Monthly Archives: May 2018

Magic Club vs Performers Collective

The other day I was having an interesting conversation.  It’s one that has come up on occasion in different forms, but in this instance something specific set me off.  I’ll share that in a moment.

The nature of the conversation is whether or not Magic Clubs are good for magic?  For the most part I’m not sure that they are. Most people who belong to a magic club would argue otherwise, and I’m not suggesting that they can’t be good for magic.  Rather what I am saying is that my experience of Magic Clubs would tend to suggest that they aren’t. So this is an exploration of that idea and of course any discussion is appreciated.

First, there are good things to be had in a magic club.  Community right at the top of the list. Magicians are, by nature, a secretive lot.  Our art relies on maintaining a certain amount of secrecy. Unfortunately, as my teacher Eugene Burger once observed, after politicians, magicians are some of the worst secret keepers out there.

From my perspective you can tell the relative age of a magician (ie how long he or she has been studying magic, not necessarily their chronological age) by how easy it is to get them to tell you how they did something.  The newer they are, the easier it is. That’s because secrets are cool and new magicians are so easily impressed by the secrets that they tend to think you will be too and so they share it thinking that you’ll be impressed with them for having such knowledge.

Rarely does that work out well.

But having a magic club community means that secrets are kept in relative safety as it provides the environment where these “younger” magicians can share their secrets with someone who will be impressed and will still stand a chance, at least, of not letting the secret out.

Which brings me to another benefit; education.  Learning magic from available resources is time consuming and difficult if done in isolation.  Going to a club means that there is a better chance someone there will know the thing you want to know and will be able to teach it to you.

For my part, the reason I find that I am not so enamored of magic clubs is that far to frequently the things that I want to discuss, or that I find important, are of little interest to the average magic club ecosystem.  Usually I want to discuss things like character building, stories, and theatrical considerations applied to every possible arena of magic performance. To my mind these are the tools one uses to build such a compelling presentation that you never have to deal with all the problems associated with hecklers or audience members who feel challenged to try and figure out the trick.

My experience of the magic club ecosystem is that all anyone wants to know is how to do the latest finger tangling card and coin gymnastics, or the quest for the latest, greatest, holy grail that these club members seem to think will make them the next David Copperfield or Jeff McBride.  Rarely are they concerned with all the rest of everything that David and Jeff did to become the magic superstars that they are.

If I may, I’m going to share a brief story about the day I decided to stop attending my local magic club.  Maybe it will illustrate the point.

I had been brainstorming an idea for a theatrical presentation that was literally built to generate a gasp from the audience.  It was a kind of “haunted” magic effect that involved what many horror movies call a “jump scare”. The effect involved everyone sitting around a table with their hands on it and all focusing their eyes on a small object in the center of the table.  Instructed to blow at the object I would wait until they were almost out of breath and then do the secret action that would cause the object to jump suddenly. The combination of sudden movement with everyone nearly out of breath would automatically cause the “gasp” as everyone inhaled.

I was very proud of this effect.  I handmade the prop so that no one would even have an idea where it came from and, despite being very scared about performing this thing, brought it with me to the magic club and volunteered to perform.

One of the older members, a man in his late 70’s at the time, and someone who had been doing magic for decades deliberately went out of his way to foul up the effect by getting his free hand in the way of my hidden method.  This nearly caused the physical effect to fail, and it did completely derail the mood I was setting.

Now, why did he do this?  You might be tempted to argue that he was showing me a flaw in my presentation.  After all, for something that was basically a “haunted” or “seance” effect it would have made sense for me to have everyone sitting around the table hold hands.  Common for such a setting.

But that wasn’t why he did it.  I know because afterwards I was very angry and I asked him what he thought he was doing.

His answer?  He thought he was being funny, and besides he doesn’t like those creepy “haunted” magic effects anyway.

I did try to stick around for a while longer with that club, working to change things so that people would understand that the club space should be a safe one for people to try out new material.  But truthfully I knew I was wasting my time. These weren’t my people.

Now, this was just one example in a long line of examples of many different people at several different magic clubs who all felt that “being funny” and being disruptive during someone else’s performance was perfectly acceptable.  And much of this is “justified” with arguments like “they have to learn to deal with difficult audiences, I’m just helping.”

Bullshit.

Yeah, we have to learn to be able to deal with difficult audiences, but I would argue that a more important thing to learn first is how to perform that damn trick in the first place.  In my experience it is much easier to learn to do anything when you are working with people in a supportive atmosphere than if you are working in a combative one.

Magic clubs seem to foster this competitiveness.  People seem to think that simply because they are magicians they shouldn’t be fooled and being fooled, even in a club setting, is a challenge to their…. I don’t know….. “Superiority”?  “Masculinity”? Their overall skill and knowledge as a magician?

