Robert-Houdin, Roberto Giobbi, and an Actor Prepares

Discuss the views of your favorite Genii columnists.

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/23/10 05:01 PM

Roberto Giobbis op-ed piece (The Genii Session, May, 2010 Genii) on Robert-Houdins oft quoted suggestion that a magician is an actor playing the part of a magician, is an interesting subject I believe is worthy of discussion here. (And for you non-subscribers out there interested in the subject of acting and the performance of magic, I highly recommend purchasing the issue to read the piece soif you likeyou can engage in this thread with the proper background.)

As I just provedand as Mr. Giobbi correctly notesthe line has been misquoted countless times in magics literature. But beyond that, I feel his argument that Robert-Houdin did not actually mean that which has been assigned to his quote over the last century or so is a bit off track.

By its nature opinion isnt necessarily right or wrong. However, a flawed opinion can be formed via a misinterpretation of the evidence and I believe thats whats going on here. (By the way: Who would know this lesson better than a critic?)

Part of Mr. Giobbis contention is that the Robert-Houdin line has been taken out of context. His basis for this conclusion is that the chapter in which the line appears is not one on performance theory, but instead on the origins of wordsin this instance, two words in particular. On that we can agree. However, Robert-Houdin, in explaining why the two words under consideration are less than perfect as definitions of what a magician is, he unequivocally tells us what he believes a magician isnt and what one is and that is an actor playing the part of someone who can break the laws of nature and perform the impossible: a magician.

After making this statement, Robert-Houdin goes on to say that, while he doesnt like the two words used to describe magicians (after having just explained why), hes not going to trample on preconceived notions and will continue to use them (though indifferently) in his book.

It is amply clear that he just wanted the reader to know what he believes a magician is versus what one is not and why those two wordsbased on a strict interpretation of their definitionssends the wrong message. A conjuror is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician; he is an artist whose fingers have more need to move with deftness than with speed. I may even add that where sleight-of-hand is involved, the quieter the movement of the performer, the more readily will the spectators be deceived.

The conjuror is not a juggler.

The conjuror is an actor playing the part of a magician.


That seems fairly unequivocal to me. And the line could have just as easily appeared in the midst of the explanation of an effect and it would still mean what it does. That it didnt appear in a theoretical chapter is inconsequential. In this case, it was an observation used to prove his point about words used to describe (at the time, and still today) modern performance magicians, which of one he writes only imperfectly describes the art which it denotes.

Mr. Giobbi further opines that, because no other reference to the conjuror studying acting appears in the text, then Robert-Houdin must not have meant that magicians should study acting. While Aristotle wrote on dramatic theory (so the study of it goes way back), Im not all that sure there were a lot of acting schools around in the 19th century. The London Academy does come to mind, but it was founded a mere seven years prior to Robert-Houdins book where this quote is found.

Generally speaking, during that period (and even into the early 20th century), when one decided to become an actoroften to the dismay of the familyhe studied the craft with an acting troupe. These days acting classes are a tad more ubiquitous.

But my real problem starts when Mr. Giobbi claims that studying acting gives one the best chance not to be a good magician. [Emphasis as in original.] Additionally, and while Mr. Giobbi admits to taking lessons from an actor (or actorsits not clear) in regard to specific tricks and was able to learn something from that, he warns the reader not to take acting classes because the student will be doing things that have nothing to do with magic.

Spoken like someone who has never truly studied acting if you ask me.

One of the things I learned from Dai Vernon was that virtually everything one studiesart, science, popular culture (though I recall he was a little leery on politics when I told him of my interest in it)can be applied to our magic. Read about everything, hed say.

Would one use everything learned when reading the classics or studying the life and work of, say, Albert Einstein in their magic? No, but I use the notion of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge in the script of a trick I do and I know what it means (thats an important distinction versus just saying lines for the sake of saying them).

We are allowed to be selective about what we learn and how to apply it to our chosen craft of magic. If we make a mistake (Giobbi cites an error one magician made after working with a theatrical director) we learn from it, correct it, and move on. But we certainly should not dismiss an entire discipline that the majority of magicians I know who have studied it found to be most beneficial to their work.

Additionally, though he contends that its not contradictive, he does admit that some acting techniques are beneficial; its just that he also believes magicians do not have to be actors. He also implies that actors do not necessarily make for good magicians just because they are actors. In my, albeit limited, experiences in this regard, the actors I have trained in magic have learned faster and more effectively than non-actors. Thats because they have already mastered part of the craft; performance. And in countless hours of conversation with Mark Wilson, who probably has more experience in training actors to do magic than anyone else, I can confidently say that he would likely agree with me.

Interestingly, Mr. Giobbi brings up Juan Tamariz several times in his piece. I have no idea if Sr. Tamariz studied acting (though Giobbi implies that he has not) or if he recommends it. But I do know this from personal experience after recently being on stage with him: Sr. Tamariz is a remarkable actor.

