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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The September 2003 entrée: Whit Haydn » » Magic and Theater » » TOPIC IS LOCKED (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Whit Haydn
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I'd like to engage the forum in a discussion of the topic of Theater and Magic.

To kick things off, the following is from Chicago Surprise:

I believe that magic is the creation of cognitive dissonance in the mind of the spectator. He is forced to accept two contradictory premises at once—“There is no such thing as magic/There is no other explanation.” This boggles and shuts down the linear, logical mind, and opens up the creative processes. Bobby Fischer once said, “The object of chess is to crush the mind of your opponent.” In many ways, the object of magic is the same. We want to create a problem that the logical mind cannot solve. Like chess, magic is a purely cerebral art form.

This does not mean that magic is without emotion. Even a chess match is filled with emotion—the joy of victory, the humiliation of defeat, and the excitement and tension of the spectators. But the object of chess is to create a winning argument, a logical answer to each of the opponent’s moves.

The object of magic is to create a false logical argument that the spectator cannot pick apart. When successful, the spectator’s reactions can be very emotional. His creative energies can be excited in many directions at once. Many people find this to be fun. Many find it disconcerting and painful. The controlling person and the egotist are the ones who have the most difficulty with magic. But we all have some degree of ego, and to some degree we like to feel in control.

To be a great magician, it seems to me that we must seek to help people enjoy the experience. Therefore we use theater, humor, and emotion to make magic more enjoyable. We hide the sword of magic behind the cape of theater. We seek to make the egotist and the controlling person comfortable with magic by disengaging the ego—through self-deprecating humor for example.

Magicians use theater to sugarcoat the message. Maskelyne and Devant were quick to point out the difficulties of mixing magic and theater. Magic depends upon engaging the critical faculties, theater on suspension of disbelief. When theater uses magic, the magic ceases to be magic and becomes a special effect or transitional device. When magic uses theater, it must use the techniques of theater—acting, lighting, costume, makeup, etc. without allowing the suspension of disbelief with regard to the magical argument itself.

Once the audience suspends disbelief and is caught up in the story, Peter Pan can fly on stage, and the very visible ropes which suspend him become invisible to the audience. They don’t care how he flies. When the magician floats a girl in the air, the audience should be looking for the wires they can’t see. The passing of a hoop should prove that something impossible is happening. “Disbelieve all you want,” the magician says. “I will prove to you that this is happening right now, before your eyes!”
wassabi_87
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very good point
bike during the day,
do magic at night,
and very early the next morning,
homework.
leefoley3
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I feel that we often meet people we are performing for that focus so much on how the effect is done that they see it as a challenge. Almost a dare presented by us that "you can't/won't or possibly don't have the intelligence to figure out how I'm doing what I'm doing". To a small degree I suppose I could understand that perception. I also feel that this pertains more to close-up ( whether seated indoors or out on the streets ) as opposed to parlor/stage performers.

One of my mentors once told me that instead of saying something to the affect of "the coin has vanished" it should be stated that the coin has dematerialized or that it's molecular structure had been altered so it is no longer visible to the naked eye. This would be less intimidating to a spectator than basically lying in saying that it had literally disappeared. I always use variations of that advice and it seems to help "ease the pain" of fooling the spectator. Often when performing for kids I will try to explain to them that magic is an art form and that it should be enjoyed as such. I'm sure each of you can estimate the succession of these conversations, which granted, are brief but basically to the point.

I would assume (realizing the danger in doing so in today's world) that the majority of us, as magicians, loved to be fooled. I have known a few that were still obsessed with the "how" so much that they didn't seem to enjoy the performance as much as I do. Of course, when I am "blown away" by an effect or routine, it gets the wheels in my head turning, but this is more inspirational than a challenge to rush out and see how quickly I can find the material to duplicate it.
I would like to hear some other opinions out there. C'mon guys and gals!! Smile
In December of '06 I was diagnosed with a very rare cancer, Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans. One in a million people worldwide are diagnosed with this type of cancer annually. Sarcomas account for 1% of all cancers. Knowledge is power!
Jonathan Townsend
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an illogical argument that folks can't seem to pick apart...

ever ask someone what form of government we have here? most folks say 'democracy' if you then ask them to recite the pledge of allegiance... most can.
if you ask them again what form of government we have... well, you get the idea.

not so sure illogical arguments are all that uncommon

about theater... not sure if you are using the word to denote the 'place' or 'the physical staging technology' or perhaps the 'bits of busines' that seem to have proven effective over the years.

since magic is a meta-experience, it can happen anyplace. The mechanics behind producing the meta-experience certainly involve manipulations of expectations and in a mechanical sense... much of the technology of staging is quite useful.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Jeff Haas
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Jonathan,

You've said, "magic is a meta-experience" in a few places. Can you go into what you mean in more detail?

