Note on Perverse Spectator Handling

picture the unfortunate, classic situation. The magician approaches a table, briefly introduces himself to the diners, and asks a lady if he may borrow her ring. She is unsure, a little embarrassed, not knowing if she really wants to be involved. The performer has done nothing to ingratiate himself, he has not come across as remotely intriguing. She is unsure whether he has been hired by the venue or is just some clown showing off, so she really doesn't know whether she should lend him anything valuable.

Eventually, more out of embarrassment than anything else, she removes her ring, having caught her husband's eye for approval first. The magician takes it.

Now, please ask yourselves, for you are all magicians. Why, dear Lord, is it now customary for the performer, having barely gained the trust of this lady, to now make insulting comments about the ring? I mean, what is that about?

&(Lovely. You should have it made into a ring"

"I've seen these available in gold"

"I'll be careful. I guess it has to go back on Monday"

"Oh, what does this say? It's inscribed... K... E... L... oh, 'Kelloggs"

"Look, it's chipped where it feel out of the cracker"

"Christ, you have appalling taste in jewellery. And you're overweight too"

Where do we get this from? Am I missing something obvious, or is there something deeply perverse about interrupting people while they are enjoying themselves, demanding that they trust you when we do nothing to communicate that trustworthiness, and then make insulting comments? Has it ever happened that the lady has snatched the ring back and said, "Well, if you don't like it I'll have it back." I hope this has occurred on occasion. I hope that a magician has made an insulting comment about someone's shirt and then been punched full in the lace.

On stage, sometimes these things can work. From our performance area, the stage, we can often get away with repetitive good-natured insulting of certain members of the audience. This, handled well, can be funny, though it can more easily be mishandled. But the issue of performance space is an important one. In close-up magic, we approach a group and enter their space. As I have said previously, it is vital for strong magic that we reverse that dynamic and control the area as if it were our own. But this must happen in an unspoken way: on the surface, we must still show a respect for the fact that we have invited ourselves over. To hurl the same sorts of insults across the restaurant table that a stage performer might get away with when dealing with a heckler would be disastrous. Similarly, when we invite wi audience member into our space on stage, or at our own closeup table, he or she is our guest, and should be handled in an appropriately respectful way.

Yet close-up magicians continue to be rude. "Make your mind a blank. Oh, that was quick!" Worse, these dull comments tend to be made by the most charmiess, ineffectual performers who couldn't even carry a good joke if it was quite light and came with big handles.

Magic is about a psychological journey, and it is the task of the magician to deftly manipulate and guide the emotional states of his spectators to reach that magical point. When this is done, magic is elevated from the mere presentation of tricks. I hope this is an unequivocal statement. Given that fact, we would need a very good reason to embarrass or humiliate our volunteers. It may be the stuff of comedy, but it is not the stuff of magic.

On occasions, and in large enough groups, a likeable magician can probably get away with it, if he is equipped with a professional attitude towards the use of such comments. In a close-up situation especially, the performer must have a very clear appreciation of his character to see whether or not he should make a humorously insulting comment when a perfect situation arises. Equally he should have an appreciation for the timing and delivery of the line. Then the use of such an occasional comment becomes a performance choice, not just a tired use of inappropriate cliché. Too often, the magicians who make these insulting comments, and make them badly, are voting and inexperienced, still trotting out lines rather than imparting the experience of magic. And being 'comically' insulted by a teenager who wears a polyester bow-tie and his school-shirt to entertain you is fantastically unpleasant.

Wlwn is the point of using these lines? If they are there to get a laugh, surely it would be better to direct them at oneself. In doing so, one diffuses one's status for a moment and the audience appreciate it. In

a card routine I perform, a point was always reached where I spread out the three chosen cards for a round of Find The Lady. "Normally played with a Queen and Iwo other cards. Now, we don't have a Queen here - I would say, then pause and look at a male spectator near me for a moment, — no we don'tso we'll use these three." The pause was well-timed and it 'got a laugh.' I continued using this line for a long time, until one night., when I came to ask a question of the same spectator a little later in the routine. He shrugged and said that he didn't care, adding that I had 'called him a queen earlier on.'

It was a moment similar to realising that puffing my foot on the table was an appalling piece of behaviour. I would have no wish to make a sexually disparaging comment to my volunteer, and had not imagined it to be insulting. But of course the spectator doesn't realise that I use that as a stock line every time I come to that point in the routine: he sees it as a personal comment and may indeed take offence ii he is so inclined.

The line I now use is, "Now we don't have a Queen here then I pause in the same way and look down at myself and add, "em, despite the fob-watch and waistcoat and carry on. I am aware of how excruciatingly unfunny these things sound when analysed in print, and it is by no means a great joke, or even a particularly good one. I mention it only to show the difference between how the reference was directed. In the second version, it is still a goodhumoured jostle, but this time at myself. Nobody takes offence, and only twice in four years have I taken myself outside and beaten me up.

Shortsighted arrogance can be a major problem for close-up magicians, and redirecting these comments at oneself can go a long way to diffusing that unpleasant streak. It is born, of course, out of insecurity, as I have mentioned before. Dealing with this insecurity is a major step to improving one's performance, and shifting from the role of the generic hired-magician or geek to the imparter of wonder. When the performer works from a base-point of embarrassment at his own material or presence, the performance becomes inherently embarrassing. The performer may have become so used to his material that he feels confident in approaching guests, but he may still be performing from a presupposed sense of embarrassment and awkwardness. The following strike me as manifestations of this sometimes entirely unconscious process:

• The magician stalls as long as possible before approaching a group.

• He has to drink before performing.

• He begins the set with a trick to get their attention rather than with an introduction.

• He hurries from one trick to the next.

• I-Ic feels that it is impossible to get people to take his closeup magic really seriously.

• He apologises for being the magician, aware that it must seem tacky.

• He apologises before starting a card-trick, aware that card- tricks are supposed to be boring.

• He views each group as a challenge.

• He is happy to expose a method or two if it gets a laugh.

• He is more interested in getting a laugh than performing strong magic ('Serious' comedy-magicians excepted),

• He is over-stuffed with effects that he doesn't perform.

• He talks too quickly or too quietly.

• He gets angry or upset when a spectator treats him with disrespect.

• He insults spectators.

• He is impatient with spectators.

• He does not particularly enjoy performing his magic. It is a job like any other.

• His audiences don't seem as responsive as he would like, even though the tricks are known to be good ones.

Now, even the most secure performer will feel one or two of these from time to time, because we are all human and sometimes have no desire to perform. But these are our off-days, and if we still give a good performance when we are ourselves less than happy with it, then we must give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and couilt ourselves as decent performers. But much of this book deals with the necessary attitude that a good magician must have when approaching performance, and there is no room there for embarrassment. I used to experience all the above in one way or another, at one time or another. After rediscovering magic for myself, I can no more feel embarrassed about performing it than 1 could feel embarrassed about inviting guests into a home of which I felt proud. I wish upon every magician that process of rediscovery. I wish that he would feel only delight in approaching a group of spectators, only pride in his material, and that those who receive his magic would feel respected and flattered that they have been a part of it.

Understanding Mind Control

Understanding Mind Control

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