During a piece that he does with his wife, he speaks with her in Spanish in front of the English-speaking audience. Without understanding a word they are saying, the audience knows what is going on. That is actingand damn good acting. And there are moments when Tamariz masterfully uses silence while still conveying a message to his audience. Whether Mr. Giobbi (or Tamariz) knows it or not, that is acting at one of its highest levels.

If, like other magicians Giobbi notes, Tamariz did not study acting, it doesnt matter. He and they are still acting: Even when they are just being themselves.

And there is the flaw in Mr. Giobbis interpretation of acting: That apparently the study of acting can put up roadblocks to a magician being him (or her) self on stage or, in particular, in close-up situations. But the venue simply does not matter. The techniques of acting are adjustablejust like the techniques of magic areto the venue. (By the way, you learn that by studying acting.)

The techniques of acting are not just used when someone is pretending to be Prospero in The Tempest. That is a shortsighted view of what actingparticularly for the magicianis. Even when a magician is being him or her self, they are still playing a part and clearly Robert-Houdin knew this (and I believe he knew this through both his performance experience and instinct).

Not everything one learns from acting will be applicable to magic; nor should it be. But the student cannot discern what aspects will work for him or her without learning them in the first place. Does one need to study acting to be a good magician? Not at all. But it certainly doesnt hurt andwhether you realize it or notsince youre already acting anyway, why not study the craft as well?

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/23/10 06:03 PM

In an odd coincidence, the new issue of MAGIC, which just went in the mail, also contains an article on this subject.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine
User avatar
Richard Kaufman
 
Posts: 20441
Joined: 07/18/01 12:00 PM
Location: Washington DC

Postby John Lovick » 04/23/10 07:06 PM

Dustin,

I had many of the same objections to the article that you did. The quote that I thought was really off base was: "...for to act in the actor's sense, you will very likely appear contrived, unnatural, and uncommunicative because you will seem artificial."

Is that why people watch movies, TV shows, and plays, because actors, when they do what they do, appear contrived, unnatural, and artificial?

Of course, he's talking about magicians performing in a slightly different context, but it's clear that he he really doesn't know what he's talking about. Because if a magician, even in an informal setting, "acts in the actor's sense", then he will (almost by definition) NOT appear contrived, unnatural, and artificial.

The magicians who do appear unnatural in their performances (and we've all countless examples) are NOT "acting in the actor's sense" which is exactly why they appear artificial.

Based on this essay, I would say that Giobbi has no idea what acting is all about.
John Lovick
 
Posts: 174
Joined: 07/14/08 12:11 AM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/23/10 09:21 PM

John, - we're having a Jon Lovitz "Master Thespian" with a cape moment here.
Across magicdom you can almost hear them pondering:
"What would Erdnase / Mark Wilson / Merlin / Doug Henning / Mandrake /Cris Angel / Rudy Colby / Doctor Bombay /... do?".

More cowbell!
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Necromancer » 04/24/10 01:53 AM

While I was fuming and furiously writing my own response to the Giobbi column, Dustin posted first. But perhaps mine hits some notes that he missed. Here it is.

It absolutely stands to reason that Robert-Houdin's oft-quoted, "A conjurer is an actor playing the part of a magician," might not always be interpreted in the manner the author intended. However, Mr. Giobbi's counterargument to the generally accepted interpretationthat effective acting is essential for effective magical performancesprings from a fallacious starting point and arrives at an equally erroneous conclusion.

Mr. Giobbi states, "...if you try to act in the sense of the actor...you have the best chance not to be a good magician, for to act in the actor's sense, you will very likely appear contrived, unnatural, and uncommunicative because you will seem artificial."

Since Mr. Giobbi admits that he has "instinctively stayed away from any type of acting," let's address some of the mistaken assumptions he makes about this craft.

Words like "contrived," "unnatural," "uncommunicative," and "artificial" are informative, because the picture they paint is that of the poorly trained actor. Hamlet's advice to the players echoes through them. However, good acting is, by definition, none of these things. It is honest and believable.


"The best actors do not let the wheels show." Henry Fonda


Mr. Giobbi believes: "Acting is essentially about playing a part and that's what magic is not about, at least as a general rule...Actually playing a part, as an actor does, is in my opinion detrimental to good magic."

But let's be honest: when we are performing as magicians, we are playing a part. Mr. Giobbi admits this when he says that the role of the magician is "to take man's world of dreams...and show how it can be lived by a super-hero, a God on earth, who is the magician, the maker of wonders." Yes, that role often possesses a personality that is based mostly on ourselves, but it's a role nonetheless.

Furthermore, acting is not, as Mr. Giobbi suggests, always the act of transforming yourself into something you are not and hiding behind roles. Quite the contrary. Even in situations where the role seems far apart from the actor's daily life, the actor must strip away pretense and find what is real and honest within himself that he can bring to the role and make it feel genuine. Otherwise, it is bad actingall externals with nothing believable at the core. And that, I'm sad to say, is what I've seen in poorly performed magic.


