Usually, when you hear “I started on the streets,” it’s a bad story.
For magicians, a lot of them begin by street performing—you go where the people go.
Street magic gives you the ability to reach a broad audience that you otherwise wouldn’t.
Magic acts aren’t exactly sought by people on a day-to-day basis, but you’ll find that tons of people stop to watch them if they happen to be on their path.
That gives you the perfect way to not only market yourself as a magician, but to practice. To get started, you first need to know what street magic is, and how it differs from stage magic.
Let’s go over everything you need to know if you’re going to use street magic to your advantage.
It’s a great way to draw in newcomers, and once you master these tricks and remember this information, you’ll be on your way to being a talented street magician.
What Exactly is Considered Street Magic?
It’s not just magic you do on the street, in case you were wondering.
The most notorious display of street magic has been the 1996 act by David Blaine, titled Street Magic, where he literally took magic to the streets to be able to bring it to people who hadn’t experienced it before.
Magic was kind of dead for a while, so he decided to revive everyone’s interest in magic. Since they weren’t going to come to see it, he went to them.
However, David Blaine isn’t the only person out there who has defined street magic. Street magic is basically any trick that you can do that’s designed to be in a personal space or intimate environment.
You couldn’t do the levitating woman trick or the woman being sawed in half (why is it always women?) on the street because those require intricate props.
Street magic can mostly be performed without having to achieve the right angles or set up a stage presence. You can just perform the tricks.
Now, I want to make a very quick distinction here. Cardistry is not considered street magic. It’s not magic at all, really.
It’s a ton of fun, it’s something that can help you with magic, but since you’re not making anything disappear, levitate, or spontaneously combust, anyone with half a brain can see what you’re doing.
It’s just a matter of dexterity and long hours of practice (don’t worry, I’m not knocking cardistry, just pointing out the differences).
You can see everything that’s going on with fancy card flourishes, so it’s just not considered magic.
Famous Street Magicians Over the Last Century
We’re going to quickly go over some of the most well-received street magicians of our time so that you can get a feel for what they’re doing, and how to replicate it.
There will be some obvious names here, and some that you might not have heard yet.
You know him, even if you don’t like him. David Blaine brought street magic back to its golden age before Criss Angel ever took the scene.
While Blaine is discredited by some, he’s one of the top ten most commercially successful magicians that we’ve ever seen, and that means over Houdini (who was a rockstar in his own time).
David Blaine has had countless specials, though most of his tricks involve endurance, which is a skill that anyone can learn, but few people can push to extremes in the way that he can.
The original Mindfreak—Criss Angel was a huge star on television in the early 2000s, but he ended up falling out of public spotlight as street magic was pushed to YouTube in about 2010-2012.
While Criss Angel isn’t the most-watched magician anymore, he’s still doing private shows and creating death-defying stunts.
Criss Angel still plays in Vegas as well from time to time, so you can still get a load of this modern marvel before he retires.
As a British-Asian illusionist, Adam Patel has made a name for himself in recent years on the streets of London. Back in 2018, his film Adam Patel: Real Magic revamped street magic as a public focus.
While his history is still yet to be decided, Patel has been doing nothing but adding to the magic scene. Expect to see a lot more of him over the next decade.
Another up-and-coming name that you’re going to see a lot of. Matthew Knight performs in celebrity weddings, street performances, and he’s been seen in various other areas as well.
The brilliant thing about him as that he doesn’t care where he gets to perform magic, he’s just excited to perform it for a hungry crowd.
Dynamo has been in the spotlight fairly recently as well. His big break was when his show, Dynamo: Magician Impossible premiered from 2011 up until 2014.
He’s had other shows since, but just none that broke the barrier like this.
Dynamo has been known to make certain shuffling patterns a part of his routine and walks the line between death-defying stunts and street magic.
A Jack-of-all-trades, mister Monroe is a comedian, a magician, and a street performer.
Charming as he is mysterious, Monroe doesn’t really have a standard way of doing things, he just sort of shows up, does his magic, and leaves when he feels like it. We’re expecting to see a lot more of him as the years go by.
Is It 100% Staged?
Do you mean like a John Edwards “psychic” show?
No, it’s not staged.
Street magic is designed to be viewed from just about any angle, giving you the opportunity to choose spectators anonymously.
In the past, plenty of people believed that all the random passersby were just paid actors who were being told to stand in front of the display, attract a crowd, and then act surprised.
In actuality, the magician is performing sleight of hand and illusions that are believable from many angles.
We’re going to get into a lot of those here, but for now, just know that street magic isn’t supposed to be staged. If someone is staging the whole thing, they’re giving magicians like you and me a bad name.
Street magic can, and should be performed without outside aid being in on your act.
5 Easy Street Magic Tricks to Perform
1. Miser’s Dream
While this also constitutes as a coin trick, you can get plenty of reactions out of it, even if you don’t have a trick bucket.
Get a standard metal bucket from any store, just be sure that it’s metal so you can hear a clinging noise when you do the rest of the trick. You’re going to get a roll of quarters, remove ten of them, and then put them in a stack.
Leave that stack to sit on your middle and ring finger of your non-dominant hand. This is the hand that you’re going to use to trick people.
If you have spectators, hand them the empty bucket and tell them to put their hands in, feel for a false bottom, or anything really. Have them pass it around if they want.
Once the crowd is certain, take the bucket back. You’ll have those ten quarters in your non-dominant hand, which is what you’re not going to use to hold the bucket.
