2018 is a special year in my timeline of being a magic fan – it marks my 12 years of being a fan of magic, but at the conclusion of the 2018 Melbourne Magic Festival it also marks my 500th magic show seen. Sounds crazy, but it turns out all those magic shows add up over the years! Yes, it’s a milestone that only I would keep a count of but it also has me thinking of some of the interesting and thoughtful questions people have asked me over the years in relation to magic, so I thought I’d share some of them here. I haven’t done personal writing like this before so I don’t know if this will end up being an interesting piece for you all to read, however if you’re curious please do read on!
Where did it all begin?
Quite some time ago (12 years in fact!) I was looking for new experiences and adventures in life, and a dear friend at the time regularly went to magic shows and invited me to one. It was called “Magic Mondays” held on the first Monday of the month at Dante’s restaurant in an inner city suburb. Run by a core team of four awesome magicians plus featuring a good rotation of guest magicians every month, I fondly remember my times in the audience there. Prior to attending the show, I did ask my friend “do you mean a kids’ magic show or?!” – at that time I had no idea that regular magic shows for adults existed. Believe it or not, during the first 6 months or so of show attendance I was terrified to help out on stage – a glaring difference to the way I am now! I was very lucky (and grateful) to have some super sweet stage experiences at this show. During its peak, “Magic Mondays” was well known for its theme nights for Halloween, Christmas and its annual Birthday show. I often organised a group of 10 friends to attend along with me – as my dear friend always said “magic is much better enjoyed with friends”. Along the way, other monthly magic nights appeared in other areas of town – like “Mitcham Magic” towards the Eastern suburbs and other small irregular shows in basement bars and other places across the city.
Many people assume I enjoyed magic as a child, however that’s not exactly true. I can recall watching / attending maybe 3 magic shows when I was a child. I was shy as a child and would have been terrified had a magician asked me to help out onstage so magic wasn’t memorable for me when I was younger….totally making up for that now, of course!
Why magic? What’s the appeal?
It’s a little hard to explain, but basically – magic changes the way I think about things, about everything – about everyday objects, about psychology and people, about the universe. I take delight in being surprised, and magic is so different to everything else that goes on in my world. Magic is also an escape to my ‘usual’ life, because nothing ‘usual’ ever goes on during a magic show! I generally like art, but magic would be my favourite kind of art form by a mile.
Do you remember all the magic / every single show you’ve seen?
Well….to put it bluntly, No. Sorry to disappoint! I can’t remember every single magical effect or show I’ve seen however I do generally have a good memory for events so I basically have a ‘favourites showreel’ of my favourite times at magic shows / unforgettable magic effects that I can refer to. A good chunk of those memories are from stage shows, but there are some select pieces of close up and card magic included too. Over the years I have been gifted with some very beautiful, ‘limited edition’ souvenirs. As much as the souvenirs make me feel like the luckiest girl in the room, they also serve as a great memory aid / prompt. There are some pieces of magic that have been so impactful that they’re unforgettable. Along with certain pieces of magic, it is the dialogue or the magician’s personality that often sticks in my mind. A friendly, engaging personality makes magic that much more enjoyable and distinct. If the magic performance I see has a defined storyline or strong storytelling elements then I’m also more likely to remember it.
Don’t you see a lot of the “same” sorts of magic tricks on repeat?
I do, but I also find that magicians work hard at making the magic they present to be distinctive, with their own stories and personalities added into the mix. So yes, much of the ‘core’ magic I see are effects I’ve seen time and time again but I don’t mind. Regularly, magicians come up with such different and fascinating portrayals and presentations that eventually it doesn’t matter if I see repeated content.
What’s your favourite magic trick / type of magic?
I don’t have a defined favourite, and it’s hard to choose just one effect or type of magic. I can tell you the kinds of magic that just transfix me or take me away to another place, though. I’ve always had a bizarre love for rope magic. Even if it seems confusing at times, I really enjoy rope magic routines and the stories that go with them. I enjoy prediction routines where audience members get to go on stage and draw pictures. There’s always one picture that is way funnier than the others! I enjoy magic with ‘cute’ aspects, like balloon animals or rabbits or cute characters. I like watching children’s / family magic shows as there’s always a lot of colour and movement on stage (as well as plenty of puns!) More recently, I’ve discovered character magic – where the magician transforms themselves into a completely different character who then presents the show and completes the magic. I find the storytelling component to be much richer in those kinds of shows, and I find them to be the most memorable shows. The audience generally remembers magicians, but they’ll remember an immersive magical character that much more.
