What I Saw At The Magic Show

September 16, 2009

My wife and I attended a Magic show at a local venue last night, and overall found it an enjoyable reason to get out of the house for a couple of hours. Although most of the crowd (of 60 or so) were Magicians, there were a number of laypeople in the audience as well. I wasn’t really there to be entertained, but to observe, to learn, and to critique; what follows are my views of the show (along with a few comments by my wife).

The show featured an MC who both acted as host for three local Magicians and performed himself. I’ve previously seen the MC’s act, and did not stay to watch it again last night. However, he started the show with what is apparently a signature effect, which — along with his MC work — I will address.

First, the MC work: Generally workmanlike, but there were a few missteps, particularly technical glitches that occurred last month and should have been anticipated and avoided. Sound checks should not be done while a performer is on stage, mike locations should be known by everyone involved, and props — even on a small stage — shouldn’t be placed in the way. It was a small room with a crowded stage, but these deficiencies were known in advance. In my view, they were not well accommodated.
(True, this is partially the venue owner’s doing — his motivation is selling food & drinks, and thus crowds as many customers into the venue as possible, without any real regard for the performers’ logistical concerns.) Mistaken music cues were a constant problem, and the MC should have verified the pronunciation of the performers’ names prior to introducing them.

After a brief warm-up, the MC presented a “Book Test” effect. It was a mixed performance, in which a volunteer is brought up on stage, selects a word from a book, and that word was divined by the MC. In fact, the page of the book from which the word was selected actually vanished, to reappear (along with the chosen word) in an envelope held by the volunteer the entire time.

Unfortunately, this Magical divination was accomplished with 1) an invisible ‘friend,’ who became the hook for numerous hokey ‘jokes’ that detracted from the effect, and 2) a preposterous hat, worn by the volunteer, supposedly to isolate the envelope from trickiness by the MC, but which actually served no other purpose than to make the volunteer the butt of bad jokes.

That’s right — what could have been an entirely mystifying and enjoyable presentation was marred by bad humour. Very. Bad. Humour. The volunteer, a man, played along and was a good sport, but he was clearly not enjoying his role being the MC’s foil for bad jokes. This man was mildly humiliated in front of his own family, and it’s little wonder that when the TIP bucket was passed, this man emphatically shook his head and declined to tip. I wonder whether he’ll go to another Magic show, and if he does, you can bet he won’t volunteer.

Worse, the bad jokes and mild humiliation were accompanied by an “invisible friend” the MC claimed was present, assisting him in divining the selected word. More bad jokes about the “invisible friend” and her interaction with the MC and his victim. The “invisible friend” added nothing to the performance, in fact detracting from an otherwise interesting performance piece.

Next up was a young man who presented a mix of mentalism and carnival sideshow effects. The mechanics were solid, and the guy obviously knew his moves. He was able to correctly predict a word selected from a section of that day’s Los Angeles Times, in a way that was both engaging and mystifying. It seemed like some people in the audience might have wondered, “Is this guy for real?” I know I flinched and had to look away as he walked on broken glass (yes, REAL broken glass), and I heard gasps when he pulled a string of threaded needles out of his mouth just moments after swallowing several needles and thread.

On the down side, WHAT WAS THIS GUY THINKING? There were kids in the audience, little ones just learning to talk to 8- or 10-year-olds. Why was he swallowing needles in front of KIDS? Fine, I’m not a big fan of ‘Geek Magic,’ and my wife disputes my take on this, but I don’t think these bits belonged in a family show.

One thing we both agreed on was his staging, which dragged as he prepared to walk the glass and more when he finished. Nobody in the audience cares to see a Magician put his shoes and socks on; sandals or slip on shoes of some sort might have been a better option. And there were far too many “umms” and “ahhs” while he spoke, a verbal distraction that appeared to indicate a lack of confidence or preparation. The glass walking, I thought, could have benefited from better sight lines (maybe by moving everyone outdoors, to the parking lot), and the song “(It Feels Just Like I’m Walking On)Broken Glass” by the Eurythmics would have been the perfect soundtrack.

The next Magician was a treat, and his performance was both comedic and Magical. It was technically accurate, the patter was amusing, relevant, and timely (he kept mentioning current events — and, even if he’s been performing a trick for 20 years, it’s nice to hear patter that sounds current, rather than like it came from 1989). I’ll address the only criticism I had in the closing remarks.

