Why is the magic community so adverse to change?

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Smoothini » 11/28/09 06:23 AM

I want someone to explain something very simple to me. Besides what can be an easy conclusion to arrive to, I think there has to be something larger to it that I just don't see.

I'm an entertainer that claims to be a magician. To me, the performance is the most important aspect to a show. Over the past few years, I've created a nice following of individuals from my culture that support my career. I've been very "underground" for many years. I've also came to the conclusion that no matter what it is I do with myself within the magic community, I will never, ever, ever be taking seriously.

Mainly because I come from the Hip-Hop culture.

I have recieved some very heated messages concerning a Bill in Lemon routine that I posted on youtube. Now, I know that a lot of magicians just don't like perverted magic. They don't like cursing, and a lot of sexual refrences in a performance. But some of these messages have crossed the line quite a bit.

Not that I care about crossing the line. I am very raunchy. But even before people knew that I was so foul mouthed. They would judge me by my stage name, "Smoothini the Ghetto Houdini" and immediatly dismiss me.

I would like to open the avenues of communication so that I can realize if the magic community in general is opposed to Hip-Hop specifically. Or, they are just not used to a magician who isn't from the traditional cut.

I wear the types of clothes they were in my neighborhood, and I've been somewhat successful around the world looking like this. But why is it, that many messages and criticism about me are about my clothes and choice of music. Is it that the magic community is unwilling to accept a person playing the character of a "Ghetto Houdini", or is it just personal amongst those critics.

Thanks!

Magically,

Tomas B. De la Cruz Jr.
"Smoothini the Ghetto Houdini"
www.smoothini.com
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Postby Mark.Lewis » 11/28/09 08:20 AM

By the sound of your act I am quite sure that I wouldn't like it either. It sounds quite horrific to me. However anything that annoys other magicians makes you a sterling fellow in my books. Please keep it up and the more perverted the better.
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Postby Tom Stone » 11/28/09 01:22 PM

Smoothini wrote:I would like to open the avenues of communication so that I can realize if the magic community in general is opposed to Hip-Hop specifically. Or, they are just not used to a magician who isn't from the traditional cut.

I wear the types of clothes they were in my neighborhood, and I've been somewhat successful around the world looking like this. But why is it, that many messages and criticism about me are about my clothes and choice of music. Is it that the magic community is unwilling to accept a person playing the character of a "Ghetto Houdini", or is it just personal amongst those critics.


Hello Tomas.

You need to understand that it is a rather difficult art to give constructive critique - an art that very few are skilled in.
So, my first suggestion is that you try to ignore all the concrete details and "facts" in the complaints - because I am 100% sure that they all are completely wrong. The details, that is.
The complaints themselves, when you've "erased" the details, might still have some validity. But only to the degree that the critics sense that something is out of sync, or doesn't meld properly, or something is diffuse. And when they sense something like that, and they are unable to put their finger on what they are reacting to - they usually just pick any random detail that sticks out, as that is the only way they can communicate what they've sensed.

So, make note of when they complain, and where they complain - but ignore what they complain over, because the details are almost always wrong.
Then, of course, you have the difficult task of figuring out what they mean, when you know that it definitely isn't what they've said. :)

It's like this - imagine that you are painting a picture. At every single moment during the work, critics who are unable to imagine what your intentions are, will tell you that the painting is lousy.
When they see the blank canvas, they will complain and say that your painting is too white.
As you make the broad strokes that will be the base, they will say that it is too primitive.
When they say that it is unrealistic, they actually mean that they can't imagine the shadows you haven't painted in yet.
There will be negative critique all the way up until you get the last paint stroke in place - and first then, they will lighten up and call you a genious and praise your work.
But they will still not understand what you have done - and some will even ask; "But why did you paint all that crap first? Why didn't you paint this masterpiece right away?".

To continue the analogy - I don't believe that you have placed the final stroke in place yet, in your act. But once you do, I believe that your critics will become your fans.

Does anything of this sound reasonable?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 11/28/09 02:04 PM

The use of magic in concerts by Hip-Hop and rap artists is long established--Franz Harary has been assisting lots of famous singers in those genres for many years.

