Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Discuss the views of your favorite Genii columnists.
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magicam
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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby magicam » November 30th, 2010, 10:36 am

I have not read Giobbi's article, but do have a couple of questions relating to the original R-H quote under discussion here, and an observation about something else R-H said in the same passage.

To Phillippe Billot or anyone else who has a copy of the original French text (mine is in storage), in the second clause of Robert-Houdin's famous statement, I have read people quote it as c'est un acteur jouant un role de magicien, and c'est un acteur jouant le role de magicien. Which is the correct quote? The latter one strikes me as more forceful, although I don't think either word dramatically changes the import of what R-H was writing.

The second question is for native French speakers, and ideally those who are very familiar with French as it was used in writing in the latter half of the 19th century. The first clause of R-H's comment reads thus in French: Un prestidigitateur n'est point un jongleur .... My French is not very good (as Edwin Corrie will attest!), but I have always understood the ne point negation structure to have a very specific meaning, in addition to its rough equivalence to the ne pas negation structure. Specifically, when I read ne ... point in French, as in Un prestidigitateur n'est point un jongleur ..., I read it to say that a prestidigitator is not at all a juggler. Just like our usage of not at all in English, I thought ne point was a way to express emphatic negation. But I am also vaguely aware that ne point can simply be a more formal literary way of saying ne pas.

So here's the question: in his native French, was Robert-Houdin expressing such emphatic negation, or was he simply expressing himself in a very formal way and not intending such emphasis? Based on all that I understand about Robert-Houdin's views on magic and what it means to excel at performing magic, I think it would be very compatible with his views to interpret his ne point construction as an emphatic negation. Why? Consider the clause which immediately follows: c'est un artiste dont les doigts doivent etre plus habiles que prestes. I think his use of artiste is very deliberate and reflects his view that magic (or at least good magic) is truly an art form. So his use of the word artiste would reinforce his effort (ne point) to strongly distinguish an accomplished sleight-of-hand performer (i.e., a true artist) from a mere juggler (magician). Any thoughts on this?

Speaking of Dai Vernon (mentioned in one of Dustin's posts), I do not know if this is an original thought or if this observation has been made before, but magicians frequently attribute the be natural dictum to Vernon, the implication being that Vernon was the first to articulate this concept. However, in my opinion, long before Vernon did, Robert-Houdin articulated the essence of this very concept in the same paragraph as his famous saying, when he wrote: J'ajouterai meme que, dans les exercises de prestidigitation, plus les mouvements sont calmes, plus doit etre facile l'illusion des spectateurs. Roughly translated (by me): I'll add that, when performing sleight of hand, the more relaxed the movements, the easier it will be to present the illusion to the audience. Hopefully Phillippe or Edwin can better translate the French, but as I read it, Robert-Houdin is definitely saying that being natural in one's movements will result in a far more convincing performance. Who knows, perhaps Vernon got his idea from reading Robert-Houdin.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Philippe Billot » November 30th, 2010, 11:33 am

Sorry for my mistake. The correct quote is :

Un prestidigitateur n'est point un jongleur; c'est un acteur jouant un rle de magicien.

But it's not important. Robert-Houdin writes "UN rle" because at the beginning, he writes "UN acteur".

Regarding NE POINT and NE PAS, it's more complicate because at the beginning, there is only the NE. For instance: je ne bois (I don't drink), or je ne vois (I don't see). Then, to reinforce the negation, we add PAS (step) or POINT (point) or GOUTTE (drop) and we say : je ne bois goutte (I don't even drink a drop) or je ne vois point ou pas (I don't even see a point or a step).

But it's funny because now, we have removed the NE and say : Je vois PAS.

If you read french, here is a link :

http://www.franceculture.com/emission-p ... 01-05.html

As I have written, I think the more important is the fact Robert-Houdin has been a theater amateur actor and known the importance of playing.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Edwin Corrie » December 1st, 2010, 6:54 pm

I too always felt that "ne ... point" was more forceful than "ne ... pas", but I checked with a French colleague today and her immediate reaction was that it's an archaic form (also mainly a written form rather than a spoken one) which nowadays is only really used in jest. It comes up in the Ten Commandments (cf. "Thou shalt not..."), though apparently not in the more modern renderings. Having said that, I'm sure I've heard it used, and in fact one source I found said it was the usual form in a certain part of Switzerland. So while Robert-Houdin's comment does sound quite forceful, it may just be the normal language of his time. After all, in a well written English sentence a simple "not" can be quite forceful too.

