As I write, the sun has just set over the not un-Dickensian view from my bedroom after a glorious summer's day. The air is still warm, the window is wide open, and I am sat here stunningly naked. Summer is the time when this happy magician takes his little beard and appears at the slightly honible garden parties of the rich and ludicrous. Enormous marquees, ornamental lawns, half-pints of Pimms and married cousins abound in their formulaic way, and through them I mingle bringing fresh and lively magic which, though it doth pack flat, playeth big.
No American reader of this volume (and ii is a volume) can appreciate the sensation of attending one of these uniquely English events. Imagine rich ladies who don't have much sex trying to be the Queen. I have performed for Her Most Lovely Majesty at several of her Royal Garden Parties at the beautiful Swindon Palace. and the one thing that one cannot accuse her or her parties of being is pretentious. She is, after all, the Queen. One cannot say to her, "Who do you think you are," because she would be able to reply, "The Queen." There would be nothing to say in return, and one would probably have one's cock officially cut off for being so churlish.
While on the subject, bad tricks to perform for Her Majesty include the one with the bra and handkerchiefs and anything involving patter about interbreeding. Gambling exposés are a fond favourite of The Queen Mother but card tricks are generally frowned upon in the Palace ever since Hollin.gworth got drunk there one afternoon and threw up noisily over five of the royal corgis. It was reported in the tabloid press that he got into a fist fight with the then princess of Wales who was hogging the bathroom and went home with a broken face and ruptured nipples.
Garden parties, for me, mean Everyone Standing. No tables, awkward surround-system viewing and related angle considerations. Once they are eating salmon in the marquee I can join them at their tables if I must in the familiar way, but during the reception I am faced with the need to change several routines to take into consideration the peculiarities o the environment. However, the real issue that these events present to me is that of propriety. The fad is that a magician at a garden party, if he is to do his job well, has a duty to blend in with the overall aesthetic of the afternoon. Where does this leave our uncompromising vision?
I have spent many years performing 'walkaround' magic and am grateful for the fact that I can now insist on giving my performances their own space and no longer need to mingle. But the issue of incorporating your performance priorities to fit the difficulties and opportunities presented by the venue is a vital one.
These garden parties, to begin there, events have, like any gathering of course, a social code. Sincere and intense provocation is as inappropriate as breaking wind in the Pimms bowl (another infamous faux pas on the part of Mr. Hollingworth). Where people are delighting in the rigours of civility, a paid entertainer must of course respect that desire, Most often, one must mingle and amuse. The aesthetic of mingling and amusing does not sit well with our model of real magic. To present real magic, a tone of seriousness is fundamental, and there is no room for such a tone when one is the mingling amusing person at an event of contrived frivolity.
It is not so much the case that the vision need be compromised. Rather, in order to be a sensitive aix! ultimately more magical performer, you will need to 'pace' the aesthetic of the event before directing your role into other areas. By this I mean simply that if 'non-threatening' is the key, then so you must begin, in order to gain rapport with your audiences and gain their trust and respect. I say 'respect,' but the air of detached amusement that can be provoked at these occasions is absolutely crippling. Nonetheless, your task is to charm your way to greater miracles, and in the same way that you would not thrust a pack of cards in a diner's chewing face by means of introduction at a restaurant, so too you must take great care to act with all propriety at these events. This despite the fact that you will see yourself as a fawning jester.
Then, once that rapport has been gained, it is possible to change the tone somewhat. You will still remain charming, but your demands on the spectators will intensify. For me, a clear difference that evolved when I circulated at these events was the control of performance space: at the start of the event, when rapport-gaining and amusement must be the key, I entered their space and offer some charming routines before moving on. It still revolted me, but there we are. Later, however, I would ask a few to sit with me, as they do now, and I will request silence when I need it, even brushing away the catering staff who mingle with trays of dolly-food.
It is of course vital that you have a genuine sensitivity to the spectators, and see how far you can comfortably push this. Inappropriate arrogance or uncomfortable demands will spoil the aesthetic of the event. You are there to enhance things, not detract from them. But on the other hand, remind yourself of the basic fact that so often goes amiss. Of the drive behind this book. You are not a juggler, nor a mere amuser of the middle-classes: you are a magiciun.
The main task of that wonderful job is to lift people out of themselves. You are a connection to a wondrous world, and if you forget that and just become a mingling trickster, then you are undercutting yourself, and denying yourself the shiver of an unrivalled type of job satisfaction. In keeping with our model, it is vital that you transport people: that in some sensitive way you challenge the comfort of the social context. In places where the posh gather and talk about silly things, you must gradually, softly. sound a bass note that rumbles. You act with caution, and you pace the mood of the event (and you don't cloud that judgment by swigging too much of the Champagne yourself), but you remember that you are there to create magic... and you bide your time.
At the other end of the extreme, there was a time when I would find myself performing for noisier and less sexually repressed crowds. This would happen in bars and less formal parties where I would be paid to entertain. Here, the same rule applies: it is your task to transport them out of the presumptions of the environment. You begin by gaining rapport, with a relaxed and easy-going tone. But once that has been established (which will be much quicker than in the case of the garden party), you must then lift them to a higher plane through making the magic rather incongruous with the banality of the surroundings. It is tempting at these events to p]ay around with a deck of cards arid take the whole thing lightly or more crudely, but this is the equivalent of never surpassing polite mingling over salmon and caviar. So, conversely, the answer is to shift into a more sober, elevated and serious tone, and to play on your higher~.staws mannerisms and speech, if you have them. 1 certainly do. In other words, you make them imaginatively look up to the magic: to see it as something compared to which the bustling of the party is trivial and banal.