Jeff
Whit Haydn
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Jonathon:

We aren't talking about illogical arguments. That was a mistatement of mine in the text. It should have been "a false logical argument." I have corrected that above. Sorry for the mistake.

Rather we are talking about arguments that are deliberately deceptive--sophistry.

These are valid arguments that appear sound but are not because some of the premises of the argument accepted as true by the audience are actually false. Check out the thread on "Magic as a Logical Argument."

When I speak of theater, I mean all of the scripting, acting, and other theatrical elements that go into the presentation of magic.

And I am not clear what you mean by "meta-experience" either. Love to hear more.
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Waters get murky as they get deep...
Seperating the strands of theatre, art and magic isn't easy...And to make matters worse, everyone has a different definition for each! But I really appreciate Whit's comments. I came to similar "conclusions" before reading such...but they are not really "conclusions" because no answer is completely "settling."

Magic stands apart from traditional theatre in several ways...But to mention a couple..one is this confrontation with the suspension of disbelief...another (perhaps related) is it's unique focus on creating the numinous experience.

The tension of magic and theater pulling at each other can be felt...There seems a competition of interests when combining "high" theater and "high" "Magic" so to speak ...The "emotional drama" engages the heart with the familiar, but the "magic" is a jolting experience of the strange and foreign that preoccupies the mind. Because it's very nature is "unnatural" it inevitably engages the mind with the "puzzle" aspect to some extent no matter how we down play it. Theater and magic seem hard to seperate...yet they don't seems to be comfortable bed fellows either.

In theater drama revolves around the conflict on stage..in magic conflict on stage is lacking or superficial...our sole intent is to create the conflict in the veiwer. Now I know these are not hard fast lines...
With "magic" there is a gutteral response to seeing something incredible...something that shakes our belief systems a bit. It approaches the experience of awe the natural world evokes...the endless heavens, the Grand Canyon... It is the numinous experience that is both unsettling and appealing. Or as the dictionary puts it "appealing to the higher emotions or aesthetic sense."

Theatre has often played with breaking this fourth wall...the magician you might say breaks the "fifth wall" when he climbs inside '"YOUR" head. Perhaps experimental theatre? Again, magic and theatre...tramping the same ground...but each to a different beat...
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Whit Haydn
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Very good points, Bilwonder, and very interestingly put. I think Maskelyne and Devant did the best job of describing the relationship between magic and theater. They said that magic should always involve the principles of theater, but they should be subservient to the principles of the Art in Magic. When theater uses magic, the magic should always be subservient to the needs of the story. When magic is 'used' by theater, it invariably becomes a special effect, or transitional device.

I think this is a very essential distinction, and one that is filled with meaning for magicians. It is extraordinarily important in understanding how we should use theater in our magic, and avoid having magic hi-jacked by story.

The essential quality that is the pivot here is the suspension of disbelief. Storytelling requires suspension of disbelief. Magic insists on it's absence: "Disbelieve all you want! Peter Pan is actually flying! Here, now. Before your eyes. I'll prove it with this hoop."
Jason K.
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Quote:
On 2003-09-05 05:26, whithaydn wrote:
I'll prove it with this hoop.


T.A Waters in Mind Myth and Magick tells of Torchy Towner who did, amongst other things, a classic levitation preformed as ritual magic.
Quote:
There was no hoop pass. . . [A]nd the audience loved it. They loved it because they believed it; for those moment they were experiencing wonder, and they sat open mouthed at the edges of their chairs.

When he asked him afer the show why the hoop pass was absent, he said "If I were really doing it I wouldn't have to prove it, would I?"

