acting class for the magician

Discussions of new films, books, television shows, and media indirectly related to magic and magicians. For example, there may be a book on mnemonics or theatrical technique we should know or at least know about.

Postby Bill Wheeler » 02/06/03 09:47 AM

Hello!

This spring I am going to begin taking acting classes. This really is more for fun and personal development; but it obviously dovetails with magic too. For those who have acting experience or took classes as well....I wanted to ask the following:

What in an acting class did you learn that made you a better magician?

I suppose I know the answer in general terms like "character development" but I was more interested in hearing about personal experiences.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 02/06/03 10:26 AM

As you noted, character development is the obvious answer. But to take it a step further (with a good coach/instructor) you will learn techniques for weaving that character with actions, choices, etc. Basically, you will learn how to ask yourself if a given "thing" is something the character you are portraying would actually do. This will ultimately help you with the development of your act in terms of both material selection and presentation.

Rehearsal discipline is a BIG thing you will learn in a good acting class that will benefit your magic.

A good class will also teach you script writing. Most good coaches will give you only the "given circumstances" of a scene and make you and your partner(s) write the scene. While the exercise is more for teaching character development, it also helps in scene construction (where the "highs" and "lows" go, and how to build them).

Its also a hell of a lot of fun.

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Postby Brian Marks » 02/06/03 12:40 PM

Meisner classes teach listening skills, taking the focus off yourself and putting it on your actions and acting partners. It open's you up to alot of listening and interaction skills. Very good stuff.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 02/06/03 03:23 PM

Jack Lemmon (in my opinion the greatest actor of the 20th century) always said that the best actors were those who listened. Now couple that with what many great magicians say about listening to their audience! Especially in a close-up situation where the audience becomes an important part of the "scene."

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Postby Charles Spector » 02/06/03 05:13 PM

Speaking of acting classes, I might point out that an improvisation class would be benificial.

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Postby Pete McCabe » 02/06/03 05:29 PM

Sense memory (which I'm not sure if they're still teaching in acting classes) is the basis of all sleight of hand, and most of working with gaffs as well.

For a stage magician, movement class is the most important thing you'll ever do.

If you speak when you perform, vocal production is a must.

For the close-up magician, I might rank improv classes the most single useful thing you can do to become a better performer. I took an improv workshop/class for several years when I lived in NYC and aside from being great training for magic, it was incredible fun.

The most important thing I learned from Improv class was when a spectator asks you a question -- any question -- the first word out of your mouth is always "Yes."
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Postby Bill Wheeler » 02/06/03 07:00 PM

Hi Pete and Charles:

I am currently taking Improv classes at Second City...and I will agree that the training there can be exceedingly beneficial for a magician. The only downside may be that more magicians may be apt to totally improvise a presentation believing they have "the gift of gab" (as referred to by Erdnase).

Thanks for all the responses so far!

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Postby Brian Marks » 02/06/03 08:17 PM

I currently take improv classes in New York with Gotham City Improv and Upright Citizens Brigade.

If your looking to take an imprv class go to www.yesand.com they have a bulletin board that plugs classes, shows and articles on improv.
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Postby Charles Spector » 02/08/03 03:07 PM

Bill Wheeler said The only downside may be that more magicians may be apt to totally improvise a presentation believing they have "the gift of gab" (as referred to by Erdnase).

True, and this would be a huge mistake on the part of the magician. An improv class in acting is useful in giving you the tools to work with when you mess-up, another actor messes-up, something goes wrong. Improv acting I would say is the skin on the skeleton, or maybe the skeleton in the skin.

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Postby Brian Marks » 02/08/03 08:04 PM

improv is used often to create written materal for movie scripts, comedy sketches and stand up routines. If used properly, it can be used to create presentations for tricks. What I mean by properly will often depend on the trick and your comfortability performing it. You must have the technical aspects of a trick down perfectly and understand at what points misdirection will be needed. You may even have a presentational idea and improvise it to go along with a trick so that you flush out the idea and cript it for paying audiences. Improv should be used as a process, not as a performance. Also improv itself is not difficult. Conversations are not written out before hand. Do realize improv is not equal to comedy
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Postby Guest » 02/09/03 01:34 PM

There were actually many things that I learned in the BFA program (the study of theatre). Stage direction, movement, lighting, make-up, prop construction, set design, costume design, and theatre administration all come into play when I am working on stages. However, the two that stand out the most for me were the understanding and practice of "method acting" where one truly gets into character and believes they are that character and what they are doing. Not as easy as it sounds and can be a truly gut wrenching experience depending upon the character and time one remains in that character. It helps when performing mentalism (or magic) because one can put themselves into the mindframe of really doing it, for real!

The other was taking courses and working with Keith Johnstone, considered the father of modern improvisation and the inventor of Theatre Sports. Improvisation is not as easy as it looks, not everyone can do it and there is a lot more to it than there appears to be at first glance. It is invaluable when developing a new routine, and is also a great help when working with audience members. A great concept that is learned early in improv is not to block ideas. Blocking is not allowed in theatre sports. When someone throws an idea at you, you must accept it and go with it, the same as if you are on stage and a participant throws you for a loop with something they said or did. You learn through improvisation to keep going with that idea and play it for what it is worth. To take that spur of the moment and develop it as far as you can go - instantly. Out of those interactions, (which is why one should tape ALL their performances, even if it is just the sound which is an easy thing to do) come some very funny bits that one can reuse in all their performances. Again, this is all part of developing your routines and bits of business, ones that will stay with you for years.

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Postby Guest » 02/27/03 05:07 PM

Thinking of magic as scenes or theatre can be a big mistake.

In movies, TV and theatre, an entirely artifical situation has been created so they characters can appear real in that setting.

If you create a theatrical character and then place it the context of a real situation, everyone else will be natural and you will be acting.

This will make you look phoney.

Instead, try and practice invisible theatre or naturalistic acting. The audience should feel as if this is the first time you have said these words or performed in this way.

Instead of taking formal acting class I would suggest working with stand up comedians, public speakers or improvisation groups.

Magic is fake enough without creating a fake character.
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 02/27/03 05:24 PM

Originally posted by Nicholas J. Johnson:
Instead, try and practice invisible theatre or naturalistic acting.
Invisible theater? What's that? And all acting should be natural.

The audience should feel as if this is the first time you have said these words or performed in this way.
And that's what acting classes will teach you. If you go to a Broadway show, won't you get the impression that the events of the show are happening right then, for the first time? Even if the show's been running for ten years?

If you really understand what acting is, you'll know that it applies just as well to magic as it does to theater, movies, and television. I'd say that's something most of the top pros have realized -- which is why they're the top pros.

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Postby Brian Marks » 02/27/03 10:09 PM

Acting oesn't teach you to be fake, it teaches you to be real & truthful. Stand Up Comedy like acting must also be real & truthful. Stand Up Comedy will teach you writing as well as performing which is just as important as good acting. In both you must be in the moment, listening the audience and other actors.
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Postby John Signa » 03/03/03 02:35 PM

Aside from the previously mentioned topics, two other concepts I retained from my acting classes were:

Analyzing a script - Understanding the dramatic structure and development, where the climaxes are.

Motivation (understanding and development) - Understanding the "why" behind every action you do and every word you say. Not just your own internal reasons, but the reasons conveyed to and interpreted by the audience. Someone should be able to stop you at any point and why you did a particular action, and the answer shouldn't be something like "because I had to get the card second from the top" even though that's why you did it.
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