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Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:21 am
by Joe Mckay
I think magicians with a theater background are harming magic with their ill-thought-out theories. The majority of advice I see given to magicians over the past two decades has stressed that magic is a branch of theater.

It is not.

There is only one plot in magic.

A guy (or gal!) doing tricks.

That is the McGuffin at the heart of every performance. Somebody asking if you want to see some tricks?

That is the hook.

You don't need to add story on top of that. You don't have to turn your wild card into some weird film homage monstrosity:

https://www.penguinmagic.com/p/4834

You don't have to add a story because you are the story. On average spectators see about 0.5 magicians live in a life time. You already have them hooked the moment you show them magic. The skill then is to use your charisma, humour, personality, charm, wit - or just your voice - to cement that relationship.

Be interesting.

Think about it. All the best performers make themselves the plot. Not the patter they glue on to their tricks.

Derren Brown. Ricky Jay. Del Ray. Harry Anderson. Jerry Sadowitz. David Williamson. Tom Mullica. Eric Mead. Penn & Teller. Paul Daniels. Al Goshman. Kreskin. Uri Geller. David Berglas.

What about David Copperfield? Well - what about Robert Harbin? Not only was a genius inventor, he was also a great performer. Nobody did the Zig-Zag Girl better than Robert. He wasn't trying to create theater. He was doing tricks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTdjbgb9OHA

Just because magic takes place in a theater does not make it theater.

Magicians are deceiving themselves. Magic should look to stand-up comedy and not Aristotle's theories of Drama if they want to understand the core of what magic is about.

It is about a connection between the magician and the audience. Guess who else is good at that?

Stand-up comedians.

Mark Lewis was right when he said that the sound of your voice is crucial to how you connect with an audience. Every great magician has a great voice. And every poor magician has an annoying bland voice. There is a 100% correlation. Having a great voice does not make you a great magician alone. But you will never become one without one.

You are the show. Not the script. The problem with these theater guys is that their clever theories are putting the emphasis on the wrong thing. The script. The patter. The plot. Nobody cares. It doesn't matter. There is only one plot.

A guy showing some tricks.

It is like asking what the plot is when you are watching a juggler? There isn't one. It is just guy throwing and catching things.

You can definitely learn from stagecraft on how to increase the impact of your performances. That is fine. But please tear out any pages from your magic books quoting Aristotle and burn them. And please don't make them magically reappear. Magic doesn't need to hear from Aristotle ever again.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:39 am
by Joe Mckay
Add David Blaine to my list.

And Justin Willman.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:43 am
by Tom Moore
It rather undermines your entire premise when to prove that magic isn't theatre you list performers who use every tool of theatre and who are recipients of multiple THEATRE awards for their theatrical performances.

The majority of magicians are dull, the majority of magicians aren't very good, but that doesn't mean that magic isn't theatre.

There is only one plot in magic.

A guy (or gal!) doing tricks.

That is the McGuffin at the heart of every performance. Somebody asking if you want to see some tricks?

That is the hook.


You've obviously never been to a theatre to see a magic performance much less any of the luminaries you mention - the entire premise, plot and sub-plot of all of Derren's shows is about fantasy and "what if?".
David's current show is about 75% pure fantasy - a narritive about his father, death, loss, dreams, aliens.... I think there's maybe three effects in the show that are "here's a cool trick, watch"
Ricky Jay's theatre shows had huge levels of fantasy and storytelling in them
Penn & Teller are better described as performance art poets than "does a trick" magicians - every single routine they do has a point to make.
Uri Geller - if you're going to argue that he was just "here's a trick" and wasn't a master of mystery, theatre, drama and fantasy then you clearly never watched him.

....and finally - whilst Harbin was often described as a "puzzle" magician if you spend any serious time studying his work you'd quickly realise he was anything BUT a "here's a trick" magician. For the Zig-Zag if he's just done the effect to some backing music it would be a trick - it's precisely because he invites a spectator up, talks them through everything and (using lots of stagecraft) manipulates them in to take part in the story presented that makes what he does "theatre".

