You’ve either got or you haven’t got style…. (but is it your own?)
Before we talk magic, let’s look at the definition of the word style that comes up on my Mac after I double click the word and then three finger click it. Ah, I do love these new gestures that are possible with the Mac trackpad!
Here is what arrived,
1 a manner of doing something:
2 a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed:
3 elegance and sophistication:
4 a rodlike object or part, in particular:
I think we can rule out the fourth definition, but let’s look more closely at the first three. How can we apply them to magic? ‘A manner of doing something,’ well, to me this implies a consistency of approach that unifies all the separate ingredients that blend together and create a show. It applies to what you do in the show, what you say in the show and how you execute these elements.
The first step to becoming an elegant and sophisticated (see definition three) performer is to follow that great aphorism ‘Know Thyself‘ which is most often attributed to Socrates. You can not develop any form of individual style without looking very carefully at who you are–in particular your strengths and weaknesses.
While it is possible to construct a totally separate stage persona from your real life attributes, it isn’t easy. If you are aren’t a smooth, elegant, good looking charmer, who moves well–then a silent manipulative act probably isn’t your thing. Look at yourself physically and make sure that you are actually seeing yourself as an audience member will see you. Better leave that to the Lance Burton’s James Dimmare’s and Jason Andrews of the world.
If you aren’t a skilled talker, with a ready wit and sense of humor then chances are you shouldn’t be telling jokes in your show. You can’t just take a bunch of stock lines and string them together and have any hope of achieving style. Maybe you should be looking at the kind of magic where the situation is funny and it is this that makes the audience laugh. Then little by little you can add a line or two that is funny because it came from within you and is truly your style.
The sad truth is that you can’t borrow style, you can’t buy style, you can’t steal style. If it belongs to someone else then it will never really be your style. What you CAN do is to learn about style by watching how other people have developed and applied their own style.
In magic there are so many routines available in books, DVDs etc. that a magician can begin to believe that everything out there is available and it is acceptable to borrow, use or steal anything. You don’t own a trick by buying it, reading it or outright purloining it. Style is something that has to come from a master game plan that you have developed. Otherwise it’s monkey see-monkey do.
I am a huge fan of Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger, I am also a big fan of the style which Jeff has brought to teaching magic to his lucky Mystery School pupils. It worries me more than a tad when I see how many of his students seem to want to become McBrides. They dress like him, perform like him and although I haven’t any inside knowledge of Jeff’s take on performing, I find it hard to believe that this is any part of his philosophy. I suspect/hope that it is a passing phase for these individuals however and sanity will follow!
On a very practical level (my favorite one) to fine tune your own style you can examine your act and pick it apart with a fine tooth comb and eliminate items that may work on some level but are counter intuitive to making you the performer you really want to be. First develop the vision of who you want to be–make it based on who you are, and then chip away everything in your act that stops this happening.
I often hear magicians excuse the use of a hack trick or a hack line by saying, “Well, it works,‘ or “It get’s a laugh.‘ However, ask yourself what it says about you that you haven’t found a better way to express your personal style and personality. The failure to do this is one of the reasons there are so many magicians and so few artistes and stars in the magic world.
You are selling yourself short if you just want to be a haphazard amalgamation of everyone else. Learn from others how to develop your own style, when you have learned everything you can from them–move on to someone else and see what you can learn from their approach. We all need teachers, role models and heroes, but at some point (to steal a key lesson from ‘A Course In Miracles,) “The time for learning is over.”
It is way tougher to learn to be yourself when performing than to execute the perfect second deal! A second deal is only perfect when you don’t realize it is happening–I guess that’s kinda‘ my theory on style. While not wanting to simplify it to the “You’ve either got or you haven’t got style………” from the song lyric, I guess what I’m saying is work like a maniac to become a person with your own style and then learn to forget about it so it doesn’t look phony.