Cultivating a better stronger magic community by bridging the gap of adults and youth:
My name is Adam, I’m 32 I have 2 kids 2 ½ and 8 months. I started working (getting paid) with teens and inner city kids when I was 16. I worked at the Boys and Girls Club and did so until I was 23 years old. By 23 I had as much experience working with kids as a 30 year old teacher, but I did not have the maturity then to realize it. At 23 I began working in Mental Health. I worked with adolescent boys (6-12) for three years. I worked with court adjudicated teen boys for 10 months then moved to teen girls. I worked with this population for 3 years. These 7 years I spent a lot with kids. They were in a 24/7 care facility and required a 4-1 kid to staff ratio. They went to school on campus. At age 30 I started working for and am still at Big Brothers Big Sisters. This may not seem like a big deal to some but I wanted to put my credentials out there so you all can gain a perspective on where I am coming from.
I am a big believer in supporting and nurturing kids/teens and anything they want to do. I am a magician as well and have been since I took an interest when I was 12 so I relate this essay to that. First off, I have an unpopular view of young magicians today and young people in general. I like them, they are our future, and there is a lot of potential. Secondly, I feel that kids/teens are often treated unfairly or at the very least misunderstood. That all being said, I believe that youth are responsible for their own actions and need to work harder and listen to what people are telling them. I want to address adults and youth with this rather long essay.
Magic is such a small community to start with. We as magicians need to do what we can to cultivate and grow our community. That is a daunting and scary prospect at times. We don’t want to expose too much and if too many people get involved too many people know too many secrets. We also need to grow and in a good way too I get that as well. But we rarely discuss how to go about that. It would be great if we learned to filter people in instead of out. We use this principle here at BBBS now. Basically, we are welcoming and honest and use a process that gives volunteers opportunities to continue through the process or not. We rarely eliminate people because those not ready to commit will eliminate themselves. It’s about (and I know I am going to lose people here) focusing on the positive. The more a volunteer wants to be involved in the program the more I am going to interact with them. The harder they work the harder I do. Magic can be viewed the same way. We spend a lot of time writing (and by writing I am referring to forums) about negative things…Kids and DVD’s versus books and how kids should be doing this instead of that. At the end of the day somebody, anybody willing to learn should not be concerned about the source but the end product of the magician in and of themselves. Eventually, anyone that has a sustained interest in Magic will learn for themselves the value of longer learning with books and practice and rehearsal. Those who do not have a sustained interest will filter themselves out….”Oh, it’s too hard”, “that’s a lot of work”, “oooohhh, I discovered girls”. These kids like bad volunteers lose interest along the way and never finish. So we move forward with the ones that will.
BUT, we can help, nudge, push more people in the proper direction at this stage as well, if we as adults change our approach. Giving advice is a delicate procedure with anyone but especially youth. They know they don’t know everything so stop thinking they have that attitude. However; they have heard everything. Magic is no different. How many times in a forum can you find an experienced magician stating and restating the same things (I’m guilty too for sure); i.e. “slow down’, “speak clearly”, “if you can’t spell…”, “get the book”, “that double needs work”…right, we all do it. This is criticizing and contrary to what you think it is not constructive. It is solid definite advice and in most cases is appropriate. But what good is it if it’s not listened too? So offer more specific examples, then offer advice on how to fix said problem. Yes, even if it is DVD Book related: “your French drop needs work, I noticed you learned that In the beginning Bobo’s Modern Coin magic offers really good technique for the French drop.” Or better yet point out what’s wrong and ask them to fix it in a PM, email whatever. This small technique can help to filter people in without excluding.
YES, there are people who will be offended no matter what we say or how we say it. No need to argue with these folks they don’t get it, they never will and after a while they are not worth your time. So yes there are volunteers who come through, that we don’t match or we reject. There are people in magic like that too. There is no reason to engage said people further. Your time is much better spent cultivating as opposed to ruminating.
This may be hard to believe given all the happy, happy, joy, joy feelings I have been spreading around but I am not a fan of framing. Framing is the act of saying something nice, pointing out the bad, then saying something nice. What an awful superficial idea. It always leads to the “but” factor. It was good, but… even if you change the words the feeling is there. Please feel free to be yourself, nothing comes off more phony when you’re not. Always be honest. Exercise good judgment. Try not to lecture that also is a waste of time. If it’s good, praise it. If it’s bad, help with it. If they listen and attempt to make improvements, praise it. If they argue, don’t bother responding at all.