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:47 am
by Tom Moore
It is like asking what the plot is when you are watching a juggler? There isn't one. It is just guy throwing and catching things.


Then you've also clearly not seen the right jugglers either. Go watch Chris Bliss, Viktor Kee, Mike Moschen, go see the jugglers graduating from the various circus acadamies and tell me what they present on stage is "just a guy throwing and catching things"

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 9:01 am
by Bob Farmer
I really liked the Wild Card Bodysnatchers presentation.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 9:34 am
by No44
I feel the need to ask, Joe. What is your definition of theater?

When does magic stop being "a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place" and become something else?

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 10:29 am
by MagicbyAlfred
One of the dictionary definitions of the word "Theater" is: "entertainment in the form of a dramatic or diverting situation or series of events." https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theater

In my opinion, that is broad enough to easily include magic, and a lot of magic falls squarely within that definition. The ways and means of performing magic are potentially infinite, limited only by the imagination. If we strike out the theatrical as including magic, then we must strike out a multitude of illustrious magicians, past and present, as performers of "magic" (e.g. Siegfried & Roy, Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Ricky Jay, Eugene Burger, Jeff McBride, Houdini, Penn & Teller, Shin Lim, The Pendragons, Cardini, Carter the Great, Blackstone Senior & Junior, Mark Wilson, Derek Del Gaudio, Maskelyne, Keller, and others literally too numerous to mention). Tom Moore made this point quite well.

Also, in my own personal experience (going on decade number 6 and still learning every day), stories have a very solid place in the palette of magic, just as comedy, music, and various other art forms do. It is this elasticity of magic that is one of the things that make it such an incredibly creative art form and vehicle for self-expression. Two of the most popular, well-received tricks I perform are "The Story of the Twins," Brother John Hammond (not to be confused with the Gemini Twins), and "The Story of Peter and Ruby and the 3-Carrot Ring" (multiplying Rabbit routine based on a Chuck Smith idea). Yes, I am selling me, but the story, itself, is also a hugely important component in engaging and captivating the audience. Also, the drum roll I solicit from the audience, followed by the Signed Card going to the ceiling, is undoubtedly highly theatrical.

Stand-up comedians were mentioned by the OP as being worthy of emulating in performing magic and building a connection with the audience, and I agree with that, my own style being comedic. But the "story" is not merely the comedian him or herself - the jokes are the "story." If the material sucks, the most talented stand-up comedians will fall flat - no matter how good they are at selling themselves.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with quoting Aristotle if it fits within the theme or presentation of a particular trick or routine.

I see no reason to try to shrink what Eugene Burger called a "house with many rooms," down to a studio apartment.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 11:10 am
by MagicbyAlfred
PS Please forgive me if I am over-indulging (as I may have already done), but I felt compelled to add a couple things. I would be remiss if I were not to mention "The Magician versus Gambler." I have seen the effect of multiple card transformations performed by many magicians in many contexts. But in my experience, there is no card routine that packs a better punch and evokes more delight or astonishment. And it is, unabashedly, a story. Also, in regard to the statement that "You are the story" (meaning us, the magicians), I felt like I made a significant stride upward as a performer, when I realized that they are the story more than I, and began to act accordingly.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 11:37 am
by No44
Kudos, Alfred. I enjoyed your response.

The charisma and charm a performer has is certainly a large part of any performing art, but no one watches a performer just standing there(avant garde art performances excluded). There's something for them to interact with, comment on, respond to that shows their personality, charisma, and charm.

I'm surprised Joe has taken the position he has with
You are the show. Not the script. The problem with these theater guys is that their clever theories are putting the emphasis on the wrong thing. The script. The patter. The plot. Nobody cares. It doesn't matter. There is only one plot.

