In my (all of our) never ending search to decide how best to present magic, I recently stumbled back across a video I saw quite some time ago. It was of Christian Cagigal performing at the Magic Caste. When I first saw this video I was relatively new to magic, but I knew there was something there that I liked, something that hooked me and wouldn’t let go. At the time I didn’t know what it was, but now I think I have an inkling.
What this video is to me, is an incredible example of Old Fashioned Storytelling. This is how tales, fables, and myths were told, in little rooms in the dead of winter when the days were short and there was nothing to do but tell stories. They are simple and easy to understand, but also universal and involve larger themes. (This is not to say they are profound, exactly, just that they deal with existing, powerful symbols.) He cleaves fast to the Rule of Three and his strict structure (always closing the music box on the same refrain), literally takes most of his props out of a book and titles them like chapters, and everything he touches looks old, tattered, and dear. Because of this I love it. I grew up listening to Old Stories, and being told about their power and how important they were, and I still firmly believe this.
But none of this really addresses his magic, which is, after all, why we are here. Since his style of storytelling pulls you into that fairytale mindset and leads you through each beat so clearly, the magic hits you in a different way. In a world where fine nobles ride into your town in carriages and mysterious strangers offer you unimaginable wagers, of course wishes come true and cards transform. Now let me be clear: this is not a bad thing. This magic highlights the stories in enjoyable and fun ways and adds a depth of field to an otherwise two-dimensional fantasy. This is highlighted in perhaps the only awkward moment of the show, during the Gambler and the Stranger where he asks an audience member where to put the coin. This is the only overtly ‘magician-y’ thing he does, and it shows. The audience is suddenly left without the flow of the story to guide them, and is torn between trusting the storyteller and distrusting the magician.
So in that sense I think I love his storytelling, and inasmuch as his magic serves that end I love it too. That said, I don’t think that show contains any “magical moments”. It certainly has moments of surprise, but they are all in service to, or acting as a satisfying conclusion to, the story, which is great, just different. Because of this, I’d say his Search for Truth (warp card) is the weakest segment. Despite containing what might classically be the “strongest” magic (it is straightforward, visual, and quick), it has the weakest story, and the story seems more like a prop to justify the magic, as opposed to vice versa (magic used to illustrate the story). (Also, incidentally, this is the only portion done with normal playing cards, yes because he destroys them, but the fact remains. This is also why some of Christian’s other work, with a less intense storyline, falls a little flatter for me.)
In sum, I’d say Christian reminds us all that sometimes magic can simply be the beautiful accents that deepen an enjoyable story, and can still be fun and surprising without being the center of attention.
(To see how an approach like this can re-center the magic without losing the story aspect, look at the Jerx’s Romantic Adventure style or the seance style of magic. Both tend to be about taking a story we all - to some extent - already know, and then poking around that story until something from the story pokes back, usually in an impossible and surprising way.)