Effortless vs. Invisible
In continuing to think about the idea of mastery of ones skills, getting flight time and otherwise general improvement of my own talents I am once again comparing the problems of magicians versus other performers.
When we see someone engage in some skill, not just rehearsing or practicing it but actually engaging in it, we almost always can tell just how good they are by how easy they make it look. While this measure is certainly applicable to non-artistic or non-performance skill sets, it is the performance skill sets I am going to focus on and you can extrapolate from there.
Someone who is a dancer for example when dancing something particularly sophisticated is engaging all their skills. We, as spectators can watch them and see the effort. But when we see little or no effort and yet see the dance being executed flawlessly we immediately say “they make that look so effortless.”
Cirque de’Soliel is one of my all-time favorite examples of this. Absolutely no one can deny that the things that they do in Cirque require vast amounts of training, practice, strength, grace, skill and all around awesomeness. But just to make you that much more jealous they also make it look absolutely effortless. Clearly the mark of mastery.
Let us not make the mistake, however, that any of this is effortless at all. Quite the contrary. The lion’s share of the effort is actually in the training and the rehearsal, in the countless hours of practice. Most definitely there is effort in the performance because all performances require effort and concentration.
Mastery does not and cannot mean that the performance is ‘effortless.’ Otherwise we wouldn’t need the ‘flight time’ I wrote of before. I could get everything I needed out of practice and rehearsal without subjecting myself to the stress of performance until I was so good that there would be no stress of performance. Such a state of affairs simply doesn’t exist, though I do think that many so called performers who never really perform have precisely that thought in mind.
And to be fair it is an easy trap to fall in to which I think I’m really trying to pull myself out of these days. Even after realizing this it’s still not easy to push oneself out of the trap.
Which brings me to the idea of “effortless vs invisible.”
For magicians we have a special limitation on our skills. Not only do we have to be good enough at what we do that we can execute those skills effortlessly, but we must also be so good at those skills that we can execute them invisibly as well. Certainly it is true that other artists and performers should be doing what they do that aspects of their art are also invisible in nature, but for the magician the whole of our art is in the invisible.
Imagine then the time and effort spent on mastering a skill only to have to then conceal that skill in order to use it effectively. There are things, techniques, effects, tools and all manner of execution steps that magicians use which, if they fail to make them invisible, will spoil the art they are creating. And at least from an entertainment and artistic perspective there is almost nothing more disappointing than an amazingly cool magic effect being ruined because you can see “the man behind the curtain” as it were.
Now, before this starts to sound like either a whine that my art is hard or a brag that my art is hard, let me just point out that this extra level of training and practice is literally built into every step of the training and practice process. I learn the skills of invisibility as an integrated part of whatever it is I am working on. It does make things a level more difficult at times, but it’s part and parcel of the whole process too, so it comes with the territory and isn’t nearly so horrible a task as you might think.
The interesting thing is that there are all of these ‘moves’ and ‘techniques’ that I would love to show someone because they are cool and subtle and awesome in their own way but I just can’t. Occasionally magicians have caught themselves revealing those things in the midst of a performance to those who are sharp eyed enough to see it! The payoff though, is that if I keep those things invisible they allow me to do even more amazingly cool things.
So, in the end, invisible it must be. No matter how cool a “Double Axle Lubin Gearing Pass” might actually be.
Oh, and by the way, last 12th Night I did manage to get a decent amount of ‘flight time’ in with my magic. I performed for random people through the day as well as performing for a groups while the Golden Stag Players were setting up the show they were doing. It felt good to be getting the time in but I noticed how rusty I really am.
I still made it look effortless and kept it invisible!