(Close Window)
Topic: When you witness a truly bad performance...
Message: Posted by: Scott F. Guinn (Mar 25, 2010 11:48AM)
Recently I have been struck by the polar opposite opinions of some pretty heavy hitters in magic regarding how to respond upon having seen a really bad magician performing for the public.

One highly esteemed icon says that the guy is working, and no other magician has any business criticizing another member of the brotherhood.

Another pillar of equal prestige suggests that one should invite said performer to coffee or lunch and make some suggestions as to how he can improve.

Yet another is somewhere in the middle; he believes we should introduce ourselves to these bad performers and make ourselves available for advice, but only actually give it if asked to do so.

The extremes tend to show themselves at magic club meetings. In my experience, clubs tend to be either karaoke-type sessions where everyone is applauded and given kudos regardless of how awful their contribution might have been, or places where a performance is cut to shreds and they are lambasted with "improvements" within seconds after the routine is completed.

I already know where I stand on the matter, and I may divulge that a bit later. But I would like to hear where you stand. I may be doing an article on this topic for my blog and/or one of the magazines for which I write, and I'd like to hear some differing opinions and the basis for those opinions--so in a very real sense, this is research for me.

So, what is your opinion?
Message: Posted by: Al Angello (Mar 25, 2010 12:22PM)
When I see a really bad performance I first feel bad for the performer. I then want to leave the room before his performance is over, and I try not to be put into a position to give an opinion, or go home before I am asked. I will do just about anything to keep from saying to them "YOU STINK".
Message: Posted by: Ken Northridge (Mar 25, 2010 01:07PM)
On 2010-03-25 12:48, Scott F. Guinn wrote:

One highly esteemed icon says that the guy is working, and no other magician has any business criticizing another member of the brotherhood.

I tend to fall into this category. Unless I’m specifically asked for my opinion or critique I feel it is improper to do so. And being that the majority of entertainers have a big ego, I find few will invite such horror.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Mar 25, 2010 01:29PM)
In my neck of the woods it has long been a maxim of professionals, never criticize a fellow performer in public.
Message: Posted by: BarryFernelius (Mar 25, 2010 02:08PM)
I wouldn't criticize a performer in public. If I have the opportunity to do so, I'll meet the performer in private and engage in conversation. You can learn quite a bit about a person by listening to him. If the performer seems to be a truly arrogant you-know-what, I'll wrap up the conversation and leave. (Why should I waste my time?)

If the performer seems to be a decent sort of person, I'll try to direct the conversation to a place where the performer will ask me to perform something. In that case, I try to perform a short effect that will show him who I am, impress him, and (hopefully!) fool him. If that leads to a positive relationship with mutual respect, at some later time I'll connect him with the people who can help him the most.

If I don't have some sort of positive relationship with this hypothetical performer, all of the criticism in the world (even if it's correct) won't help. It's just wasting my time and the performer's time.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Mar 25, 2010 02:36PM)
I would listen to what lay spectators have to say and share those -- offering my opinion only if asked. If everyone liked it but me I'd ask his advice. For me, another magician's opinion is not always that of the audience in general.
Message: Posted by: Donal Chayce (Mar 25, 2010 02:59PM)
Unless my opinion is a favorable one, I offer it to the performer only when asked.

But I would (and do) give my opinion about bad performances if the performer in question is the topic of a private conversation I'm having with others.

On a side note, I sometimes learn as much by watching bad performers as I do by watching great performers.
Message: Posted by: stoneunhinged (Mar 25, 2010 04:08PM)
As most people here who know me know, I don't perform. I don't perform because I am not ready. And my decision is not wrong.

Magic requires a level of expertise to be mastered before one performs. Otherwise it is no longer magic.

I can teach some young child to play three chords on a ukulele and put him or her on stage to perform "Kum ba yah", and a lot of people will be entertained and find it cute and take pictures. And it is music. Hey, it ain't Beethoven, but it is music.

But with magic the rules are different. It isn't magic if people aren't fooled, if they have no sense of wonder, if they aren't wondering where something went or how it appeared. Bad magic isn't "magic".

Right? I must think about this further, but I think I'm on to something. Bad music is bad music, but music still. Bad magic isn't magic at all.


So a really bad performance (and goodness, I've seen many) is a serious problem. It isn't magic. So should we approach the magician and say...what?

I have never approached a poor magical performer. I have approached bad musical performers and said something kind. They had the guts to get on stage. They entertained and pleased a few people. Nothing was lost. No one got hurt.

