I am visiting my friend Max Maven in Hollywood, and I told him that I was planning to write a column about secrets. He immediately (in that terrifyingly bright way of his) directed me to the following quote from the British social critic Malcolm Muggeridge: "Secrecy is as essential to Intelligence as vestments and incense to a Mass, or darkness to a Spiritualist seance, and must at all costs be maintained, quite irrespective of whether or not it serves any purpose."
Last year, I was not surprised when many magicians went slightly crazy (some even ballistic!) over those television shows that gave away some of our secrets of magic to an audience that was primarily composed of the completely disinterested.
Now that the uproar has quieted down somewhat, let's talk about secrets.
When I watched those TV specials, I felt kind of dirty, too. But, I didn't personally join any of the movements against them, for two reasons. First, I felt that all the fuss and protest activities were giving free advertising to the exposure shows. They were fanning the fire, in the hope of putting it out. And that hope was sincere. But things just don't work that way.
I was, quite frankly, stunned when I saw the full-page ad in VARIETY sponsored by the Academy of Magical Arts, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Society of American Magicians. From my perspective, the people who really benefited from that ad were precisely the people we wanted to make disappear.
The second reason that I avoided joining in these protests is this: In the United States, more secrets of magic are sadly exposed in a single week's worth of performances by unprepared and unthinking magicians than were revealed in all of those dreadful TV shows put together. That's the fact of it. We need to tend to our own gardens.
But sometimes I wonder, what are the secrets of magic, anyway? Are the secrets of magic really about Double Lifts and forklifts?
Maybe the deepest secrets of magic are so secret that we don't even know them. So, let's look at what I think are some useful (if offbeat) secrets that perhaps we're in danger of forgetting.
Here's a good secret: Most people really DON'T want to know how it's done, unless they're pushed into that mindset by a magician who frames his or her work in a confrontational way. When those specials aired, many laypeople told me that they had started to watch, and soon changed the channel. They realized that knowing too much can take the fun out of many activities--and magic is clearly one of them.
Here's another secret: An audience isn't simply "there." In a very real sense, we CREATE our audiences through our own attitudes, words and actions. Let's say you want to perform a piece of magic for a group of people. The words you use to introduce this will, in large measure, guide the reactions you will get.
Consider these two possible opening lines: "Here's a trick I've been playing with for the last couple of weeks," or, "Here's a piece of magic I've been working on for the last six months." Do you see the differences? Which introduction is likely to create more interest, set up a better expectation, and ultimately produce a more profound response?
Okay, how about another secret: If you broaden the range of your magical reading, you'll also expand your understanding of magic. (I know, that doesn't sound like it's much of a secret, but judging from what I see around me, it appears to be a very little known and confidential idea.) My personal suggestion is to use the following ratio: For every magic book you read that was written during your lifetime, read at least two that were written before you were born. (If you're a young teen-ager, you're probably better off moving the dividing line to about 1950.)
The reason for this is not because the more recent books aren't as good as the older ones. There are good and bad books from every era. But it seems to me that most of the time, the recent books that are worthwhile have built upon a foundation made up of earlier books, and it's worth learning where we've been before we go barreling ahead.
Here's a final secret, and one that's very practical. It's a secret that was difficult for me to apply, and here it is: No matter how good your Ambitious Card routine may be, if your fingernails are bitten to the quick, the audience will be watching--and remembering--your fingernails, and little else.
It's not enough to acknowledge this; you've got to DO something about it. And that's a hard thing. I was a professional magician for over a year before I made this important jump, from thinking to doing.
So, there's a collection of some strange little secrets for all of us to consider. And this is certainly an appropriate time for that, because as you read this it's October, and my favorite holiday is coming up: Halloween. Wait 'til you see my nails! nails! nails!
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