the trick, and now you have a plot.

Let’s say the trick is a do as I do card trick. You chose cooking as a theme, since you had a scrambled eggs joke in the original routine. On your brainstorming list you wrote down Iron Chef. You decided that it would be an awesome idea to have an Iron Chef style card trick where the chosen cards are the “secret ingredient”. Now that you have a clear plotline, the script is easy to write. All you have to do is write, rewrite and edit.

You have a script, now time for rehearsal! Actors never go onstage reading their lines for the first time. Rehearsing your magic technique and sleight of hand is extremely important, but I want to stress the importance of rehearsing the routine itself since you’ve already practiced the moves into the ground (right?). When actors move around, it’s called blocking. As a magician you should know exactly where you move, when you raise your eyebrow, when you put your hands on your hips etc. Your script should motivate all of your actions. Use facial expressions and gestures to support what you are saying. Now rehearse, practice, rehearse, break for lemonade, and rehearse again! You should know your routine inside out before you perform it.

If you’ve followed that process for one routine you now have a stellar performance piece. Now go to another routine and start the process again. Before you go out and perform your superb routine I want to let you in on a huge secret of acting. This is a secret so HUGE you only know about it if you’ve been in a play. Here’s the secret: Things never go exactly as planned in theater, but when actors do their jobs well no one in the audience knows. Actors forget lines, props go missing, and sound cues don’t work! Actors are always on their toes ready to adapt what they are doing to fit a situation. Magic is exactly the same way. We call this WHLIH (whatever happens let it happen). You will forget a line from the script, your funny gag will go missing, and your music won’t play. All of these things can and will happen to you, but here is the great thing, your audience does not know what to expect, so if you keep going gracefully they will not notice a thing! Scripts and rehearsal are very useful, but performance changes everything so be prepared and be flexible.

Remember legendary comedian George Burn’s famous quote about acting, “Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”