But magic? If it isn't "magic"...well, all magicians get hurt. The cost of failure is different. Miss a note and people still love singing along to "Tom Dooley" or whatever. Miss a sleight and you have shattered the illusion.

Darn! It depresses me greatly that I do not perform. But now y'all know why.
Message: Posted by: funsway (Mar 26, 2010 06:27AM)
Magic requires a level of expertise to be mastered before one performs. Otherwise it is no longer magic.
I agree and also do not perform much, and am disheartened at the local IBM club where most performers are experimenting rather than performing. The problem is that everyone focuses on "being entertaining" with little concern over mystery, awe, or dilemma. Bad magic can be entertaining, and as long as applause and tips are forthcoming some will continue to purchase "easy out of the box" effects and ignore the magic. Those who table hop and ask, "Wanna see a trick," give you just that, confuse bewilderment or shock with a sense of magic and bounce on to someone else.

At least in this situation it must be OK to say, "That was pretty neat -- but where was the magic?"
Message: Posted by: jazzy snazzy (Mar 26, 2010 08:27AM)
On 2010-03-26 07:27, funsway wrote:
"That was peretty neat -- but where was the magic?"

Good one funsway. It depends on the attitude of the performer. If they are legitimately trying to learn and have respect for the art. They deserve encouragement and gentle guidance. On the other hand, the David Blaine wannabe's should be addressed more sternly. This is the group that is only trying to impress people or pick up girls, with no self awareness of how bad it really looks. They carry things in their pocket because they think it's cool. The magic shops sell a lot of coin benders to this crowd, so they won't be going away soon.

I've met magic afficionados who can blow me away with an effect. There was a hotel chef who was once a magician in Vegas. He turned to the dark side of gambling and eventually got out of it altogether. His card work was stunning.

Some magic club members approach magic as they would a crossword puzzle. Something to be solved. A purely technical approach that lacks the artistic discipline and confidence to make it work in actual performance. Their hearts are in the right place and they can't be faulted for that, but we risk being bored to death.
No harm done.

Watch them all with the perspective of a respectful audience member and applaud the effort.
If someone asks what I think, I try to be kind but honest, positive but constructive.
If they have an agenda other than a love of magic, then the gloves come off, with a lesson by example.
Message: Posted by: Lawrence O (Mar 29, 2010 04:44PM)
Because I feel ashamed that I could be associated by friends around with a performer delivering a really bad act, I find an external excuse and I leave.

I recall having done this with Christian Fechner at about one quarter of the gala dinner in a convention. The show was so miserable that we looked at each other and pretended having an important business meeting to claim to our other magician friends that we had stayed as much as possible (that last part was not a lie) but that we now had to leave.

We then had a very pleasant dinner with our respective wives without even discussing about it: "De minimis non curat praetor"
Message: Posted by: Donal Chayce (Mar 29, 2010 08:11PM)
On 2010-03-25 12:48, Scott F. Guinn wrote:
I already know where I stand on the matter, and I may divulge that a bit later.

Scott, some of us have declared ourselves; are you now willing to share your POV on the topic at hand?
Message: Posted by: gaddy (Mar 29, 2010 10:40PM)
My experience is that most people do not care for, or want, my opinion. Therefore only when I am directly pressed will I give my opinion about someone else's "art".

In the context of criticism or of reviewing someone else's performance, I have no qualms about sharing my feelings about bad art.
Message: Posted by: karbonkid (Mar 30, 2010 03:30PM)
I think magicians are an arrogant lot, mostly...especially if they perform in any kind of capacity. I think I gave up trying to change that, and just do magic like I like it to be done. Live by example, or something liket that.
Message: Posted by: stoneunhinged (Mar 30, 2010 03:39PM)
There were some interesting thoughts in that interview Steven Youell made with Paul Chosse that Steven put in a PDF and offered to us last week. Paul talks about one of his own influences and really emphasizes that old "if you can't say anything nice" attitude. It impressed me.

Sheese! That's the second time this week that I wish Paul Chosse could give us his thoughts right now....

I am inclined to agree. Subtle hints...saying very gently "maybe you might think about X..."? But downright criticizing?

Scott, I'm with Donal. I'd like to know your own thoughts on the matter.
Message: Posted by: markmiller (Mar 30, 2010 04:06PM)
When he witnesses a truly bad performance my guess is that Scott boos and yells "You Stink" and "Get off the stage."
Message: Posted by: stoneunhinged (Mar 30, 2010 04:12PM)
HA! Scott is a gentleman. If he chooses to criticize, my guess is that he does it man to man and in private.

