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A Tension


Magic, as either hobby or profession, falls in a very strange grey area. I think it’s a common story amongst magicians, an interest in magic coming from childhood or adolescent shyness. A pursuit that involves free time spent alone (well, with a mirror) focusing on the smallest detail, only subject to self-judgement. Those predisposed to introversion might find a practice built from secrecy quite alluring.

Contrast that with an important factor of magic – that if it’s not performed for real people, can it be considered magic? Without a receptor, how can wonder be realised?

The characteristics of secrecy and performance are in a constant battle for magicians. But that need to share the experience with others should be the centre-point. Otherwise, why sit by yourself working on your angle-proofing?

Once out in the real world, performing for real people, the level of engagement needs to ramp up. We no longer live in a world where entertainments are ring-fenced to a particular time or place, as when people deliberately visited theatres to watch a magician perform. There’s also the pressure from special effects, where trick photography or CGI is assumed. And distractions – a television, a mobile phone, a passing car – fight the performer for the engagement of the participants.

Matt Holtzclaw portrayed the professional magician’s life in some detail. One aspect of this applies to professional and tyro alike:

To be asked to perform is delightful. To fight for an audience’s attention is murder.

The desire – if not the ability – to capture attention is heightened. The reserved practising magician becomes a rabid attention-seeking performing magician. The attention becomes a craving, and some magicians cut through the pleasantries and go right for the throat. Thrusting a deck into someone’s face and demanding they pick a card is one way to get attention. It’s not, however, a good one.

Perhaps this attention-seeking with magic is best summed up by John Guastaferro on Twitter:

Just as important as hearing, "They loved your magic!" is hearing, "They loved YOU!" As magicians, these are inseparable goals.
John Guastaferro

There was a recent discussion on Aaron Fisher’s email list, discussing the deeper aspects of performance – scripting, blocking, and presentation. The thread had its fair share of twists and turns, but one response stands out in my mind. Andrew Hillcoat wrote:

I’ve come to realise as long as you’re not made of stone or a complete dick your magic should connect with the audience.

Seems pretty straightforward, but think about it. You’ve probably seen magicians who go against both of these rules. You may have even done it yourself.

The solution may lie with simply removing magic from the equation. If you’re the type of person who people can like sans props and gaffs, chances are they’ll still like you when you launch into your Ambitious Card routine.

Of course, I can’t guarantee what they’ll think of you if you do twelve phases of it.

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