In the past six months I've seen three magic shows in New York City. That is, three full length magic shows in an actual theater. That's more than I saw in my previous 15 years in the city combined. This is due to a few factors. The first is that I can't remember a time when there were three large-scale magic shows in NYC in such a short period of time. The second is that since I no longer live in NYC full time, but still like to get back there when I can, the presence of a show gives me a specific time-sensitive reason to go back. And the last reason is because I'm writing this site so it feels like I should be following the magic zeitgeist to a certain extent.
In the coming weeks I'll be writing some thoughts on the shows I saw (and one I'll be seeing soon, David Blaine). These aren't really reviews I just want to talk about the shows and any takeaways that might inform my performances in the future.
I saw Helder's show, Verso, at New World Stages in November. I have very little positive to say about the show. But, at the same time, I don't have much negative to say about the show either. I genuinely don't remember much about the show at all.
Here's what I do remember:
1. It was too long. It should have been half the length with no intermission. Very few magic shows warrant a 2 hour running time.
2. I remember being fooled a few times during the show.
3. I remember something to do with little envelopes on the wall, maybe?
4. I remember a trick where a bunch of people in the audience had picked a card from a deck that was being passed around (I think) and he was able to name the cards. I remember this because the girl in front of me who was there with her dad had her card named and was very excited about it.
5. I remember him, more than once, reiterating one of my least favorite presentational conceits, and that's when people say something like, "I want you to remember when you see magic that anything is possible!" Or words to that effect.
I think magicians vastly overestimate how "inspiring" a magic trick is. You're doing tricks and the audience knows you're doing tricks. It's completely nonsensical and illogical to hold up your dumb tricks as evidence that anything is possible, because your tricks aren't real. It would be like taking a picture of your doughy body, then using photoshop to trim off the pounds and make it look like you're in shape, and then turning to someone standing next to you, showing them the manipulated image and saying, "I hope this physical transformation reminds you to take your health seriously and realize that getting in shape is possible."
It's such a goofy message that it would be almost comical if that was your intention. If you have someone going through a tough time, you could make them laugh by doing some dumb card trick and saying, "I hope you now realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it."
I genuinely have no real recollection of the show beyond that. I asked my friend who went with me what he remembered and he said, "He threw a sock monkey into the audience a bunch of times and he yelled a lot."
That's probably not quite the lasting memory Helder was hoping to impart.
You might say, "Who are you to critique the show? Have you ever had your own off-Broadway magic show?"
No, but I have worked and performed in other types of shows. Just last month someone emailed me to tell me they were thinking about something I wrote 20 years ago. It was a sketch that was based on Summer Nights from the movie/musical Grease. Except, in this version, Danny didn't go to the beach for the summer, he went to work on his uncle's farm. So instead of the song being split up between guys and girls, it's split up between guys on one side of the stage and cows (well, people in cow costumes) on the other. And it becomes clear during the course of the sketch/song that Danny fucked one of these cows while on summer break. And the song had all the energy and choreography of the original, but the cows only ever said "moo." So it would be like:
Boys: "Tell me more! Tell me more! Did you get very far?"
Cows: "Moo moo moooo! Moo moo mooooo! Moo moo moo moo moo moo?"
So yeah, you could say I'm pretty much a genius of theatrical stage-craft.
Ok, it's a fair point. I haven't put on a full length magic show. I'm certainly not suggesting I could perform a better show. I could, however, write a better show. Probably in a weekend. As far as I could tell there was no real effort put into the writing of the show. It was just a bunch of tricks strung together. And that's probably the reason why I can't remember anything about it. I'm sure if I saw it again I'd think, "Oh yeah, I remember that trick." But the lack of a grander structure made the show kind of forgetful.
That was my takeaway from Helder's show. I think at the most basic level, we might define a successful magic show as a series of tricks that fools the audience. But, if there is no resonance to the effects, I'm not sure we can consider that a success. Long ago I realized I had more than enough tricks that fooled people. But being fooled fades. And this blog has been, in part, an exploration on ways of making that magic feeling last longer than just the initial "surprise" moment. (In the same way that a horror movie with a lot of things jumping out at you might scare you in the moment, but a creepier, more subtle horror movie—one that might not have you jumping as much—might frighten you for years to come as you think about it when you're home alone.) Helder's show reminds me that I don't just want strong magic moments, I want long-lasting ones.