The Amateur at the Kitchen Table is back in stock. It can be ordered here.
Here is the intro to that book:
Secrets of amateur magic have well been preserved. If we were to list the books that are devoted to the performance of amateur magic—that is, the informal performance of magic in casual, non-professional environments—it would be a short list indeed. In fact, I don’t know of any such book other than this slim volume that you hold in your hands.
“Ah, but what about The Amateur Magician’s Handbook, by Henry Hay,” you suggest.
You know, one would think that a book called The Amateur Magician’s Handbook would be a good handbook for the study of amateur magic. And yet, it’s not. It’s certainly a great book and has a lot to offer a magician performing in any type of situation, but it does not really tackle the pitfalls and possibilities that are unique to the amateur performer. Quite the opposite, in fact, it talks about working in nightclubs, performing children’s shows, and different ways to get publicity. Did “amateur” used to have a different meaning or something?
The book is written as if the only reason an amateur would be performing magic is to become a professional magician. And that is, in fact, the differentiation that most magic books seem to make, i.e., the amateur is just a magician who has not yet risen to the level of a professional.
But there are many of us for whom that holds no appeal at all. I would rather disembowel myself with a card sword than perform trade-show magic, for example. That’s nothing against trade-show magic other than to say that the nature of the business does not appeal to me. When it comes to creative endeavors I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I don’t even want to do variations on the same thing over and over again. I want to constantly be doing new things, following new paths, and coming up with new ideas. If you want to be a good professional magician, then that can’t be your focus. Your focus needs to be on perfecting a handful of things. Not dicking around with a lot of things.
What this book presupposes is that the performance of amateur magic is a separate pursuit than performing magic in a professional arena. Amateur magic is not a stepping stone to a professional career. They are two different paths. They are different undertakings with different rules and different end goals. One can pursue both, but they’re not the same. They offer different opportunities and possibilities. And the underlying relationship between the magician and the spectator is different, or at least it should be.
It is also my belief that following the principles of behavior that were established for the professional magician is detrimental to the amateur performer.
How can that be? Certainly holding yourself to a higher standard—a professional standard—could only serve to enhance your performances, right? No. You have to keep in mind that these are different pursuits. You’ve sort of been unintentionally brainwashed into thinking they’re the same thing because every magic book implies they are.
Imagine every cookbook had been written for someone working in a professional kitchen and not the home cook. And the rules they delineated and the techniques they suggested were all aimed at the professional cook. So you would go to make you and your family macaroni and cheese for dinner and the first ingredient would be “8 gallons of milk.” And you had to stir it with one of those giant metal oars. This would likely not produce the best mac and cheese for your family. Or, at the very least, it would be an uneconomical and inconvenient way to produce such a dish.
That would, obviously, be a poor way to teach the home-cook. And yet when we talk about magic we tend to only talk about it from a professional’s perspective. Even the creators of magic who are technically amateurs themselves often construct their effects with the professional in mind.
I have only ever been an amateur and have never wanted to perform magic professionally. And that perspective has allowed me to refine my performance of magic and discard the elements of presentation that just don’t apply to the non-pro. This book contains the insights I’ve gathered over the past 20 years performing for co-workers, acquaintances, strangers, friends, family, lovers, and the beautiful waitress who made me the iced chai latte.