Jack of All Trades
Someone once told me that if you can do something absolutely perfectly 15 times in a row you're a master of it. I can see that, we walk all the time and I reckon it'd be a difficult task not taking 15 perfect steps one after the other. And we could all take 15 perfect breaths in a row, filling our lungs and breathing properly. Thing is, I'm racking my brain and I can't think of anything else I can do absolutely perfectly 15 times in a row.
Away from biology and life basics, and moving more in the direction of things we learn, let's look at magic (knew that was coming eh?).
Could you do 15 absolutely perfect double lifts one after the other, no flashing, no suspicion, no fuzzy edges?
Could you do 15 absolutely perfect false transfers one after the other, without once giving the impression you never let the coin go?
Could you do 15 absolutely perfect classic forces one after the other, without ever giving the game away even a tiny bit?
I doubt it. Let's be honest with ourselves, this is no easy task. To take one action and repeat it 15 times absolutely perfectly would take a mastery of the action. You would have to be able to do it in your sleep. I can DL don't get me wrong, and could probably do 15 decent ones in a row, but they wouldn't all be perfect. Ditto the false transfer and the classic force. I accept that I am in no way a master of these things. I am compentent, I am skilled, but I am not a master.
Let's try not to get tied up with the Kung-fu film fuelled connotations of the word master here. We are not talking old thin men with long white eyebrows who are referred to as Master in a expertly dubbed film that looks as yellow as a Guy Ritchie offering by accident. We are talking here about someone who is defined by the following quite nicely:
master (SKILLED PERSON)
1. a person who is very skilled in a particular job or activity:
He was a master of disguise.
(definition taken from the Cambridge Dictionary)
Very skilled. I think we all like to assume we are skilled at what we do, magic or otherwise. We learn something, we stick at for a while and one day we kind of say to ourselves, I can do that well now, I'm quite skilled in XYZ. I would like to think I am a skilled magician. Disgard the pesky psychology of it all, super-ego it may be, and focus in on the idea of skilled and very skilled.
I would say that a professional magician who can take a packet of cards to a table and create incredible magic for the seated, managing his audience to garner maximum participation and reactions, performing his sleight of hand with a manual dexterity that shows many years of experience and practice, acting his part so naturally that you allow yourself to be drawn in to believing his magic is real is a skilled magician. Similarly the mentalist that can state outright before his performance he is not a psychic and still have people contest his claim telling him he must be at the end of his show is a skilled magician. Does that mean that those of us who are hobbyists or amateur performers cannot be skilled? Far from it, we can be as skilled as these behemoths of magic, past and present, so long as we practice, think and work hard. However, one thing I would urge you to consider is that if we are asking for 15 absolutely perfect repetitions in a row, do you really think in all honesty that these magicians could show you 15 perfect double lifts, false transfers or classic forces? Watch any Jay Sankey DVD and you'll see he often messes up his 6th 7th or 8th move when he repeats it to show you over and over. Let's say we need a false transfer in a routine, he will show us the move and it will be flawless. He will repeat the move 3 or 4 times and it will be very good. He tends to go back to the start of the effect to carry on to the next part and it is often here he will either execute a rather poor transfer, or completely mess it up and have to start again. Even he can't be called a master by our definition.
So don't strive for it. Skill takes time and dedication, and when you can perform a card or coin or stage or mentalism routine with complete confidence things will work, and nobody will spot you or look bored or not react, you should be very proud of your achievement. As you become more skilled in magic, so you become more confident. Confidence does wonders for your performance, it boosts you, increases your appeal, and allows to enjoy yourself even more. A magician enjoying himself encourages spectators to enjoy themselves, it's simple NLP. It's true the spectators have all the power but you my friend are in charge. And to be in charge takes skill. And you have that skill in you, use it. Don't hide it away and hope the audience like you; make them like you!
Remember that there is no shame in admitting you are, infact, not perfect. You are instead human, liable to make mistakes, forget things and screw up completely. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: "Don't Panic". There you are brain the size of a planet and you drop your palmed coin on the floor. Or fail to find their card. Or show them both cards you took off the deck when you said you took one. Who cares? This is part of the learning process. If things went swimmingly all the time life would get real dull real quick. Learn to take the rough with the smooth, and to take command of such a situation and you will become even more skilled. Turning bad things to good is a skill in itself and once learnt it's never regretted. The ability to think on your feet will be of great importance to you at least once in your long and sordid career.
So you're not perfect, that's ok. But what are you then? You are skilled. It's a very unfair saying that 'Jack of all trades, master of none' as really, mastering a trade would probably require huge amounts of time, money and effort. Forget friends, pints down the pub, country drives, a love life, any of the other things that make life fun, if we were to become the master of the DL, training our hands to the point where 15 in row was 15 absolutely perfect performances, we would know nothing else. Magic is like capoeira (google it), it is many things at once. Just as the capoeirista has to become more than just a good fighter, learning songs and dances and instruments as well, so the magician has to learn more than just sleights; audience management, performance skills, acting, public speaking, misdirection, all of these things come into the equation. And these extra skills nobody tells you about can be difficult to do well when put together. Obviously good practice makes these things easier, but there is one thing we must strive to avoid as magicians - self doubt. If we become relatively skilled at managing our audience and our public performance, as well as our routines, and we have a bad day we must not feel that it is because we are no good at what we do, that we will never master the art. Allow me to stress a point I feel is extremely important, WE MUSTN'T THINK LIKE THIS AT ALL!! Ahem. You see, a professionally minded serious passionate magician will allow his bad day to encourage him. It might point out a flaw he maybe didn't know was there and give him the opportunity to sort out this minor detail before it happens again. It might encourage him to play with the script or the routining of his act. Maybe it will do none of these things, except give the magician a new skill, dealing with defeat and dissapointment.