A guy showing some tricks.

when he's such a large proponent of Andy's work at The Jerx.

You can be the proprietor and instigator of the magic/wonder/event/story, but that doesn't mean it's just you doing things. There has to be more behind it, something for the audience to attach and empathise with.

Thanks for the topic, Joe! It's got me justifying my own thoughts and bringing up some good discussion with friends, which I always appreciate!

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 11:59 am
by Brad Jeffers
Joe Mckay wrote: Magic doesn't need to hear from Aristotle ever again.

There are four causes - Matter, Form, Agent, and End - which will be represented here by the four aces ...

Image

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 12:02 pm
by Richard Kaufman
Joe, magic is theater. Stage magic, close up magic, they are all a form of theater. You don't know what you're talking about.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 12:15 pm
by Edward Pungot
Even if you reduced magic to just fooling people it would still be a theatrical performance. But by doing so you have also greatly reduced a deeper connection with your audience. Comics and singers do vary their songs and jokes. It doesn't all have to be serious and heavy. Perhaps this what you are alluding to--the deceptive aspect of a magical performance that can equally be appreciated and admired.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 1:15 pm
by Bob Farmer
Joe needs to read:

https://www.vanishingincmagic.com/magic ... owmanship/

Henning Nelms also wrote:

https://www.amazon.com/Play-Production- ... B000MNCL9I

I don't think Nelms would agree with Joe's analysis.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 1:47 pm
by PapaG
Joe Mckay wrote:Mark Lewis was right when he said that the sound of your voice is crucial to how you connect with an audience. Every great magician has a great voice. And every poor magician has an annoying bland voice. There is a 100% correlation. Having a great voice does not make you a great magician alone. But you will never become one without one.



Interesting you should say that. I remember hearing Derren Brown say that the common denominator that determines whether he feels that his show went well or not is nothing more or less than how he felt about his voice.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 2:40 pm
by Matthew Field
Joe -- May I suggest you read "Our Magic" if you haven't done so. Or read it again if you have, as I am currently doing. Your analysis is shallow. And pay attention to what Richard just posted.

Matt Field

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 3:08 pm
by Brad Henderson
Magic, done artfully, is art. The fact that much magic is not done artfully - in intention or practice - doesn’t make it not art.

Again to revisit a point I made in another thread: Joe, I have no doubt that when YOU present magic that isn’t theater (or art). But that speaks only to YOUR approach to magic, not everyone else’s.

Your post also suggests you don’t really have a deep understanding of what makes theater, Theater; art, Art; or even magic, Magic.

Magic can convey feelingful responses via the intentional manipulation of symbolic structures just as capable as any other art form - and can convey unique feelingful responses no other art can manage.

All arts, to paraphrase Langer, aspire to the resultancy of magic. When art truly moves others in ways they have never before experienced, we label that experience magical.

Magic is always dramatic for its very essence is built on conflict - man against nature. And even the finger flingers work is rooted in magic against himself.

There are an infinite numbers of Stories that can be told based on those two conflicts. That requires being able to see beyond the tricks and the moves and look into the human dynamic of performance.

Spend less time reading self congratulatory magic blogs and spend a few months in museums or with books on topics beyond how to move cards without being detected. And most importantly - go perform for real people. Not doting friends.

The answers are out there.

I don’t think you’ve tried very hard to find them.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 3:13 pm
by Jonathan Townsend
Joe Mckay wrote:You don't need to add story on top of that. You don't have to turn your wild card into some weird film homage monstrosity.
I think you're being unfair to Peter Samuelson's routine. His character is understood as someone who likes movies and toys. The movies "Invaders from Mars" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" were familiar. it was (is?) part of his show along with the string and routine using smoke.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 3:18 pm
by Brad Henderson
And let’s not ignore the entire misunderstanding Joe has made about character. I don’t know any competent magician who is exactly themselves when performing. Even those whose characters appear to be human beings, the character presented has the boring parts removed. So there is no ‘you’ doing tricks. The moment you create an illusion you are no longer just ‘you’ - you are someone who can do these things. And that becomes your character. The voice you use is different from that you would use when ordering a beer from the bar or speaking to your partner. Magicians ARE actors playing the role of magicians. Anytime you perform ‘a trick’ that is the character you have adopted. You are no longer just ‘you’.

