I was chatting to a juggler friend the other day about juggling and magic, and the similarities and differences thereof. And that reminded me of a piece I wrote for one of the Prestidigital editorials; issue 5, I think it was. Here’s an edited excerpt…

I used to be a regular attender at the British Juggling Conventions. I always had a great time at the BJC, and enjoy seeing the skill and dedication displayed by these guys. (Except Poi – essentially, placing a ball in a sock and whirling it around your head — which I believe is derived from an ancient Japanese word for too crap at juggling to catch things.)

But there are two types of jugglers. Pro’s and hobbyists, you might say, but it’s not as simple as that. And the difference certainly isn’t based on skill. There’s a term used in juggling circles: sports juggling. Mmmm, part of me wants to say, juggling is, or should be, entertainment. It comes from a long and hallowed tradition of circus and variety/vaudeville. Sport is about running around in circles, kicking balls, or some combination thereof. Mind you, a bit of club passing or some nifty diabolo work wouldn’t half liven up the Olympics.

OK, I’m probably being too harsh. If someone wants to chuck things around as a form of exercise that’s fine. The problem is when they do it on stage and expect it to be mistaken for entertainment. Great, you can juggle seven balls while hardly ever dropping one. That’s clever and I will admire the skill. For several seconds. But you haven’t got an act, even with a sequinned waistcoat and a blue spotlight. There has to be more… let’s hear it for fewer balls and more theatre?

Here’s a video of Chris Bliss juggling three balls to a Beatles song.

So have we got a new genre developing… ‘sports magic’? I hope not as this would be even lower down the entertainment scale than sports juggling, as often there isn’t even the skill to admire.

If you wish to indulge your desire to do tricks, without any thought of structure, narrative and all the other stuff that should go with them, that’s OK (through gritted teeth). But please don’t inflict them on anyone other than members of your immediate family, who hopefully will love you enough to indulge you for a little while, while hinting that you may profitably spend a little time discovering where your true talents lie.

And if that’s outside magic, well, you can always shrug and console yourself with the thought that you may have saved yourself — and others — some proportion of the discomforts and embarassments that beset us on life’s journey. And also, you’ll have a much better chance of attracting the apposite sex.

Within magic, too, we need to find a genre that suits us. For example, I abandoned my children’s magic act some years ago after discovering that many members of my young audience had not reached the level of intellectual maturity to fully appreciate the wonders I lay before them. My cabaret and close-up performances, however, continued for several years at carefully spaced intervals. (“This man has to be seen to be believed!” — Greaseborough Gazette)

Magic is first and foremost a form of theatre, whether your stage is the street, a table top, or the kind that comes with a proscenium arch and red velvet curtains. And the magic is in the theatre (the craft, not the building), and in you, never in the trick. Or maybe ultimately it happens in the hearts and minds of the spectators…

Maybe you disagree? Everyone has a right to be wrong. And perhaps I’ve exaggerated a little in the interests of readability and/or what I’ve been known to pass off as humour. Let me know what you think.

Mermaid Poster-400

When the Doomsday sessions were held in Whitby I was a regular visitor for several years. We always stayed on an extra day or two to enjoy the town and its surroundings. I usually took time, too, to explore the local antique and junk shops for suitable additions to my collection of oddities and strange artefacts.

It was on one such trip that I came across, in the furthest, dustiest reaches of such an emporium, ‘The Whitby Mermaid’. I was immediately intrigued. Of course I’d heard of P T Barnum’s infamous ‘Feejee Mermaid’, reportedly cobbled together from the upper half of a monkey and the lower half of a fish. Its Whitby relative, however, seemed a little better constructed (assuming it was ‘constructed’ and not an example of some hitherto unknown aquatic species!).

I engaged the shopkeeper in conversation, hoping to discover more about this fascinating creature. He told me that he’d purchased it as part of a ‘job lot’ several years ago, and that it had apparently been featured in a small exhibition of ‘fantastic creatures from the sea’ which had closed some time in the 1890s. The ‘mermaid’ and other items had been part of a fairground touring exhibit for a while then eventually ended up back in its home town and had been stored in a warehouse ever since. The stuffed fish, cases of sea-shells and a narwhal’s tusk (apparently labelled ‘Horn of a Sea Unicorn’) had been sold quite quickly (a pity, I’d have liked a narwhal’s tusk) but ‘The Whitby Mermaid’ had been passed over.

