That Has to Stop

“The theater-goer in conventional dramatic theater says: yes, I’ve felt that way, too. That’s the way I am. That’s life. That’s the way it will always be. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is no escape for him. That’s great art – everything is self-evident. I am made to cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh. But the theater-goer in the epic theater says: I would never have thought that. You can’t do that. That’s very strange, practically unbelievable. That has to stop. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is an escape for him. That’s great art – nothing is self-evident. I am made to laugh about those who cry, and cry about those who laugh.”

Brecht, “Entertainment or Education?”

Four Suits
A Sober Realization of Performance Context

“And if thou gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” - Nietzsche

If I could start every blog post off with a Nietzsche quote, I think I’d be happy.

This entry is regarding the impact of the situations you perform upon yourself, the performer. Someone recently asked about my performance history: I started performing at the Magic Castle when I was a teenager, in a set showroom with showtimes and someone introducing me, and a number of people in seats watching me, with controlled lighting and all. I also did charity shows when I was first starting out, but again these were conditions where I had seating and a set audience and a set show length etc.

From there, as I started to become more “professional” I began to take on more and more “walkaround”/”close-up” gigs and quickly found that these were quite lucrative, and I legitimately enjoy the act of meeting new people every few minutes and talking with them, learning about them, and sharing magic in a one to one situation. Carry that through to today, and I’d say that for every 100 walkaround performances I do, I do probably 5 set acts where there’s a proper audience and seating etc. These contexts in which I perform are now reflected within my work.

I used to be much more attuned to crafting a theatrical experience for an audience, creating connections between ideas, and bringing things to a satisfactory conclusion within that theatrical context. Not to mention the technical magical differences of performance handling with a micro-audience compared to a full theatre stage. I’ve become rusty, needless to say, at handling a full audience. I still am able to engage, but I feel myself fighting urges to handle the full audience like a small group, which is wildly ineffective. Frequently, I’ve found myself frustrated with this knowledge, knowing full well that I used to be so damn good at it, now that I’ve actively changed the situations where I’m damn good.

This is all to say, no matter your background in something, no matter where you begin, you’re changing who you are, as a performer, every day, based on the situations you perform in. Every minute spent performing, remain conscious that you’re shifting your direction into this specific area of performance. Take gigs and performance opportunities carefully, which is tough if you’re trying to make this your full-time profession, and understand that every step forward is a step in a specific direction. Success = Time. So be mindful of where that time is spent. While it’s always important to keep progressing and moving onto forward ground, sometimes, it’s important to stop and look around to see where we are.

Wishing you all the best, to all the performers out there, to finding the place where you feel at home.

-- J.R.

 

Wardrobe in Magic

Shame on my colleagues for shitposting the last blog post (I’M CALLING YOU ALL OUT).

So this whole magicians in suits thing has been really getting to me lately, occupying a lot of my mindshare as the kids may say. I’ve just been extra cognizant of how I dress when I perform now. Funny too because Elliot Terrel just did a whole insta story post on this, basically advocating for sharply dressed magicians, and overall thinking about this issue a lot as well. While I don’t necessarily agree for magicians wearing suits per default, I agree to finding out what your magic is about and dressing that part.

I was watching a documentary with Sean Connery talking about some of his character development in movies, and there was a moment when he mentioned that most of it comes after he meets with wardrobe department and they assign him his clothes for the movie. Saying something along the lines of “I’ll know my character after I put on their clothes. (I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t find the actual quote).” But I think that says something very important that not a lot of us performers think about -- we don’t think about our “character” coming through our clothes very much, or at least I don't think so.

I’ve got a friend of mine who loves ripped jeans and floral shirts and t-shirts, so unfortunately he has some issues getting into some nightclubs, but then again, maybe when he dresses like this maybe he doesn’t belong there. Maybe there’s something about his performance (while dressed that way) that belongs wherever his clothes put him. Additionally, maybe there’s some element of his everyday fashion that he can take with him when he puts on a suit (because sometimes formal occasions are socially inherent in performing situations), so he doesn’t just come across like every other magician in a suit. In other words, what can you bring from your daily style into your suit/formal style to make yourself come across more so you don’t seem like the car salesman we spoke about in the previous post on this subject?

One person who I think successfully gets this across is a dude that goes by DMC, although he does trend towards formalwear, but that’s also sort of his character, plus he also has that head tattoo that stands out in a suit. Who else do you think successfully brings across their personality and character within their performance-wear?