Unless you think magic is nothing more than a dabblers demonstration of clever objects he picked up at the local toy store. (A valid choice if intentional).

I think this may explain why Joe can’t imagine that people believe what we do can be real.

If we aren’t willing to believe what we do it real, why would they? If we aren’t willing to invest it with import beyond mere onanistic displays, why would the audience open themselves to something more?

On Performing Arts.

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 4:00 pm
by Jonathan Townsend
Joe Mckay wrote:I think magicians with a theater background are harming magic with their ill-thought-out theories. The majority of advice I see given to magicians over the past two decades has stressed that magic is a branch of theater.

It is not.
Magic is one of the performing arts. The magical effect still needs to get to the audience. That's a straw man argument confusing advice about how to communicate with an audience for poor choices in script, setting, awkward direction... putting Aristotle's Poetics into wicker man :(

A little advice from someone who writes for audiences (Aaron Sorkin) : “The worst crime you can commit is telling the audience something they already know.” ;)

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 4:11 pm
by Zig Zagger
Joe Mckay wrote:I think magicians with a theater background are harming magic with their ill-thought-out theories. The majority of advice I see given to magicians over the past two decades has stressed that magic is a branch of theater.

It is not.

There is only one plot in magic.

A guy (or gal!) doing tricks.

(...)

Huh, what a strange, apodictic rant, Mr Mckay.

To me, it sounds as if you've had a very unpleasant experience watching some over-the-top magic theater act last night.

"A guy (or gal!) doing tricks" is not a plot. It's usually a pretty lamentable experience from the "Look what I can do" department, I'd say.
A trick stripped off any context, meaning, or performance is just a riddle, and quite often an annoyance, but not magic.

On the other hand, we may not be artists, but we are performers by definition because we are faking the performance of a real magician. And any performance, even in the crudest manner, is a piece of theater, a mini play, hopefully with a premise and a plot, a dramatic presentation and a seemingly impossible climax. But we need to break the fourth wall and interact with the audience in order to succeed.

What your personal hero Andy Jerx does is staging artful social mini plays which seem to be so impromptu and innocent. Big drama, actually!

I'd also say that a comedian is an actor, too, playing either his "better self" or a character, like the "angry young (wo)man."

I believe you are very wrong in your assessment, but I'd be interested in understanding what triggered your angry burst?

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 5:28 pm
by Joe Mckay
I have been reading a lot of magc theory books lately. I am putting together a stand-up magic act.

I think my rant was sparked by reading about The Miser's Dream, and how the trick works because the deep symbolism of the trick speaks to man's deisre to be able to produce free money from the air.

Does anyone really feel that when they watch The Miser's Dream? I don't think they do. You can take a 20 dollar bill and turn it into a one dollar bill and it is just as magical as "producing free money". Of course it is a dumb thing to do - but it can sometimes be justified with the correct presentation.

I just feel the symbolism and story-telling side of magic is a source of a lot of bad advice in magic. I was watching one magician (who performs under a character) rework a common magic trick so that it made sense since it was no longer simply a magic trick. But was now a "scam" that the character was trying to use to get what he wanted from the spectator.

I actually like the guy and he has done a lot of good in magic - so I won't say too much more. But I just felt this idea of applying plot and sub-text to a magic trick is overthinking things. Pretty much all the greats just do damn good tricks.

As soon as you get into symbolism, elaborate story-telling, plot and sub-text - a lot of this effort becomes wasted and is unable to be appreciated by an audience.

