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Theatre In The Time Of Coronavirus

Oliver Tabor and Vicky Butterfly

While we’ve seen many Zoom shows during the pandemic, I only know of one stage magic show livestreamed from a theatre – the recent Magic at the Barn performances put on by my friend Oliver Tabor.

Oliver and I go way back (we met as teenagers in Davenport Magic’s Demon Club) and I’ve always been impressed with his optimism and give-it-a-go attitude.

I thought other magicians would enjoy getting an insight into what it takes to put on a full-evening stage show in these extraordinary times, so I asked him to write a guest post. As I hoped, it’s a fascinating insight into an epic undertaking. So without further ado, over to Oliver Tabor:

2 Cameras, 4 Screens, 6 Socially-Distanced People, 8 Megs Of Upload Speed, Many Lengths Of Cable And 2 Large Pizzas. 

For the last 17 years, a magic show has taken place every summer within a 17th-century barn in Rochford, Essex (many an hour was initially spent thinking up the name for the show) simply called Magic at the Barn. Over the years, the show built up a regular following among families in the local area. Starting off as one show on a sunny evening in July 2003, with the increase in popularity, the shows expanded to include a Sunday matinee, leading to 2 shows on each day, and eventually to an audience of 1,000 on the 10th anniversary of the show in 2013.

The Challenge

Like many live shows that had steady support with regular attendees each year, the job of organising and producing them was much like making a well-tested homemade pizza recipe, with individual ingredients sprinkled in the perfect quantity on each slice, producing extremely tasty, pleasant mouthfuls. Then suddenly, a rogue ingredient comes along, adding itself without permission to the finely tuned, doughy creation and destroying the years of well-rehearsed hours spent in the Italian kitchen.

The current crisis has pushed all shows to the limit, with many postponements and cancellations across the whole industry. Some have managed to survive and keep their brands running by presenting their shows online, with varied success. Most of these shows have used the now tried-and-tested Zoom-chat model, which can work very well for a close-up or parlour-type show. However, the USP for the Magic at the Barn shows is their unique setting.

The Setting

The venue itself is a 17th-century barn theatre, used as a working barn up until the millennium, when farm equipment became too big for the space for it to be used as a farm building. Over the next few years, it was gradually converted into an entertainment venue with a stage, theatre curtains, lighting and PA system, with enough space for up to 120 people seated. 

The summer magic shows have always been presented on the barn stage. Therefore, I wanted to keep this aesthetic when presenting it online by creating the feeling of experiencing the show as if seated in the audience.

No Simple Solutions

Since lockdown, I’ve had the luxury of making recordings for various online cabaret and theatre shows as a guest act, presenting my 10-minute act from the barn stage. An added comfort was having the option to re-shoot and edit the recording to obtain the desired result.

A livestreamed show would be a completely different matter. My original plan was to have two cameras: an iPhone and a laptop that we could easily switch to during the show… sounds easy enough right?? I’m sooooo glad I didn’t go down this route!

To maintain the social distancing between the performers and crew, two performing/filling areas were needed: one camera facing the stage, capturing the stage performances; and the other to the back of the room, for the fill in/introduction segments for the show’s host/compere.

Getting Expert Help

During lockdown, I had been in contact with a man who knew everything there is to know about everything technical, and everything there is to know about online streaming. In other words, he knew everything!

When I first started producing shows, I wanted to do everything myself: flyer design, marketing, performing, hosting, etc. However, unless you’d like to make the contents of your head implode, getting people on your team who have an exceptional knowledge in a particular subject is the best thing you can do. It eases up head-space and vastly improves everything for your product/production.

Matt Grimmett is the man in question. He set up his home hub of machinery in the middle of the venue, consisting of at least two iMac screens with cameras, specialist lighting and monitors for both sound and vision for the performers, together with enough wires and cable to wrap around a large pizza 100 times.

Accessing Enough Wifi

The barn had recently been upgraded with the latest Wifi, however the building is located in the middle of the countryside, offering little upload speed. Therefore, we had to split the upload between the 1 meg that the barn could offer and Matt’s helpful assistant George’s phone, which made it up to 8 meg in total.