"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." Sanford Meisner


Do you maintain that you are just "being yourself," yet reacting to magical things that happen at your fingertips? Do you give the impression of reading minds? Do you pretend that your wand has a magical power? I hate to break the news to you, Mr. Giobbi, but that is acting. You don't have to be Dustin Hoffman, shiftting chameleon-like from role to role. Many professional actors do not.


"I'm not an actress who can create a character. I play me." Mary Tyler Moore


More quotes of Giobbi: "The actor is an instrument, albeit an artistic one, of the play and its director. Essentially the actor is a figure within a play that theatrically interprets a story as it could occur in real life, with its plot, conflicts, and final resolution...The actor interpets a text written by the author of the play and it is his job to creatively inhabit this to emotionally and intellectually involve the audience and make them 'live' the story."

He contrasts this with the magician, who "is the direct source of his art, unlike the actor who is an 'instrument' of the play and its author."

Unfortunately, Mr. Giobbi's definition is outdated. It only applies to actors who appear in plays written by others, but in this day and age, that is no longer the only theatrical option. Some actors are very much "the direct source of [their] art" and are creators or collaborators of their performance material. In many current instances, theater is created without playwrights at all, but through the spontaneous theatrical improvisations of the actors, who dare to live in the moment without knowing where it will take them.

To shore up his argument, Mr. Giobbi cites: "An example where acting would be detrimental to a situation, as Juan Tamariz once pointed out to me, is in most kinds of sucker effects. Acting out the situation with a text and gestures as it would be done in a play won't pass as sincere, whereas if you simply keep quiet and don't say anything it is much more likely to be believed."

The fallacy: it suggests that acting is "acting out with text and gestures." But those who have studied acting know that a good actor is one who remains alive on stage (or on screen) when he is saying nothing. Some of the greatest moments on film were moments of silence. These weren't accidents perpetrated by the untrained. And I see no coherent reason to believe that the context of sucker effects constitutes a special exception.


"I think it's probably honest to say that there's a certain powerful stillness that I remember admiring tremendously as I grew up. And that would be Spencer Tracy... and Bogart and that particular approach to the work. The stillness, the economy, the grace of that work, so they would have been then, my heroes on the screen." Ben Kingsley


Mr. Giobbi ends his column with an example that is irrelevant. In it, a professional magician performed an effect that was less than convincing because he had been directed by a theatrical director, but without the help of a magical consultant. This is to prove that theatrical directors might be helpful in clarifying dramatic construction and interpretation, but they "haven't got a clue of the psychological construction used in magic...." So? Having both would have helped, certainly, but what has this to do with the importance of learning acting in order to be a more effective magician?

To project the image you want through voice and movement, to execute sleights more deceptively, to relate to events onstage and off with spontaneity, to gain a better sense of dramatic structure for your performance pieces, to connect with an audience on an emotional level, to keep your material fresh no matter how many hundreds of times you perform itthese are all benefits that come from actor training.

Can a performer do good magic without acting training? Sure. Mr. Giobbi states that several world-class magicians he knows have done without it. But there are just as many (if not more) on the other side of that coin. (Ask Bob Fitch, John Lovick, David Regal, Tom Stone, etc.) And it begs the question: might the performers he cites be cheating themselves of reaching their full potential?

To conclude, as Mr. Giobbi does, that one doesn't need to learn effective acting in order to be an effective magician is ill-reasoned at best. At worst, it could dissuade those who might be on the fence about furthering their artistic development through acting classes.

If Mr. Giobbi wishes to use faulty arguments to rationalize his own lack of training, that's his business; but to use his column as a platform to preach such ignorance to our brethren is simply irresponsible and potentially damaging to our craft.
Neil Tobin, Necromancer
Necromancer
 
Posts: 219
Joined: 01/22/08 01:00 PM
Location: Chicago

Postby John Lovick » 04/24/10 02:05 PM

Really wonderful posts by both Mr. Stinett and Mr. Tobin.

To give you an idea of how off base most of the essay is, imagine he had written, If you are going to sing in your act, do not study singing. If you sing in the singers sense, you will very likely be off-key, out of tune, have no rhythm, and people will not recognize the melody.

It is the exact same thing, and makes as much sense as what he did write.
John Lovick
 
Posts: 174
Joined: 07/14/08 12:11 AM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/24/10 06:01 PM

So you're not going to get on the bandwagon for his "Performing College" series on how to perform magic?
Mundus vult decipi
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Joe Hanosek » 04/26/10 10:22 AM

By its nature opinion isnt necessarily right or wrong.
Joe Hanosek
 
Posts: 42
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Columbus, OH

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/26/10 11:47 AM

Joe Hanosek wrote:By its nature opinion isnt necessarily right or wrong.


I yearn for the day when the majority of readers here at this BBS can understand the humor of your post.
Mundus vult decipi
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/26/10 01:18 PM

While there may be some irony in my comment about opinion, there is one thing that obviously needs clarification: The weight of the opinion based on who is giving it.

