Starting Points

"Excuse me, Sir, but did you lose a white penknife?"

And with these words, the magic fell stillborn from the womb. Fromthen on, there was only tolerance. Excuse me, you rude, shabby man, we are enjoying an evening together. 1 think it not unreasonable to e.q'ect that we couid enjoy our meal and each other's company without an arse in a bad tuxedo asking if we know that black cards are heavier than red cards. They are stat, and even if they were, I think that you are mistaking inc für someone who could, with a gun aimed at my temple, glut' a damn. There are waiters here who have learnt a marvellous sensitivity to their patrons, who are deft and subtle, charming and professionaL You make my wife and me want to leave. And for the love of God why do you humiliate yourself like this? So that we can watch you make coins move from hand to hand, and listen to you talk rubbish? And get that fricki rig mouse-mat off our table. Have you absolutely no manners?

Having little better to do, I thought I would make this introduction a rant, and mention some basic problems with magic as I see them. I shall risk seeming arrogant in order to set out some of the issues that this book will deal with. 1 shall win you back later with my delightful wit and appealing narrative voice, just wait and see.

If (here is one thing that most contemporary western close-up magic generally lacks, it is the experience of magic. There are many skilful displays, there is much bad comedy, there arc many amusing puzzles to solve, but very little magic Very little rich, resonant magic. Rarely doe.s the performer have an air about him of intrigue and withheld potential of something marvellous. And hardly ever does he take a fascinated spectator by the hand and lead her into a Never-Never Land where she can glimpse a level of enchantment that touches and changes her a little. There are many tricks, and many effects, but rarely a Grand Effect. There are many entertainers, but few real magicians. Many technicians, but few artists who use their art to explore their vision.

This book is about performance, and about that peculiar area of performance that exists when the material itself is removed. If the tricks are removed from the equation, what remains? I believe the bulk of the performance should remain. This is the area where the artist's vision is realised and where the transportation occurs. It is where the vast numbers of conscious and unconscious, verbal and silent communications of the performer create a grand framework and a magical character that is the Greater Effect, the home of true magic to which the tricks are merely signposts.

This book is also about realising this model and making it entertaining and commercial, for some of us are lucky enough to earn our livings giving people a glimpse of true enchantment and must keep our clients' wishes in mind. Within the unthreatening constraints of entertainment, which form the starting point of the magician's performance, the audience can be seduced into the experience of something far more wondrous than they expected. The point where entertainment and real magic meet is that of drama.

When magic is dramatically resonant, it can entertain and affect in the way that good theatre can.

Theatre and magic are inseparable constructs. I here is a raw, natural theatre at the close-up table that can be manifested if the performer wishes to transcend mere trickery. Much has been written on 'showmanship,' but showmanship ~s a cheap subsUtute (or tharna. Drama is not about applause cues. Sometimes the magician will prefer to provoke a deep silence or a subtle response, rather than immediate and enthusiastic noise. It is the moment before the applause that is important it is the audience's understanding of an emotional meaning that shocks and surprises with its unexpected clarity. That is drama, not showmanship.

Magic is bad drama. It is theatrically unsound. As Teller writes in the piece quoted, we have in magic a god-figure, who clicks his fingers and fantastic things happen. It is all about effect. In theatre, there isa hero. He is interesting because we see in him something of our own humanity, his vulnerability. The hero has a purpose, but his purpose is thwarted by the world into which he ventures. When the conflict is resolved, the hero's character has changed a little: he has learnt from the conflict. We have followed him on that journey from the safety of our seats, arid hopefully learnt something with him. Theatre is not about effect, it is about action: it is about cQuse and effect. Magic is massively flawed as theatre.

Magic can, and probably should, sometimes involve virtuoso displays of skill and visual jokcs in the same way (to borrow another analogy from Teller) that a symphonic score may include an impressive cadenza for a solo instrument to impart a shift in texture to the piece. But true art in musk does not reside in those moments, however necessary they may be to the whole, They have a context, and derive their value from being placed in that larger movement. The value of a virtuoso sequence is precisely its relationship to the seriousness of its musical context, and when that seriousness is lacking, art suffers. We may enjoy Norma's ascent to the mouth of the volcano and admire the be! arnto fireworks of her charming nonsense, but trust that BeHini and Bach will never be seriousl.y compared. There is always room for amusement and we should ensure that our role as entertainers is fulfilled, but there is a seriousness in true entertainment and in employing amusement to greater dramatic advantage. A seriousness, but not necessarily a solemnity.

The performance of magic is generally pitched at an intellectual level that is too low. Magicians do not, as a rule, presume that their audiences are intelligent and sensitive enough to want the magic to be challenging or cathartic. This is not a healthy starting point, for it stultifies magic and leaves it too close to children's entertainment. I imagine that as long as tricks are performed in this way by most magicians to most audiences, magic will remain a craft perceived as trivial. Pitching a performance at a higher intellectual level, as long as the magician's sodal skills are finely enough tuned not to alienate his audience, can be a simple way of ensuring that your audience takes what you do seriously and participates according to your terms. It is flattering and refreshing to most audiences to be treated with the presumption of intelligence by a performer. If handled correctly, it will make them pay attention and have a greater respect for magic and for you.

Mind-reading effects, of which I am fond, can be amongst the strongest routines that rnezgic can offer. fly this I mean that estranging mentalism from magic is a mistake, and has nothing to do with the reality of professional performance. Mind reading can, and should be, presented uncompromisingly and seriously, (according to the artist's vision) as an application of the same principles that lie behind the 'real work' of magic. Divisions of classification are amateurish concerns, unless one is setting oneself up as a psychic. Mind-reading has great potential for intimate and meaningful wonder, but generally lacks the aesthetic appeal of visual magic. When the two are fused, and made dramatically resonant, a very strong performance tool evolves. The efficacy of the mind-reading need not be impaired.

You may feel that magic is only about performing some tricks and breaking the ice at parties. After all, when you are booked for an event, the hostess is concerned with providing light-hearted amusement. Indeed, she might be put off by serious talk of Drama or her 'voluptuous sister. Meaning, and start to gag. Then understand that I am not talking about performing inappropriately. To insist insensitively upon a heavy-handed seriousness and to foi~ cc your vision upon the apathetic, mingling middle-classes at these events would be as wrong as not to have the vision in the first place. You must entertain and enthral, and not drift into risible pretension or alienate with an insensitively handled agenda. But you are the face of magic when you perform. For every magician that has no real interest in transporting his audience with the warm shiver of real magic, this art becomes more artless, increasingly mundane, and of less and less use to anybody. As it is, the notion of performing seriously becomes (often ludicrously) polarised into the agenda of black-clad bizarrists and self-styled eccentric wizards, where it should be the mainstream thrust of our beautiful craft. If this seriousness is taken seriously, and incorporated into the style and character of the performer without unnecessary solemnity, and if the performer is sensitive enough to express it effectively, then he will have a perfectly commercial, unpretentious and socially appropriate skill in his hands.

These are not just the dangerous, subversive anger-tracts of a parrot~ fancier with a goatee whose only intentions are to shock, disgust and sexually arouse with preposterous fuming. These are not obscure or irrelevant ideas. Magic is performance, and performance should have an honesty, a relevance and a resonance if it is to be offered to spectators without insulting them. The peculiar aspects of conjuring to an audience — it's promise of other-worldliness, its incorporation of skills real and imagined that many people envy, and conversely the bad experience that many people have had of amateur performances by a suspect uncle — make it even more appropriate to take these performance issues seriously.

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