There’s no such thing as a self-working trick

In the last couple of posts, I began to explore the idea that you should neither ignore moves and sleights which are difficult, or avoid self-workers because of their apparent simplicity. Here’s the conclusion that I have reached on this subject.

During the last few years I have been hosting a show every few months, in which many great magicians have appeared. One motivation for the show was to create a platform to introduce those names known to many magicians – John Archer, Luke Jermay, Peter Wardell, Noel Britten, Graham Jolley etc – to those people who would have never heard of them. Those we call laypeople. (If you are new to the magic world don’t worry, you will hear these names many times in the years to come).

However, another more selfish reason for the show was to provide a platform on which to try out new material and experiment with new routines. I do tend to gravitate towards magic involving sleights because of the juggler in me. But I have made myself perform many ‘simple’ (not easy) tricks such as the egg-bag, book test, 5 card repeat, paper tear etc, and even a few completely self woking tricks courtesy of Bill Abbots wonderful pack small plays big set he sells at his lectures. I thought I would give myself a break and do something which cannot go wrong, something easy. Sounds perfect, but I soon discovered that I was just as nervous performing these tricks as I was performing my misers dream, cups and balls or any of the more ‘sleight heavy’ routines in my repertoire. This wasn’t the plan. Bill Abbots 5 card repeat pretty much does itself so what was I so worried about?

What I have discovered, unconsciously it seems, is that to a performer, self working tricks don’t exist. I had heard this from other performers before but never really understood the importance of the statement. But it makes perfect sense. It’s a cliche, but without the performance to surround the trick, it simply becomes a demonstration. It can still be entertaining to a degree because some tricks are so good in themselves that they can still cause amazement. So it’s important to note here that by ‘performance’ I don’t mean that it need be hilariously funny or have a long meaningful story attached to it. Performance can just mean a relaxed demeanor with appropriate, practised timing and focus. And that, I believe, is the hard part. This is mainly because the performance isn’t as easy to practice as the trick itself.

Unless we are dealing with large props, most of us can practice anywhere if we can find the time. I have learned countless moves on public transport and sitting in front of the TV (I learned the clip-shift on my daily train journeys when street performing in York over one half-term) much to the dissatisfaction of my long suffering wife. But the performance of magic can be only truly practiced in front of an audience, whether it be an audience of one family member, a few friends or a theatre of 1000. We can and must prepare for this with rehearsal, which is different from practice, but that will only take us some of the way. We must think of our first performances as part of the practice and not the end result. Only when we become relaxed in front of our spectators will the performance truly begin to take shape.

So going back to my little story about performing new routines in my show. The reason I was, and still am, apprehensive about any new performance, isn’t just because of the possibility of failure in the execution of the trick – that certainly is part of it – but because of my knowledge that the new trick has no real routine. I’m nervous about it not being entertaining because deep down I know that the trick I am just about to perform will be only a fraction of the routine which it will become.

So here’s the good news. Even though I have written that the performance of the trick is the difficult part, this is only because we have less opportunity to practise this phase. I have no doubt whatsoever that we all have the ability to perform our magic well. For some it may come quicker than others, but we need not be extroverts to be able to do this. We can perform gently and with subtlety and confidence can be improved and learned.

The first thing to do is understand that there is no right or wrong way, there is only your way. What feels right to you. And that you should only really avoid learning something if it doesn’t fit your style and doesn’t feel right, not because it looks too difficult or too easy. You can train your hands to do much more that you probably believe and the self-working tricks may still need lot’s of work in performance. So have a go at everything and don’t think about it too much. If you enjoy it, it’s good.

Please comment below and if I miss any question, hassle me!

Have a great day

Steve Faulkner

Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. Paul
    4 years ago

    Hi Steve
    You mention a show you host – where & when are they?
    Cheers
    Paul