Just another point of veiw. . .
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Quote:
On 2003-09-05 05:26, whithaydn wrote:

Maskelyne and Devant... said that magic should always involve the principles of theater, but they should be subservient to the principles of the Art in Magic...
I think this is a very essential distinction, and one that is filled with meaning for magicians. It is extraordinarily important in understanding how we should use theater in our magic, and avoid having magic hi-jacked by story.

The essential quality that is the pivot here is the suspension of disbelief. Storytelling requires suspension of disbelief. Magic insists on it's absence: "Disbelieve all you want! Peter Pan is actually flying! Here, now. Before your eyes. I'll prove it with this hoop."


Whit, I agree with you in regard to the subservience of theater to magic, if one is to call oneself a magician. And I agree that the magic should not be "hi-jacked" by the story.

But (you knew there'd be a but, didn't you?) The mind boggles! Can you mean that you believe that the "willing suspension of disbelief" is the antithesis of good magic? You seem to be saying that in magic we WANT the spectator to disbelieve everything we do, forcing (or allowing?) us to prove that the magic world we are inviting them to join us in is... what? Real? Not just a clever puzzle? Not real? An INCREDIBLY clever puzzle? What?

To paraphrase - "...magic insists on the ABSENCE of the willing suspension of disbelief..."

I'm not sure that this would manifest as a satisfying MAGICAL experience. By WILLINGLY suspending thier disbelief the audience becomes part of the experience, they join us because they WANT to. The confrontational scenarios, (the ones we have no initial control over...), so often abhorred by magicians are absent. It seems to me that is what magicians are after. And, on a more practical note, the fact that the spectator willingly joins in makes him that much easier to fool!

Any confrontation or conflict, (the most likely result of the absence of suspension of disbelief), in the performance should be scripted to enlarge the experience, not develop accidentally, as a result of the spectators' skepticism. The latter is, to me, evidence that I didn't do my job very well. I didn't engage the spectators in the plot to the point that they were "in the moment", engaged in the trick to the point that, for the duration of the trick, they think magic is possible.

Obviously, we can welcome the spectators' skepticism, when it exists, as a way to deepen the mystery and enlarge the experience. Countering the solutions offered by the "Doubting Thomases" may actually strengthen the mystery. But, doesn't it also alter (or strengthen) their perceptions, perpetuating the puzzle concept?

I'm not suggesting that magic play second fiddle to theater, or to story-telling. I agree that the story is second to the magic, if you are calling yourself a magician. And, I believe that magic is beautiful all by itself, that it needs no justification, outside itself, to exist. I also believe that the theatrical principles that have carried audiences into a separate reality for millenia are just as applicable to magic as they are to any other performance art. That being the case, I would do my audiences a great disservice were I to ignore those theatrical principles that would enhance the magical experience so ably.

You say "...It is extraordinarily important in understanding how we should use theater in our magic..."

Can you describe, in a general, philosophical, way, how YOU would use theater in magic? I'm asking in this way, hoping for an overall approach, rather than specific examples. Yor work speaks for itself, and quite admirably, I might add. Not everyone is Whit Haydn though, and a philosophical approach might enable others to apply your processes to thier own persona, rather than copying work that is so idiosyncratic. Thanks for your time and energies, Whit.

Best, PSC
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Whit Haydn
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Paul:

Really good questions. It is impossible to answer it completely on this thread. Parts of the answer, at least my position on the answer, are scattered in this forum over several threads. The basis for my theory of magic is in the Magic as a Logical Argument thread. Everything I believe is founded on those basic ideas.

There can be suspension of disbelief in magic, but it cannot be allowed to interfere with the argument being made. One can suspend disbelief with regard to character-the part being played by the magician.

But if one gets too involved in story, as in a play, the immediacy of the magic is lost--the argument is lost. People give up their critical faculties and are lost in the story. Since they then are not paying attention to the procedure, that is, the steps in procedure that make up the premises of the argument, they lose the impact of the magical experience. They get a theatrical experience instead.

In the story Jason K tells from TA Waters, about the levitation without the hoop, I doubt the audience was very fooled. They probably assumed there were wires or something. They were moved by the theatrical experience of magic. This is something different. This feeling does not require the use of magic at all.

