What American Idol has to do with magic

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Postby erdnasephile » 05/13/13 12:31 PM

Michael Weber recently pointed out this article saying "Magicians need to read this and understand why":

http://www.nextavenue.org/blog/why-harr ... 6017137999

I concur.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/13/13 02:23 PM

word.
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Postby AJM » 05/13/13 04:44 PM

I think we magicians can indeed learn from the other performing arts.

From now on, I shall perform my favourite Monte routine while singing 'The Way We Were'.

Cheers

Andrew
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/13/13 09:25 PM

erdnasephile wrote:Michael Weber recently pointed out this article saying "Magicians need to read this and understand why":

http://www.nextavenue.org/blog/why-harr ... 6017137999

I concur.


The article does not make it clear if anyone has won or done well on American Idol by following the kind of advice Harry Connick Jr. was offering. Without making that case, whether or not the author idolizes him or Barbara Streisand, one is lead to believe that winning on that show is about not doing as he suggested. Or as the article's author put it:
To me this made an even bigger point. Since its debut in 2002, Idol has always put value on over-the-top vocal performances. Subtlety and intimacy gets you the boot. If minimalists like Peggy Lee or Billie Holiday were to compete on Idol today the judges would eat them alive.


Something about making alterations to ones material to suit the audience comes to mind. Probably from another source Mr. Weber would recommend to magicians. :roll:
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Postby Curtis Kam » 05/13/13 11:30 PM

Well, sure. Context is always important. Is anyone surprised that a televised singing contest doesn't seem to be designed to produce great singers? Would you really rely on any of the winners of "Survivor" to keep you alive in the wild? Or let the winning "Apprentice" (let alone "Celebrity Apprentice") run your business? Hardly.

However, that's not to say that Harry Connick doesn't know singing. He does. And Streisand's understanding of the meaning of a song certainly hasn't kept her from becoming popular. So we're not exactly in a "Pearls before Swine" situation. The public does appreciate quality, its taste in television entertainment notwithstanding.

So I have preached the same sermon when it comes to understanding magic. Some students seem so eager to "improve" things before they understand how they work, or what they're about. In coin magic, this arises as soon as the student discovers the jumbo coin, and asks, "wouldn't this trick be better if I produced a jumbo coin at the end?" A question I've come to answer with, "wouldn't they all?"
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/14/13 07:36 AM

No idea what hungry swine would make of pearls. Or why a person would dress up a pig in pearls. Then again it's all the same to the oysters.

Not sure I get your point there Curtis. Are you suggesting that a dropper full of jumbo coins is needed for the worker and the ante has been upped to doves and livestock if you want to win a contest? :mrgreen:
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Postby PapaG » 05/14/13 10:36 AM

Today's 21st Century culture values instant, superficial flash over depth and substance. That is the problem.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/14/13 01:09 PM

Today's 21st Century culture values instant, superficial flash over depth and substance. That is the problem.


Problem? For whom?

The lowest common denominator is what it is - where sugar, fat and salt are food groups.

If you'd like to perform for nostalgic, there are ren fairs, steampunk shows and places that cater to some particular niche market. The time of long winded evasions of the self evident went the way of "let me google that for you". Parodies of caricatures have their place. Knowing (or finding) that place is a challenge today as it was when The Birds was written. What does it mean that the best "magician" many in our craft can aspire to is the very thing Steve Martin, Patton Oswaldt and Carl Ballantine Bugs Bunny have parodied? Even Houdini figured out that he'd do better to bill himself as a "Self Liberator".

Free your mind and the rest will follow

IMHO one can generally make better works if one has the benefit of knowing what has been tried and access to available tools. That usually means learning enough history to understand a work its original context and making conscious decisions about what you wish to say to your audiences.
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Postby Edward Pungot » 05/14/13 02:04 PM

Substance was thrown out the window for pyrotechnic vocal tricks. Angie sang Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” an ode to vulnerability, in full-power voice. She hardly came off as “a little lamb who’s lost in the wood,” as the lyric says. More like a John Deere tree cutter.


The point Connick tried to make, which Jackson didn't want to hear, was that the show’s contestants didn't know these classic songs well enough to take liberties with their melodies and lyrics. In doing so, they were murdering the music.


On a recent NPR interview Streisand talked about how, when interpreting a song, she never violates its melody or lyrics, even when putting her own distinct spin on it. That’s why she's so great. And that's why Connick got so frustrated with the Idol contestants.



The problem, as Jonathan and Curtis have pointed out, may indeed be the format in which these singers are allowed to explore these songs. They don’t really have the luxury or time (and perhaps the maturity) to develop a relationship with the material. They are sort of on jukebox-karaoke mode, forced to pick songs out of the ether with no relevance to them. I don’t think any of these shows on television are designed with the intention of creating a great singer or an artist. It’s filler—between dinner, sex, and bedtime.

I recently viewed the film, A Late Quartet that touches on this issue. A recommendation by way of Richard Hatch via facebook. Basically, you need to live with your art and the material you select. These are not one-night-stands. Nothing of lasting value ever is.
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Postby PapaG » 05/14/13 04:26 PM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:
Problem? For whom?


For me. As a producer, musician and lover of music.

Most of the artists I love would never have even been signed, let alone have had any mainstream exposure, in this 'American Idol' culture. And those that did would have been forced to be AutoTuned to within an inch of their lives.

Pitch perfect, flash and soulless.

I can't speak for any analogies in the magic world.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/14/13 05:02 PM

I don't know that you are the target demographic for that show.
For me. As a producer, musician and lover of music.