-- J.R.

The State of Magic -- Pushing the Vision

 

Weirdest thing when you think you’ve written a blog post called “Pushing the Vision” and are searching for it to link to it but you actually haven’t written it yet.

Here’s the thing: in 2018 FISM, there are 31 performance awards. 8 magicians from Spain placed top 3 for these awards. South Korea fielded 7 magicians who placed. USA fielded 0. Zero.

2015 FISM sees similar numbers: 7 from Spain, 7 from South Korea, USA 0.

2012 FISM -- 8 South Korea, 1 Spain, USA 1.

What the actual fuck is going on here? What are we doing so very wrong here that they’re doing so very right in Spain and South Korea?

I don’t have an answer, but I do know how these contests are judged, and they’re judged based around the progression and pushing of a certain vision. Now, this vision can be how an item is produced or conjured, or it can be about an application of an idea. But one thing is for sure, based on the people who I’ve talked with who attended FISM 2018, USA is behind, far behind. Yes, we’re amazing at branding and taking things into a commercial level, but as far as actual content goes, we’re horrible. I mean, take a look around, this exists in the US in more places than just magic. Granted, this exists in many places, but I’m not here to say excuses for ourselves, we’re a great place, and I’m blessed to be here. And I fucking love my country, but god damn are we horrible innovators in any remotely creative realm in magic right now.

I just got off the phone with H.A., who quoted a business owner saying “We don’t hire magicians, they kind of just come here and do it for free.”

First of all: if you’re that magician (or just that performer in general), please just stop. Not because you’re ruining it for the rest of us, but because you’re ruining it for yourself. If you want practice, join a mutual interest group, do it for your friends. If you’re doing it out in the world, at someone else’s place of business (enhancing their environment), you should be getting paid, it’s that simple.

But, this brings us to mutual interest groups now, magic clubs, etc. Honestly, some magic clubs absolutely kill magic. I sometimes go to these gatherings and end up hating magic more coming away from it than I did going into it. It’s a marvel how creativity can die in a place where it’s supposed to be generated.

I asked magicians a while ago if they’d pay to be critiqued. Some of them said they get it for free whenever they perform. I’ve got news for you who think this: no one is critiquing you like you deserve to be critiqued. Other magicians critique you in a way that benefits them, and most audiences aren’t critiquing you unless you only perform for sociopaths. Here’s an example that might make it a bit more understandable: You ever hear a comedian make a shitty joke at a comedy mic? Yes, you definitely have. Have you gone up to every bad joke telling comedian and critiqued them on their jokes? No, you definitely haven’t.

I’m starting a focus group dinner session in LA. If you’re around, and give any shits about magic, you’re invited. Let’s Push the Vision together.

-- J.R.

Why Do Magicians Wear Suits?

First off, a big thank you to everyone who showed us wild things at Magic Live. We had a blast meeting all of you and hope to stay in touch.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Every magician who wears a suit while performing needs to think extremely carefully about why they do so. Suits are the default attire for magicians, regardless of the setting they perform in and regardless of the material they use. Why? The two obvious answers are a) suits are formal, and magicians think this lends their performance an air of, if nothing else, professionality, and b) because most magicians blindly follow the magicians of yester-year. To be frank, neither of these are particularly good reasons. If your performance presence, skill, and material don't prove you to be a professional then no suit ever will. As for the imitation, that just passes the buck, forcing us to ask why those old magicians wore suits, to which the answer is relatively straightforward: back then suits were pretty much normal everyday attire (well, for men men at least, we'll have to do another post later on female magicians' attire).

 Is he a mentalist making a prediction, a lawyer taking notes in an interview, a car salesman giving you his phone number in case you change your mind about that used BMW in the lot because their warranty really is the best and you can't beat the price and to be honest sir, you'd look excellent in a convertible?

Is he a mentalist making a prediction, a lawyer taking notes in an interview, a car salesman giving you his phone number in case you change your mind about that used BMW in the lot because their warranty really is the best and you can't beat the price and to be honest sir, you'd look excellent in a convertible?