Magic certainly has a place in any subculture as long as the audience enjoys it. If the language used is appropriate to the subculture, then it's appropriate for magic in that venue.

It doesn't matter what people outside of the group of folks you perform for think--if your audience digs it, then it's all good.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/28/09 05:47 PM

Smoothini wrote:... Is it that the magic community is unwilling to accept a person playing the character of a "Ghetto Houdini", or is it just personal amongst those critics...


Phrased like a diplomat there. Bravo. If playing the street hip-hop scene character is paying your bills you can laugh all the way to the bank.
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Postby Smoothini » 11/28/09 10:53 PM

To Mr. Lewis, it is actually very much so horrific. You can check it out yourself: Smoothini at the Nathan Burton Comedy Magic Show sorry for the audio in the middle of the video, just about when I got warmed up.

Mr. Stone, you hit the nail right on the head. In fact I printed that reply and now have it up on my wall next to me. Man, I don't even know what or who the "Ghetto" Houdini really is. The character is far from complete. And without the character, I'm not sure exactly where I want my act to go. It's totally a very offensive work-in-progress. But you explained it to me in a way I could never, and I appreciate it.

I love this art, and I want to make sure if I'm doing good or headed in the right direction. It's pretty hard when your spectators all love it, but your peers seem to be not so sure. Then again the only person I could compare myself to is if Simon Lovell, Michael Finney, Gregory Wilson and the Amazing Johnathen were to have had an offspring and blessed that child with the mouth of Richard Pryor.

Mr. Kaufman, I'm actually spending these weeks in Baltimore with my son. I'm going to stay out in New York and occasionally come back down to perform. I would love to invite you to one of my performances. It will actually be one of the Bar Shows I host where I'm not as uncouth. I'll be dropping the whole Ghetto Houdini act as I'm expecting individuals who won't like it as much.

I attempted to get in contact with the guys at Illussion's, but they've ignored me. LOL.

I also know that Franz has done stuff with Rap artists, but there is a difference. The difference could be compared to the use of an illusion in a country artist's concert. Compared to a cowboy doing magic. Or better said... Criss Angel is from the Rock culture. Not magic being performed at a rock concert. Or, like Doug Henning.

And thank you very much for agreeing that if the language is appropriate for the audience, then it's appropriate for the venue. Because God only knows that drunk Marines straight from Iraq appreciate more than their fair share of expletives. I know, I was one of thoe Marines.

Mr. Townsend, don't let the hat, baggy jeans, slang and the bop in my walk fool you. I'm not as ignorant as I play myself out to be. ;-)

-------

Thanks everyone for your responses. I got exactly what I needed to know. Which is that I'm not completly wrong. I still might not know how to exactly execute what it is I envision. And even once I do know, not everyone is going to enjoy it. But that should take away from what it is I've dedicated my life to doing. It shouldn't also make me feel any lesser because I mirror the culture in which I was raised in. Instead of conforming to the overall magic culture and try to copy the style of all the magicians I saw on the L&L tapes I learned from as a child.

Imagine that. Me as a carbon copy of Mark Wilson and Michael Ammar. Much respect to them, because I wouldn't be a magician. But I'd get shot in the hood.

~ Tomas B. De la Cruz Jr.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 11/29/09 02:49 AM

Watched your video and found that your character is not nearly as well developed as it could be. Where's the blackness in your performance? Could've been a white guy doing your act.
You need to push it further.
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Postby Mark.Lewis » 11/29/09 08:03 AM

On another note one of the greatest magicians I ever saw was a black guy. He created a sensation at a Magic Circle Festival where he was the MC and did his act years ago. He stole the show night after night. His name was Bunny Neill from Jamaica. He died not too long ago.

I have noted that the best magicians are often the ones you have never heard of.
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Postby Smoothini » 11/29/09 01:59 PM

Mr. Kaufman. Actually I'm not black at all. I'm Latino. My whole idea of the "Ghetto" Houdini isn't to be a "Black" Houdini, but more of a character that we could find in any of the New York streets.

