Book of the Month: Shattering Illusions

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Postby Dustin Stinett » 03/08/04 03:38 AM

On June 22, 2003, an incredible event took place: one that, its believed, has never before occurred in the history of the art of magic. The event of which I write was that Shattering Illusions by Jamy Ian Swiss (Hermetic Press, 2002) was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times. In case you are wondering why this is such a big deal, allow me a moment to point out a couple things: First, The LA Times is one of a few newspapers with a national (even global) reach. Second, for a book written strictly for the relatively miniscule cottage industry we call magic to be reviewed in a newspaper of such stature is remarkable. It just dont happen folks: Unless, of course, there is something very special about the book. Even if the reviewer (Crispin Sartwell) has a relationship with Mr. Swiss, and I dont know that he does, the point is irrelevant: an editor made the ultimate decision to run a review of a book about magic in some of the most valuable space in all of publishing.

Before anyone cries foul and points out that books such as Magic for Dummies and the likepast and presenthave appeared in reviews in major papers, keep in mind that these books were written expressly for the public and sold in mainstream book stores (that buy advertising space in those same newspapers). Shattering Illusions was not written for the general public and, as pointed out by the reviewer, one can't even find Swiss' book on Amazon.com. Shattering Illusions was written for a very specific audience and a very narrow one at that. That Sartwell felt that his readers might be interested in the subject matter covered in the book is very significant: Not only for the rightfully proud author (Swiss) and publisher (Stephen Minch), but for the art of magic as well.

Shattering Illusions is a collection of twenty essayswritten over a span of fifteen yearsthat address a range of subjects that include ethics, performance theory and the authors life experiences (magical and otherwise) and how they shaped (and continue to shape) his art. Sixteen of the essays originally appeared within the pages of Genii magazine, mostly during the 1990s (but also into the new century). Many here might remember these from their original appearances. For me, the book was my first experience with them. During the 90s I was rather frugal with my magic buck looking to get the biggest bang for it as I could. Continuing my subscription to Genii wasnt in the cards. Clearly I didnt know what I was missing.

Four of the pieces make their first appearance in the book and the others have been either updated slightly and/or have had an addendum pieceaptly titled AND FURTHERMORE added at the end of the original. The book is divided into three distinct sections, CANNON FODDER, YESTERDAYS and A MAGICIAN PREPARES. While the section titles give us clues to the subject matter of the essays that fall within them, there is, in fact, some overlap. Of course, art has a way of insisting upon such an occurrence and anyone who chooses to address the issues that face art in such a head-on manner is obligated to accept it. But not only does Swiss accept it, he embraces it.

By definition, cannon fodder is the military personnel who are considered expendablethe first up the hill as it were. I dont believe that Swiss feels the pieces in this section expendable, so what I take from this title heading is that these are his more controversial works: works some might think come from the mind of a loose cannon who is presenting us with the raw materials (fodder) necessary for how we might view the state of our art (in both a sense of community and self).

Why Magic Sucks is a brutal (but heartfelt) look at magic through the eyes of a realist. Swiss strips away the candy coating and lets us have it. There is, after all, nothing wrong with magic, just quite a few of its practitioners who are so concerned with what they perceive as the core elements of magic (to detriment of all the others) that theywehave deluded ourselves into thinking that we are actually a part of the whole art. This thought provoking piece is tough love to be sure, and there is good news to follow, for there is hope, should you care enough to search it out and put in the work necessary to extricate yourself from the mire of mediocrity. Some of that help can be found in the pieces later in the book.

Mentalism Grows Up, one of the four pieces written for the book, is also perhaps his most controversial, though its difficult for me to understand why. All he does is strike out at those who would allow their audiences to go away believing that what they witnessed was real and not theater. How this belief can be confused as an attack on all mentalism and mentalists is beyond my grasp.

If being involved with magic required a license (and I think it should), the issues discussed in Odometer Ethics would carry substantial weight on the final exam. I could go on, but I wont. Go read the essay for yourself (again, if you already have). If you dont own the book, order it from HermeticPress.com right now. GoI can wait: this will still be here when you get back.

Decent Exposure is a fascinating piece onwhat elsethe exposure of magics precious secrets. While Shattering Illusions is not a book about secrets (relative to tricks), it does indeed discuss the secrets to a handful of effects. So, there now may be some readers who are thinking that the LA Times review resulted in the exposure of those secrets to the laity. To those who might think this, I would remind them that Maskelyne and Devants Our Magic had far more secrets within its pages, as does Jim Steinmeyers Hiding the Elephant and (though published generations apart) these books were written for the general public with the same goal in mind: to instill an appreciation of the performance art called magic. Its all about context. I should also point out that, while there are secrets discussed in Shattering Illusions, Sartwell, in his review, says that there are no secrets to be found in the book! And in a moment that refers to a trip to Las Vegas, Sartwell says, I intend never to find out exactly what Lance Burton did with that cage. This reaction from the laity is precisely what Maskelyne, Devant and Steinmeyer were hoping for from the publication of their books. Whether or not his intention, Swiss garners it as well, proving that exposure in the proper context can actually serve the art well.

Magic in the Age of Information completes the first section of the book and does it admirably by taking some of the elements from each of the preceding three essays, adds the element of the current glut of magical information (and misinformation) and wraps it all up with a nice tidy bow on top.

YESTERDAYS and its three essays, Real Secrets, A Brief History of Magic Bar and The Writing on the Wall, is my favorite section in the book. I have read it many times because each time I read these essays my own memories wash over me like a warm, soothing bath: its a feeling I relish. Its amazing to me how several of Swiss experiences and my own are so similar. Of course, it shouldnt be surprising since, by our very nature as human beings, we will have similar experiences. For example, we all have our first loves and as magicians we will want to use that as a tool to impress the target of our desires. And, as we will learn later in the book, such emotional hooks are the essence of artall art: even magic. That important human element of art is one that is grossly underestimated by the vast majority of magicians. And, while on the surface these pieces serve to share with the reader the experiences of the authors youth and developmental years, they also serve to teach the readerat least this readerthe importance of humanizing a magical performance.

The remaining twelve essays make up the final section, A MAGICIAN PREPARES. Thus begins the theoretical portion of the book: or does it?

When I finished reading the book the first time (late in 2002), it dawned on me that I would have to rethink the category in which I placed this book in my library database. I had originally categorized it under theory, but upon completing the book I knew that this was not completely accurate. Yes, Swiss shares his theories on the performance of magic (stress performance), but the overall book, including those essays dedicated to theory, is one of commentary. Thus, Shattering Illusions became the first and (thus far) only book in my library in that category.

Its possible that some readers might be off-put by what might be perceived as a this is how it is attitude about the essays. However, this would be a failure on the part of the reader, not the author. This reader would have failed in his ability to read between the linesto extrapolate the subtext of the authors words (this, I fear, is one of the dreadful side effects of the information in quick-takes and sound-bites society in which we live). While Swiss makes no secret that he staunchly believes what he writes (of course), he also never lets the reader forget that these beliefs he presents as truths are still his opinion (I should add that this holds true for the entire book). And, unlike some who express their opinions as truths, Swiss thoroughly and effectively supports his arguments: he lets you know why he believes his opinions are truth. This is an important distinction: he letsin fact expectsthe reader to think for his or her self and decide whether or not his commentary holds true for the reader as well as they do for Swiss.