Roberto Giobbis opinion carries far more weight than does mine. Readers, particularly younger students, are going to read his opinion (which he clearly stated was just an opinion) and find it compelling. So, when my (small) stature goes against his (larger one), my arguments had better be strong and pointed. I think they are. I believe I pointed out the flaws in his opinion.

As for the other comments made here, the same thing applies, though I believe John Lovicks opinion is equal to Mr. Giobbis; if not stronger. John has the background to make a clearer statement of fact versus opinion in this case. I believe the facts support my opinionated argument: John knows for a factthrough practical experiencethat they support his. People like John Lovick get to say whether or not Mr. Giobbi is right or wrong.

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/26/10 02:23 PM

No, people like Lovick do NOT get to say whether Roberto Giobbi is right or wrong. Nobody gets to say that, and some of the opinions above are among the most arrogant and insulting things I've ever seen written on this Forum directed at a piece of writing, and the writer, in Genii.

The only thing that can be said is that, from your personal or professional experience, you don't agree with him.

I've been in the theater, and also among actors, both as a student and semi-pro in my youth. I've seen first hand how the various acting schools, and there are many different schools which teach many different techniques, all think the others are "ruining" their students by teaching them stupid things. Lovick and Tobin's comments are no different than the biased remarks I used to hear from my teachers at the Stella Adler Conservatory whenever they wanted to put down the HB Studio, Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse, or the Strasberg Studio.

All you have here are opinions, and none of them are worth any more than Roberto's opinion, regardless of whether the person has acted or not, been taught acting or not, what "school" of acting the person has been taught, or whether the person is a professional or amateur magician.

To personally criticize the writer of the essay as "irresponsible" and "damaging," or saying that "he has no idea what acting is about" is needlessly insulting and WRONG. It only means that Roberto is not conforming to the views of Lovick and Tobin--views that are certainly not universally held since there are so many different techniques and approaches to acting AND performing magic. There are no "absolutes" in the rules and approach and technique of either acting or magic. And what works for person A may not work for persons B, C, or D--and so on.

I also believe the discussion also needs to be divided between performing close-up magic and performing magic on stage. Most magicians who attempt to use acting techniques when performing close-up appear foolish and overwrought (Rene Lavand excepted, though I'm referring to his ability to perform intensely in a close-up situation without coming across in a melodramatic manner). Acting techniques are designed to be used in plays, TV, or film--on stage or on screen--and not spitting distance from a live audience, where they seem artificial, hokey, and overwhelm the spectators who can see the sweat pouring off the actors' faces, the netting of the wigs, the makeup, and the little tricks and techniques actors are known for using. (And there's no need to point out all the little theaters in which performances are given for small groups. I saw Danny Glover in the Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot in a theater/room that held no more than 100 people in New York City at the Roundabout Theater many decades ago. It was electrifying, but that's because of the ability of those particular actors--many ... most ... actors performing so close to the audience just suck.) This is yet another instance where it's easy to overgeneralize, and I find myself falling into that very trap, so I'll alter my statement slightly and say that in my experience it very much depends on the actor, director, and play whether acting techniques work in close quarters. Most actors, directors, and plays are not up to that level of scrutiny, nor were they designed to be seen at a distance of 10 feet. Magicians "acting" at close range are generally a horrific experience.

And just because some close-up magicians learn and/or use tools from the actor's trade, such as how to enunciate, speak clearly, and relax while performing, it in no way whatsoever means they are actors, or actors playing the part of a magician. In fact, I would say it can be put, in my opinion, very simply:

The best magicians are those who manage to fuse their personality with a style of presentation which enhances its most interesting characteristics and makes them interesting to the audience. Showmanship and charisma, when added to that, are what separate the men from the boys.

Frankly, I think the posters in this thread owe Roberto an apology for the personal manner in which they've approached this discussion.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine
User avatar
Richard Kaufman
 
Posts: 20441
Joined: 07/18/01 12:00 PM
Location: Washington DC

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/26/10 04:40 PM

It was never my intention to insult Mr. Giobbi. If I did, for that I apologize. However, our opinions differ. Clearly passions are high in this regard and this too needs to be taken into consideration. But I agree with Richard in that personal attacks are uncalled for.

Regarding stage versus close-up: The studio theater I performed in was a 30 x 30 room with less than half of it being the stage. The actors couldand probably did at times (though inadvertently)spit on the audience. The techniques used were different from those used on the proscenium stage next door; they had to be in such an intimate venue.

The argument here is whether or not a magician is acting when performing. I say yes, regardless of the venue. Richard uses Rene Levand as just an exception to the rule. I say Sr. Levand is an example of the rule. I can name other exemplary close-up performers who I know will say that they are acting when doing their magic.

