Loop of Impossibility
Recently the Four Suits team was discussing why certain magic shows don’t have more strong magic, both intentionally and unintentionally, and I thought I’d share the results of one branch of that conversation.
Strong magic doesn’t need to make you feel uncomfortable, but it does almost always separate you from yourself for a moment. This can mean you’re speechless, stammering, unsure of what you saw, or simply unable to remove your brain from a loop of impossibility. Seeing strong magic creates a certain tension in the audience. It presents them with a challenge: how are you going to live with this contradiction? For that strong magic to be truly experienced or felt, it needs to pass from simple impossibility and resolve into an emotion. This releases the tension and helps them relate to that moment, helps them place it in their mental system, even without explaining it. Now this emotion can be more somber if it is a dramatic or serious show, it can be awe at human skill if the magic is of a feat (sword swallowing, fire eating, even some gambling demos and mentalist memorization feats), but most commonly it’s laughter.
Make them gasp, but then make them laugh.
For a long time I wanted to let people sit in this place of impossibility, to give them no way out. There are other magicians who have theorized similarly, but as the magic you perform gets larger, the experiences of it get more intense, and the distance between performer and audience grows, the more I think that’s untenable. Leaving the audience with that much tension, with that much unsureness becomes uncomfortable, and even more than that, it prevents them from knowing how to relate to you as a performer. If you want your show to be not only devastatingly unexplainable but also memorably enjoyable then you need to give them that emotional release, that catharsis, that helps them resolve that tension.
PS: Happy birthday, you ;)