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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Ever so sleightly » » What makes a great performer? (31 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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tomsk192
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Hey man, it's a fantastic routine. I LOVE it.

Here is another, wonderful example of total commitment.
Pop Haydn
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On Mar 30, 2014, Al Schneider wrote:
Pop

To quote you:
"They act like they believe the magic is real and that they are simply making things happen. They don't have that slipped-mask, Trickster behind the magician quality. What real magicians do, at its best, has a twinkle and wink. Something that actors generally miss."

I know when I act like a magician doing real magic, things go badly.

But about you other comments, I would like to explore this some more. When I read these words, I wonder how I perform. I do not act like a magician. Nor do I believe I am doing magic. I think of myself like my physics professor showing my class an experiment. Physics is not magic although it can be very mysterious. I also do not percieve I am "entertaining." I am showing phenomena and allowing the audience to decide what it is. I attempt to be kind and generous. My patter is often corny simply because I need something to say. My real people audiences tend to be shocked. They laugh and sometimes scream.

I think I have a bit of "twinkle and wink." I do not know what you mean by slipped-mask trickster. I suspect there is something valuable here. I need to know. Can you share more about this?

Al Schneider


Magic can be very entertaining in itself. The more powerful the magic, the less presentation needed. If you were to only do one great magic trick, and then walk away, you would not need more than the effect itself.

That is a difficult gig to get. Most of the time, we are asked to hold the attention of the crowd for more than one effect would allow. That is when the character and personality of the performer becomes important.

A performer who has little emotional range has a harder time creating peaks and valleys in the spectator's experience. If he is always at the same pitch of excitement and feeling, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold the audience's attention as the performance continues.

The Whit Haydn character that I used to do was like a substitute teacher in front of an unruly class. The act was called the "Teaching Act" because the whole thirty minute show involved the concept that the magician was teaching the audience how to do magic, and though competent enough as a magician, was not a very good teacher. In the act, the magic is "real;" that is, the magician acts and the magic happens as if it were really happening, and not as if it were a trick.

The character I played was a lot like me. Stiff, and not very responsive. A fish out of water. The magic was arranged to give enough variety to keep the audience interested. Each effect took a different take on the concept of teaching.

But the character was flat and cerebral. The humor was very dry.

I found it hard to carry on a 45 minute show or longer with the same character. I found it was difficult to take certain kinds of audiences along. My character didn't have the emotional range that would enable me to orchestrate the audience the way I wanted to...

Then I created Pop Haydn about 2005. I wanted him to be able to be more emotive than I am naturally. I wanted him to be more excitable--to get mad, to be frustrated, to show joy and animation, and to be enthused, charming and manipulative. These are all things that are not natural to me. By adopting a fantasy character, with a moustache and costume, I found I was able to explore a whole new range of emotions, like putting on a clown makeup can make you feel freer.

Pop can get away with a lot more. I am much more able to move a tired or jaded audience to a different level.

What I am saying is this: a character that is just like yourself--one that has your accent, mannerisms and history--and is going about his business showing magic is all it takes. That can be very entertaining. But the character we choose to do, even if it is ourselves, can be written bigger and larger and better than we are or think we are. The more range of emotion and fantasy that we put into our magic, the greater impact we can have, and the more colors we have to paint with...

In my Linking Ring routine, the routine is set up to involve the whole audience. The assisting spectator is put into the position of making fun of the teacher behind his back. He or she becomes the unruly student pretending he is keeping up, but really just fooling around. The audience "knows" that I know what is going on...but they have to pretend that I don't in order to laugh at the situation. In a sense, they are assigned the role of "unruly class." This story has nothing to do with the argument of the trick, but during its enactment, the four rings are clearly and memorably shown in all possible combinations--combinations that belie the method.

In attempting to reconstruct the method later, the memory of the rings being all single, the magician linking one onto one held by the spectator, all linked in a chain, two unlinked in the spectator's hands and two unlinked in the magicians hand, and two linked in the spectator's hands and two linked in the magicians, and three linked on one--these frustrate the audience's attempts to reconstruct the method.

