The summer of 2014 has been a remarkable one for me as a performer. I have traveled more frequently, presented more (and varied) programs and had the opportunity to work with people whose work I respect. Even though I post this on August 20th, summer is not over yet. I have a full ten days of performing and travel still ahead and the fall and winter calendars are rapidly filling up. It seems like the market is finally turning around and people are seeking out good magic experiences. Thanks to everyone who has supported me! Let’s hope the trend continues, but now on to the topic at hand…
In most of the arts, one can practice the art in solitary. A musician playing the piano in their living room is making music; an artist drawing brush against canvas is painting; a dancer doing a pirouette in the bathtub… should stop, as they could slip and hurt them self, but they are dancing. For magic to happen there must be a witness. The audience is an integral part of the equation.
This does not mean that a magician has to wait for an audience to prepare. Just as in any art form, there are many hours of solitary work to be done well before an audience is subjected to a performance. Dozens, even hundreds of hours of conception, development, composition, practice and rehearsal must occur for a piece to be effective. Sometimes those hours are done by the performer, but just as often they are done by the creator of a trick. Performers benefit from the creative and intellectual work of those whose material they perform. It is a collaborative process in which the performer and creator work together while often never meeting.
Once a performer chooses to perform a piece created by someone else (whether it is magic or music), the real work starts for the performer. They must evaluate the piece to determine if it fits their skill set. If it does not, then they either need to acquire the skills (or equipment) or adapt the piece to fit their particular capabilities. They must look at the dramatic context of the piece and determine if they wish to retain the script/presentation or reframe it. Part of the latter will depend on how well the original script fits their character.
I often recommend to beginning magicians that they learn magic by learning through imitation. Learn the pieces as created, with the technique utilized by the originator. This enables them to develop a healthy set of sleight-of-hand “tools” to draw from while developing an appreciation for the mechanical, compositional and psychological reasons for why a particular piece is perceived by audiences as “magic”. This process is vital, regardless of whether the goal is to become a creator of magic (one who values paying respect to those on whose shoulders you stand) or to the development of a well-rounded performer who seeks a unique voice.
Art is about choice. Choosing to respect the process, your predecessors and your audiences (by committing to the work needed for a good performance) goes a long way to earning the respect of your peers and your audiences.
Next time: Magic Appreciation