He seemed quite eager to get rid of it. In fact before I showed any further interest he offered me a substantial discount — a rare event, I’ve found, in such emporia. He then went on to say that he had a couple of related items he’d throw in with it. Behind the ‘mermaid’ was a tatty brown envelope. He took it out and from inside withdrew a few sheets of even tattier paper. One was a poster advertising ‘The Fantastic Creatures from the Sea Museum’ and another two pages seemed to bear a song or rhyme entitled ‘The Whitby Mermaid’. Unfortunately the latter was torn and bits were missing or illegible. I’ve reproduced below what I was able to discern.

I said I was interested in purchasing the ‘mermaid’ and the accompanying materials, but was keen to hear of any further information he may have. I’ve used an outline of the story he told me to fill in the gaps in the song:

‘Twas one night in Whitby, sir,
The story still is told
A boat set out from Whitby Bay
With crew and captain bold.

The night was dark, the sea ran high
With waves that topped the mast.
“Stand to, my lads,” the captain cried.
“And prepare the nets to cast.”

“This is no night for fishing, sir,”
The bosun soon replied,
“We must return to Whitby Bay
To wait the morning tide.”

“The morning tide will be too late,”
The captain did retort,
“For what we fish, at midnight swims
And rides the waves to sport.”

Apparently this old song refers to a local legend concerning Jack Tyler who, with son, Billy, and crew, sailed from Whitby harbour in his boat ‘Prosper’. Returning late with little to show for his sailing, he ordered the nets to be cast one last time. On hauling them in, the story goes, caught in the meshes was a strange creature, part man and part fish ‘of aweful visage and hellish reek’. This creature leapt thrashing and spitting from the net and latched itself onto the neck of the captain’s son, tearing at the flesh. Before anyone could react, it had drained the lad half of blood and wholly of life.

There is another tale, clearly drawing on the local vampire myths, that states that the boy did not die but over the following nights became transformed into a ‘Whitby Mermaid’ himself before disappearing into the sea… and that the miniature monster later found washed ashore in the neighbouring village of Sandsend following a winter storm was in fact the captain’s own transmogrified son!

Whichever may be nearer the truth, it is said that for many nights thereafter Tyler would sail out seeking revenge on the monster that caused the death — or transformation — of his son. The song ends:

The boat was never seen again,
The wreckage never found,
The crew was listed missing,
Though all presumed them drowned.

The Abbey bells are silent now,
Though when the wind comes from the East
Some say you’ll see the stricken ship
And the mermaids at their feast.

Town Cryer

The photograph above shows the Whitby Town Crier displaying a poster advertising the ‘Fantastic Creatures from the Sea’ poster with its image of the Mermaid.

‘The Whitby Mermaid’ is now on display in our Broad Street studio in Sheffield. You’re welcome to call and take a look when things get back to normal. And you’d be even more welcome if you were able to provide a little more information on this strange creature. I’ve been in touch with The Whitby Gazette but, although the newspaper has been around since 1854, they were unable to throw any further light on the matter. In fact I got the impression that they were somewhat sceptical about the whole subject!

I’ve been around in magic a while, and seen many changes. Let’s look at the instructions provided with a trick, for example. My first magic trick purchases were some time in the early 1950s. I was probably eight or nine at the time. Instructions then consisted mostly of a paragraph (or two, if you were lucky) badly duplicated on a tiny scrap of paper. They outlined the mechanics of the trick; told you how it worked, but not how to perform it. The skills of performance and presentation came largely from (sometimes painful) experience.

I’d long been an avid reader so pestered my local library for as many books on magic as they had or could obtain for me. They were a little more forthcoming on questions of magical performance rather than the demonstration of tricks. The emphasis still tended to be on fooling an audience rather than entertaining and involving them. But perhaps that’s a discussion for another time. (Early on I’d discovered in the playground that people didn’t necessarily want to be ‘fooled’ first and foremost…)

In my teens I began to buy copies of The Gen from my local theatrical shop (The Sign of Four in Nottingham) and discovered the writings of Lewis Ganson and the products of Harry Stanley’s Unique Magic. I was delighted to discover too that the occasional trick I was able to buy actually came with detailed instructions.

