Thursday, June 17, 2021

Carry your own load (ew)....

To give you some advice I need to tell you a story:

When I first moved to Vegas I started working with a group called "Short Bus Comics". It was all of the experimental and outcast comedians. The ones doing weird characters or experimental stuff. It was aptly named.

Around the same time I saw a post on a forum by a magician lamenting how the video he put up could have been better if the audience member he selected had been more enthusiastic or whatever. My first thought was, "It's not up to the audience member to carry the routine. It should be the performer." 

Those two things made me decide to scrap all of my audience participation material I was doing and not do anything with someone else on stage with me until I had 30 minutes of material I could carry with just myself on stage. Now I could still interact with the audience. Throw them stuff, borrow things, go into the audience, etc, but I wanted a more "comedy club" feel to my material and less "birthday party clown". It forced me to create presentations that were more engaging, entertaining and "adult". 

I eventually had a solid 30 minutes and started adding the odd borrow-a-person routines back into my shows. Those bits got stronger because of the lessons I learned flying solo. It was a necessary challenge to let my performing persona shine through and not be distracted by another warm body on stage with me. 

So my advice for you is to try the same thing. Not necessarily the 30 minute thing, but find ways to be entertaining without the help of someone else.With Covid still fresh on people's minds, the time is nigh to work on material of this type. Learn to write jokes, find magic that stands by itself, maybe develop a silent routine or two to slip in between the talking bits?

Also, I know this journal has been quiet for a while. Unfortunately/fortunately I have been busy with consulting/prop making/escape room making/performing. I do have a backlog of topics I want to complain about and I will try to get to them soon so stay tuned.

Until then...

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A prediction...

Within the next 10 years, we will see a magic show on TV that is 100% cgi and stooges but presented as real. Think like Zack King but a total sham. It will be justified because it's for "entertainment" and no one will be the wiser.

I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Where do we go from here?

I recently went down a rabbit hole listening to old Roger Miller tunes I hadn't heard by way of John Denver. It's interesting to watch live footage of these guys performing. Not only did they tend to write all their own music and songs, they were adept showman. It got me thinking about how far away we have gotten from people like this to where we are now where so many of our musical "stars" are manufactured. 

I started to wonder about the emergence of different media and what it took to make it in those new frontiers.

The oldest and most prolific form of entertainment is likely live theater (I include musical performance in this as well). It was the dominant entertainment for a very long time and most media that has come after has always been touched by some form of live theater. When radio emerged, there were radio plays where actors lended their voices to create soundscapes for the people listening at home to envision. 

You also had music being played on the radio which helped a number of people discover new artists and styles they had never heard before. This of course influenced more people to be musicians. Thus, more music makers started to emerge. People who worked hard on their craft be it drums, guitar, singing, etc. You also had to be pretty good to stand out from everyone else. It also helped if you were engaging live (going back to live theater). 

So for a long time, "musician" was the thing to strive for and then movies started to gain traction. Many of the vaudeville comedians and actors of the time started to take advantage of this new medium. Suddenly "movie star" was an option for a career in live performance. Again, you had to study for years in your craft and rehearse, practice, "pay your dues", and have something so many others didn't. Again, live performance ability translated to the new medium and helped others get ahead. The skill and knowledge was visible at every turn.

From there, television became the thing and this is where we start to see a plethora of variety acts get brought to the fore. Shows like Ed Sullivan all the way up to the Gong Show brought us the wild, wacky, and inventive. It gave so many chances they could never reach before. From there, so many saw someone do something cool and was smitten with performing their own act, whatever it might be. From variety shows, we had one off specials, from magic to comedy and everything inbetween. Cable opened even more doors in people's minds. Channels like MTV made the rock star role even MORE desirable than it had been. 

In all of these mediums, you saw and heard people at the top of their game. Much of their success largely attributed to the skill in their chosen field and performing ability (along with a little luck and sometimes business savvy). They worked hard on their craft and it paid off. Now obviously there were outliers but if you want to be inspired look at video of people like Cab Calloway, The Ramones, Fred Astaire, George Carl or any other people who were considered the best of their art.

Fast forward to today, where we have people famous for nothing (or THINK they are famous). The internet has enabled so many to have a presence, which is great in some ways. It lets so many discover new types of art and thoughts they would have never known existed. However, the "skill" now seems to be manipulating numbers and algorithms more than performing ability. 

I often say we are losing masters and they are not being readily replaced. Their shoes are staying empty for far too long. I wonder if it's because the current media is inspiring the wrong things. Of course, who am I to say what is right and wrong? I'm just someone who has seen amazing art by talented performers and I wonder if what we have now is just a watered down version of what came before. I wonder what will inspire future generations to inspire those who come after. Have we reached an impasse? I know entertainment will never die and there will ALWAYS be those who stand out, but originality and dedication to a craft are not rewarded like they once were and it makes me very, very nervous.

Only time will tell I guess.

Friday, February 05, 2021

When is it ok?

Magic has always had it's bouts of "exposure", from Reginald Scot to Penn and Teller, and it has kept plodding on. Various performers have exposed magical props and effects over the years. It's usually for comedic gain or to make a point. Where magical knowledge was once relegated to back rooms of magic clubs or brick and mortar stores, the internet has allowed the widespread exposure of magical secrets to many who wouldn't have given it nary a thought otherwise.

When someone gets called out for sharing a bit too much or the "wrong way", their defense is to always point to someone else and exclaim, "why is it ok for them to do it!?". The answer to that question is up to you ultimately but let's examine some cases shall we? 

