Stage Flying, PK Magic, and Viral Coin Video


Grid loft above the Coleman Theatre stage. Much of this was installed in the 1920’s, including the 2×4 slats where I was standing over fifty-feet in the air. The Coleman is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Last month, I completed the design and overhead install of a fly rig at the Coleman Theatre for a large MLT production of The Wizard of Oz.

The fly was a single point pendulum line set. I used CMI for the pulleys and continuous slings at a 15:1 safety factor and 4:1 mechanical advantage, 500 feet of KMIII half-inch black static line, 3/8 inch wire rope slings at the rigging plate, locking steel carabiners and Crosby three-ton shackles for the connections. Each component proof tested at the factory.

It took four techs to operate the lines, one lift line and two traverse lines.

It was an intense six weeks. Crawling around on the grid seventy feet above the stage like Spider-Man before every performance, numerous municipal board meetings for contract negotiations, and the mental exhaustion of strict cues on a three-hour show with over one-hundred actors and crew over the course of four-nights—a total of twenty stage flights plus two weeks of rehearsals.

Add to that pyrotechnics and smoke effects. I definitely have a feeling of accomplishment, but I also have bruises, blisters, and torn ligaments in my fingers. Now that the nightmares have stopped, I can’t wait to do it again!

But first, Halloween. As the manufacturer of the STAT brand of products—one of the most popular lines this time of year—my focus is in the workshop. I get there early in the morning and stay until late at night. We ship gallons upon gallons of stage blood every October. Our FedEx driver finally asked, “What’s with all these First-Aid kits?”

Commando Trick: What’s in Your Wallet?

Jeff McBride famously promotes the benefits of a “commando act.” An act you can perform in any venue, for five minutes or an hour, silent or patter, for any demographic. Jeff’s commando act made him a star. But what about a “commando trick?” A trick you can easily keep with you and perform for anyone, at any time—individuals, groups, children and adults. For this I keep a Folding Coin or a Bite Coin in my wallet. They are cheap, don’t take up much space, and I always have something ready to go; an amazing closer to some impromptu magic.

How to Make the PK Match

IMG_2113My inbox was flooded with questions about the matchstick pic on Instagram. What you are really seeing in the picture is a cut, squared toothpick with a dab of PK Putty Magnum on the end. It isn’t stuck to my finger, but rather moving back and forth under the control of a PK Power Strip, part of the Shimpossible PK Power Pack (you can also set it on the spectator’s finger or palm). PK Putty is an easy way to shim objects on the fly. If you want a PK Matchstick, cut the end off a regular match and mold a new head with some Magnum. A complete box of these “matches” creates a whole new PK prop. You can make the matchbox stand on end, twist around, or even come to your hand.

The PK Palm Beetle Revealed!

IMG_2118Speaking of the Shimpossible PK Power Pack, another question I get all the time is if magicians can use the PK Palm Beetle to replace their PK Ring. Yes and no. The Beetle is worn like a PK Ring, but there are some differences. Instead of being disguised as a ring, it is rubber coated and includes flesh strips for camouflage. The Beetle is dense, very strong, and easily loaded and ditched during performance. I thought the best way to help you visualize its uses is to simply post a picture of it. Currently, it is only available with the Shimpossible PK Power Pack.


Young Mueller Performs Viral Coin Magic

This video of Moritz Mueller is going viral right now and I think you can see why: the young man is extremely talented. Even the mainstream media has recognized his gift. Important for beginners to note is his confidence and sincerity. This kid is going places.

Picture Perfect: Make Impromptu Photos Magical

Neil Patrick Harris always strikes a nice pose. You can see in this photo all of the tips outlined in Picture Perfect.

Neil Patrick Harris always strikes a nice pose. You can see in this photo many of the tips outlined in Picture Perfect. (photo by Lan Bui/

For decades, magicians have used pictures of themselves to entice potential clients to book their show. The final selection—the best photo out of a hundred professional studio stills—would appear on the magician’s business card, flier, brochure, and website.

This isn’t an article about whether or not your promo photo should be a picture of you with a card coming out of your sleeve, a dove on your shoulder, or standing behind a beautiful floating female assistant.

