Red Carpets

Debuting new material is always tense for me. I’m nervous about it not being good enough for my audience. I am guilty about the secret moves. I am self conscience that this could go terribly, terribly wrong.

Here are some things I’ve noticed that make those walks down the red carpet less stressful and more successful.

The Words Matter Most

I’m going to say something which sounds ridiculous, but I firmly believe it.

Practicing the new things you will be saying is more important than practicing the new sleights you will be executing.

Yup, and I even bolded it. Now, please do not misunderstand me: I am not saying to prepare your sleight of hand any less than you already do. I am a big believer in “Don’t practice til you get it right, practice til you can’t get it wrong.” What I am saying is however much effort you put into rehearsing the things your hands will be doing, pay even more attention to what words will be speaking.

It’s the muscle memory of knowing exactly what words you will say to have the card selected, shared, and returned that will make your upcoming side steal feel so natural to yourself and your audience. The stress of performing a daring and difficult sleight before a bunch of real people will fade away among the journey your words are taking you.

When I think to all the tricks which crashed and burned on thier debuts, (Here’s lookin at you Newspaper Tear, Magic Square, Thimbles, and a half dozen or so Tossed Out Decks), they all flopped because I hadn’t properly rehearsed what I was going to say. The magic didn’t fail- the performance did.

However, I am very pleased to list several routines which I properly prepared and memorized scripts for. I have video of my debut performance of my paintball catch and I’m impressed at how solid it looked. This past weekend I debuted a brand new script for a trick I’ve only done a handful of times in my life: Any Drink Called For. It went beautifully- and I think a major part of that is my having recited the lines to myself dutifully in the car for over a month.

Memorize what you are going to say and I promise you, it will make everything else so much easier that first time onstage with a new trick.

Preparation is everything.

Debut in Spurts

If you can, try debuting the new routine a little bit at a time rather than all at once. Insert a new joke or sleight into an existing routine.*

One of the first things I wrote for my (more recent) Tossed Out Deck script was the card shuffling and examination sequence- an act of exposition I feel is important to the trick.

To try out the new sequence, I inserted it into an existing multiple selection card routine which I was already performing regularly at Pier 39. This allowed me to workshop the beginning of my Tossed Out Deck routine several times before I ever debuted the full Tossed Out Deck trick. When that first performance came, I had already streamlined the opening and knew where the laughs were. Talk about a confidence boost.

In fact, while I was working on my new Tossed Out Deck my Pier 39 show had two different opening tricks depending upon how many people that first card shuffling sequence attracted. If there was a large enough crowd, I would launch into the newer Tossed Out Deck routine- which required a bigger audience. If there weren’t enough people or I didn’t feel safe enough with the audience to try out new material, I stuck to the multiple selection routine. Both routines began precisely the same way and I didn’t have to make the choice of which trick to do until almost 5 minutes into the show.

You can also try out new jokes in social situations. For three months this year I performed on crutches because of a broken leg. I developed several lines to make light of this awkward state, and all of those lines were vetted through my friends and people I chatted with offstage.

The gimp jokes which they laughed at the most made it into the show.

Preparation is everything.

Can The First Script

The document for my paintball script is entitled Alt Alt Alt Alt Paintball, with each “Alt” meaning “alternate.” Paper Balls over the Head is Alt Alt Alt Paper. My iPhone trick is in the upwards of six complete overhauls of the script.

I always over-script my first draft. It never surprises me to discover my fresh “masterpiece” is too wordy, too distant from my own voice, too melodramatic. They are often pretentious as well.

I have gotten to the point that I am very pleased to finish writing my first draft because it means I can now throw it away and start over from scratch to create something worthy of performance.

Well it’s not really from scratch and you don’t really throw away the script. There will be bits and lines in that first draft which will be good. Find those and reinsert them into your new script. Then start over from the top.

I can’t tell you exactly how to write a masterpiece of script for a magic trick- but I can say with solid confidence that whatever your first script is, it won’t be one.

Preparation is everything.

Rehearse The Transition

While you are busy rewriting scripts and memorizing lines be sure to run through the transition a few times as well. I don’t mean you need to create a custom and logical bridge between your Professor’s Nightmare and your brand new Tossed Out Deck. Just run through the motions of putting away the ropes and grabbing the cards a couple times.

Know where old props are going to go and where new props are coming from.

Know what you are going to say during this time.

It will do wonders for your nerves and drastically improve the flow of your show.

Preparation is everything.

Much of this is stuff should be obvious, and it is. But ask yourself honestly- do you do it? I know that I don’t. I should. But sometimes I cut corners.

But now I’ve told you to do all this stuff. So that means if you now catch me stumbling through transitions, or performing an unmemorized or over-bloated script- you will have the immense pleasure of calling me out on my sins.

I promise to do the same for you.

So lift you champagne and toast to many happy red carpet debuts for the both of us!

*Read Parenting Advice for more on developing and debuting difficult sleight of hand.

Know somebody who needs to hear this? Please pass it along to them!

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

Did you really read this far down? Thank you so much, you are awesome!

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