Setting Up The Cameras

The show was streamed live over the internet, with tickets sold to either watch and interact in a Zoom chat room, or to simply watch the live stream through a dedicated YouTube channel. The performers’ monitors allowed them to interact with the Zoom participants for assistance with routines and to experience their reactions throughout the show.

The “stage cam”, as we called it, captured the entire stage so we could make use of the stage curtains and lights to give it the feel of watching a stage show. Having one locked-on vantage point also had the advantage that angles presented no problems at all. So a hidden Black Art method utilised in the vanish of a girl in a cloak could be made to look as deceptive as possible, with the whole stage giving more opportunity to improve larger effects, such as a version of the Artist’s Dream with mirrors surrounding the back of the stage, also heightening the presentation of the classic Zig Zag girl illusion.

Oliver Tabor and Vicky Butterfly
Oliver Tabor and Vicky Butterfly

The stage cam could also be utilised for more close-up presentations, allowing acts to perform closer to the camera and to help with chatting to Zoom viewers. The stage also gave juggler Mat Ricardo the chance to really play with the space, rather than being in the small room he had been using during lockdown for his online shows at home. And with the monitor projecting the audience reactions, it gave him the almost real feeling of performing at a real gig. 

Mat Ricardo onstage
Mat Ricardo

The other camera, the “barn cam”, was for the show’s compere Wayne Trice. The image captured him in front of a mini-theatre set-up that we hoped would give an intimate feel, adding some warmth and rapport with the watching audience. Wayne interacted on this camera to help keep that connection going.

Wayne Trice
Wayne Trice

The Running Order

The show had two halves of 45 minutes, with a 15 minute interval, to mirror the template of past barn shows. Each half opened and closed with a visual act, set to music, that included an illusion, such as the production of a girl (Vicky Butterfly) and Zig-Zag girl, a dancing hank routine (which opened the second half), the Colour Match routine, Butterfly Snowstorm and the vanish of a girl to close.

Wayne presented routines in-between such as ring on rope, Torn & Restored newspaper and Tic Tac Toe. He kept the flow of the show going, much like a live show, plus introduced the guest acts Mat Ricardo and 2 Minds Combined, who pre-recorded a hand shadows routine. ‘Machine mechanic’ Matt, together with George, kept the show streaming live on Zoom and YouTube whilst directing cameras, playing videos, positioning lights, grabbing screens from the Zoom chat for all watching to see during the interactive parts of the show, plus altered sound levels and played music cues. You can now understand why he was absolutely pivotal in being there for the successful running of this process!

How It Went

We ran the show twice over course of the weekend, at 7pm on Saturday and 3pm on Sunday, matching the times for the previous year’s shows. We gave ourselves the day before to set up and run the routines through the cameras, watching the capture on Zoom and YouTube to iron out any problems and to witness what worked visually and audibly.

Thankfully, we had no major problems during the show, apart from losing the YouTube stream during Sunday’s show – as so many people were watching, the stream couldn’t handle the output: not a bad problem in my book. However, we did record the Sunday show and sent out a link after to all that this broken live steam affected.

Audience Numbers

We also offered free tickets to NHS workers throughout the weekend’s shows by offering them access to the live stream YouTube link in return for a picture of their pass. This proved very successful and boosted viewing numbers for each show. Each show had roughly 100 people watching, which was the aim: I could have easily increased numbers with advertising, but this was an experiment and we wanted to gain confidence and experience in running this model first and foremost. As tickets were being sold, I didn’t want any possible backlash in case of any problems over the course of the trial to keep the Magic at the Barn brand running.

Final Thoughts

The main aim of this project was to perform an online virtual magic show but with the added elements that a theatre show would have, such as lights, curtains, music tracks and audience interaction, to give the feel of everyone being together in a venue. 

