A Reminder in Three Well-Worn Analogies

I tend to assume that what I'm about to say is so ingrained in the fabric of this site that it doesn't bear repeating, but maybe that's not the case. Some people have only recently come to this site, some have never read the old posts, and some have merely forgotten. So as we come to the end of this second season, with a potential third season on the horizon, maybe it's a good time to reiterate my perspective on things (with some analogies I've made before) for those who are new or confused.

This site is written from the perspective of someone who only performs amateur magic. That is, casual, conversational, interactive magic for a handful of people, at most. My preferred performing situation is one-on-one because that allows you to create the most personalized experience for the people you perform for.


Analogy #1: If you cook for one person, you can really create a meal that will appeal to their tastes. If you cook for a bigger group you need to take into account a number of other factors in regards to preferences and dietary restrictions, and you'll end up with something a little less personalized for any one particular individual. And if you have to cook for a few hundred people, then you operate a Denny's, and your menu is designed for broad appeal. The food is going to be relatively bland and inexpensive. It's not awful food, but it's not, generally, great food either. 

To continue the analogy, I find that a lot of people are interested in how to go about creating a warm, intimate dinner for two, and they're seeking out advice on how to do this in books written by people who own and operate a Denny's. 

I realize the analogy has an implied value judgment. Like, "intimate dinners are good" and "Denny's is shit." But that's not the point I'm making. I'm not shitting on professional shows. I'm saying the two things are not designed to provide the same benefits/experience. A professional show can offer a communal experience with a large group of people you may or may not know. It can shine a spotlight on the performer and her skills. And it can be a strength of the formal magic show that it is totally removed from your day to day life, and allows you to put everything on pause for a moment.

I think those can be great things in that context, but I also think they're the opposite of what amateur magic can provide at its best.

In my opinion, most of the issues with amateur magic can be traced back to people using advice and techniques designed for professionals in non-professional circumstances. If you think these two activities (professional and amateur magic) operate under the same rules, well, I'm not surprised, because that's how it's sort of been written about for 100+ years.


Analogy #2: Imagine if you wanted to add some levity to your conversations and brighten the day of your friends, family, and co-workers. You look up some books on "how to be funny." And instead of teaching you how to add humor to your day-to-day life, they instead told you how to perform stand-up comedy. They have you doing the rule of three and "act outs" and crowd work. If you actually try and incorporate that into your regular life you'll come off as a grade-A weirdo, because professional comedy is a different thing than being funny in social, amateur situations.

Similarly, professional and amateur magic are two different things. One is a "show" and the other is an interactive experience (or, at least, it probably should be). A professional might say, "my show is an interactive experience too." Maybe so, but it's an interactive experience of a show. That's what the experience is for people. Whereas, for the amateur, the experience doesn't have to feel like show or a presentationIt can feel like a game or an experiment or a moment of synchronicity or a strange happening or a field trip or a bit of interactive fiction or a conversation or a weird coincidence or some supernatural phenomenon or 100s of other things. 

You might say, "Oh, don't be so naive, Andy. People see amateur magic performances as 'shows' too." But that's really only true if your amateur performances are caught up in the trappings of a show (heavily scripted patter, obviously planned out 'routines,' etc.) 


Analogy #3: If you sit someone down and make them listen to you play the french horn and you properly introduce each song and take a bow afterwards, that will feel like a "show." But if you're whistling while you clean the house, or if you ask someone their opinion on a song you made in GarageBand, or if there are wind-chimes tinkling melodically on the porch, none of those things are going to feel like a "concert" to the person who experiences them.

What this site has largely been about is finding alternate contexts for magic tricks so that they don't feel like a presentation that's delivered for a particular response. Can we take this moment that might come off as a "show" if presented in a traditional manner and make it come off more like the tinkling of a wind-chime? Or can it be the mix-tape we're making-out to on the couch? Or can it be the music that is the result of a jam session we're both having? 

These may sound like chimerical notions. But, you know, that is kind of the business in which we're involved. And, ultimately, I think this is the power of a magic performance that's not done on a stage in a spotlight. It can be done in such a way that it feels like it's woven into other people's lives.

But I've found that to do so will generally take different tactics. And what we've grown to think of as "good technique" might not be great in this context. For example, on Wednesday I'll have some more thoughts on misdirection for the amateur magician. Some of these thoughts may seem to contradict some conventional wisdom, but I'm just talking about what I've found to work from an amateur perspective. Don't get your dick in a twist about it.