By the way, thanks Philippe for the article link - I'd never heard that explanation before.

Vernon seems to have got the idea of "being natural" from Dr. Elliott. There's a very relevant comment on this on page 50 of David Ben's excellent Vernon biography, where he mentions the R-H quotation and talks specifically about how at that time naturalism was a recent concept among actors. As Philippe points out, Robert-Houdin too had studied acting.

Your translation sounds fine to me, Clay, though I must admit the last part of the French ("plus doit etre facile l'illusion des spectateurs") had me a bit puzzled. My French colleague felt it meant something like "the easier it is for the spectator to relax and allow himself to be deceived". I don't have the English version of "Secrets de la prestidigitation", and it would be interesting to know how Hoffmann translated this.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Andrew Pinard » December 1st, 2010, 8:02 pm

For Edwin...

Hoffmann's translation:

A conjurer is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician, an artist whose fingers have more need to move with deftness than with speed. I may even add that where sleight-of-hand is involved, the quieter the movement of the performer, the more readily will the spectators be deceived.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Townsend » December 1st, 2010, 10:20 pm

Though hardly a native (perhaps naive) French speaker here - I suspect the term jongler is a false friend to the English term "juggler" and refers to something closer to a street performer who has a more varied show. I suspect one of the intents behind the R-H line is to suggest an elevation of our craft from the streets and into the more respectable realm of the theatrical performer - a class distinction.

Again, I can't be sure about this though suspect a pretty good example of the jongleur can be found in volume four of The Books of Magic as the final appearance of the John Constantine character toward the end of time where individuals have merged into archetypes. Not so much the hierophant as we might wish to be for our audiences.

Returning to the Hoffmann translation of the text in question here, the same introductory chapter includes JERH's reference to having small hands and his remarks on that subject. :)

And now a question back to our non-native English speakers here. Is it likely or even possible that JER-H had deliberately merged the ancient Latin term we might call "Prestigist" (producer of great things prestigateur) and the term for finger to coin the term prestidigitateur?
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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby magicam » December 2nd, 2010, 3:01 am

^^^ Not sure what you mean by false friend in your reference, but my understanding is that the terms jongleur and juggler (usually spelled jugler) in French and English were roughly equivalent in meaning from the Middle Ages to about the end of the 18th century. In very general terms, they described itinerant entertainers who performed various feats of activity, which included conjuring.

I agree that R-H was perhaps making the distinction you mention, and that was the point behind my question about his use of the ne point negation. The other thing to note is that, at least in the English language, from about the beginning of the 19th century, conjuror was the term most commonly used to describe our kind of magician, and by the mid 19th century, the term juggler was rarely used to describe a magician. I suspect (but do not know) that the same word evolution happened in the French language at this time. If so, then that's arguably more support for the argument that R-H was trying to make the distinction you mention, because he chose to use a (by then) increasingly archaic term for magician, with its connotations of itinerant performer, etc.

Have never heard the term prestigist, but Jules de Rovre is widely credited with coining the term prestidigitator (prestidigitateur in French) early in the 19th century; regardless of who created that word, it had been in use long before the publication of any of Robert-Houdin's books.

Of the many things magicians (our kind of magicians, not the irrelevant, supernatural, fantasy stuff from The Books of Magic) might wish to be while performing for their audiences, I would think being a hierophant would be at the very bottom of the wish list.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Philippe Billot » December 2nd, 2010, 3:11 am

In France, Jules de Rovire seems to be the creator in 1815 of the word PRESTIDIGITATEUR with this explaination:

PRESTI= preste (come from latin presto) and DIGIT = doigt (come from latin digitus). in English Finger nimble.

JUGGLER equal JONGLEUR. It's the same word as you know that 70% of English language come from French language (at the beginning). Thank you Mr. Guillaume the Conqueror (Hastings, 1066).

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Townsend » December 2nd, 2010, 7:59 am

Thanks Philippe, I was not sure the sort of wordplay one might use to derive the term was a common part of western culture at the time. And thanks to all for not diverging our dialog by way of Christopher Priest's use of the term prestige as an emotionally loaded and distinctly ironic reflection of the original.

