|Topic: On practice and rehearsal, part 2|
A big thank you to Michael Baker for bringing up a comment I made on my previous column on practice and rehearsal, i.e.,
“We've all seen too many magic shows where one trick just follows another, with absolutely nothing to hold it all together.”
So, with Michael's kind permission, I'm going to quote his response:
“I fear this thought has become misconstrued and taken too literally by many who read it, or in fact speak it. For them, it becomes necessary, if subscribing to such a doctrine, that everything must connect, as if playing "connect the dots". The problem is, sometimes the finished picture makes no sense, even though all the dots connect beautifully.
In conjunction with this, I believe that it is entirely possible to construct a magic act or show that consists of many otherwise disjointed parts, provided each is a separate vignette within itself. This is not uncommon with literary works (anthologies, collected works), and it works nicely.”
Well, since I made the original comment, and since Michael is totally correct, I guess I better clarify this a bit...
Like I said in the column, back when I started in magic (around the age of twelve, in the mid-1960's) I would just do a bunch of tricks one after the other with no conception of how they tied together to make up a complete performance, aka an entertaining experience for the audience. Like many other beginners, I though that magic tricks, in and of themselves, were of enough interest to an audience that I didn't need to do anything else besides performing them. I mean, gee whiz, you go the magic shop, buy half a dozen tricks, read the instructions, practice them a bit, and, presto chango, you're ready to go on.
To be fair to myself (gotta do that :) ), I did try to sequence the tricks such that I was doing stronger ones as the show moved on, ending with the strongest one. For me, the first few years, the ending was a Square Circle production.
But, still, I didn't know anything about the kid doing the tricks -- who he was, or why he was doing them, or what he was trying to prove. Therefore I didn't even have a consistent personality from trick to trick. I was just doing one trick after another, using the canned (and totally disconnected) patter that came with it. Not only that, but the props themselves had nothing in common with each other: some were “Chinese,” others “Persian,” others “Victorian,” and others... well... totally nondescript.
Thankfully, I did stick around after each show long enough to talk with members of the audience (yep, I wanted to hear how good I was), and even more thankfully I did eventually learn to listen to what they were really telling me, that the tricks were okay, but I had no discernible personality. And that a good-looking kid like me, up there in front of an audience, should have a personality.
Good grief, what a concept.
(Not that I was a good-looking kid, but that I should have a personality.)
BTW, when I refer to “audiences” during this period, I mean the general public. I didn't start performing in front of a magic club audience for several years until I was old enough to join IBM. And that's when I found out the comments were different. Here personality was irrelevant: all they wanted was good tricks.
The first thing that came to mind when I read Michael's comment on anthologies was watching Victor Borge on TV several times. Victor was a strong enough performer that he could do a show consisting of music from sixteen different periods, styles, ethnicities, traditions, and every other variable imaginable and hold them together with his personality. For all I know, he could probably sit at the piano and play names out of the phone book and it would still be hilarious.
Let's see... how about “Variations on John Smith in B sharp major.” Wait a minute -- there [i]is[/i] no B sharp. Hmmmm. Oh, beg your pardon, that's a squashed mosquito on the page.
Yes, an anthology type of show, where every effect is a self-contained entity, could work well, as long as there is an overall theme of some kind that holds it all together. Even something simple like “An evening of magic with The Great Trickini,” where Trickini introduces himself first, and then introduces each effect as an entity in itself, could work well as long as there's a consistency in the transitions and the presentation.
The show, for instance, could be about magic from the Victorian period, or from the Far East, or from the early 20th century, or comedy, or illusions, or rope tricks, or anything else. Or it could even be disconnected tricks -- classic effects -- that famous magicians have done over the years. Or it could be serious tricks done with a comedy slant, or comedy tricks done with a serious slant, or old tricks that have found their way into toy-store magic kits, or even (yikes) seventeen ways to find a selected card after it's been shuffled back into the deck.
At the end of this show we would remember the show as a range of magic effects, and we would remember Trickini himself as the performer who showed us the range of effects with a specific idea in mind.
Just last night I put on a DVD of [i]The Illusionist[/i] and this whole subject came up. The theater posters said “Eisenheim the Illusionist;” they did not say “A bunch of tricks.” The way the movie was directed, we could see that the audience came to see Eisenheim (first) and whatever he would do (second). He was the main attraction.
My whole point is that this is so much different from saying “I'm a magician and I'm going to show you a bunch of tricks” -- and having the audience remember the bunch of tricks but not the guy doing them because he brought nothing personal to the show.
Or, worse, implying “I'm a magician and I'm going to prove it,” but coming across like “Hey, Mom, watch me, lookit what I can do.”
In the long run, I suppose the amount of time a performer will spend on pulling the whole show together and working out the transitions between effects depends entirely on what he or she believes is the important part: the show itself or the tricks. And here's one area where there's so much disagreement in the Café – performers who work for the general public seem to feel differently about this than those who perform for magic club audiences.
So maybe there are two different answers? :)