Magic is a craft not an art. That means all theories of magic have to start from the basis of what actually works in the real world versus what works on paper. It is like cooking in that regard. You may think a pineapple and bacon chocolate cake will taste good. But unless it does in the real world - your efforts are wasted.

With that in mind - I just feel that all the great magicians keep it pretty simple when it comes to how they theorize about magic. You are doing a trick. That is why people are watching you. You now have their attention. So what now do you do with it? What else are you going to offer the audience other than amazement?

Trite story-telling or feeble symbolism is not enough. It is about being interesting and compelling. And there are a million ways to do that. If you took a beginner magician and forced them to learn the craft of stand-up comedy before they studied magic - they would become a much better performer than they would if they spent the same amount of time theorizing about Artistotle. The best thing Jay Sankey ever did (to improve as a performer) was quit magic for ten years to be a stand-up comedian.

Let's not over complicate things.

Be interesting.

Have an interesting and compelling voice.

Do good magic.

It is that simple.

I am pretty much just re-working the advice that David Mamet gives to actors. Turn up - say your lines - and be in the moment. Forget all the nonsense about the inner script and feeling your way into the part. And worrying about the sub-text of each line of dialogue.

The same is true of magic. Be a compelling personality on stage. Dai Vernon used to say that the best advice he ever gave magicians was to go out and f**k more women. He was speaking to the same deeper truth that I am.

I remember reading about an ingenious way the SAS used to select people to join them. They would take a guy up to a random house, and tell him to break inside it and steal a pencil. If he got caught - he would have to explain his actions to the police and he would get no help from the SAS. And he would no longer be part of the recrutiment process.

It was that simple.

If he didn't have the balls to pull off a low-stakes heist like this. Then he would be no good in the future when working undercover in foreign countries when he had to go out and shoot people.

The same is true of magic. If you are not interesting then your magic will not be interesting. That is the only thing you have to worry about. Not the script. Or Aristotle. Or - god help us - The Mystery School.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 5:33 pm
by Joe Mckay
It is false dichotomy when people say the trick has to hav emeaning otherwise you are simply a guy on stage presenting a puzzle. And nobody likes to be made a fool of.

That only applies if the trick you are performing is more interesting than you.

Then - yes - that is annoying. Nobody like the guy with zero personality who blackmails his way into getting attention by fooling people with tricks they cannot figure out.

People who use magic as a crux like that are an abomination.

But you don't have to worry about people considering you in the same way.

As long as your personality (and voice!) really are more interesting than the tricks you perform.

You can all shoot me down when I perform my stand-up act. God help me.

I am ugly and have a crap voice. But I will figure out a way.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 6:11 pm
by Richard Kaufman
Joe, you really don't understand what you're writing about. As an ex-actor, who has also done magic his whole life, I can say with certainly that all magic is theater. But you're not a pro magician, or an actor, or have any theatrical experience.

And you do NOT have to have great presentation or even an interesting personality for all magic tricks in a close up setting. Sometimes the trick itself does the heavy lifting.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 6:46 pm
by Max Maven
Joe, there is so much ignorant nonsense in your posts, it would be a time-consuming burden to respond. So, I’ll only post one response.

You write: ”Dai Vernon used to say that the best advice he ever gave magicians was to go out and f**k more women. He was speaking to the same deeper truth that I am.”

Simply untrue. You have taken a one-time comment, that made for an amusing anecdote, and redefined it as ongoing advice. That distortion makes it clear that in addition to not understanding magic in general, you don’t understand Vernon in particular.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:11 pm
by Joe Mckay
Bruce Cervon made a similar point about Dai Vernon on the DVD 'Hit The Road' that Lee Asher and R. Paul Wilson produced.

You can see the clip where he discusses the importance of charisma at the 24 mins 48 secs mark in the link below:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6ohai5

When you look at the subtext (that word again!), Bruce Cervon is making the same point that Dai Vernon did. Except in a much more PC manner.