Mr. Giobbi and Richard admit that some magicians use some techniques of acting but that does not mean that they are acting. I cannot help but wonder where one draws the line. Mr. Giobbi used an example that speaking some Italian did not make one an Italian. This is a poor analogy. Perhaps a better one would be a general practitioner knowing some surgical techniques does not make him a surgeon. But obviously this is an extreme example and we could trade such extremes all day long and end up in the same place. After all, knowing a few tricks does not make one a magician in my opinion.

My late father loved to paint and produced many pieces. Some were not so good while others were okay. Later in life he studied the techniques of painting and became quite good and several of his pieces grace my walls and receive compliments.

One thing is sure: Even before he studied the craft and got better at it, he was still painting.

I suspect that there are painters who have never studied the craft who are exceptionally gifted artists.

Like I can name magicians who say they are acting, I can name many who do not believe they are acting. I believe they are and just dont know it. Like the unstudied painter they are gifted. But unlike the painter, whose work is an obvious product of a specific craft, the magicians work is the product of several disciplines combined. Acting is just one of them.

But still there are those who argue that magicians are just performing magic tricks.

A very dear friend of mine recently sent me a video of a young magician. Its a wonderful performance. And I find it very difficult to believe that anyone can watch it and say that this young man is just performing magic tricks and not, in fact, acting.

Please to enjoy (he starts about one minute in):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KloFOsjaI5c

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Bill Mullins » 04/26/10 06:35 PM

Dustin Stinett wrote: Like I can name magicians who say they are acting, I can name many who do not believe they are acting. I believe they are and just don’t know it.


But more importantly, do you know any magicians who say they aren't acting (or don't speak to the question), and clearly _aren't_ acting? The example of the magician who is _not_ an actor is more relevant to Giobbi's thesis than a list of examples of magicians who are actors -- and I agree that many magicians are in fact actors. In fact, if I were to become a serious performer of magic, I'd try to learn some acting techniques.

One reason this is a hard question, I think, is that we (and Roberto) are trying to define a nebulous concept (the "magician") in terms of another nebulous concept ("acting"). It's almost circular. I've seen it said that true acting is finding that part of yourself and using it to display and inform the character you are performing. Less is more. If you are doing a magic trick solely as yourself (and the best magicians, I believe, use magic to help us connect with the magician as a person -- see the current cover story), then to what extent are you "acting" and to what extent are you simply being yourself?

Is it only acting if you are presenting yourself as a person (overtly, or perhaps in your silent script) who has the ability to warp natural laws? When does using theatrical skills and techniques to enhance your performance stop, and when does it become acting?
Bill Mullins
 
Posts: 2873
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Huntsville, AL

Postby Max Maven » 04/26/10 06:56 PM

Richard, calm down.

The only problem I can see regarding the preceding posts (which are clearly the result of deliberation and not "cheap shot" insults) is the drift into the nomenclature of "right" and "wrong" instead of "agree" and "disagree."

More often than not it seems to be easier for people to express their opinions in didactic fashion. And, that fashion becomes all the more rigid when confined to text, without spoken nuance. And that, in turn, leads to the perception of such written opinions as being "arrogant" and "insulting."

That's not how this discussion reads to me. Rather, this collection of ideas and interpretations is thoughtful, stimulating and valuable.

But that's just my opinion.
Max Maven
 
Posts: 350
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollywood, CA

Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/26/10 08:02 PM

Max: don't tell me to calm down or I'll bite your leg off. I'm still jetlagged. :)

Just because a person utilizes some techniques of acting does not make him an actor, nor does any performance he give become acting due to the use of those techniques.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine
User avatar
Richard Kaufman
 
Posts: 20441
Joined: 07/18/01 12:00 PM
Location: Washington DC

Postby Necromancer » 04/26/10 11:29 PM

Clearly I have upset you, Richard. I am sorry.

I also had no intention of upsetting Mr. Giobbi. So if I have done so, I am sorry for that as well.

If my response was overly passionate, it is only because of my deep concern for your readers, many of who may accept Mr. Giobbi's conclusion as an excuse to avoid opportunities for further creative development.
Neil Tobin, Necromancer
Necromancer
 
Posts: 219
Joined: 01/22/08 01:00 PM
Location: Chicago

Postby Tom Stone » 04/27/10 02:05 AM

The May issue has not yet reached Stockholm, so I can't comment on Giobbi's piece, but since my name was mentioned...
...For a long time, I've felt that the phrase "The conjuror is an actor playing the part of a magician" really needs to be challenged because that phrase seems to be wrong.

Being a pragmatist, I've made some "field tests" through the years. Every time someone have quoted that phrase as a big truth, I've responded with some general questions and comments about acting techniques. Nothing difficult, just basic stuff (status transactions etc.) to get an idea on how well versed the quoter is with the actor's craft. Approximately 19 times out of 20, I have been met with a confused blank expression.

Based on those statistics - 95% of the magicians who quote that phrase know close to nothing about acting techniques - I think it is more correct to say that: A conjuror is almost never an actor playing the part of a magician - since that is a better representation of how the situation actually is.

