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George Ledo
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Wow! I haven't written a piece here since April. Comes from spreading myself too thin: between work, projects at home, and trying to catch up on stuff that was on the back burner, I've let this column go. My bad, and sorry about that.

Anyway, there have been a few threads recently about patter, and personality, and connecting with the audience, and I wanted to add some of my observations and feelings -- as usual, coming from the standpoint of a guy in theater.

When I started out in magic sometime in the past millennium, I was like a lot of other beginners: I read the instructions, memorized the patter, practiced a bit, and proceeded to inflict myself on the audience, happily thinking I was a magician. One day it dawned on me that I didn't have to follow the patter in the book word-for-word, so I started changing it around. I was around twelve or so at the time and thought this discovery qualified me as a genius.

For the next few years I tried out different types of magic, including one Summer as a magic clown after a friend talked me into it. I remember I bought a couple of books on how to be a magic clown, studied books on circus clowns, developed my makeup and costume, modified some props, advertised, got some gigs, made a fair amount of money – and decided it wasn't my style. Eventually, at the ripe old age of nineteen, I ended up with the cards-and-doves act...

...which was when the light began to shine in my face but I refused to see it.

Being like a lot of other people in magic at the time, I thought the tricks were the important part. I worked out everything in unbelievable detail, I built my table and what few props I used, I bought a full-dress suit (which fit me like a glove), I tried out different types of cards, gloves, silks, and stuff I can't mention here, I studied everything I could find on doves, I trained the birds, and so forth. I rehearsed that act until I could do it in my sleep (which I'm sure I did). Heck, I darn near wore out my practice mirror.

By the time I started doing the act in public I knew every move so well I didn't have to think about it. So I started focusing on the audience, listening to them, learning where they reacted and how they reacted, and fine-tuning my timing and presentation and music cues (I always used live music) to get a stronger and stronger reaction. And things really began to work out. And the gigs and the money were coming in. And I was happy.

But I couldn't understand why people seemed so interested in me after each performance. Okay, so I was a good-looking kid, and I had the body for white tie and tails, and I had a nice smile and all, but gee whiz, I was a magician doing a magic act, and the magic was the important thing... right?


That light could have blinded me, and I insisted on continuing to refuse to see it.

Several things happened right about here, and I ended up going off to become a theatrical designer and put magic on the back burner. But my point is that I worked very hard at connecting with the audience, and they really started to connect with me, and all the time I kept thinking the magic was the important part.

How often have I seen people doing magic since then (something like thirty-seven years), and apparently (or is it obviously?) thinking the same thing?

Why do people involved in magic insist on thinking that magic is different from any other form of entertainment? Like I said in a post just today, the people who watch magic (I'm talking about those we call “lay spectators”) are the exact same people who watch other forms of entertainment. Do they know magic is different?

Hardly a week passes by that I don't run across the name Houdini in some non-magic publication or other: newspapers, computer magazines, TV, and whatnot. Even with TV and everything David Copperfield, Doug Henning, Siegfried and Roy, and others have accomplished over the past twenty years, a lot of lay people still think “Houdini” when they think “magician.” Why? He was an escape artist, film actor and producer, author, pilot, and psychic investigator, but, from everything I've read on him, didn't actually perform all that much stage magic during his career, and wasn't a particularly good stage magician either.

But he was, above and beyond everything, a fantastic showman and self-promoter. That's why we remember him: he put his name out there, and his persona, and what he did or wanted people to think he did, so everyone would see it and remember it. He didn't want people to say, “Hey, I saw this guy get out of a can full of water,” or “...out of a straitjacket while hanging from a crane.” He wanted people to say, “I saw HOUDINI. And you know what he did? Let me tell you...”

That's why we remember him.

If there's one thing our society likes and admires, it's our celebrities. We pay them outrageous amounts of money, we put them on magazine covers, we listen to their stories on talk shows, we follow them into jail, out of jail a few days later, into court, out of court and back into jail, and then watch them on Larry King a couple of weeks later talking about their experiences. We read about them: just a few days ago I was at B&N and saw a book on David Hasselhoff's life story. Huh? We are interested in these people because they are people like us, but bigger and more interesting, and they do things that we either would like to be able to do, or thank our lucky stars we aren't dumb enough to do.

For years now, I've found it fascinating that the People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive is always an actor or other type of celebrity. Never Elmer Schmittelheimer from East Overshoe, Kansas. What does George Clooney have that I don't have?

He's a celebrity.

I know... I know... Smile ... but Donna and my Mom would both put me on that cover in a sec.

Double Smile

Anyway... getting serious again (darn!), do we really pay more attention to these people as people or as what they do? Think about it. We go see “Tina Turner;” we don't go see “a singer” performing “Private Dancer.” We watch “Emeril,” not “the TV chef with the jazz band.” Donna really likes playing golf, but she watches tournaments just as much to see what Tiger is doing as to watch the game itself. She hasn't once yet said to me, “Tiger had this custom-made driver. You should have seen it; it was awesome,” but she has said, “Have you seen Tiger's baby? She's really cute.”

We can sit here and argue that most of these people are very good at what they do, and that's correct: something else our society likes is people who are very good at what they do. I found this out in a book on how to write a novel, and it's very true. Pick up any bestseller and you'll find the protagonist is very good at something or other, generally relating to the story. Pick up any book that didn't make it past the slush pile and you'll often find flat and uninteresting characters.

So being good at our craft is a given; if we're going to perform for an audience, we have to give them what they expect, which is a good show. But to be highly successful at it, we need to consider that our audiences want to like us as people too, because that's what they're used to with other successful performers. We need to get out there and give them the type of performer that they think of as a celebrity.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine

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