• What is the difference between a magic trick, a magic effect and a magic illusion?

  • July 08, 2019

  • In essence, there is no difference between these three. However, what is different is the mentality behind each of these vague, all-encompassing terms and the magician who performs them.

    All three of these terms can be interchangeable, for the most part. Though in my experience, any magician who calls a close-up magic effect an "illusion" tends to be a bit full of themselves. That is not to say they are wrong; it could be the most appropriate thing in the world if it suits the character they have chosen to play when they perform their magic. Also, any time anyone says the term illusion, my mind fills with images of G.O.B. from arrested development and one of his great quotes,

    "They're not tricks Michael, they're illusions; tricks are something a whore does for money."

    That isn't quite my mentality, but it does raise an interesting point. For the far majority of my career as a magician, I would call everything I performed, a magic "trick". In fact, I've even done so in previous articles written here, and I will probably do so again. I am trying to create the habit of saying magic "effect" though, and there is a good reason for this.

    When I was interviewing for the magic circle, I was discussing things with the examiner at the time who corrected me for saying "trick" and suggested I start saying "effect" instead. The reasoning is that when we perform for our audiences, we shouldn't be trying to "trick" them, but rather entertain them by showing them some magic effects.

    The words we use are important, and that is why I still try to avoid using the word "trick" when I can, but there are times when it is more appropriate, and for the most part, I don't think anyone will be getting too upset.

    An illusion is a slightly different beast though, as it conjures images of grandeur and spectacle; at least in my mind. After all, stage magicians often call themselves "illusionists", and there is even an excellent stage show that has toured the world with that exact name.

    I stay away from the word illusion because I perform close up and parlour magic; the props I use would never be found in the "illusion" section of a magic shop. I try to call everything I do, "magic", and avoid using either effect or trick if I can. Again, I still do from time to time; but I avoid it for the most part because I am not a "trickster" type character when I perform. I try not to take myself too seriously and merely create a show I think my audience will enjoy, and of course, I will be "tricking" them, but I don't like to use that as the base mentality for the show. My focus is always on entertainment.

    'Mentality' can be everything when it comes to magic. For example, when I need to cover a sleight with a movement or to rearrange something on the table for a setup, in my mind, I have a narrative that justifies the action. This way, I do not move suspiciously because I am not doing anything suspicious. This is something my audience picks up on, seeing the movement, seeing me being relaxed about it, and as a result, feeling comfortable ignoring the gesture.

    If your mentality behind a performance is to trick your audience, you may well end up conveying that to them, whether you mean to or not. If your audience can pick up that you're "tricking" them, they are less likely to connect with you, resulting in your show falling far flatter than you would like.

    Just some food for thought!

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