Look, you don’t make it easy to give help. You are sensitive, you don’t listen, and you feel like the advice given is irrelevant. The simple truth is this: If you post a statement, question or video you are open to any and all criticism. If you don’t want to hear it don’t post it. Be accepting of what others have to say. Do not use I am new at this as an excuse. Never say I’m just a kid; if you took the time to find us then write it or video it you were looking for something. If that something was a place where everyone was going to agree with you, you are going about this wrong and you need to change your approach. If you are not ready to hear the truth don’t put it out there. Nothing frustrates people more than a person who gets mad after being given advice they asked for in the first place. No, it’s not what you want to hear I get that. I hate what my Wii fit tells me on a daily basis, but my weight is my weight and I am the only one that can do anything about it. Magic is a hard time consuming hobby. It requires practice, patience and people skills. It is an entertainment and even a silent act still needs to be entertaining. Adult magicians and full time magicians generally work very hard at it. It’s hard to watch someone ruin other peoples opinions of magic due to a poor performance, being mean to spectators or being under rehearsed. If you are consistently told your sleights are bad, you need to practice more. If your handling/demeanor are hurting you need to rehearse more. If people are grabbing your stuff, giving you a hard time or not understanding, then you need to continue to work in front of an audience.
Gain encouragement from small successes. Early on, it is really hard to get a great reaction, but don’t let that one go to your head. That is something you need to do consistently from every group, but not every group is going to act the same way. But that first laugh or that first ooooohhhhh moment is sooooooo powerful. I know, but instead of thinking that you have that effect down pat, instead concentrate on how to do that again. Evaluate yourself. It’s a skill. And that like everything else in life and or magic requires practice. In order for it to work you have to do it. Start slow. You do not have to be the most knuckle busting magician starting with a high degree of difficulty. Go out and perform a simple card force with an interesting revelation. See that you don’t NEED to do the pass to be good (but it does help). If you find you are performing something with a large margin of mistakes take it back to the practice room and do something a little simpler. But always, always perform for people. Stop being afraid. You are NOT going to learn how to manage people and audiences in front of your webcam typing your woes on Penguin Magic forums.
This is not permission to go out into the world and perform bad magic. I’m just saying there are certain things you can’t learn online; and one of those is how to interact with others as a magician. There are things you can do if your magic isn’t ready. Start conversations with strangers, do theater, write and tell jokes. The starting to talk to strangers is the most difficult, it’s scary and weird, but it will also help you gain confidence as you begin interacting with an audience. This can and will help with nerves. It does not; however; solve nerves, merely helps. If a spectator tells you you were bad. Then you were bad. Sorry. If you read the Adults section then you know I think highly of screening people in and this for you is one of those key moments. If you can persevere and get over that and get better you will probably be doing magic for a long time. If you can’t handle it, you’ll cry about blame your bad audience and move on to something else. It’s a hard truth but there it is. And that’s ok. Maybe magic isn’t for you. By the way, yes you learn by doing, but a lot of people learn by teaching as well, but that is not always possible.
Be honest: working people often forget that youth, you, kids, teens, whatever don’t have money, so there is advice offered that requires to purchase something for help. Don’t say “I’m just a kid” say something like, “I can’t afford to get…and would like to fix the problem.” Ask for tips. Be honest with yourself as well. I get irked as well when a video is posted with the explanation: “I know my DL was bad but how’s my pass?” Re shoot the video. Please. Or at least be open to criticism about both. If you happen to put up a good video or valid question and are looking for criticism be specific. “My DL feels awkward, how’d it look?” Put your effects in some kind of context. A sleight is a sleight. Asking about a French drop is a lot different then asking about a French drop in the context of a more full routine.
If you have to ask you are not ready. End of story. Before you decide if you are ready to go out and work (get paid) do you have effects? Have you performed them for real people? Are you working in a restaurant? Bar? Museum? Library? Small stage? Big Stage? Are you allowed to work? Are you old enough? If not do you have a work permit (easy enough to get if you know where to look and I offer NO advice here because all states are different, that’s for you and your parent) Do you have/need insurance? Are you accepting tips? Before you go to work you should know these simple things. They are simply answered. And stop asking what is a good effect for [this venue]. That’s for you to decide. Honestly. If you like the effect and you perform it then stop worrying about it and do it. If you are unsure if it is appropriate for the venue you are at ask the people (manager more than likely) if it’s appropriate. There’s a lot of can’t/won’t work attitude with magicians. I am of the opinion if it works for you and the manager/owner ok’s it, do it.
Just to clear a few things up. I am of the mind that if you feel you are ready to perform then you also need to be ready for criticism. Hard work and persistence pay off. Do magic for people as often as possible without being annoying about it. Compete in talent shows. Especially of the school variety. Avoid listening to people who say you are awesome and the best magician ever, if you start listening you’ll stop learning and your magic will stagnate. We are a small community, we magicians, we should foster, encourage and help each other.
PS I apologize for the scatter brained mess this essay is and yes I am hippocritical. I ask people not to lecture then offer a long lecture. I get it. But I do so out of my love for magic. Most of you will skim this. Others will say sticky this and yet others will simply offer it as a link to answer some questions. That is not the intent of this and in fact I would suggest you missed the point but hey, it is what it is.