Friday, December 17, 2010

Project 365 Smorgasbord (349-352)

.:349/365: On The Philippine Online Magic Community:.

With The Story Circle as one of the most recognizable websites about Philippine magic among the younger generations and stellar blogs like Leodini’s holding up the banner for the Philippines in the international community, the Philippines is fairly well-represented in the online magic community. There are a ton of videos on YouTube showcasing our craft, and a lot of it happens to be pretty good, to say the least.

We have a pretty solid community, and thankfully, most of our “infighting” remains just that: infighting. The international community is relatively insulated from any controversies within our little corner of the world, unless it’s something the entire Philippine community stands behind. And that’s nice, really. The rest of the world doesn’t need to know which magician is feuding with whom in the Philippines – although they’d best be informed which undesirables are deemed so by the community at large. Sure, the united front may give other people the misconception that everything is hunky-dory in the Philippine magic scene, but anyone can read between the lines, and they can get down to the nitty-gritty if and only if they want to, rather than the whole mess being in plain sight for everyone to see and pick at in their free time.

When it comes to quality material, we can share ideas and methods with the best of them. Given the accessibility of internet in the country and the fact that majority of us still access the web only through internet cafes, we predictably end up with a wide demographical range of people, but overall, it’s a positive reflection of the different slices of life that the magic bug has bitten. I can’t stress enough that this is good, but it comes with the burden of having to groom these magicians into respectable ones, at the very least. The online world may have a few exemplars in Philippine magic, but nothing (at present) beats on-ground mentoring, and unfortunately, we don’t have enough of these people to go around.

All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if on the strength of our online presence alone, the Philippines could very well be a place to go for magic learning. While we may not have as many inventors of new effects, we have a lot of innovators in other aspects, whether when it comes to incorporating a certain device or another into a different effect, or simply our ability to come up with new and exciting ideas to entertain our decidedly tougher audiences.

I’d also need to make special mention of my fellow mentalist, Justin Pinon, who has been doing a special series of mentalist shows on Flippish, where he has been wowing people with some of the most interesting applications of mentalism this side of the globe. One might decry him as unoriginal, but Justin’s look and persona is all his own, and is something you can’t take away from him. I’m glad to have known him and seen him work his way up to the level he’s at now. Certainly gives me hope to see more new blood who are respectful of the traditions and history of the art form.

.:350/365: On The Predominance Of Card Magic:.

“Pick a card, any card.”

Ever noticed how many magicians do one of these at some point while performing? I certainly have. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single named magician who didn’t start off by learning either a card trick or that thing your uncle does where he seems to be amputating his thumb and then putting it right back on.

A deck of cards has limitless potential housed in chunks of 52. From flourishes to mind-reading to fortunetelling, cards can do just about anything and fits very handily in one’s pockets. Best of all, one need not even have exceptional dexterity to impress people, as opposed to the demanding skill level required to perform even intermediate coin magic routines. Cards can get you over with a lot less pocket space and effort, and it’s not so difficult to see why a whole bunch of magicians go to it as a way of opening things.

That’s also precisely why I minimize the card magic I do whenever I perform.

In today’s magic world, the key to longevity is to stand out and make a name for yourself. I can tell you this much: if you don’t have skill level along the lines of jeff McBride or insanely good looks ala David Blaine, card magic isn’t really going to write you a check to Carnegie Hall. Magicians are already a dime a dozen thanks to the explosion of its popularity since David Blaine came onto the scene. Card magicians are even more prevalent, because everyone wants to do “that David Blaine trick where you throw your cards at a window and the chosen card shows up on the other end.”

I’m not saying card magic is bad. If it were so bad, why would most of the top names in the industry be using them? What I’m trying to say is that if one wishes to gain a foothold into the industry, card magic alone won’t get you there, unless you’re one of the freakily rare exceptions to the rule, ala Devo’ Vom Schattenreich. And even Devo’ has a few other routines up his sleeve, as his De’Ring video handily showed off in the past.

Most beginning magicians who wish to stay as street magicians feel that cards alone would be enough to carry them through, and it will – to a point. But as you will begin to realize, it becomes quite a bore to hear “pick a card” five times in a row before you wished he’d actually pull a rabbit out of a hat because everyone believes *that* to be so cliché, nobody is doing it now. Irony? Definitely. True? Indubitably.

So don’t let me stop you from honing your cardician skills. In fact, be the best at it that you can be. But if you want to make a name for yourself in magic, and you don’t think you can ever hold a candle to the McBride’s and De’Vo’s of the world, I strongly suggest you pick up some other routines, if only for the sake of variety. If I had the skill for it, I’d love to be a coin magician, by sheer virtue of being able to borrow your materials from nearly anyone you’re performing for.

Then again, as a mentalist and stand-up comic, I *have* managed to do twenty full minutes of performance without once resorting to any items at all. So I guess that works, too.