This article is intended to reveal the fact that potential clients may never see your promo picture and they are relying on all those candid shots you post on Facebook and Twitter to book your show.

Uh oh!

I know what you’re thinking… you didn’t anticipate that picture of you in cutoff jeans sipping your third beer from a solo cup at a family picnic to be Ford Motor’s cover page in their talent file.

And what’s worse, even in the “good” candid photos of you, your hair is a mess, your eyes are closed, and your shirt reveals chunks of your body you wish weren’t there. You might even wonder why you can’t be more photogenic like other people that grace your social media news feed.

You’re in luck! There are methods—magic tricks in and of themselves—you can learn to make every picture a stunning representation of your awesomeness, even if your mug is as asymmetrical as mine.

Here are a few tips to increase your on-camera charisma:

Find Your Good Side

Your phone probably doubles as a digital camera. Have someone take your picture from both sides, front and back, and all the angles up and down in between. Find which parts of your body and face look best, and put those forward in every photo. Don’t just say “cheese” when someone whips out a camera; turn to your good side and pose.

Smile with Your Eyes

Your eyes reflect only genuine feelings. Even though your mouth is smiling, your eyes may be cold. When you see the camera, picture it is someone you love, respect, or would most like to meet. Better yet, imagine the camera is a girl/boy you had a crush on in high school. Your eyes will light up and your expression will brighten the photo.

But Smile with Your Mouth Too

You may look great with a full smile—open mouth—but many people do not. A three-quarter smile is the most authentic. Be careful, though, if your smile is not symmetrical it might be perceived as a smirk. Practice different smiles in a few pictures, wait a day and then look at them again and choose which looks best on you.

Look Above the Camera

This picture of me was taken during the same photo shoot as the main image on my blog. Always remain focused.

This picture of me was taken during the same photo shoot as the main image on my blog. Always remain focused.

This is an old modeling trick (or so I’ve heard). If you look into the camera lens, your eyes may appear closed, especially if you are mid-blink. But gazing just above the camera creates the illusion you are looking into the camera in the final print, yet reduces red eye and gives your eyes a fuller appearance.

Be Aware of Your Lighting

Lighting is important. You want the light to brighten up your good side and darken your bad side. This is a good way to hide unshapely body problems. The reason some people are naturally more photogenic than others is they have features compatible with a variety of common lighting arrangements. Cameras flatten your face and expose shapes. Without makeup, lighting is your 3D friend. Take pictures of yourself with the light hitting different parts of your face to see which you like best.

Don’t Square Your Pose

Women naturally turn three-quarters towards the camera in a lovely pose when their picture is taken. Men tend to turn square to the camera, which looks just awful. Do not turn your whole body flat towards the camera. Turn part of your body—the bad part—away from the camera and smile.

Wear Clothes that Fit

Baggy clothes are not in fashion today and they look terrible in photos. Even if you are overweight, you want an outline of your body clearly visible. Color is important too. Black on black makes a big blob in pictures and looks cliché on magicians. Breakup your shape with flattering colors and current styles.

Hand Gestures are Unnecessary

Hand gestures are defensive measures. If your pose is polished, you won’t toss them out there subconsciously. Potential clients may like to rock as much as you do, but it’s hard for corporate booking agents to push a performer sporting a devil’s horn rock-on hand gesture (unless that’s your style of course). Keep your hands at your side, perhaps one holding a drink at stomach level if you’re caught boozing, or in your pockets if you feel totally exposed.

Untag Yourself from the Bad Pictures

Did your mom post a picture on Facebook that doesn’t reflect positively on your business persona? Untag yourself. Your friends and family already know who you are. There’s no need pointing out to potential clients how funny you look with asparagus spears in your teeth. But this isn’t a foolproof way to hide your antics. Some social media services have facial recognition, Google+ for instance, and this technology is becoming more and more popular.