Why don’t you do magic yourself? Have you ever tried?
At the risk of causing myself some issues later on, I’m going to be brave and admit that I have dabbled in magic. Many friends have been very generous to me over the years (which I am very grateful for), and as such I do have books on magic, magic sets, kits and small props etc. What I don’t have is the confidence and the time / drive to practice magic regularly. This may come as a shock to some people, but outside of my ‘9-5’ job I also have an assortment of other hobbies (like miscellaneous papercrafts and reviewing shows on this blog among other activities) that require my care and attention. Naturally, more of my time will be devoted to the hobbies that I have more confidence in.
Have you ever seen a “bad” show?
If any magicians are actually reading this I can feel their eyes burning into the page…..but no need to fear. I can’t say that I have technically seen a “bad” show (magicians, you can all breathe easy for now!) I’ve never walked out of a show, but I have sat through 2 shows over the past 6 years or so that had extensive technological difficulties (with powerpoint presentations / screens / sound desks and the like) which negatively impacted the shows. During one of those shows, the performer also called members of the audience ‘lazy’ – if we chose not to seek how the magic effects were done – which I take issue with. Magicians (and performers in general), trust me when I say that if it is the middle of Winter and your audience have parted ways with their time, money and heated blankets / pajamas / multiple heat sources to attend your show they are anything but lazy!!!
Fairly early on in the days of attending magic shows I also had some pressing personal issues that were at one point becoming difficult to manage. At one magic show I was called out during a time where I was very stressed. Was it a great experience, being called out in the middle of someone’s show? No – it was one of those moments where I wished the floor would open into a void and swallow me whole. Should I have been at that show at that time? Probably not if my stress wasn’t in check, but everything in hindsight. During other shows I (and the rest of the audience) have had to put up with extensive jokes and dialogue from the 1950’s – I’m sure you can tell where I’m going here. It gets tiring, and it’s unnecessary in the modern world. From this perspective I have seen magicians with ‘less than ideal’ personalities but I figure – that’s just life. Out in the rest of the world, there are some people out there with crap personalities too so it’s not something restricted to the industry. At the end of the day, I just try and pay more attention to the performers with personalities, qualities and shows that I enjoy.
Do you have any pieces of advice or suggestions for magicians generally / from the audience / from your times as an audience member?
You’ll have to forgive me if these suggestions / pieces of information seem obvious to you – these are just items that I’ve collated after seeing many different magicians over 12 years. These points are just ‘food for thought’ however if you find any of them useful, then that is great!
I like to think most magicians treat their audiences with respect / the way they themselves would like to be treated and I generally find that this is the case. If anyone is unsure, I’ll repeat it here now – treat your audience members well! Be complimentary and make sure they know you appreciate them being at your show. Most people subscribe to the culture of “busy” so there are many things audience members could be doing instead of watching your show. Ensure their time / monetary investment in you is worthwhile. Make sure that any helpers from the audience are treated extra well / treated with extra attention / thanks / souvenirs etc. Helping on stage is still a legitimate barrier for people to attend magic shows, and many people I know still find it stressful or scary. Make sure everyone who helps you is treated extra well because little is more terrifying for an audience member than watching a magician not treat an audience helper well and then for that magician to search for their next
victim helper. Which leads me to my next point – become a good ‘people reader’. This doesn’t necessarily mean increasing your mentalism skills / trying to read people’s minds but it does mean working on your skills to read others’ body language and small non verbal cues. Becoming better at reading people will mean that you’ll be better equipped to understand when helpers from the audience are nervous, or be able to ‘read’ when someone doesn’t want to help out or go on stage (so you can then select another helper). I find that the magicians who are good ‘people readers’ have a certain flow to their shows, and there’s less tension / uncomfortable moments. Audience members in general feel more at ease with performers who can ‘read’ them well because it makes a person seem more trustworthy if they understand how you’re feeling. Ultimately it increases empathy and that always feels nice if you’re the one feeling nervous or unsettled etc.
Personality is everything! Personality gives pizzazz to pieces of magic that can be dry or a little outdated. I’ve seen magicians with a ‘regular’ set routine, but due to their amazing personality I could watch that set routine a crazy amount of times and still be entertained. Personality sells too – it’s one of the reasons the audience comes to see your magic show as opposed to one from someone else (especially during a festival where there are many other shows on offer).
