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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The October 2004 entrée: David Parr » » Theatrical direction » » TOPIC IS LOCKED (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Ronin
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Hi David,

It's cool to see you here, and always good to hear your thoughts.

Some years back, you did me the honor of critiquing a show of mine on videotape--and I still refer to some of the lessons from that session to this day. I'm not sure how often you've worked with other magicians in a directorial mode, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on:

1) What are the most common theatrical errors you find in magic performance?
2) How could magicians best forge a (working) relationship with a director--in terms of finding a suitable director, and how the director-magician relationship works, in your opinion.
David Hirata
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"Life is a combination of magic and pasta."
--Federico Fellini
David Parr
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David, David, David. How the heck are you? It's been too long.

At some point magic seems to have lost its roots. Perhaps it happened when magic shops changed into novelty stores. Or when television came to dominate entertainment. I don't know. But somehow we lost track of the fact that this is a theatrical art. (Which is not to say that theatre has been considered a legitimate and respectable profession. In Shakespeare's day, theatre was what happened on the other side of the Thames, with the bear baiting and the prostitutes.)

Any performing art is, at its core, about communication. In order to do this effectively, some basic skills need to be cultivated — skills that have nothing to do with sleights and moves.

The most common theatrical errors made by magicians, including myself, are the result of a lack of awareness — awareness of what we are doing, of what we are saying. This problem is understandable: We are so close to ourselves and own material that it is very difficult to be objective, to step back and see the big picture. Common problems include:

Slouching. If the magician is to appear powerful, in command of supernatural forces, he or she needs to stand (or sit) up straight. It's such a simple thing, but it creates an instant improvement. This does not mean being rigid and robotic. If you can't seem to master the feeling of standing straight and being relaxed at the same time, I recommend taking a Tai Chi class.

Shuffling. Much about our character is communicated through simple movements such as walking. Watch a movie with the sound turned off to see what I mean. What is communicated when the magician shuffles across the stage as if he or she were shuffling from the living room to the kitchen in search of a late-night snack? On the other hand (or foot), what is communicated when the performer picks up his or her feet and strides with conviction?

Moving without purpose. This one was a real problem for me. I couldn't stand still onstage. All my nervous energy was expressed in the form of purposeless movement, pacing back and forth like a caged panther. As a result, the information and effect I was attempting to convey to audience became a big blur. Luckily, I had a couple of directors who helped me with this. They spoke of being "rooted" on the stage. Not frozen and immobile, like a statue. Flexible and responsive, but rooted, like a tree. With work, I learned to stay put — until I have a purpose for moving from one place to another.

Disorganization and fumbling. At some point in my show, I reach for a needed prop — to find that it isn't there. Oh, there it is, buried under other items on my table. I dig through the pile and succeed in dropping the item on the floor. In the span of ten seconds, I have lost a bit of the audience's confidence in my abilities as a magician, and I have to work to get it back.

Verbal blunders. It is amazing how much can be accomplished by writing down every word I say onstage. When I am able to gaze at the words on paper, the poor grammar, the verbal tics, the twisted sentences that make no sense, the unclear instructions for onstage volunteers — all of it stands out on the page as if it had been circled in red pen by my ninth grade English teacher. Which makes it much easier to correct! But will it matter that my script has been cleansed of these mistakes if I mispronounce words or mumble so that the audience can't understand what I'm saying? To communicate, I need to speak the language well and speak it loudly and clearly enough to be heard.

Problems of character. When I was thirteen years old, I couldn't play Faust. I also couldn't play King Lear. Or any number of other characters that were beyond my age and experience. As a magician, I need to find an onstage character that fits — that works with my skills, my age, my appearance. That character should then be fully realized; that is, the way I dress and speak and move, the props I use, should support my character. The simplest way to achieve this, and at the same time avoid falseness, is to find an onstage persona that is close to myself — close to the person I really am. My onstage character represents aspects of me, magnified, distilled to their essence.

Lack of rehearsal. Need I elaborate?

Now for your second question. Here's the most important element in the relationship: A director has to be someone you trust. Someone you admire and whose opinion you respect. The director must also respect you and understand your expectations. The goal here is collaboration — working together to make your show better. At the top of my potential director's list are friends who have theatrical experience. Some of them also happen to be magicians. Any one of them would be glad to sit in on a rehearsal and offer suggestions if I asked (and picked up the dinner check).