Be a Magician 24/7

In my interview with Jeff McBride, he mentioned his, “Magician 24/7 Philosophy.” Performing whenever and wherever the opportunity arises—family functions, school events, free festivals, block parties—has a positive affect on your social portfolio. There will be countless pictures of you performing magic. Potential clients and booking agents see magic throughout your profile and know you are dedicated to your craft, even practicing on weekends and after hours. Plus, many of the phones today are twice the megapixels of professional digital cameras from just a few years ago. One of those pictures might replace that studio headshot in your media kit.

Best Kept Secrets Video Edition!

Here is this week’s Best Kept Secrets video blog…

Jeff McBride: Magic Come to Life (interview)

Jeff McBride with one of his iconic masks.

Jeff McBride with one of his iconic masks.

Have you ever watched Jeff McBride walk into a room at a convention or lecture? The crowd stops what they are doing and everyone turns in his direction. The air shifts. The phrase, “That’s Jeff McBride,” echoes from wall to wall.

There are very few people that command such a reaction. That’s because Jeff knows what magic is. He has defined it for himself, and retells the story with every trick he performs. He lives magic. Breathes it. Jeff understands magic so deeply and thoroughly, he is able to teach it and perform it for those who need it most.

I have always felt that if magic were to come to life, it would look a lot like Jeff McBride. And act like him too. The physical manifestation of what we call “magic,” would walk the earth spreading demonstrations of the wonderful everywhere it goes, just as Jeff does.

Jeff can recognize magic in others too, and assemble fellow teachers who inspire future generations with their specific skills. Take for instance: a 24-hour video stream featuring expert guidance from a broad collection of professionals. Watch the live broadcast every Monday night, and interact with fellow magicians in the chat.

“Each week, the teachers, and the faculty and friends of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School, bring you the very best of news, product reviews, and inside advice and wisdom,” Jeff said in one of his promos. Watch here!

Jeff also shares a lot of insight on his Jeff McBlog.” He takes his experiences and sums them up in helpful, fun to read articles. For example, in “The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Magic Show,” part of,The Biggest Danger to Showbiz in Las Vegas,” Jeff reveals a key ingredient many magic shows lack.

Over the weekend, between his attending the IBM convention in Phoenix and shooting Masters of Illusion in Hollywood, I got to chat with Jeff McBride about “real” magic, social media, and his upcoming show and lecture in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Here’s my interview:

Aaron Smith: I love the idea of your Commando Act: a show you can perform anywhere, for anyone, regardless of the conditions. I first heard about it in the 90’s from a set of your lecture notes Tobias Beckwith sent me. Has your view of the commando act changed over the years?

Jeff McBride: The commando act has evolved over the years and actually gets smaller as years go by. My new commando act fits inside of an eyeglass case and contains all my emergency props and essential magic effects: my McGrip Tip from ZOOM BOUNCE & FLY so I can scale cards for my finale, Butterfly Blizzard, and sponge balls for my “BRAVO” routine.

At any venue I can pick up a bucket for my coin routine and a few bowls for my water bowl routine. I always travel with a few packs of cards. With just these few items inside an eyeglass case, I can perform anytime, anywhere for audiences of 5000 people.

SMITH: Has social media opened the doors for performers to network with other magicians in a positive way, or are there negative effects we might see down the road?

McBRIDE: Social media is a blessing. It really connects people and hopefully it will lead to lifetime interaction and personal encounters.

Meet Jeff McBride in Tulsa, Oklahoma Thursday, July 25. Click here for details!

Meet Jeff McBride in Tulsa, Oklahoma Thursday, July 25.

The negative side of the modern computer age is the YouTube exposure phenomenon. It seems that any kid who has a few magic books can go on and openly expose other people’s magic to anyone surfing the web. I think this is sad and I’m doing all I can to create online magic venues and teaching areas with locked rooms that block the merely curious so only serious magicians have access. is my most recent continuing experiment in this area. We have over 200 hours of magic knowledge available to serious students of the art, but that’s the point. They must be serious students in order to attend our online classes and view our archives.

SMITH: You hear a lot of very strange metaphysical definitions of magic. What is magic when it becomes tangible, real? Forget magic as a concept, what is magic the thing?

