I've been meaning to have an introductory-esque post to put in the sidebar for a while now. New people are always discovering the site and the emails I get from them tend to ask the same sorts of things. So I'm posting this in an attempt to give an overview of what I'm going for here. In a few days I will move a link to the top of the sidebar for the sake of future visibility.
So, you're new here.
Someone linked you to this site and told you it was great or that it was terrible, or you made some errant Google search, and now you're poking around trying to get a feel for it. Well, allow me to answer some of your questions.
Where should I start?
The beginning. It's all gold.
Who are you?
Nobody you know.
Oh, cool... so you're like a well known magician but you want to be able to speak your mind without-
No, seriously, I'm nobody you know.
Who is this site aimed at?
It's not really "aimed" at anyone. I mean, obviously people who have some interest in magic, but other than that there is no real target audience. I'm not a professional performer and I write from the perspective of someone who performs primarily in casual situations for non-paying audiences. Thus, some of what I say won't be applicable to a restaurant performer who is performing the same tricks multiple times an evening for strangers.
But, on the other hand, a lot of what I have to say is relevant to anyone interested in magic regardless of where they perform and who they perform for.
Why should I listen to you?
Fuck if I know. Take a hike, I don't care.
The purpose of this site is not to convince you to like it. The purpose of the site is merely to be here for the people who do like it.
What do you mean by "audience-centric" magic?
It's the notion that the audience's experience should be the most important thing. Most magic, especially when it's presented by amateurs, is magician-centric. It's about getting people to be impressed by your abilities. We know this is true because the "story" of these effects is almost always, "Look at my impressive ability." I'm advocating that you structure your magic to be the most entertaining it can be and, whenever possible, to remove yourself from the equation as much as you can, and shine the spotlight on the experience itself.
You might be saying, "Well, screw that, the whole reason I got into magic was to get people to like me." Okay, that's understandable. But even if getting people to like you is your whole goal, trying to impress people with your skills is a misguided way of going about it. This is true in other areas of your life as well. If you want someone you meet at a bar to like you, you can try and impress them or you can show them a good time. The latter always works, the former will backfire as often as it will be successful.
Do you really do these grand, drawn-out presentations? Don't you ever just do a normal quick trick?
Yes, I really do the presentations I write up. And yes, I do a ton of normal tricks too. But I don't have much to say about those types of presentations so there's really no need for me write about them.
Why are most of your presentations written up as a 1-on-1 situation?
Because that's how I prefer to perform. The best and most rewarding conversations and interactions I've had in my life have been 1-on-1. Performing that way allows you to tailor the moment specifically to that one person which creates more powerful moments. It feels very personal to them. Watch a Derren Brown special where he is performing for one person and compare their reaction to the reactions of the crowd for one of his stage shows. Both reactions are incredibly strong, but when it's just for one or two people, the reaction on an individual-level is much more intense. This almost goes without saying. Obviously the more people you're performing for, the more you're performing for an average of those people. That's why I prefer to perform 1-on-1. But I don't always. And I have many ideas for -- and love seeing -- a good stage or parlor magic performance.
What is MCJ?
MCJ refers to my old blog, The Magic Circle Jerk which I wrote from 2003 - 2005. Don't bother clicking that link. I poof'd the whole thing out of existence when I was done with it. You can find some remnants of it on the Internet Archive, but there are a few missing months that aren't to be found anywhere except on my computer.
I'd like to debate a point with you.
Don't bother. I'm probably smarter than you and have already considered your point, and have argued it to myself better than you can, and I've dismissed it.
No, but I think I have something you haven't considered.
Alright, cool, send me an email. I'm happy to hear it.
So you don't like mentalists/mentalism?
I like mentalism a lot, but it's a very needy branch of magic and that is a turn off for me (and for audiences a lot of the time as well). I'm constantly on the lookout for ways of presenting mentalism that don't feel like I want something in return from the audience (in the form of their esteem for what I've done). This is why a lot of my routines for mental effects involve something other than "my power" being responsible. I don't have it all figured out, but I definitely get a much better response the further I steer things away from the premise being, "I have this incredible power and now I'm going to demonstrate it for you," which is what 99.9% of mentalism is.
Why don't you like people who pretend magic is real or that their powers are real?
Well, first, in the context of a performance I don't have that much of an issue with it. I just usually think it's boring when presented that way. And I think an audience can be confused, wondering if you want them to actually believe you when you say you have this special power. That's alienating to people. Most people are more than happy to play along in a moment of interactive theater. But if they see what you're doing as any form of validation seeking (which is how it often comes across when you play it "real") they will push away and find you completely corny.
And when you're performing for friends and family or people you'll see again, what's the plan for after the show? To continually keep up the ruse? No thanks. But if you come clean then it's like, "Okay, but if you were going to make up a story to entertain us, why not make up a more interesting one than, 'I can read the thought you wrote down on that piece of paper with my mind.'" And coming up with alternative presentations (presentations other than "look at this power I have") almost universally creates more original, more engaging, and more fun performances.
But you're removing the "magic" from magic.
No. I mean, look, the magic isn't there in the first place. You're not a warlock. You're faking it. I'm just recommending you fake it in a more entertaining way. I've performed the way you do. And I've gotten great reactions to things in that style. But the reactions to what I perform, and the interactions with the people I perform for, have been far stronger since adopting the performing style I advocate for on this site.
I genuinely believe in magic. More than you, I bet. More than most people. And by that I mean like the magic of the universe and of human interaction and fate and artistic experiences and a whole bunch of other cheesy sounding shit. I met my last serious girlfriend when she was wrestling with a bunch of bags and an umbrella on a rainy autumn evening in NYC. I offered to carry the bags she was lugging around if she would let me share her umbrella while we walked. She agreed and we ended up walking 30 city blocks together to her apartment (skipping the subway station we were originally bound for) and falling for each other along the way. In the time that followed that initial meeting we would always ask the questions: What if I hadn't left my office when I did? What if she hadn't gone Christmas shopping that night? What if she had stayed in the store a few moments longer? What if it hadn't been raining? What if I had an umbrella and hadn't been compelled to ask her to share hers? It seems like a miracle our paths ever crossed. Of course, you can play this game with almost any interaction, the shitty ones included. But when you play it with a relationship that is vibrant and satisfying then it gives that relationship a "magic" feeling, even when you know it's just a way of looking at the situation. One in a million coincidences are happening constantly, but that doesn't mean you can't choose to see the magic in them when they happen. That's all real magic is; a sense of appreciation and wonder for the good things in our lives and the recognition that they could just as easily have never happened in the first place.
To think you're giving someone a truly "magical" experience by doing fake magic and pretending it's real is moronic. It's like catfishing someone so they can experience "true love." Or recording a voice and playing it over a loudspeaker and telling someone it's the voice of god so they can have a "spiritual" experience.
The ironic thing is, the magicians who want to be seen as real -- under the pretense of giving their spectators a "magical" experience -- often end up looking ridiculous and cause their spectators to disengage. Whereas a performance that seeks to entertain first can be a really compelling and transcendent piece of work, which in turn can be a magical experience for people.
How do I support the site?
For now, don't worry about it. If there are people you know who might enjoy it, send them a link.