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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Finger/stage manipulation » » Theater magic (12 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Gorlzax
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I'm an actor and also passionate about magic. I often think about ways to combine the two; magic and theater. And I don't mean just magic and magician on theater stage doing his thing but more like how could magic be part of staged drama. I have seen some efforts to combine the two and even done some myself; I planned the magic moments to stage adaptation of Aladdin in my theater.

I feel that the challenge is that easily the other over runs the other. Meaning that the magic takes so much focus that the plot, the drama, suffers from it. Then again if you build the magic too much from the dramas perspective, the magic isn't so strong. Everybody knows how hard it is to do a trick with a detailed story in it and keep the audience interested of it.

So what do you think about this? Do drama and theater work with little bit different ways of entertaining the audience than magic or are they essentially the same. And I am also very interested to know if some of you have ever seen great performances where the two have been combined with meaning and skill.

--- Alex ----
JNeal
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If you haven't read Henning Nelms' book called Magic and Showmanship (publ. by Dover) you should be made aware of it. Nelms was a better director than a magician, but he applied dramatic theory and staging techniques to increase the 'meaning ' of magic, at least from his perspective.

You have outlined the inherent problem: not having either element dilute the impact of the other and I would imagine different styles of drama would require different solutions. His book is a good starting point.

Ps- there are other areas of this forum that are better (because members in those areas may be more knowledgeable) to discuss this such as Once upon a Time (magic in story form), The Words we Use (patter and words as they relate to magic), or Food for Thought ( theory and psychology
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Michael Baker
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Hi Alex,

Welcome to The Magic Café! This thread is likely to be moved to "Food for Thought" or some other more appropriate forum, but I don't mind chiming in here...

Most often, the best examples of this combination are when the story leads to a single magical event. The entire point is the climax, the actual moment of magic, and when the story is very compelling, the two bond nicely into a cohesive package. In this instance, both the magic and the story have the same ending (minus any denouement).

Many times I have seen magic used to augment points within a play. I was once involved with a theater group who wanted to add actual magic tricks to their rendition of "Pippin". We tried to coordinate the best we could under the circumstances (actors tend to be more interested in their acting than in the execution of a trick). I have also seen magic used at dramatic moments in "Dracula" and "Phantom of the Opera". At best, these are just incidental moments. You are correct in your concern of one over-running the other, In cases such as this, the plot does not center around the magic... and should not. You don't want the audience to suddenly shift focus and start thinking more about what just happened regarding a trick, and potentially have to be lured back to the "real" story.

It is surely possible to write a play where several moments of magic happen, yet the story gracefully continues to the next one at the conclusion of each of these. "The Magic Show" starring Doug Henning is one example. However, in my opinion the story was rather weak compared to the magic itself. This could be the bias of a magician's perspective, but I don't think too many laymen would praise the genius of the plot... yet the play was very successful.

~michael
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Michael Baker
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JNeal and I were apparently writing our responses at the same time, but it seems we are both thinking much the same thing. I would also recommend Nelms' book.
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JNeal
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Michael, I consider every synchronous thought we share as a flash of inspiration!

As for the original poster of the question, You might also look into an article that appeared in the TDR (originally called the Tulane Drama Review) around 1974 that was titled: The Actor and the Magician. The author (who was a drama professor and an amateur magician) analyzed sequences of Cardini's act as an acting challenge. He describes the visible action, the secret action, and the thoughts that the magician would have to project to connect the two.

Sorry, I can't recall the authors name...it's been 40 years since I read it!
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Gorlzax
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Michael & JNeal: thank you for your comments. I will most definitely check out your recomendations. The actor and the magician -article will probably be quite difficult to get hold of but it sounds absolutely interesting!!

Also good point that there might have been better place for this post - I'm still very new here at magic Café and don't yet know my way around here.
JNeal
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You'll get comfortable in navigating your way around this place soon enough!

WELCOME!!
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Anatole
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There have been other discussions about magic and theater on the Café--such as a discussion a while back of how magic acts break the fourth wall but most plays do not.

I think there have been more instances of magic being used in motion pictures than in live theater--such as David Copperfield's appearance in the 1980 horror film "Terror Train" and the more recent films "The Prestige," "The Illusionist," "Now You See Me," etc. And there are also the films of Channing Pollock and John Calvert. Television seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, too, with the new TV series "The Magicians" that kind of straddles the line between prestidigitation and the occult.

I've always thought a great Broadway play/musical could be adapted from Paul Gallico's 1966 novel _The Man Who Was Magic_. A young David Copperfield would have been great in the role of Adam, the main character in that novel. If you haven't read the novel you might give it a try. The plot centers around a magic contest and what happens when... But why spoil the surprise?