This whole play worked very well with the dry, affectless character of Whit Haydn, but in the hands of Pop, it takes on many new dimensions and possibilities.

http://youtu.be/v-C10zSiz9o
billappleton
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Insanely great.
Kit Higginson
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What billappleton said!
Al Schneider
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Tomsk192
I don't know what to say. I got what you said and do not think you wrong. What I found in myself was a desire to hear about your experience as a musician. In my life as a contract programmer, I worked for many companies. I find learning about them most fascinating. When I used to work a booth at magic conventions, I made a habit of inviting myself out to lunch with whomever was standing in front of my booth at lunch time. I have met some very interesting people.

Pop
Thanks. Your words inspire me.

Al Schneider
Magic Al. Say it fast and it is magical.
Al Schneider
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Pop
Watched that posted video a couple of times. Here is what struck me. The room is small and sounds hollow. It sounds like there are not a lot of people there. Usually when I watch movies such as this, the performer seems lost in the room. That hollow sound seems to overwhealm the performer. In this video, that did not seem to happen. Could it be the camera work? However, I also feel your presence in the room very strong. You seem in command of the entire setting. Your politeness and graciousness is impecable. Even though you are a bit witty and perhaps agressive, noone is offended. The audience is on your side. Can you teach this?

Al Schneider
Magic Al. Say it fast and it is magical.
TStone
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Quote:
On Mar 31, 2014, Al Schneider wrote:
Pop
Watched that posted video a couple of times. Here is what struck me. The room is small and sounds hollow. It sounds like there are not a lot of people there. Usually when I watch movies such as this, the performer seems lost in the room.

That's usually due to the on-camera microphone that not only takes up the performer's voice, but also takes up ambient noise from all directions in the room. It is impossible to get a good 'live' feeling with just that microphone. For that, it is necessary to have better sound equipment.
Magnus Eisengrim
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I would like to thank all the contributors to this thread. I am both fascinated and deeply moved.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
Pop Haydn
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The room in the video is the Parlor of Prestidigitation at the Magic Castle. We don't want to interrupt the audiences, so video is done discretely and without special lighting or mics. The room was full, but the room is long and narrow, so most of the audience is behind the camera. It seats around fifty.

A lot of it can be taught. It takes a lot of time and experience. It is partly how the character is framed.

What is he here for? Why is he showing us this? What does he want from us?

All these questions need to be answered as part of the character. When the audience senses the answers to these, it helps form the relationship between them and the performer.

If the performer is not deliberate in his choices, the audience will assume them, and they usually assume things that aren't good for the performer. For example, they might assume that the performer is seeking their approval. This is a very weak performing situation, one that puts the audience in the position of judge and jury.
Al Schneider
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I feel like I am getting something here. Right now I have the idea I could simply ask these of the audience and answer the question for them.

What is he here for?
I am here to show you somthing I got on my last trip to China.
Why is he showing us this?
I found it different from the tricks here.
What does he want from us?
If you find this fascinating, a bit of applause would be nice.

While this may sound corny, I think it would work.

Interesting.

Al
Magic Al. Say it fast and it is magical.
Pop Haydn
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Those are excellent. Sharing something interesting is an excellent reason.

Pulling the audience's leg, and giving them a laugh is another.

I'm here to give you a good scare! I'm here to show you something amazing!

All of these are good reasons to be here in front of this group.

If the audience thinks the performer is here to show off, or to impress them, or to win their approval or anything of that sort, he is in a position of weakness--the audience now has score cards 1-10 in their hands and sit back to let the performer jump through his hoops. If he doesn't impress them, they will tear him to pieces. If he does, they applaud, but it is a "I have to admit the guy is good" kind of applause.

It isn't filled with gratitude.

When we set out to scare them, and scare the heck out of them, they will laugh and applaud, "Wow! That was really scary!"

The applause is real, in appreciation for the scare we gave them.