It was definitely stressful at times but with lots of lessons learnt. The greatest feeling was to be in the same room as other performers… to share stories, jokes and generally feel the support and shared camaraderie you usually feel when performing shows! As soon as Matt announced the joyous words “And we’re clear/That’s a wrap”, hugs were replaced with euphoric clapping, beer bottles were opened and an order to Domino’s was placed!

The usual pizza production recipe had been altered that weekend to accommodate the new rogue ingredient, but the taste of two large post-show Dominoes pizza never changes.

Find out more about the Magic at the Barn shows via the Facebook group.
Learn more about Oliver Tabor at olivertabor.com

And watch Mat Ricardo’s video about his experience of doing the shows:

Next week: a psychological scale of impossibility.

Ten Twists: The Baby Gag


I have a secret life (sort of). For 15 years, I’ve juggled two careers. When not being a magician, I’m a ‘Conceptual Copywriter’, an un-enlightening term that basically means I create ideas and write words.

And in this other career, I often brainstorm – producing shed-loads of ideas, which are then whittled down to the best few.

the benefits of Brainstorming

Brainstorming isn’t something that’s talked about much in magic. Maybe it’s because we get caught up in methods, which kills the momentum, or maybe it’s because when we hit on a good idea, we stop brainstorming and progress it.

Whatever the reason, having more ideas is a pretty reliable path to having more good ideas – as noted by, well, practically every creative person.

So I thought I’d brainstorm some classic bits of magic, to see how many ways we can twist them.

Honey I Blew Up The Baby

Let’s start with the classic baby prediction gag. We’ve all seen it (name any celebrity, and here’s a picture of them…as a baby). And that’s the point – we’ve all seen it.

But we can avoid repeating it without throwing the baby out with the bath water (sorry, not sorry). As Morgan & West mentioned in their talk at The Session, we can pull out aspects of a trick we like (or extract a principle, as Edward De Bono puts it in Lateral Thinking). That way, we can take inspiration from a trick yet still end up with something original.

The heart of the baby

In essence, the baby gag has the same structure as the ‘Your Card’ and barcode gag predictions. You set up the expectation of a correct prediction, then reveal a ‘generic universal’ gag prediction. And sometimes, finish with a real prediction.

So let’s brainstorm some ‘generic’ prediction alternatives for Hollywood stars:

1. A Sperm and An egg

Rewind 9 months from the baby photo, and you have a sperm reaching an egg.

2. A Heart organ

Inspired by the classic (and controversial) United Colors of Benetton poster campaign, since we’re all the same on the inside, show a picture of their heart.

3. DNA

There are two way to do this. The first way: show a DNA spiral, which you claim to be theirs. If you draw it with a mix of standard pens and Frixion ones, you can then wave a lighter over it and have bits vanish, just leaving their chosen name.

The second way: use the DNA results ‘bars’. A trick came out a while back which had a bunch of these bars on clear plastic sheets which, when combined, spelled out a card (if you know the name, please let me know). You could adapt it by making your own version that spells out the celebrity. Or, even cooler, make up 26 different sets to put in some kind of index, so you can reveal a freely chosen set of initials.

4. Finger prints

Yes, they’re all unique in real life, but in practice, it’ll still work as a gag prediction. And again, via Frixion pens, you could have sections of the swirls disappear, with the remains parts spelling out their name.


Now let’s change tack – instead of going off the person aspect, let’s go off the Hollywood star aspect. This gives us another avenue (or palm-fringed boulevard) to explore, which leads to…

5. A star on the walk of fame

Which you then unfold to reveal their name beneath.

6. hand prints

Again with their name beneath. Or perhaps the hands move or change to reflect one of their classic roles (e.g. Spock’s Vulcan hand gesture for Leonard Nimoy).

7. A 5-star review

Either just the star icons, with the star’s iconic film written beneath. Or a longer, deliberately generic review that could apply to any film, which becomes specific at the end.

8. An Oscar statuette

With their name engraved at the bottom (either for real, if forced, or via the Koran Medallion ruse)

9. An on-set trailer

You claim they are inside…but refusing to come out. Then you ‘open’ the door to prove it.

