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by Ariel Frailich
When magicians discuss presentation, the experts are quoted: “be yourself”, they say. Excellent advice, but… what does it mean?
Let’s step back a little. Suppose I start an act like this: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! I’m Joe Magician and I’m going to magish for you. Watch this handkerchief… I put it in my hand and… it’s gone! Isn’t that amazing?”, and I continue in that vein. When it’s over, everybody knows what I do, but nobody knows who I am. Yet that’s exactly what the audience wants: people want to know who I am, whether I deserve their time, whether they should like me or hate me, etc. Unfortunately, we magicians spend no time worrying about these things; we just take it for granted that our tricks will carry us and “blow them away”. And that’s a pity, because although our magic may well do that, we’re not going to be particularly remembered.
This is in sharp contrast to the top magicians: they all have something that sets them apart, something that makes us remember them; it’s almost as if we know them. Penn is the big guy hitting on defenseless Teller. Copperfield is the sex symbol. David Williamson is the clumsy, overgrown puppy dog. And so forth.
It’s obvious now: if I want to be remembered, I have to present a well-defined persona to the audience. So who am I going to be?… I know: I’ll be the next David Copperfield, tall, suave, debonair, and sexy. All I need is a few more inches vertically and few less inches horizontally, a twenty-year age removal, and a full head of hair… OK, maybe not. Surely there must be somebody else I can be? Ah, Goshman: with a little work, I could look like him, and…
Hold it! Yes, I could build an artificial persona and learn to behave in character, but unless I’m very good at it, I’ll come across as being false, which no audience will put up with for very long. Besides, learning to be an actor is pretty hard work; being a magician is hard enough as it is. So once again, who am I going to be? Since I can’t be anybody else, I have to be… me. Scary!
W(h)oe is me
Who is this “me” person? If I had always been the class clown, I’d know exactly who I am, and I’d do magic in that same vein, rather than writing articles about it. But I wasn’t the class clown; I was… come to think of it, who was I? And, more to the point, who am I and what do people remember about me? Difficult questions!
Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take a big piece of paper and write down everything about myself: my interests, opinions, beliefs, character traits, ambitions, likes and dislikes, and anything else I can think of. I might even ask my friends, relatives and colleagues to tell me how they see me. When I’ve done that, I’ll look at my list to see if I can find anything that’s interesting or unusual, anything I can capitalize on. And when I find it, I’ll brainstorm until I find an idea that I like. But first, I’ll write down every single idea that comes to mind, no matter how silly it might seem, and leave the judging for later.
Let’s say I collect stamps for a hobby. Here are some ideas that come to mind:
- Dress up as a postage stamp and produce envelopes.
- Do the Mail Bag Escape.
- A card transposition to illustrate mail delivery.
- The Stamp Album trick.
- Coin and money tricks to illustrate the exorbitant prices charged by stamp dealers.
- The collector mentality: the moment I see a letter, I whisk away the stamp (make it magically disappear).
How about a situation? Suppose my list tells me that I’m a male college student trying to meet girls:
- I’d bemoan the fact that nice guys always finish last and find a trick to illustrate that.
- I’d talk about being a magician and practicing the World’s Most Difficult Card Trick to impress a girl (any trick will do here, of course).
- I’d tell stories about dates and dating, illustrated with suitable tricks.
Maybe a character trait? If my list tells me I worry a lot, I’d find tricks to illustrate things going wrong in the worst possible way:
- The $100 Bill Switch: “I bought some groceries and paid with a $100 bill, expecting $50 change… but all I got was a 10”.
- Professor’s Nightmare: “I can never remember the names of people at a party; the moment I have to introduce them, they suddenly all look alike!”
The hard part is over; now comes the fun part of developing consistency, finding appropriate tricks, creating a script, and finally, actually doing it! It’s a lot of work, but the results will be spectacular: I’ll have a unique act that’s 100% me, and my audiences will remember me.
And now… where’s that big piece of paper? I have some work to do!
(Added August 13, 2014)
Here’s a terrific resource for finding out more about yourself: https://www.archetypes.com (opens in a new window). Answer the questions truthfully, and it will tell you about yourself and your story.
A huge thank you to Don Harris for pointing this out, in a thread in the Full Circle Magic group on Facebook. (Join it, it’s a great group! Link opens in a new window.)