Zack Zeller

Library of Wonder: Derek Hughes

Derek Hughes is the quintessential showman. After blowing the competition away on America’s Got Talent this past year, Derek has become a beacon of what good magic can truly be. Attention to audience and story is pivotal, but unfortunately often overlooked. Derek however, pays special attention to these facets of the craft that undoubtedly add both entertainment and gravitas to each effect he performs. Don't believe us? Watch Derek on AGT fill an entire room with wonder with a classic close-up trick.

#1. Magic and Showmanship
by Henning Nelms

A classic "must read" that should exist on every magician’s bookshelf.
All too often magic is presented as nothing more than a demonstration of technique and skill leaving an effect's real power to astonish completely unexplored.  Nelms breaks down, step-by-step, how to make a magic routine stronger and more memorable through applying the principles and practices of the "showman." I believe if you aspire to be a "magician" you aspire to be a "showman.”  Even if your arena is casual close up miracles performed in, what seem to be, impromptu circumstances, you're responsible to create a "show.”
One doesn't study this book to learn new effects to add to their working arsenal, in fact you'll probably never perform any of the effects discussed between its covers.  Rather, one studies this book to learn how to apply the theatrical process to effects that make up their working set list, one studies this book to move one step closer to becoming a master showman.
(Another fantastic book in this regard is The Performance of Close Up Magic by Eugene Burger.)

#2. Art of Fiction
by John Gardner

At my best I am a storyteller.
John Gardner is a master at instructing on the art of weaving stories that capture the imagination, maintain interest, and lead to a powerful and satisfying conclusion.  Through literary analysis and practical exercises he teaches how strong writing can transform a good idea into a transformative work of art.
(Also see Story by Robert McKee which breaks down "story" from the screenwriter's perspective.)

#3. Improvise
by Mick Napier

My good friend Adam Rubin turned me onto the work of Mick Napier.  
In his book Improvise, Mick, a founder of The Annoyance Theater and main stage director at the renowned Second City, discusses in understandable terms the elusive and ephemeral art of comedic improvisation.
Live performance, no matter how scripted and rehearsed (and everything I perform is scripted and rehearsed) is inevitably an improvisation.  Having some of the improviser's tools in one's bag of tricks (agreement, listening, emotional point of view) can open the door to creating moments that live so strongly in the here-and-now that they will never be forgotten.
(also check out the Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual
by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh)

For more information on Mick Napier be sure to listen to our Magical Thinking podcast with Adam Rubin

#4. Respect for Acting
by Uta Hagen

This is a practical guide to the actor's craft in which Uta discusses a method of discovery through emotional memory and script analysis.  Using seven questions to unearth a character's core motivation in a scene enables the artist to keep their performance fresh and alive each and every time.  I've found these same tools are applicable to the magical "scenes" which make up the routines in my live show.

#5. Tao Te Ching
- Laozi

Contemplating the poetry in this work deepens my process in all other areas.

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