For those of you who think that wisdom and excellence can only come from the young new celebrities in magic (nothing against them), revisit the wisdom and genius of Gary Kurtz. Gary was one of many contributor’s to Stevens Magic Emporium’s GeMiNi: The Greater Magic Network. We have a treasure trove of previously un-released archives. Here is just one sampling….
PREPARING MATERIAL FOR PERFORMANCE
There is an enormous difference between practice and rehearsal. You can practice moves and routines; you have to rehearse a performance.
In analyzing and constructing our performances we have to keep in mind that its not what we say and do that counts, but what the audience sees, hears and remembers that we did. Thus, our preparation has to be with the audience in mind.
What exactly is the effect you want the audience to see, and how can you amplify it?
What is the over-all impression you want your audience to have of you, and how can you strengthen that impression?
Why should the audience care? What is establishing and holding their interest? What’s in it for them? These are the most important questions you have to ask yourself.
In creating presentations: Try making the assumption that magic is inherently boring (not true — tricks can be boring, magic will always be fascinating), and then try to create emotional hooks, plots and audience involvement which would be interesting even if there wasn’t magic. Toss the magic back in and you’ll have something with twice the interest built in.
The over-all structure of the performance, the dramatic curve, the audience involvement, the focal-interactional techniques, every action, and every moment has to be thought out, motivated, and planned. I improvise extensively in performance, but, if nothing spontaneously brilliant happens, I know I still have a solid structure to fall back on.
Being prepared means confidence and freedom
Tape your performances in front of an audience (either audio or video). Sit down and take notes. What works best for the audience? What doesn’t work (that you thought would)? Is there dead time you can eliminate? What needs to be improved? Keep the material that works, and concentrate on improving the weaknesses. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Its simply an excuse to avoid addressing more serious problems. Rehearse your improvements, then repeat the whole process again.
Some performances will always be better than others. From my experience in theatre:
Proper rehearsal guarantees that even a bad performance is good, and a good performance is great!!!
PERFECTLY VISUAL VS. IMPLIED EFFECTS
Involving the Spectator’s Imaginations
There is/was a trend in magic towards creating more and more visually-perfect effects.
In reading a good book, our minds create all the visual images. We see the characters. We see the landscapes; we feel the cold of a blizzard; we feel anger for an incredible injustice being done. They’re simply words on a page, and yet we see and feel all those things.
Are we, in making magic visually perfect, robbing the audience of their imaginative involvement in the experience? Is it time we started putting the mystery back into magic? A fully clothed woman (or man) can be much more seductive than one who is completely naked and exposed to us. Stunning visual effects (like the slight flash of an inner thigh or breast, to get back to our erotic/pornographic analogy) can be wonderful for contrast and theatrical accent, simply be aware that they create the effect they create and nothing more. With a purely visual effect, there is little room for the audience to interpret and exaggerate the effect.
Why do people tend to exaggerate certain effects when they tell other people about them? Because part of the effect was left to their imaginations; and the human imagination has a tendency to run wild. We should give it the freedom.
Work with Your Audience’s Minds and Imaginations,
Not Just for Their Eyes
Interaction Vs. Demonstration
Briefly: If there is a way that I can physically involve the audience in an effect (in addition to all the other levels of involvement), I’ll do so (assuming the physical involvement is in tune with over-all dramatic/theatrical structure). It goes without saying that magic happening in the spectator’s own hands will have a stronger impact than magic that you do in yours (magic happening in their minds aside).
In looking at the routines in my lecture notes (The “Spectator Coins Across”), “The Cups and Balls” and “The Amplified Ace Assembly” especially) you will see my efforts in this direction. As mentioned in the Forward to the “Cups and Balls,” this is the difference between demonstrational and interactional magic. This is the difference in an audience watching the magic, and an audience experiencing the magic.
As mentioned in the section on Focal-Interactional Techniques, it also provides incredible potential for misdirection through direction of attention onto the spectators and your relationship with them.
The more we can involve the audience in the performance, the better. I believe this goes without saying.