It is the same process: gaining rapport, and slowly pulling the audience into a more controlled and 'magical' space. Whereas the formal tone of the garden party will be challenged a little in order to bring the spectators out of themselves, here we may find that introducing a note of formality will do the same trick. So although the magical mood wilt always be similar, aspects of it will be defined by the social situation that one wishes to transcend. I repeat though, it is vit~i1 that you can do this while bringing the spectators with you. Otherwise you wiil simply lose the rapport that you have established.
Perhaps the most unpleasant common working environment must be the brawling corporate event of three hundred inebriated businessmen pulling crackers and yelling at each other across the dance floor. The hotel suite, the floral arrangements in the centre of each table, the dreaded party poppers and noise-makers next to each plate, the moron who comes in fancy-dress, the resentful waiting staff, the band's sound-check before dinner — this is a string of clichés that make these events of a uniformly and predictably wearying nature. Yet they are the very same events that we dreamed of regularly working at when we began: the Elysian Field of Corporate Work was a beautiful and shimmering destination point as we trudged our way through cafes and bars looking for regular work. Those non-professionals reading this book can be delighted that they are spared the humiliation and horror of table-hopping at such nasty functions.
Never having worked as anything other than a magician, I have never attended one of these corporate events as a guest. For all I know, they may be absolutely delightful from the point of view of the dining delegate. Perhaps I would revel in it all, and perhaps 1, too, would stand and make to remove my trousers if a magician should ask to see my ring for a moment. ("Ah, I see now, Sir. I said May I see your ring, referring of course to the item of jewellery, whereas you, in an almost amusing misunderstanding of words, thought! had said Stand up and pretend to show us all your fetid arse you charmless, witless, bidet -straddling oaf. How utterly hysterical.") Presuming that I will never wear a suit with a stripy shirt and drink lots of lager in a hotel conference-hospitality leisure-suite, I shall only see these events from the point of view of the performer. Again, much can be gained by not having to do walkaround, but for now let us look at this most common situation.
Creating the experience of Real Magic at these events is almost impossible. That is predominantly why I hate them so much. To be proud of one's performance when one is having to shout to be heard over the crass and the ignorant is a very rare thing. (I may sound disparaging about these businessmen. That's because I hate them.) There is almost nothing that can be done. However, you must remain true to something. Upon approaching a table, you should make a beeline for a lady, hoping to find a more respectful and less awkward person to involve in your magic. Introduce yourself and shake hands with a few people, and just force the atmosphere at the table to a more respectful one. It doesn't always work, and you can only expect to achieve so much.
At these events, you will have to keep things light-hearted. You will simply humiliate yourself if you insist on slow and sober performance. I use a lot of pick-pocketing at these events, which has an up-beat quality to it which, although in stark contrast to my normal style, allows for the best to be made from a difficult situation. I steal watches, handkerchiefs and ties as I perform my routines, (and now, if performing close-up I am happy to perform a lot of magic as well as the mind-reading they have paid me for), generally to the immense amusement of the group. This is also about gaining rapport, in the way I have already mentioned. I then finish with the floating ring routine, exactly as described, involving one woman suddenly very seriously. By this point I have gained their respect and attention with the faster-paced fun stuff. The idea is to pull them out of that light-hearted state for a moment and leave them with something quietly disturbing. They won't quite take it in at the level that I can ensure happens quietly in a room with fewer distractions, but it serves its purpose of providing something out of synch with the environment. Sometimes it's a struggle, but sometimes it can be good fun, and the enthusiasm from a drunk group who think the world of you can be a small reward.
But whither our model? It is simply the case that if you must table- hop or mingle, the control of performance space is almost an impossibility. The best that you can do is have a very good and very entertaining style of performance for just these events. When I worked these venues under these difficult circumstances, I felt I was reverting back to the magic I used to perform. Of course, that isn't true, for anyone who changes their magic for the better and learns to perform in a more resonant way will never quite revert to old form. But if you have to sometimes feel that you have compromised your calling and lust come across as an excellent sleight-of-hard magician with an entertaining personality, then so be it. That's still better than most of them out there. It's a brief frivolous cadenza again against the solemn adagio of your real work that grows over the years.
This certainly raises the issue of flexibility of vision. Either we see the situation of the noisy corporate function as the failure of our vision, or we incorporate the necessary response on our part into the vision and make it more well-rounded. Let us consider thi.s. Our vision is about performing real, believable magic. It is not actually real, at least to our intellects and probably to many of the intellects of some audience members, but it is emotionally real, to us included for we believe it at that level. Sometimes, in that model, mere displays of skill and having fun will be appropriate: for these things establish character, gain credibility arid establish rapport. Therefore, at events where having fun is the only option, it can be congruent with that wider model to keep the magic safe and fun. It does not mean that we feel that magic should be about being safe, only that it is appropriate on these occasions to create an atmosphere of fun for a moment and keep it tight-headed, while our greater vision for magic rolls on quietly. While certain aspects of the performance may suffer, the vision need not. It is not threatened by the need to produce frivolous nonsense occasionally, in the same way that a painter's vision does not suffer ~f he is asked to doodle something on a napkin. Again we see the difference beiween seriousness and solemnity: and to be most serious about one's vision one should not be too solemnly precious about it. To do so would leave it open to threat, and to render it a precarious pretension rather than a deep and reverberating belief.
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