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?
Hey guys, thanks so much for the replies, and to the mods for allowing a rather offbeat story.
To answer one big question...
Having a show focused entirely on revealing tricks isn't feasible 99% of the time. Even Penn and Teller have a sizable number of routines in their act that they don't reveal/expose -- shadows, the bullet catch, the appearing goldfish, etc. I get how secrecy can be annoying, but honestly, the only way to properly understand how it doesn't work is to learn a trick, polish the living hell out of it, perform it for some people, and then have a mistake happen (flashing a technique, having somebody see something from a bad angle, having an audience member handle something that's gimmicked, etc.). The reaction is almost always disappointment on some level. There's a smart (and relatively unknown) magician knows as Lance Pierce who once said that magic was a game of catch-the-magician where the audience is disappointment when they win.
Even performing and then teaching a trick is perilous. Somebody earlier in this discussion made the point all about effect. That's an important distinction, but as Derren Brown wrote, sometimes what's more important than the effect is the implied cause behind the effect. By way of example, you show that the number they randomly thought of is one that's sealed inside an envelope (effect) but the implication is that future sight is possible (cause). It's that cause that can really capture the imagination, and when you tip the method, you're basically saying it's all bunk. A lot of the time it's the adult version of telling people that there's no Santa Clause -- deep down they might know that to be true, but it doesn't usually make it fun to have somebody confirm it to be true.
Now, that idea offered earlier about having a show where you do the trick and then field theories for how it might be done is fascinating. It'd be very difficult to do -- now it's almost got the dynamics of an interactive lecture than a magic show -- and for it to be profitable would require some marketing voodoo in a large market, but I wonder if it could work...?
And again, sorry for the muggles joke. I hate the word, and I just put it in there to poke fun at magicians.
Ugh. The typos. They burn.
Sorry about that!