These theoretical commentary essays are not just a nuts and bolts/how-to manual of how to perform magic: Far from it. They are thought provoking tools designed to equip the would-be performer with the wherewithal to prepare for the journey he/she must embark upon once the decision is made to be a performer of magic. In Audience Members and Other Props, Swiss addresses the issue of the use (and unfortunate abuse) of audience members. He provides examples of successful and unsuccessful use of volunteers and examines why the tactics chosen succeed or fail. Old, New, Borrowed and Blue touches on sources of material selection and though Swiss promises to avoid the ubiquitous listings of relevant works, fortunately for us he mentions those books that might make such lists and thus reveals to us a long list of books from which to garner material (and knowledge) while only listing sixas promised.

Sleights, Lies and Videotape is another piece some may find contentious given the number of times video vs. books debates have been waged over the last decade, particularly in Internet forums such as this one. Again, one needs to look beneath the surface of the argument (which is difficult to do if all one is taking away from the piece is an attack on magic instruction on videotape). The authors main point, and it is well made, is that books provide a more complete and stable foundation upon which the aspiring performer can build. It is the authors opinion that videotape, in all its glitz and glamour, falls short in this respect.

In one of the other new essays in the book, First Do No Harm, Swiss, like a knight on his trusty steed, gallops to the rescue of his, and many others, damsel in distress: card tricks. Card magic has, by and far, the most appeal among the practitioners of magic but, amazingly, also has the worst reputation. Of course, this reputation springs forth from those who, well, just dont get it. However, while well written, its my belief that with this essay Mr. Swiss is only preaching to those of us in the choir. But thats okay by me, for all the reasons set forth in the essays final paragraph.

Good Trick, Bad Trick tackles the query, is there such a thing as good tricks and bad tricks. To answer, the author goes to great lengths to help the reader understand the real question at work here: what is it that makes a trick good or bad?

In 1970, a magician named Rick Johnsson penned (and Jon Racherbaumer published it in 1971 in his periodical Hierophant) what has become, depending on what side of the argument one allies ones self, either a bedrock theory governing the selection and performance of magic or a compelling but dead wrong hypothesis. The argument rages on and perhaps always will as long as there are magicians thinking about what they perform and how they perform it. Swiss reprises and then expands upon his August 2001 Genii piece, The Too-Perfect Theory in Action, that was but one of several scholarly looks at this theory. The late Mr. Johnsson would be proud of his accomplishment.

In case you have just crawled forth from under a cozy rock and are not aware, it might interest you to know that Jamy Ian Swiss is an unabashed proponent of sleight of hand. Not just with cards, mind you, but anything that can be manipulated in such a way as to help cast an air of mystery over an audience. The essay In Defense of Technique is Swiss answer(s) to the rallying cry of those who eschew difficult technique; I just entertain em. Weve all heard it, the often overused catch-phrase that can occasionally be equated with ineptitude, laziness or both. Again, Swiss treads shaky ground here. And while he does so with admirable clarity and depth of purpose, I again fear that he may be attempting to convert the already converted. However, if a novice magician reads this piece before the choice of which road to take is made, Swiss may indeed save their artistic soul from a purgatory of technical mediocrity.

Occasionally I will happen upon a piece written by someone else that makes me say, Damn, I wish I had written that. Unnatural Acts: Invoking the Supra-natural is one such piece. In it, Swiss is able to articulate something that I have known for many years but was unable to articulate. In this essay, Swiss takes a deep look at the concept of being natural during a magical performance. In particular, he (I believe) correctly clarifies just what Dai Vernon meant when he admonished the magical collective to be natural. To do so, he offers and defines another word, supra-natural. Whether or not he knows it, Swiss applies acting theory to his notions. As its not the only time he does so in the book, I suspect that he does know it, but chooses not to worry his readers with that fact. Its not yet essential (for his purposes) that they discover that they are learning part of an elemental craft needed for the artistic performance of magic. I believe Swiss instinctively trusts that those who embrace the concepts put forth in this essay (and others), will eventually be enlightened through self-discovery. (I liken it to not telling your child that you have not been holding the seat of the bicycle for quite some time the first time they ride without training wheels.)

In A Commercial Message Swiss once again unloads on a concept that is generally misinterpreted, particularly in our current over-marketed, hyped to the hilt magic-land we inhabit. Here he offers a clear definition of commercial magic, delving into the underlying causal realities that make up what really is commercial while doing so.

Lessons and Learning is a fascinating study of the teacher and student of magic: both of which, it can be said of Mr. Swiss, he happens to be. The most effective teachers (no matter the subject) are those who consider themselves students. In this piece, Swiss shares with the reader his personal growth as teacher and what he expects from his students.

The penultimate piece in the book is one of the most rousing. Though not the first time its referenced in the book, The Elements of Style is the first in-depth analysis of style and character: the two most distinguishable elements of a magical performance. Distinguishable because they are the only visible elements of a magic performance (well, at least they are supposed to be the only visible elements). So, it should go without saying, that this is what sets magicians apart from one another. It should go without saying, but the fact that this important message continues to go disturbingly unnoticed, Mr. Swiss found it necessary to put to paper this essay (and he is not the first to do sothank goodness for big favors). Also in this essay, Swiss returns to what is the common thread which runs through virtually all of the essays (sometimes expressed, other times only implied) and that is that the performance of magic is a single entity made up of many elements, none of which are more important than the other. In fact, these elements, which include (but are not limited to) material selection, technique and presentation (script, style, character and staging), are dependant upon each other for the performance to be effective and artistic. The fact that these same rules apply to virtually all forms of performance art proves beyond any doubt that good magic is a legitimate performance art. Its up to its practitioners to do what it takes to move magic into that lofty realm, not the other way around.

The final essay, The Search for Mystery opens with one of my favorite questions in the book: When you do magicwhat are you doing? At first the question appears simplistic. Its not until well into the essay do we realize the depth and commitment to self-exploration one must go to really answer the question. Swiss gives us his answer, but not before breaking down the question into its complex elements and exploring each one. Each step of the way the we go deeper into a darkened labyrinth and then realize the importance of searching for the lightthe illuminating answer to what was at first perceived as a simple question. And it is here that we also discover that the answer is not at all simple. Its answered only after a journey of the aforementioned self-exploration. But we also come to the realization that the journey did not just begin and it doesnt really endit progresses. The trip started the day magic became a part of our soul, and many of the pieces to the puzzle are already there for us to fit together. The rest await us on the roads ahead, and the best part is they never end.