At the top of this clip, Harry Anderson straight up shows the gaff of a well known (usually) kids show prop. How he doesn't walk the audience through it's workings, but it's enough for a thinking person to infer what's going on. Now the audience doesn't know this isn't his to show off. For all they know, he invented it and is exposing his own trick. The interesting thing about presentational exposure like this is, when combined with comedy, it has less of a sting. It's the same reason Penn and Teller's "Ripoff of Love" routine is hardly balked at. It's clearly a parody of magical illusions. 

On a personal note, I sit in a weird grey zone with this kind of stuff. While I am ok with certain people using magic for a comedy punchline or using it to make a point, I also don't LIKE it and wouldn't do it myself unless it was my own invention. I think the main thing is, the people who ARE exposing magical effects and apparatus also understand when it's ok and when it's not. The people who get away with it love magic but also know the power of letting people peek behind the curtain a bit.

What about when it's not for comedy? Using P&T as an example again, they have a whole act showing how they do their version of cups and balls utilizing clear cups. While it exposes the basic concept and their routine, by the end, you haven't learned anything. A week later, someone could see another magician do the cups and balls and still be fooled. They know where that fine line is as well as the publicity of making the magic world grumpy. Again, is it ok for them to do it? That's up to you.

I think in this day and age the biggest difference is the intent and reach behind the exposure. It's no longer seemingly for entertainment, education or parody. It's all about views, clicks, likes and other imaginary internet points. (And money, let's not forget that) The audience is much wider and more varied. You can "educate" more people on the internet than you could on TV. Magic has survived exposure of all types and it will always continue marching forward because even people with knowledge can be fooled and entertained. I know how to edit video, but just because I can work Premiere Pro doesn't lessen my enjoyment of movies any less.

We will survive.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Consent is sexy...

Expose Yourself to Art

There is a bit of drama in the magic community as of late (more than usual I should clarify). A known magician who is now part of a cabal of other performers who create "prank" videos for money on fb decided to... I dunno... test the waters(?) of magic as a vehicle for pranks. The problem is, they did such by exposing a well known principle in magic. The magic community at large was up in arms and for good reasons obviously.

The main gripes I have heard are:

  • Betrayal - Many who were fans of this performer's magic and creativity previously felt like this was a slap in the face to anyone who respected and/or looked up to them.
  • Exposure - This one is obvious, but if it was their own creation, no one would have cared. Sadly, this was not the first magical effect they had exposed, it was just the first people had caught wind of. 
  • Guilt by Association - The producer of these kinds of videos had already cut a major divide between himself and the community previously. The videos are of lackluster quality and perceived as existing merely for likes, shares and fat stacks of cash.(Mostly that last one) 
  • No Real Reason -  The videos outcome would have been the same had they just cut the secret or used something different. There was no real ascertainable reason to make the video other than views and to throw magic under a bus.

Whenever something like this occurs in the community, the defense/excuse tends to fall on "Well THIS person exposes stuff and no one cares" or "it's ok to sell magic secrets or put it in books so why is this not ok?". This kind of deflection tends to be their main defense and smart people counter it with "We are not talking about them, this is about you".  Regardless of their reasons, none of them hold water because the main difference here is Intent. 

When magic is taught or bought, the person had to actively seek it out. They had to already have some sort of inherent interest in gaining that knowledge. They had to, even if it's only a little bit, put in some effort. What has happened recently is essentially the magic equivalent of someone walking up to you on the street completely unprovoked and saying "This is how a thumbtip works. Ok. BYEEEEEEE!" and running away. You did not ask to know that secret nor have any intent on ever knowing it. It was just thrust upon you with no consent.

Ok so, what about the people who found magic through exposure? I have heard a handful of people in their 30s say that one of the things that got them into magic was the Secrets Revealed specials (with the masked magician). I will be happy to tell you the difference between that and what is going on currently.

When one watched those specials not only did you get to see magic performed you also got to see what it looked like first. You could then decide if you wanted to know the secret or not. You could walk away if so inclined. In the aforementioned video, the secret was shoved in front of you in the first 3 seconds. (Technically sooner cuz of the thumbnail) You had no choice if you clicked play. You also did not see magic presented as the performing art it's meant to be. It was a cheap throwaway gag with no meaning.

Of course the minority who produces this content is claiming that the magic community doth protest too much. However, when things like this happen, the community SHOULD be vocal about it. There should be a discourse of some kind. Perhaps someone from the next generation will see it and say, "huh... I don't think this is the way magic should be presented. I don't want to alienate myself". I feel the damage these kinds of videos will do to the next crop of magicians will be felt long after the perpetrators have cashed their checks and faded away.

I hope I am wrong, but I can already see the ripples.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Same as it ever was...

 "Repetition is the death of magic" - Bill Watterson

Visual magic seems to be the crack cocaine of the magic world. Everyone is looking for that next fix. That next "hit" if you will. As a consultant for other performers and TV shows, I am often plagued by taking a magical idea and "making it more visual". There are a few problems with this line of thinking however....

  1. You chew thru more material - "Visual" magic is often presented with little to no presentation other than "watch this". Without build up it becomes a throwaway gag sometimes.
  2. Weaker Magic - A lot of stuff that is done visually on camera can be re-wound and watched frame by frame and figured out OR it falls prey to the "too perfect theory" and people will dismiss it as CGI because that is the most obvious answer, even when it's not.
  3. Too much of a good(?) thing - If you already have a dozen "visual" effects in your show/on your timeline/etc, eventually everything starts to blend and look the same.
  4. No Mystery - The audience needs a breather. Sometimes obscuring something and letting the magic happen in the audiences' head is WAY stronger than shoving it in their face. Give those watching a little mystery and it will stick with the longer. (But don't turn it into a puzzle)
 While visual magic might thrill TV producers and get you that contract, not everything has to look like a camera trick.



Monday, September 28, 2020

"The death of magicians on the internet..."

 Some people are catching on. Enjoy.

Get this guy a Merlin award.