Times moved on and soon ‘proper’ instructions became the norm, probably reaching their height with the comprehensive written tutorials provided by the inimitable Ken Brooke.

For me, however, things have taken several backward steps since then, starting with the introduction of the DVD. Don’t get me wrong, videos and DVDs were, and still are, great for teaching magic; we’ve put out a few ourselves, often as book/DVD sets which I feel offers the best of both media.

Many dealers quickly discovered that DVD instructions were a lot easier (and often cheaper) to produce than good printed instructions. All you had to do was to sit someone in front of a camera (or two) and have them perform and explain the trick. No need to spend hours wrestling with the right words to produce something easy to read and understand. And then get a proper proofreader to check the ms before going to print. (Actually, ignore the last sentence; most dealers never bothered with that.)

Of course, for beginners in magic — and perhaps many magic hobbyists in general — the DVD was ideal. You didn’t need to think too much, or even worry about presentation. You just had to copy the guy on the screen. I mean, it’s fine to perform The Amazing So-and-So’s Cups and Balls or Four Ace routine. What is definitely not fine is to turn into a clone of Mr So-and-So while you perform. We probably all start like that, but purely DVD instructions don’t seem to encourage us to move beyond… to become magicians, mystery entertainers, whatever, rather than demonstrators of tricks. (You can see more than enough of that both sides of the stands at conventions.)

Then recently things have taken perhaps the final step backwards. More and more tricks you buy come, as in my youth, in a box or packet with a small scrap of paper, nicely printed, of course, rather than duplicated, and maybe even in full colour on card. But this time the nicely printed card doesn’t even have the most basic of instructions, just a link to an online video. Damn! Instead of being able to sit quietly and read through the instructions with the props in hand, I’ve got to get onto my computer and watch a video, often seemingly put together by a guy more in love with Adobe After Effects than magic.

I know you can watch videos on your phone but I feel you miss much on so small a screen.

This is easy, cheap and convenient for the dealer. But much less convenient for the poor magician. And what about (as has happened to me a couple of times) when you go back to rewatch the video to find it’s no longer there: the link has been deleted or moved? These days I download the video so it’s there for reference should I need it.

Again, DVDs, even online videos, may be great as an additional resource but I strongly believe that for the performing magician nothing can replace comprehensive, well-written, printed instructions.

What do you think? Perhaps next time we buy a trick we should ask, in what form are the instructions? Or maybe we should set up a new international organisation for magicians: the MFPI (Magicians For Proper Instructions.)

Rant over. Normal service will now be resumed.

Many performers use promo videos. I’ve made a few myself.

Animated Logo for Craig’s Magic.

But are we looking at this the wrong way round? Yes, a ‘promo video’ is designed to promote the performer and his work. But perhaps we need to give more attention to the potential viewers; not making the concept of ‘promotion’ the centre of our intent, but instead to explain why what we offer solves specific needs our viewers have.

Think of them as ‘Explainer’ videos, not promo videos.

“An explanation is a way to package ideas.” To create an effective explanation we must transform bare facts into a more understandable collection of ideas and concepts.

Explanations helps to clarify why something (a product or service, for example) makes sense and fits a need and solves a problem, thus making it easier to understand and apply to some purpose.

An Explanation Video should enable people to see an idea from their own perspective”, thus allowing them to make educated decisions about whether they want to invest their time, money, or energy to find out more about what you can offer, and ultimately book you.

With the wide availability of broadband services, the proliferation of video hosting platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, Vine), and the reducing costs of video production, online videos have become an indispensable part of our marketing arsenal.

Explainer Videos are short (certainly less than two minutes), imaginative, and succinct videos that can be used to communicate a product, a service, an idea or a value proposition quickly and effectively.