I could be wrong, of course. Right now, about 57.8% of my Café posts are wrong in one way or another.

Does that mean I should stop posting?
Message: Posted by: Donal Chayce (Mar 30, 2010 05:06PM)
On 2010-03-30 17:12, stoneunhinged wrote:
HA! Scott is a gentleman. If he chooses to criticize, my guess is that he does it man to man and in private.

I could be wrong, of course. Right now, about 57.8% of my Café posts are wrong in one way or another.

Does that mean I should stop posting?

And deprive us of your wit and wisdom? Heaven forbid! :thumbsdown:
Message: Posted by: Dannydoyle (Mar 30, 2010 06:57PM)
I see no upside in trying to "help". It may be the right thing to do, it may be helpful, but it can get ugly easy.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Mar 31, 2010 07:28PM)
I just cover the mirror.
Message: Posted by: edh (Mar 31, 2010 07:47PM)
:lol: funny Tommy.
Message: Posted by: Scott F. Guinn (Apr 1, 2010 10:20PM)
OK, here's where I stand...

I am not "The Magic Police".

I am also not "The Official Magician Compliment Officer".

There is no board for quality control of magic shows, and even if there were, I would not be on it.

I believe one has to earn the right to be heard. I've seen a lot of truly bad magic performed over the years. If it is by a friend or a student, I will talk to them (privately) after the performance and tell them what is not working and why. My friends and students know I will do that, and they expect it and appreciate it. (BTW, I'll also tell them what [b]did[/b] work and why!)

If I see a magician I don't know give a bad show, I do not walk up and start telling him how bad he was. I don't invite him out for coffee. I don't seek him out. If he seeks me out, and if he invites me to coffee, I'll go. If, during the course of our visit, he asks me what I thought of his show, my response is: "Do you want me to be nice, or honest?" I will then respond accordingly. Because the guy doesn't work for me. I'm not the one signing his check. I'm not his boss, his dad, or his mentor. Unless I'm asked, it's simply not my place.

Conversely, I am under no obligation to recommend him or give him glowing reviews. There is one guy in my area who is [b]really[/b] bad but somehow still seems to work quite a bit. Not a lot, but quite a bit. Friends (who know I'm a magician) or others who have seen him and then seen me perform, will often ask me if I know him. I say that I do. If they ask me what I think of his magic, I smile and say that I really haven't seen him do a show in a long time. If they persist and ask me if I'd recommend him for a party or event, I smile and simply say "no."

I don't believe in bashing another magician in front of the public. I have no problem telling my magician friends and students how bad this guy is, why he is so bad, and what they can do to avoid being so bad. No problem at all.

That's my take.
Message: Posted by: krowboom (Jul 20, 2010 10:12AM)
I think the golden rule applies. Would you want someone to come up to you after a show and say "you stunk"? If you can't say something positive don't say anything.
Message: Posted by: bishthemagish (Jul 20, 2010 10:52AM)
If I may add a few thoughts that come to mind. When watching other magicians work or perform a public show I try to remove my ego from the experience. I try remember that the show is not for me - the show is for the audience. I generally do not watch the magician and I don’t care about the technique or his sleights, or if he is doing flawless on not so flawless moves. And I don’t often care if I can spot their tells.

What I watch is the audience and what I enjoy is the audience reaction to the show.

John Ramsey once said something like - “see every magician you can - if he is good you will be glad you saw them - if they are bad - you will be pleased with yourself”.

Just a few thoughts!
Message: Posted by: idomagic (Jul 21, 2010 10:50PM)
That is a tough on... I think if I were asked I would answer questions and try to help (not that I am some special expert) the best I could.
Message: Posted by: Skip Way (Jul 22, 2010 08:09AM)
Ken Scott said it best during one of our recent conversations: "Magic is one of the few performance arts that traditionally lacks directors; that knowledgeable someone pointing out your flaws and highlighting your strengths. The difference between the wannabes and the top pros in magic - the pros rely heavily on their directors."

Far too many magicians rely on their own limited knowledge when designing their act in front of a mirror or video camera. Their only feedback is from their core experiences and audiences. As Carol Channing said, "Applause is almost a duty." Although useful as a gauge, audience feedback is seldom as direct, honest and powerful as that of a director or mentor.

Our IBM Ring offers an optional anonymous critique form that members may request for their ring performances. Several members have commented on how this directed feedback has helped them find and change their greatest flaws. I personally rely on my more intimate mastermind group for direction and brutally honest feedback.

