Practice vs. Rehearsal: What’s the Difference?

As a teenager, I developed a manipulation act with silks, candles, and cards. Most of the candles were the electronic kind– metal tubes filled with batteries, ignition buttons on the bottom, and a glow wire to spark the flame. These things had some weight! The candles had monofilament loops attached and were hidden in pockets in my jacket so the productions were similar to dove steals. I even did a twin candle production a la Channing Pollock.

Because of the weight of all those candles (seven if I remember correctly), I used Velcro tabs to secure the jacket in place. This also kept the monofilament loops in position so I could find them easily.

Diligently, I practiced all the elements and productions over and over to perfection. I felt I was ready to enter my first magic contest. A few weeks before the competition, I came up with the idea of opening my act by tossing a throw streamer from each hand. At the time I didn’t think I really needed to practice throwing the streamers. After all, they were easy to deploy and I’ve used them many times in other shows. But… I never threw them in this particular act… with this particular costume… loaded with all those cards and candles.

Then the contest: The curtain opens.  My music starts.  On cue, I turn, throw the streamers, and ffffffft… the Velcro let go!! The forward throwing motion raised my arms and shoulders up, lifting the front of my coat, and separating the Velcro tabs. My jacket was loose!! The weight of the candles caused my jacket to swing back and forth and I fumbled searching for the loops. I tried to discreetly secure the Velcro to no avail. And so I pressed on. As you can imagine, the act didn’t go as smoothly as I had planned. But I did learn a valuable lesson… the difference between practice and rehearsal.

Now you may think practice and rehearsal are the same — but they are different. In the above scenario, I practiced the candle steals and productions. I practiced my card manipulations. I repeatedly performed the act with my music to get the timing down. But what I failed to do was put ALL the elements together (especially after a change is made, i.e., adding throw streamers) in costume and do a FULL rehearsal. If I had done that, I would have likely discovered my mistake BEFORE the competition.

So while we all practice the individual routines and effects, it is just as important to rehearse all these routines and effects in order, as though you were doing an actual performance start to finish. This may sound obvious and basic, but it is very easy to overlook. By running your show, complete with full costume, you’ll discover problems that may occur.

For example, let’s say you’re working on a Sub Trunk. Being a very physical illusion, you and your assistant would not wear your expensive show costumes to practice (this would wear them out). Instead you both wear workout clothes. Let’s also say you plan to use a rolling table to hold the handcuffs, sack, rope and keys. After many hours, you have perfected the illusion and you’re lightning fast. Great!! You then decide to perform the Sub Trunk after a Blammo and a Mutilated Parasol routine that you’ve been doing for years with no issues.

During your full dress rehearsal, you may learn that the Blammo costume has sleeves that are too loose and get in the way of the handcuffs, slowing your assistant down creating a less than impressive Sub Trunk switch. The table you planned to use for the Sub Trunk props is also used for the Mutilated Parasol and is now on the wrong side of the stage. Isn’t it better to discover these issues in rehearsal, instead of in front of a live audience?

Over the years I’ve discovered that just switching the show order, adding/removing a routine or simply changing a jacket or a pair of pants can cause problems. Even just wearing my shirt untucked, for that casual look in my college show, caused me to fumble ditching a thumb tip into my front pants’ pocket. An Achilles’ heel for me has always been using a mic stand. In ninety-nine percent of the shows I do, I wear a low profile headset or lavaliere mic. For those rare occasions when only a mic on a stand is available, I feel awkward and under rehearsed. Before these shows, I need to rethink and rehearse my blocking and handling of my props.

Again, rehearsal may be a basic idea, but it’s so very important and should not be forgotten.


  1. BRADY GROVE, December 6, 2013:

    A very good essay. This information is a great reminder to any magician/mentalist/performer in the world.

  2. Daniel, December 12, 2013:

    Before you are ready to rehearse for a performance you must be good at the magic you are to perform. Hence the reason for practicing. I hope I explained it well.

  3. DAVID GOLDBERG, January 4, 2014:

    Great piece. Should come with every magic effect sold and in every magic book. Even as just a hobbyist I don’t want to get up and embarass myself in front of people. I did the simplest rope routine for an open mike night at a comedy club and I spent hours working out the moves. Everything from how I positioned the rope in my pocket to the ending.

  4. john valad, February 2, 2014:

    Also remember to record each show.listen to it.your goal is to constinly make your show better and better.always a work in progress

  5. JOSEPH BYERS, March 14, 2014:

    This piece is great. Thank you to the author.
    Coincidentally, and most magicians don’t believe in coincidence :-) , George Parker’s “For Your Consideration” column in the March, 2014 issue of M.U.M, touches on this very topic. He penned an entertaining and informative piece on failures during performance, in which he analyzes the reasons for, the remedy of, and the recovery from…failures during the performance of magic. In this article, Mr. Parker emphasizes the need for both practice and rehearsal to minimize failure. Then, in the final section of the piece, entitled “Why?,” he differentiates between the two. Another good read, intricately related to the essay above.

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