The Day I Forgot My Props

The suspense of the story I’m about to tell you is somewhat given away by the title, so I’ll skip the build up and get straight to the point: yesterday, I forgot to take my props to a show.

The gig was five hours from my home. My stage time was a little earlier than usual, it was a big event and there was to be a solo singer AND a 5 piece band on the bill with me. Around three hours into the drive I stopped to grab some food. Upon returning I opened up the back to put a few things inside and was surprised at what I found.


Well actually, just a stool. The stool upon which I usually place my prop box, but the prop box itself was no where to be found. Had you seen my face, I imagine it looked a lot like the face Bruce Willis pulls when Hayley Joel Osment admits to seeing dead people in The Sixth Sense.

A moment later, my face looked more like this…


Time to consider my options.
– I don’t have time to drive home for the case and still make the show.
– I can’t ask someone to pick up my things and meet me half way, because no one can get into the house and my wife isn’t home.

I try closing the boot (trunk for my USA friends) and opening it again, in the hope that I’ve accidentally stumbled upon one of the alternate strings in the ‘multiverse’, a sort of Schrodinger’s Car situation. I open it again to find that rather dissapointingly we’re still in the same dimension we were a few seconds ago. What next?

I call my manager. He’s level headed and practical. Even if he has no ideas, he still needs to be involved in whatever decisions are going to be made next.
He asks if I can make it home to get the stuff and still make the show. He asks if someone can get the stuff and meet me half way. He pauses them asks if I’ve tried closing the boot and opening it again.
No luck.

We decide there are two options:
– Offer a replacement act.
– Offer that I do close up.

The venue say that they’d really rather have me and that in the circumstances, close up magic isn’t really going to work. They ask if there’s any way I can put a show together.

This is of course the last straw option I always knew about but hoped it wouldn’t come to.
It’s time to see if all the theoretical conversations I’ve been part of have any merit. Every magician worth his salt has ask themselves at some point… ‘what would I do if I lost my props?’.

Some of you may be wondering why I don’t have a small case full of essentials hidden away in the car at all times. Well, up until two weeks ago, I did. I did a show that involved flying to Jersey with restricted luggage. So I took that case and I used it. Here it is…



I’d had an ’emergency show case in my car for at least 7/8 years and never needed it. Less than a week after I take it out, I forget my props. Ridiculous.

So off I head to Tesco. Here’s my shopping…


Toilet Rolls
Marker Pens
Three Decks Of Playing Cards
A Gift Bag
Two Tins Of Vegetables (carrots and peas)
Quality Street

I’d also called ahead and asked the venue to get me plastic carrier bags, a pint glass, a cash register receipt roll and some clear tape.

Now, rather than being panicked, I’m excited.

I arrive at the show with 30 minutes to go before stage. In the car I have my suit and my iPod (which is always charging there between shows).

One thing I didn’t have was my shoes. I keep them in my road trunk with my props. So, I had to borrow some black shoes. My Retro Adidas weren’t going to cut it. Black shoes of any kind are at least more likely to go unnoticed.


SIX CARD REPEAT – The old classic that all we magicians know. I pulled together the version I did in my act day in day out for years. It’s been about 7 years since I did it last but I was delighted to find it still went over well with the audience. Oh, and that I remembered it!

SHOPPING – I won’t talk about the mechanics of the trick here, any magicians reading will be able to work it out for themselves. A guy came on stage and selected any item that you can purchase in a supermarket. I had a prediction in the gift bag. He chose PEAS. I unfortunately had a tin of CARROTS. To our collective surprise, when the tin of carrots was opened, there were peas inside which were poured for everyone to see, into the pint glass.


KID TRICK – This is pretty much straight from my act. It involves a combination of the classic ‘paper balls over the head plot’, combined with a torn and restored tissue paper/do as I do. All I’ll say is this: Cash register receipt roll = Mouth coil, when desperate.

ENVELOPES – There’s an item in my Penguin Live lecture called Envelopes. It’s inspired by something from Rune’s World by Rune Klan. I used the envelopes and paper to make it up quickly and it led directly into the next piece well.

CARRIER BAGS – With three plastic carrier bags and the music from my iPod I was able to recreate the carrier bag ballet dancing routine that featured in my show for a few years. I only use it now when I emcee or do TV warm up as it’s super quick and silly fun. Ideal for this situation though as the props were easy to get.

CARDS – Thank fully I’ve been performing the multiple selection plot for many years and have altered my version to play well for stage. I had to make some adjustments to the way I do it in Sideshow Tricks because I couldn’t get some of the external props. The final card reveal in the routine has to appear somewhere amazing I feel. I wonder what that grapefruit is for…

SELFIE – This is something I do in my show every night, using my phone, which I had. It’s a few minutes of fun and obviously required no change.

CHAIR LEVITATION – This is the stunt where four people sit on chairs and lie on each other in a way that allows you to remove the chairs. I used to do this is a my act years ago too. It requires no props (other than four adults and four chairs) and plays huge. Bill Abbott markets a version called ‘Chairs’ although I haven’t seen it, I understand it’s the same thing. I hadn’t done this for a LONG time and I’m glad I called my friend John before the show who reminded me about it!

Before I knew it, 40 minutes. I made it.
I was delighted with the feedback after the show and even happier to know I survived. Fortunately I was able to use enough of the skeleton of my usual act to build some random/old skin and bones around. I was still able to be me and chat to the audience. The things I didn’t leave at home were my confidence and experience. They’re the two main ingredients in my show even when I have my prop case, so without it I just needed to lean on them a little more.


– You will need your back up stuff as soon as you don’t have it.
– The tricks themselves matter, but your personality matters more.
– Stop whining, start working. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
– Make a list of a great show you could buy from a supermarket. Keep it in your phone. You might need it one day.
– If you forget your props and the booker is kind enough to say they’d still rather have you wing it than cancel and book someone else, bring chocolate and say thank you.
(Now you know why I bought the tub of Quality Street)
– Always double check you’ve loaded the car properly before leaving.
– Keep a list of every trick you’ve ever done. It’ll come in handy in situations like this and more. I often use random old material for specific shows and it’s nice to have a back catalogue of your previous work.

“It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”. – Rocky Balboa.

Remember that stress the side effect of being unprepared. So go and make your list. 🙂

Mark James

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