Improving your Magic by Harold Cataquet Genii December 2004

Discuss the views of your favorite Genii columnists.

Postby Guest » 12/14/04 12:17 PM

I spent quite a bit of time reading and re-reading the column written by Mr. Harold Cataquet in the December 04 issue of Genii, for several reasons, first was I was hopping to find some truly useful advice on methods for Improving my Magic and second because I could not believe the arrogance of the author. Let me explain:

Mr. Cataquet decided to write about the Dangers of Magic Clubs and his classifications of the members who partake in the activities that are provided by the Magic Clubs. He stated the following

What I think is much sadder is the real reason most people join magic clubs-to learn the secrets of magic. For them the president should provide a schedule consisting purely of lectures (by external magicians) and dealer demonstrations. Dont expect these members to participate in events. They are only Lurkers. As a result they have no interest in improving their performance and (not surprisingly) they are terrible performers.

He then went on to say how he felt that the clubs could improve by having virgin evenings where a handful of the lurking magicians (as he refers to them as) are asked to perform and are critiqued by another subset of magicians (I can only assume he means Magicians like himself). What is said next is what first really got to me when reading this article and that is:

Lurkers are not the only animals that inhabit our clubs. In fact, most magicians fall into one of the following categories
(I will paraphrase the descriptions)

Mouse Newbie who has yet to buy his first proper magic book

Monkey Magician who learns mainly from video and performs other peoples magic and patter usually flat.

Butterfly Somewhat of a lurker who does not practice, so most of the tricks that he does do are silent because he is attempting to remember what comes next. No presentation

Beaver Enthusiastic about magic but does not practice, and can not be taught, with a Im never wrong attitude.

Mosquito All of the magic that this magician does was learned early on within his interest always performs the same old stuff.

Bat The worst of the worst performer proves how a bad trick can be made worse by a bad magician.

Giving Mr. Cataquet the benefit of the doubt the above descriptions are my paraphrased takings of what he said. I would recommend that you go and read the article for yourself to get the full jest of his words. As I have mentioned he gave a brief description of each of the groups none of which I could find any positives in and then went on to say that he did not fall into any of these groups but instead he was a Turtle or a Mule, but offered no explanation of what a turtle or a mule was in his animal classification system. For the remainder of the article he went on to say how he develops a routine and how that the different animal classifications react to the different steps in creation of a routine.

My major issue with this article is that Mr. Cataquet places people into classifications without even taking into consideration that fact that we as Magicians are first and foremost humans, and as a part of human nature we want to be involved with people who have the same likes interests as we do. This is the reason that we join clubs regardless of if it is the IBM, SAM or the Lions. We want to be around people who share our interests and who we can talk about our interests with.

On a personal note I do not join local clubs because I tend not to stay in one place long enough to get very involved with the groups, but I do go to club meetings from time to time and from town to town and I have met people who belong to magic clubs just because of there love of magic and for there interest of learning, I have also met professionals who never participate in the meetings they go and critique others and belittle the amateurs, beginners and old timers, and that is why I think that so many of the club members come across as what Mr. Cataquet calls Lurkers they dont want to be put down by some so called Pro. I wonder if any of this ever entered into the mind of the author when drafting this self serving article. I have to say that I am truly disappointed in the editor for even letting this go to print. It is my opinion that Mr. Cataquet needs to go back to learning how to be a human and stop worrying about the zoo. I will also add that I would much rather go to a meeting and see an amateur magician working his tail off on a routine that may come across as flat than to sit and listen to a pro put that magician down.

These are just my thoughts on what I see as a poor article.
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Postby Gordon Meyer » 12/14/04 05:43 PM

I thought it was a very thought-provoking article (as apparently did you) so I think it's far from "poor" in that regards.

If you're not offended by the animal labels, I think there's a lot of truth, and some wisdom, in the observations. It has certainly been my experience of magic clubs that the noted elements are present.
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Postby Guest » 12/14/04 05:52 PM

Bad news...I'm joining a Silicon Valley magic club. I'm a badger, a fat critter who really doesn't want to be bothered but is there.
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Postby Bill Hallahan » 12/14/04 06:19 PM

My major issue with this article is that Mr. Cataquet places people into classifications without even taking into consideration that fact that we as Magicians are first and foremost humans, and as a part of human nature we want to be involved with people who have the same likes interests as we do.
I wasnt offended by this article either.

I don't think Mr. Cataquet meant that everyone falls into these categories, just that the categories exist in some clubs.

I didn't take the title, "The Dangers of Magic Clubs" to mean that all magic clubs are bad, just that there are issues to consider.