10. A limousine

Again, you say they’re inside. Then they emerge from the sunroof holding a bottle of champagne (via Cardiographic).

So there you go – spending half an hour brainstorming produced ten ways to twist the baby gag into something new.

If you try any, let me know. And have a go at brainstorming it yourself. I’m sure there are more twists to be discovered.

In fact, I came up with a bunch of others myself. I’ll probably share them another time.

Update 0001

Circle of blue pencils

To break up the wall-to-wall ideas, every now and then I’ll be posting updates about things I’ve been sent or projects I’m working on. But don’t worry, I’ll still be posting an idea at the same time.

Oh, and yes, by adding those zeros to the title, I’m adding a hint of peril – what will happen to my system after I’ve written 9,999 updates?! We’ll just have to wait and see. Ooh, the suspense!

Another Angle on ‘Exact Exaggeration’

My friend Dan emailed me an interesting perspective on my recent Exact Exaggeration post, about why having a third steak is funniest. So, with his permission, I thought I’d share it with you (in his words):

The reason I think “third steak” is funny is not just because of the believable exaggeration, but because of the implicit assumption.

If you say “second steak”, that’s just someone being greedy. Slightly amusing, but no more than a smirk. Dithering over a “third steak” is funny because the greedy second steak was already a given – which makes the fact that there’s even a choice here seem more ridiculous.

I guess in a magic context you might translate that as topping a previously trick. Maybe if something miraculous is a given, it makes the second more miraculous thing even better?

Interesting thought, right? I can see it being applied to any pick-a-card trick that has a kicker. Rather than bigging up the finding-the-card phase, you could deliberately underplay it, saying:

“Now naturally, I’ve found your card – I’m a magician, after all. But the really hard part was turning the rest of the deck into salami slices.” (or whatever kicker you’re using).

It also made me think of the classic saying: “The difficult is done at once. The impossible takes a little longer.”

Padlocks aren’t just for escapologists

I’m not naturally tech-savvy, so apologies to anyone who tried to sign up for my newsletter and got an error message, and thanks to those who suggested I update my protocols.

After several hours, and a steep learning curve, I’ve now shifed my site from http to https. So you should now see a secure padlock icon when you visit the site on Chrome. If not, please make sure you’re visiting https://www.wideopenmagic.com rather than the http version. Thanks!

Also, if you couldn’t sign up, and still can’t, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.

And finally, a big thank you to everyone who has signed up. I’ll send you an email soon.

PS Don’t forget this week’s idea, The Tumble Shuffle (or just see below, if you’re on the homepage).

The Tumble Shuffle

Playing cards being tumbled

How can you hand out cards for shuffling without handing them out?

Jay Sankey shared his solution to this Zoom-show conundrum on a recent YouTube video (up for a limited time and since taken down, I believe).

It’s good, but I wanted something that felt even more chaotic.

The solution came to me while moving a box in the loft. In fact, the box was the solution.

Let’s get ready to tumble

You’ll need a large clear plastic storage box with a secure lid. Mine’s 80 litres, from Wilko in the UK. Dump an old pack of cards inside and put the plastic lid back on (so you won’t be pelted with pasteboards in a moment). Now shake, shimmy, tip and tumble the cards to your heart’s content.

From having a play with it, I’ve found a sort of up, around, then down tumbling motion seems to give the best mix (see the video below).

It looks chaotic and messy, and it is. When you stop and remove the lid, you should find a haphazard mix of face up and face down cards.

Face up and face down cards tumbled together in a box.

Tumbling in performance

When doing it in a Zoom show, you can up the interactivity (always a good thing in my book) by having your audience shout instructions for how you shake the crate, namely:

  • Side to side
  • Up and down
  • Tumble clockwise
  • Tumble anticlockwise

When you’re done, remove the lid and cleanly remove the cards at your finger tips. They can now be used for any trick that requires a genuinely shuffled deck. What kind of tricks? Well, here are two ideas to get you started…


Since the cards end up face up and face down, it feels like a natural fit for a version of Simon Aronson’s classic, Shuffle-Bored.

