Accidental Magic

by Lori Dwyer on July 27, 2010 · 23 comments

in Uncategorized

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,

Once upon a time, I was a magician.

Yes, really. No, not a magician’s assistant, a magician. I still wore the sparkles, but I had my own top hat.

Female magicians- real female magicians-are a rarity. When I was working, about 5 years ago, there was only a handful of them in Sydney.

I’m making the distinction here, between those magicians who can wear the label proudly, and those magicians that are faded carbon copies of more talented performers; with the parameter between ‘sleight of hand’ (or ‘close up’) magic, and ‘prop’ magic. Prop magic is, as the name suggests, tricks doing using expensive, well crafted props. Generally, these are big tricks- making rabbits and mice appear and disappear, bleaching the color from a magic book. All that is required to perform these tricks is the cash to buy them, some intensive practice and basic, rudimentary acting skills.

Sleight of hand magic is different.

Sleight of hand magic is done on a small scale- with playing cards, handkerchiefs and little red balls made of sponge. There are no props here, no folding hatches or angled mirrors. The magic is in the entertainer’s fingertips, and the psychological skillbase of seamless misdirection- making your audience look one way, when their eyes want to focus on something else; the magician’s hand is quicker than the eye of his crowd; a large movement, a flurry of patter, to cover the smallest adjustment.

Effective sleight of hand magic requires hours of practice and a brazen confidence. While the intricacies and dexterity required are the basis of the illusion, it the magician’s candor, their body language, and their ‘patter’- the flow of their words- that make the trick work.

Any polished magician, skilled in their craft, will tell you- practice your folds, fakes and hides until you don’t need to look; your patter till you don’t need to think; and the whole trick until you feel like you’re doing nothing at all.

There are mistakes to be made in magic, all magic, and these are the perils most commonly trod in the field of sleight of hand.

Performing the same trick twice. Your punters know what to expect.
Hesitation. Every now and then, there is a moment where you will see a look of smug recognition dawn on a punter’s face. You have been caught on. Do not look them in the eye. Do not hesitate.
‘Spilling the deck’. The cardinal sin of sleight of hand magic. Dropping your deck of cards, midway through a trick.

Card magic is a boy’s club, even more so sleight of hand, and my practical skills in this area are limited. But my theoretical knowledge? Thanks to an ex boyfriend cum mentor who practiced all levels of wanker magic, with flourishes, cards and arrogance- well, my theoretical knowledge of cards is excellent.

Some things about card magic you probably do not know-

Most magicians use decks of Bicycle cards for their illusions, a cause of constant suspicion in Australia, as they are an American brand not readily available here. I can assure you the use of a Bicycle deck is not because the cards are rigged- most are not- but because the surface or ‘slip’ of a Bicycle is much finer than that of, say, a Queens Slipper.

Most decks are not jimmied, rigged, or wired. Card magic is an artform, performed with a deck of cards and nothing more- perhaps a glop of magicians wax or a rubber band for the more complex illusions, but certainly no more than that.

No one uses marked cards. Marked cards are such a cliche- I’ve not yet met one magician who can make practical use of them. If you’ve ever seen a pack up of marked cards up close, you’ll know why. Wickedly difficult.

Like most good illsuions, the ‘magic’ with card magic is over and done with before the audience has even warmed up to the trick. This is where a magician’s patter begins it spellbinding work. You can dramatise all you like, while the magic card your loving volunteer has chosen is comfortably set and ready to go, to appear at the top of the deck, or bottom of the deck, or from your volunteer’s bag, with just a flick of your fingers or a touch of your white-tipped wand.


I knew a magician once, who we will call Adam, for lack of better pseudonym. Adam was young, and working as a party clown. There is a heirachy, within entertainment companies, and while character performers and fairies lull at the bottom, and clowns are mid range, magicians are at the top the scale, garnering the most respect and the highest earnings. It’s not uncommon for a magician to take on a clown as an informal apprentice, to teach them the finer points of sleight of hand magic and stage performance skills.Adam was slowly, doggedly, gaining magic skills and experience, working his first tentative gigs as paid magician for adults.

Kids are a tough crowd, no doubt about it. But it’s easy, with children, to use slapstick comedy and their own gullibility to cover your mistakes.

Performing for adults, you just don’t have that luxury.

Adam was given a gig one weekend, as a magician for a corporate party- where the executives in suits expect to be impressed, and the performer is expected to act like a professional- after all, you are earning as much an hour as they do, if not more.

There are times when you are performing, and things just flow. It doesn’t happen all the time- some gigs are awkward and laborious from the very beginning- but when it happens, it’s.. well… magic. Your patter is effortless, your timing is perfect. Adam was working within those parameters at this party. On days like this, one small trick, for one individual punter, can slowly draw a crowd of twenty, loitering on the fringes, sizing you up, attracted by your voice and the anticipation in the air.

It’s a heady, narcissistic feeling. I’m not ashamed to say I miss it.

Adam stood, performing hit after hit for a table of businessmen, with another two tables looking on, the tricks rolling into each other, the punters leaning in to watch the flicker of the magician’s hands, leaning back in a wave of white shirts and ties to laugh bewilderingly and shake their hands, murmuring their approval, at the tricks conclusion.