And if all of your experiences come from clubs like this, what kind of a magician are you going to be in the long run?

You might be tempted to say “Not my Magic Club!”

You might be right.  But let me throw another recent example to you for consideration.

In one of the seemingly limitless magic forums that has proliferated online someone asked the following question:  “Where can I perform for a small group of people? I’m scared to perform.”

Half the answers were “you can perform at your local magic club” to which the response was “never perform at a local magic club, those people are mean.”  The cries of “not my magic club” proceed from there.

I could break down the details of the messages but I think it’s clear that isn’t necessary. The very existence of the conversation is sufficient to the point.

So, where does that leave us?

Well, there are groups and clubs that aren’t like this.  They do exist. But you have to spend some time looking for them.  And sometimes they aren’t close to you. So what do you do?

The obvious answer would be to form your own club, and this is a good answer.  Or you might be able to create a separate group within your existing club by ferreting out the other members who are looking for the same kinds of things as you.  In either case the point is to find like minded individuals and work with them more closely and even in a separate space.

Another thing you can do is to form your own “test audience”.  This would be people who aren’t necessarily other magicians, but rather lay people who understand what you are going for.  A small handful of people, maybe family members, but I think ideally also people who are outside your family who don’t see you rehearsing all the time.  Thus giving you fresher eyes.

These ideas are good ones and should work extremely well, however I would like to offer up one more variation on this theme that you might not have considered.

I call this “the performers collective.”

So what do I mean?  Well, I want you to stop thinking “magician” and start thinking “performer” or “entertainer”.  There are connections to be made in the world that could be of much greater value to you.

Let me give you my personal example and I think you’ll start to see what I mean.  I spend a lot of time in the company of other very talented entertainers. An acting troupe who specializes in Commedia dell’Arte.  I am friends with a variety of singers and musicians. I know a couple of balloon twisters, some jugglers, a DJ, and so on.

Over the past couple of years I have become good friends with one of the singers/musicians who has a band and has been traveling the world performing her music.  She is actively engaged in her art as her career, and pursuing multiple avenues to create a unique entertainment space in our local area.

She and I have begun to work together more closely and to bring with us a couple of other entertainers, and as a result of this we are beginning to create a “performers collective” where we can work together, show each other what we are doing, and get feedback in an environment consisting of people who understand the needs of entertaining an audience, and can provide useful input no matter what the form of entertainment is.

Not only that, but because their art is different from my art, we have perspectives to offer each other that we might not see for ourselves.

You see where I am going with this?

We magicians have blind spots.  We try so hard to be writer, director, prop master, technician, and star, but the truth is we can’t really do all of those things all of the time.  There comes a point where we’re going to miss something. Having other performers around means we have access to the thought processes of other experienced individuals.

For all of our blind spots, we do have a very unique view that other performers can benefit from as well.

Not only that but other types of entertainers have connections that you may never have thought of.  Depending on who they are and what they do you might benefit from introductions to new venues, new resources, and potentially new clients for your art.

Other types of entertainers won’t be threatened by you because you are doing something entirely different from what they are doing.  Depending again on who they are and what they do you may find that you are working with people who are doing things that compliment what you do.  You could find yourself forming a good working relationship that could lead to some great gigs for both of you.

So what are we really talking about here?  Networking. Yup, that whole big deal in the world of business could be exactly the tool you need to find a whole new world outside of the realm of magic clubs.

How do you network with entertainers?

I think it’s a little different than you might find networking with business and technical people.  For starters, entertainers are a much more eclectic group of people and going to the local networking events probably isn’t on their agenda.

But there are other ways to reach out to this community.  For starters just look to the internet. Search for local entertainment spots.  Search for local entertainer “meet-ups”. And go to them! Take a stack of business cards, a small notebook and pen, and go to these places and try to talk to the entertainers you meet.  Exchange contact info. Get cards, give cards. Mostly get cards and contact info.

Take notes!  What do they do?  Where do they usually perform?  What kinds of things do they find they have to deal with?  Ask how to book them. Ask what their average fees are. Ask what they are interested in doing next.  Then, once you’re back home, you can sort everything and figure out who among these people you feel comfortable talking to further.

If one already exists, go to the “Meet Up” that most closely achieves your goals.  If it doesn’t exist, create your own “Meet-Up” and invite those people.

The point is simply this; don’t wait to stumble into a new community of entertainers.  Actively find it or create it. It could be other magicians, but I honestly believe that there are greater benefits in getting hooked into, or creating, a “performers collective” where you and your new friends can share ideas, information, and resources that can benefit all of you.

Are all magic clubs bad?  No, of course not. But you need to ask yourself a very important question —

Am I getting what I want and need from my magic club?

After that, it’s all up to you!

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