• Do you ever make mistakes?

  • June 07, 2020

  • Failure is a part of life. It sucks, but that is a fact of life. This is especially true when it comes to magic. I have no problem admitting to my students, and anyone who will listen, that when I was first learning magic I spent a good portion of my time playing “52 pickup”. In fact, I still do when I’m learning a new flourish, cut or fancy shuffle. This is to be expected and part of the learning experience.

    The most important part of failing when it comes to magic is to be alright with it internally. If you accept that you will fail and embrace it for the learning experience it is, you won’t fear failing. This will make it easier for you to practice new moves, to get it wrong and to carry on. When it comes to performing for a live audience, I have made countless mistakes in the middle of an effect. I don’t let it ruin or interrupt the performance I’m doing though.

    When I was performing at my first restaurant residency in Sydney, one night I was performing my version of card to mouth. I had the moves down and was performing the effect to an enthralled audience. I got all the way to vomiting up the card and the big reveal, only to open up the card from my mouth to find it had no signature on. I had found the wrong card. Normally this would have been a disaster, especially since you can’t use a normal “out” when the selected card has been signed. However, I looked at the table to see my deck face up, with the signed card sitting on the top. I directed my audience’s attention to it and was suddenly surrounded by gasps of surprise and laughter.

    Now, admittedly in that situation I got extremely lucky, and this will not always happen, but it did teach me firsthand a very valuable lesson. It was a piece of advice my godfather had told me long ago when I was growing up about making mistakes when doing a reading. At the time I was reading a piece of prose that I would have to recite for some school project, and every time I tripped over a word or misread something, I would go back and re-read it. James, that was his name, told me to stop doing that and carry on regardless, as the audience couldn’t see your script and they wouldn’t know I had made a mistake if I didn’t declare that fact by rereading or going back to a point in the text before I had made a mistake.

    Magic is an exceptional place to apply this rule. After all, when you are performing a magic effect, your audience do not know where you are going, and therefore do not know the ending you are heading towards. They don’t know what the big climax or finale is going to be, and if you carry on after a mistake, you can turn it around.

    One question I get asked a lot is, “have you ever made a mistake while performing”, and I am very comfortable pointing out that I make mistakes all the time. The thing is, after years of performing, I have managed to build up a knack for not giving this fact away to my audience. This is a skill most magicians I know have as well. The only problem is, that you can’t practice your way into having this skill. You have to fail your way into it.

    The other advantage of failing your way into this skill is that it helps build up your self confidence. You will begin to internalise the fact that failure isn’t scary, but rather it is educational. You learn from it. If I keep failing at a certain part of an effect I’m performing, then I have to either get better at it, or change it, or remove it; but whatever the solution is, I will have been forced to look at that part of the effect and analyse which bit isn’t working. So my advice to you, is embrace failure! After all it was Thomas Edison who said:

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

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