Why does magic seem to attract poor performers?

Conjurer's Coffee Break - Episode 025


- Hello fellow magicians and curious souls. Welcome to another episode of the conjurer's coffee break podcast.

- Today we're diving into a potentially controversial topic. Why does magic seem to attract poor performers? And what can we do about it?

- OK, Before we get things going, let me clarify something really important. I am not suggesting that all magicians are bad performers. Far from it. We have a world full of skilled professionals.

- There are many fellow skilled professional magicians who are pushing the boundaries of our art form and regularly astound us, and the general public with their performances.

- However there are to me, what seems to be a high number of what we might call mediocre performers, and to be super clear I'm not talking about beginnings here I've mentioned several times that it's right that people learning magic start performing as soon as possible. Of course that's not going to be great to begin with, but magicians seem to stop learning. They seem to settle for what works. Rather than trying to improve further. Of course, other art forms have their poor performance too. But it seems disproportionate to me. As ever, maybe you disagree with me. And you can let me know in the comments section of the blog post that accompanies this podcast. For now though. I'll talk through a few contributing factors that I've noticed.

- Firstly, doing magic well takes years of practice, study, and performance. This is something that we all know. It does have a very low barrier of entry to get started, and to start getting some success. Some simple close-up or cabaret magic tricks can be learned with a few household or cheap to buy props, a book, and a YouTube video. Let's say you start with a trick, and within ten minutes, you can be performing a miracle. Compare that with something like music, where the first time you start playing an instrument, you can immediately see that you're not very good. It's obvious to you that it's going to take more practice up front before you can start performing that violin concerto or that flute recital.

- A related point is that music, drama, and even circus have established schools and training courses. It's possible to study a three-year university degree in each of those. Magic, though, is mostly self-taught. That seems to encourage people to overestimate their own ability, and often, we think we're better than we are. I think that's because magic can be a mask for poor performance skills. Unlike other performing arts such as singing or dancing, the performer can hide behind the mystery and intrigue of the trick. People say, "Wow, how did you do that?" or "I didn't see anything," and the person thinks they're a great magician. So they stop trying to improve. They think, "I've cracked it. I am so good at this already." I don't want that for the listeners of this podcast. Remember, there is always something that you can improve on.

- As I've mentioned, one way to do that is to collaborate with other magicians rather than what is often the case, which is a magician learning solely by themselves. Lastly, and this is point four or five, but they all seem to have run into each other, there is often a lack of critical feedback in magic. Family members, friends, or even audience members can be so intent on the trick itself that they often overlook any shortcomings in the performance. The focus is often on "how you did it," rather than "how well you did it." This is something I'm often bringing up to my magic students and mentees: "Yes, you did the trick, and it worked, but what about the presentation? Was the bit where you were dealing out the cards boring? And how could we make that part of the process more interesting?"

- Or I might say something like, "Do you think people really believe you have an invisible dice? And if not, are you going to reference that this is a little bit silly or are you just gonna give them a real dice? Or could you simply ask them to think of a number between one and six? That speeds things up, and then you can get on to the next part of the routine." There are lots of factors that combine to make this environment where poor performance is prevalent, or at least goes unnoticed, but let's try to talk about some of the solutions: what can we do to prevent it?

- First off, we can raise the bar. If you're a practicing magician and you're listening to this, you should strive to elevate your craft. Don't settle for "good enough" or "what works." I really hate it when magicians say, "I just do what works." It's not about what works but what is the most magical, the most entertaining. Even if that means putting in more effort to learn the harder move or do a trick that takes longer to set up.

- And how many magicians have taken acting classes or practiced public speaking? I'm learning a second language so that I can connect with people better at my shows. We're going to talk more about that in the future. But just know that magic is not just about the trick. It's also about the performance. Secondly, we could foster a culture of constructive feedback within the magic community. Remember, constructive feedback is a gift. We should all be ready to give and eager to receive. We're all on this journey together, seeking to improve and enhance our craft.

- But too many times we see a magician's performance, and when they ask, "What do you think about that?" We say, "Yeah, it was great," because we don't want to offend them. But maybe we should feel comfortable critiquing each other's work, and maybe as magicians, we should be receptive to feedback. In short, don't take offense. I know that in my case, I've often had feedback from magicians and I've thought, "I'm not sure if I agree with that." But later, thinking about it and reflecting upon it, I've realized, "Actually, they were right," and it has caused a change in my performance.

- One thing that you can do today or this week, as your thinking homework, is to try and come up with how you might give honest feedback to somebody without offending them. Here's a place to begin: I like to balance my feedback by saying, "This worked really well, but if you're doing this trick again, you might want to consider..." So I give them a positive, and then something more constructive. Another thing that I do if I don't know the person very well, I just ask them something like, "Would you mind if I tell you something I noticed about your performance? I hope it's going to be constructive for you."

- If they say no, well, they said no, and that person is closed to improving. You can't really do much about that. Hopefully, because they listen to this podcast, they'd say yes and be happy to take on some feedback that can help them to improve. And lastly, and this is the big one that one person can't really do alone, but we should encourage more formal education in magic. I would love to see a magic university degree. I think that might be something that has happened before, I don't know, maybe you will let me know in the comments, but I'd like to see some more formal training, magic schools, magic universities.

- And in the more informal education, the workshops, the camps that some of you might be putting on for schools, for young people, or even for adults, we should emphasize performance skills alongside the trick mechanics. By doing so, we can make sure that the next generation of magicians are not only masters at fooling people, but also fantastic performers. I really hope today's topic has been interesting to you and given you something to think about. You know the saying, and the one that kicked this off, is saying that I both love for its accuracy and hate for its accuracy, "If you can't sing, dance, or act, do magic."

- For the reasons I've mentioned, magic seems to create a lot of lazy performers. But let's challenge ourselves to elevate our magic away from a party trick and more towards an art. Whether you're a magic professional, an enthusiast, or even just a casual observer, we all play a part in shaping the magic world and ensuring it's a place where skill, creativity, and artistry are celebrated.

Additional Show Notes

- If you are interested in elevating your magic to a higher level then please check out my page just for magicians at https://edsumner.com/magicians and reach out to me about one to one mentoring sessions. I would love to help you to improve your magic for you and your audiences.

- A related blogpost that might be of interest to you is:

5 Real Life Magic Schools You Won't Believe Existed

Related podcasts

- Episode 008 - Tools for Improving your Magic, part 1
- Episode 009 - Tools for Improving your Magic, part 2
- Writing your own material [episode to come]

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