ON CREATING PRESENTATIONS
I’m capable of performing hundreds of magic tricks, and yet my professional repertoire is fairly small. Why? Because I can’t create strong enough presentations for all those other effects. To cite an epitaph which Jay Sankey had prominently pinned to his wall for years
Epitaph: Words written in memory of a person who has died: In our case, words in memory of tricks which have died in performance):
Why should people care?
These days, if contemplating a new routine for my repertoire, I’ll try and write/construct a presentation first.
If I can’t come up with a presentation which I think will excite my audience, I won’t waste my time working on the trick!
Admittedly, this can be creatively limiting (no more innovative, albeit performance-wise worthless, tricks to impress other magicians and publish in magic books catering to hobbyists) but as a professional, you have to have your priorities.
Our Belief Leads to the Audience’ Suspension of Disbelief
Before we can suspend the audience’s disbelief, we have to give them something to believe in.
Now consider that, in order to create a suspension of disbelief, in order to involve the audience in what we are doing, we have to first of all believe in what we are doing ourselves.
We have to abandon ourselves to the role we are playing. A great actor doesn’t act, he becomes.
The issue of becoming is only possible if we master our craft, if our craft becomes second nature. When we no longer have to think about how we are doing everything, it becomes much easier to be a magician. The mental shift then is from thinking about methodology, to feeling that you actually have the power to do what you claim. You forget about the secret moves and it becomes the “Casting the Spell” which brings about the effect.
The challenge now is to communicate that sensation of magic to your audience.
Like the sleight of hand moves we might perform, the audience can’t ever be aware, or suspicious, that we are manipulating their attention. “You just distracted us.” is as bad a statement as “You had the coin hidden in your hand.” They don’t have to know exactly how you “distracted” them (as far as they’re concerned), they just have to think that’s what you’re doing, and they’ve found their easy explanation. Any hope of creating a suspension of disbelief is lost. Sad, but true.
Naturalness is as important in directing your audience’ attention as it is in sleight-of-hand.
THE “COMPLETE” PERFORMER
Mastering all aspects of your craft (the technical side and the communication side) is critical to being an exceptional performer.
As far as the audience is concerned, performance technique is more important than physical (methodological) technique. Performance technique will cover technical inadequacies better than technical brilliance will compensate for a poor connection with your audience (however strong the magic is, if the audience isn’t interested in you, you’ll never be truly successful). On the other hand, even if you’re a good performer, ideally, you should still be performing strong magic.
If you lack concrete performance skills, concentrate on being a better performer. If you lack the technical skills to back your strong natural rapport with people, focus on improving your technique. If you’re not very good in either respect (be honest with yourself), concentrate on developing both areas at the same time (you’ll advance much more quickly). AIM TOWARDS BEING A COMPLETE PERFORMER.
You may already intuitively understand some, or many, of the concepts I’ve described (from performance experience you simply know what works). However, having an intellectual understanding as well, will save you a great deal of time in perfecting: 1) Material which is already in your repertoire, but still has some flaws, or 2) New material you’re developing for performance.
Concerning new material, the only way you finish a performance piece is in front of an audience. If you’ve thoroughly analyzed a work-in-progress beforehand, when you finally perform it you’ll find perhaps only two flaws, instead of ten (due to your miscalculation of how the audience would think and react — due to human unpredictability, there’s simply no knowing exactly). Having the intellectual understanding gives you the problem-solving tools to more quickly eliminate the remaining flaws.
Every idea I’ve discussed within these pages is inseparable from every other. This has been the difficulty in breaking them down for analysis (and even in deciding which to talk about, and which to leave out). Most of the techniques work in collusion. Whatever the problem you set out to solve, you should find a solution through one or a combination of the techniques I’ve described. In some circumstances I’ll use as many as four techniques simultaneously (I don’t take any chances).
I hope these ideas will inspire you to care and think more deeply about Magic, and, most importantly, to expand your definition of technique to include the performance techniques I’ve described here.
My work concerning this project is finished. As I stated in the introduction, though, the contents of this book are worthless unless they are put into practice. I’d hate to think I wasted my time.
The rest is up to you.
Archived Columns Gary Kurtz Index – SME GeMiNi – The Greater Magic Network – copyright 2013