----- Amado "Sonny" Narvaez
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Gorlzax
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Anatole: I will check that novel! Thanks!
Dick Oslund
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I'm "late" to this thread, but, I'm glad that I came!

JNeal, AND, Michael have said it so well, that I don't feel a need to say anything.

And, Anatole has added a great comment. (Paul Gallico's "The Man Who Was Magic" pub. DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY GARDEN CITY, N.Y. 1966) is, as it states on the dust jacket, "A fable of innocence")

On the "back flap" of the dj, there's a note that, "THE MAN WHO WAS MAGIC is to be filmed by PARAMOUNT PICTURES." I don't think that that ever happened, but, IMO, it should have.
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funsway
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I wrote a play (never performed yet) based on characters standing in a soup line at Christmas.
For research for several writing projects I joined in on several occasions (something ever person should do)

I would occasionally perform a couple of magic effects to do my part of the conversations.
So, it was suggested that I include some magic effects in the play.

I did not for several reasons:

1) the effects appropriate as close up for a couple of guys in a line would be lost on the audience,

2) folks in the line might not serve as credible witnesses for the audience,

3) the stories and by-play of the characters formed magic of its own that I did not want to dilute.

I am taking the audience into an alternate reality in which much that happens is "impossible" for the viewer.
A good play requires imagination on the part of the observer. Why risk confusing that with another type of imagination?

However, if the script calls for a character to vanish suddenly, magic techniques might be employed ot make this truly astonishing.

If the character is a Court Jester or street performer, having them magically produce flowers might be enhance character.

On a smaller level I do feel (and have done) mixes of stories and magic effects as visual aids without with the magic or story suffering.

The combination "became theater" where the presentation of either story or magic alone would just have been "entertainment"
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George Ledo
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Quote:
On Feb 28, 2016, Gorlzax wrote:
So what do you think about this? Do drama and theater work with little bit different ways of entertaining the audience than magic or are they essentially the same. And I am also very interested to know if some of you have ever seen great performances where the two have been combined with meaning and skill.

Some good responses above!

I've been wondering about this difference for years in my own work, which is designing sets for live theatre. When we watch a play or a musical, we are actually watching a story: the character wants something, somebody or something gets in the way, and the story is about how he goes about getting it or not getting it. IOW, we are watching this person respond to a conflict. No different than a sports event, where the QB just wants to run the ball into the end zone but all these other guys want to stop him. And no different from TV dramas or comedies, "reality" shows, or movies. The entertainment value (in the sense of what holds our attention) comes from watching someone else trying to solve a problem that we can relate to, or would love to relate to.

Which partially goes to explain why "guys like guy movies and girls like girl movies." Smile

In magic, however, the entertainment value seems to be in watching someone do something impossible (actually, several impossible things one after the other) for for its own sake. Mostly, the magician is not solving a problem that we can relate to. Fitzkee showed several ways of changing this in Showmanship for Magicians, but, even there, you have to wonder if there was any point to it: were we watching a story, or a dressed-up magic trick?

As far as combining magic and theatre, here's an example. Several years ago I designed the stage version of The Woman in Black, and several people thought it would be really cool to do some magic tricks in the show. The problem, however, was that there was no place in the story for it. Even something as simple as a self-lighting candle or a slamming door would require a character to respond to it, but he can't respond if it's not in the script. And, putting these in the show when no one was on stage (doing it just for the audience) would have changed the whole point of what we were watching. There was no place for magic tricks or special effects that were not in the script.

On the other hand, the movie The Illusionist has several scenes where magic made total sense as part of the story. So did the Harry Potter movies. And a production of Beauty and the Beast had a sequence at the end, where (I believe) Jim Steinmayer came up with a very magical way of changing the beast back to a person. In that case the "magical" change was already in the script, so how it was done was up for grabs.
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Gorlzax
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Thank you for your thoughts! Very interesting to read your comments.

What you wrote George got me thinking about this that is the difference between magic and theater in that who changes during the performance? Let me explain. In a drama, like George wrote, the audience follows a character who goes through some kind of journey from A to B and that journey changes him or her and if all goes well the audience can relate to that and it evokes emotions in them. In magic the magician should be able to give a sense that he comes from a place where things don't work the same way that the audience is familiar with. And the magician, the person or character, doesn't change but it is more like he invites the audience to change for at least a moment the way they see things and view reality. So the audience should make a bigger journey in magic than the performer. In a sense in a good magic moment the audience becomes the main character of the performance and this would never happen in a traditional theater environment. I hope these thoughts make some kind of sense.... A very uncompleted thought, sorry. 😊

Thanks again!

Alex
funsway
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"uncomplicated" -- "profound" would be more appropriate.

welcome to the Café'
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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Dick Oslund
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Yup! Most profound!
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AndreOng1
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I thought all magic was already theater. Is theater something different? Sorry, my English is not perfect.
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