Acting is protraying a character.

Magic (and stand-up comedy) reveals character.

If you want to be an interesting magician - be an interesting person. Theories about acting have nothing to do with it.

Dai Vernon agrees with me. So does Bruce Cervon.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:33 pm
by Joe Mckay
I am getting attakced for my views. Which is fine.

But here is the thing.

Magic is broken.

Magic doesn't work.

Magic has no artistic respect across the world.

It is the only "artform" that literally had to lobby Congress to get a law passed recognising it is an art.

That suggests that there is something wrong with the conventional advice given out to magicians.

So - the more of you that think I am wrong - the more I think I might be right.

'Telling the truth in a time of mass deceit is a revolutionary act' - Eric Blair

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:42 pm
by Joe Mckay
I think somebody like Mike Tyson is a fascinating person.

I also think you can teach a layperson how to perform strong magic in about a week (think about tricks like The Invisible Deck & Coin In Bottle).

As such - I bet I could turn Mike Tyson into a more powerful performer than most of the magicians who have spent their lives studying magic and how to apply dramatic theories to it.

In just a single week.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:44 pm
by Brad Henderson
Joe, the miser dream DID speak to man’s desire to produce wealth at ease. What you were missing is that - at the time when it could headline a bill - the performer was producing coins that were easily worth a weeks salary. Now half dollars lack they same power. So it’s become a trick about audience interaction and comedy, or perhaps a display of skill for its own sake.

The symbolism behind the egg bag irrefutably exists. We know using other objects will not convey the same feelingful response to the audience, even if the other object is also fragile. In the audience feels fundamentally different if the trick him on a vanish or a reproduction. One is a consonance/resolution the other is a dissonance.

The dynamics of a man sawing a woman and half produces a different feelingful response than a woman sawing through a man. It’s no accident that the sawing through a woman in half (and other female abuse effects) hit its greatest popularity at a time when the women’s suffrage movement was underway and power structures were changing.

A male magician shoving swords through a female sub servient assistant is an act of penetration. That act of penetration conveys feelingful responses of a sexual nature. We can embrace it, or we can ignore it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there and the audience isn’t affected by it. I recall two male magicians and a female assistant who performed together at the castle. The audience left the show confused. Not because they didn’t know how the tricks were done, but they couldn’t determine the player’s relationships with each other because the symbolic acts didn’t allow them to determine what they were. This became an obstacle to their enjoyment of the ‘tricks’.

And Magic can be an art Because Magic can transcend the demonstration of the props in the performers’ hand. Magic certainly has elements of craft, all art forms do. But you’ve given your game away - you focus only on the craft Magic, and are clearly blind to it artistic possibilities.

As I’ve said I think that speaks more to you and your skills as a magician than it does to the possibilities of Magic itself.

It is no wonder you idolize Andy - someone seeking to react against the trivialization of magic in his own way. It’s because your approach to it is one that trivializes it. You just lack the experience or vision or understanding to see why that is.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:51 pm
by Brad Henderson
Joe - you’re wrong.

Magic isn’t broken.

Your magic is broken.

Magic IS respected around the world - when done by people who present Magic in a manner worthy of respect.

Right now, before the virus, there were probably more live performance venues dedicated to Magic than at any other time in recent history. An evening to many of these venues cost hundreds of dollars.

They were booked for weeks in advance.

I know when I walk into a party Adults are genuinely excited that there is a magician in attendance. And I know when I leave there they hold me in the same esteem as they would be any scholar, athlete, or other celebrity who might be in attendance.

Is it fairly easy to do the moves and make a trick work? Sometimes yes. I can teach a parrot to pluck out keys on a piano to play Mary had a little lamb.

But there is a difference between demonstrating a trick and creating and conveying the experience of magic. One is a technical exercise. The other is a journey into what it means to be human.