To be clear, we do still think suits are acceptable for some (even many) magicians to wear, but they need to know why they are wearing it. Magicians are performers, and like any other performers they wear a costume. This costume should speak to their character, their story, the kinds of emotions they want to evoke, and the kind of material they perform. So when determining what to wear you need to know who you (or at least your character) is. Once you do, if it is obvious they would wear a suit, then excellent. If not, then determine what they would wear. If you perform in settings that require specific or conservative attire (corporate parties, etc), then think about how to make the character show through regardless. Dress as your performance persona, take a picture, and show it to people. How much can they tell about this character just from the photo? If the man in the picture could just as likely be a lawyer or a car salesman then chances are you have a problem.

-- H.A. and Z.Y.

Four Suits
Future Stars of Magic Week (Pt. 1) @ The Magic Castle

This week is “Future Stars of Magic” week at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. First of all, amazing branding. Can’t wait for the day I become a star myself. They guaranteed that as part of the performance agreement back when I was doing those shows. Second of all, holy crap. The talent that’s here this week is actually incredible. I say this with complete sincerity, but honestly every single performance I’ve seen this week has been at the level or beyond (mostly beyond) what I’d find at legitimate magic performances, performed by adults who have been doing it for years -- yet all these kids are under 21.

Highlighting a few specific instances of performances I myself enjoyed (keeping in mind I still need to see more this weekend) --

Rabby Yang

First off, can I just say that RABBY YANG has a fucking GOD TIER manipulation act (various objects changing and appearing at his fingertips)!!???!? Where the hell has this kid been all this time? First time I’ve heard of him, but you bet your ass I’m following his ascent into some ridiculously absurd magic championships in the future. He has one of the most elegant, refined, visually astonishing, and technically skilled stage acts I’ve seen. Congrats Rabby, you killed us all.

Anna DeGuzman

Anna DeGuzman is, notably, a friend of the site (read her blog post on cardistry here) so you may say we’re biased, but there’s a REASON why she’s a friend of the site in the first place (because all of us are awesome), her routine is polished, and her unique closer is a killer. Also, seeing middle-aged folks react to Anna’s cardistry was an extremely special moment. And I’ll say it now for all the magicians who shit on cardistry: PEOPLE FUCKING LOVE IT. When they saw Anna’s cardistry, it’s like they were watching magic happen right in front of them. The audience doesn’t see a difference. And because it’s so extremely visually compelling, it always gets genuine positive reactions. Now, can an entire act be based around “cardistry” without involving any “magic”? I’m not sure. As of now, with the current state of things, I don’t think that’s possible yet. However, is it kick ass as its own separate segment within a larger routine? Hell yes, and Anna owns it. Look out for more "Big Moves" from her in the future. 

Aaron O'Brien

Aaron O’Brien, you sly bastard. Somehow, Aaron managed to perform in all four showrooms before he was under 21, which means that he started doing this when he was a tween, reading YA novels and crying during Twilight. The time he’s put into magic, and especially, performance, really comes through in his set, and in his AP Chem Problem-Sets. Aaron is one of the two magicians this week working the “Parlour” magic stage (a medium-sized room between close-up and stage seating capacity, usually resulting in magic right between those two styles as well) and in my opinion, it’s the best room to work in the Castle, and the most difficult one as well, yet Aaron takes the challenge on with ease. There are usually more instances of the crowd getting out of hand in this setting than any other, and true to form, before the show began, one man ordered 20 shots for random audience members (thank you, Tequila Rob), and then literally half the audience took shots, thereafter Aaron began the show. His magic was solid, yes, but Aaron shines with his experience as a well-polished performer, simultaneously delighting the crowd and keeping the stray (read: drunk) audience members engaged and on board with sly humor and charming wit — He'll go far with these skills.

Everyone I saw was an exemplary performer for magic, and I’ll still see more, but these are some of the highlights so far for me. If you’re in LA, I highly recommend checking out this week’s lineup, or at least keeping track of some of these names. Congrats to all of you performing this week.

-- J.R.

 

The Extra Mile, the Last Mile, and the Only Mile

Recently, I’ve been working on a months-long research project of sorts. While I can’t go into a lot of detail, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s a lot of work, a long commitment, and definitely won’t yield anything concrete that would seem to justify the trouble. Recently I was catching up with a friend who I hadn’t seen in some time and mentioned it, and one of his first questions was “What made you want to do that?” Not in an accusatory way, or a dismissive one, but honestly wondering. And in that moment I realized I had never fully articulated even to myself the thinking behind it, so I wanted to lay it out here.

