Not the Destination but the Journey….Part One.
One of the things that my first magical mentor, Ken Brooke, used to repeat to me on a regular basis was, “It isn’t the journey it’s the destination.” I’m not sure he ever used those words but they certainly express the sentiment. Roy Johnson certainly did use the words in one of his early books, and in more philosophical ways it has been featured in many great metaphysical texts.
There is a very real problem with the performance of magic if you don’t heed these words and accept them as a warning. The nature of most tricks is to have a set-up and then action that leads to a finale. I actually prefer to use the term reveal rather than finale. Usually that reveal is very fast and functions as an applause cue.
There is often a tendency for an effect that has a five-minute build up to result in a five-second reveal. If this is the case then you really need to pace those first five minutes and make sure they contain enough entertainment ‘meat’ that your audience don’t lose to much critical interest in what is happening prior to your reveal. Turning a reveal into a double punch finale is another useful way to add impact to any show.
Much of magic is proudly based in the past, and very little new stuff is really going on. Think about how many magic props look like they are sloppy reproductions of Victorian props. The more expensive props often look like good reproductions of Victoriana. A great deal of nostalgia is involved in a love of magic. For a lay audience nostalgia about magic usually doesn’t stretch any further than memories of what they saw as kids.
One of the things to be greatly affected since TV became the standard entertainment medium is pacing. You have to keep things moving at a fairish pace for a contemporary audience. You don’t have to rush things, but you need to add interest points throughout your routine.One thing you can do is to ruthlessly strip away unnecessary wasted space or as it is known in radio ‘dead air.’ One of the writing rules of the great Elmore Leonard is, “I try and cut out all the writing that people will tend to skip when they read the book.” Ah, words of sublime simplicity and wisdom from a master.
As a spoken/visual art form the audience are held hostage to your pacing and can’t skip the bits they find dull. What they can do is loose interest/attention in what you are doing, and that is bad, very bad. Sometimes as performers we are very attached to things that we do/say that really don’t move the action forward or contribute to the audience’s enjoyment.
Sadly we magicians are seldom able to enjoy the benefits of a good and impartial outside director. We are primarily self- directed and that leads to us failing to be edited by an outsider with theatrical knowledge and a fresh pair of eyes. It is a problem to step out of ourselves and prune the rosebush to improve the blooms.
Illusionists have a separate problem because they often miss the critical aspect of a director. is replaced by someone adding choreography and lighting. Both of these elements certainly have a real role in improving a performance but not if they clutter the action and slow down the action. Performers who speak are probably using to many words to say what they mean, and are therefore confusing/delaying the action.
With the instant access to movies and television afforded to the general public they have become, sometimes unknowingly, used to a directors touch in shaping a performance. We need to self-direct and make our work as commercial and accessible as possible. I will finish my thoughts on this topic in a future blog….
I have some great products and videos online. Check them out on my web site. www.nicklewin.com