Explainer Videos can use video clips of you and your previous clients, photographs, places you’re worked, and objects, or 2D/3D animations, or a mixture of these to communicate some aspect(s) of your business, and create an engagement with your potential, or current customers.

Explainer Videos use real people or animated characters (or both) within a and engaging narrative or story-line to create emotional bonds, trust and empathy with your viewers.

How Should Explainer Videos Be Used to Gain Most Benefit for Your Effort?

Using Explainer Videos as part of your overall marketing solution will enable you to communicate information, feelings, and emotion to your audience, by using motion, images and sound.

Explainer Videos should be included on your website, your blog, on video hosting sites (YouTube, Vimeo, Vine), and within your social media network: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram.

Ideally, you should have a video channel set up on YouTube (or other video hosting sites), with video and channel branding which is consistent with your overall online brand; your website and all social media channels.

You need to ensure that your videos are properly annotated and tagged to ensure that they are properly indexed on Google, YouTube and more easily found by your potential viewers when performing searches.

To be effective, Explainer Videos need to have a well thought out script. If using animated characters, they do not necessarily need to be complex to be effective. In fact, Lee Lefever of Common Craft uses animated characters with no facial features in many of their animations. As this removes the emotional distraction created by our brains interpreting the emotion on a character’s face.

So, some considerable thought and creative imagination needs to go into your explanation and the proper format and structure of your video for it to have the desired effects of communicating your message and creating engagement with your audience.

An Example Explainer Video Script Outline

Neil Patel, co-founder of CrazyEgg, drew up a list of what a good Explainer Video script for a startup company should contain. I’ve adapted his suggestions for our market. The basic elements are:

  • An introduction to you and an overview of the service(s) you offer;
  • Why your services are of value to your target market;
  • Specific examples;
  • Show what you can offer and how you can solve a problem or meet a need;
  • Give a ‘call to action’;
  • Use client quotes and testimonials to seal the deal.

Why You Should Be Using Explainer Videos: Some Relevant Statistics

According to a recent survey by Shutterstock/Comscore, when users perform online search they are significantly more likely to click a video link rather than a text link.

Digital Video also tends to be most often watched on mobile devices, when the viewer is in their own home, or on their own leisure time. So, your viewer is relaxed and has more time to take in your message.

60% of all Internet data is now made up of video content.

Of the 190 million videos watched, one sixth were watched on mobile devices. 36% of those 190 million videos were ads, some being forced views to get access to otherwise free content!

So, video ads have also become a popular and acceptable medium for viewer business/product/service information gathering, and entertainment. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, online advertising revenue/spend has been above $11bn for three consecutive quarters in 2013/2014.

Of this figure, mobile advertising makes up $5.3bn, a 76% growth on 2013 figures (PWC/IAB 2014);
Digital Video makes up $1.5bn, a 13% growth over the same period in 2013.

The proportion of consumers watching TV or movies on tablets on a weekly basis has grown from 17% to 26%.

Many companies are adding videos to their home pages as a means of increasing user stickiness and engagement. It has been shown experimentally that users spend more time (up to 88% more) on websites that include video content.

This can also help search engine rankings, as search engine algorithms also take duration of user time spent on webpages as a measure of relevant and quality content.

Explainer Videos can lead to a higher sales conversion rates; online retailer reported that visitors were 144% more likely to purchase after seeing a product video than those who did not.

Including video in emails greatly increases the probability of reader click through CTR: GetResponse Study showed that video Emails Increase Click-through Rates by 96%. Wistia showed a 300% increase in click through rate compared to emails not including video. Hubspot – normal CTR 2.4%, with video CTR of 16.4%, 583% higher than average.

According to Kissmetrics, video now appears in 70% of the top 100 search results listings, and viewers are anywhere from 64-85% more likely to buy after watching a product video.

In short, Explainer Videos are ideal for small to medium businesses with a low budget, which I reckon includes most of us!

Why Explainer Videos?

All videos enable you to connect with potential clients in ways that you cannot do with e-mail, phone calls, or print. It takes time to build customer rapport and trust, and research has shown that videos can do this more effectively than any other medium.