IMHO it's a selection process with a premise of "they could be big one day and you get to choose" - like a game of musical chairs with some interviews - prime time fast food.

If you would like to see or hear something more to your taste and niche market go for it. Did you see the PBS broadcast of the Ring Cycle?
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Postby PapaG » 05/14/13 06:58 PM

Obviously I'm not the target audience. The problem is that society is conditioned by what it is exposed to. It becomes conditioned to hear everything Autotuned. Not surprisingly that means that over time, anything that is not pitch perfect becomes jarring to the average listener. It is a vicious circle.

Obviously I'm talking about changes to the broadly speaking 'mainstream'. Obviously one can always find a niche, in any human activity. Especially now with the internet.
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Postby erdnasephile » 05/14/13 07:10 PM

To me, there is a difference between deliberately adjusting one's act to match the audience's desires and expectations compared with singing in a mediocre fashion because you don't know any better.

I appreciated that Connick tried to actually teach the contestants something about the difference between a hack and an professional instead of foisting the usual pablum upon them.
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Postby Curtis Kam » 05/14/13 08:26 PM

Hi, this is the elephant in the room talking. I'm wondering, after what Mr. Connick Jr. said about the difference between contest performance and quality performance,

American Idol is to singing as F.I.S.M. competition is to magic?
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/14/13 08:47 PM

I can think of many Fism acts that are completely impractical for real world performances (outside of the magic castle).

and a trick about a trick - like clear cups and balls - only matters to people who know how it's done or care about the thing being varied.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/15/13 08:20 AM

Let's feed the elephant.

If there's a routine or bit that appeals - it's time to find out how that item worked for the inventor/performer in context at the time it was published (or when it was most useful). That means modeling their audience (how did the item address their expectations) and the needs of that performer at that time. What would that item mean to an audience today? That's where things get interesting as it helps to know if this is about what "I" like or about what I'd like to believe my audiences would enjoy. This is the basic problem of switching hats between performer and director. Even after that hat switch and much practice you won't know till a real audience gives you some feedback. Welcome to product realization, where the rubber hits the road and fantasy becomes feedback. Internally, the performer wants to feel good about what they did. The director is trying to find what works for the audience. For example; The performer might feel good about getting applause during a manipulation sequence while the director might suggest obvious displays of skill can build credibility of a sort though that's not the same as magic. There's a reason some guys produced doves from those card fans or poured the cards out of the hat to create a card castle.

So, as usual, what's in it for the audience? Where's the magic? What has the performer done to bring the magic to the audience?

How's your elephant?
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Postby Max Maven » 05/15/13 09:30 AM

If you have access to HBO On Demand, there's a new documentary, Patti LuPone: A YoungArts Master Class.

Thirty minutes, four young singers; each performs and then receives critical advice from LuPone, some of which is astonishing.

Quite relevant to this discussion.
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Postby erdnasephile » 05/15/13 01:47 PM

Here is the trailer for that program...Wow--I've got to hunt this down...


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Postby erdnasephile » 05/15/13 02:10 PM

Here is the Youtube channel for Young Arts where you can watch Season 1

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC24C1A4C4A60D6E6

I just watched the first episode...the level of detail and care expressed by Mr. Domingo is inspiring!

What struck me is how this contrasts with the lack of seriousness on the part of some magicians. I was also impressed by how the young artists accepted the criticism and internalized it--it may have stung, but they were very professional about it.

Watching this sort of stuff makes me feel such a sense of dissatisfaction in my magic and makes me want to work that much harder so that my magic demonstrates better the respect that magic deserves.
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Postby MManchester » 05/15/13 03:38 PM

For his March 2010 episode of the Magic Newswire, Dodd Vickers interviewed David Copperfield's former choreographer Joanie Spina who serves as a magic director and performance coach. Magicians can send her a video for review and critique. She also writes a column for Magic Magazine, and I believe there was a promotion where performers could send a video and take advantage of this service for free to be posted on the magazine's Web site. As I recall, in a subsequent interview Vickers lamented that none, or very few, submissions had been received.
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Postby erdnasephile » 05/15/13 10:01 PM

Here's a relevant quote from Roger Klause:

"...On the other hand, the same free exchange of information has resulted in a lot of bad magic, too. There's an entire generation of younger performers, some of whom are very good, but many of whom are missing out on quality, simply because the information comes too easy. They know, but they don't understand."

(MAGIC, May 2003, pg 51)
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/15/13 11:06 PM

Anyone got a book on how to alter the script for a trick to suit an audience?

How about a book on how to be an engaging performer?
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Postby Curtis Kam » 05/16/13 03:06 AM

Um, "Scripting Magic"?
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Postby erdnasephile » 05/16/13 08:33 AM

Curtis Kam wrote:Um, "Scripting Magic"?


Roger that! :D

For me, this issue isn't really one of the "Get off my lawn!" variety. There are many young artists who "get it".

It's not even a defense of the old vs. the new or a criticism of striving to appeal to the modern audience with innovation.

IMHO, the real issue is does a performer think and understand before they attempt to perform for the public.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/16/13 09:58 AM

? The procedure for getting through a trick (blocking) pretty much demands the performer have some script to work from.

? The audience will create or fill in as much of the background/backstory of a character in performance as they deem necessary to form their own understanding of the work presented.

? If working from someone else's script - what changes need to be made to suit your character and what changes to serve your audience.

I'd like to read "Scripting Magic". Anyone have a copy to lend?
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