Harry Potter movies, or the staging of the play Dracula can create the imaginative experience of magic. Literature can as well. If the audience is led into imagining what magic would look and feel like, it is a different experience from what the art of magic produces. It is a good and useful and beautiful thing, just different.

For if we don't need to use magic, if it can be done just as well or better by film, special effect, computer graphics and the like, we don't have much of a chance to compete, and nothing really better or different to offer.

If the audience doesn't care how the magic was accomplished, the experience is a different one from what I think the experience of magic should be. It may be very moving, entertaining, and artistic. It just isn't magic.

You may remember one of my favorite pieces from one of the early Copperfield specials--the floating mirror ball. It was a riveting, and beautiful thing, and extremely well done. David walks into a disco, and stands at the bar. He sees a beautiful girl dancing with another man on a crowded dance floor.

He snaps his finger and everyone except he and the girl freezes. The girl looks around bewildered. She comes over to David, and David points to the mirror ball on the ceiling.

It dislodges itself and floats down to him. He makes it float around as the girl watches enchanted, and then covers it with a cloth and it disappears. Suddenly everyone comes back to life.

The boyfriend comes over and grabs the girl's hand and drags her back onto the dance floor. David looks up at the ceiling, and the mirror ball is back spinning in its place.

A wonderful piece! I am not criticizing it in any way. But if the ball had been created completely by computer graphics, it would not have taken anything away from the whole production. The story overwhelmed the magic.

No one cared how the ball floated or how it disappeared. It was a great piece of television, and was probably even more wonderful on stage. But to me, it was not a great piece of magic. The magic had been made subservient to the story.

Now I am not opposed to people doing this kind of thing, and it can be extremely commercial. But to my way of thinking, if the experience can be created more effectively in the movies or on television with computer graphics and special effects, how can we begin to compete with such things? How do we try to match what people have seen on Harry Potter? I don't think this is a battle that can be won.

Further, I don't think this is the same experience as magic. The kind of magic I am championing here is an event. It is happening now. You were there. It really happened. You are a witness. It is a story you can tell your children. "I saw this guy once, and you're not going to believe what he did..."

Look at the difference between the experience of the audience watching the mirror ball floatation, and the experience of the audience watching Blackstone do the floating light bulb.

The bulb lights and floats around the stage. Then Blackstone breaks the fourth wall and comes down into the audience he walks among them and passes a hoop around the bulb. You are sitting in the audience. You can see the bulb is really floating, and you can't see any support. It is just inches out of your reach. You can see the hoop spin around it. There can't be any wires! Suddenly the bulb rises and floats to the back of the theater.

Blackstone remounts the stage and the bulb flys back into his hand. He blows it out.

That to me is a totally different experience from the mirror ball. The mirror ball is primarily a theatrical experience of magic, the floating light bulb is--magic.
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Whit,

A few points I've pulled out of your postings...

Magic should be:
- Direct
- Interactive
- Convincing

You argue that the best magic is directed AT the audience, not that they observe it happening to characters in a story; that the audience participate (even vicariously, through volunteers) in the event; and that it is convincing and offer no easy explanation.

You don't have to suspend your disbelief at all to experience it (ignore the wires holding Peter Pan up) -- magic instead should grab you by the scruff of the neck and force you to confront the impossible.

That's why it's only effective live. And that's why closeup is more powerful than stage.

So the Art of Magic is in delivering that experience; and the experience that magic delivers is indeed worth something.

Jeff
Whit Haydn
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Jeff:

I can buy all of that. Smile



Paul asked:

"Can you describe, in a general, philosophical, way, how YOU would use theater in magic? I'm asking in this way, hoping for an overall approach, rather than specific examples. Yor work speaks for itself, and quite admirably, I might add. Not everyone is Whit Haydn though, and a philosophical approach might enable others to apply your processes to thier own persona, rather than copying work that is so idiosyncratic."



I'll give it a shot, Paul.

The primary theatrical model for magic that has been championed in the past couple of decades has been the theater of story.

This has its place, and has been used successfully by some. I am not opposed to the use of story in magic. I just feel that there are difficulties.