As for watching some windbag out in public and commenting. Unless invited, I would smile, walk away and hope that the free market will eventually drive him out of business.
Message: Posted by: Doug Higley (Jul 22, 2010 01:11PM)
I was ready to say this but Bish said it first and correctly for me:

I try remember that the show is not for me - the show is for the audience. I generally do not watch the magician and I don’t care about the technique or his sleights, or if he is doing flawless on not so flawless moves. And I don’t often care if I can spot their tells. What I watch is the audience and what I enjoy is the audience reaction to the show.
Exactly. I [b]am[/b] concerned about the 'theater' of it all and only feel qualified to advise on that aspect...but would only do so if asked.

BTW: here's my new show: [url]http://higley.grindshow.com[/url].
Message: Posted by: edh (Jul 22, 2010 02:18PM)
Doug, interesting props.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jul 23, 2010 12:04AM)
At a TAOM convention in the 1970's, a friend of mine who had decided that he wanted to be a professional magician performed his contest act on one of the evening shows. All the tricks worked, but there were a number of technical problems that needed addressing.

I took notes, because I knew he was serious about this. He planned to earn a living with it.

After the show, he came up and asked me, "What did you think about my act?"

I replied: "Do you want me to make you feel good, or do you want the truth?"

He said, "Tell me the truth." I gave him the notes, and we went over them very carefully.

To make a long story short, the next year he won the IBM Junior stage competition. He has had a very nice career as a full time professional.

Even now, when there is a new face at the magic club, if he does a nice performance, I'll compliment him. But if he exhibits a great deal of discomfort in front of the audience, I'll take him aside, tell him what he did well and what needs work. I'll offer viable suggestions. I have a couple of friends that I am mentoring now, because I know how they felt the first time they performed in front of the club.

It's all in the approach, I think.
Message: Posted by: Ken Northridge (Jul 23, 2010 05:29AM)
^This young man you're talking about was a champion the minute he asked you to give him an [b]honest[/b] appraisal of his act. I still contend that most magician's egos will not allow them to ask fearing they will hear the truth.

Nice story Bill.
Message: Posted by: Cyberqat (Jul 23, 2010 03:25PM)
I often answer many questions with, "Would you like polite or the truth?" "How are you?", for instance.

If someone asked for my feedback I guess Id try to be honest and kind. There is a very artificial thing they teach you in business in terms of giving constructive feedback. They call it a "compliment sandwich". The idea is you always try to begin and end on positives, what the person is doing right, and put the suggestions for improvement in the middle. There is a glimmer of wisdom in that.

Now if Im discussing someone with a third party I'll often not do that... and to be honest its gotten me in trouble when I suddenly discovered the third party was "in the room" such as in a forums situation.

This is all in fairly informal settings. If someone is actually a performing magician I certainly won't do anything during a performance to ruin it for anyone of the audience around me. And hey, they are doing something I'm not, which is being a professional and I respect their trying. That hard.

And in general since they don't know me from Adam there is no point to my even [b]trying[/b] to approach them with criticism. :)

I have however been disappointed in a big ticket show or two I've seen and told my wife afterward what I didn't like about it.
Message: Posted by: Vick (Jul 27, 2010 08:35PM)
Is the show or performance bad by our standards or by the audinece? Is the audience truly enjoying themselves or politely clapping while looking at their watches?

If it's at a magic club, let them do as they please

In public a truly bad performance should not and can not be accepted, allowed or tolerated. Not just an off night but a truly bad act
The art can not be defiled ;-)~

That being said, how to share or say what needs to be expressed?

I've went public about one such performer locally, face to face on repeated occasions.

He doesn't get how his act is bad or how bad it really is, I've shown him examples and explained. One example, he did Bill Abbott's "The Thing" outdoors in the wind (if you are not familiar imagine doing a poor zombie routine in the wind), brought it on stage by shouting "see what's in the box, it's NOthing, no really it's NOthing, don't you see NO thing"

We owe it to the art to stop bad magic when it is attempted professionally, or perhaps better to help the performer.
Still some can't, don't or won't get it

our art form is different than any other, a painter won't get a showing in a gallery but anyone with a website might get hired and poorly performed magic is forced upon an audience

and it hurts all of us ;-(
Message: Posted by: Cyberqat (Jul 30, 2010 09:50AM)
our art form is different than any other, a painter won't get a showing in a gallery but anyone with a website might get hired and poorly performed magic is forced upon an audience
Once or twice. Word gets around.

I actually don't think bad performances do that much damage to anyone but the performer. They may be painful to watch, but I don't think any harm is done to the art.