Quite often (especially on Internet forums), experienced magicians are asked what books are the best for a novice magician to read. Many of us have our favorites: those books that helped develop us during our own formative years. I am convinced, however, that if the novice is in his or her mid-teenage years or beyond (as so many are these daysor so it seems), Shattering Illusions should be on that list. Its subject matter is not beyond the grasp of someone able and willing to apply the thought this book requires. The earlier magicians are exposed to these essays, the more productive their travels on magics roads of learning and growth will be.

Dustin

PS: A slightly edited version of Crispin Sartwells LA Times review can be found on Jamy Ian Swiss web site: http://www.jamyianswiss.com

Its worth noting that the paragraph left out did indeed carry a small negative remark. But the remark is inconsequential and in fact a misguided one since the reviewer clearly does not appreciate the level of reverence the magic communityand specifically Jamy Ian Swissreserves for Dai Vernon and Tony Slydini.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 03/09/04 12:18 AM

Errata Department: In my PS above I stated that the review on Jamy Ian Swiss site was edited. This is an unfortunate error on my part. The review is complete as originally published. I have no excuse for my error other than human error. I didnt like the comment the first time a read it in the paper, so perhaps I glossed over it when I reread it.

However, I stand behind my comment regarding the reverence held for Vernon and Slydini!

Clarification Department: Jamy Ian Swiss has absolutely no relationship with Crispin Sartwell (the LA Times reviewer).

Dustin

And another thing: Jamy Ian Swiss also has autographed copies of Shattering Illusions available on his site (along with several other items of interest): http://www.jamyianswiss.com/shop.html
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/09/04 09:02 AM

Excellent piece, Dustin!
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine
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Postby Adam Brooks » 03/09/04 12:09 PM

Quick story: Roughly 10 years ago, Jamy posted his review of a new, controversial book. I was about 14, and I had some question I wanted to ask Jamy. I wrote him, he responded, and for reasons of which I'm still not quite sure, a correspondence began. He was always incredibly nice, despite my sometimes tactless and immature letters. After a few months, I had the opportunity to meet him at the Green St. Grille in Cambridge, MA (back when it still had Magic Monday... man, I miss those days). Yeah, I was underage to be in a bar, but my father brought me. Jamy performed an awesome mental force/wrong card changed into the right card routine for my father. I still remember the look on my dad's face; he couldn't even bare to turn over the card Jamy had put in his hand. Jamy was even nice enough to give me a autographed copy of the original set of Shattering Illusions essays published in Genii.

Over the past 4 or so years, I've only purchased 3 magic books, one of which was Shattering Illusions, and it is, in my opinion, the sharpest, freshest book about our art I've ever read.

Dustin's remark on this being a book of magic commentary is, in my opinion, dead on. It seems that only a fragment of our community really talks about the things Jamy covers in this book. Of these few, even less dig further, and then refine, polish, and re-refine their ideas to the level that Jamy has achieved. Required reading? Definitely. I found that this book gave me a few answers, but more importantly, it made me ask crucial questions about myself and my relationship with this weird thing called magic.

So, to wit: Jamy's book is awesome. Dustin's piece/review/commentary, also awesome. Chocolate fudge cake, also awesome.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 03/09/04 10:44 PM

Dissenting views of what I write and of what is in a book I select for discussion is welcome and in fact encouraged here. But to base an opinion on a book on a dislike of an authors performance style is rubbish, particularly when he (critical) admitted to not reading the book! I decided to delete criticals posts on those grounds only. I tried to get him back on topic, but to no avail. He seemed only to want to trash a respected, talented, successful performers style and abilities. Thats his opinion and hes welcome to it, but not in this thread.

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Postby Dave Shepherd » 03/10/04 03:48 AM

Thank you, Dustin.

And moreover, when the "critic" in question is not willing to reveal his/her identity, it detracts rather fundamentally from the cogency of his critique.

I love this book, and will have more to say about it when I have time to properly respond.
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Postby Guest » 03/10/04 04:37 AM

I am perfectly prepared to reveal my identity. Furthermore it shouldn't be too hard to work out. I have nothing personal against Mr.Swiss and indeed admire his honesty. As he will no doubt admire mine.

Now to paraphrase Mr Shepherd, if Mr.Swiss has something lacking in his performance style it "detracts rather fundamentally from the cogency"
of his book. Thank you Dave for letting me borrow your big words.

I am NOT saying it is a bad book. I am merely saying it would benefit the author to impress me with his performance style so that I have the motivation to study it. Studying is hard work. I want to know in advance that the study will be worth it.

I HAVE read the book, Dustin.From cover to cover in fact. You would be surprised to hear where I read it. However I could not concentrate on the message because I have seen the messenger perform.
Strangely enough the very same day I started to read his book.

I saw him perform in person on this day, not on TV. I will concede that he did not refer to anyone as "mac" on this occasion. Neither did he have too much makeup on. He was indeed less grating. No doubt this was because of my illustrious presence of which he would not have been aware. I am sure I was a good influence in a metaphysical sense though.

However he still didn't quite hack it with me. Perhaps it was something to do with the fumbling of the cups and balls load.

It does detract somewhat from the scholarly image to hear a magician refer to his helpers as "mac"

I will agree that a choreographer does not have to be a good dancer to do his choreography.In the same way that Jamy doesn't have to be a good performer to write a good book.

It is just that it helps.
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Postby Terry » 03/10/04 06:25 AM

Toby Keith has a great song on his new album called 'The Critic'. Maybe you should check it out as it would fit you well.

Every performer has an off day or two. One bad performance doesn't negate the advice being offered.

I had the pleaseure of hosting Jamy when he first lectured in Jacksonville almost 20 years ago. I found him opinionated and direct about his love of magic. He had every right to be.

About 10 years ago, he came back to lecture. Time had mellowed him out a bit, but not about his conviction of what constituted good magic.

While reading 'Shattering Illusions', I could hear his voice just as plainly as if he were sitting there reading it.

I found the book more helpful than Darwin's 'Strong Magic'. That is why 'Shattering' is still on my shelf and 'Strong Magic' was recently auctioned off.
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Postby Guest » 03/10/04 07:21 AM

I agree with you that any performer can have an off day.
I have seen Mr.Swiss perform on about 6 occasions.
I am not referring to his off days. I am referring to his style. That seems to be a permanent fixture.
He overplays and he is brash. You outwit a close up audience by underplaying and letting them underestimate you. Then you go in for the kill.

I will however take Dustin's advice and reread the book. I will attempt to be objective and put out of my mind the image of a poor innocent spectator being addressed as "mac" in a most impertinent manner.

I am however surprised that you have abandoned "Strong Magic" There seems to be a wealth of good advice in there. I heard the book is controversial. I have no idea why.
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Postby AMCabral » 03/10/04 10:26 AM

I'm constantly fascinated by the phenomenon that occurs whenever a performer decides to put out a book on philosophy or performance theory, particularly in the instances of Strong Magic and Shattering Illusions.

I've read both books multiple times and nowhere in either book does either gentleman insist that the reader adopt any element whatsoever of his particular performance style. In fact, Mr. Swiss's book (under discussion) has nothing to do with performance specifics or style points. It's a book about thinking about magic. Yet every criticism I've read of either book seems to infer that because the author has put thoughts on paper, then it is the reader's job to absorb these thoughts as gospel and in effect become the author. I find this puzzling, because if this is true, there are multiple instances in both books where the author explicitly states that blind imitation is a bad thing!