Now - had the quote been "The conjuror should be an actor playing the part of a magician", then it would have been more interesting to discuss it. I'd argue against it though, since I lean more towards the opinion "a conjuror should be aware of the techniques within the actor's craft, as it can be fruitful to apply them now and then."
User avatar
Tom Stone
 
Posts: 1039
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/27/10 08:14 AM

Actor? Please... before acting there must be will else we are discussing mechanicals or simulacra - beings driven by an outside will.

I was hoping someone would posit a definition describing a sorcerer using a parody of social moores and a few obvious mechanical toys to distract from the soul/energy transfer from the audience into a special vessel to be used later in his workings.

Not that there's anything wrong with prancing to music while showing off some clever cabinetry, the occasional open discussion of perception and technology or managing flocks of distractors who can't manage to read a book on magic much less practice the craft.

BTW it's a bit more advanced but one can take energy from the reader by way of text or from the viewer by way of video. Such active works tend to have obsessive "readers" and a social dynamic which encourages others to do so as if enough readers could somehow make sense of the thing rather than the actual transfer taking place. The literary theory notion of "the work creates the reader" comes close to expressing the magical process - though fortunately only describes (poorly) half the process.

Okay, back to acting as if we don't know this.

PS - That comic actor from Seinfeld seemed to to a good job presenting himself as a magician. Maybe he might offer some insight if asked.
Last edited by Jonathan Townsend on 04/27/10 08:25 AM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: Half a spell is safer than none.
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Joe Pecore » 04/27/10 08:26 AM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:PS - That comic actor from Seinfeld seemed to to a good job presenting himself as a magician. Maybe he might offer some insight if asked.


He was interviewed on Reel Magic Quarterly DVD - Episode 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWatEFhh4TA
Share your knowledge on the MagicPedia wiki.
User avatar
Joe Pecore
 
Posts: 1736
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Northern Virginia

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/27/10 11:28 AM

Tom,

Would you please detail the Leakage Tree you (in fact) experience whenever you choose to buy bread, or any item, in one store versus another. It's "basic stuff."

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/27/10 12:44 PM

Funny, I was going to post and had an easy citation in hand but then I saw this really cute new toy from Toy Story 3 that reminded me of a friend in a sidebar - and its viral commercial, and wanted to buy it in the box, but when I went to Amazon.com it was a frowny faced thing, did not talk or even smell like strawberries so I came back here and decided to respond to Dustin's post with a working example.

Surely he won't call me Tom,

Jon

PS, IMHO that's adding nomenclature to "examined life" but taking a third position (outside transaction) perspective - so not likely an active subjective process in realtime. Again, IMHO - fMRI verification may show otherwise.
Last edited by Jonathan Townsend on 04/27/10 12:53 PM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: leakage from intended transation by availability of item, desireablity of item when inhand, distration to other items, alternate sources and scary thespians in capes hanging out on the corner waving red hankerchiefs.
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Tom Stone » 04/27/10 12:53 PM

Dustin Stinett wrote:Tom,
Would you please detail the Leakage Tree you (in fact) experience whenever you choose to buy bread, or any item, in one store versus another. It's "basic stuff."

No, I don't think I will, since the debated quote isn't "A conjuror is a shopper buying the part of a magician".
Besides, the only "leakage tree" I know about is from engineering, the term for a certain kind of flaw in high-power electric cables. Maybe if you could give me the Swedish equivalent for the term you refer to?
User avatar
Tom Stone
 
Posts: 1039
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/27/10 12:54 PM

But Tom, a magician is a shopper in a magic shop.
Mundus vult decipi
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Tom Stone » 04/27/10 01:14 PM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:But Tom, a magician is a shopper in a magic shop.

Probably the truest definition yet.
User avatar
Tom Stone
 
Posts: 1039
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Postby erdnasephile » 04/27/10 01:42 PM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:But Tom, a magician is a shopper in a magic shop.


It's probably much worse: a magician is a shopper sitting at a computer. ;)

I actually do think that performing magicians are actors.

It's just that the vast majority of them are such poor actors.
User avatar
erdnasephile
 
Posts: 1980
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/27/10 01:47 PM

Tom,

My point is that not knowing the various names of the techniques of a craft (or profession) is a meaningless standard. If you buy groceries at all, you are a shopper and you expertly exercise a decision process even though you do not know it. So, to bring the language of acting technique into this argument is just as pointless.

Though he was self-taught, Harpo Marx played the harp beautifully. After nearly a decade of playing professionallyand after having become a bona fide starhe took his first and only lesson with a professional. He paid $20 and ended up showing the maestro his techniques. He didnt know any of the names of the various techniques he had been using over the years to make his music. He also couldnt read music. But Im fairly confident that he was indeed a harpist.

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Tom Stone » 04/27/10 02:07 PM

Dustin Stinett wrote:Tom,
My point is that not knowing the various names of the techniques of a craft (or profession) is a meaningless standard.