Our art [b]is[/b] like any other performing art. There will be good and bad performers. And sometimes the ones that start out as bad performers will grow to be good ones.. and sometimes they won't. We also need to be careful of style judgment. I find Chris Angel's performance style personally repelling, but obviously a lot of people enjoy it.

Now someone who gets up on stage without the proper amount of practice and just flubs the mechanics badly should be locked in a room for a week with food, water, their props and a mirror. ;)
Message: Posted by: noble1 (Aug 1, 2010 10:21AM)
When I witness a truly bad performance I try to think of a way to critique in a way that will minimize my getting into an argument. Often a bad performer will want to justify their choices or lack of practice that results in an argument. When asked my opinion in this sort of situation, I grin and shake my head slowly back and forth. A slow head shake is a noncommital comment that could mean "Boy, you sutre are something" or " you stink." Using that gives me extra time to decide between telling the truth or BSing.
Message: Posted by: Acecardician (Aug 15, 2010 02:26AM)
Read Ken Weber's book, "Maximum Entertainment".

It addresses this topic. I agree with him and started to ask for help. I've given it where it was not wanted, to top pro's making more money than God, and they don't seem to want to hear it.

I will welcome it. I had a beginner come to one of my shows to show him what a show looks like. Toward the end, I saw him texting. It was a few months later, I guess by the time he got the nerve, to tell me, I was going too fast. He said I had some really good magic, but I did not give the audience time to enjoy it. I made an excuse or two to him. Then I read Ken's book. So I made a big effort to slow down. I just had too much material. Each trick has a full routine I developed. But I was skipping parts of the routines toward the last 15 minutes of my show and trying to fit in every trick. Now I try, and I said try, to do them more slowly, and if I run out of time, I skip some of the tricks. That was when I was booked to do a series of one hour shows.
I remember one of our best magicians in town, he did 3 tricks in 30 minutes, but he held our attention the whole time, and had me laughing hard.
I was doing probably 20 tricks in an hour, now I slow way down.

Quality, not quantity.

Message: Posted by: RiotStrike (Aug 15, 2010 06:41PM)
Both sides have great merit; I wanted to add this in, too:
We cannot evolve and better ourselves as performers without critique and help from others -- want it or not, we should either seek it out or be ready to accept it.
I don't like the feeling of, "Well, most of the crowd liked it." I know you can't please everybody, but I know you can certainly try.
Every person dissatified with a performance hurts our image that much more. While most of us may actually be children's entertainers, those of us who aren't don't deserve to get stuck in the "let's hire a birthday clown" category -- especially those who've earned their chops in corporate circuits.
When you're almost ashamed to admit "I'm a magician," to someone new you meet, well, I think it's time we improved our image as performers.
And if that means helping everyone we see with even the tiniest of details, do it.

As Bill Palmer posted, "It's all in the approach."
Message: Posted by: Acecardician (Aug 15, 2010 07:26PM)
Nice first post, Riot. Welcome to the forum.
I do corporate walk around, but my other character is a party clown. And I strive to bring the best magical effects and presentations in my clown performances. I also do schools, and it was during a series of summer camp shows, I remember I was going fast, I have tooo much material. So I try to pick just the best, and do those effects the best.
I remember Pop Hayden just lectured at SAM Atlanta, and he was telling us the same thing. Slow down. Talk slower. And just when you think you are talking slow enough, slow it down some more!

Message: Posted by: RiotStrike (Aug 16, 2010 09:21AM)
Thanks Ace!

I, at one point, had a serious problem with my speed as well. Plenty of people told me, but it wasn't until Patrick O'Gorman said something to me at a magic shop in Texas.. I was in there just browsing, and he overheard me complain that I didn't think I knew enough to market a longer show. He asked how many things I did, and at the time my show had maybe 20 effects.

He says, "Look around, bro. Look at all the really, really successful acts and count how many things they really do in their shows. You can make a lifelong career out of just three tricks. Find three that you love, and do them better than anyone else, you'll always have work."

That's when it clicked in my head: if done properly, my half hour act could be just three tricks...

So now my full hour show has only 7 effects and it hasn't changed for probably 3 years!
Message: Posted by: Josh Riel (Aug 18, 2010 06:32PM)
When I see a truly awful performance, I usually just stop the video and ask who was taping me.
Message: Posted by: vincentmusician (Sep 17, 2021 08:01PM)
I don't usually give advice without being asked. For me, the best Teacher is my audience and I care about them the most.