The Burnaby Kid writes:
Figured I'd toss this out there, since SN was asking for interesting story submissions. I'm a professional magician working abroad, and I've been indulging in this incredibly geeky performing art for almost two decades. One problem that happens a lot when it comes to magic is that the nature of secrecy means that we don't get open dialogue with the muggles we perform for, and that leads to us getting into this weird sort of insular and incestuous discussion with other magicians, which ends up warping our minds to the extent that we start doing moronic things like... oh, I don't know... referring to our audience members as "muggles". We get into some pretty weird debates, and I've been trying my best to argue for raising the bar, such as by suggesting that we need to be more sensitive about what you guys like, such as by making sure that if we pull out a deck of cards, we've got something to perform that can compete with Card Through Window. And yet... Maybe I've got it wrong? What DO you guys like? If you like watching magicians perform, what do you like about it? If you don't, why not?
Realize that your first job is to entertain people, the magic is just a means to that end. Watch Steve Martin's "Flydini" act - the magic itself is total crap, but people are still clapping: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9xKU8eYCFk [youtube.com]
What DO you guys like?
This is kind of analagous to asking what kind of comedy people like. Ther are many different kinds comedy and different people like differents types (some like satire and slapstick some like prop comedy, some like everything, etc.
If you like watching magicians perform, what do you like about it? If you don't, why not?
The problem most magicians make is that they focus on the illusions and not the performance. The magician must understand that they are a performer/showman first and an illusionist second. They may bill themselves as an illusionist as part of their branding and pr, but they are showmen.
You need to know your style and then find, create, or buy tricks to fit that style. As an audience member I don't care what tricks the person is doing so long as they are entertaining me.
For example Penn and Teller's act is driven not by their tricks, but by their personalities and delivery of those tricks. They create a narrative and weave the magic into that narrative.
Chris Angel doesn't do anything new or exciting, but knows his audicene and caters to them. He knows that it is his style that separates him from other magicians. Angel has said that, "I stayed away from magicians when I was younger because I didn't want to think like them and wanted to create my own style."
David Copperfield is the classic magician, most his shows are all style over substance. He does one maybe two big tricks with the rest filled with him putting his style on the same stuff everyone else does.
To me, and I would guess others, a good magician isn't about what they are doing, but rather more about how they are doing it. Don't get me wrong, new tricks are good and keeping it fresh is nice, but I'd rather see a classic done well than something new done shitty (unless it is shitty on purpose, but then it is kinda being done good in a round about way). For example the classic chained up under water bit. For that to work for an audience, we need to have firt connected to the performer and have some reason to want to see them make it (or to want to see them drown). Once we are emotionally invested in the performer, then the trick has more meaning, more impact.