In this case, the general plot and revelation stay the same, but you’ll need to change the method as follows:

Make up a batch of double-faced cards that have the same card on each side (via splitting and sticking). Since they’ll only be seen via webcam, they needn’t be perfectly made, as long as they don’t look too chunky, and can stand up to being tumbled. These are the cards that will match your prediction. For the remaining cards in the deck, use double-backers.

While you could start the trick with a standard deck, then switch this deck in, my favourite way is to stick with the sloppy vibe, and just dump them out of the case, straight into the tub. This will normally cause some cards to fall face down and some face up anyway.

Tumble them up, following your audience’s directions, until they tell you to stop. Then remove them and go into the multiple reveals as usual, starting by predicting the number of face up cards.

Invisible tumble

The second trick is super simple. Show two decks – one standard and one Invisible Deck. Mix the standard deck using the Tumble Shuffle, then have the audience choose any of the face up cards and show that it’s the only face down card in the second deck.

Take It For A Spin

If you try it, or come up with other tricks it would be well suited for, then do let me know. One of the reasons I started this blog was to connect with more magicians, so I’m always happy to hear from people.

Coming next Friday: 10 ways to twist a classic reveal.

Exact Exaggeration


This small scripting tweak can make your tricks a million times better. Well, maybe not a million, but maybe 1.5 times.

It was inspired by an episode of Parks & Recreation, one of my favourite sitcoms, for several reasons (ask me sometime). With a little thought, it contains oodles of techniques and ideas that can be applied to magic.

The Inspiration

In this case, it’s a line from Ron Swanson, a red-blooded male who loves red-blooded meat. He’s in a restaurant, and says this:

“You know what, I am gonna have that third steak after all”

The Question

Since everything in a good script is there for a reason, it got me thinking – Why did the writers choose “third steak”? Why not second? Or twentieth?

I think it comes down to the right degree of exaggeration.

Asking for a second steak is a slight exaggeration, so it’s only slightly funny.

Asking for a twentieth steak is a massive exaggeration, which could be funnier, but what you gain in hyperbole, you lose in plausibility.


So, how does this relate to magic?

Well, as magicians, we often make exaggerated claims. From impossible claims, like how fast we can memorise a deck of cards; to backstory claims, like where we found an unusual prop.

But we don’t always stop to consider how exaggerated we’re making them. And it’s not a binary choice but a sliding scale, from totally believable to totally exaggerated.

The Activity

Take one of your routines, where you make an exaggerated claim, and spend just a few minutes asking yourself these questions:

  1. How much am I exaggerating?
  2. How funny versus believable is it?
  3. How could I make it more exaggerated? And what effect would that have?
  4. How could I make it less exaggerated? And what effect would that have?


Using speed memorisation as an example, if it currently seems to take you 30 seconds to memorise a deck, what if you did it in 1 second? Or 30 minutes?

Similarly, in terms of your performing persona, if you’re describing yourself as a card mechanic who goes through lots of decks of cards a year, how many feels exaggerated yet believable?

50? 100? 1,000? 3.14?

Or go the other way – do you only own avsingle deck of cards? And is that at any one time, or ever? If so, why?

There’s no right answer, so since it’s easy to vary your script, why not try out a few versions in performance and see what works for you.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on – I’m behind you 102%.

Hop Swap

Small frog on finger by Sergiu Nista

Online shows can present problems. But, as Jonah Babins has noted, they can also create opportunities.

So, as an example, here’s a nice organic switch that they allow.

There are a few tricks that use a hopping origami frog made from a playing card. Michael Close has one in Workers 2 (The Frog Prince), as does Scotty York in For Your Eyes Only (Froggy Goes A’Courtin).

If you do any of them, and need to switch one frog card for another, here’s a really simple way.

Set Up

Fold one card into a frog, then unfold it again. We’ll call this the first frog.

Stash the other frog card (the second frog) on one side of your desk, just out of camera shot.


Show the first frog in its unfolded (but creased) state, then refold it into a frog.

Next, demonstrate how it hops. Point it diagonally towards the camera – also towards the second frog – and then make it ‘accidentally’ hop out of view.

