“You need to quit magic.” Those aren’t words you want to hear from your booker but there I was.
I was on the phone with a professional who once produced David Copperfield. Since the settling of the pandemic, I’ve been looking to get back to work in front of more live audiences and finding a new agent seemed to be the route to take.
But “quit magic?” Why!? He hadn’t even seen a video of my act yet!
I clung to his every word to see why he was so pessimistic about magic. He explained to me that he’s seen the same magic repeatedly. One copycat after another claiming to be a creative performer when these acts are merely just another batch of chef salad with the “dressing of the day” atop.
He wasn’t talking about tricks, either. It’s all the other key elements to magic that are making bookers roll their eyes. So many acts dress, talk and act the same. While one could argue that “if it’s new to the audience then it’s new altogether” but thanks to the appetite of today’s entertainment-driven culture; audiences know when they are getting something fresh versus when they are being fed chef salad. Yes, there’s a time and place for doing classic material but we shouldn’t use that material as a crutch.
Chasing down originality can feel like chasing a ghost. You feel like its near but can’t quite put your finger on it. But here is one special cheat that you can use to catch that ghost: be RELEVANT. My booker friend went on to say that when Copperfield broke into pop culture, he transformed magic by changing the way he talked and dressed. They became relevant. The same can be said for Copperfield’s latest Vegas show or Justin Willman’s Magic for Humans.
he incestuous patterns we see in magic are a byproduct of uncultured magicians. We obsess over magic, buy more magic, and run in the same social circles with other magicians. While these can all be good things, shouldn’t we be getting our inspiration from OUTSIDE the world of magic? One of the most toxic poisons for the development of magic is to spend too much time around magic culture. My wife is a successful visual artist. She doesn’t paint to show off her brushes or canvas but to communicate a message of how she feels or an observation about nature or culture. She connects to the audience through her medium of painting. It’s never “just a pretty picture.”
Likewise, in magic it should never be “just a cool trick.” We should never push a cigarette through a coin just because we can. Too often does our work become about the trick instead of about the audience. And while killer effects are good things to show to our audiences, without ample presentation the only message the audience will be left with is “how did they do that?”
That’s not good enough. It is foolish to assume that an audience will respond well to our magic just because a trick is strong.
The mission of the magician is to use the medium of amazing magic to communicate a message to the audience; one other than “Watch this cool trick.” Let’s choose messages that are relevant to our audiences today. Ask these questions in order to find inspiration for relevance:
What’s in the news? What matters to my audience? What is on my mind (besides magic) that I would like to portray to my audience?
When I experience quality art (including magic or other artforms) I walk away asking questions. I’m not so concerned with how the artist created what they made but how their work made me feel. As magicians we should have the same goal. Audiences should be left feeling astounded but more interested in how we made them think and feel.
Remember, when audiences see us do magic, they get to live vicariously through us as we do the things they can only dream of doing. Pair that power with a culturally relevant message and you have a formula for an original act.
You don’t need to chase down the ghost of originality. It will come to you if you seek to be relevant. But if you can’t make your magic relatable, perhaps it is time for you to take the advice of one bitter Nevada booker and trade magic for stamp collecting.
Share your thoughts! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org