Magic dates back centuries, but magic performances as we known them today started in the mid-1800s. Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin was one of the first respectable professional magicians. He opened a magic theatre in Paris in the 1840s. He built an automated machine that appeared to move and act as if it were alive. Well-known Harry Houdini, who performed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, took his stage name from Robert-Houdin. Houdini developed many tricks based on what we now call escapology. He was also skilled in lock picking and conjuring techniques. Houdini memorabilia are collected at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA.
Modern magicians use many of the same tricks as the early masters, adapting them for today's audiences. They put their own twists to sleight of hand, misdirection, deception, collusion with members of the audience, mirrors, props with secret mechanisms, and other trickery.
Paul Harris, for example, is an inventor, magician, and writer. He creates unique and original effects. His DVDs on mastering card tricks are very popular, as are his tricks, including Lubor's Lens, Paradigm Shifter, Linking Rubber Bands, and True Astonishment Pen routine.
Derren Brown, an English magician, illusionist, and mentalist, is considered a radical thinker in the world of close-up magic and mentalism. He stuns audiences with his baffling tricks and amazing illusions. His book Pure Effect reveals deep, dark secrets of magic.
Called a modern-day Houdini, David Copperfield is an Emmy-winning American illusionist. Copperfield is perhaps the most commercially successful magician, averaging 500 performances a year. His performances expand the world of magic and showcase his unique combination of storytelling and illusion.
Criss Angel takes a modern approach to classic tricks. He's an American magician, illusionist, musician, escapologist, and stunt performer. His stunts include walking on water, floating between two buildings, and cutting himself in half. Several seasons of his TV show, Criss Angel Mindfreak, are available on DVD.
American illusionist and endurance artist, David Blaine, has performed high-profile feats of endurance. His first television special, David Blaine: Street Magic 1997, shows him performing for people on the street. The audience reactions are as entertaining and fascinating as Blaine's magic tricks.
Street magic, as highlighted in Blaine's TV special, is actually a category of magic in itself. Books and videos give fascinating accounts and demonstrations from some of the world's most legendary street performers, such as Gazzo, Jim Cellini, Paul Zennon, and Whit Hayden.
Today's audiences know that magicians are engaging in trickery and accept that as part of the entertainment. That's why anyone can buy the tools and instructions for performing tricks - rope magic, mentalism, silk magic, special effects, and much more. The trick isn't a secret because the magic is in the skilled performance of the trick. As an example, linking rings are eight solid metal rings. The magician loosely drops them from one hand to the other. The rings magically link and unlink at the whim of the magician. In the hands of the right person, these rings are magical, but for most people they are just eight metal rings.
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