Magicam, the term "false friend" comes from the native English speaker's introductory studies of the French language.

Not sure all would agree with your assessment as regards the archetypal heirophant - "...externalized embodiment of man's striving for connection with the godhead -- of his dedication to the quest for meaning which sets man above the animals" - which to me seems a suitable term one would find in ones introductory studies in wizardry (that which we proffer in simulation).
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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Edwin Corrie » December 2nd, 2010, 8:07 am

Andrew: thanks for posting the relevant piece from the Hoffmann translation. Interesting.

Jonathan: R-H is definitely saying that the old Latin term would be more appropriate - see my post of 27th April earlier in this thread. The page in question can be seen here:

http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1 ... din.langEN

The whole chapter should be read in context. It's only a few pages, and you can scroll through from the above link.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby magicam » December 2nd, 2010, 11:18 am

Jonathan, you originally wrote: "Not so much the hierophant as we might wish to be for our audiences." If "we" means magicians in general, I suspect that very few people here would agree with you. But if you want to portray yourself as "one who teaches the holy things" in your magic routine(s), that's your business.

Perhaps a Harry Potter website or the like would best suit you. Failing that, there's always this thread for you.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Townsend » December 2nd, 2010, 12:24 pm

[grouse]
Is there a special needs section for people who wander into a magic discussion without having a background in its study or at least the rudiments as to its nature or history? Is there a place in magic for those whose ignorance has only a false bottom? What can one say to someone who professes to be an actor yet has not learned to read a script or take direction?

Magicam - congratulations, I am tempted to toggle the 'ignore' setting as regards your posts. You may have my goat today. You win today's game. For today I believe you truly can do no better.
[/grouse]

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Bill Mullins » December 2nd, 2010, 1:52 pm

Jonathan said:

"Is there a special needs section for people who wander into a magic discussion without having a background in its study or at least the rudiments as to its nature or history?"

Are you referring to someone in particular? It looks to me like the contributors to this thread have a background of magic history. Clay, in particular, made his bones a long time ago -- his writings in Magicol and elsewhere show his erudition. Where is your scholarship documented? (and 4500 obtuse Genii Forum posts don't count . . . )

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Townsend » December 2nd, 2010, 1:54 pm

Bill, do you really need the pity? From me? Now that's sad. Attempting to drag Clay into your issues is also not such a sign of respect.

So Bill, besides some pity, anything else I might offer you today? I'd really much rather read something of interest to consider or try. The R-H thing just has me recalling how far from competant I am at translating French into English - how I stumble over the idioms and have to keep trying to find phrasings that match up surface meaning, contextual meaning and meter. Anyway... do you have anything constructive to offer as regards magic?

Calling my posts obtuse suggests you have trouble reading. Kindly explore the sources cited and if any phrase or contextual reference seems out of place it's fine to ask questions. I'm not one of the Kindly Ones but honey will get you a quicker answer than lambsblood here. :)
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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Townsend » December 2nd, 2010, 2:31 pm

@Bill Palmer

re: "The last sentence in the chapter is rather telling."

The last sentence in the chapter we've been discussing, "ESCAMOTAGE, PRESTIDIGITATION", directs the reader to expect a disucssion of magic with coins. This being the case in both the French as cited and linked by Edwin and English translation. Is this the sentence you found as telling? If so, in what way?
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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Dustin Stinett » December 2nd, 2010, 2:35 pm

Clay,

Regarding Vernon:

The Professor neither claimed nor accepted credit for being the first to suggest the notion of naturalism in sleight of hand. He most certainly preached it, but he cited his various heroes and mentors for instilling the discipline in him. I do not recall Robert-Houdin specifically being among them in that regard, but he always suggested that the student study RHs material.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby magicam » December 4th, 2010, 10:39 am

Had the chance to read Roberto Giobbi's column.

For starters, given his standing in magic, I appreciated the modesty of his emphasis that he was merely offering his opinions on what I believe to be a nuanced topic, subject to widely differing points of view. I should also add that important caveat that my qualifications to speak on this subject as a performer are almost nil, as I have not performed for decades (a long time ago, my emphasis shifted from performance to magic history and bibliography). So one must certainly factor that in when reading my comments! But that shall not dissuade me from offering some definite points of view. If my opinions are wrong or ill-conceived, I would certainly welcome constructive criticism thereof in the hopes of learning from it.

