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The Performance Insights of a Professional Magician

Updated on March 8, 2015

Magician Kim Wist


I live in Finland, a small country in Scandinavia and I do magic for living. Because our country is rather small, with only 5.5 million inhabitants, we have only around 20 magicians who earn their living by this beautiful art. But there is competition and new young magicians are lining up and trying to get gigs and work all the time.

When I first started out in the middle 90’s, I quickly realized that to be able to make my living from magic, I had to be versatile. I loved close-up magic but I couldn’t do enough gigs only doing close-up. I needed a stand-up act and I also had to learn to perform for kids.

Some say that you should specialize in one field or category, but because this country is small, it didn’t work for me like that. When I did my close-up in restaurants, I occasionally got requests to do children’s parties. Should I just turn all these offers down? I didn’t, I said yes I will do it!

The first couple children gigs I did were quite terrible, until I understood that unexplainable magic doesn’t matter so much for kids. More important was to have a certain character, be very energetic, make them laugh and be very interactive.

So I looked at it from all angels, read some good books about the subject and soon I begun to do well with kids and started to get many bookings to children’s parties and family shows.

Same thing happened with my stand-up act.

I was still little bit rough along the edges but I knew what I wanted and was willing to learn from my mistakes and experiences.

So at this point the question remains; what does it take to be a successful entertainer other than willing to study and work hard for your goals?

Can it somehow be linked to personality and charisma?

To some extent I think that is correct. And at least it doesn’t harm you to have those abilities. One thing that I find to be very important, is the ability to communicate naturally with all kinds of people. If you go on a close-up gig and find it hard to connect with people, you are going to get tired very soon and your energy level drops. This will affect your magic and your overall output. On the other hand, if you connect well, people are finding you likable, the energy flows and you are going to enjoy your work.

So we can come to the conclusion that one important quality is needed for a successful performer, which is the natural ability to communicate. This is even truer if you perform on stage. People really can read you when you’re up there and if you struggle, they will see through you.

If the audience can see through you, it’s equally important for you – the performer – to be able to read your audience! This can be hard because you have so much to concentrate upon when you are on stage. But reading the audience is the “feel” you get during your performance. It’s little like an intuition and I have found that it is almost always correct. If you sense you are losing your audience, it’s because you are. You need to do something to get the show back on track.

In my early days I used to panic and try to do my stuff faster. That is the worst you can do! What has happened is that you have lost your connection. By reacting to the “wave” and speeding up your program, you’re going to lose them forever. We just talked how important it is to connect. It is likewise important to maintain that connection. There is a rhythm to everything. Every day is little different and every audience is little different. You have to connect and then build upon that. There is no other way.

The energy works both ways during a performance. You give and receive and the audience receives and gives back. This creates a wave, a feeling and with that you have to do your surfing to your best ability.

So charisma helps but you have to be brave and ready to take chances if you want to take your act to the second level.

Then what about technique – does it play a role here?

As a magician I often get credited from things my audience thinks I did, but what I didn’t actually do. It’s just the only solution people come up with – this guy is hyper skilful!

This is all good and I take the credit given, but your technique should never take over your performance and connection. Having said that, the more skilful performer the better. It’s simply a matter of keeping the most important elements in focus, which are the audience management issues. Originally we spoke about what it takes to be a successful performer.

It takes lots of practice, ability to connect and sense your audience and doing a lots and lots of gigs.

What performance style should I choose?

We have to remember that a magician or any other performer is actually an actor. I remember once when I saw a magician who was doing a show where he acted mentally ill. He was doing some tricks and when they went little wrong he freaked out. The thing is it was so believable that the whole audience was scared of him. At the same time they knew they were watching a show. We were scared but at the same time it was also funny.

This is the power of good acting! Everybody knows that they are looking at a play but they get so involved in many levels that they forget it’s a show.

Personally I mix comedy and magic. This is very common style among magicians, but it is very hard to do really well.

My suggestion would be, that you should choose the style that you feel is correct for you and don’t try to copy somebody else. Work with it and do experiments and try to be very specific with your style, so that you don’t do two roles at the same time. Cut all the rough edges but keep it simple.

In the very beginning when searching my own style, I also used to perform more serious magic. But I always felt there was something missing in my shows. I wasn’t committed enough to any particular style of performing, and it ended up being a confusing mixture. My technique was pretty good but my delivery sucked. It’s not enough to do magic tricks that fool people – unless you only perform to your friends – you need to have a character and a definite style. Then and then only can people relate to you.

I wanted to give people a good time and still keep the element of wonder in my magic. I just needed to be crystal clear about where I was aiming and cut all confusion from my show and character.

If you look at any actors, you will soon realize that actors often exaggerate what they do. If you want to get a message across to a big audience, you need to really underline what you are doing. Every word you say has to be clearly articulated and your facial expressions bigger than normal.

Life on stage is a different world, we just need to know that world and laws in it. After that, it’s just a walk in the park, but a very enjoyable walk indeed!

Good luck and I hope these few words inspire and help somebody who struggles to get all the pieces in his performance and character together.

Oil over troubled water


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