I can play a song on the piano, but that doesn’t make me a pianist and certainly not a musician. Or do you consider the 4 year old playing twinkle twinkle on a recorder proof that music is broken and that their aren’t great artists who have impacted millions of lives with their art?

All you seem to be able to see is moves and tricks.

There is more out there

Your blindness notwithstanding.

I bet dozens of people here can share stories of moving people to tears with magic, of giving people hope through our performances.

It can be done.

Not maybe by everybody.

Certainly not by Someone who keeps looking for magic in the wrong places.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 7:55 pm
by Brad Henderson
And you fail to understand Mamet. Mamet is a writer. It’s not that all that symbolism isn’t in his works. It’s that he believes it’s the writers job to supply that. The actor merely needs to say the lines and realize their objectives.

(And - to test those ideas in practice - a lot of people find Mamet’s work dull. Good stories. Slow movies.)

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:03 pm
by Joe Mckay
You make a good point about the historical context surrounding The Miser's Dream. Thanks for that. Inflation has a habit of catching people out when they think about the past.

I never bought into the Jim Steinmeyer theory that magicians torturing women was a reaction against women wanting the vote.

Sawing a woman can be just as compelling today as it was a hundered years ago. Yet women have the vote today and it is no longer a controversial issue. So I don't think the trick requires an extra dash of symbolism (or "meaning") to be effective.

I will think over the other points you made as well.

Cheers!

Joe

PS Glengarry Glen Ross is my all-time favourite movie! You are probably correct since he wrote the movie but didn't direct it.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:36 pm
by Brad Henderson
Joe. The excitement over sawing at that time is incomparable to the responses it receives today. Then it was a cultural trope. Today it is a cliche.

Still a great trick but it does NOT resonate with audiences the way it did then. And gender roles play into that.

Do you think an act where scantily clad women are treated as maids or props play successfully as it once did? We know for a fact that magicians placing their audience volunteers in sexualized situations is not tolerated anymore. The sawing as it was traditionally done resonated because of the people who played the parts - and it’s not a coincidence that men were the ones torturing the women. Just look to movie roles - it’s the male villain who ties the female to the tracks. There are symbolic elements in all of that.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:38 pm
by Bill Duncan
Jonathan Townsend wrote:...along with the string and routine using smoke.

I got to see Smoke from about 6 feet away, at a magic convention in Seattle years ago. I had read Peter's book*, Theatrical Close-up, but I was not aware of Smoke. I was astonished.

It is, hands down, one of the best pieces of magic theater ever created. On the same level as Fred Kaps, or Del Ray. It is all about character and timing, and subtext. Without those elements it would just be a coin trick.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:43 pm
by Jonathan Townsend
Broken magic was put on display as comedy by Carl Ballantine successfully. Johnny Thompson's act included what looked like broken magic. Penn and Teller have been performing effective magic while talking about magic being broken for years. Someone put out a book with yearly quotes about magic being broken. Welcome to 2020. :)

Joe, you're right about action revealing character and being interesting. Getting help from a director can smooth some of the rough parts about finding what's interesting to audiences and what works for your character in particular. This month's Genii feature article is about a performer who started via fire eating and comedy on her way to finding a character who does magic for audiences. She discusses writing a show and getting into character.

Maybe the magic shop literature had a pendulum swing from "easy, anyone can be amazing if they buy product.." to "your props must have backstory and every action consequential". No problem, try a different wand, and don't forget to point. :D

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:47 pm
by Bill Duncan
Joe Mckay wrote:As soon as you get into symbolism, elaborate story-telling, plot and sub-text - a lot of this effort becomes wasted and is unable to be appreciated by an audience.

Magic is a craft not an art.


I really hate hearing how _____ is "not an art". Nothing is a freakin' ART!

Painting is not an art, sculpture is not an art. Ceramics is not an art, and singing, if my shower is any indication, isn't either. Manipulating material objects like paint or clay, or making sounds or writing words is not art. Anyone can do those things.