As I have mentioned he gave a brief description of each of the groups none of which I could find any positives in and then went on to say that he did not fall into any of these groups but instead he was a Turtle or a Mule, but offered no explanation of what a turtle or a mule was in his animal classification system.
I took these animal-names the following ways:

A turtle makes progress, albeit slowly.

A mule can carry a heavy load (work hard) and is persistent.
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Postby Q. Kumber » 12/15/04 02:36 AM

I doubt very much Harold would describe himself as a professional magician - though he could be out performing regularly if he wished. He does have a very curious and enquiring mind and has some very interesting work on standard effects, generally adding simple ideas that enhance the effect considerably.

A handy classification for magic club members is:

Professionals who earn regular income from magic.

Amateurs who are in magic for the love of it, think about it and develop ideas and tricks but rarely, if ever perform for money.

Hobbyists who are largely laymen who know how the tricks are done. Most of Harold's classifications fall into this section and coincidentally most magic club members fall into this category.

There is a lot of talk about pros looking down their noses at amateurs. In my experience this does not happen. The problem lies with some hobbyists, many of whom consider themselves equal with pros and serious amateurs, and their attitude demands they be treated as equals. No self-respecting magician who has invested years in developing his routines or presentations is going to freely share them with the idly curious, even if they are a member of a magic club.

It is unfortunate that the amateurs and hobbyists are both classified as "amateurs". It is also a sad fact that many self-styled pros are no more than glorified hobbyists.
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Postby Matthew Field » 12/15/04 03:50 AM

I am also a friend of Harold Cataquet and I think pikacard misses Harold's point, which Quentin Reynolds explained at least a part of.

Harold's articles are meant to be stimulating, which this one certainly was. As a member of several magic clubs (New York Capital District Assembly and Ring and nominee for London Magic Circle) I have certainly found what Harold wrote to be true. But what was his point?

His point was that magic is a performance art, and the club members who sit on their rear ends and participate only minimally are not furthering their magical development any more than they would watching a magic show on TV.

Not everone is a performer, but even collectors or (ahem) magic book editors and writers can bring something of value to a magic meeting.

I found examples of Harold's classification system among the members I came into contact with and, like Harold, was able to classify myself in an unflattering manner.

It can be painful to look at oneself naked in a mirror, and painful to be told to look with new eyes.

That is the course Harold has chosen in his columns, a valuable course and an excellent lesson for many magicians, although not a particularly easy pill to swallow.

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Postby cataquet » 12/15/04 09:29 AM

Well, pikacard, at least four people read my article and thought about what I wrote.

The animals named in the Clever Devil Corner do exist in every magic club. Admittedly these are caricatures (I didn't think I had to remind the readers that "we as Magicians are first and foremost humans"), but I don't think someone standing back and watching the proceedings would find it hard to fit people in one or more of the named categories. The animal category you fit into may not have been named. ;)

Let me take a step back. Suppose we had a magic club that had no lecturers. Instead, all that the club consisted of was a schedule of meetings where magicians got together and socialised (no dealers either). As wonderful as this sound, attendance would be pretty poor. After a while, the club would die... Individuals would continue to see one another, after its demise. But why bother going to the club to see the same ol' faces. To keep the audience coming, you have to offer them something - a show, a dealer dem, a lecture. Something to keep the audience fresh and interested.

This article (as Matt wrote) was really an attempt to get the members of my local club more active in the activities of the club. That is, stop grazing and do something for the club! ... Next time you go to a club meeting, look at what percentage of members that do anything other than exchange civilities and find their seat for the show. I'll bet you any amount of money (and give you great odds), that the percentage is less than 25%.

For the record, I don't see how the article could be "self-serving" I'm not coming out with a DVD, book or lecture notes. I certainly don't claim to be an enlightened one. I'm really just someone who thinks a lot about the magic he performs and how the audience views it.

As for what a turtle and mule are, I thought the meaning was obvious. Bill Hallahan's analysis is correct.

I'm not a fan with Quentin's classification of professional, hobbyist and amateur. As I mention in one of my later Clever Devil Corners, there are many amatuers/hobbyists who are "better" that some professionals (better meaning both more entertaining and more technically competent); making money from magic doesn't make you somehow "better" Also, as Quentin implied, just because you are a professional that doesn't mean that you are not one of the animals that I mentioned.

Further to Quentin's comments, the conflict between professionals and amateurs can't really be generalized. Many professional magicians worry about performing in front of other magicians for fear that their presentations and patter will be ripped off by other magicians [professional or amatuer] (which has happened on numerous occasions). The theory is that the professional already has an act, so the amateur is more likely to be the culprit of the crime. Sadly, this is not always the case.