.:351/365: On The Financial Costs Of Being A Magician:.

In a third-world country like the Philippines, it’s rather predictable that people would cut corners on anything they could and save money. Considering how the Philippines is a haven for bootleggers, it should be no surprise that a good chunk of magicians who produce videos are not receiving a nice little bump in their royalty checks these coming holidays thanks to the rampant practice. Can’t say I’m proud of this little snag, but I guess it should also come as quite a stern reminder to would-be magicians who think they can get the best quality materials at rock-bottom prices.

What these people seem to be forgetting is that a lot of them charge a minimum wage worker’s monthly salary for an hour’s worth of work.

Nobody said being a magician is cheap. And I find it ironic that in general, the people who spare no expense, the people who get all the original stuff, are also the hobbyists. Y’know, the guys who do magic solely for fun, and don’t get professionally booked to do this stuff, thereby taking away the whole investment factor when it comes to the stuff they buy. Doing magic isn’t supposed to be a cost-free deal, especially if you’re not the guy creating your own effects, because even just the idea of how to do something already costs money, especially when you consider how street magicians tend to like to do stuff with normal, everyday objects instead of special gimmicked items.

If I do an inventory of all the stuff I’ve been buying for my semi-professional career for the past four years, I might stagger at the costs. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent around low six digits on average a year, not including other costs I might’ve incurred, but considering the opportunities I’ve gotten through these effects, well, the costs have certainly been worth it. Ultimately, it’s that kind of professional outlook that has helped me stand out a bit in the mire of so many performers in the country who ply their craft. I spare no expense to give a great show, because I’m a firm believer in the saying that “you get what you paid for.” If you got a cheap knockoff version of a magic item, you will feel the difference in quality at some point, and pray to the highest heavens that you don’t feel that difference in the middle of a show, with your career and reputation hanging in the balance.

And that goes double for the kind of magicians who get hired, really. You get what you paid for, although admittedly, there *are* some performers who are clearly overpriced, and all you need to do to find out who is to ask how many people have ever done repeat bookings for them after paying full price. If nobody gets them more than once, then that should clue you in that they’re not worth the price they’re asking for, really.

I pride myself in having a career based on my web marketing, word of mouth, and repeat business. It’s what has allowed me to make it four years in this industry without relying on heavy marketing and heavy tie-ups with party groups beyond Balloon Creations. Any magician worth their salt, Hades, any performer in any discipline worth their salt would certainly be worth full price and repeat bookings. I’d love to name one particular magician I know who doesn’t get repeat bookings, but I think I’ve slagged on the guy enough for this whole year, so it doesn’t bear repeating anymore...

That being said, being a magician requires some level of investment. Live within your means, work your way up slowly if needed be, but don’t expect all of it to be handed to you on a silver platter, because ironically, the art of producing things from thin air didn’t actually come from thin air.

.:352/365: On The Social Stigma Of Being A Magician:.

As a guy who has seen magic both attract and turn off people, I realize that being a magician does have some measure of social stigma attached to it.

Unlike most other performing arts, being a magician seems to have either the “douchebag” label or the “socially inept nerd” label attached to you, because when you perform magic, you clearly keep your secrets to yourself, and the implication is thus you’re too socially awkward to pick up a more inclusive hobby like, say, singing or dancing or basketball. Where people make ladies swoon with their power ballads, the magician entertains primarily kids and their (obviously attached and decidedly undateable) parents, thus cementing your hobby as one that will, on paper, yield you a lovelife in the middle of your gigs only if you’re really creepy or you like playing with fire.

It’s the price you pay for being in a very reclusive art with its own lingo, jargon, and quirks, and very little emphasis on your physique or looks. Professional wrestlers may be every bit as reclusive as magic, but thankfully, they’re still considered athletes, and ladies fawn all over those guys. Magicians? Not nearly as many fangirls, I can assure you. If I’d hazard a guess, I think male teachers would have more fangirls than magicians, all things considered.

So why do magic, despite the pariah status that seems to come with the territory? Here you are, engaging in an expensive hobby, and upon turning professional, an inconsistent cashflow, balking clients, hecklers, skeptics, scabs, and in the event of success, a constant stream of haters?

That’s an easy one to answer, believe it or not: because it’s worth it. For every hundred fairy-killers out there, it just takes one wide-eyed audience member to make the whole experience worth it. For every thousand hecklers who make your career a bed of nails, there’s one admirer of your work who respects your craft that makes everything smell like roses.

And ultimately, no matter what the social stigma that being a magician may happen to imply, don’t ever forget that being a magician is not the only thing about your personality. There are too many dimensions to a human person to willingly limit one’s self to ignore everything else but one facet.

Hopefully, this sound advice would help keep even just one up and coming magician away from giving up on their dream. Everyone wants to headline Vegas someday. You’re never getting there if you stop now.

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