I'll certainly agree that Jamy Ian Swiss is a brash, broad, hip and slick performer. There's plenty of things he'll do in performance that you'll never catch me doing, ever. However, I don't see what that has to do with his history of Chicago Bar Magic, or his remembrances of Vernon, Goshman, and Slydini. Or his thoughts on approching the study of sleight-of-hand.

Both of these books sit side-by-side on my bookshelf, and both rank as some of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful writings I've ever read (right up there with Doug Hofstader's Metamagical Themas). It's one thing to not pick up a collection of a certain performer's material because you don't agree with the style. It's quite another when, in these specific instances, both gentlemen have obviously applied a great deal of thought (more than most) to how they approach the art they love, and people are willing to dismiss that in light of subjective style choices.

I'd be interested in knowing what your reaction will be to the book the second time around, particularly in regards to the actual content and not the color of the performer's tie.

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Postby Bob Kentner » 03/10/04 03:14 PM

I want to thank Dustin for choosing this book. Although I owned a copy of this book, I had not taken the time to read it. This motivated me to do something, that in hind sight, I should have accomplished much earlier.

While Swiss makes no secret that he staunchly believes what he writes (of course), he also never lets the reader forget that these beliefs he presents as truths are still his opinion (I should add that this holds true for the entire book). And, unlike some who express their opinions as truths, Swiss thoroughly and effectively supports his arguments: he lets you know why he believes his opinions are truth. This is an important distinction: he letsin fact expectsthe reader to think for his or her self and decide whether or not his commentary holds true for the reader as well as they do for Swiss.
I wanted to point out this portion of Dustin's excellent comments. Even though I did not agree 100% with all of Jamy's opinions in the book. Reading these essays forced me to think about my own beliefs and values on each of the subjects. By doing this, I analyzed not what I believed, but more why I believed it. Then I had to decied if why I beleived something held water. If so, then fine. If not, it was time to re-evaluate my thoughts on the subject.

The main problem I found with this book is you have to have "active gray matter" to gain anything from reading it. But, then again, those whose brains have been sorely diluted by television and video games probably wouldn't pick it up anyway. :)

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Postby Guest » 03/14/04 07:42 PM

:) I want to take up some space here to say what a GREAT job Dustin is doing with this Forum. It is such a pleasure to come here and read his posts and the posts that he draws from others. Every month this forum is full of great ideas and opinions. Some I agree with some I don't. Doesn't matter. They are all thought out and delivered with passion for the most part. Well done Dustin! Please keep going with this fantastic work your doing. Count me as a big fan of your work sir.
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Postby Terry » 03/14/04 09:03 PM

Tony,
Your points are on the mark.

Strong Magic is a very detailed book written by a great exponent of the pasteboards.

Shattering Illusions, however, caused me to really think about my lack of comittment to magic. It also helped to point out my own failings of years past. In this respect, Shattering Illusions was a more personal journey for me than Strong Magic was.

No offense to Darwin Ortiz intended.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 03/14/04 11:01 PM

Jeff: Thanks for the kind words; they are truly appreciated. However, the real stars here are the books.

Daddy, errrrTerry: I dont think Mr. Ortiz would take offense at all as Strong Magic was written in the style of a nuts & bolts manual; any resultant self-exploration is a plus. Shattering Illusions was written to kick the collective in the butt, leading us into self-exploration; any of the nuts & bolts offered that the reader applies is a plus.

Dustin
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Postby Jim Morton » 03/16/04 11:13 AM

Great work Dustin.

I relished reading this book. So much so, that I immediately ordered Mr. Swiss's CD-ROM of his collected book reviews. Curiously though, a friend of mine, who is pretty good magician in his own right, hated the book. "The guy just complains about everything!" He said. "Why would anyone want to go through life like that?"

Different strokes.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 03/16/04 05:26 PM

Unlike people like me, who just like to bitch about things, Swiss offers solutions. Certainly not everyone will agree with those solutions, but at least he is offering them up for consideration.

The problem I see with your friend's vision of Mr. Swiss is that it conjures pictures of some curmudgeon, sitting in a corner wringing his hands together. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can attest to the fact that Jamy Ian Swiss is not a curmudgeon: I never see him at the meetings.

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Postby NCMarsh » 03/16/04 11:48 PM

Jamy has had a pervasive influence on my work -- both through his personal generosity (including the tremendous generosity of his honest feedback -- he shows great kindness in saying what needs to be heard rather than what we would like to hear) and through this wonderful book.

I do, however, want to stridently disagree with his ideas about supra-naturalness. I'm in an awkward position as I haven't read the essay in about a year and my copy is in my dorm room in MD...so this critique is built on an awkward foundation -- it depends on only my memory of Mr. Swiss' arguments.

I also want to emphasize that, while I do disagree with the conclusions of Mr. Swiss' essay, I found it to be wonderful fodder for thought and consider necessary reading for serious magicians.

that said...

Swiss' notion, as I remember/understand it (please correct me if you feel that this is an inaccurate interpretation), is that our aim should not be to merely mimic a natural movement as it would be executed...but that, as we are attempting to convey a feeling of naturalness -- a subconscious sense within the spectator that all is as it should be -- we ought to find those aspects of an action that are the most compelling indicators of its naturalness, and we ought to project these aspects...to point them up through our movement to give a greater sense of naturalness...

Swiss is dead on in his initial analysis of naturalness...that it is really about the gut sense of the spectator and the subconscious "alarm" that is sounded when an action seems contrived to serve a concealed purpose...something feels wrong about the motion -- but the specific problem can't be articulated (i.e. one has been suspected but not detected)...I think that this begining is very sound, but that the claim which follows from it -- that we best disarm these alarms by heightening the qualities that make a motion pass their muster -- is dangerous in application...

There is a maxim of LaRochefoucauld to the following effect (again, my LaRochefoucauld is in my permaneant library in Annapolis -- this is from recall):

The greatest hindrance to being natural is the desire to appear so.
Close-Up Clinic, Philadelphia -- 8/03:

For the critique session I've chosen to include some of my work with Troy Hooser's "Triple Debut" (Magic Man Examiner, Vol II. later re-published as "exTROYdinary"). There is a moment in the sequence when I use the classic palm as a one handed vanish...ostensibly rubbing a silver dollar into the flesh of my elbow

during this period i was in the habit of approaching the elbow with my front four fingers flattened and my thumb pressed rather tightly against them. This caused tension in the fingertips, wrist, and lower forearms -- areas that would all be subject to some tension if i were really holding a coin at my fingertips...I had taken a convincing charachteristic of the natural action -- the tension that would result from holding an object -- and I had projected it slightly larger in order to create a sense of naturalness...to placate the subconscious alarms by giving them more of what they accepted...

David Ben commented that the flatness of the fingers felt wrong....J.I.S. nodded his head vigorously...