First, I'd like to quibble with and explore the basic, IMHO critical, premise which permits Mr. Giobbi his launching point for the article. He quotes R-H's famous comment and writes, it has been quoted by large and small authorities to support the belief that in order to be a good magician you also, and first of all, have to be a good actor. Let's stop right there for a moment and break Mr. Giobbi's comment down. He is saying that a fair number (shall we say, a critical mass?) of conjuring authorities have stated that not only must one be a good actor to be a good magician, but also one must first of all be a good actor in order to be a good magician.

Upon reading his comment and thinking about it, and at the risk of seeming like a smart ass, my initial reaction was, oh yeah? Well show me a critical mass of authorities who make that very claim. Now, perhaps Mr. Giobbi or others here could offer the very proof I seek, in which case so be it. Admittedly, it's been many years since I've delved deeply into conjuring performance and performance theory, but I simply don't recall ever reading the very point made by Mr. Giobbi. At least is it fair to say the foregoing is a critical premise of Mr. Giobbi's article, and that if Mr. Giobbi could not proffer the requested evidence, that his article, as structured and argued, would crumble like a stale cookie?

Perhaps I am completely off base in asking for such proof; after all, with his comment about the generally accepted interpretation being that effective acting is essential for effective magical performance, Mr. Tobin seems to implicity accept Mr. Giobbi's premise to a degree, although I'd argue that there's a huge practical and theoretical difference between Mr. Giobbi's and Mr. Tobin's quotes Mr. Tobin is only stating that the generally accepted interpretation is that effective acting is essential to effective magishing. That's a far cry from saying that one must first of all be a good actor to be a good magician, at least as I see it.

But in the words of Clara Peller (of Burger King fame from long ago), I would issue the same amiable challenge to Mr. Tobin: where's the beef? Where is the evidence for even Mr. Tobin's watered-down (compared to Mr. Giobbi's) generally accepted interpretation? Again, I may be badly mistaken in questioning this, but worst case, if proven wrong in this challenge, I'll simply have demonstrated just a small fraction of my ignorance in public and learned something from it.

I question Mssrs. Giobbi's and Tobin's premises not only because I do not recall ever reading those precise sentiments in a magic textbook, but also because I simply don't read that much into Robert-Houdin's quote. And I can begin no better than by paraphrasing what Dustin wrote: ... he just wanted the reader to know what he believes a magician is versus what one is not and why [certain descriptions for magicians inadequately cover the scope of conjuring performance.] IMHO, it's that simple (with one additional important point specified below), and I do not believe that R-H's use of the word actor intended to convey any significance whatsoever about the importance of acting in a magical performance R-H simply used the word actor (i) to distinguish what we do (i.e., entertain) from what those who claim to have real magical powers do (i.e., defraud the public), and (ii) to emphasize his belief that great magic is an art, which in the latter case is the reason why he added that a magician is an artist.

Robert-Houdin might as well have said that we perform the art of fictitious magic in fact, that's exactly the translation of what he wrote in the third paragraph preceding his famous quote (in the original French, l'art de la magic simule, literally the art of simulated magic). Robert-Houdin also stated that the conjuror claims to possess supernatural powers ... (in the original French, le prestidigitateur annonce qu'il possde une puissance surnaturelle, literally, the prestidigitator advertises that he possesses a supernatural power). IMO, R-H could just have easily written that the conjuror pretends to possess supernatural powers ..., or the conjuror acts like he possesses supernatural powers .... Robert-Houdin also uses at least two other terms to describe our kind of magicians: adepts of white magic (in the original French, adeptes de la magic blanche) and faiseur de prestiges, translated by Hoffmann as worker of wonders, which could perhaps be more literally translated as maker of illusion or performer of illusion.

At least two decades have passed since I've read the English-language translations of Robert-Houdin's two textbooks on magic performance, and to be honest, I doubt if I've ever read any of them cover to cover in one or two sittings. With that concession made, I still have the impression that he was a very deliberate and careful writer if he had a point to make, he took pains to make it clearly. If that perception is correct, then it is interesting to note that by my count Robert-Houdin uses at least five phrases to characterize what a magician does or what a magician is, and in those characterizations only once does he use the word actor. One would think that if acting were really such an integral part of his theory of what a good magician ought to be, Robert-Houdin would have emphasized or expanded on this point. But he didn't.