I performed in Leeds not too long ago now and forgot to check a prediction number I wrote in huge numbers behind some newspaper before I started. We got to the second effect of the night, I did my routine and the second I saw the numbers I had 'predicted' being written on the piece of paper I realised I had been a complete moron; I had written the wrong prediction down. I prepared my audience for this with some careful improvised script and revealed the prediction with all the gusto of a man who knows he is right. Obviously I was wrong, and it bugged me. The next two effects I performed went as they should and then came the encore. I had a 16 number magic square prepared in my mind, all I needed was a randomly selected number to finish it off and I could write the whole thing out in less than one minute, all the rows, columns, diagonal lines, corners of the 3x3 squares, corners of the big 4x4 square, little 2x2 squares etc adding up to the number shouted from the audience. I started the clock. I began to write. I got less than one row in and realised I had forgotten my square. It was like being given the number to remember had pushed the square out of my mind. I didn't panic, I carried on, adding in numbers I knew were in the square in what I hoped to God was the right place. I failed, and a little simple maths later ruled out any chance of redemption. I walked off stage to huge applause after declaring in a great cry that "well, that's just utter rubbish! Thank you and good night!". I turned the bad situation into a relatively good one by turning the humour onto to myself and laughing with the audience.
Afterwards (seeing as the comic that followed me was beyond rubbish) I nipped to the toilet, stared at myself in the mirror for a few minutes and resolved to remember that blasted square. 10 minutes later I had it written out in full in my pad of paper I had with me, every single sum I had planned to show my audience of 30-40 people checked by my audience of one and found to be correct. Once I'd got the square written out I could carry on with my night. Having learnt to take success and failure in the same sted, all I needed was to lay my wandering mind to rest about the stupid square and I could ignore the fact that my finale had crashed and burned like nothing I've ever screwed up before in my life. Having performances under my belt from both music and magic, as well as playing competetive sport and exibition sport from time to time, I am well prepared for losing. Not that you can lose at magic, but it's essentially the same feeling. A sinking dissapointment that can eat you up if you let it.
So I was left with one of two options that night; 1) go home and fret about the fact I messed up two out of five effects, one because I was stupid and the other through a mild case of nerves, lose sleep or 2) go home and think "next time I'm taking a note that says check your prediction and a crib sheet", sleep easy. I chose number two. And because of this I'm eager to perform again. I feel prepared to take on the challenge of new material, new audience, new show. I know that when I step on that stage in a month and a bit's time I shan't have mastered these effects. But I will be skilled in them, in the script, the misdirection, the mechanics. I will have a whole other show's worth of experience to add to my skills set of audience management, acting, public speaking, performance and misdirection. I know that if I performed every day from now til the ninth of never and I would still never master these things. I could become very skilled in them, a dictionary master, but 15 absolutely perfect performances in a row? No chance.
Such is the beauty of magic performance; it's organic. It grows, changes, flows and responds to its environment. Your script should only ever be half written, leaving plenty of wiggle room for when spectators are encouraged to join in, speak up and say something. You should be able to throw in that joke that will only ever be funny in the exact situation you are in at the time, without it sounding like it wasn't in the script. Everything you say should sound natural and unrehearsed. If we try to master magic and magical performance we will take away all of its spontaneous beauty. Magic shouldn't be about making everything happen perfectly, if things are too perfect they become unbelievable. Magic should be about entertaining, enchanting and emoting. Magic that is fluid, natural, organic will do this, and coincidently I feel it is much more fun to perform. So ditch the idea of mastering your latest trick, or perfecting your next stage routine. By all means make sure it will go smoothly, I would never suggest to you ditching all preparation in favour of winging it, just don't stifle the magic by dictating the smoothness. You'll never give 15 perfect performances anyway, why try? Something always happens that keeps us on our toes, be it a heckler or a spectator not quite doing as asked, or even an effect breaking down so spectatularly you'd have done better advertising yourself as the next Tommy Cooper and donning a fez.
Don't try to squeeze into a suit that doesn't fit. Neither you, nor I, nor anyone famous you could name drop here, will ever become a master, by our definition, of magic. Experts they may be. Very skilled they may be. Very skilled you may be, but you will do more harm than good desperately seeking to master everything. Remember a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less. Specilaise your magic, seek out learn and perform magic that excites you by all means, but don't worry if things aren't perfect before you kick them out of the nest and watch them fly; truth be told they probably never will be perfect. Personally, this is how I like things to be, I like the element of danger if you will. When I perform I enjoy knowing that the effects I do require me to think and react to the environment I perfom in. I enjoy knowing that if I don't react properly I might set fire to Â£100 of spectators' money. Or I might drive my finale into the ground. Or I might seriously harm my own health. I enjoy having a performance that lacks perfection also because I enjoy looking realistic on stage. I approach my magic knowing what I do is impossible, it is really magical and I enjoy my own performance accordingly. But at the same time, I try to portray a character that is no different from the spectators watching. I like to look human, and to this end I relish those little mistakes I make, deliberate of not. So I drop a card on the floor shuffling the deck. So I miss a predicted 3 digit number by transposing the 2nd and 3rd number. So I don't quite get the card the spectator's thinking of. All of this makes me look more like what I am, a human being. We make mistakes, and when dealing with mentalism especially, making one mistake amidst 10 effects strengthens your position.
Don't strive for perfection, and don't try to become a master. You'll only end up with long white eyebrows and no friends except a young asian lad who will avenge your death. Enjoy your position as a jack of all trades, for that is what magic is all about - the many faucets that make it up. Allow yourself to be spontaneous, and your magic organic. Enjoy reacting to what goes on around you. And finally, remember that you are a skilled magician, and take pride in that; you deserve to.