One difficulty is that story tends to remove the emotions to a distance. We ask the audience to relate to emotions that happened to someone once, at another time, at another place. Or we seek to get the audience to remember emotions that they have had at some time in the past. The audience is passive, involved as witnesses or spectators or judges of the events--as they are, say, in watching a Shakespearean play.

Another difficulty is that often the story can cloud the argument of the trick, either by lulling the audience into a passive mode of suspension of disbelief in which they end up not caring how the trick is done, or by simply confusing the audience listening to the story so that they lose track of the argument.

All of these difficulties can be overcome, when the routine is set up and done correctly. Any truly comprehensive theory of magic will have to include the rules and methods for making story magic work. Two story tricks that I have used that work on all these levels are One Card Pete (it's even a poem for heaven's sake) and Color Monte.

But there are more ways to use theater in magic than story. These other dramatic approaches to magic are not new, they are as old as magic itself. It is just that they have not always been recognized as theatrical or dramatic choices.

Non-story theater for me is related more to role-playing theater or the theater of games. In this the audience is directly involved as participants. They engage the magician directly, and are manipulated into participating in an "event" which the magician character weaves together for them.

This is why I said that the magician himself should have emotions that are directed at the spectators themselves or the representative volunteer. The conflict exists already in the traditional role of the magician with his audience.

Rather than being the passive listener to a story, the audience is actually being manipulated and mastered by the magician in the same way a person is manipulated by a good joke teller.

The best jokes are told with deliberate deception that leads the listener and manipulates him away from the punchline, usually through very subtle emotional and linguistic cues.

This experience in real life happens when one's reality is being falsely shaped by a con man or a salesman. In real life it is not a pleasant feeling to be deliberately misled.

But in the case of a joke or magic trick, it is fun--since it is safe to allow yourself to be misled when you know that you will not be hurt, the watch will be returned, the spell will be broken. It is interesting and enlightening to see this kind of thing in action. It is in fact, as fascinating as the magic itself.

In my own work, the closest I have come to doing this sort of thing the way I envision it is in my linking ring routine. In that routine, an audience volunteer is brought on stage to be "taught" how to do this ancient mystery.

During the routine, the spectator manages to actually link the two rings in his own hands, just as I have managed to link my two rings. As I teach him to take the rings apart, I am shifted away from him by my physical demonstration of what I want him to do. He can not manage to get his rings apart, but since my back is to him, I do not realize this.

I take my rings apart and put them back together again, so involved in the teaching, that the volunteer realizes I am vulnerable to him--I don't know that he has not been keeping up with me. When I finally turn around spinning my two rings that have just been linked together, I find him spinning his rings in exactly the same way, as if he had accomplished the same thing that I did.

I react depending on the volunteer and the attitudes set up between us in the introductory phase, either very pleased and proud to finally have a volunteer "get it," or perhaps in the case of a more insouciant kid "ticked off" that the kid has done it so quickly--showing me up. Either way, the volunteer has in the eyes of the audience "won"--making sort of a fool of me.

This process continues through three different pairs of linking and unlinking, each time becoming funnier as the crowd sees my bumbling blindness, and the volunteer's "quick-witted" response that is making me into a fool.

The fun is partly in the delight taken in watching a student make fun of a pompous teacher behind his back. The one that should be down, becoming the one up. This also reverses the traditional relationship between the audience and the magician.

Now look at what has happened. The volunteer is manipulated into playing the role of the smart-ass student who fools the teacher and makes fun of him behind his back.

The audience knows all along that I am the one in charge, and have somehow manipulated this situation into being, but in order to laugh at me, they have to pretend (suspend disbelief) that my character is really being made a fool.

This forces them into playing a role as well. They are the rest of the class, giggling behind my back at the antics of one of their own.

So a masterful manipulation is created, that is viewed at the same time by the audience on many different levels. They realize that both they and the on-stage volunteer are being manipulated and controlled by me, but at the same time they get to laugh at me being played for a fool. The normal ego sting that comes from being fooled is removed by this theatrical cover--the sword hidden carefully behind the cape.

The rings are presented as a logical argument. They are both shown and examined and linked in every possible combination, and under impossible conditions, in an order that disproves the theories that the audience might come up with in the order that they are likely to come up with them.

There is no suspension of disbelief allowed with regard to the effect itself--in the course of the routine I prove that the rings are in fact solid steel, and yet are in fact linked and unlinked at will.

