Thursday, March 29, 2012

6 Pounds of Nuts In A 4 Pound Bag

My good friend and mentor Bob Sheets has told me for years that most magicians look like 6 pounds of nuts in a 4 pound bag. He is describing close-up magicians that pack a lot of props into bulging pockets and look abnormally 'pudgy' due to the weight and amount of stuff that weighs them down. I've always loved the expression because it exactly describes the visual experience that audiences are subjected to when a performer overcompensates with props for a lack of careful planning and pocket management.

I still remember my first close-up gig working banquet tables. I was young, inexperienced and thought that I had to take every trick I knew to each and every table. Not only did I pack my pockets with gaffed coin sets, packet tricks, decks of cards and final loads for my chop cup routine, I also carried around a briefcase full of stuff to each group plus a miniature persian rug to place (somewhere!?) on the table when I arrived to create a little atmosphere. I quickly learned that I was drastically overdoing it.

Several years later after trial and error and a few hundred performances I concluded that I really only needed 3 sets of 3 tricks each at the very most. I also deduced that the props for these effects did not need to bulge out from every pocket in my suit jacket and trousers. At a normal walk-around gig I would carry the first set that usually consisted of some coins, a deck of cards and some pieces of rope. A second and third set remained in my case that I would tuck that away behind the bar area after clearing it with the caterering or bar staff. If I didn't have the luxury of stowing the extra sets at the bar, I would simply leave them in the car and pop back to switch up if the occasion called for it.

Now my primary focus is on stage and stand up performances and for those shows I have honed my pocket and prop management to a science. I know when and where each prop and item is coming from and where it is going after it's use. One overriding theory or practice of mine is that as props come out of my pockets they rarely ever go back into my pockets, but rather into my performance case. I usually wear tailored suits and to try to jam the deck of cards I just used back into the back pocket of my trousers looks uncomfortable and occasionally disrupts the nice body silhouette that the suit creates (all an illusion of course!). This may seem ridiculous, but as props are eliminated from my pockets and tossed into my case, I get a physical sensation that the show is almost over when I have nothing in my pockets!

The art of pocket management is a personal and performance preference concern. You have your own show and your own props and it's really up to you how you pack your pockets. The challenge is look in the mirror after your props are 'loaded' in your pockets in preparation for a show, and be honest with yourself, do you look like 6 pounds of nuts in a 4 pound bag? If you do, examine what you can do to eliminate the bulge.


  1. Awesome advice as usual Bill. Keep up the great work.

    Dominic Reyes

  2. Fantastic advice that I'll be sure to bear in mind (lovely expression too)!


  3. Been there, done that, totally agree!

  4. What if you start out looking like 10 pounds of nuts in a 6 pound bag before you load any props? :)