Be open to feedback. It literally took me years to pluck up the courage to actually feed back information and suggestions to magicians – obviously in the context of constructive feedback of course. Many times, magicians would know they could approach me after a show or on social media to ‘check’ on show aspects – like show flow, stage items and venue aspects etc. Egos aside, you’ll never know how much you can improve / tweak your show if you’re not open to feedback and suggestions (obviously from ‘trusted’ sources). From another perspective, being closed to wider feedback may mean that you’re missing aspects that should be addressed (like poor audience angles or items onstage that obstruct views etc). More recently, I’ve noticed that when I have provided valuable and appreciated feedback to magicians I’ve noticed that they’ve made prompt adjustments to their act / setup which I find impressive. Continuous improvement is a wonderful thing.
Commence your show with something strong or some engaging dialogue. This is less relevant for myself / regular consumers of magic, but more relevant for the audience members who are new to magic. I believe that you genuinely have 5-10 minutes to wow an audience at the start of a show to ‘win’ them over. In the best show I’ve seen, this is seamless – the magician begins with the element of surprise and then has some attention grabbing dialogue. In the less enjoyable shows, the magician spends time alienating people with a rambling dialogue / an unclear character or opens with some complicated magic which is mentally taxing for the audience.
There’s always going to be a small percentage of audience members who don’t really want to be at a show – they’ve been dragged along by a significant other or have been dragooned into supporting a ‘friend of a friend’. Or perhaps they’re just the doubters of magic – the ‘you can’t surprise me / I can explain everything’ types. It would be misguided to cater to these types for your entire show, however, there’s something to be gained if you can engage with them and surprise them early on.
Where do you think magic is headed in the future (ie from a trends perspective)?
Watching so much magic affords me the luxury of watching trends happen. Often I’ll see a particular type of magic or sort of effect done repeatedly by many magicians for about 6 months and then all of a sudden by the end of a year it will be gone / switched out for the next trend or I’ll see it less regularly. I’m unaware of what forces are at work here – whether the trend originates from trade shows / overseas recommendations / the internet or something else entirely. From one perspective it is good, because it shows that magicians are generally evolving their own shows and ‘keeping things fresh’ however on the other hand it can be frustrating too – if it’s a trend you don’t like, mentally you know you’ll be stuck watching it for at least another 6 months and that becomes tiring.
I think technology has a welcome place in magic shows. Magic with phones and iPads is seen as cool by younger audience members and technology keeps things ‘relevant’ (in a way!) With phones holding so much personal information, any magic done with a person’s mobile / cell phone becomes that much more impactful. To an extent, I think that audiences have limited capacities during a show to process and absorb all magical stimuli. Everyone is bombarded with an overload of information everyday in modern life, so sometimes I think that doing more with less during a show is beneficial. Or perhaps being mindful to provide the audience with some mental ‘breathing time’ so they can properly ‘switch’ into “magic watching mode”?
Where / what direction would you like to see magic headed?
I already LOVE magic, that much is clear. What I’d like to see is more people / potential audience members in the wider community giving magic a chance (or even ‘another chance’). I think of the stigmas that magic still (unfortunately) holds in the minds of the greater public: that all magic shows are for children / that magicians are ”creepy” / the fear of public humiliation (via audience participation). Despite not practicing magic myself, these are stigmas I want the industry to be rid of! I don’t exactly know how to ‘turn the tide’ on these aspects. All I can do is support the magicians who are displaying the optimal attributes, qualities and skills and encourage my friends to attend a show with me. Whilst I always hope to support magicians / magic in general (in one way or another!) I’m enjoying watching the continued rise of female magicians. It’s fantastic to see female members joining magic clubs, and to hear about the amazing achievements of female magicians on an international level. I hope to always be able to see and support women in magic and hope women continue to rise in magic too.
I’d like to see an expansion of magic presented differently – less of the dry, stuffy classics and more of the modern interpretations. More magic with rich storylines, enchanting characters and curious themes / aesthetics. The more the public are exposed to different kinds of magic shows (ie storytelling magic with characters, magic with certain themes or aesthetics) the better as magic won’t be seen as a ‘static’ / stuffy art form of a bygone era, and will hopefully be seen as a modern art form that is continually evolving.
Hope you have enjoyed reading this piece of personal writing. If you have any comments or questions to ask (which may be included in a future piece if I receive enough submissions) please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org