Now this is a special case, a lucky happenstance for me that the routine came together the way it did. On the other hand, playing off the relationship of magician to audience is something I have always done.

Every time a magician does a card trick that looks like he has failed, he is playing the role of "magician in trouble" and putting the audience in the role of, well, victorious skeptics. When the magician eventually triumphs, if everything is done in the right way, he should emerge the hero, without making the audience feel like losers.

The direct emotional ride such role-playing theater provides is to my way of thinking much more entertaining and exciting to an audience. They are not witnesses, but participants and actors in the drama that is set up. The conflict is not staged for their benefit, they are the antagonists to the magician's protagonist.

There are actual dramatic situations that can be strengthened and used in every magic trick. There is conflict present every time a card is selected.

The magician and the audience are bound together in role-playing games that when analyzed, maximized and artistically presented create a wonderful and exciting type of theatrical event.
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My Hadyn, I think I need some time to absorb this but thanks for the insight. I found your post as well as Mr Chosse's very thought provoking indeed.
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Very impressive. I just want to throw in one more idea.

Whit, your argument is that in theatre, the audience sees Peter Pan's wires, but they suspend their disbelief;

I agree. But your implication is, that that is not magic. Here is where I disagree--if you can get an audience to suspend their disbelief, then that is magic. You can call it theatre, but I call it magic--you are getting an audience into a mental state of experiencing the impossible.

When they go home, they don't worry about whether it was possible or not. They are left with the experience of flying, not the experience of seeing wires. Of course, if the theatrical experience wasn't set up correctly, and carefully psychologically prepared throught the proper use of theatrical and storytelling techniques, then the audience won't suspend their belief, and no magic will happen. They will go home contemptuously telling their friends about the wires.

Now in magic, we don't want them to see the wires at all. But this is only helped by preparing them and encouraging their willing suspension of disbelief.

Really, I don't see the problem. Good theatre is magic. If an actor playing Hamlet makes me believe for a few hours that there are nasty doings going on in the state of Denmark, and makes me laugh and cry, then that in my opinion is magic. And conversely, good magic uses theatrical techniques to encourage the suspension of disbelief.

Jack Shalom
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Jack:

Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Smile

My feeling is that your definition of magic is so broad, it may not be all that helpful in making specific choices.

If we call the theater magic (and I do believe it is magical), the sunset magic, the laugh in a child's eyes magic (and who am I to say no?), etc., it is very sweet and pretty, but it isn't much help in deciding how to go about doing a card trick. If there is no difference between theater and magic, then why do we need magic at all?

If magic is simply theater, then actors would make the greatest magicians, and Harry Potter would be the greatest of them all.

In actuality, I have found that actors portraying magicians on the screen are very unconvincing for the most part. Because they see the magician as being simply "an actor playing the part of a (great) magician." It doesn't come off quite right, because, in truth, there is much more to being a magician than that.

The experience of magic is much more complicated and layered than simply a theatrical experience of the magical.

Many people find the experience of magic to be threatening and disconcerting. Those same people would have no problem accepting a magician like Harry Potter, and might watch the magician in say, Clive Barker's "Lord of Illusion" without the same feeling of uncomfortableness--despite the violence and evidently real magic involved.

There is a huge difference between watching a movie of a tiger, and finding yourself locked in a room with one. The magician is more threatening precisely because he says, "Disbelieve all you want to. I'm going to prove to you that magic is real."
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Ah Whit!

Thank you! In your last post it finally comes clear to me where you and I are working at cross purposes. And, that we are, for the most part, in complete accord! You say:

"The primary theatrical model for magic that has been championed in the past couple of decades has been the theater of story...This has its place... I just feel that there are difficulties...One difficulty is that story tends to remove the emotions to a distance. We ask the audience to relate to emotions that happened to someone once, at another time, at another place. Or we seek to get the audience to remember emotions that they have had at some time in the past. The audience is passive, involved as witnesses or spectators or judges of the events..."