I believe the era in which R-H performed is also a matter to consider when interpreting the meaning of his famous quote. If memory serves, Robert-Houdin was not the very first magician to perform in formal evening dress, but he was one of the early adopters of this fashion. In the early 19th century, most magicians performed in some sort of garb that distinguished them as such in other words, they dressed the part of a magician as their audiences would typically conceive of a magician in those days, wearing colorful clothing (often sporting an elaborate and colorful hat, sometimes feathered), and sometimes even wearing an ornate, long-flowing robe with a tall conical hat, such as the clothing that Phillippe wore during many of his performances. So when Robert-Houdin began performing in the mid 1840s, his attire typically did not conform to the general public's conception of what a magician would/should look like. With the foregoing historical background, the question then is, if he really saw the role of acting in a magic performance as so critical to success, why did he not fulfill the audience's expectations and dress in the typical fashion of a magician of his day? Why did he, from the very moment he took the stage, contradict the (then) public notion of being a magician? Why handicap himself in that manner? Moreover, if he literally meant that he should be playing the role of a real magician, why didn't he dress like real magicians did (whatever they looked like!)?

I wish Christian Fechner were still with us, so I could ask him for his thoughts on the matter. If anyone has ever managed to get inside Robert-Houdin's head, I believe it would be Christian. Who knows, maybe he has already commented on the Frenchman's famous quote in his books on R-H (my French and English copies are in storage, alas).

In summary, I don't think Robert-Houdin attached any special significance to the role of acting qua acting in his comments, and based on my reading of Mr. Giobbi's column, perhaps Mr. Giobbi would agree. If that's the case, then what remains for Mr. Giobbi is to offer support for the contention he makes in the beginning of his essay, which is quoted and discussed at the top of this post. In fairness, perhaps space limitations prevented him from doing so, but speaking as a writer, if I were going to compose a 3,000 word essay (my guess of the word count), the import of which depended on a critical premise, I would feel compelled to at least briefly offer evidentiary support for the premise. But obviously that's just my style of writing and RK didn't hire me to expound on R-H's famous quote!

However, as one of those inclined to be a linear reader and writer, very generally speaking I do wish that Mr. Giobbi offered more support for some of his points. For example, in citing the presentational mistake made by the magician who clipped his prediction envelope to the theater curtain, Mr. Giobbi states that this magician obviously relied on the work and advice of a theatrical director and failed to [use] a magical consultant. With all due respect to Mr. Giobbi, it may be obvious to him, but it's certainly not obvious to me did this magician actually rely on the work and advice of a theatrical director or not? In my opinion, whatever persuasive points there are in Mr. Giobbi's example and discussion, on which he expends over 300 words, or about 10% of his essay (my estimate), are completely undermined by the fact that the reader has no idea whether or not this magician in fact used the advice of a theatrical director.

On a somewhat related note, if Mr. Giobbi has seen Ricky Jay perform any of these three shows: Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants, Ricky Jay: On the Stem, or Ricky Jay: A Rogue's Gallery, it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on these performances, because David Mamet, a bonafide theatrical director, has directed all three. Do any of these shows suffer from the work and advice of a theatrical director?

Finally, a question to fellow readers. Mr. Giobbi makes a point of quoting Dai Vernon as saying do not try to ape somebody else, unless you are playing a part. I've read that entire Vernon quote and Mr. Giobbi's subsequent discussion on it several times, and I have no idea what Mr. Giobbi's point is. Is Mr. Giobbi saying that Vernon was saying something derogatory about acting or the relationship between acting and performing magic? I certainly don't get that from Vernon's quote. I think Vernon was simply saying, don't copy someone else unless that's the whole point of your performance. I don't see how Vernon's comment supports Mr. Giobbi's contentions and am hoping that someone can clue me in here. Truth is, I don't see how Vernon's comment is even germane to Mr. Giobbi's essay.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Townsend » December 4th, 2010, 11:10 am

I'd go to to Giobbi for clarification of his own thesis. Are we reading him as he intended to be understood? While he does not strike me as an Umberto Eco out to use rhetoric in a way that works as magic trick for magician readers, there's still the matter of "what do you mean by" or "how would you like us to interpret" open and he's still with us to respond.

Perhaps Jason Alexander, Neil Patrick Harris or one of the other working actors might offer insight into how they put together their performances at the Magic Castle as regards the "playing the role" part.