Adam loaded a fresh card trick- a relatively easy one, but so effective. The punter chooses his card. The card returns to the deck, and the magician shuffles. The card appears to have been mixed, spliced with rest of the deck. In reality, the magician knows exactly where it is, and he makes it appear, time and time again, at the top of the deck, against all rationality. Patter, to flesh the trick out. It was while Adam was pattering, charming his audience, confident; tha
t his grip on the deck of Bicycle cards slipped.

And Adam spilt the deck.

His heart dropped with it. For just a second he close his eyes.


It may be difficult to understand, if you’ve never performed for a crowd, lived and breathed on their applause, needed the rush of satisfaction that comes with completing what you have set out to do- flawlessly amaze people, deceive their eyes; leaving them blinking in disbelief, with the sense that something just happened, something they did not quite catch, but without enough visual information to place exactly what it was.

All that work, all those hours of illusions built, it’s like a relationship- you have these people’s trust. They have accepted you, as the magician, just because you are. All it takes to shatter that trust is one mistake, one forfeit. One event that unveils you; returns you from respected, to fraud.

An event such as dropping a deck of cards. Ruining your trick. Or, worse, exposing the mechanisms behind it.

Is it any wonder, then, that as the silence broke, and the businessman’s applause fell on his ears like blessed rain… well, the sense of relief Adam felt was indescribable, and he struggled to keep it from showing on his poker face.

52 cards, fanned on ground. 51 face down. The only one face up- the card that the punter had selected from the deck in the first place. The magic card.

The trick was complete. And it was perfect.

Accidental magic. When you f*ck it all up, and it still… just… works.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Kakka August 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

You had me spellbound with this story, I wish I could have seen you as a magician – I bet you rocked!!!


CoffeeJitters (Judy Haley) July 31, 2010 at 11:46 am

this is such a cool story!


Gill@OurParklife July 30, 2010 at 7:16 pm

i'm with Argentum…..this phenomenon applies to real life too….Love those accidentally magical moments….thanks for a "magical" post….

bad pun i know but i couldn't resist!


Toni July 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm

OOOOH I had goosebumps at the end! Brilliantly written!


life in a pink fibro July 30, 2010 at 9:51 am

Damn – you learn something new every day. I love that you are a magician. More about this please!
Psst: just slightly disappointed that you didn't wear sequins and disappear in a puff of smoke…


Maxabella July 30, 2010 at 8:27 am

A looong post… and utterly fascinating! I was hanging on your every word. The world of the magician is such a closed one (it has to be) that it's a real treat to get a rare peep inside. Thanks talented Lori!


x0xJ July 28, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Wow brilliant story!


levisgenes July 28, 2010 at 11:20 am

waaah you're a magician? awesome!!! and shhh make sure you don't tell the tricks too much, other magicians might hate you ;)


Brenda July 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

*do* der.


Brenda July 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

Oooh oooh, can you a trick when we meet up? No pressure.; )


Amy xxoo July 28, 2010 at 7:55 am

That was awesome! I may not be the biggest fan of clowns ( as you know by now ) but magicians are a different story… and card tricks are my favourite!


Wanderlust July 28, 2010 at 5:00 am

We all need a little accidental magic now and then.


Kristy July 28, 2010 at 4:46 am

Accidental Magic must be what we as mothers do every single day! I had an epiphany!


Badger July 28, 2010 at 1:02 am

Nice story. That never happens with buttered toast.


In Real Life July 28, 2010 at 12:49 am

Neat! I loved reading this! How cool is that that the chosen card flipped up! Love the notion of accidental magic!


alliecat July 27, 2010 at 11:27 pm

What an enlightening post! And nerve wracking. My breath caught in my throat, I felt for poor Adam, almost cried as he dropped those cards. Some magical guradian was looking after him that day, that's for sure!


Lucy July 27, 2010 at 10:53 pm

COOL AS! I was rivetted.

We retained a magician at one of the restaurants I managed. Your post reminded me of how very cool, how very clever, the craft is.


lacochran's evil twin July 27, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Great story!

If the movies have taught us anything, it's to live for accidental magic. :)

And, yeah, dirty bird that I am, I had the same reaction when I saw "ex boyfriend cum…" Too much spam with similar titles, I guess.


Veronica July 27, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Oh wow, Adam was a f*cking lucky magician!

I've seen 2 brilliant magicians and watching the amazing sleight of hand up close is fantastic.


Lori @ RRSAHM July 27, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Hehe. Tsk tsk, mind out of the gutter!!


newtaste July 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Now we know who the Masked Magician is on Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed – Lori D!!

"ex boyfriend cum mentor"
Um, 'come' may be a more appropriate spelling. 'Cum', while you used it correctly, is now more generally used in other connotations.


Jen July 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm

What a total rush Adam must have felt! Thanks for the magic insight Lori :) great post :)


Argentum Vulgaris July 27, 2010 at 9:14 pm

That doesn't only apply to cards and magic, it applies to life as well…



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