They were right.

Watching the video I saw that my attempt at the Supra-Natural -- the more natural than natural -- set off sub-conscious alarms because, by the nature of the supra-natural, it exagerated one quality of the natural model, creating a distorted caricature of the motion I was trying to model.

I humbly believe that the same defect is present in Mr. Swiss' own performance of the french drop. Swiss' hand violently snatches the coin. I asked him about this, and his reason for this part of the handling (I should emphasize that he has put a lot of thought and work into this move -- like everything else he does -- and that his essay on the french drop, originally published on an early magic forum (E.G.?) is very valuable reading and should be sought out) was that it was "Supra-natural" -- particularly considering the coarse character that he had honed over years of working for loud drunks. I would respectfully submit that in this he is only fooling himself.

The most aggressive character you'll find in the toughest part of town needn't attack a coin in order to get it into his other hand and display it...as to the claim of supra-naturalness, I take it that the energy in Swiss' hand as he jerks the coin away from his left fingertips is meant to highlight that a coin has actually been grabbed by projecting more energy and tension than would really be needed -- thus giving the sense that a material object had really been taken by the right fingers.

Brad Henderson, a contributor to this forum and an accomplished performer himself, once mentioned to me his notion that the eye is drawn to "energy" rather than motion. My own experience has borne out his theory and I think that the mauling of the coin in Swiss' french drop fails because the excessive energy draws attention to the moment of the transfer -- the very moment that he has worked hard to render psychologically invisible. His attempt at Supra-naturalness has, I fear, the unintended consequence of undercutting the rest of his very fine work on this move.

I fear that Swiss, like myself, has parodied a natural action and -- in so doing -- created a grotesque and ill-proportioned monster that projects a sense of contrivance rather than naturalness.

I have come to think that Dr. Elliot clearly articulated the proper mantra for the conjuror in choosing to advise Vernon to "BE Natural" rather than to "project a sense of naturalness."

Dustin mentioned acting technique in his lead-in piece, and I think that magicians should read Boleslavsky after reading Swiss (again, I think you should read the latter). I think that method acting is, in many ways, the proper model for sleight-of-hand. I have begun to work on this approach by rehearsing routines, in their entirely, with the actual action replacing the sleight that simulates it...this resembles an ancient technique for studying a motion in order to consciously replicate it, but i have a different end in mind...I hope to internalize the memory of doing the real thing to the degree that I can fool my mind into thinking that I'm not doing a sleight when i'm performing...I'm not at that level yet, but i've found that the practice has improved the cadence of my performance by making me feel how the actual movement would flow in the context of the routine...this is invaluable to avoid"framing" (see Workers 3 (i believe)) and helps me to shift my internal attention from the sleight to the outward context...

If i can succeed at creating the same internal context for the sleight as for the legitimate move, then all of the external indicators of fairness that placate the internal alarms will already be present -- with the additional advantage that I have no need to fear the creation of a caricature of the motion by overplaying a single quality of it.

yours,

Nathan Marsh
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Postby Guest » 03/17/04 03:47 AM

Nathan obviously puts a lot of thought into his magic. Such dedication deserves a reward.

Here is a tip which will enhance the deceptiveness of the French Drop to a massive extent. I would say double the deceptiveness of the move. This comes from the Sphinx magazine about a thousand years ago. Nobody seems to know this. Proof of the old adage that if you want to hide a great secret publish it in a magic magazine.

Move the left hand towards the right hand when doing the move. Do not keep it still as it is normally done.The illusion will be doubled.
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Postby NCMarsh » 03/17/04 08:29 AM

Mark,

Thanks for a very nice piece of finesse -- I like.

Interestingly, the finesse on the false transfer that Swiss provides in the essay in question involves motion in the same direction -- perhaps these work for the same reason?

best,

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Postby Jim Morton » 03/17/04 10:48 AM

Excellent post Nathan! You talk about several things that I have been ruminating over for many years. The quote from LaRochefoucauld speaks volumes. Al Schneider also makes some good observations on this in his book on coin magic.

Speaking of Al Schneider, I would recommend (as does Jamy Ian Swiss) that anyone who enjoyed Shattering Illusions, Strong Magic, and so forth, should check out Al Schneider's ebook at World Magic Center . It's free and it's one of the best books on magic theory I have ever read. Proof that sometimes you can get more than you pay for.

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Postby Jamy Ian Swiss » 03/17/04 02:23 PM

While theres little point in allowing this to become a protracted debate, I think that Nathans post calls for at least a clarification of my position on this subject. I do agree that method acting has a place in magic, but I do not think it can tell you much about the mechanics of sleight of hand. I think where magic and method acting meet is in the conjurors psychological state when performing magic which comes AFTER all the mechanics of technique have been devised and mastered. That is to say, when you no longer have to think about the mechanics, you can then use a kind of method acting to, particularly, release guilt from your performance to stop thinking about the concealed coin hidden in the right hand after the false transfer, and concentrate instead on the imaginary (intended in Al Schneiders excellent parlance) coin in the left hand. This is method acting and it is very helpful.

But method acting cannot devise a sleight. An actor may use sense memory and other method techniques to recreate an emotional state for himself but let us also remember that countless non-method actors do the same through different, perhaps more external means but that actor is not also trying to mask some complex mechanical maneuver that secretly transfers an object from one place to another. Oh, yes, we can wax metaphorical about how the actor is masking his genuine character or emotions or the awareness of his costume, what have you, but this is a somewhat different kind of deception. Perhaps there is more of an analogy when the actor is pretending some extreme physical action, such as in a fight scene or love scene, or when there are special effects or concealed apparatus involved. But most acting does not require this, especially in the theater. Most acting is more straightforward than the magicians task.

Such method acting cannot design the mechanics of a sleight for you. Vernon did not use method acting to figure out the very best mechanics for deceptively palming a card from the top of the deck. Rather, he used logic, and an objective study of the genuine actions of squaring the pack, and combined all this to create perhaps the most elegant single sleight in card magic, the Topping the Deck palm. This sleight, like most sleights, is not perfectly or absolutely natural. It is an approximation. How could it be when, among other things, it is not natural for a person to close their fingers together and eliminate the spaces between them while in a relaxed state? Therefore, palming a card is NEVER absolutely natural. Vernon knew this. My term of supra-naturalness does not reflect opposition to Vernon, but rather clarification. We may speculate about what Dr. Elliott meant, but while he may have provided inspiration for Vernons mantra of naturalness, we KNOW what Vernon meant and he did not mean literal naturalness.

Whats more, if anyone is fooling themselves, it is actors into the notion that the best portrayals are truly natural. Nonsense. The best performances are rarely if ever absolutely natural. That would be boring and flat. Good performances are convincing but not necessarily natural. It's an illusion. They are adapted for the circumstances, for example film or TV or stage, the size of the venue, etc. As Roberto Giobbi discussed at our recent Card Clinic, your gestures, for example, change depending on the size of the venue. What is appropriate for the restaurant table is not appropriate for the stage. But which is natural? Well, there is no single answer.

