Missing the point of magic?

Maybe I should have walked away sooner.
The Couple I had approached had been difficult from the start, making sarcastic comments after every statement. Maybe that should have given me a clue.
Approaching complete strangers when you have been hired to entertain with close up mind reading effects is not easy at the best of times, and it’s not made easier by the fact that not many people had turned up to the event. These two seemed the best of the bunch, A young girl in their late teens and an older woman, early forties.
I introduced myself as the mind reader for the evening, this was met with, “Well you’ll have a job getting into my mind!” from the older lady. Ok- a challenge! I began with a dictionary book test, where a random word is selected from the dictionary and I read the persons mind to get it. The way I do it always gets a great reaction and gets the audience bang on your side from the start. It didn’t.
I got the word “Gutter”. The woman appeared unimpressed as she informed me that the word was in fact, “Gutter-Snipe.” OK, I thought, I got something a little wrong there and maybe I need to look at that effect later to sort it out for future performances.
Still, I thought Gutter would have been close enough.
So I pressed on and turned my attention to the younger girl with my “Find the lady” Routine. Again I have been doing this for years and is another opener that gets great reactions. I got to the point where we role reverse and the spectator mixes the cards and I have to read her mind to find out where the card is. I always ask the person to think about the location of the queen, so that I can “see it in their mind”, they have to “Know” where it is themselves.

As it turned out The girl purposefully mixed the cards without knowing the queens location, in order to scupper me. That is when I bid thm a good evening, and walked away.

It is one thing when the performers instructions are not clear enough, but another entirely when the spectator does the exact opposite of what you ask of them. That person does not want to be entertained in the way you wish to entertain them, and it stops being fun for you- and ultimately them.

As a postscript to this part of the story I later looked at my dictionary and found that the word “Gutter-snipe” was no where to be seen.

The next group I approached were much more into my act. I had them hanging onto my every effect. I decided to do my fork bend routine. This takes a normal fork and leaves it an unrecognisable hunk of metal under ideal conditions. Unfortunately these were not ideal conditions.

The Younger girl from the previous table decided to come over and watch. Of course there is nothing I can do about that, it’s a free country! So I carried on. At this point I’d bent one prong and put a bend in the handle. Next I twisted the handle while the spectator was holding it. The fork was passed around for people to examine. Normally when it gets back to me I carry on and desecrate it some more, however this time the fork got to the girl who immediately started mouthing off about how she thought I did it. She was wrong, but the explanation she came out with was plausible, and you could see the rest of the group taking it all in. The problem here is now the rest of the group had forgotten about the wonder and would start looking at this as a challenge to solve, totally killing the magic.

“Look,” I said to the girl, “I get that you’re into pulling things apart, but why are you spoiling it for everyone else?”

Her response saddened me, greatly. “Part of the fun of magic is working out how it’s done.”

“No,” I said, “It really isn’t.”

“Penn & Teller would disagree with you.” She exclaimed triumphantly. And then the penny dropped.

She was probably a child in the 90’s when the first big exposure shows on magic, such as “The masked magician-magics greatest secrets finally revealed” were airing on TV, and one of the most recent formats has Magician double act Penn & Teller working out how up and coming magicians do their routines, with the magician winning if they can’t.

Most of the time I don’t see harm in these shows, Penn & Teller normally reveal the secrets in a manner that is respectful to the act, If you are in the know then you’ll know sort of thing. Also anyone who wants to learn the basic secrets of magic can do so- You can buy books on eBay, you can search on Wikipedia you can google an effect. All magic you see is based on these basic methods. Magic is not the closed shop it used to be. I’m fine with this, If you want to learn it’s there, if you really want to find out how an effects done you can do that.

However I’m pretty sure Penn Jillette has never followed a table magician around a cafe from table to table bragging about how he “Knew”  how all the secrets are achieved.

I do magic to entertain. I do it for the buzz I get when I see in an audience members eyes that they cannot comprehend what has happened. Guess what?  They always smile! Every time! They don’t get angry that I may have pulled the wool over their eyes, or stroppy that I may have deceived them. They don’t feel like I have made a fool of them, they love what they have seen, and I love seeing it in them!

The young girl from the first table thought I was presenting it as a challenge, a puzzle that needed to be worked out. I have had people work out how I do things in the past and they don’t smile in the same way. They are pleased with themselves, but the smile is nowhere near as big or genuine. Also it doesn’t create the same level of discussion afterwards. “That was unbelievable, how did he do that” will be more group freindly than “I know how it’s done.” If you work it out, good for you! But keep it to yourself and keep your freinds!

I remember making a total prat of myself when watching a high profile performer at the theatre. I was so pleased with myself that I (In my own head) had worked out how all the effects were done that I blabbed it all out to my wife at the end of the show. I ruined the experience for her, and the poor people in the seats around us, as I wasn’t discreet! What a total pillock i made of myself!

Did it get me recognition? Did it get me respect? did it get me anywhere other than earning the reputation of a know-it-all bore who everyone ignores at a party? Of course it didn’t! because those people had gone to that show to be amazed, and allow themselves to be taken into that performers world.

Finally knowing how something is done is only the tip of the iceberg- there is a lot more goes into performing an effect then mere mechanics, as any magician who has tried an effect out of the box will testify. So even if you do work it out, appreciate how it’s executed.

Magic is not a puzzle to be worked out, it is a show-piece, an entertainment, an art.

Sadly I know that this will mainly be read by people who don’t see magic as a puzzle, and I know that there will always be people like the couple at table one.

Can you imagine a world where everyone you performed to had that attitude?

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Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 10:52  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I do like to figure magic tricks out and would rather know but then I’m one of those weirdos that wanted to be a magician, 😉 and I have acquired quite a few magic books over the years, but I was never a performer. But that’s something very personal and how my brain is wired (I’m more the kind of person that’d love to invent tricks or think of ways of applying them) and I completely understand the whole point of magic is the “effect”. If I know how a trick is done I wouldn’t want to tell everyone else as that isn’t the point. First and foremost, magic is entertainment, different magicians achieve this in different ways (I’m a huge P&T fan but that woman missed the fact that P&T primarily do what they do to entertain, not “expose magic”!).

  2. I’m also naturally a “worker-outer”, but it is far more fun to allow yourself to be absorbed in the performance!

  3. I don’t really have a problem with people trying to work it out, after all if everything was taken on face value I think it would lessen the final impact. If I’m entertaining a group of five and one works it out I’ve still impressed four people. Its when the remaining person pulls the effect apart in front of those four people that I take an issue. Not only has it been ruined for me, but for those four people and ultimately the people who have hired me to entertain at their venue.

    • Couldn’t agree more, I’d be satisfied with my own knowledge and would have no intention of spoiling it for others. I may on occasion tease them but not spoil it for them.


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