Welcome back to our series on magic!
In the first installment of this series, I took a look at the history of magic and some of the different types of magic that people have encountered throughout history as well as some of the most prominent types of skills that are needed to perform each type of trick.
I focused on street magic and the original “cup and ball” trick, levitation, card tricks, and others.
I also went into some details about misdirection, sleight-of-hand, and other important skills needed to be a successful magician throughout the years.
So this time, I am going to take a look at the different types of magicians that we have seen throughout history into the present day. We’ll look at stage magicians, high-risk thrilling magicians, even kids magicians that perform at parties… the list goes on.
What are the different types of magicians? There are several types of magicians:
- Stage Magicians
- Parlor Magicians
- Close-Up Magicians
In further installments, we will take a deeper dive into each specific magic discipline, but for now: an overview of the different types of magicians that we see.
Table of Contents
The first, and possibly most famous, type of magician is the stage magician.
You know the ones: the ones who get up on stage, usually wear a suit or – quite often – a top hat and/or cape, the ones who always ask for a “volunteer from the audience” (sometimes legitimate, sometimes a plant that is part of the act).
When you think of famous magicians, it’s usually the Stage Magicians that you’re thinking of (though sometimes you’ll think of the daredevils and escape artists… we’ll get to those later).
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Indeed, when it comes to performance magic and profitability, it’s usually the Stage Magicians that come to mind first and are the ones that tend to earn the most money.
Names like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller come to mind when you think of famous and successful stage magicians (indeed, they are the top two most financially successful magicians of all time), as well as names like David Blaine and Criss Angel (though they also branch into other areas such as escapology).
It is the stage magicians that sell out theaters and arenas, the ones who take up long-running and successful stage shows in places like Las Vegas.
Naturally, there is often a bit of overlap between Stage Magicians and other types of magicians, since certain tricks are tailored for the stage but can also be performed elsewhere.
David Blaine is a notable modern example as is Criss Angel, but the most prominent historical examples are the main “originators” of popular magic that I discussed in the last installment: Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin and his disciple Harry Houdini (though Houdini later renounced Robert-Houdin as an influence and magician).
As noted previously, Robert-Houdin helped to found the Palais Royale in Paris to primarily house his magic shows, which were immensely popular and helped elevate magic into a more socially acceptable form of entertainment popular with the upper-class theater-going crowd.
Houdini, while of course more known for escapist tricks, was also a headliner at the New York Hippodrome theater for years as a stage magician as well.
With regards to the specific tricks that are performed by stage magicians, some of the most popular ones include levitation, card tricks, the guillotine, and the ever-popular trick in which the magician saws a person in half.
Penn & Teller, in particular, would be most famous for their tandem version of some of these tricks, including their famous trick in which they work to “catch” a bullet.
After the stage magicians, arguably the next most famous type of magician – throughout history and in modern times as well – are escapologists, those magicians whose specialty is making it seem as though they are stuck in a situation that is impossible to escape, but (as the name would suggest), they ultimately make it out in one piece.
While Harry Houdini was the first man to elevate escapology to a higher level and make his name using these kinds of tricks, he wasn’t actually the originator of escapist magic.
The first major performers who used escapology as the main part of their act were the Davenport Brothers, who combined their talents for escapology with their interest in paranormal phenomena to make audiences believe – as part of their magic show – that it was spiritual forces that were intervening and helping the brothers escape.
However, much like Houdini after them, the secret wasn’t anything paranormal or actually “magical” in nature; the brothers were supremely flexible and used their physical abilities to twist their way in and out of knots (much like Houdini escaped handcuffs by being an expert lock-picker).
Much like many early escapologists, the Davenport Brothers never expressly confirmed or denied whether their tricks were truly magical in nature, instead of letting the audience decide.
Houdini, of course, was the most famous of the early magicians and was the one who elevated escapology into a popular art form and one that entertained the masses throughout his career.
He escaped from countless situations, including handcuffs, straight-jackets, and water-traps (tanks, being underwater, etc.), each time making a magnificent escape to the awe of the crowd.
Despite his death-defying theatrics, contrary to popular urban legend Houdini actually did not die a trick he could not escape; he died of complications from appendicitis (though the truth about how exactly he contracted appendicitis is still a matter of debate).