Grab it back (actually grabbing the second frog), and you’re done.


As a switch, it’s quick, motivated, and – since it’s based on a ‘mistake’ – pretty psychologically invisible.

I’ve tried it and it works a treat. So go on, hop to it!

PS For more benefits of online shows, check out the ‘Magician Appetizer #11: Virtual Magic’ episode of Jonah Babins’ fascinating Discourse In Magic podcast. In fact, you may as well check out every episode, as they’re consistently crammed with creative-process goodness.

PPS Next Friday: A lesson from a sitcom you can use to improve many tricks in minutes.

Flying Without Wings

Plane in a forest by David Kovalenko

Everyone could do with a holiday right now. So why not give your audience a virtual vacation, with an interactive trick you can perform over Zoom (or Skype, or Teams, or fax (ok, maybe not fax)).

The Idea

Use Google Earth to reveal a chosen location, so people can ‘fly’ there.

The Details

In case you haven’t used it recently (or ever), Google Earth isn’t magic, but it feels pretty magical.

Go to https://earth.google.com/web/ and have a quick play. Just type in any location and watch as you zoom out, fly across the globe, then zoom back in again.

Yes, yes, I know it’s been around for a while, but still – how cool is that?! You know, with products like these, I think this Google company could end up being quite successful.

Anyway, ever since Google Earth launched, I’ve wanted to use it to reveal a chosen location, and I finally got the chance to try it in a recent online show.

I’ll share how I did it, then some other directions you could take it in.

Set Up

Before the show, email someone who’ll be watching – friend/colleague/booker/CGHQ – and tell them you’ll be using Google Earth in a trick, and you’d like to show it on their computer. Well call them Amelia (as in Earhart).

To make sure everything goes smoothly during the show, ask them to try a quick trial run. Reassure them that it’ll only take a few minutes.

Now ask them to do the following:

  1. Get Google Earth up on their browser – email them the URL if need be.
  2. Share their screen with you.
  3. Enter a test set of coordinates you email them:
    e.g. 33.8568° S, 151.2153° E (Sydney Opera House)
  4. Make sure the button in the bottom-right corner is set to ‘2D’ view (about 45 degrees up), rather then ‘3D’ (bird’s-eye view), as it makes for a better reveal. Just click to toggle it.
  5. Explain that you’ll send them a prediction but not to open it until you say so. This message should contain the coordinates of the location you’ll be revealing. If you’re worried they’ll be premature, you can send it as a password-protected pdf, then give them the password during the show.

You’ll also need some way to ‘influence’ an audience member to select your chosen location. I just wrote locations on blank-faced cards, but I imagine a list-based magic app could also work well.

Location Location Location

I used the Eiffel Tower as my location, but to add a hint of magician-in-trouble to the reveal, I used the coordinates of the version built in Las Vegas:

36.1125° N, 115.1725° W

That way, we started in the UK (where I’m based), they chose the Eiffel Tower, but when we ‘flew’ off, we headed West towards America rather than East towards France. Oh dear.

But then, as we zoomed in, the Vegas Eiffel Tower came into view, and everything was rosy. This also had the advantage that the Google Earth search results window in the top-right showed ‘Planet Hollywood’ rather than ‘Eiffel Tower’, so it didn’t pre-empt the reveal.

If you pick another location (which I’d encourage, to make the trick more your own) then go for somewhere similarly recognisable-but-not-instantly-labelled-by-Google-Earth.


Say that we all need a holiday, so we’re going to fly somewhere together, virtually. And they can pick the holiday destination. Also mention that you’ve emailed a prediction before the show to whoever it is.

To justify the selection procedure, say that in case people think that you’ve discovered their favourite holiday destination, by hacking their frequent-flier account or something, you’ll pick one at random.

They ‘choose’ a location, then you have Amelia share their screen, cut and paste the prediction coordinates into Google Earth, then press Enter and watch…

Up, up, up you go, then across, then down, down, down, until you ‘land’ at the chosen location. Then Google Earth does it’s version of a goal/touchdown celebration – its nifty circling-around-the-location thing.

