How SOPA Could Change Magic

SOPA, for those who don’t know, is an American bill and an acronym for “Stop Online Piracy Act.” If passed, it’ll change the entire internet to allow the US government to shut down any website that they believe to contain even the smallest piece of piracy. It’s a big deal and will change everything about the internet. Here’s how I foresee it changing magic:

Online footage from magic TV shows will be gone
We’ve heard of how David Copperfield walked through the Great Wall of China, but how would you see it without having an old VHS copy of his TV special? YouTube, no doubt! How will you watch David Blaine apparently levitate? YouTube, of course.

If SOPA is passed, those videos, and all other magic TV clips will certainly be removed by the TV companies.

We’ll get fewer new magicians
It’s these videos of the great famous magicians that have inspired a whole new generation of magicians. If they can’t see these videos, it’s possible that far less people will start to learn magic.

Performance videos and showreels could be removed
Magicians like to record magic tricks and share them online. Any of those magicians who use music that they haven’t purchased a license for could be removed. Hundreds of thousands of archived magic performances gone for good.

Many magic websites could be blocked or removed
It’s not just these video sharing sites that could be taken down: any website linking to YouTube videos that are infringing on copyright could also be removed. So if I wanted to share a video of a great TV clip on my blog, it’s possible that my site could be blocked within the US because of it.

Finding a magician might be more difficult
SOPA will allow the US government to dictate to search engines, such as Google, what can and can’t be included in their search results. That means that you could miss out on hiring the best magician for your job because they have a piece of unlicensed music, video, photo, image or text on their website.

Magicians might not be able to interact online
Some magicians use magic forums to communicate and share performance videos. But if enough users shared videos that infringed on any copyrights (however small), those forums could get shut down … even though the owner and majority of users are operating within the law.

In the extreme, it’s even possible that a company could have Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other major websites taken down (whether temporary or permanently). According to the bill, if there are enough copyright violations, this is entirely possible and therefore could not only change how magicians interact, but how everyone interacts online.

Magic-based content could be lost
Magicians blog quite a bit. If just one person who uses the small blog company (example: Blogger) puts piracy on their website, the US government would have the power to shut down that entire company without warning. Therefore, magicians (and many other people) will lose their blog posts and other content even though they did nothing wrong.

Magic piracy won’t be affected in the way you might expect
The magicians amongst us might be pleased that piracy of magic books, DVDs and downloads could be stamped out by this act. However, it’s my belief that we won’t see a big reduction as this bill is all about helping the big companies (Sony, Nintendo etc) protect themselves and not small magic producers. I’m pretty confident that this will be such a small change that magic producers won’t notice a difference at all.

And most importantly …

Magicians could go out of business
That sounds like hyperbole. But it’s true. Here’s why: most modern close-up magicians rely on their website as their main source of gaining new customers. If that website links to copyrighted videos, or uses copyrighted music on their websites, their website could be shut down without warning and US companies could be forced to not do business with them.

It’s possible that after reading this, you think that everything will be fine so long as magicians stick to the law. I wish that were true, that very few magicians are copyright thieves (and those that are seem to be more naive than deliberately trying to break the law). But magic websites like this allow user-submitted content that is sometimes out of the owner’s control. Therefore, if someone even just links to a copyrighted video, or uses copyrighted text, this entire website could be taken down.

It feels like there’s not much I can do about SOPA as I’m not American. But I hope that this post at least gives a personal perspective on how I feel it could change magic. I don’t claim to know everything about this act, but this is my interpretation of what I’ve read so far.

What Kind of Magic do you Perform?

I’m often asked what kind of magic I perform. It’s a good question: if you’ve not seen a close-up magician before, it’s hard to know.

I perform sleight of hand close-up magic using cards, coins, envelopes, rope, watches and a whole host of props that I find around the situation I’m performing in. I’ll give you a few examples:

• I perform a card trick where the deck turns to a block of glass … in someone’s hand!

• I make normal pieces of rope (which have previously been checked by audience members) transform to three times their size, even though everyone is watching incredibly closely.

• I have every single person on the table (normally about twelve people) select a card and then find every single card.

• I give someone a locked box and make a signed playing card appear inside.

Those are just a few examples. I improvise the magic I perform to make it a personal, memorable experience for everyone watching. This makes every single performance different and entertaining.