Bye for now

Harold
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Postby Guest » 12/15/04 09:49 AM

Originally posted by pikacard:
.....clubs could improve by having virgin evenings where a handful of the lurking magicians (as he refers to them as) are asked to perform and are critiqued.....
Great minds obviously think alike. My club's 2005 calendar includes a Virgins' Night, for just that purpose.

Excepting that my club tends to applaud such performances rather than critique them. It's tough enough, I think, for a virgin (in this context!) to stand up before a room of people and perform. And even more so when the audience are conjurors. So while a constructive assessment of a performance may be necessary, the recognition of the fact that the guy has actually performed is the most important thing.

Apologies for the change in direction. Now I'll let you get back to discussing categories of conjuror.

Dave
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Postby cataquet » 12/15/04 10:14 AM

Dave, the idea wasn't mine; the Magic Circle started doing this first (although I am sure other clubs elsewhere in the world had similar thoughts earlier).

The idea is to get other members (or more correctly a panel) to suggest ways that you can "improve". Through the criticism of a specific act, you can hopefully see the similarities to your own act. For example, you might find that you have the same habit that the performer does, and be able to apply some of the criticisms to your own act. The problem with a "pure performance" evening is that you will just get the usual "very nice" comments from other members. Moreover, if you're not prepared for criticism, when it comes (no mater how constructive), you become defensive. (Oddly enough, this too is another topic I talk about in a future column).

Getting the experience before an audience is good (that's what happens on our "New Members Night"), but getting feedback is more important. For example, little things like being warned about angles, good prop management, and technical comments are all crucial bits of information... It's worth mentioning that Ken Weber comments on the professional acts at the PEA conventions (see his book Maximum Entertainment).
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Postby Guest » 12/15/04 02:52 PM

Mr. Cataquet,

First let me start by saying thank you for taking the time to respond in the manner in which you did, it shows that you are a class act and a man of your words, and I admire that in anyone who sticks up for what it is that they say or write. As I admire it I also live by it, so I will have to say that I will stand by what I said about what I took from your article and do not agree with all that you said in the Genii article. I should state that after reading all of the responses to my post I did go back and re-read the article again just to make sure that my opinion did not change. I do on the other hand think that I should clarify a few things and the first will be that my biggest problem is that you used the word Most when describing a collective group of people in this case Magic Club Members. I think that if you had said Most of the members that I know, or Most of the members in the club that I belong to or have been to I may not have had such a hard time with the way you described Magic Club Members, but you did not you just said Most as in all of the Magic Club Members around the world. I do not think that this is a fair estimation, I think that you are correct that there are a large number of members that show up or even non-members who show up who may fit into the classifications that you mentioned but I do not think that Most are Lurkers or people who are just there to learn the tricks, of course this is my personal take on it and I am in no way attempting to say that I am all knowing or absolutely correct here. It has been my experience over the last 20 years of going to Magic Club Meetings around the country and around the world that of the meetings that I have gone to a large number of the members and guests do get involved. Granted that the level of involvement varies from person to person but it is not very often that I can say that I have seen someone just not get involved on any level, and it has been my experience that the ones who do not get involved on any level dont stay members.

As for my statement regarding the article being self-serving, well I guess that I will just have to say that is how it came across to me. I personally do not know you I am sure that you probably did not mean it to come across that way but that is the way I perceived it. I am sure that if you put it in front of 100 different magicians you will probably get a few different reactions to it.

Regarding the statement that I made:

I think that so many of the club members come across as what Mr. Cataquet calls Lurkers because they dont want to be put down by some so called Pro

I will stick by my thinking here but will admit that you are correct in stating that a lot of Pros do not want to show there work in this environment for good reason, I too have been a victim of someone taking my work and calling it their own, or have seen a magician showing something that I showed them just a week before to a spectator and doing it very poorly. As far as the Amateur vs. Pro classification goes I will for the most part stay out of that conversation and let someone who is more qualified to talk about what makes a pro a pro and what makes an amateur an amateur, and only add that I think that is largely in the attitude of the performer and how he is perceived by the masses. I have been called both with out any undo trepidation.

With all of that said I again appreciate that you took the time to respond to my post, and would like to make it clear that these are my opinions of an article that I read and nothing more. I like you enjoy thinking, and talking about magic and working on making all that I do better, in performance and life.