Ah - I referred to it with a term to save space earlier. What I meant was that the people I "tested" was unfamiliar with both the term and the concept.
To use a music analogy:
A: -"I'm a musician"
B: -"Can you take a D Minor?"
A: -"Huh?"
B: -"One of these..." (Showing the finger placement).
A: -"What is that? I've never seen or heard anything like it before."
Though he was self-taught, Harpo Marx played the harp beautifully. After nearly a decade of playing professionallyand after having become a bona fide starhe took his first and only lesson with a professional. He paid $20 and ended up showing the maestro his techniques. He didnt know any of the names of the various techniques he had been using over the years to make his music. He also couldnt read music. But Im fairly confident that he was indeed a harpist.


So the exception should be the ground rule?
Most people on this earth do not know how to read music - does that makes them all into harpists?
User avatar
Tom Stone
 
Posts: 1039
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/27/10 03:24 PM

My pointagainwas that just because those you "tested" did not recognize the name of a given technique doesnt necessarily mean that they do not understand that they are acting when they are performing magic.

As for your question, Ill turn it back on you: Just because I know how to read music, does that make me a musician? Of course not, and its just as I said that knowing a few tricks does not make one a magician. We can go back and forth on this all day.

Robert-Houdin wrote what he wrote. It is quoted above. It is unequivocal. Ill quote it again:

The conjuror is not a juggler. The conjuror is an actor playing the part of a magician.

While I admit that it is often misquoted, the meaning is usually still the same. It is those who disagree with the notion who add words to it so it might mean something other than what the original clearly states. Yes, the quote has been translated from the French to English. But we have his original works. So, if there were another possible translation to his words, I suspect that Mr. Giobbi would have included that in his argument. He didnt, and I believe that is a telling point.

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Andrew Pinard » 04/27/10 03:41 PM

Rather than jumping in the deep end of the pool, can we not agree that a fundamental technique of both acting and "magishing" is the ability to pretend?

An actor does not use all of the techniques used by magicians to pretend that they are acting. Neither does the magician use all the techniques of an actor to pretend that they can subvert the physical laws of the universe.

Actors conjure character within context.
Magicians act to control the uncontrollable.

Studying the techniques of either make one a broader, more capable performer.

Perhaps that is why actors list their various skills on their resume; it gives them more opportunity to secure work.

Dogmatism is detrimental to any pursuing a performing career.

Many who began "in magic" left to pursue a broader career, achieving great success as actor/performers. Several notable performers come immediately to mind.

Rare is the professional performer who leaves the broader (dare I say more respected?) fields of show business (acting, dance, music) to specialize in magic or another niche variety art as a full-time career (less achieve national recognition). It is more challenging to extend an example in this arena.

As the Roman philosopher Seneca observed, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." The successful pursuit of any endeavor (artistic or other) is about creating luck and capitalizing on it.

What really strikes me about the article and the response here is that, at least for me, magic is about transcending limitations. To argue that students of magic should limit their studies to one narrow field seems counter-intuitive.

ajp
User avatar
Andrew Pinard
 
Posts: 293
Joined: 03/13/08 11:13 AM

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/27/10 03:48 PM

Andrew Pinard wrote:Studying the techniques of either make one a broader, more capable performer.

Absolutely. And part of Mr. Giobbis argument was that it is a bad ideato the point of being detrimentalfor the magician to study acting. Furthermore, he argued that Robert-Houdin didnt mean what he wrote to support the other argument. I disagree with both of them.

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Philippe Billot » 04/27/10 03:49 PM

I give you the exact words in French:

Un PRESTIDIGITATEUR n'est point un jongleur; c'est un ACTEUR jouant le rle de MAGICIEN; c'est un artiste dont les doigts doivent tre plus HABILES que PRESTES.

It's a mistake to translate:

A CONJURER is not a juggler.

It's better to write "Prestidigitator is not a juggler" (in the sense of "agile fingers")

You can translate :
"He's an ACTOR playing the part of a MAGICIAN" because it's in the sense of been Merlin the Magician or a real magician as we dream.

Also, don't forget that Robert-Houdin has been an amateur actor and he known what "to play" means. It's in the sense of "Be convinced" and not "be natural".

Sorry for my english but it's difficult to explain something which is very simple in french.
Philippe Billot
 
Posts: 930
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: PARIS - FRANCE

Postby Tom Stone » 04/27/10 04:27 PM

Dustin Stinett wrote:My pointagainwas that just because those you "tested" did not recognize the name of a given technique doesnt necessarily mean that they do not understand that they are acting when they are performing magic.