Its obvious that Nathan thinks I do the French Drop badly. (And you did manage to communicate the stridency, Nathan.) Thats his opinion, and I disagree, since among other things I find that people other than myself seem to be fooled by it I worked out my present handling some twenty years ago, so if I was getting caught a lot I think I might have noticed by now. I have no doubt that his execution should appear different, as my body language is different, tending to be big, fast, and would seem exaggerated in some others hands. To suggest that there is one absolutely natural execution is wrong, however and Vernon said so in many ways, many times. Whats more, I suggest that method acting not only cannot devise a sleight, but it also cannot tell you how to naturally execute a French Drop, because the fundamental actions of the French Drop are absolutely contrived and unnatural. Nobody holds a coin like that ever. What is method acting supposed to do you for then?

That Nathans stiff fingers were a poor choice says nothing about supra-naturalness, it only says that his choice and execution was wrong. That says nothing about the theory behind it. Also, he overstates my case, because oftentimes one neednt add anything to the real action to accentuate it that is more a question of gesture for size of venue or style of performance. Rather, I am only saying that rarely if ever is any sleight absolutely natural; it is an adaptation of naturalness, the illusion of naturalness. And as Vernon said, if your natural way of doing things is clumsy and unpleasant to watch, then the hell with naturalness: fix it. This is part and parcel of my point about supra-naturalness.

What I detect above all in Nathans post is that he is a student of acting who is interested in the method and wishes to apply those ideas to magic. Id be cautious about falling in love with those ideas. Acting is mostly about emotions. Emotions cant tell you how to design a deceptive French Drop or a top palm, classic shift, etc. etc.. Erdnase did not suggest method acting for cheaters, either, he suggested logic and precise mechanics and practice. The LaRochefoucauld is clever, and may well apply to acting, but I dont think it has much to do with conjuring. A passing thought by Robert-Houdin has been fetishized and manipulated and misunderstood even more than Vernons command to be natural. In fact, Robert-Houdin was merely trying to point out that the magician is not just a demonstrator of skill or, in his words, not merely a juggler.

I think the main value to be taken from Nathans post is to be very careful about the amount of unnaturalness we allow into our naturalness in order to achieve convincing supra-naturalness. I believe the correct amount is offered in my book, and it is just like the correct amount of salt to a recipe: not too much, not too little, but always just enough.

Then again, I am reminded of the story of Olivier and Hoffman when working on Marathon Man. As the story goes (albeit disputed in some quarters, but recounted by William Goldman), Hoffman ran himself ragged and sleepless in order to physically exhaust himself for the scenes in which he was supposed to be in that state. Whereupon Oliver quipped, Hasnt the dear boy heard of acting? Indeed, today it seems like it is the method actors who often seem over-the-top and unrealistic, albeit with some exceptions (notably, for example, Gene Hackman). But beware the method, it is not the answer to all questions and least of all in magic.
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Postby Brian Marks » 03/17/04 06:10 PM

I agree with Jamy that method acting is only important in getting you not to think about the mechanical actions your doing and instead on what you claim to be doing. The emothial life taught in advanced stages of method acting isn't really necesary to a magian. I think mime may be more appropiate to how to deal with objects that aren't there as it is a more physical type of acting.

I am personally trained in Meisner technique, a variant of method acting. The early work gets you to not think and focus on other actors in a scene. For a magician this would be the audience and it is called being in the moment. I hate to see magicans getting stuck in patter that doent fit the situation.
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Postby NCMarsh » 03/18/04 09:07 PM

My choice of language in describing Jamy's french drop was intense. Jamy shows tremendous character in replying to such personal (and un-requested) criticism with such civilty and such an openess to finding value in an opposing view.

I am not a student of acting (which is perhaps unfortunate as it might make my magic better). I also don't find method acting, in its theatrical context, to be necessarily superior to traditional approaches. Method acting blurs the line between representation and reality; theatre serves its function because it offers some kind of interpretation of human experience (or an exploration of that experience in a safe setting). Raw, undigested experience is not theatre -- and method acting comes perilously close to mere voyeurism. I likewise agree that naturalism is NOT a necessary virtue of a theatrical performance -- but I do believe that, because of the important distinction between the aim of theatre and the aim of conjuring articulated by Jamy, naturalism is a necessary aim of a performance of sleight of hand -- qua the technical necessities of such a performance.

There are, as I see it, two distinct aspects of naturalness as it relates to sleight of hand. There is the naturalistic design of technique -- which Jamy's post focused on -- and the performance of that technique -- which my approach and my post focused on. Jamy's* concept of "Supra-naturalness," as I understand it, is intended to inform both the design of sleight of hand and its performance. The approach I take is only intended to give guidance in answering the question "in what manner ought a technique, once designed, be performed?" To fault this approach because it does not guide the design of a sleight is like faulting a swiss time-piece because it can't saw lumber.

Let me offer a simple exercise to make clear the approach I favor, and to demonstrate the distinction between this approach and Jamy's.

A coin is at the right fingertips, in the proper position to commence a retention pass. Take a deep breath to relax. Perform the action of a retention pass, but without stealing the coin into the right hand. Imagine that you are standing before an audience. The coin is displayed at the right fingers, then held up in the left fist to draw attention to it while it dissolves within the hand. Do this, say, 10-20 times...relax and try to get a good sense for the way the coin feels as it is deposited in the hand...get a sense of the way both hands...feel the places in the arms where the tension goes...the shoulders...feel this...continue to repeat this action, but occasionally execute the steal...you're trying to get both actions to "feel" the same to you, you're trying to reach a point where you can feel the coin being placed into your hand -- even when it is being stolen. In this way, by conditioning our bodies to the feel of the move, the body can get into the habit of reacting as if the coin had been placed into the hand -- without the need to consciously exagerate some aspect of the motion...our shoulders will relax, our wrists will break, and we will not blink at the moment of the transfer...everything will likely occur naturally, and it is very unlikely that any one aspect of the motion will be grossly exagerated.

A deficient application of a theory, obviously, does not refute it. A precarious tendency toward exageration that seriously undermines the very aim of the theory, however, highly recommends an alternative without the same tendency.