At first I thought it was that I wanted to go the Extra Mile. I wanted to really, deeply understand this topic in a way most magicians, and even most people who specialize in this area, don’t. But I realized it wasn’t that exactly. It wasn’t wanting to go beyond. It was that too often in magic I see people (myself included) with an idea, an interest, a method, a presentation, what have you, who don’t take it all the way. They get it to a workable place, they research it just enough to satisfy their curiosity, or practice it just enough to do it into a mirror, but never actually make it into what it could be. I realized I see that all the time and I didn’t want that to be me anymore. This research project was a way for me to prove to myself not that I would go the Extra Mile, but that I would go the Last Mile, and completely understand the topic, not just know enough to bluff my way through a conversation about it. Because that’s the thing about the Last mile: it’s the Only Mile. It doesn’t matter how far you have traveled or how far you have taken a project, if it never crosses that final threshold from “eh, it works,” to “yes, this is what this was meant to be,” then it still isn’t done. So this project is a promise, and a reminder, to myself not to settle for “it works,” and make sure that I always take things through to that Last Mile.

 — Z.Y.

Four Suits
Gifts & Sacrifice​​​​​​​: A Review of David Blaine Live

This is about my first time seeing David Blaine live.

I saw Blaine’s first live show in Arizona with J.R. We drove overnight and endured blistering heat and monsoon downpours to get to Fox Theatre in Tucson. And I have to say, it was definitely worth it.

To my bewilderment, that event was was the most emotional I’ve ever been in a magic show – ever. Not like that’s hard for me, I can get emotional about toast but still, this was different. 

If he didn’t already make sense to me on T.V. – he finally made so much more sense in person. Since that show, I haven’t seen him or magic the same way since. Here’s what prompted the thought.

I remember a friend of mine talking about being offended by the physical stunts he was pulling off in Real or Magic and his new special Beyond Magic.

From our conversation, what I gathered was: it seems selfish, to some people, to have the world watch a man put himself in impossible situations where he should’ve surely died or gotten hurt very badly. “How could he put people through that and call it magic?”, she asked in palpable distress waving here wine glass at the screen. “How could he put people, and himself, through so much pain. What is he trying to prove?”

I didn’t really know what to say to her, or how I could explain it in a way that doesn't sound nuts and so clearly biased. I new I got what he was doing in a deep unspoken sense, but I didn’t understand it well enough to explain it back to her. The only thing I could get out of me was that, “I don’t think it’s that simple”.

Fundamentally, I couldn’t deny that this is a common reaction to Blaine’s magic that can’t be ignored. People are captivated, yet also very polarized by his performances and I think his best answer to them was in his first tour.

It's clear when you first see his show that he, indeed, is inexplicably doing everything he is claiming to do. Which is the best and worst part for some people looking to debunk what his magic is about.

Is that magic though?

I don’t know that answer for everyone, but from what I did experience live: yes, wholeheartedly to me, it was.

“This is not a ‘Trick’”

What do you have to hold on to if you know it’s not a trick?

He demonstrated that magic doesn’t exist just in clever sleights but believing for a moment that something impossible – that everything in life has proven to you should not happen without severe consequence – is happening right in front of you. He shows you exactly how he’s doing it but not in a magician-y way, he’s showing the actual way he did it.

And it doesn’t always go right, some of it is very unscripted. People can tell the difference between things going as planned and improv and that’s the thing that makes it real. He shows it go wrong too, even slightly, even if it is embarrassing, to show you that it’s happening and he commits to it.

Being physically present to see this show without editing, you feel what he goes through, you see him adapt and improvise to make it work. You empathize.

It forces you to ask the question what does it mean to me if it is real?

In his own way, his sacrifice and commitment is his gift to show children, adults and any human that he will put himself through these tests of the human condition so his audience can experience something impossible and show you that magic can be in the reality that you embody.

He shows that the distinction between magic and reality doesn’t even matter in the first place.

It’s our choice to deny reality or magic that comes into our life, but when that needle is definitely coming through his arm and when you see him definitely put his plain self into a water tank and you try to hold your breath with him as long as you can... you feel the commitment, the work, the sacrifice all for this rare and beautiful moment you’re never going to see again – not quite like this.

It all hits you as you sit at the edge of your velvet seat, you want to scream,

“I believe in your sacrifice, I believe your art. The will of people is magic in itself. Please come out. Please.

I believe you.”

– H.A.

 

Magic Live 2018 (What To Do) + 1 Year Anniversary (Thank You!)

