Thursday, December 23, 2010

Project 365 Smorgasbord (357-360)

.:357/365: On The Sleight Vs. Gimmick Debate:.

Some purists in the magic industry have been rather vocal in the past about their aversion for using gimmicks to achieve an effect when a sleight (No matter how difficult it happens to be.) could be utilized instead. Even more annoyingly, they turn their noses up at people who love their gimmicked items as if it makes these performers any less of a magician for not being able to use dexterity to achieve magic.

As one of those magicians who does love his gimmicks, I can’t help but scoff at this misguided notion, because at the end of the day, it’s all the same to the audience, and as most people who know me are quick to point out, that’s really all I care about.

The difference between using a gimmick and using paid actors is the difference between a Criss Angel magic show and one you could actually do live. As most skeptics like to point out when they demonstrate how they duplicate “psychic” abilities, if they can do it with no powers, yet charlatans insist that they do it with powers, then these charlatans are doing things the hard way for no good reason whatsoever.

The integrity of the art form doesn’t come exclusively from the tools you have at your disposal. In the eyes of the layman, the integrity of the art form comes from the actual results that they see. Bereft of the inner workings of your standard magic trick, all that matters to the audience is if they were amazed by what they saw. A gimmick that can save you the time and effort of a complex sleight would thus be every bit as good as the sleight itself, as far as the audience is concerned.

It’s always good to know the fundamentals for magic. It’s even better to know when to use something else if it results in a smoother show.

.:358/365: On Where My Loyalties Lie As An Entertainer:.

This might upset some people who absolutely insist on the protection of the business before anything else, but, while I do protect the business to an extent, my ultimate loyalty still lies in the entertainment of the audience.

If it will make for a happier audience, I will do it. If it will make for an audience more appreciative of magic, I will do it. This includes revealing or even just “revealing” a magic secret in order to wow them even further because now, not only are they privy to a magic “secret”, they realize that even the so-called “cheats” magicians employ aren’t even remotely easy and are amazing in their own right.

I’ve been watching magic for so long already, and up to now, I still watch it with the eyes of a layman rather than a fellow magician looking to see how the magic is done. It’s with this pair of eyes that I manage to determine how best to uphold my loyalties to the audience. It’s allowed me to skirt the lines and not break the character I portray even when I’m in front of a bunch of kids, whose parents might find some of my material not terribly appropriate because of how mentalism, when not labelled for kids properly, doesn’t look the least bit impressive to them at all. Adults will find the workings of mentalism to be stunning, but kids want to see things materialize from out of nowhere instead of have you read their mind.

So how does one maintain integrity in one’s art form while at the same time maintaining one’s loyalty to the entertainment of the audience? Well, the answer to that is easy: learn to find shows that play to your strengths. I understand not everyone can be choosy with their bookings, but I personally believe that when in doubt, I will always beg off of a show, no matter how big the payday is. The last thing I’d want to do is get booked in a show where I’m in over my head.

A personal example of learning how to play to your strengths and finding a balance between artistic integrity and catering to the audience was during my show last Monday night for the DBM in the heart of Malacanang. I knew I was going to be surrounded by a masa audience, and not the type of audiences I’m frequently performing for.

So a few concessions needed to be made, especially when I discovered that I would have under 20 minutes to do my entire show, which meant I needed three routines that would, at each step of the way, really be a hit with the audience. I calculated that because of the Christmas party presentations, their attention span wasn’t going to be that long, but they would be receptive to some comedy, so I went into my spiel, albeit I performed it mainly in the vernacular.

From there on, I did three routines: Shanghai Shackles, Liquid Metal, and Black Ops Hypnosis. At each point, I made sure to insert some of my favourite quips, and took some good-natured jabs at the government, since hey, I was essentially paying myself for the night’s show, since this was where my tax money was going to.

After the show, I had all the feedback I needed: an appreciative audience whom outside of simple English to Filipino translations did not actually require me to dumb my show down at all. It may seem contradictory to have these two priorities running afoul each other, but so far, it has worked for me to not insult the intelligence of my audience and only pander to them if it’s clear that my primary task of entertaining the audience is not being achieved.

