Stepping on Memories…

I read a Facebook post today by a magician remarking on the impact pieces can have on spectators. Basically, he stated how a current audience member described a powerful experience a few weeks earlier where their property ended up in an impossible location. The audience member couldn’t remember the name of the previous performer, but remembered significant details of the routine performed for them.

The poster stated, “This memory stuck with him from that afternoon/evening when little else did and it demonstrates how powerful a good performance can be. The trick itself doesn’t need to be hard, it just needs to be performed well for it to create that lasting memory. Whoever the magician was he did a very good job.” He then went on to write: “I find it great when lay-people remember these stand out moments of magic, irrespective of who it’s performed by and it re-enforces the ability that we all have as magicians to create these memorable and lasting memories for people. I’m just pleased that I had my [piece of equipment] with me.”

Now, at first read it looks like the poster might “whip out” their version of the trick to “top” the previous performer.  Would be that be an appropriate choice? I believe that this would be a huge mistake as he would be competing with a memory that he has no chance of topping and would only diminish his standing with the audience.

What did he ultimately do? He chose to leave the spectator “with his original memory”. He was all set to repeat the effect (albeit weeks later) and decided that it would be better to perform material that they hadn’t seen.

The memory of a magical performance often reaches mythic proportions. Over time the experience becomes more impossible and can be recalled with details that are different from what actually occurred. Many scientists who have studied memory have come to believe that when one recalls an event, they are creating a new memory with each recall, resulting in memories of experiences that never occurred. There is often some migration and exaggeration of the original experience with new details.

Our reputation often benefits from such migratory memory.

When I performed regularly in restaurants, I would occasionally have people recount their experiences with other performers including specific details about the “trick” that they were most impacted by. Often, their retelling of the story made for an entertaining experience for me as the details often didn’t support the effect as described. Rather than feel competitive towards the other performer, I always admired the fact that they got to the spectator first and had such a profound impact. It helped me select material and an approach to perform for a group that was already primed for the experience.

How would you react? Did the poster make the right decision? I look forward to hearing some thoughts from you…

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