Scott Wells – The Problem With Magic Clubs

Columnist:
Scott Wells

The Problem With Magic Clubs

By Scott Wells

This month I would like to get on a soapbox for a bit and perhaps stir up the cauldron that has been simmering for years. What I am about to address is not symptomatic of any one magic club exclusively but rather an observation on the many magic clubs of which I was a member and/or have visited.

Members of magic clubs come and go like the tides in the bay. And like the waters, they run hot and cold. Sometimes we have good years filled with members who are on fire and shoulder all of the work of the club serving on every committee that needs them and even helping to create new committees. We have contests, great lectures, super banquets, high attendance, good monthly programs, and many other surprises. Other years we seem to get stuck in a rut and fear to venture out into the unknown with programs, ideas, or something that may require (gasp) a by-law change. In those years we begin to tire of seeing the same performers at each meeting trying to inspire the rest of us to get off of our haunches and do something.

Inflated ego is one main reason we see a division in magic clubs that result in their eventual breakdown. Instead of a meeting of the minds, it turns out to be a battle of the egos. Everyone has their own opinion and they want to direct the meeting to their own way of thinking. As a result, we see long, tedious, boring meetings getting hung up on details rather than focusing on magic performances and improving our routines. We see more and more members getting disgusted with the bureaucracy of it all and finally losing interest and dropping their membership. We can only hope for an influx of new magicians who have not yet been tainted with the problems of “meeting-itis” (the plague of loving meetings for the sake of knit-picking details and dragging them out interminably.)

Itís all so incestuous that we are becoming generic magicians. We seem to be feeding off of one another until we all are doing the same type of tricks using some of the same patter even developing the same voice inflections, gestures and nuances in the delivery of the lines. We are becoming so much like clones of one another that originality seems to be lost and itís hard to determine one magician from another (“Open your hand . . . your clean hand . . . oh, that was your clean hand.” [NOTE: actually it I understand it was Walter Blaneyís original addition of “Oh, that was your clean hand.”]) I canít blame the pros who quickly lose interest then drop out of the magic club scene.

When I lived in Omaha, I was very active in the local magic scene and served as an officer along with some very innovative magicians who approached the club meetings as a business. We first identified the three basic types of magic club members then tried to design a club meeting to meet everyoneís needs. The three groups are 1) the beginner or new member, 2) the “hard core” group of pros and/or semi-pros, and 3) the regular or “backbone” member.

Often those same magicians who perform each month intimidate the new or young members. They begin to feel alienated more and more because they are not part of the clique of performers. Despite the invitation open to everyone to perform, before long they become discouraged and eventually drop out because they canít “break into the group.” Part of the problem is that they feel somewhat inadequate with their level of ability. Perhaps they came to the meeting because they didnít know where else to go to learn magic as a hobby and thought that joining a magic club would be a place where the “brothers” would share their secrets. There are no ongoing magic classes taught in the Leisure Learning Institute or Junior Colleges. I donít believe that any of the local magic shops teach magic, per se.

As for the working performers who belong to magic clubs, their interest wanes after they tire of constantly “casting pearls before swine” as Iíve heard it put by one of our illustrious members. And I agree that it is frustrating giving away your pet secrets to those who will either never use it and just want to know the secret for the secretís sake or they just might use it and make it part of their repertoire.

The third type of member is the backbone of every club. This member attends nearly every meeting and event. They are the ones who sell tickets to the annual shows, pull the curtains, set up the chairs, and make the phone calls. They are grand supporters of magic providing a great audience for the performers. Although they are not usually polished performers, they love magic and all of its arcanum. Other members may come and go but they will be around forever.

Having identified these types of members, we constructed a two-hour meeting that seemed to satisfy everyone. The first hour of the meeting was split into two rooms. In one room there was a teach-in where advanced members taught a magic class from card sleights to dove steals. The class was open to anyone who wanted to learn that eveningís topic or to brush up on their skills on the subject.

Concurrent with this class, a video was played in the other room for the hard core group who wanted to learn the more technical or advanced stuff. The videos came from Joe Stevens and were the most recent releases from his ever-growing library. In an effort to encourage members to attend the meeting, the tape was only shown once then it was resold to another magician outside of the state at a reduced price. This prohibited members from borrowing the tape and viewing it outside the meeting. Again, the intent was to encourage the “hard core” magicians to attend the meetings.

Following the first hour, the two groups came together for the second hour for a short lecture, usually about 15 to 30 minutes. The topics varied from phone room promotions, to restaurant work, to children shows, and working county and state fairs. The evening was wrapped up with member performances on the eveningís topics. Here the topics were broad so as not to alienate someone who didnít have a favorite rope or card trick. They were topics like “my favorite trick”, “paper magic”, “childrenís magic”, “holiday magic” and the like.

By the end of the evening, everyone felt as if they had been immersed in magic and had learned something plus they shared some great fellowship. In a city of less than a half million residents, we regularly had no less than 60 members attend the meetings. There were a few times when the number nearly reached 100.

What do you think that your club could do to make the magic happen in your city?