Since this thread is about the entire book, I should mention this: I bought the book freshman year...at the time I didn't have to car and would make the occasional pilgrimage to Denny and Lee via public transportation (a 6hr roundtrip by bus and light rail)...I bought the book at Denny's around 6pm and opened on the ride home, I put it down at 4am the next morning -- having read cover to cover all night...it is that good. Thank you, Jamy, for a tremendous contribution.

best,

Nathan Marsh
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*I call it Jamy's concept only because I do not consider myself knowledgeable enough to make a judgement as to whether Jamy's approach is a clear articulation of Vernon's own understanding of naturalness. I defer to qualified commentators on this question.
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Postby NCMarsh » 03/18/04 09:32 PM

P.S. won't be back online till monday (out of state gig all weekend)
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 03/19/04 07:31 AM

Originally posted by Nathan Coe Marsh:
A coin is at the right fingertips, in the proper position to commence a retention pass. Take a deep breath to relax. Perform the action of a retention pass, but without stealing the coin into the right hand. Imagine that you are standing before an audience. The coin is displayed at the right fingers, then held up in the left fist to draw attention to it while it dissolves within the hand. Do this, say, 10-20 times...relax and try to get a good sense for the way the coin feels as it is deposited in the hand...get a sense of the way both hands...feel the places in the arms where the tension goes...the shoulders...feel this...continue to repeat this action, but occasionally execute the steal...you're trying to get both actions to "feel" the same to you, you're trying to reach a point where you can feel the coin being placed into your hand -- even when it is being stolen. In this way, by conditioning our bodies to the feel of the move, the body can get into the habit of reacting as if the coin had been placed into the hand -- without the need to consciously exagerate some aspect of the motion...our shoulders will relax, our wrists will break, and we will not blink at the moment of the transfer...everything will likely occur naturally, and it is very unlikely that any one aspect of the motion will be grossly exagerated.
The problem with doing this is that, reminiscent of the Heisenberg Theory, the act of observation changes that which is being observed. Repeating that process will only reinforce the incorrect image of what is "natural". The only way to really do it is to forget that you are transferring the coin. Naturally, observing yourself gets in the way of this. Perhaps a video camera would be more useful. Set it up when you'll be playing with a bunch of coins -- don't do it with the intention of sitting in front of it and doing real or fake retention passes. You want to catch yourself doing it without thinking about it, without any preconceived notions of what you should be doing. The point is to forget about what you are doing with the coins and just catch yourself transferring them from hand to hand without realizing it. That's when you'll get to see the truly natural way of doing it.

This was a subject of discussion in NYC a few weeks ago. Jon Townsend and I were getting some interesting reactions when challenging the way some of the guys were performing the retention pass. I'm not quite sure how to explain the experiments we were trying, but you'll need at least one other person to help you with it. It did involve getting someone so frustrated with focusing on proving us wrong that he actually performed the transfer the way he actually would, without all his sleight-of-hand preconceptions. And then tried to insist that he didn't do it that way. ;)

I will say one thing about transferring coins -- when you really do it, you'll almost never put it in your palm, and will never clench your hand into a fist.

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Postby Rick Maue » 03/19/04 11:04 AM

Greetings,

I just wanted to express a few thoughts about Shattering Illusions. Simply put, it is one of the most valuable books on my shelf. I agree with much of the book, and I disagree with a few of the author's views. But the key is that the book always makes me think very seriously about creating and performing magic.

As I said in the review that I wrote for VOICES, "In short, those that read Shattering Illusions will be better because of it."

If you would like to read the complete review, go here:
http://www.deceptionsunlimited.com/swiss.html

In fact, while buying items to be used for door prizes at our upcoming Deception Convention 5 , I bought another copy of the book, which brings my total copies purchased to 5 (the others were gifts). I have never bought that many copies of any other magic book.


Keep the change,
Rick Maue
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Postby Dennis Kyriakos » 03/19/04 03:16 PM

Im just riffing here, so pardon me bouncing all over the place. Im at work and Ive had to write between projects for the past couple of days. And to be honest, Im having a tough time keeping up with a lot of whats being said here. But Ill do my best.

Method acting and magic? Hmm.

As a Meisner trained actor I was always steered away from method acting. Although as Brian stated Meisners technique was based on The Method. A danger of it (the Method) is that it brings up a lot of stuff. And that may not be healthy. My simple understanding is you are asked to go back to some point in life when something good or bad happened depending on the circumstances of the piece youre working on. For example, if your characters mother dies/died in the play, then go back to a point when that happened to you.

Another exercise is physical objects. Were asked to close our eyes and imagine picking up a glass of water. It can be any glass in your home. Now, really feel it. Do you feel the texture in your hand? Do you feel the weight? Its temperature? Good.

Yeahand?

Ive recalled all this from the basic method exercises I had in college. Its a very crude example and if someone can correct me please do.

My experience - outside of the necessary bubble that is acting class or theory gleaned from textbooks - has been that when working on stage or in film I actually have a glass to drink from. Its not imaginary. Besides, if Im working on creating a reality of a glass in my hand by imagining a glass in my hand, how can I convincingly create the illusion of living the life of another person on stage?

And forget about all the crap it brings up. Remember: going back to a point in your life? Its probably best to work that stuff out in the safe environment of a therapists office, not on stage where you risk endangering yourself and other people. I speak from experience. Not to mention the fact that you have to sustain that for repeated performances in theater or film. Sometimes on a film you may have to shoot a scene 10, 15, 20 times due to technical reasons. Can you imagine trying to live that stuff over and over again? Youd be a wreck.

Sanford Meisner defined acting as living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. That to me sounds suspiciously like the definition of an illusion. And thats what an actor creates on stage. Its that simple. He is not really living the reality of the character. To borrow a phrase, hes creating a convincing illusion. I mean if your character dies on stage and youre all gung-ho about The Method, wellyoure screwed. It doesnt really matter to the audience if the actor is actually using his moms death if the characters mother has died - to get to where he needs to be emotionally as long as the illusion of the emotion is convincing. Anger is anger. Grief is grief. What kind of anger, what kind of grief is a different and specific story. You could use your cats death or someone being stricken by a fatal disease. Or better yet, use your imagination. (Hello Marathon Man) It can be a lot more powerful and not to mention, safer than reality. Besides, if youre too close to something then you could be blocked by using it in preparation.

Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. This definition makes sense to me as an actor and a magician.

Imaginary circumstance = Illusion. Maybe Im trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. Lets see.

How do we create an illusion? Back to the topic at hand, The French Drop - and ultimately Shattering Illusions. First, we have to obviously look beyond the fact that nobody transfers a coin from one hand to another this way, except magicians.

Real people dont do that, and if were up to me I would ban the French Drop from the working magicians repertoire.

Lets look beyond that and assume (this is my assumption) that Mr. Swiss could be using The French Drop as an example of how to break down and study a sleight. (Id have to read it again as its been a while) Could his example of The French Drop be used to teach us how to study a sleight? My clue to this is that Ive never seen Swiss perform a French Drop in a public performance. But thats just me being a good detective. Thats the actor in me talkingback to the Drop.

When out of context it is an unnatural and awkward movement. So maybe we should ban it from public performances. There, that was easy. Problem solved.

No, wait theres more.

IF we were to use it, shouldnt it simply look like we are actually taking the coin? That is the illusion we are trying to create. The imaginary circumstance/illusion is that we take the coin from one hand to the other, and it vanishes. (Without the it vanishes qualifier there is no illusion. Weve just taken the coin from one hand to another. And thats no fun.) We also require the living truthfully part of the definition. What does that mean? Well lets apply Meisners definition again. If the imaginary circumstance is weve taken the coin from one hand to another, then we must ACT AS IF weve taken the coin from one hand to another. So to live truthfully in this imaginary circumstance, wouldnt it benefit us to actually practice taking the coin from one had to the other? So we know experience the behavior. Im talking consciously know. Conscious = to be awake; to think; to know. Making a study of the action of actually taking the coin. Now, we add a little audience management, a moment of magic and to the audience, the coin vanishes.