What if none of my friends happen to be actors, or if my friends in magic have even less experience than I do? In that case I might choose a magician in my city whose work I admire and ask him or her to sit in on a rehearsal. Offering to pay for his or her time would probably help. Or I might seek out a place where people learn theatrical skills. Sign up for a class, hang around, meet people, get to know them. I just might find a director that way.
Ronin
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Thanks David!

It's astonishing how often I need to be reminded of these basic guidelines. I think I'll print out your post, assign numbers to each point, and hand out a copy to my rehearsal group. That way, we can save time while critiquing each other by just yelling out, "Hey! Number 2! Pick up your feet!"

I may be losing my current (terrfic) director to his screenwriting career, which is why I asked.

One concern I've had with picking directors in the past has to do with finding someone good who will also practice enough "tough love" on me--i.e., will be completely frank about any flaws. My first few directors were theatrical directors who were very helpful, but in retrospect I wish they'd "kicked my *ss" a bit more in rehearsal. Finding that proper candor in a director will be an important part of establishing trust for me.
David Hirata
www.thingsimpossible.com


"Life is a combination of magic and pasta."
--Federico Fellini
Bob Sanders
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Hello David,

Thank you for visiting us here at The Magic Café.

I picked this thread for my posts, not for the title, but because of your encouraging response. Like a spoiled kid, I want more!

Fortunately or unfortunately, it has been my pleasure to be in the professional entertainment industry over forty years. During that time television changed much of the world's concept of what is entertainment. One of my personal soapbox causes is the need for audiences and performers to understand the differences between theater and cinema. It goes well beyond no postproduction in theater.

In your opinion, is this a worthy cause? Why or why not?

Thank you again for being here on the Café.

Bob
Magic By Sander
Bob Sanders

Magic By Sander / The Amazed Wiz

AmazedWiz@Yahoo.com
David Parr
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Hi Bob. It's a worthy cause. Most folks have only experienced magic by way of television. All we have to do is persuade those people to leave the house, buy a ticket and enter the theatre. That's the hard part. Once they are there, and the performance begins, they will understand that they are getting an experience they cannot get from television or movies. The thrill of a great live performance is the sense that onstage events are happening for the first time, and that they’ll never happen that way again. Live performance is a collective and collaborative experience, an interaction between people in the audience and people onstage. Human beings have a basic need for this interaction. And in our culture they're largely starved of it.
George Ledo
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Hi, David,

Great answers! As a theatrical designer, working closely with directors and around actors all the time, I see a lot of the problems you mentioned. Even though actors spend weeks in rehearsal to develop their roles, it still takes an outside viewpoint to catch things and point them out.

If I can add a couple of things to your comments, I'd say that the first requirement when using a director to smooth out a magic act is to make sure the director understands what you are trying to do. Directors work from scripts that tell stories, and then develop their own interpretation and pesentation of the story. Without a good handle as to what your "story" is, a director can really only work on the superficials.

The second thing is that, even in theatre, people sometimes forget that we are basically just telling stories. Good stories are about people and their conflicts and problems (and how they resolve them), not about equipment and mechanisms. Unless, of course, the story happens to be about a person's conflict with a mechanism Smile like in the Terminator movies.

Anyway, David, thanks for your time in the forum, and I look forward to reading more of your comments!
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Bill Hallahan
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What a great post! Thanks David. I've certainly made some of those mistakes. I only perform occasionally and the second to last time I did, I messed up my prop setup and actually turned my back on the audience. I know not to do that, but once on stage I forgot everything I know. I'm still learning.

I recall the last time I saw Jonathan Pendragon perform; he strode with purpose and remained rooted while he spoke. I recall the impression it made. He seemed powerful and in control.

Thanks again!
Humans make life so interesting. Do you know that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to create boredom. Quite astonishing.
- The character of ‘Death’ in the movie "Hogswatch"
David Parr
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Good points George! Thank you for adding your observations.

And to Bill: This is why building a sense of community among magicians is so important. So that we can learn from one another and be reminded that, as we face these lessons and make mistakes, we are not alone!
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