Ok, I don’t post here very often (I’m a bit of a troll…always sitting under the bridge and reading the posts but never popping up and letting folks see me). I have been doing magic for a few years, and I have wanted to write this essay for a while, just never had the time. Today an event occurred that got me fired up and gave me the drive to pound this thing out, so I hope it makes sense to everyone. I don’t claim to be a magic expert. I am only a hobbyist who practices sleights and tricks I like daily, occasionally showing people when I feel like it. One thing that I have paid particular attention to through my years of magic is the art of performing. This is the topic of my essay (which is all my opinion, feel free to post responses either agreeing or disagreeing with points I make):
Performing is a difficult nuance that must accompany every “magical” feat, whether it be the acting that comes with it, the sleight of hand, or ditching of the gimmick- everything is tied together by the performance. One problem with this art form is that, unlike a piano recital, which can be flawlessly executed and thereby seen as amazing, even the most flawlessly executed magic routine can be picked apart by one spectator in a group, and, whether this spectator is right or wrong, will likely ruin the magic for everyone.
When I examine my performance, the most important thing I attempt to ascertain is "can I actually perform
the routine or trick I am about to do." Recently I performed a piece of magic without thinking about this very idea. The trick called for a force, and although I usually use the classic force, because I knew the person I was performing for (and knowing he would likely be one to break down my trick to a puzzle that could be solved rather than a piece of magic) I chose the “safer” riffle force. However, not having done the riffle force recently, I forgot one simple truth behind that force; make it look like the selection is a free choice
. The force was very stiff, and I made it almost seem like I made him pick the card by the way I did it. After the trick was over, he figured out how it was done, including the force. Actually, the fact that I may have influenced his decision on which card to pick lead him to decipher how the rest of the trick was done. I had forgotten a very simple performance aspect; don’t perform a trick or routine unless you are ready
to perform the trick or routine. This even includes things you already know, in my case, the riffle force. I had done this force dozens of times years ago before I knew the classic force, but not having done it recently made me forget some of the nuances of it. Had I gone over it in my head and determined that not having done it lately may cause some complications, I may have been able to foresee the problem and never “bombed” the force. This evaluation must be done before
, long before, the magician does any trick. The art of performing magic is by no means easy, and any advantage you can give yourself should be taken. Knowing yourself and what you can do without thought or hesitation
will allow you to choose what magic to perform for people. Don’t think on the fly, “oh, well I haven’t done a double life in a while, but I used to do them all the time, let me do a trick with a DL in it and see if I can remember how to do it”. This could end with disastrous results. You degrade your magic into a guessing game, rather than the beauty which is captured by the art form of a well executed performance.
Another aspect of the magic performance one needs to ask of his or herself is “why am I doing
this?” If the answer you come up with involves people running from you screaming in amazement like you have seen on David Blaine or some other special, then perhaps you should reevaluate your choice of performing magic in the first place. Get involved in something like sword swallowing or lighting yourself on fire (the human torch is always fun), don’t destroy yourself and the art of magic by thinking every trick or routine that ended with the person just staring and having little reaction is a failure. Focus on the hows and whys before you go out and actually do
anything. For me, I find my greatest pleasure is making people, if only for 10 seconds, forget who they are, and what “reality” is- and make them think there may in fact be another possibility, one which is impossible; one which can only be explained by magic. Often this is simply a look on the individual’s face that says to me I have done what I set out to do, for a few seconds, broken all the laws of nature and “made magic”. With this knowledge, I can now look at my performance and adjust it accordingly. Remember the trick I described earlier where I chose the riffle force instead of the classic, and I was called on it? The reason that the man called me on it was that he had time to think about the trick (since I did it at work), break it apart, and then come to a conclusion of how it worked. But, his reaction in the first few minutes after I did the trick was priceless; he just stared, said a few “choice” words, and just kept demanding to know how I did that while shaking his head in disbelief. I was frustrated because he figured out how the trick was done, but this was a while after
his belief had been suspended, which is exactly what I set out to do in the first place.