But also, I was performing for Nathan Burton. His show is very much a family show. Here is me at full blast: Smoothini @ After the Show

I have been meaning to try to act way more urban, use more slang. But I don't want to make if come across as if I'm trying to act "Black", but that I'm just acting like any other Dominican you would meet in New York.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 11/29/09 05:10 PM

Black, brown, green, pink--it doesn't matter as long as you're in tune with your audience.
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Postby Tom Stone » 11/29/09 05:59 PM

Smoothini wrote:Man, I don't even know what or who the "Ghetto" Houdini really is.


Yes, that is what I noticed in the clips - but I didn't know how straight-forward I could be on an open forum. But since you have revealed it in an open and almost "naked" way - I hope you don't mind that I say a few difficult things.

What I see in the clips is not a character, but a facade. An artificial exterior. I see someone who appears to be kind and sensitive, whom, now and then, suddenly remembers "Oh, I'm supposed to be nasty" and throws the facade forward, and then sinks back to being private again.

There is no dramatic glue that hold these sparks together, so it becomes a series of cold starts - and for each cold start, you feel that you have to become louder or nastier to keep the interest up. The resulting impression for the viewer is that you seem insecure with yourself.

My foremost advice is, start to take acting lessons. If you want to play a character that is far from your own nature, you need good acting techniques.

My second advice is - you need to apply a base layer to your character. A simple subplot that are running through the whole act - that can cover the "naked" spots where you now becomes private. (Examples of "naked" spots are when you are waiting for a spectator to come up on stage, waiting for a reply... all spots where your character has nothing to do).
Preferably something very simple, so you don't have to think.
Examples: "I have a mortal fear of snakes" i.e. everytime you don't have anything to do; avoid shadows, look suspiciously at mike cords and ropes, shudder when you see snakeskin belts... just so it is appearant that your mind is occupied with something else than waiting for the next line to be said.

Or use a song. Immerse yourself in a silent beat or groove.
Something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RJfQekojlA
(You can find better songs, probably - but use a similar tempo, and something that is easy to hum). Let that beat hum at the back of your head through the whole act, and let it emerge when needed, with subtle signs that you are jazzing to a beat; tiny head and hip movements etc.

Then, as Richard said, you need to take the character further.
Is your character a person that you would enjoy meeting if he was real? (Like the character Will in the TV-series Fresh Prince...) Or is he someone you would hate (like Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers).
In any case, it needs to be crisp and crystallized - For example, look at Norbert Ferre:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XTSosDjVa8
He has two characters - but when the first character is there, you can not even see a trace of the second character. And when the second character turns up, there is not a single trace of the first. Crisp and crystal clear. Your character needs to be equally crisp.

Btw - in your spongeball routine, should not Smoothini have blue balls?

So, what kind of person is he?
I'm non-american, so I can't even begin understand the issues with skin and pigmentation over there, and might accidentally say something that is culturally wrong - but I guess there's some material to play with in that context as well.
( I imagine a person of color who, when his application to join the K.K.K. is denied, believes that it is because they don't like HipHop - would that be amusing? I.e. a character who understand the broad strokes, but are way off on the details).
What makes him tick? What does he like to eat? What makes him strong, scared, mad, romantic, envious, vulnerable.. etc etc.

Contrasts are good as well. If he is misogynic towards one kind of women, he should be the opposite, a smooth-talker, towards another kind of women. So that it becomes wild contrasts when two women, one of each kind, join you on stage.

You should also evolve your stage looks somewhat - take it further, so shoes, clothes etc are in sync with the charater.

Your body control can be improved as well, for blocking, stance etc. Begin with mirror excersises. Close your eyes and make a strange pose. Imagine what it looks like - then open your eyes. If it differs from your mental image, you need to exercise more, until you know exactly where your body is.