Right! This is "show and tell" magic, not theater. It does not involve the audience emotionally, or otherwise. Passive is a great word for it. Boring may be better! And magicians without theatrical training, writing background, or experience in plot construction, think they are "doing theater", when they are, in reality, doing no such thing! That is one problem. I think that you and I agree regarding the use of theatrical technique applied to magic. Where we miss one another is in the terminology. The lack of an agreed-upon, common terminology creates problems. "Define your terms" should be the order of the day, and the first step we take in an effort to communicate effectively, regardless of potentially opposing positions.

The next passage of import to me is this:

"But there are more ways to use theater in magic than story. These other dramatic approaches to magic are not new, they are as old as magic itself. It is just that they have not always been recognized as theatrical or dramatic choices..."

Not recognized by whom? I would guess you mean magicians. Students of theater are well aware of the value of the approaches you are alluding to, hence your statement quoted above.

In the end, I agree that magic should not be subservient to theater, but that theater should be used to improve magic presentations, in fact is necessary to the successful presentation of magic. And the willing suspension of disbelief is one of the results of good, theatrical, magical presentations. Note that I wrote the result of, not the requirement for, though some would argue otherwise. By its' very definition, Coleridges "Suspension of Disbelief" is "willing", given freely by the spectator, not imposed upon them, or manipulated. If we do our job well, if we construct a presentation that fools the mind of the audience, and takes them into a fantasy that allows magic to feel real, for the duration of the fantasy, then the willing suspension of disbelief can only help us. And it is best achieved throught the use of theatrical devices.

Best, PSC
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Wow. This discussion has been very enlightening to me. Thanks for airing all these ideas, friends.

I recently read Al Schnieder's on-line book, and he divided magic into three categories: clown magic, theatrical or artsy magic, and "virtual magic." He claims that in clown magic, presentation dominates the magic as when, for example, a stream a cards is pulled from the mouth or fifty clowns climb out of a VW BUG at the circus. Entertainment supercedes any magical experience. My thought is that is clown magic, the audience doesn't so much willingly suspend disbelief as not even care about the impossibility at all.

Schnieder describes the theatrical type as the second highest form of magic. He doesn't seem impressed with narrative or philosophical presentations when they dominate the magic. Here I suppose the audience does willingly suspend disbelief, as with the example of Copperfield's drama with the disco ball.

The third and highest form he calls "virtual magic," which relies most heavily on what he calls the "technology" of magic. Here is where true astonishment resides, where those who watch cannot believe their eyes. The effect is flawless and could even be repeated. Here, Schneider even recommends pausing to allow the viewers time to decide for themselves if they have been fooled, rather than rushing ahead and cloaking the sword (to use Whit Haydn's metaphor). I suppose the audience isn't choosing to suspend disbelief (as in the reading of novels or the watching of movies), but rather experiencing WONDER.

If this line of reasoning is correct, the wonder created by magic and the wonder created by other dramatic arts CAN work together, but may be very different and may even counteract one another when mixed improperly. Maybe the drama of magic is indeed a special entity.

It demands a lot more thought from me , at least, and hense I opened this reply with the word "Wow."

thanks for these thoughts, folks

alleycat Smile
The views and comments expressed on this post may be mere speculation and are not necessarily the opinions, values, or beliefs of Alan Wheeler.
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Paul:

I suspected we were closer to agreement than appeared on the surface. Don't think I see anything in this last post that I disagree with. Almost any good performer must have much in common on theory with any other good performer, because if their theories were too far off, they would not be good performers.

It is difficult to explain a comprehensive point of view in bits and pieces scattered over several threads. I realized this difficulty when I began talking about magic theory on a forum such as this, but have enjoyed the gradual clarification process.

That is why it is so important to take these kind of conversations slowly, without name calling and rancor. I appreciate your patience and interest.

It is extremely important for magic to develop a consistant vocabulary for it's theoretical foundation. We have never had this, and it has held back the formulation of magical theories, or at least made the conversation among different theorists with different emphases that much more difficult.

There are so many different definitions even for such basic terms as "effect." Hopefully, a group of the interested from different schools of thought could get together on a forum such as this to hammer out some basic terminology that they can agree upon and explain and publish to the community.

I am sure that we will find new things to agree and disagree on as the discussion continues. Thanks again to everyone for the chance for me to discuss and promote these issues on such a fine forum as the Magic Café.

Look forward to talking further with you Paul, and with all of you here on this board.

All the best,
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