Other Words for Close-Up Magician

A “close-up magician” is quite an ambiguous term and there’s a lot of confusion around what each variant of the phrase means. Therefore, I’m putting on my professor’s hat for a minute and providing quick explanations for each type of close-up magician:

Close-up magician is a catch-all name that covers all of the types of magician I’ll explain below. I’ve also been card a “close hand magician”, an “up close magician” and many similar things.

A walkaround magician or walkabout magician normally mingles with guests during a cocktail party or similar. I most regularly perform as a walkaround magician and it’s my favourite type of performance.

As you might expect, a table magician, table top magician or similar performs during a meal, entertaining the entire table at a time. This is often seen as banquets and weddings.

A sleight of hand magician performs tricks that require considerable dexterity. I’ve practiced for almost twenty years and thus, consider myself a sleight of hand magician.

There are many other phrases and words used to describe a magician (all positive, I hope!), but these cover those that you might hear often.

Flight Time and Magicians

Pilots talk about “flight time”: the length of time that they’ve flown planes for. Obviously, the more hours they’ve flown, the more experience they have and then, the higher up the ranks they go.

The same applies for magicians (but unfortunately, without the rankings): the more time a magician performs, the better he or she will be. It’s very rare that you see a magician who performs a lot who isn’t very good and vice versa.

If you’ve never hired a magician before, you may not consider that there are various qualities of magician. Based on this flight time concept, the best way to tell how good a magician really is, I think, is to find out how much they perform. An amateur may only perform for friends and family once a month and therefore, while they’ll charge less than other close-up magicians, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop their skills in front of real, paying audiences.

On the other hand, a professional magician with a couple of years experience (or more) will hopefully be performing at least two or three times a week. Add those hours up, times them by 52 weeks and they are likely performing for at least 500 hours per year, on top of the 1000’s of hours practice they do. From the magicians I see, it’s hard for them not to become a great magician with that much performance time!

So while this rule certainly has exceptions, the concept of flight time is a good one to go by. If the magician you’re hiring (hopefully me!) performs a lot (I do!), then there’s a very good chance that they’ll be great (I try my best to be!).

Confessions of a Conjuror

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Derren Brown talk about his new book, Confessions of a Conjuror at the Cheltenham Littary Festival. He didn’t perform any magic, but instead talked about his book which in part is an autobiographical account of his time working as a professional close-up magician.

The Centaur in Cheltenham is a large venue and was packed with about 2,000 people. Derren offered funny, captivating and as usual, incredibly intelligent answers posed to him about his performances and his new book. While I’m only one chapter in, the book itself seems to be an honest, yet slightly cynical perspective of performing close-up magic for a living. It’s clear that the bustle of the close-up magic environment doesn’t allow magicians to really stretch themselves dramatically and getting out of that environment seemed to allow Derren to push himself into much more interesting directions.

Confessions of a ConjurorAs a professional close-up magician, it’s incredibly interesting to hear Derren’s perspective. Just before he became famous, he wrote a couple of books for magicians and one of them in particular details this kind of discomfort that he had being a close-up magician. Those books are now incredibly difficult to get hold of, but really offer a different perspective on being a close-up magician.

For now, I love performing close-up magic and don’t see myself changing direction. I’ve performed on stage and suchlike, but for me, the interaction and fun that I have with my audience in a close-up magic environment makes it the perfect type of performance for me.

BBC The Magicians

If you’ve been waiting for years to see the BBC bring back magic on a Saturday night since Paul Daniels left our screens in 1994, I have good news for you! The BBC will soon start filming a new Saturday night prime-time show called The Magicians.

We’re stil waiting to hear who the magicians on the show will be. A couple of my friends auditioned for it, so I think it will be an interesting line-up. Whoever is on the show though, it’s great to see magic given a prime time slot again and I truly hope that the new series with show magic in a fun and interesting light and that it gets the respect that this art deserves. Knowing several members of the production crew, I’m certain that it’ll be a great show and am looking forward to seeing The Magicians on BBC 1!

Magicians Conference

Tomorrow I leave to spend a couple of days at a conference called The International Brotherhood of Magicians British Ring Conference. Quite a mouthful for a name, but it’s basically a bunch of magicians doing tricks for each other!