That’s it. A mentalism trick that feels light and playful, with a reveal that doesn’t involve writing on a pad.

Considerations AND Variations

Depending on the speed of their internet connection, and/or how many people are on the video call, the ‘flight’ may be a little jerky, but it’s still a fun reveal. And you can try and minimise this by getting people to turn off their cameras.

To use the terminology from my earlier post, don’t treat this trick as an unchangeable Clock, use it as an interesting Block you can add to other routines.

A few starting points for ways to vary it:

  • Reveal an animal with the Nazca Lines
  • Reveal a symbol (triangle) with the Flatiron building in New York (with 3D view)
  • Reveal a shape (heart) with Galešnjak
  • Reveal their house, if you happen to know its location
  • Or go a different way – suggest a target destination, then they create two seemingly random big numbers, which end up being the correct coordinates

Have a think and let me know what you come up with.

Now sit back and relax, as we reach our cruising altitude of zero thousand feet.

PS Don’t miss the second new post this week – see below or here for Nikola Arkane’s great version of my Reservoir Jacks idea.

Reservoir Jacks: The Movie

Blood with play button

The constantly creative Nikola Arkane took my Reservoir Jacks idea (described here) and ran with it.

This is the result – it made me smile from ear to unsevered ear:

Oh, and if you don’t already read her blog, you should:


The quantity and quality of magic she’s developing as part of her ‘Isolation Creation Station’ is really inspiring.

Sub Trunk? Might As Well Jump

Person jumping

How to present the sub trunk illusion in a fresh way? Do it on a trampoline, with a mid-air change.

Picture this…

One person (who we’ll call Hayden) is tied up under a big trampoline – but safely, so they don’t get squished by the jumper above.

A second person (who we’ll call Christensen) is atop the trampoline jumping around, like House of Pain. Two helpers others stand on either side, holding up a wide cloth that partially obscures the jumper.

With each bounce, Hayden rises up above the cloth, then disappears behind it again as they descend.

After a few jumps, and without breaking the bouncing rhythm, Hayden magically transforms into Chistensen, and Hayden is discovered below.

Jump In

With some tight timings, and cunning cropping, I’m sure someone with a trampoline in their garden could make this work. Just be careful. Forget the theatre saying – don’t break a leg.

If you give it a go, or you think of any other fresh approaches to the sub trunk, then let me know at wideopenmagic@gmail.com

And now, I can’t resist it any longer. Pack it up, pack it in, let us begin…

Building Castles In The Sky


You don’t have to be Dwayne Johnson to grapple with a skyscraper. Here’s how to use a one to adapt a classic magic prop.

Appearing card castles have never looked very convincing to me – too square and un-triangle-y. They look more like, well, skyscrapers. So let’s lean into that.

The Prep

Redecorate a card castle as a skyscraper, with some grey and black card. You’ll need to experiment a bit to make sure it can still fold. Then collapse it down and cover it with a cloth.

Next, grab a deck of blank-faced cards and write ‘Skyscraper’ on the top one and ‘Pancake’ (or anything flat) on the rest. Now you can do a McCombical Deck-style routine:

The Trick

Mention your prediction under the cloth. Say you’ll have someone choose a card. Show the rest of the audience all the ‘Pancake’ cards, keeping the ‘Skyscraper’ card hidden. Force the ‘Skyscraper’ card on the spectator. Ask what they chose and act surprised. Take a beat to play off the flatness of your prediction – less Skyscraper, more Groundgripper. Then lift and reveal the skyscraper as your surprisingly spot-on prediction.

Video Call Version

This still works online. Just have the spectator close their eyes while you show the ‘Pancake’ cards to the rest. Have the spectator say stop and Riffle Force the ‘Skyscraper’ card. Sure, some of the other spectator’s will also see the card, but you still get to do the (literally) big reveal.

If you give this a go, I’d love to see photos of your ‘skyscraper-castles’ – just email me at wideopenmagic@gmail.com