A brief thought about the presentation of magic

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NCMarsh
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A brief thought about the presentation of magic

Postby NCMarsh » August 6th, 2002, 2:06 am

The following is quoted from the AP review of Ricky Jay and David Mamet's On The Stem (courtesy of Jim Steinmeyer's website):

"each magical effect arises organically from the storytelling, much as songs arise naturally from the plot of a good musical."

That really got me thinking...

If I really had magical powers, and I wanted to use those powers to give my merely mortal friends a unique kind of entertainment(as opposed to say...curing cancer), how would magic be introduced into our encounters?

I could say "you wanna see something cool?" But it seems unlikely...I can do magic anytime, anywhere, with anything...I don't have to wait to be around some specific prop -- I use what's at hand when it seems like the moment is ripe for a miracle...the miracle would be tailored to the moment...it would immerge naturally from the situation I was in...

perhaps I would use it to do something smart alecky, to play a friendly joke...perhaps to hammer in a point I was trying to make...perhaps, most likely, to solve a problem I couldn't solve through natural means (isn't this kind of empowerment, after all, the basic appeal of magic? to not be subject to gravity...to be able to simply pull money from the air when it was needed...)

Further, it would seem that the magician himself -- were he truly magic -- would not be terribly impressed by his own miracles...heck, he might even be slightly embarassed by them, but then why is he displaying them to mortals? The answers to these questions are probably determined by our specific charachter (i have yet to find mine)..but I think they're darn interesting

The example I offer may not be a valid metaphor...one of magic's other main appeals is that it isn't real -- that its a safe exploration of the mysterious...even so, it seems that for the performance of magic to be effective it has to seem organic -- the audience must not be reminded of how contrived the thing is that they are watching...the magic should seem to happen because of the situation, the situation should not seem contrived for the sake of the magic...the more I think about it, the more I think that a performance of magic should be a natural, engaging, conversation punctuated by well motivated miracles...

This also points to something Tommy Wonder advocates: the in medias res presentation...that is a presentation that thrusts the spectators into the middle of the dramatic action and makes them wait to put what they're seeing into context...this is an ancient theatrical and literary ploy...if you doubt its effectiveness, watch an episode of Law and Order

these are just late night ramblings (actually...very early morning ramblings)...but i'm eager to hear what you think...How should magic look? What are we trying to evoke in our audiences? Why are we showing these marvelous things to them?

regards and best wishes,

nate.

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Brad Jeffers
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Re: A brief thought about the presentation of magic

Postby Brad Jeffers » August 6th, 2002, 10:41 am

Or you could just do a few card tricks ... people like that too. ;)

Jeremy Medows
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Re: A brief thought about the presentation of magic

Postby Jeremy Medows » August 6th, 2002, 12:34 pm

I know many people who think that musicals suck.
Have you ever been to a concert? Usually there is very little intro to the song. They just sing the damn songs and that's it.

Jeremy

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Re: A brief thought about the presentation of magic

Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » August 6th, 2002, 12:40 pm

I think both approaches have merit and the route you take will really depend on your personal goals. There's certainly musicals that suck, but there's also concerts that suck. Either way, it's gonna depend on the people who put it together how well it comes off. A magic show with an overarching framework can come across as very cheesy, just like a lot of musicals. But when you've got talent like Ricky Jay and David Mamet, you're likely to get a good show. (I'll be finding out in a few weeks just how good...)

-Jim

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NCMarsh
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Re: A brief thought about the presentation of magic

Postby NCMarsh » August 6th, 2002, 1:30 pm

Originally posted by Jeremy Medows:
I know many people who think that musicals suck.
Have you ever been to a concert? Usually there is very little intro to the song. They just sing the damn songs and that's it.

Jeremy
I know many people who think that musicals suck as well...I'm also certain that they think that some musicals suck much more than others -- and I'd guarantee that the ones that they think suck the most are the ones in which the music is mindlessly pasted into the plot...in which one notices the sudden, jerky transitions from acting into song

The same principal applies to concerts. Music that is chosen because it is appropriate to its context is more powerful than music that it isn't. CSN's "Ohio" was probably far more moving in the immediate wake of the Kent State Massacre than it is now, "Amazing Grace" moved me to tears the afternoon of 9/11...etc. etc.

The principle is simply that things that "belong" to the moment are more powerful than things that are artificially placed there. Magic is more powerful when it seems to belong to its moment...

you also seem to assume that i'm talking about giving a formal introduction to the piece...read my comments about in medias res presentation

Jim raises a valid question: Would this kind of approach result in hokey magic from those less talented than Jay and Mamet?

I think that if someone writes their scripts with this principle in mind, and they end up looking silly...it will be, precisely, because their transitions do not seem natural -- that in trying to be consistent with the principle they have violated it...if the audience senses an artificial attempt at being natural, it is probably even worse than being subjected to a performer who simply says "for my next trick...for my next trick...for my next trick"...

Do I think that we need the talent of Jay and Mamet for this to work? No...but that's probably simply a hope as I sure don't have it

I should be clearer about why I posted this in the first place:

i'm at a stage where i'm re-working a lot of presentations and trying to improve my writing...so i've been thinking about what it is I want my presentations to do -- and its damn hard...thank you all for your feedback on this...it's grist for the mill...

regards,

nate.

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Re: A brief thought about the presentation of magic

Postby Guest » August 6th, 2002, 8:50 pm

Magic performance achieves theatrical artistry when the magic has dramatic justification. Jay and Mamet achieved this in On the Stem by writing a one-man show in which the protagonist/narrator breaks out into magic instead of song. Cardini achieved it by casting himself as a hapless character plagued by miracles -- the magic was breaking out on him. David Blaine even achieves it, kinda sorta, through his character of a creepy New York street guy who displays wonders the way others might display counterfeit Rolexes from under their trenchcoats.

I haven't read Tommy Wonder's stuff, but as you describe it, I think the in res media business has less to do with the theatrical concept of a show than with the proper structuring of individual routines. It sounds to me like a description of how to create interest, which is essential to any dramatic endeavor and especially to magic, since misdirection is a manipulation of interest (Henry Hay's definition, I think).

later,
r


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