Explainer Videos can help introduce yourself and your services before you make direct contact with prospects. As the client has contacted you after seeing your videos, this cuts down/out most of the initial effort required to get a customer familiar with your work and increases the prospect of a successful relationship.

Impact of Effective Explainer Videos on Sales

This research has come largely from the retail market, but I feel strongly that it applies equally to those in the entertainment business.

Higher Conversion Rates and Reduced Returns with Videos: Recent research has shown that shoppers who chose to view product specific videos were 85% to 174% more likely to make a purchase than viewers who didn’t, and that pre-purchase video viewing reduced returns by up to 25%. [Sources: Retail Touchpoints, Internet Retailer,]

Videos Reduce Your Bounce Rate: When making buying decisions, 60% of consumers will spend between 2 and three minutes watching Videos that educate them about a product that they are considering purchasing.

Video Gives Higher Search Rankings: Video results appear in about 70% of the top 100 listings.

Videos Increase Sales: site visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average and are 64% more likely to purchase than other site visitors.

Videos Encourage Use of QR and Barcodes: The most popular use for mobile action codes, such as QR and bar codes, is linking to mobile video: 40% of codes link to video content, including product demos.

Videos Establish Credibility and Trust with Your Customer before You Sell To Them: 57% of purchase decisions are made prior to ever talking to a sales-person.

What Kind of Explainer Videos Work Best?

According to one recent analysis by, YouTube videos under 2 minutes in length get almost 50% of all views. This is an ideal duration for short Explainer Videos.

A recent study, “Types of Brand Videos Consumers Want to Watch” (Source Levels Beyond August 2014) found that viewers were primarily looking for the following kinds of videos online:

  • How-to, instructional or tutorial videos 67%
  • Comedy or spoof videos 42%
  • Product/information videos 34%
  • Micro-documentaries telling the story of a person or event 33%
  • Animations/infographic videos 30%

From the point of view of Explainer Videos it is interesting how many viewers are interested in animation/infographics, product/information videos, How-to and micro-documentaries. All of which allow ample scope to create interesting videos with promotional objectives in mind, especially product, service and support videos.

The reason we don’t emphasise comedy, or spoof videos, is that it is easy to offend people with comedy, and it takes either a naturally funny presenter, or team to pull them off effectively. Nevertheless, younger viewers do prefer humour, and, if you have the imagination and resources then this can work very well to show yourself in a light-hearted and different way to the fact-heavy manner of the usual showcase video. Especially if you’re a comedy entertainer!

So, keeping in mind the above insights, you should be able to effectively use low budget, short, Explainer Videos to help boost bookings with the following:

  • Promotional: Showcases your performances and services
  • Testimonial: Highlights your talents by showing clients happy with work you’ve done
  • How-To: Informs prospects on how they can use your services
  • Information: Explains the features and benefits your services offer
  • Entertainment: Shows your human side; leverage viral videos, perhaps contests or challenges?
  • Hints and Tips: Present useful information relevant to your clients (hints on organising kids’ parties, etc)

These are types of videos that most performers should be able to make use of to help promote themselves and their services. They fit into the ‘normal’ range of things that good businesses do in their usual marketing efforts, but transformed into a new medium that allows more creativity, expression, engagement and dynamism in communication.

A recent STRATA survey found that viewers are more inclined to watch online video ads if they’re entertaining (43%), targeted to their interests (31%) and educational or informative (30%). Younger viewers (18-29 year olds) prefer humour, whereas older viewers find the informative side of an ad more appealing. *[Source: marketing Charts, STRATA]

Further evidence for the use of Explainer type videos comes from Advance Auto Parts, a car parts retailer, which tried placing how-to and instructional videos on its website and Facebook pages. They found that visitors who watch video stay on the site twice as long and visit twice as many pages versus those who don’t see video. Sharing their videos on Facebook (which you should always do!) further enhanced their online reach.


Explainer Videos are a very effective way to communicate your services in an engaging and imaginative manner. With the rapid uptake of Video as a marketing communications medium by many businesses, it would be very easy to get left behind and lose the advantage of Explainer Videos to reach and engage new clients, or just to get your ideas out there and get recognition as a leader in your area.

Wedding DVD promo for SmartDanceWorks.