Getting to RH himself, a careful read of his introductory chapters might lead one to see him as defending the notion of the magician character as one who lives in the modern world and is as much at home with modern wonders of technology (those automata and clocks) as those of imaginary or foreign mythos - say that orange tree.

IMHO whether or not one seeks out the assistance of a theatrical director or engages in the entire process of scripting, production design, directorial feedback or just goes out and intuits from audience feedback (real or imagined in some cases) the results are what matter. Does the performance work for audiences as entertainment and does the material offered (magic tricks in this case as focus) work to elicit that sentiment of astonishment at finding out what should not be - evidently is.

Agreed that whether or not one's show includes channeling another performer or character is not germain to Giobbi's thesis.
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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Pendragon » May 11th, 2013, 6:02 am

Remember your lines and don't bump into the props.

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Pendragon » May 11th, 2013, 10:53 pm

Forgive the pretension of publishing the following resume. I am not setting up an opinion, in fact, the resume is why I don't have an opinion I can express in a short form. Actually, I can't express anything in a short form.

The magician from the past whose writing and work had the greatest influence on me is Robert-Houdin. I am a professional magician who has worked in film, stage and television as an actor, stuntman and choreographer. I graduated from and taught a class at the University of California theater school under the direction of Robert Cohen whose has a reputation as one the most respected acting teachers in America.

"You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means." To be sure.

We are translating mid 19th century French into modern English, never a good idea if you are looking for perfect meaning. Evolving word usage makes it tough enough, but idioms and cultural memes guarantees a less than perfect translation. There is also the problem of period perception, an historian's nightmare. Robert-Houdin died in 1871. The modern theater movement of realism doesn't begin until a few a years after his death. The revolutionary ideas presented by the fathers of modern theater, Ibsen, Chekhov and Tolstoy, develop after the father of modern magic has published his theories on presentation. We can guess, we can even give an informed guess, but it's far too easy to move off in a tangentel direction because of one mistaken idea. Then all we are left with is the academic deconstruction game of which came first, the chicken or the egghead?

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Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Jonathan Pendragon » May 13th, 2013, 6:16 am

We can continue to argue the plus and minus of Giobbi's interpretation and Robert-Houdin's intent and learn nothing but the quaintly esoteric. What does it matter: magic has changed, acting as changed, the audiences perception of our art has changed. Instead let's cut to original premiss, the single element of this discussion that has relevance in today's performance.

The styles of acting Robert-Houdin would have seen are very different from the polarized "method" and "technical" acting styles of today. If we wish to gleam anything useful from this debate, we must first scrap historical perspective.

Actor's train using different very disciplined methods with the same goal, to produce the most realistic character, one the audience can get lost in, one where the actors fame and technique don't overshadow the performance. We don't to see the wheels turning, we don't want to see the "Star" thinly disguised. The audience wants to be lost in the story with no thoughts that break the illusion.

Jugglers juggle for many different reasons. Some just juggle for the numbers. They rack up Guinness book records one after the other for the pure sake of acclaim. Others work towards variety performance, infusing comedy and narrative into their act, creating self-induced obstacles to over come and most importantly, in this discussion, creating characters that give their movements meaning.

Magicians find their art at nexus, a point of countless delicate decisions. Beyond this point they are blind. Can manip for manip's sake endure beyond our inner circle? How much character and narrative makes the performance palatable to a broader audience.? Can character driven magic succeed and what balance of acting skill and sleight skill is required within the frame of a strong and entertaining narrative?

What we must ignore is selected technology. Not the technology of light, sound, image magnification and certainly not those hidden technological aids in presentation. But, we are not film, we are alive, right in front of their eyes with no screen between us. Our miracles are observed by the audience in the first person narrative form and that is our greatest strength. No green screen, no editing, just the frail immediacy of the moment, the knowledge that no two such moments will ever be the same, that makes them rare, memorable and magical.

Now we can begin to discuss how we can use acting training to improve our art, Now, Today.

Phil Pearce
Posts: 64
Joined: July 16th, 2011, 11:41 am
Location: Dallas, GA

Re: Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Postby Phil Pearce » May 17th, 2013, 6:45 pm

I think R-H meant that a conjurer is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician.
And I think Mr. Giobbi disagrees with that statement.

But I could be wrong.


Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.
Roald Dahl


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