I saw the same instance of Swisss French Drop, Nate. I have to disagree with you. It was the first time I have ever experienced a coin vanish watching someone use this method. I never thought I would be fooled by it. I mean Ive been around, right. Ive seen it all. Almost. Still fooled me. And thats were it matters, doesnt it?

The Marathon Man story is true and its a perfect example. Hoffman did indeed exhaust himself. He stayed up for days, I believe. Well dont you find that a bit dangerous? What if your character is a heroin addict and its something youve never experienced? Do you shoot up and get in front of the camera? No, you act.

Another example. Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. He had to portray a blind man. Now, the first thing you would think on preparing for the role is to blindfold your self and wander around so youll know what it feels like. Right? But guess what youre rehearsing now? Youre rehearsing bumping around in the dark. Take a good look at a blind persons behavior. They dont look like their bumping around the dark to me. What if you applied an AS IF? The AS IF for behavior for a blind person is: listening. Listen to every word being said. Try it. Im serious, try it and notice what it does to your behavior. Now, watch Pacinos performance. His behavior is very specific. He wasnt trying to be blind. He was creating the illusion of a blind persons behavior through very specific crafting. Its active. ACT-ive. Get it?

A good actor has to be, among other things, a good craftsman. The same goes for someone desiring to be a good magician. Smart people who want to be good magicians should take basic acting classes. Or better yet, basic theater classes. Get yourself cast in some community theater. Work on a production in college or high school. Learn the basics of theater. Good magic is theater. No matter what kind of magic you perform.

I read Mr. Swisss book when it was first published. Now I want and need to read it again! Its been a breath of fresh air. It forced me to think. Deeply. And spending time with Mr. Swiss and seeing his philosophy in action reinforces this. A question thats been haunting me is What am I doing when I do magic? I knew that answer, but its changed because I have changed. And Ive come to realize that my performance of magic hasnt caught up. Lucky for me, Swiss gives me ways to answer it. I like that.

I am always reminded to keep digging. This digging will never end. Many of the changes Ive been making have been subtle and Im only starting to feel them now, a year or so after my first read through.

Its also refreshing to read accounts of Swisss history. Refreshing because of his openness in sharing such personal memories, and because I went through basically the same crap. As Dustin states:

YESTERDAYS and its three essays, Real Secrets, A Brief History of Magic Bar and The Writing on the Wall, is my favorite section in the book. I have read it many times because each time I read these essays my own memories wash over me like a warm, soothing bath: its a feeling I relish. Its amazing to me how several of Swiss experiences and my own are so similar. Of course, it shouldnt be surprising since, by our very nature as human beings, we will have similar experiences. For example, we all have our first loves and as magicians we will want to use that as a tool to impress the target of our desires. And, as we will learn later in the book, such emotional hooks are the essence of artall art: even magic. That important human element of art is one that is grossly underestimated by the vast majority of magicians. And, while on the surface these pieces serve to share with the reader the experiences of the authors youth and developmental years, they also serve to teach the readerat least this readerthe importance of humanizing a magical performance.
The importance of humanizing a magical performance.

So true and so important! My acting teacher taught how to humanize a text. Read through it stopping at beats of action or dialogue and daydream out loud. Put myself in the circumstances and ask how would I feel in that situation. Personalize. You put yourself in the characters place. The great actors do that. And I believe the great magicians, at least the ones I admire, do the same thing at a certain level. Why? Because they are human, and I think most of us forget that when we perform.

Humanize. This is why we have so many different acts. We have P&T, Leipzig, King, Swiss, Vernon, Close, Carney, Tamariz, etcetera, and etcetera. All different, all have humanized and are humanizing their work. Because when the work is personal, it is important to them. Then and only then can it be important to the audience.

A question that Swiss is currently forcing me to answer is: Why? Actually I should say its a question he is forcing me to ASK. Answering is a different issue.

Why this trick?
Why am I saying this at that moment?
Why am I wearing the clothes I wear?
Why?
Why?!
Why!!!

Hes been driving me nuts with this, actually! But I asked for it.

I may never have all the answers to all my questions and thats ok. Its all part of THE PROCESS. As corny as it sounds, its the journey thats important. And it is.

Didnt Yogi Berra say that when you come to a fork in the road you should take it? Thanks for the fork, J!

I think an important point to remember is that all this work needs to be deeply personal. Ill never do the French Drop like Swiss, because Im not Swiss. Im Greek. Kyriakos. Thats Greek to me.

Never mind.

His thoughts and work on a specific subject are his thoughts and work garnered from his study and experience. Thanks for sharing, Jamy.

Whats the point? Hmmwell, Im going to use Shattering Illusions as a guidebook. Hes been there, done that and its clear from where he speaks. But he does tell us not to take his word for it. Learn from experience. I'm going there, doing it.

So Im going to stop writing now and get some. Experience that is. I got a gig to get too.

Regarding Brians comment on the early work in Meisner training. A clearer definition would be that the first year of the work focuses on training the actors instrument to listen. The basic repetition exercise a student uses trains you to take the attention off of yourself and put it on your partner. You are trained to listen (not just with your ears) and respond/live truthfully. As you progress through the training various parts are added to the basic exercise and eventually you are living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. You are creating convincing illusions.

Whew! I need a drink

Dennis
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Postby Brian Marks » 03/28/04 01:03 AM

Its good to see Im not the only Meisner guy hear
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/28/04 02:28 PM

Well, I'm an "Adler" guy. :)
I'll only add that there is no definitive "Method" because Stanislavski changed his own definition of it over the course of his lifetime. If you want the early Method, study Strasberg, which is the psychologically intricate business where you use your own emotional experiences as the basis for your work.
If you want the later Method, study Adler, which uses only your imagination to produce the emotions required for your work.
Most of the other versions of the Method fall somewhere in the middle.
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Postby Guest » 03/29/04 11:07 AM

I just want to add that I loved the book, especially for its focus on performing. I'd also like to say that although Jamy wouldn't recognize me if I bumped into him on the street, nevertheless over the last two years I've emailed him fairly often for advice and feedback, and he's answered every time, graciously and informatively.
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Postby Guest » 03/29/04 05:47 PM

Jamy, in my opinion, is one of the most provocative magicians, along with peers like Max Maven and Jon R. He definately pushes the envelope. Not to mention his Card Clinic is world class.
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Postby 000 » 08/10/08 01:39 AM

I understand some of these 'chapters' appeared in Genii as articles. Could someone post a list in which Genii issues these articles appeared?
Thanks
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Postby Ian Kendall » 08/10/08 04:52 AM

I've got a couple of issues from 92 or 93 which have some of the articles. Why don't you sign up for access to the archives and dig through them?

Take care, Ian
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Postby Moment » 12/27/12 11:14 AM

I read this book recently and thought it was great. Thanks for the review it's pretty spot on if you ask me!
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