Whenever they believe you accomplished something you set out to do, and gave them something, they will respond with much more joy. Showing off or trying to impress are the worst things you can do.

We need to look for what it is that we want to give the audience, and consider what we want from them in return. Applause? To take your company's business card? To give you money? When we figure these things out and build our show around them, we take out a lot of the guess work for the audience.

Knowing why we are here in this situation with these particular people--that is the reality of the actor/magician's performance.

As actors, even magicians who are "playing themselves" have to consider what they look and sound like to the audience, and what messages they are sending. Any actor walking into a scene on stage has to consider the same things.

We are more like improv actors, with the audience as fellow actors, and ourselves as the lead. We direct and orchestrate the proceedings so that the audience remembers everything the way we want them to--nothing should be left to the audience to make up for themselves.

Sometimes actors and acting teachers fill their teaching with deliberate mystification and esoterics.

We don't need to construct a made up character with a made up backstory and accent and dress. But we need to know who we are, and why we are here in front of this group. Who do we think they are? What are we here to do for them?

That is the start for creating our character.
tomsk192
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This is great, gentlemen. It's a real treat to read this discussion.
TStone
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Quote:
On Mar 31, 2014, Pop Haydn wrote:
We are more like improv actors, with the audience as fellow actors, and ourselves as the lead.

I've found several useful "hands on" techniques (for coming up with plots, acting, improvising etc.) in Keith Johnstone's book "Impro for Storytellers".
His first book "Impro" is recommended more often, but I've found that a lot less useful for my own purposes.
Pop Haydn
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I am not familiar with that book, Tom. Thanks!

I think that "Improvisation for the Theater" by Viola Spolin is great, and the theater games that it consists of are fun and very enlightening on maintaining the point of focus, give and take, hidden problems and so on, but it requires a small group to do the exercises. Her games have some excellent plotting devices. It might be worthwhile for a group of magicians to meet and work on these. You can learn a lot, though it is better with a teacher or director who understands the material.

There are some things I recommend to my students to enlarge their performing vocabulary. One I like a lot is from Spolin. It is to present the same trick that a performer already does, but make him do it in gibberish. He can't use any English words. He has to get his meaning across, and make the point of the trick clear, without saying anything intelligible. This does a lot to help the performer explore body language, gesture, intonation, and facial expressions. It helps him discover ways to communicate more effectively and more emotionally.

Another is to have them do the same trick with some hidden problem. You have to get through it quickly, for example, because someone set a hot foot by lighting a match stuck in your shoe, but you can't let anyone in the audience know what is going on--you must keep the problem hidden.

Another is to let them do their patter but in the manner of some famous actor or celebrity--an impression. This is best done when there is no audience. The performer does it for himself in the mirror. Same patter he always uses, but done like Jimmy Stewart, or Boris Karloff. It isn't important how well the student does the impression, only that he hear the phrasing and intonations of the other voice in his head. Then he does the same thing with another distinctive persona.

What this does, it gives the person alternate ways in his head of presenting and phrasing his lines. He may discover unintentional humor, new ways to stretch his voice and mannerisms, and a flood of performing and scripting ideas. This is not to "create a character" using the funny voice or phrasing of the celebrity, but to discover ways of enlarging and increasing the range of our own "real" selves.

Games like these can help us find new ways to loosen up and relate to our material and our audiences.
55Hudson
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Pop - have you written any books or articles on this topic? I don't recall seeing one. If not, you should. For now, I am reduced to cut and paste your comments ...

Thanks - Hudson
Pop Haydn
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No, I haven't. Just what I've posted here.
tomsk192
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Maybe you should.
Pop Haydn
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Someday. I am too busy to write a book.
tomsk192
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That's a good problem to have.
Magnus Eisengrim
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Pop, this discussion provoked me to reread your essay "Humor, Theater and Acting" in the Chicago Surprise manuscript. It is rather remarkable to me that you wrote this essay several years BEFORE you adopted the Pop character. It almost reads like a manifesto for creating such a character! Was the change on your mind for quite a while before you made the switch?

John
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
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