I wish you the best.
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Postby cataquet » 12/15/04 05:15 PM

First, pikacard, from what I read, I think you are really objecting to one sentence: "the real reason most people join magic clubs to learn the secrets of magic." If that's the case, that's fine. There are probably a dozen reasons why someone might want join a magic club; some might be motivated by just "wanting to meet other magicians." However, I'm pretty sure that if you were to take a survey in any magic club of the reasons why people joined the club (and allowed them to choose more than one reason), then the reason "to learn the 'secrets' of magic" would be at the top of the list.

In re-reading the article (the original one - I haven't seen the Dec Genii yet, as I get mine by surface post), I will yield on your second point. The way it's written, you can interpret that I am saying "most members in a club are lurkers". However, I did not mean to imply that (even though it may be true in many cases)... Also, I should point out that while I implied that lurkers could not also be animals, that is obviously not the case (eg, you could be a mouse and a lurker).

As for your statement I think that so many of the club members come across as what Mr. Cataquet calls Lurkers because they dont want to be put down by some so called Pro, virtually every magic club in the world is composed almost entirely of amatuers [notice I didn't use the word "most" :D ]. Why the lurkers don't perform is (a) laziness or indifference, (b) fear of criticism [from anyone], (c) fear that the presentation/patter/method will be stolen, (d) lack of confidence [they don't feel that they are "good enough"] or shyness, (e) lack of props ["Sorry, I haven't got anything on me"], (f) because they are terrible (and don't want anyone else to know), and/or (g) they are only interested in the method and can't actually perform any of it.
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Postby Guest » 12/15/04 07:58 PM

Ive been a magic aficionado for more years than I can count but I dont belong to a club. If I did I would probably be a lurker. Most clubs take a real effort to break into the clique and I dont know if I would have the energy. Also, I can fool and entertain my friends, my kids, my grandkids and even my wife sometimes but there is no way I feel I could fool another magician. Tom
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 12/15/04 08:20 PM

Pikacard, you wrote, "I think that if you had said Most of the members that I know, or Most of the members in the club that I belong to or have been to I may not have had such a hard time with the way you described Magic Club Members ..."

I don't think it's necessary to insert the words "I know" or "club I belong to" because what else would Harold be talking about?
That's kind of like those people who don't agree with you stating, well, that's "your opinion." Well, who else's opinion would it be? Winnie the Pooh? Batman? No, it's obviously the opinion of the person writing or speaking, and writing "in my opinion" in front of such a statement is redundant and unnecessary.
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Postby Q. Kumber » 12/16/04 01:05 AM

Can't agree with you fully there Richard, even though you are technically correct. Without the words "in my opinion" you could be deemed to be stating "facts", rather than your interpretation of "the facts" as you see them.
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Postby cataquet » 12/16/04 03:05 AM

Gotta go with Richard on this one, Quentin.

It obviously depends on the context. The article is clearly an opinion, not a news report. In the context of the latter, where information is being revealed, then you have to draw a line between fact and opinion. So, it's important to say, which is which (and news reporters do so). However, in something like an editorial [or my article, where there are probably no facts], you can pretty much take it for granted that only opinions are being expressed. However, in the editorial, you then need to point out your facts (less they be interpreted as opinions).

BTW, Tom [oldguy], your confession of probable lurker status fall under reason d (lack of confidence).
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Postby Q. Kumber » 12/16/04 07:23 AM

In my opinion you could be right ;)
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Postby Guest » 12/16/04 08:30 AM

BTW, Tom [oldguy], your confession of probable lurker status fall under reason d (lack of confidence).

Oh Yes, I do agree with that.
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Postby Guest » 12/16/04 12:06 PM

After reading the posts, I then went and read the artice. I agree with some, but disagree with some of it as well. I believe the problems with clubs lies elsewhere, than in the lurkers. Aren't the big problems the ones that cause people to be lurkers? Problems like the ones in this quote.

Why the lurkers don't perform is (a) laziness or indifference, (b) fear of criticism [from anyone], (c) fear that the presentation/patter/method will be stolen, (d) lack of confidence [they don't feel that they are "good enough"] or shyness, (e) lack of props ["Sorry, I haven't got anything on me"], (f) because they are terrible (and don't want anyone else to know), and/or (g) they are only interested in the method and can't actually perform any of it.
This I can see is true, however, shouldn't this be what the magic clubs should be working on? This is a lot more worthy of an article? Rather than point and say, "Look, a lurker" If you know these reasons, shouldn't you try to fix them?? I agree, with most of these reasons.
Reason C jumps out at me. I don't consider myself a lurker, but I don't perform at clubs very often, in fear of my routines being stolen. As many magicians don't perform there either. At least they don't perform their entire routine. There's nothing worse than performing at a club or a show and seeing magicians in the audience with a notepad. Why not attack and point out the people who do this theft. This hurts magicians far worse than lurkers.