Dear Reader -

This just in y'all, did you know we recently passed our 1 year anniversary (last month)? It's been a crazy time here on the site and out in the world with the 4 Suits team. I'd just like to thank everyone for their support this year, online and irl, all my fellow teammates, and all the people who allow us to make this happen -- here's to more magic! 

We'll also be at Magic Live this upcoming year, and wearing some sort of obnoxious branding that will ID us. The Jerx has done some fun challenges to "code in" to being a reader of their site in the past, and if you'd like to say hello to us in a secret way... well... ah screw it just say you read the site and we'll be extremely giddy that it isn't just all our mothers logging in from various VPNs trying to make us feel better. 

Cheers y'all,

-- J.R.

People Stopped Looking

I was talking with a mentalist this week. 

How weird is it to be hired for the exact same gig yet both come with an entirely different set of props, skills, and presentations? 

This kind of is an addition to some of my previous thoughts on mindreaders. 

There’s something about the inherent trust and connection when it comes to the idea of mindreading, in direct opposition to the contrarian chase of the magician by an audience member. 

I had guests come to me talking about the person who’ll read their mind. When I work with many other magicians, the guests ask me about the other guy who’ll show them tricks. That’s an important difference. 

Whether it’s embraced or pushed against is completely up to you. 

— J.R. 

An Open Letter to a Friend & Magician No Longer Here

Now, I know that we get a lot of people that don’t know me (J.R.) in person. So it’s a bit strange for me to write what follows (a semi-private yet magic-related matter) on this public site, but I think there is some value in sharing it with the world, and keeping the private information private, and the public public. The magic magic.

 

Dear L.P. --

You left us all here just the other day. You went away, you moved. We won’t have any more conversations again, and I won’t bump into you at the Castle anymore. It all seems so surreal, because I just saw you the other day and everything was fine, but you moved on just a couple days later.

I met you when I first began performing magic, I distinctly remember the moment we first met outside of that fundraiser in NoHo. D.B. was there as well. I remember you performing the absurd fork routine and myself loving it so much that I asked you if I could perform the routine myself. Graciously, you said yes, and asked me to improve on it someway and share those improvements back with you and the magic community.

I kept track of your successes on various shows and at various venues across the states. I did my best to keep in touch. I still remember you jumping off your bike after riding out to see my very first full-length show in the Fringe that year. I still think about your support of a fellow magician, and your sincere interest in something beyond me personally, your sincere interest in magic itself.

Every time we talked, every time we engaged about magic, it was always about that, it was always about the thing of absolute importance -- it was not about us -- it was about the magic, the experience for everyone else. This performance trait is recognized through some of the words I’ve heard others speak recently in your absence, it was part of your character to me, and to many your fellow performers.   

I was looking forward to talking with you more as I settled back down in LA, and I’m genuinely sad that we won’t be able to continue our talks. But I’m extremely thankful for everything you’ve done already, and for your positive impacts on the world around you while you were here.

This is one of the first times I find myself in this situation, and I almost don’t know what to say.

The only thing I can think of, is that I hope you’re well wherever you are now.

I hope to talk to you again, someday.

With all my love, and magic, thank you for sharing yours with me, and with all of us,

-- J.R.

 

Jax Ridd
(Cr/D)uel Reality

Duel reality effects in magic are some of my favorite, and it was only upon recent reflection that I realized one of the first I learned (though certainly never performed, if that is even the right word) is one presented by R. Paul Wilson in "The Real Hustle."

As a quick aside, I think most magicians can learn more from this series than they can from the majority of magic books. Although it teaches basically no moves, it is filled with example after example of the psychology required to lure somebody into a moment of astonishment and surprise. Obviously in the show's context this surprise is bad, but the concepts can often be used in magic effects as well.

The particular effect I was reminded of was his BH Wallet Scam. You can watch the video (it's about 6 minutes) to see the basics, but the core concept is one of dual reality. The performer (or con man) sets up the audiences (the marks and the waiter) so that they will interpret his actions, and more importantly their own actions), in two completely different ways. Not only that, but it shows how far you can get with a very, very small duel reality. If Wilson can get an entire meal out of a single waive, imagine what you can get in a magic context.

--Z.Y.

Four Suits
Talk to Me

Yes, you, magician, comic, Person-on-stage-requiring-my-attention. I'm giving it to you – all of it. In fact, I may have payed good money, silenced my phone, tried my damnedest not to scroll through my social feed, dragged my friends out to do something different just to be here to see you, Person, in the spotlight.

