The Wonder-Room

The Wonder-Room is a new performance style I've been working on. The performance styles I've described in the past have required you to initiate the interaction, to be sociable and outgoing, and to sometimes put in considerable work. The Wonder-Room, however, is perfect for the anti-social, the lazy, the socially-awkward, the agoraphobic. You know, that guy you see in the bathroom mirror every morning. Or you would if you ever took a shower or brushed your teeth.

The Wonder-Room is a "cabinet of curiosities" concept (the names are synonymous). Don't get confused by the terminology.

This is what you think of when you think of a cabinet.

But the word "cabinet" used to mean "room."

And while I'm using the word "Room," that's just because I like to think big. In reality we're probably talking something more... well.... like a cabinet? Actually something like this would be ideal.

But your wife won't let you co-opt that piece of furniture, so we're probably talking something closer to a single shelf on a bookshelf somewhere in your home. That works too.

The idea behind the Wonder-Room performance style is to curate a collection of effects that use objects that you permanently leave on display in some area of your house. Objects that can be freely handled and looked at by anyone in the house or anyone visiting. 

Yeah, great idea. "Behold, my shelf of rubber bands, coins, and string. Prepare to be mesmerized."

That's not what I'm talking about, ya fucking blockhead. 

Well then clarify, dummy.

You're pushing it, pal.

The idea behind this performance  style—the idea behind all the ones I've suggested—is to disturb that traditional magician/spectator dynamic of, "Hello. I'm a magician! And I'm going to fool you with my magic trick!" It's mind-boggling to me that, for the most part, everyone has pretty much been on board with that being what we're stuck with when performing magic. Especially given the fact that it obviously causes a certain amount of the audience to pull away because they're defensive against being fooled, and a certain percent of the audience to almost baby the performer because they sense your ego is on the line, and a certain percent to feel uncomfortable about whether you want them to actually believe you possess these powers. 

Performance styles are designed to upset that dynamic by removing the traditional "magician" role.

With the Wonder-Room you're not a magician so much. You're a guy who collects unusual, strange, and fascinating objects. You don't present these things to people. They sit on that shelf, or in that curio cabinet, or—if you're lucky—in the room you have devoted just to magical objects. And maybe you sort of nudge visitors that way, but you always follow their lead. Let them pick up the objects they find interesting. It's a Cabinet of Their Curiosities.

"What's this thing?" they ask, picking up one of the objects. Maybe you have some story you heard about the object, or maybe you're just like, "I don't really know. I have a few different guys who look out for these sorts of things for me and one of them was searching through a barn on the property of this guy who had recently passed and found this. Actually, he sent me an email about what you're supposed to do with it, hold on let me get it." You don't "perform" the tricks. You demonstrate this interesting trait of this odd object.

And part of the work behind this style is developing a story for each piece. Not a story in the "bizarre magick" sense. If that works for you, great. But for me, those types of stories like, "These are the gold coins a wizard paid a mermaid to bring him the moon's reflection from the sea!" It's like, whaddafug you talkin 'bout? I find that stuff more distancing than engaging for an adult audience. 

But stories about how you came across these objects, where you found them, the people you interacted with along the way, the subculture of people who buy and trade these odd things; that can all be very interesting.

You could limit yourself to a certain type of artifact. Maybe you only collect haunted objects. And everything you has vanishes or floats or possesses you in some way. Maybe your display is of things collected from suspected alien crash sites. Maybe you collect scientific anomalies. Or gambling paraphernalia. Or odd toys. 

When I build mine, it will have things from all manner of categories. Some old crusty books from the Outlaw Effects/Gemini Artifacts world. Some examinable Tenyo effects. Some interesting old decks of cards (each set and stacked for very specific tricks). A spirit bell. A Dean's Box. Any effect or prop that is somewhat visually interesting and can be fairly examined, I will come up with a story regarding where it came from and it will live in my Wonder-Room. 

I'm sure other people have had similar ideas, but it came up pretty organically for me. I was staying at a friend's place for a week and I had a bunch of tricks I'd had people order for me so I could review them (or consider reviewing them) for the JAMM, and I had some other tricks with me a well. So I had more than I would usually carry with me when visiting someone and while I had some tucked away from prying eyes, others I had out on the dresser near my bed. These were ones that could be looked over by someone else. (Perhaps there was part that couldn't be looked over, but I would just have that individual part hidden away.)

At one point his sister visited us and she was talking to me in my room that night and she was asking me about some of the objects that were laid out on the dresser. And I just started making up stories about them and where they came from, then I'd demonstrate whatever weird property they have. She really enjoyed it. She burned through everything and it was a nice inverse of a potentially awkward situation where you are forcing trick after trick on someone.

Did she believe everything? That's not the question. Performance styles aren't about getting people to believe them. Distracted Artist isn't about getting them to believe tricks can inadvertently happen. Engagement Ceremony isn't about getting them to believe you really know a Viking virility ritual. And the Wonder-Room isn't about getting them to believe this bookcase is full of genuinely incredible relics. It's simply about blurring the lines between what part of this is a trick and what isn't. Certainty makes for dull magic.

But it's bigger than that too. In magic we are constantly asking people to play along with us. The purpose of coming up with new performance styles is to make it easier and more fun to play along by giving them something to play along with other than, "Hey, let's all pretend I'm a super incredible guy with amazing skills, okay?" Get that through your skull, because that is amateur magic's biggest issue.

In a theater we can all pretend David Copperfield is a warlock or whatever the shit we want because that's how a "show" works. "We went to the off-broadway show and pretended that hollow wooden box was King Lear's throne." No problem. Copperfield is to wizard as hollow box is to royal throne. But you're not performing in a theater. You're in a Wendy's.

That's why it's so odious when people try to come off as having real powers of some nature. You're asking people to invest in the least likable part of this craft: the phony bullshit part that serves the magician's ego. And then all these magicians sit around like, "Errrr... why don't people like magic more? People just don't wanna believe in wonder these days, I guess." Uh, they do. You're doing it wrong, dummy. Remove the role of "magician" from the interaction, blur the lines of what is real and what isn't, and you will be shocked how much people are willing to let themselves believe.

But with the traditional magician-centric way... why would they bother indulging that? Here's a thought experiment. Imagine you went to a friend's house and sat around a table and one of them said, "Hey, I have a fun idea. Let's engage in an activity that's predicated on all of us playing along with the idea that I'm the most handsomest boy in the whole-wide world!" What would your enthusiasm for that activity be? Well, I hate to break it to you, BUT THAT'S BARELY FUCKING DIFFERENT ENOUGH FROM WHAT MAGICIANS DO TO QUALIFY AS AN ANALOGY!