Not a bad rule of thumb to follow, truth be told. It’s very easy to adjust to most audiences anyways without having to compromise your integrity as a performer. Ultimately, the best way to learn which is which is in having more opportunities to work with different types of audiences. If you know what kind of audience to expect, then you will know how best to deal with them once you’re face to face with them.

.:359/365: On The Importance Of Charity Shows:.

I remember an important lesson from Michael Finney when he talked about his magic career, and that was the fact that it’s always a great idea to give back to a cause for all the blessings one receives in a very eventful and exciting career as magic.

I won’t use this article as a way to highlight what I’ve done because I really don’t want to get self-aggrandizing and lose the point of discussing charity shows in the first place. Instead, I’d want to discuss exactly what doing these shows entail.

First, let’s get the potentially tacky out of the way: charity shows will raise your profile as a performer, and could lead to an incredible network both for actual paid gigs and for other opportunities for you to support your cause. If a sponsor would willingly produce your show provided that the proceeds go to a cause you are supportive of, I would personally recommend you to jump at the opportunity. Outside of the obvious philanthropy involved, it also gives you good publicity, and unintuitively tells bookers that you’re not a cheapskate magician. This is because they realize that you did it for free mainly because you supported the cause.

Alternatively, if they smell that you’re only in it for the publicity, rest assured that people will continue to book you for atrociously low prices. A rule of thumb is this: ideally, you either charge your full rate, or do a show for charity. Don’t ever accept a lowball offer for a gig. If they can get you for their party for a fraction of your price, why would they ever bother getting you for full price next time? Only when they understand the value of your time and effort in doing a show for a cause do they begin to know better than to lowball you.

Having said all that, there’s a very compelling reason for magicians to want to be on the forefront of supporting causes: magicians are entertainers. Part of their job description is of course alleviation of the problems of the people around them, and when you raise money for your charity of choice, you achieve that very purpose twice over, in entertaining your audience, and then using the proceeds of that to help even more people. If you’re the average magician who makes about $100-200 per show, there’s no reason you couldn’t waive that fee just once, and then just have that $100-200 go to a charity worthy of your support.

And I guess that’s a piece of advice I would have to echo from Leodini: make sure that the charities you support are worth supporting. Ironically, the more charities you senselessly join, the less impact and meaning your participation in them becomes. Why would people want to pay to see someone who does these shows at the drop of the hat? You would actually hurt your causes more in the long run.

It’s great to be supporting a cause as a magician, there’s no doubt about it. We’re in a position to effect change through our own sphere of influence, and though we may not necessarily have a massive scale of influence as celebrities may have, our ability to network and to become brokers of wonder is precisely the very reason doing these causes serves to further us as magicians. When we entertain and we unlock the sense of wonder people have, we remind them that the world isn’t all grim and gritty. And we really need those reminders sometimes.

If every moderately successful magician in the country could just spare one show’s earnings for a cause they believe in, I personally believe that the Philippines would be such a better place.

.:360/365: On The Awkwardness Of The Word “Trick”:.

Ever noticed how most magicians avoid using the term “magic trick” in this day and age? I’m one of those people who certainly feels a lot of discomfort with that, although I would still reluctantly use the term every now and then.

The days of absolute kayfabe are all but over, and I think it’s time for magicians to slowly wean themselves from insisting that they have special magic powers to do their feats. Taking a cue from the WWE, I think it’s best to just perform and entertain people and underscore that what we do is all about entertainment.

Having said that, I actually feel that the term “magic trick” actually breaks the suspension of disbelief and instead of ignoring kayfabe, actually underscores the invisible line between the magician and the layman even more. It feels more appropriate to just let the routine run its course and use other terms than to actually refer to it as a trick per se, because it can really jar a person from the moment.

To put things in perspective, I know that Robocop isn’t real, but my entertainment would be far less if Robocop kept winking at the audience every five minutes and telling us, “Kids, remember, I’m a work of fiction and I don’t exist in real life.” We know. You don’t have to be so patronizing of us, and you don’t need to insult our intelligence.

For the new school, don’t tell them it’s real magic. Even if they’d believe you, that’d just be a pretty mean thing to do. Don’t tell them it’s a trick, either. Just let them enjoy the show and let them have their fun.

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