All of these other reasons can be worked on. If the person is "terrible", than critique him in a positive manner. Keep in mind, however that one man's trash is another's treasure. I see some working pro's I think are horrible, yet they have a great following, so it works for them.

However, where does the collector and historian fit in? There are some that don't perform, yet it's wonderful to sit and pick their brain about magic. I know many that I love to run things by to get a better understanding on whether it's been done befor, who the credits belong to, and history of an effect, yet they can barely perform a double lift. I, for one, am thankful for these people.

One thing struck me as wrong, however. You mentioned that comedians don't get together and "tell jokes". This is not true, before I got into magic full-time, the comedy circuit was where I performed regularly doing stand-up and comedy magic. I will tell you with 100 percent certainty, we do. I still get together with many from the field and work on routines. Why? Because we brainstorm. We write down anything that strikes us as funny and try to work it into a bit. There are some things that we write, that we can't use, but others can. In turn, they may have a funny observation that they can't use, and give to us. It's a wonderful circle. This is not a club, just a group of close friends meeting and discussing their passion. Yet, I guess it would be nice to call that a club, after all, isn't that what a club should be?
I agree that the entire "magic club" system is flawed, but I think that there are many other things that need our attention without pointing out lurkers and trying to give them titles. There are ways to get people involved, making them feel more a part of the club, and pull them into the art. Why not write something on that? You mention the "virgin evenings" which I thought was a good idea, but only spent a paragraph on it? Write something on how to mentor. Don't just point out how bad things are, but show the clubs how to get better. If you don't think it could actually help, then why are you writing the article?
It's much better to be part of the solution, rather than just go around and point out problems.
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Postby John McDonald » 12/16/04 02:48 PM

I guess I am a lurker!!

I belong to a couple of clubs and feel very lucky and priveledged to mix with a lot of magicians form a lot of backgrounds.

Magic is my hobby. I love magic and I greatly admire the magicians that I meet because I know that they work so hard practicing and working out routines and ways to present magic.

I try hard to get time to practice and to develop my magic but often due to a very high professional ( non-magical)workload am unable to.

I would place another type of member of magic clubs - the enthusiast!!! Who can present a little magic competently yet finds it hard to develop their skills and presentation due to a lack of time not a lack of desire to improve.

I take my hat off to Harold and Quention - both brilliant performers and thank them for allowing lurkers like me into their world!!

:)

I think of myself as a cuddly Koala bear!! ;)
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Postby cataquet » 12/16/04 04:29 PM

Trikcard (sorry I originally confused you with Pikacard), you say "You mentioned that comedians don't get together and 'tell jokes'." Actually, I'm talking about clubs. True there are night clubs where you can perform. But, if you wanted to be a comedian, you couldn't join a club (the way that you might join a magic club). Clowns attend schools!

Also, you say that "I think that there are many other things that need our attention without pointing out lurkers and trying to give them titles. There are ways to get people involved, making them feel more a part of the club, and pull them into the art. Why not write something on that?" Actually, I have 13 more articles written (so far) that Richard may eventually publish in Genii, so be patient. Many of the issues you raise have already been written about. This article was about the animals that inhabit the club.

However, Trikcard, you also have to realize that a magic club is a political animal. As such, it is very difficult to beast to change. If the club is small or young, then changes are easily made. However, the older and larger the club, the more difficult it is to change the staus quo. For example, in my local club the worse attended evenings are those that involve the members of the club doing something. As I have said before, from these members' point of view, the club has to "entertain" them to keep them coming back. So, the "powers that be" hesitate in trying something new for fear of poor attendance. I suggested a "virgins night" to my club and the reply came back "Sorry, but no one will come". Given these articles were written for my local club, why bother making more suggestions in writing that no one will even consider? So, the rest of the articles in the series are more geared towards self help... In any case, if you want to change the way a club works, you have to do it within that political structure. That is, you can't just say "I have a good idea"; you have to lobby and get other member's support. You must become the political animal. I'm not a political creature, and have no intentions of doing so.

BTW, John [McDonald], you are part beaver and part lurker! ;) I mentioned the beaver as the animal with lots of enthusiasm. With a very heavy workload, time managment is crucial. What you need to do is get in a routine. Actually, John, I'll write about that in February's column (which Genii readers may see in 2007 :cool: ).
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