I hope I didn't offend you by being outspoken.
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Postby Mark.Lewis » 11/29/09 06:45 PM

I am not going to comment on your own act but whoever it was that introduced you needs to learn to keep still on stage and not wander all over the place. You should always keep still on stage unless you have a reason to move.
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Postby Edward » 11/30/09 11:04 PM

What happens when the hip-hop phases out? Wouldn't you have reinvent yourself?
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/30/09 11:22 PM

Edward wrote:What happens when the hip-hop phases out? Wouldn't you have reinvent yourself?



Snap? FAIL

Look how many folks are still dressing disco.
Not naming names here but some folks are still buying shiny rhinestone studded sparkly jackets and stuff. Just saying...

I thought EMO and the Twilight pasty faced eyebrow thing was the latest thing.
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Postby mrgoat » 12/01/09 06:15 AM

Here's an idea. What if you REALLY played up the Latino Who Wished He Was Really Black idea?

I have seen your stuff before, and I love hip hop. I know where you are coming from. I don't mind about the swearing and clothes, but I agree the character seems shallow.

I think adding this 'I wish I was really black' would work well. Have you seen Ali G from the UK? A Jewish actor who plays someone wishing he was black. In the UK the word for someone like that is Wigga. Don't know if that is used over your side of the pond or not. But I am certain sure NY and LA are both full of Latino men who dress, talk and act "black".

Just an idea to kick around...
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Postby Ted M » 12/01/09 10:51 AM

Goat, "urban" is not the same as "black". A reminder of what Smoothini wrote:

Actually I'm not black at all. I'm Latino. My whole idea of the "Ghetto" Houdini isn't to be a "Black" Houdini, but more of a character that we could find in any of the New York streets.

I have been meaning to try to act way more urban, use more slang. But I don't want to make if come across as if I'm trying to act "Black", but that I'm just acting like any other Dominican you would meet in New York.
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Postby mrgoat » 12/01/09 11:37 AM

Ted M wrote:Goat, "urban" is not the same as "black". A reminder of what Smoothini wrote:

Actually I'm not black at all. I'm Latino. My whole idea of the "Ghetto" Houdini isn't to be a "Black" Houdini, but more of a character that we could find in any of the New York streets.

I have been meaning to try to act way more urban, use more slang. But I don't want to make if come across as if I'm trying to act "Black", but that I'm just acting like any other Dominican you would meet in New York.



Thanks, I know what it means and I know what he wrote. I was suggesting there might be mileage in a character based on a latino who wished he was black.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/01/09 11:56 AM

Urban could mean anthing from Jewish to working class joes with neighborhood accents. From Woody Allen to Ralph Kramden.

Then we got to 'street'. There are lots of different kinds of street scenes. From Times Square in it's bad old heyday of loud and crass to a string quartet on the subway platform. How many of us who went to Tannen's back on 1540 Broadway can forget the folks outside around the corner on the street handing out flyers telling us "f**k and s**k no tip ten bucks"? In just a few blocks you can find diversity ranging from the guy on the corner preaching the end of the world to folks who want to clean your car windows to mimes to folks selling caricature paintings...

Just saying poor, loud and crass aren't the only kinds of urban and street themes one can explore.
Last edited by Jonathan Townsend on 12/01/09 12:01 PM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: Ah the bad old days when the streets were safe.
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Postby Marc Rehula » 12/03/09 11:21 AM

Smoothini wrote:I have recieved some very heated messages concerning a Bill in Lemon routine that I posted on youtube.


How cutting edge is a magician who does Bill in Lemon?
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/03/09 12:02 PM

Bill in lemon effect was possibly cutting edge three hundred odd years ago when bills were first circulated. Hardly the feat of having a few odds and ends appear under a tree where the emperor pointed but still "cutting edge" as practical tricks go.

As to the presentation... well that pretty much depends on context IMHO.
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Postby Smoothini » 12/03/09 08:42 PM

Marc Rehula wrote:
Smoothini wrote:I have recieved some very heated messages concerning a Bill in Lemon routine that I posted on youtube.


How cutting edge is a magician who does Bill in Lemon?



:blush: ummm...... yea, not cutting edge at all. It's just how....I've... well, take a look yourself:

Smoothini's Bill in Lemon
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