Art is the act of communication. Artists are the people who use craft to communicate.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 8:49 pm
by Joe Mckay
For most of human history women were seen as the property of men.

They were owned by their father. Who then chose who they married. And then they were passed on to be owned by the husband.

I suppose this would have been a worldview that still resonated a hundred years ago? So the rise of women getting the vote would have felt the overturning of a key part of society that men took for granted for thousands of years? So that might expain the wider context of women being tied to railway tracks in silnet movies and the magic as torture routines.

It is really hard to put yourself into the mindset of a regular guy back then. Don't forget - you could beat your wife back then as well. I don't think there was a taboo around that until about the 1970s?

I am looking at the reaction to some comments that Sean Connery made in 1987. The interviewer didn't seem to pleased with him when he spoke about slapping women.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzXkbJwrN38

I remember John Lennon being pretty open about beating women in a Playboy interview in 1980. But he was talking about it in the past-tense and with regret. So it seems to be something that people turned a blind eye to until around the late 60's.

Can any of the older posters chip in on this?

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 9:00 pm
by Edward Pungot
You should read or reread Mamet's book on theater. Theatre and perhaps watch Redbelt. (the boy must die...)

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 9:10 pm
by Jack Shalom
It's a shame, Joe, to write off centuries of oral and written wisdom and experience about how to make what happens in the space between an audience and performer entertaining and electrifying. And in the last century and a half some excellent advice on how to achieve a level of verisimilitude in one's actions when onstage.

Stand-up comedy is a subset of theater, as is magic. If a comedian doesn't know her way around a stage, she shouldn't be on it.

When you start wondering not just what your voice, but what your hands, feet, and spirit are communicating, you can take a look at some of the greats' advice. And it's some very very interesting stuff. Maybe not what you would expect.

Great that you are committed to going out there and seeing what works for you.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 9:21 pm
by Joe Mckay
I appreciate all the feedback.

I am an idiot. If I think too much about something I end up saying something very smart or very dumb. The problem is I am never sure which it is.

Here is an idea I had for Bank Night. I was going to use Hiro Sakai's brilliant method that he printed in GENII magazine a few years ago. It was one of those 'worth the price of your subscription' tricks.

I guess I will only know the value in this presentation when I actually go out and perform it. But I thought I would run it past you guys in any case:

The show starts with a washing line on the stage.

Hanging from the line is 5 balloons.

In between each balloon is a big photograph of Nigel Farage.

It is hanging on stage behind me for the whole show.

It looks pretty weird - and I don't refer to it once.

Then for my final trick - I point it out and tell everyone they may be wondering why the stage has all these balloons and photos of Nigel Farage hanging from the washing line.

I then ask for a volunteer who hates Nigel Farage to come on stage.

I tell them to look at the balloons - and choose 4 of them.

I tell them that 4 of the balloons are empty.

The one they leave behind is the one they will keep.

The one remaining balloon has a cheque made out with a 500 pound donation to the UK Independence Party (this is the political party that Nigel Farage was most associated with).

I then tear up the cheque and hand them it as their prize.


I don't reallly want to perform magic because I am very lazy. But I do think I can bring something new to it. And I think it is good to do something productive with your life. So I feel I am being dragged in this direction at this moment in my life.

Re: Magic is not theater

Posted: May 11th, 2020, 9:29 pm
by Jonathan Townsend
Joe, someone did a more pointed and less political version of that by having the gift be "nothing" and the giver be the devil himself. If the audience is with you - that stuff can work.

Things changed greatly around the time of Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus. There was a time before the Bechdel Test. We're still a generation away from calling out abuse in general. There can be a significant component of violence in relationships between groups, within groups and between individuals. Our culture has issues about "other" down to our language. I is to Us as We is to ? Please, how does any of this talk of disrespect and pain help you or magic?