The International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM for short) is a worldwide association, a bit like The Magic Circle but on a lot bigger scale. Their logo is on the left, which contains people shaking hands, a little naked ice-skating man and some acorns. I’m not really sure what it means, but trust me, it’s all official!

The conference alternates between Southern and Northern places, making it a little frustrating for those of us who live in the Midlands and have to travel wherever it is! This year it’s in Eastbourne, which is the perfect place as it tends to mainly attract elderly, retired magicians who use this as their annual meet up!

Luckily for me though, many of my professional close-up magician friends will be there too so we’ll all have a great time drinking, eating and probably getting into a little mischief like we normally do!

It’s not all fun, fun, fun though. I’ll be leaving the conference a couple of days early to fill a few engagements that I’ve had booked for a couple of months. I enjoy conventions a lot but it’s even more fun performing magic than it is talking about it!

5 Misconceptions About Magicians

I meet a lot of people that are surprised that I’m not like “most magicians” and to me, that’s a very positive thing. Here are the common misconceptions that people seem to have about magicians:

1. Magicians all old, bow tie-wearing, balding men.
Not all magicians are like that. I admit that a lot of them are; but I’m certainly not. I’m young, wear nice suits and still have a full head of hair (appart from a small amount of receding that I don’t like to talk about).

2. Magicians are for kids.
If you’ve never seen a group of adults gasp in amazement at close-up magic, you’re in for a real treat. Almost everyone likes magic when it’s performed well.

3. Hiring a magician is incredibly expensive.
You’ll be surprised at how inexpensive hiring a magician can be. Get in touch for prices.

4. Magicians are cocky and generally unliked.
That’s just a small number of magicians giving a bad name to the rest of us. We’re a fun, likeable bunch who perform original, funny magic without being cocky, insulting or – dare I say it – pervy.

5. A magician’s hand is quicker than the eye.
OK, so that one’s true. But ssssh.

6. Magicians can’t count.
Damn. I guess you’re right about that one.

Unique Experience

Magic is a unique experience. Having seen hundreds of shows over the years (from comedy to Riverdance, to circus, music and so much more) I can honestly say that I’ve never found anything that even comes close to the experience of seeing something truly magical. Even the most expensive Broadway show cannot compare to that raw feeling of wonder created by a close-up magician just inches away from you.

That isn’t to say that those high-budget theatre shows aren’t great; in fact quite the opposite—I love theatre and most performance art. However, it does illustrate exactly why so many companies hire close-up magicians when looking to impress their clients: a great close-up magician can perform for just a few minutes and create a memory that lasts forever. That’s why magic is so unique and that’s why I feel as though being a magician is the best job in the world.

Three Card Monte

Every now and again, audiences ask about the classic game of Three Card Monte. I always start by telling them the same thing: it’s called a game, but is really a con.

This game is illegal but is sometimes played on the streets (it has been spotted in London, New York, Las Vegas and many European cities); the dealer mixes up three cards (normally a Queen and two indifferent cards) and the player bets on where he thinks the Queen is. While it looks incredibly fair, the player is always cheated into losing when the stakes are high.

I was lucky enough to see a version of this game played on the streets for real. It sounds weird to say, but it’s so rare to get up close to a real Monte gang so it was one of the highlights of my life in magic (I also proposed to my girlfriend that day, so it was a great day all round!). The gang consisted of four or five people and the game was played with bottle caps, which I hadn’t seen before.

A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Boston and was taught how to deal Three Card Monte by a professional “tosser” (that’s the technical term) who used to be part of a genuine underground Monte gang. It’s very, very rare to be let into their secrets so I consider myself to be very fortunate.

To deal the game takes a lot of practice as it is technically very difficult sleight of hand, but what people don’t expect is that it also requires a lot of psychology to second guess where the player will place his bet. While I now only perform it once or twice a month, I sometimes play this game in my show when I have audience members who I know will enjoy it (normally groups of lads or card players). It’s a lot of fun and is surprisingly magical as by the end of it, players are one-hundred percent convinced that they know where the Queen is … but they’re always wrong!

It occurred to me recently that having a Monte dealer would be a great addition to parties for card players etc, so see my sleight of hand magician page if you’d like to invite me along to challenge your friends to a game!