So, what is the remedy to my (and hopefully your) frustration? Very simply, if you know why
you perform and how
to obtain that goal, why not focus on it? One thing I used to do to learn some of my tricks is walk friends who had come over to my house out to their cars when they were about to leave, and then demonstrate whatever I was working on at the time. I didn’t realize it then, but I now know this was a perfect situation for me to be in. This fit my performing style and goal perfectly, they were astounded and shocked, and then they drove off after they had seen my “miracles”. This allowed me not to be frustrated by their figuring out the routine, or at least, even if they did figure it out, I wasn’t around them to hear them dissect me; so as far as I know, they still
think what I did was real magic, and not just some dissectible puzzle. With this knowledge, I now know that I love magic the most when I can see the initial reaction and now be around for any dissection that may take place. So for me, I should look for situation where the people I do the magic for will not be near me anytime after I do the tricks, and that way, both they and I will be happy.
One kink that gets thrown into the mix once you realize your best performing conditions is the unpredictability of people in general. This will not be a section on crowd control and reading folks for potential hecklers, because that would be many pages more of text and I would lose the focus of my main essay. I will point out a few things I notice that could affect the goal of your performance in such a way that you may not be able to succeed, no matter how hard you try. One such thing is performing for friends/peers. When doing a magic performance for strangers, they do not know if you sleep floating 3 feet above your bed every night (weird analogy, I know, just bear with me). All they know is some stranger just walked up to them (or they walked up to you, depending on the setting) and did something unbelievable that seemed perfectly natural to the magician. For all they know, what you did was “real magic”, just because they don’t
know you and who you really are (once again, the floating above the bed thing; how do they know you aren’t possessed and have bizarre abilities). This often gives strangers much less excuse to ruin your trick (with the exception of want to be magicians and hecklers…but don’t take it personally, these people will try and ruin anyone who they feel threatened by). Friends/peers, on the other hand, probably know you fairly well; they know you are a real person, who has real needs and wants. Therefore, any “magic” you do will often times quickly become a puzzle you presented to them, and puzzles must
have a solution right? Don’t be frustrated if family/friends/peers are very willing to mess with your magic, unless they are magicians themselves, how do they know the painstaking time and effort you put into each second of the performance? They can’t. One thing I have seen recommended many times, and I feel is a very wise move, is to find a friend or family member who is a magician or will constructively criticize your performance and try out as much new material on them as possible. And do not hold back in this performance, the art of performing is something that cannot be mastered in a mirror; you must actually perform to hone your craft. This means do your routine with all the bells and whistles every time you do it, all the patter, misdirection, etc… make each “practice” session count.
In doing this, you obtain valuable information that can now be asked of yourself after the performance. How did I do overall? Were there any areas that need work? Did I correctly say the right things in the right places to fully distract and/or explain each element? Fully
break apart these early routines, and learn from each mistake. I know from experience how difficult it is to start performing a bombed piece of magic again for someone else. Every worry and fear of a relapse and failure of the trick comes up and it is very difficult to regain composure. But please, no matter how hard it is to do the trick again after you bomb it for someone, don’t throw the trick in a box and set it on a shelf somewhere. You may be robbing yourself of a powerful piece of magic, your performance just has not caught up to the potential of the trick (remember, confidence is part of the performance as well, and this is something that can only be learned through continued performing, even when you are not so confidant). Granted, there may be magic that just doesn’t quite fit who you are as a magician, the character you choose in each performance, and how you interact with the audience. This is magic that just may end up on a shelf somewhere, and if you ask any magician, they will likely tell you they have many pieces of magic that they never use, for this very reason. But, before you make the decision of whether the magic fits you as a performer, make sure you the performer can use the magic; don’t give up just because a performance failed or didn’t meet your criteria for successful, revamp it and try again.
Well, this is all I have for now (there is more, I will probably type it later, I need to sleep at the moment
I want you all to realize that, once again, this is by no means a profession opinion. I am just a magician who had something on my chest I wanted to get off, something I live by in my code of performance. Please give comments, and suggestions. I am always looking to grow, and I hope that this essay will help some of you do the same.