Originally posted by Pete McCabe:
Sure, the more of yourself you can put into your magic, the better. But we see so many tricks that can only be enjoyed or even understood by a magician. This tricks are clearly being performed because they appeal to the performer. And so often, they are performed for non-magicians, to whom they have no appeal at all.
That those tricks have no appeal is not because of lack of meaning, but a sign that the performer has lost sight of the real effect and believes that the method is the same as the effect.
Which happens easily.
I remember when I first started to play around with PhotoShop and POV-ray. I became so fascinated with the possibilities, and made a lot of images to explore each feature in the software. The result were very satisfying, and for a long time I believed that I had made good images, when in fact, they were lousy in all aspects except as a demonstration of the tools. That is, I confused the method with the effect.
To continue with the image analogy: If my audience doesn't respond to a new piece of art as I had anticipated, then I might do well to ask myself: "Am I displaying a great painting, or am I merely demonstrating the features of this new paintbrush?"
If I can demonstrate the ability to create money or make it multiply or increase in value, it will _definitely_ be meaningful to the audience. No guessing is required.
Yes, of course. But to be certain that the effect will have meaning to the audience, and avoid guessing, you are forced to find your themes at the base level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. And, as you yourself said, the number of effects are quite limited then.
Isn't it more interesting to search for themes at higher levels? Looking at Maslow again, we might look at the seventh level:
"7) Self-actualization: to find self-fulfillment and realize one's potential"
Well, a theme like "artistic growth" would correspond to that. But how could I use that theme if I'm trying to create something that is meaningful for the audience? Well, I can't. I am not the audience, and it is impossible for me to even guess what kind of artistic growth they are searching for.
What I CAN do however, it to illustrate my own desire for artistic growth. To display something that is extremely meaningful to me. That is much more easy, and I'm sure that there are an audience for a such display.
When I was 15 I bought a thing called "The Pom-Pom Stick", an effect similar to the Chinese Sticks. I devised a corny presentation for it and put it into my act.
But as the years passed, my taste for magic evolved, and slowly I began to despise this effect. But, by then it had became a such surefire tool to get laughter, and I had nothing equally effective to replace it with. A while later, the despise turned into hate. Why couldn't I just throw this piece of junk away? Well, I didn't dare. It had been with me for so long, that I didn't feel safe without it.
That was when I still thought that I should care about what the audience wanted to see.
Like other stories, this one also have a turning point: One day, in an outburst of frustration, I whipped out the stick from my bag and shouted "I hate this piece of crap". Then I did the routine as usual, but with a clear display of contempt, as I explained everything that I hated about it. I asked the audience why they laughed, and I blamed them for forcing me to perform it.
The result was surprising, the response was ten times stronger than usual.
I learnt a lot that day.
What had been a piece of fluff, puzzling eyecandy with a collection of bad one-liners, was transformed into a honest display of my frustration over my lack of artistic growth.
And they found it extremely funny that I stood there and blamed them, total strangers, for being an obstacle for my desire to perform good magic. And the more frustration I displayed, the more they laughed.
And it showed me how ridiculous my thoughts had been. I had kept the piece in the act because "they want to see it". Of course they didn't. They wanted to see a good performance. And when it comes to the definition of a "good performance" I can only rely on my own opinions. Therefore, I say that it is useless to care about what the audience want to see. It is much more interesting, for me as an artist, to create something that I want to show them.
Epilogue: About six months later I had learnt enough to get the confidence to remove the effect from the act, and I smashed the prop to bits with a hammer. It was very satisfying.
Tom may disagree, but I believe one of the magician's primary jobs is to determine what is most meaningful to your audience, and then present that very thing to them. This I believe is the primary job of any artist, performing or otherwise.
As you predicted, I do disagree. :)
That would be true, if we view the audience as a customer to whom we want to sell something. I don't share that notion, nor do I like it. I view the audience as an audience. I don't give them what they want see. I give them something that I want to show them.
As an example, the thing that people talks most favourable about in my act is the final piece. The whole act is rather playful and humourous, but since I'm a believer in contrasts, I end with a piece that is performed in total silence. It is a rope routine, and when I perform it I try to display my deep, serious and passionate love for my art.
Can you think of anything that is more meaningless to the audience? That I, a total stranger, is in love with something that is so abstract that they doesn't even consider it to be an art?
Yet, I get standing ovations almost every time. Why is that?
The funny thing is that it seems to resonate with the spectators feelings for things they feel passionated about themselves. I've had dancers comment that piece with "..it was almost like a dance.". And actors have commented on the dramatic qualities. etc.
None of those responses would have appeared if I instead had tried to create something designed to be "meaningful" to the audience.
I wrote: Imagine performing Coin in Bottle and asking the audience if they wish they had the magical power you just demonstrated. Would they care? Why?
Tom asks: Why should you ask them at all?
You should ask them to see if they care. If they don't care, why are you doing the trick for them?
The whole premise for this question is wrong. I'm not a salesman, and they are not customers. If I was a painter, and a total stranger came up to me and asked me to draw an image of a crying child, I would respond: "Do it yourself.", unless I myself found that motif interesting to explore (or if I was broke, but then that person would be a customer and not an audience).
If I perform Coin in Bottle, it will be because I find it meaningful. How could it be in any other way? The only way to ascertain whether the spectator care about it or not is to actually perform it first, and that will not give you any knowledge at all about what the next spectator's opinion about it will be.
If the focus is on designing things to be meaningful for the spectator, your performance will easily be vague as you are dealing with the unknown and have to rely on guessing, because you are not that person.
And if you try to get around the guessing, by asking the spectator: "Do you find 'Coin in Bottle' to be meaningful", he will answer "Huh?". For him to understand your question, you must perform the effect first, and after that his reply is useless to you, because the effect has already been performed.
No, the easiest way to give a strong and clear performance is to perform effects that are meaningful to you as an artist. Basing it on your own thoughts and opinions is better, because then you will be knowing instead of guessing.
Then we had the card trick example:
Forgive me, Tom, but doesn't your excellent trick prove my point completely?
It's certainly a great example of the difference between a silly internal meaning (i.e. the kings are going to find their mates) and something that is meaningful to the audience -- their relationship with their spouse.
Sure, that might possible be meaningful to the audience. But I didn't get that idea from guessing about audience's thoughts.
I looked at your example. I associated the word "mate" with "spouse" and then I started to think about my last relationship (which ended bad). I started to think that it was a pity that there wasn't any method to find out whether we really were suited for each other before I had invested that much emotions in the relationship.
From that, it was easy to think: "What if I had invented a such method?". That would certainly be something that I would find interesting to show an audience. And then the rest of my suggested effect came by itself.
Had I tried to create an example designed to be meaningful for the spectators, I would still be sitting here guessing.
(Btw, I think that the method in Dean Dill's "The Money Cards Too" in Channel One (Issue 1, Vol. 1) could be used with some small adjustments. I can't find that issue right now, but I think that the basic principle is by Nick Trost. Please correct me if I'm wrong).
[ September 02, 2001: Message edited by: Tom Stone ]