Magic on the Fly

I quite like doing magic on the hoof. I find that anything created using the objects around you, or provided by your spectators adds a little something extra. They know it’s not gimmicked or rigged, as it’s their stuff you’re using. It’s also a great way to save money. You don’t need to spend tens, hundreds or even thousands of pounds on specialist equipment. Instead you can just use the items lying around.

So, when I’ve been asked to do magic and I want it to be organic, these are the kinds of things I use and do.


A deck of cards. Once these were ubiquitous; every house, every pub would have a pack or two knocking about. Now they are somewhat less prevalent. It’s still worth asking though. Poker was fashionable a few years ago and many independent, traditional pubs might still be able to dig up a pack. A magician will almost certainly find these in most houses – even if the joker has ‘Three of Spades’ written on it. However these cards will probably be grubby, old, and of pretty low quality which precludes a lot of the sleight of hand we might normally fall back on. Still, you should be able to provide a fair amount of entertainment from even a grisly old pack.


Mentalism, the get out of jail free card of magic. I have a friend who constantly extolls propels mentalism. I’m not really a big fan, but there are always a few things you can do. Even something that might seem cheesy to a magician can have an enormously strong effect on an audience. The key in these situations is conviction. You have to believe in the magic you’re performing and if you do, and if you sell it right, you’ll have miracle on your hands.

The Cups and Balls

Though originally a street entertainment, the cups and balls has become a fundamental magic, with sets selling for as much as $4,000. Yes, you read that right. A gold engraved set of weighted cups can cost well into the four figure mark. That is a lot of money. On the other hand, almost every venue you go to will have coffee cups, even paper cups will do. Then all you need is some balls.* Traditionally magicians use crotched balls. You can get beautiful ones with silver thread running through them. But scrunched up newspaper or tin foil works just as well. If working at a pub or a restaurant you’ll almost certainly be able to lay your hands on the odd lemon or lime for a final bit of punch.

Coin Magic

There is one, fundamental rule in magic. If you produce a coin from the ear of a four year old, it cannot get any better. To that audience member that is a stone cold miracle. You’ll never quite get that level of amazement from an adult, but coin magic is still something any magician worthy of the name can do with zero preparation work. It doesn’t have to be complex manipulation either. With some simple skills it isn’t hard to make things happen.

That's it really. With the above things I'd be more than happy to do an informal show for a group of people and feel quite sure I could entertain, amuse, and confuse them. It can take a bit of confidence to get rid of the safety net of store bought props, but once you do you realise it's a lot of fun to ocasionally go for it.



*True for most magic.


Paul's Edinburgh Fringe show “Illusions of Depression” will be showing at Tollbooth Market, Gladstone’s Court, EH8 8BN from the 15th August to the 25th August.

Paul ReganComment