• The importance of creating a character

  • December 16, 2019

  • Yesterday I talked about how the basics of how to create your character for when you are performing. Today I thought I would talk about my personal experiences with characterisation. After all, I do love talking about myself. Hopefully, though, the journey I took, solely looking at our topic of the day, will provide some inside or useful thoughts that may guide you.

    When I first started learning magic properly, I just copied every magic effect I could and learnt any magic I could using just a deck of cards. I may not have realised it at the time, but in my head, the most celebrated magicians were the ones who only needed a deck of cards to perform miracles. I had fallen in love with the idea of only needing those 52 pieces of paper in my pocket and being able to entertain everyone around me. I was also adamant that I not use gimmicks or trick decks; after all, it was too much fun just to let someone else shuffle the cards and learn the hard way that I was using nothing but skill.

    I was acutely aware of the fact that I would “switch” into a different person when I started performing and looking back, I didn’t realise at the time, but it was the beginning of me creating a performance character.

    In those days, it was the character of the street magician, which took the form of an extension of myself, maybe speaking a little faster and with different mannerisms, a little cheekier and certainly more confident, but whether I knew it or not, my first “character.”

    So it went for a while at first, until I got my first job in a restaurant. I knew right away; I would have to have an actual outfit as opposed to just wearing whatever seemed appropriate for the day each time I walked out of the house. At the restaurant, I still hadn’t done any characterisation as it hadn’t occurred to me. I had however decided to adopt a persona akin to the magicians who stood out to me, such as Lance Burton, who would wear a three-piece suit and a short-brimmed Akubra top hat.

    I had fallen into the classic “trap” that many magicians seem to fall into of wearing a black suit with a red tie. I think I was trying to copy the look of one of my favourite video game characters, Agent 47 from the Hitman series. Whatever the justification, I had taken my first step of being a character. I am not trying to justify my appalling choices. Still, I do think it is essential as performers that we make choices, be they good or bad, and keep going, as otherwise, we don’t learn, and one of the best ways to learn about what we do and don’t like is first to copy other people and then keep what works for us, and ditch the rest.

    At the restaurant, another reason for the significant change in the outfit was also that I was beginning to create a “character” of the magician. This is something my mentor Jim Holt helped me with, pointing out that, “A magician is just an actor with only one part to play”. So my character was a stereotypical magician, or at least what passed for a stereotype in my mind. My character needed to be able to do magic with other items aside from a deck of cards, so I introduced sponge balls and a chop cup routine to my act (I never said I was original with my act).

    As you can see, I faced the problem of having a performance that didn’t stand out from the crowd of magicians, because I was just another “magician”. It is only looking back that we see these “traps” we have fallen into, and it is only as we climb higher in terms of our skills and outlook that we realise how the process is never complete because there are always new ways to improve. I didn’t take the next step until I was part of the “Magician’s Cabaret”.

    After the semi-disastrous learning experience that was the MTV pilot, my director at the Magician’s Cabaret, James Karp, decided to cast me as a character in the stage performance part of the show. I was to play the Gambler. My character had already been created for me, which is not a process I would generally recommend. Still, I was taking on a role in a performance, rather than creating one for my stage performances.

    I’ll talk about that in tomorrow’s article though, along with the rest of my fascinating story around characterisation. (I need to find another word; even I’m getting bored of typing that one, heavens knows how you feel having to keep reading it!)

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