Some months ago I received a letter from Rick Cavaliere, a young magician in his twenties, in which he raised two interesting sets of questions. I'll save one set for a later column and look at the first group of questions here. Rick writes: "All books on the subject of magic talk about how the magician needs to be himself/herself. He/She must find their own personality. I am having a hard time finding my own personality. I feel as though I can be whoever I want to be and I don't know who that is. I can be funny, serious, witty, theatrical, and kind. I was wondering if in a performance the magician could wear all these masks. If not, how do we find ourselves and make sure that the self we find is someone that others will enjoy?"
To answer the last, rather easier question first, we never know in advance, we can never be sure that the magician we are portraying will meet with success. It's a roll of the dice. You organize as many of your dreams as you can and you hope that others will find what you've concocted of value. But we never know how things will come out in advance. This is why the performance (of anything) requires that we take real risks—which is easy to say in words but much more difficult to apply in practice. Taking risks requires courage.
But who is this "me" who is hoping to entertain you? Is it the same me that shops at the grocery store and drops his clothes off at the dry cleaners? Is the me that is standing in front of a group and performing the Burned and Restored Thread, speaking while I do it about Hindu gods and the creation and destruction of the universe, the same me that orders food in a restaurant or flags down a taxicab?
Yes and no. It IS the same me since, obviously, it is the same person who is doing all these things. Yet it is the same person who is now doing a SHOW. When we present a show, we allow only selections of our larger personalities to be experienced by our audiences. We determine what these selections will be by our individual choices, whether fully conscious or otherwise. (I say this because I feel the character that many magicians play when they perform their magic has not been consciously chosen by them at all, but has come about more or less by default—that is, by watching other magicians and going with the flow by imitating what they see others do.) In this sense, the me that performs is not quite the same me that might relax with you after dinner. In a performance, I'm focusing on some aspects of myself and keeping others in the background.
If you've followed my train of thought this far, we now come to what I shall call "the rub"—the part where words meet reality and we don't particularly like what we hear. Making these decisions, deciding where to put the focus when the subject is us, is enormously more difficult when the performer is in his or her twenties than when they are older. We don't like to hear this because, being raised on dreams of total egalitarianism, we like to believe that everything is available (at least in theory) for anyone who is willing to work hard to get it.
Yet when 'I' work on "me" the waters begin to become muddy. When I was in my twenties, these waters were a swamp! Honestly, my head was filled with confusions and doubts and worries and all the inner demons that keep a person from enjoying and feeling alive in the present moment. I'm sure that when I performed my magic in those days, the "me" that was being put forward seemed just as confused and out of focus as I was!
Am I saying that all people in their twenties are inwardly confused about who they are? Certainly not! I'm only saying that I think there are more people in their twenties who are confused as I was, and fewer who feel they know exactly who "they" are.
So I think that age, if one has been attentive to one's experiences, does have something to do with all this talk about "being yourself." The truth seems to be that as one grows older much of the inner turmoil quiets down and the theatrical choices come much easier. Frankly, I didn't become a professional magician until I was I thirty-nine. By that time, I had my beard and some sense of who I was (neither of which I had fifteen years earlier) and I found to my surprise that people were actually willing to GIVE me their attention. Fifteen years earlier I would have had to push and sometimes fight to get that same attention.
Am I saying that one can't make it professionally as a young magician? Certainly not. I know several people who are. But I can't believe that their lives aren't much more difficult that anything I encountered starting on my magic career so much later.
So, Rick, the happy news is that these questions about who we are and how we can be "ourselves" in a performance, will become easier to understand and deal with as the years roll on. So I would say, don't get too hung up on them now.
Here's the important thing: perform your magic as much as you can. See if you can perform for different types of persons, different age groups. As you perform, see if you can remain attentive to what is happening. Perform as much as you can and, as Don Alan always told me, watch their faces. When their faces are happy and smiling, or deeply moved and mystified, you know that at least some of your decisions have been correct.
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Magick is the art and practice of moving natural energies to effect needed or wanted change. Magick is natural, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. What is taught here are various techniques of magick for beginners. Magick is natural and simple and the techniques to develop abilities should be simple and natural as well. What is taught on this site is not only the basics of magick, but the basics of many things.