You want to put your four fingers inside the bucket tucked up against the interior wall, while your thumb sits outside and applies pressure.
Show your dominant hand to the crowd. Say something to the effect of “So we all agree that there’s no coin in this hand, and that I don’t have sleeves to hide a coin in.”
During this time, tell the story of the Miser’s Dream, where a poor man wanted to make money appear out of thin air.
With your eyes on the crowd, in the middle of telling them this, faux flick a coin from your dominant hand into the bucket.
They’re going to be entranced with the story, so they won’t be paying attention. During this time, gently release one of those coins.
It should make a loud clanging noise in the bucket, and now everyone is going to be looking at your dominant hand. Continue the story, and toss another coin in the bucket, releasing one more from your hand.
Now that the crowd is suspicious, you want to rapidly fake toss coins into the bucket, releasing them one at a time until they’re gone.
Then say something to the effect of “And that’s the Miser’s Dream.” Put the bucket down on a table, and let people look inside at all the quarters.
Once again, give them control of the bucket so they can see there are no tricks.
2. Throwing Cards
Throwing cards is fun, because it’s not something that most people can do effectively.
If you can throw a playing card fifty feet ahead of you, then you’re proficient enough to make a street trick out of it.
Take it to the street, and set up a target (something large, but far away from where you’re standing). Tell the spectators that you have the magic to make these cards fly straight, but only you.
Then let each of them try to throw one card, standing from the spot you are, at your target. People don’t know what they’re doing, so the cards are going to catch wind and fall to the ground.
Now, if you read our guide on how to throw cards, you’re already completely in the loop on what to do. When the deck is back in your hands, keep your eyes on the spectators.
Remove the cards, and do a quick split shuffle of the deck, then take one off the top and throw it directly at your target.
The magic here is in the performance. Once you know how to throw cards, it’s all about how you play off the skill.
If the crowd is in total disbelief, you can have them try again. It’s not like they’ve been practicing throwing cards fifty feet with accuracy.
3. Balloon Swallowing
If you’ve ever seen this on America’s Got Talent or in person, I can assure you that nobody is actually swallowing a balloon. Instead, they’re doing something super sneaky.
Before you ever inflate that balloon with air (because you don’t want to use helium here), you’re going to use a pin to put some very fine, very delicate holes through the bottom of the balloon, where the air enters near the knot.
These pinholes are going to act as valves to let the air escape. Inflate the balloon while pinching the pinhole sites, and then put the non-punctures end of the balloon into your mouth.
For the best effect, you’re going to want to make it look like it’s going straight down your throat in a vertical alignment.
Keep your tongue blocking your throat in the back of your mouth, so that you can use it to apply pressure to the balloon end in your mouth, expediting the release of air from the pinholes on the other end.
The balloon is just deflating while in your mouth, so you can store the small bit of unpopped rubber behind one of your cheeks until the trick is over.
4. Disappearing Salt
While many people will say that false thumbs don’t come in handy, I’d beg to differ.
If you’ve ever seen someone make salt disappear in their own hand, and reappear in the other hand, then you’ve witnessed one of the greatest displays of sleight of hand ever made.
Using a false thumb, you will hold it in the center of your hand and make a fist. Pour the salt into your hand so that it looks like it’s pouring into your fist, while it’s really going into the false thumb.
Blow off the excess salt on the top of your hand (it adds showmanship points and helps you out).
From there, you insert your thumb into the hole on your hand while everyone watches, effectively removing the material from existence.
In reality, the false thumb with your salt in it goes onto the thumb of your other hand. Pull that hand away while keeping everyone’s attention on your other hand, and then open up your first to reveal that nothing is inside.
Put your hand out, and then take your other hand with the thumb on it and position it so the salt pours out of the fist you’ve just created. You can keep doing this over and over again.
5. False Neck Chain
You might have seen Criss Angel perform this, and he did quite a good job at it, but it’s not as hard as it looks.
You use a real metal chain in this exercise, but you can trick just about anybody while using it, regardless of how skeptical they might appear to be. For this trick, you’re going to have the easiest time doing it if you have long hair.
You’re going to take a chain and wrap it around your neck two times.
No, not literally, but you’re going to make it appear that way while you simply make a loop in the back, so that the chain is resting over your shoulders instead of actually being around your neck.
Then, hand one end of each chain to two separate spectators, one on each side of you. On your command you’re going to tell them to pull.
The thing is, the illusion here is your fear, and you need to be convincing. Squint your eyes, steel your body; do whatever it takes to make it look like you know this is going to hurt.
When they pull on both ends at the same time, all ti does it pull the chain off of your shoulders, where it looked like it was wrapped around your neck.
Street magic requires you to use angles to your advantage as infrequently as possible, which is why you’re going to have a much easier time if you have long hair or a big collar to hide the chains resting on your shoulders.
Upgrading Your Magic Arsenal
Some of the best magicians started out by performing tricks, for free, to the public-at-large. It’s a way to gain a following, but it’s also a way to hone your craft with real reactions.
Once you have the permits to do so, you could even bring in some pocket money on the weekend.
Then, you start ramping it up a notch. You bring out bigger tricks, perform in a more populated area, and before you know it you’ve got people filming you to put up on YouTube.
Practice makes perfect, and there’s no better group of overly critical peers like the public; they don’t sugarcoat anything, I can tell you that much.