That is not to say that some more extreme escapologists have not died from tricks gone wrong; one of the most famous examples in recent memory was that of Joseph Burrus, who was performing a trick in which he was buried alive in a coffin but – before he could escape – the coffin collapsed and he suffocated.
Some of the most famous escape artists in recent times include David Blaine and Criss Angel, and it is in escapology that we tend to see Hollywood’s most notable obsession with magicians in films such as The Prestige and Now You See Me.
Common tricks of the escapology trade include escaping from handcuffs, straitjackets, fully submerged water tanks, and/or being thrown into a body of water (one of David Blaine’s specialties), and of course, being buried alive. T
his is arguably the most dangerous form of magic, but also the most thrilling and the one that consistently draws the most viewers.
Parlor (aka Platform) Magicians
The next step down – at least as far as crowd size goes – with regards to magic and magicians in the realm of parlor (or platform) magic.
As opposed to stage magic, parlor magic is meant to be performed in front of a decent-sized group of people, though certainly not as big a crowd as you’d find in a theater or for stage magic.
Generally, parlor magicians come to a person’s house and set up in a room – hence the term “parlor” magician!
Often times, street magicians are grouped into this category as well, since the setting is similar to the parlor magician (i.e. maybe not a small room, but a small gathering on the street to see a performance).
The tricks associated with this type of magic tend to be based on misdirection and deception – which is still possible with a smaller, yet sizeable, crowd – but not quite as extensive as the magic tricks one might see in a stage show. A classic example of parlor magic is the “Miser’s Dream” trick, where the magician will “produce” coins from thin air and drop them into a bucket.
Generally, the category of kids’/children’s magicians fall into this category as well – they are usually performing for a small group (often a birthday party) much like in traditional parlor magic, though the tricks are ones that are aimed more at a younger audience, including tricks such as the vanishing coin, bending on the spoon, and – of course – the classic trick of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
Taking an additional step down crowd-size wise from parlor magic, the smallest and most intimate form of magic is close-up magic, also known as micro magic.
Close-up magic is generally performed in either a one-on-one (or on-on-two or three) setting, and the most common forms of close-up magic generally involve minimal use of props or sets, usually focusing on coins and card tricks.
The card tricks specific to close-up magic generally go along with the concept of “cardistry” – a portmanteau word for “card” and “artistry” – and involves the commonly seen sleight-of-hand and fancy “flourishes” with cards; for instance, fanning out cards, cutting them, etc.
These types of tricks are usually associated with close-up magicians because they are better suited for a smaller audience (i.e. if you’re doing a sleight-of-hand card trick in a theater, it would be quite hard for someone all the way in the back to see it).
Coin tricks associated with close-up magic usually involve tricks where a coin is “passed” between one hand and the other, or appears in the different spot from where it originally was; for instance, the classic trick of a coin “disappearing” from one’s hand, or “pulling a coin” from behind someone’s ear.
Generally, close-up magic is more basic in nature – not a lot of misdirection or distraction is used because it’s hard to distract only one person in the same way you distract a crowd – but it relies a bit more on skill (specifically skill with one’s hands) than on theatrical deception.
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You knew where we were going next in this article? You read my mind!
That was a bad pun. I’m sorry. But regardless, another one of the most prominent types of magicians is that of the mentalist or the mind-reader.
It’s more than just a famous TV show (well, two famous TV shows)!
Mentalism, in a nutshell, is where a magician uses perception and other keen mental abilities to make it seem like he or she is clairvoyant, has hypnotic powers, can see into the future, or can even communicate with people that aren’t there; indeed, psychics are considered to be part of the mentalism category, but there are of course other elements to being a psychic than pure mentalism.
As noted in the previous article, Robert-Houdin was an early practitioner of mentalism in the form of his “Second Sight” trick, where he and his son would use discreet verbal cues to make it seem like his blindfolded son was able to “guess” an object that his father was holding up in the audience.
In modern times, one of the most prominent mentalists – Derren Brown – has made it clear that he achieves his mentalism success by reading body language and essentially “implanting” suggestions into the minds of his marks to get them to think and say the things that wants to them to (he also does this as part of his card tricks).
This is also the way in which many psychic performers operate.
There is some controversy within the mentalist community as far as whether it should be admitted that mentalism is not true “magic” (like Brown does) or whether it should be left up to the audience to decide.
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Thanks for reading this installment of my series! In the next edition, we will focus more on the history and craft of mentalism.
See you next time!