How To Be Yourself

Magic Books that deal with the matter of presentation and performance character are full of the adage, "Be yourself." It is at once an immensely easy arid very fiddly thing to achieve. It is a problem that is appropriate for every novice magician, and some serious professionals. A magician getting started generally does so without an awareness of his natural style, for it is something to be learnt over time. Equally, Ftc will be unaware of the importance of the issue at the same time that his friends are aware that he becomes very unlike himself when he performs.

Now a number of performers adopt such an exaggerated persona when performing that it may seem ludicrous to imagine that they are 'being themselves.' I trust that Tamariz steps out of character when he removes the hat and goes home. Otherwise, he would be an exhausting man to know, with his constant offers to friends and family alike to 'show them something ethpethiaL' I-us hypnotic relaxation tapes would be a disaster. Yet the character that we are presented with is clearly a comfortable offshoot and exaggeration of a part of his personality, and he sits well with it. We, in turn, may be sobbing into our trousers at the end of a two-hour lecture, but we feel drawn in by it, not alienated. However extreme it may be, and however different it may be from one's own choices, it is a rounded and secure character that does not show any shabbiness at the edges.

A novice magician, on the other hand, attempting to develop a 'wacky' character is more likely to base his character on bright socks and a bad trousers/jacket combination. While this works extremely well for University professors and conductors, it is a bad place to start for the performer. T'amariz's character starts inside. It has nothing to do with amusing clothing. Anything that does start with the outer trappings will smack of arbitrary image choices rather than the expression of real character. Remember the Stanislavski quote:

"One should first grasp the soul of a part not its dress." And the soul of the part is our own.

For our purposes, we are not interested here in wildly comic characters. The rule of 'be yourself' is doubly important when you wish to make your magic plausible, for you must ensure that your character resonates a belief that if is you. If you are copying other artists to find a character, you will simply not transmit that belief. You are not being convincing. You will probably think you are, but it won't be quite right.

The process required is three-fold: firstly, to gain an awareness of your personality; secondly, to find out which aspects of it are appropriate to concentrate on for the purposes of performance; and thirdly, to tweak those parts like a drama-nipple to make them theatrically rewarding. Resist at any point the temptation to develop characteristics or mannerisms. Your aim is to relax into the part and allow such outward trappings to form unconsciously.

My own performance character is borne from the way I live. I spend my days in a Victorian flat full of rieo-gothic trimmings and a sprawling library; I collect taxidermy (only one person to my knowledge noticed that my cat, Spasm, pictured inside the cover of Pure Effect is, indeed, a lifeless bag of sawdust with a stiff tail), and have a proper fake bookcase that opens up into my drawing room, I did not develop these to suit my prolession: I gradually allowed my magic persona to fall in line with my lifestyle. When I started, I felt I had to provide my audiences with the image of a magician that they would expect. I donned a big blousy shirt, leather waistcoat and boots, and thought I looked rather cavalierish and street-magicky. Of course, I actually looked like The Gay Gipsy Poet Of The Wild, Wild West.

Slowly I saw that the magic could reflect me arid allow me to express something of how I saw the world. One wonderful result of this is that I almost invariably look forward to performing now, for I no longer have to slip into an up-beat character that is not my own.

One issue here is that I choose material that suits my character. A very common mistake made by magicians is to develop a character that suits the magic they are already performing. This has to be the wrong way around. If you enjoy mentalism, it does not mean that you must grow a goatee to stroke and wear black shirts. Nor does it mean you should adopt the mannerisms and performance style that you think suits mentalism. You must start by examining yourself and gaining knowledge of your own character, and then shaping the material and how you present it to fit you, so that there is no trace of artifice.

Flow do you gain this understanding of yourself? If you are not especially self-aware, or even, perhaps, if you are, you should simply sit down with someone who knows you well, and who is sensitive and articulate enough to be of use, and ask her to slowly describe your social character as fairly as she can. You listen, and try not to cry, and begin to form a picture in your mind of yourself. See him with those characteristics: imagine and understand him from the viewpoint of the person who is describing you. Start to see yourself from the outside looking in. If she can only describe a nervous or insecure personality, you will need to start by identifying an area of life where you do feel secure and able, and have someone describe you who knows you in that context.