We could have seen your act on youtube, instagram, netflix or broadcast television. But we came out here to see you, here. Talk to us somehow.

Once your start talking at me and not with me, you have lost us, both the volunteer, audience and yourself. We are now a crowd of bodies in a room watching patter dribble from your lips.

"Patter is Death." - Jay Sankey, BENDING THE REAL.

Magic happens when you are able to take unexpected moments from the audience and turn them into gifts. That only happens when you know your act well enough; your hard work actually speaks to us and you'll get a response. If patter is your crutch, it will keep you crippled and distant from the people who came to see you.

Let's say I took a risk to be a prop in your act and I volunteered myself, have the confidence to be human – take that risk with me. Ask me something, directly, honestly, I'm already here for you. Learn something about me in hopes we can learn something about you.


The only difference between a Performer and a person yelling into the void, is the ability to earn a crowd as their audience.


Artist performing to a crowd, talk to me. Tell me what you have to say.

 

— H.A. 

dear readerJax Ridd
Joel McHale on Magic | "Teller-izing"

So the other day I performed for this guy. If you don’t know him, Joel McHale is a comedian and actor, and somehow labelled with the “Observational Comedy” genre tag within the Comedy taxonomy on wikipedia.

True to the genre, he was very funny, very charming, and commented A LOT on what was happening around him. Now, you take that man and show him magic, and some funny things are bound to happen, such as what follows...

One moment that hit me right in the middle of the interaction is when I asked if he had a favorite number, to which his response was, “No, I’m not an idiot.” which was actually pretty damn accurate. And honestly, I’d been performing this particular routine (shoutout Robert Ramirez) for about a week at this point in time out in the world, and had this not been brought to my attention by Joel, I probably would’ve continued saying the same nonsensical phrase that I ran across while learning it.

No one has a favorite number.

Shit, while even some people may have a “lucky” number, it’s still all very silly to ask for either of those by name when in fact all you’re trying to show (as the magician) during this point of the magic effect is that different stuff can happen with different numbers, and it doesn’t have to be of the magician’s choosing. “What’s your favorite/lucky number?” is a completely arbitrary phrase that’s inserted in there, and by it’s nonsensical nature, it only has the chance to take people out of the effect, and disengage them from the situation.

To be a little more direct, I arrived at my currently used phrase -- probably to be updated in the future -- : “Go ahead and say any number besides Seven or Zero.” I’m coining this reduction/simplification of a piece of magic dialogue to be “Teller-izing” the effect, named after Teller’s own reasons of not including any verbal scripting within his effects. After hearing Teller talk about this idea a few times (yes, he talks outside of performance), I find his main argument to be like spreading out a deck of cards in front of someone while saying “Pick a card” is just redundant, because both the physical action and the verbal action are showing the exact same thing. Better to just spread the cards out and gesture, without saying a word. Or, leave the cards on the table, hand them to the participant, and ask them to pick a card themselves. But in both of those situations, there’s no redundancy, and there’s no silliness.

-- J.R.

 

Where Are We Going?

I think of magic as moving in three directions, and they all include the dissolution of “traditional” magic. I see this dissolution as a good thing because to me the idea of performing a "magic show" always seemed kind of silly, as "magic" is not a strong enough through-line to constitute a full show or artistic work. When you see a piece of theater there is an overarching plot. When you see an art exhibit there is a unifying idea. But a lot of magic shows are basically just "I have a series of impossible things that I want to show you," and that is not in and of itself enough of a through-line to hold a show together.

Basically, magic is a tool. It allows us to bend and change and shake and play with other people's realities in all sorts of interesting ways. Doing a show whose through-line is just "magic" is like saying "I'm going to shake up your reality just because I can." It can be fun, but it lacks (literally) a purpose. On top of that, things seen inside a theater and formal performance often lack a resonance with people's realities outside of that theater, so the shake-up isn't that deep or long lasting.

Instead, magic must be put in service to other ideas. Instead of saying “this is a magic show," I want to see an art exhibit that uses elements of magic philosophy and method to heighten the experience and make its impact on the viewer's reality more potent. I want a theater piece that uses magic methods to accentuate the fact that a character is supposed to feel surreal or unconnected to our common rules of life. Maybe the best way to represent that is that they literally float off the stage, and if so magic-as-a-tool is ready to step in and provide that extra layer of experience. Now instead of a levitation just being a “wow how is he doing that” moment, it is in service to the creation of a character. This blending of magic into other artistic form is the first direction I see magic as going. We have already seen examples of this with things like Teller's production of The Tempest, and with magic's long relationship with film special effects.