And my point is that most people, today, who say "The conjuror is an actor playing the part of a magician" are victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Ie. it is easy to refer to oneself as an actor, when one is ignorant of what that craft entails.
User avatar
Tom Stone
 
Posts: 1039
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Postby Edwin Corrie » 04/27/10 04:38 PM

It's dangerous to read too much into a translation. The quotation should be read in the context not only of the introduction to Robert-Houdin's book (where he talks extensively about the history of magic and magicians) but also of the actual French words he uses. He's making a point about the inadequancy of the terms "prestidigitateur" with its connotations of speed and digital dexterity, and "jongleur/escamoteur" with their connotations of tricksters and jugglers in the old sense of the word. His point is that the modern (i.e. late 19th century) magician should be more natural and "act" the part of a someone who can work real wonders and doesn't just dress up in flowing gowns and indulge in wild melodramatic gesticulations. It was the dawn of a new era where magic was becoming respectable thanks to people like him and Hofzinser. He says the word "prestIGIateur", meaning something like "worker of wonders" (= "prestiges"), would be more appropriate than "prestiDIGITateur", which suggests the quickness of the hand or fingers. However, he also goes on to say he can't change people's habits and will continue to use the accepted terms without making any distinction. The text also refers to "sorciers" and "magie simule" (simulations of genuine miracles), and I believe the term "magicien" is used here to refer to REAL magicians. I've seen it suggested that the quotation should read "playing the part of a GREAT magician", which seems like quite a nice solution. But it's probably impossible to find English terms that have precisely the same connotations for us, especially since the meanings of the words in both French and English have shifted over the years. Even at any given instant in time, words like "conjurer" evoke different reactions in different people.

Robert-Houdin does use words like "acteur" occasionally, but in this passage he's recommending that the aspiring magician should "act naturally", as if the wonders he is creating are completely natural and normal for him. What he should not do is "overact".

There's a good discussion of this very quotation over at the Magic Cafe:

http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewtopic.php?topic=291927&forum=134
Edwin Corrie
 
Posts: 453
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/27/10 04:43 PM

Tom Stone wrote:And my point is that most people, today, who say "The conjuror is an actor playing the part of a magician" are victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Ie. it is easy to refer to oneself as an actor, when one is ignorant of what that craft entails.

Okay; Ill buy into that somewhat (I dont know about it being most), because we certainly see the same thing with those who claim to be magicians just because they know some tricks and have a business card that says so.

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 5748
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Necromancer » 04/27/10 05:19 PM

Tom Stone wrote:And my point is that most people, today, who say "The conjuror is an actor playing the part of a magician" are victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Ie. it is easy to refer to oneself as an actor, when one is ignorant of what that craft entails.


A bad actor is still an actor.

I would maintain that all magicians are actors: many of them bad, most of them untrained. But to increase one's chances of becoming a better actor and a better magician, theatrical training can only help.
Neil Tobin, Necromancer
Necromancer
 
Posts: 219
Joined: 01/22/08 01:00 PM
Location: Chicago

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/27/10 05:59 PM

Look, you're trying to make them believe that you have a slip in your pocket upon which you wrote the exact amount in cents of the change in their pocket. If you were truly congruent - and not acting with the assistance of precognition, imps or other such things one can't buy at the magic shop, then the methodology behind the tricks would also be apparent to your audience. QED we are not out there to be truly congruent. QED we must use artifice to maintain a layer which is not readily perceivable to our audience. Or by counterexample, we don't go to a theater to watch the actors recall and enunciate their lines and hit their marks, the set movers get things onto those tape lines and admire how the lighting guy is hitting (or not) the line cues.

You are not trying to impress them with your skills with the swami gimmick or pocket writing. Just how far from obvious is the necessity of acting, scripts and the utility of theatrical resources?
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby 000 » 06/30/10 02:47 PM

Perhaps the words 'play acting' would be more appropiate.

Yes, you are acting ( amused, amazed) whatever, but at the same time the audience is aware that you're just 'playing'
000
 
Posts: 563
Joined: 04/16/08 10:01 AM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/30/10 02:51 PM

000, same as the audience knows that when the go to see a performance of Hamlet that it's not Denmark in the theater? It's acting - and we play the part of wizard (or sorcier/sorcerer as RH wrote of our craft of offering simulated sorcery)
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Bill Palmer » 11/30/10 01:05 AM

Maybe I was playing the part of a soothsayer when I posted this nearly five years before Roberto Giobbi's column was published:

http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/view ... orum=171&0

In order to fully understand the quote, it is really necessary to read the entire chapter of the Robert-Houdin book. And in order to understand why it is normally quoted as "conjuror," rather than prestidigitator or some other word, it is necessary to remember who did the most popular translation of the book.

The last sentence in the chapter is rather telling.
Last edited by Bill Palmer on 11/30/10 01:08 AM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: expanding the context
Bill Palmer, MIMC
Bill Palmer
 
Posts: 719
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Houston TX

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/30/10 09:22 AM

Any suggestions on how to get from the idomatic French original to something we can discuss here in English?

Apparently a timely topic: http://johnhelvin.blogspot.com/2010/10/ ... aitor.html

Bewildered here as some of us had to sit through three years of French in school and preferred not to suffer an endless assault by that particular spirit on the stairs. ;)
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6600
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Next

Return to Columns