Now, personality is an odd thing, and changes according to circumstance, Where there are very different sides ol you: perhaps a gentleness versus an aggressiveness, or a seriousness measured against an infantile sense of humour, one will be the more common trait. Allow this one to be the aspect included in the image, and it you feel that the opposing trait can enhance it, allow it to perhaps shimmer under the surface, perhaps as a twinkle in the eye to suggest th—t sense of urn, or an underlying note of dry sarcasm beneath a charming veneer.

Allow this picture to build, and allow it to feel comfortable. If you are told that such things as meanness or suspiciousness are traits that you have, include them in the same way and don't get defensive. When you can see it clearly, you can begin to refine it. In your imagination, watch the character that you have created perform, and see if you like what you see. As he does so, exaggerate aspects of him that are most conducive to performance. For example, if formality and detachment have been named as traits, allow them to become hallmarks of this character, and listen to the vocabulary he uses and the means he employs to communicate his effects. Watch the stylishness develop, and enjoy this suave character in your mind. Where there might be a darker note, allow this to permeate through the character, giving an unnerving edge to the charm or humour. In this way, work your way through the main characteristics and build this personality in your mInd.

When this part feels satisfying and complete, make it three- dimensional. Literally move you roving brain-cam around hint noting his dress and appearance from all sides. See how he would look from someone sat behind. Make the image bright and vivid, colourful and panoramic. Flay an imaginary, appropriately evocative piece of music that you know as a soundtrack to accompany the performance and allow it to flesh out even further.

Next, imagine yourself sitting or standing in the sort of place where you do magic the most, and imagine this character coming up to you to perform. Notice how he approaches, how even his opening words deftly communicate much of his character and make you really want to see his magic. When he begins, notice how he handles his props, how he interacts with you and the other spectators, and how intriguing a character he is. See also that there is no rigidity to this character: that he would adapt in just the right way to a different type of audience to gain their respect but without compromising his way of doing magic. Take an enormous interest in this personality and how it is communicated in such a genuine way. Notice that there is a quality to the performance that makes you feel comfortable in the hands of a professional.

Then step inside the character. Literally merge with him and see the world from his eyes out. Rim through that performance again and feel it. Notice how it feels different from whatever you were doing before. Memorise that feeling, and play that soundtrack again if it helps. Run it through several times. Check that it feels comfortable and natural: if something is not right, make any changes. Stay relaxed as you do this, unless the character is very hyperactive.

Finally, imagine yourself days and weeks into the future becoming more and more familiar with this way of performing. See yourself taking a few moments before each performance to begin the soundtrack In your mind and relax into your character. Feel it like sinking into a bath that is just the right temperature. Then see yourself going out and performing brilliantly.

Allow yourself to get it wrong occasionally at the start: to relapse into old habits by mistake. And as you become more and more familiar with the new way of performing, it starts, of course, to become second nature.

The final stage, once you are entirely comfortable with it, is to be very responsive to feedback. It is easy to misjudge and stick too rigidly to an idea, losing the strength of flexibility. My character, for example, has a strong note of seriousness, but this must be coupled with a good-natured humour, otherwise it would too easily become inappropriate for most venues. I can allow myself to move between those traits to provide texture and a controlled mood, as well as maintaining rapport with the environment.

When I watch the hcst magical performers and then meet them socially, I am struck by the continuity that exists between their everyday personalities and their performance characters. It is as if they exaggerate themselves a little, and are prepared to have fun with that in a tongue-in-cheek way. When we watch them perform, we sense the richness of their personalities and join in with the character jokes. When Hollingworth apologises for the fact that the last effect may have appeared 'rife with jiggery-pokery,' the expression makes us laugh because we see a clear demonstration of an exaggerated character. This is the stuff of rich situational comedy: humour that does not interfere with the magic but enhances the character. Its success is a signal that the audience has been completely absorbed in a plausible personality. Your personality, deftly illuminated and brought to the forefront of your performance.

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