HERE FAITH SEEMS TO NOT ONLY HAPPILY COEXIST WITH SKEPTICISM, BUT DEMANDS IT, HENCE THE INTERMINABLE, MYSTERIOUS, AND COMPLEX MOVEMENT BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN REVELATION AND CONCEALMENT. COULD IT FOLLOW, THEREFORE, THAT MAGIC IS EFFICACIOUS NOT DESPITE THE TRICK BUT ON ACCOUNT OF ITS EXPOSURE?
— MICHAEL TAUSSIG

The second direction that I see is a move towards is a more authentically social experience of magic. By this I do not mean social media. We have all had the experience of hanging out with some friends, maybe in a park or at somebody's garage or backyard, and someone has a guitar or other instrument with them. They never stand up and say "I will now perform for you. This is my rendition of Free Bird." Instead, as the conversation passes, they start strumming a few chords, maybe they hum a little. Somebody notices and maybe they hum along. Maybe someone else recognizes the song and says that they enjoy it or sings one of the lyrics, and before you know it everyone is sort of taking part in the music; it's not just that the person with the guitar is performing it's that everyone is experiencing music, and experiencing musicality, together. That's what I'm talking about. That represents to me a much stronger way of experiencing magic in a casual setting. As opposed to standing up and saying "I will now present Houdini's coin miracle" (or more likely “Hey, pick a card…”), you casually sit and flip a quarter as you chat with your friends. Eventually, during a lull in the conversation you flip it high and call heads, and when it lands you're right. You flip it high again and point to your friend. They call tails. When it lands they too are correct, and so on until the experience has unfolded. Instead of presenting this as a performance, it's an organic outgrowth of the social interaction. This allows the participant to be more authentically invested since they never get the feeling or have the understanding that they're being "tricked", but instead that they're taking part in a fun strange moment. Additionally, like with the music, they aren’t just watching, they are taking part, not as a spectator, but as a participant. This is more possible now than ever given the greater number of people who practice magic and the greater availability of magic material.

The last direction I see magic moving is to fill something of a social void. This is going to take some explaining, so bear with me. People think of spiritualism as having died in the 1930s or 40s with World War II, the growth of science, and the postwar boom, maybe with a minor resurgence in the New Age movement. But I think they fail to understand the extent to which some level of unsatisfied belief still exists in the American population. This connects with a general decline in the religiosity of the American population and an increase in the percentage of people who identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Basically what we have is a growing body of people who believe, but don't know what to believe. Currently the people filling that void are either the remains of established religion, with all its attendant flaws, or charlatans and con artists who are willing to use that belief to make a quick buck and not because they actually have any authentic interest or understanding of it. I think magic is uniquely positioned to step into that space. A lot of magicians I know will have resistance to this because they see magic as long having filled the role of debunking false mediums and hucksters. While that's certainly true, and should continue to be true, in the modern world, or more realistically the postmodern world, magic can step into a new role where it provides more meaningful spiritual experiences that are open about their artifice. Basically, you can be honest about the fact that there is artifice involved without devaluing the experience and the meaning that it gives, not just in an entertainment setting, but in a spiritual one as well. This is fundamentally a post-modern view, and must be handled extremely carefully to ensure that it does not inspire or support belief in untrue things, while still providing meaning, but I think that this is possible. The connection between magic and spirituality is old and strong, from tribal shaman using sleight of hand in healing ceremonies to mediums using billet work to contact the dead. The difference is that one allows a nuanced understanding of the fact that artifice is involved while the other decries those who claim their powers are anything less than 100% genuine.* Magic can help create a new, more honest avenue to reality-altering spiritual experiences.

These three directions, the application of magic to other art forms, the more authentic  social experience of magic, and the use of magic to provide honest spiritual experiences, all point to the fact that, at its root, magic is about bending and shaping people's realities, and that for a long time magic has been directly applied with that as its only goal. Now it is more fully coming into the understanding that magic can be put into service of larger goals than just entertainment, such as art and spirituality.

-Z.Y.

*For more on this idea, read Michael Taussig’s essay “Faith, Viscerality, and Skepticism: another theory of magic,” which is an excellent entry into the body of anthropological work on magic, both historical and spiritual, in history.

Four Suits