McBRIDE: I was having this conversation with Lance Burton last week at the International Brotherhood of Magicians national convention, where he and I were hosting a magic seminar. Lance mentioned a few instances where he was performing for children at a Shriners burn center. These kids had not smiled in months because they were severely burned over 90% of their body. Yet, after watching Lance perform magic, these kids smiled, relaxed, and actually enjoy a moment of relief from their constant pain and agony. That is magic… real, tangible magic.

I also find magic is tangible when performing in unusual circumstances for people that rarely ever see magic, which is a very valuable experience for the magician as well as those experiencing the magic. In Las Vegas, magicians reward the over-privileged for their decadent behavior. These people don’t really need magic. They need rehab! The people that really need magic are the floor sweepers, chambermaids, and people in the service profession that have tedious jobs that need a little relief from their daily chores. That’s why I adopted my “magician 24/7” philosophy. I do magic anywhere, anytime for people I perceive need it the most.

SMITH: I find magic while observing nature, in science books and literature. Where do you find magic? How do you recognize what you’re seeing might eventually be part of your show?

McBRIDE: I travel to a lot of festivals, like Burning Man and our own Vegas Vortex Fire Festival. I also attend many conferences where I learn new tools for bringing people together and empowering people’s visions. I travel to many exotic locations studying ritual theater, dance, and how storytelling can transform people’s ways of interacting with each other and the world. These influences eventually fine modes of expression in my performances. Each month at our nightclub in Las Vegas called WONDERGROUND, I experiment and perform new works in progress that are influenced by my travels and experiences.

SMITH: Business aside, what is the ultimate price of free to young, aspiring magicians? Are we seeing an expansion of magic from bootlegged materials, or is it a setback? Take developing nations for instance, young people have access to magic materials for free they might never be able to buy due to sanctions. Is it all evil file sharing, or will some good come out of it eventually?

McBRIDE: I’m not sure I agree with all of this “free information” politics. I do know that many authors expended much effort and expense to create their books and videos, and to have them ripped off on the Internet for free distribution I think is unfair to the people that put all the sweat and toil into the creation.

The Internet is filled with gems and it is filled with garbage. I really feel that if magicians spent more time practicing their craft and performing for their immediate live audiences in their neighborhood and community it would serve them better than collecting massive files of information they hardly ever open, study, practice, and perform. I think the “free info advocates” spend much too much time on the Internet and not enough time practicing making magic for people who really need it.

SMITH: If you and one other person, past or present, were the only two magicians to ever walk the Earth, who would you want the other person to be and why?

McBRIDE: Eugene Burger. We get to travel all over the world and share our magic with serious magic students and we get to create amazing events here at our Magic and Mystery school in Las Vegas. Anyone who has met Eugene will know that he is a real wizard. Eugene has the ability to meet the magician exactly at his skill level and give him the advice and coaching they need to get their magic to the next level of excellence.

SMITH: You will be in Tulsa this Thursday, July 25th, performing a show for magicians and the general public, then a magicians-only lecture called “The Show Doctor.” I’ve heard seasoned professionals—one recently booked in Vegas—talk about how your lecture changed their life. What goes on in there?

McBRIDE: I will be in Tulsa this Thursday. It might be the only time I am ever in Tulsa. My tours and Vegas shows keep me so creatively engaged I rarely have time to get to the Midwest.

Yes, people say that my workshops are life-changing events. I think this is because I compress an amazing amount of information and life experience into just a few short hours. Workshops like this one in Tulsa, is where I meet friends and students I will know the rest of my life. It’s a first encounter. A potent encounter. Yes, I teach extraordinary magic effects, but more than that I teach the psychology, philosophy, business, and marketing. I explore Magic as theatrical art, not just as a form of entertainment.

Oddly enough, most of the people that attend my class are not professional magicians, but magic enthusiasts of all skill levels and age ranges. The thing we all have in common is to deepen our understanding of this fascinating art form.

My supersession workshop is just a taste of what awaits the serious student of magic when they come to our school in Las Vegas. Some magicians, for reasons outside their control, will never be able to travel to Las Vegas. So on this tour—on this one special day—I will bring the mystery school to you!

SMITH: Thank You for all the info, Jeff. As always, you have a very deep insight into magic.