The last Magician I saw perform was an acquaintance of mine, and since this may bias my critique, I’ll keep it brief. The profundity was impressive, but it was too much. Philosophical dissertations should be saved for more appropriate venues, and the focus should be on what so brilliantly shined: The interaction with the volunteers, the clever improvisations, and the sincerity of the presentation.

Overall, as I said the event was worth attending and provided a very pleasant evening out. Live entertainment of nearly any sort is so much more rewarding than recorded shows on a TV (or computer) screen. The two major problems I noted were common for many Magicians (myself, alas, included): Respectful audiences should NEVER be treated with ANYTHING less than respect, and audiences should be made part of the Magician’s world. Share respect with the audience, and share with them something from the heart (even if it’s a complete fabrication), and see what kind of Magic results.

By the way, as I noted above, the audience was packed with Magicians last night, so this comment is just for the “Brotherhood.” Guys, leave your cards and coins alone. If you’re not on the bill, then get on bill or don’t perform — it’s not your show.


Painfully Bad.

August 5, 2009

There is a reason why Magic is the ugly little stepchild of the entertainment industry. Sorry.


I Love Magic…But Even I’d Hate This Guy!

August 2, 2009

A friend of mine sent this along, and it’s too good not to share.  Yeah, it’s funny, but let’s face it…this, uh, “Magician” looks awfully and uncomfortably true to life.   With apologies for the bad Magic you’ve had to endure in life, here’s a look at what Professional Magicians try VERY hard not to be:

Abusive Restaurant Magician
Uploaded by gfitzgeraldSitcom, sketch, and standup comedy videos.



Dan Sperry

July 28, 2009

If you’re unfamiliar with this artist, take a look at a short clip of his work:

Never having seen Sperry until catching him on “Masters Of Illusion,” I wasn’t immediately a fan.  With his odd make-up, strange panto presentation, and taste for freakish illusions,  he looked like a mash-up of Jack Skellington and  every demented clown that ever caused nightmares for sleepless children, with mannerisms that echo Joker’s tics from “The Dark Knight” thrown in as a bonus.  Not someone from whom one would expect what (to me) constitute the core of Magic:  Charm, style, mystery, and an open personality inviting viewers to watch & enjoy.

Sperry’s presentation is undeniably creepy (while in panto mode, at least–his presentation does warm up considerably when he’s speaking).  But it’s also intriguing:  Who is this character being portrayed? Why is he doing what he’s doing right now?  Although there’s not so much “charm” being displayed,  there is a compelling invitation to watch…an undeniable invitation that is rewarded with a weird, warped, and thoroughly mystifying performance.

Sperry knows his work, and his technical chops are well-polished and workmanlike.  In Magic, this is the baseline for success:  The Magician MUST fool the audience (effectively hiding the mechanics of his work), otherwise the “trick” is simply deluded juggling.  But successfully presenting the trick is not enough – fooling the audience merely presents them with an intriguing puzzle.  Magic occurs only when the Magician offers a successful trick PLUS a presentation that transcends the silly & trivial mechanics that make the trick “work.”

To use an analogy, if an audience leaves the movie theatre thinking, “Great special effects!” then the moviemaker has failed.  But if the audience leaves thinking, “That Smeagol got what he deserved!” well, let’s call that a win!

Nice act, Dan; let’s see what else ya got.


Why Do You Hate Magic?

July 22, 2009

If you hate, loathe, avoid and despise the mere mention of MAGIC, then this is the blog for YOU.

Don’t like card tricks?  Fine.

Roll your eyes at sponge balls, vanishing coins, and floating dollar bills?  Great.

Here’s your place to VENT.  Just  three quick notes before we get started:

1) Keep it clean.  Anything over a PG rating will get deleted.

2) Make it specific.  I’m interested in CONTENT & CONTEXT.  Don’t just kvetch about how badly you dislike this, that, or the other thing — write WHY you find it uninteresting, annoying, boring, or ___________ (fill in with the adjective of your choice).

3) It’s okay to list names, IF in doing so your post reflects (2), above.  You want to post gossip, go somewhere else.

Magic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and if you’re someone who doesn’t find it entertaining, I’d like to know why.   Magic is my trade and my passion, and your feedback could result in making that Magic more interesting.


Leland Stone