About Magick’s Video Services

We produce ‘real-life’ and animated videos for performers, such as magicians and dance companies, and other small businesses. If you have any questions about Explainer and/or Promo Videos, or the production process involved in producing one, or if you are considering having a video produced, please contact Russell for a no obligations conversation about your aspirations! Or with a little thought (and hardly any technical expertise) you could have a go at making your own! Click here for more information.

I don’t want realism. I want magic. Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!

— Tennessee Williams, from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

Feeling momentarily philosophical this fine Easter Monday afternoon…

I mean, it’s pretty obvious that as magicians we should wish to appear as more than demonstrators of a clever prop, or even a clever sleight. As if we’re offering a puzzle to solve.

The next step from that is perhaps to perform as the magician — the one who has the power to perform seemingly impossible acts. That’s fine, although if we’re not careful maybe that can be seen by our audiences as another kind of challenge?

Is there a third way? In which we may become facilitators, enabling spectators to explore or discover a kind of magic in themselves… Our performance then becomes a co-operative act. Even, dare I say, a journey which we may share with those willing to join us?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Feel free to use the comment button.

Houdini_Edwards_smThe text above is an excerpt from Stevie Edwards’ poem ‘To Houdini’ which was printed in issue 1 of the Stonecoast Review. You can read the full poem here.

Stevie’s blog is here.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Many thanks to everyone who enquired after me and sent messages, texts, cake and DVDs. I’ve tried to reply to as many as I can, but I thought I’d give a little progress report here for all those who asked.

Just to recap, I’ve had shingles on the right side of my head for over a week now. This is not to be recommended. Last Monday the doctor gave me tablets to ease the symptoms and half a kilo of Cocodamol for the pain. She was also concerned about my right eye; it was very swollen and I couldn’t see too well from it. Arranged an appointment at the eye clinic at the Hallamshire last Tuesday. They dropped in various potions and shone assorted lights.

Apparently the shingles had gone onto the cornea. They said that if I slapped in half-an-inch of the rare unguent five times a day it would help with the symptoms. And apparently it’s something which is difficult to clear up so they booked me for a check-up a week later (yesterday).

I’d gone by bus as driving didn’t seem like a good idea, and it was interesting to watch passersby recoil and cover the eyes of small children and horses.

By that evening my right eye was completely closed and my face had the full horror-make-up appearance with an extensive network of inflamed red blotches covering the right side. (Both doctors, incidentally, commented on how symmetrical my appearance was. I pointed out that I was a tango dancer and such things as coordinated balance came naturally.)

Over the next few days I shall draw a veil, an item of attire which could have come in handy.

So to the hospital yesterday with my hat pulled down well over my right side, which I felt was both functional and gave me a pleasing, rakish look.

More eye-drops, eye tests and air blown onto my eye (I now understand why dogs get so annoyed when you do that to them). Then a wait for the drops to take effect before seeing poorly-eye-due-to-shingles specialist. Spent some time with my head clamped into a machine which shone bright lights of various colours and from various angles into each eye, producing an effect probably similar to drunkenness except that you get the throbbing headache at the same time instead of having to wait until the next morning.

Finally she pronounced the result as excellent and said that the eye had cleared up entirely surprising quickly. And that I could stop dropping in the ointment. This last statement was a relief too as I really hated doing that. And most of it tended to end up in a sticky mess around my luxuriant eyelashes instead of going into my eye.

My face now seems to have moved from X-rated to PG. None of this is life-threatening but somewhat uncomfortable and pretty well put paid to any serious work for a while. So apologies for those waiting for video editing jobs! But I’m definitely on the mend, and can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the pc screen for brief periods. Which is good.

Had a phone call earlier today from someone commenting on the strange messages I’ve been getting on the About Magick section of this blog. (Click here to have look.) They seemed to be hinting that this was some peculiar publicity stunt I was engaging in. (Me… publicity?)

I can assure you that these are all genuine posts I have received. They’re doubtless produced by some kind of poorly designed blog-posting spambot and I should of course delete them immediately. Most of them I do delete, but some have been so odd that I thought I’d reply.

No answers yet though.


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