• What is the best kind of magic?

  • May 30, 2020

  • Like all art, magic is subjective. For me, the magic I like comes down to the performer more than anything else. I’ve seen great magic, done poorly, and boring magic done in a way that leaves me baffled, confused and more entertained than I would have thought possible.

    I also have a bias as a performer in that, personally, the magic for me is always in the performance. Seeing people react, freak out, lose their minds and similar reactions are why I get up in the morning. Magic is so much more than just a secret hidden from the audience. I’ve said it before that magic is about bringing together all the little pieces for a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The most amazing magic in the world can be performed in a boring manner, and the most simple of effects can be transformed into jaw dropping illusions in the right hands.

    It’s a magician’s job to take the magic to the next level. Both myself and many of the magicians I am lucky enough to call friends get booked for the same reason, not because of the magic we do, but because of who we are as performers. As the magician, your job is first and foremost to entertain your audience, if you’ve done that, you can proudly say you have done your job. We are entertainers who use magic as the basis around which our performance is based.

    We must avoid performing in a way which leads our audience to feel like we are showing off our skills, or how smart we are. I see many magicians fall into this trap and the effects they choose to perform seem to be of the nature of “look what I can do”, and this will always drive a wedge between you and your audience. For me, it creates the mentality of your spectators being a long suffering parent being forced to watch someone else’s child show off their skill set. Something that no-one enjoys experiencing.

    I made this mistake in my early years as a performer, and I couldn’t figure out why my audiences seemed to be pulling away from me, losing interest quickly, crossing their arms and resigning themselves to having to sit through another unwelcome performance. At the time I would perform large and impressive flourishes with a deck of cards such as multi-level cuts, one handed fans, flipping cards around and the like. This makes for impressive watching, but when you start doing magic, the audience will put it down to your “incredible card handling skills” rather than magic.

    It is worth noting that that in and of itself isn’t a problem, if that is your performance style or your character. If you play the part of the card shark, that narrative needs to be interwoven into your performance, and all those fancy moves will help convince them of that point. For me though, that wasn’t the image I wanted to portray. I still do a few fancy cuts, but I downplay them. I use one or two complicated looking ones and make an off the cuff remark about “showing off” which sometimes gets a laugh, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, the audience (hopefully) understand the tongue in cheek nature of it.

    The other danger to avoid when performing is if you focus too much on your magic, you can miss out on genuine moments of interaction with your audience. Admittedly this applies more to my field of magic which is the close-up magic variety, but I cannot tell you the number of times when I’ve stopped mid performance to have a conversation, chatted with the spectators about a few things and the magic has fallen by the wayside in place of a real conversation. Often in these moments, the audience provide clues on what kind of magic they like and what they want to see from a performance. They almost always appreciate me taking the time to treat them as a real human being and only very rarely do I have to force the attention back onto the magic, as they will often realise that that is the very thing they are after. Those moments though make you seem human, which is what I want people to think when I perform. I am not a magician, but with the audience’s help, magic can happen for both of us.

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