Social Magic Basics Pt. 3

The presumption when talking about Social Magic is that magicians tend to fall into one of two categories:

1. They want to perform magic to strangers for money.

2. They want to perform magic to people they know for fun.

(This implies two other categories as well, but I think we can take the category of "wanting to perform magic to people you know for money" off the table. That seems like a long-shot. 

So that leaves the category of "wanting to perform magic to strangers for fun." I don't think this category really exists. There was a time in the early 2000s where—inspired by David Blaine—a lot of people talked about performing "Street Magic" where you would walk up to strangers on the street or in a mall and perform magic for them. This idea appealed to younger magicians, primarily teenagers, because teenagers are stupid, and performing for strangers for fun is sort of a stupid idea. They didn't ask to see magic, they don't know you as a person, and you don't have a camera crew to put your performance into context. It's just kind of a weird deal all around.

That's not to say that everyone I perform for is a close friend or family member. I often show a trick to someone I just recently met that night, but usually it's someone I hope to interact with after the effect. I don't perform and then run off. So the magic might be part of building some rapport. Or I may perform for my seat-mate on a train or plane. But I see that as a little mini-relationship, and I would still only show them something if it flowed with our interaction.)

The idea of Social Magic is to develop a manner of performing for the people in your life so that it remains fun for everyone involved for the long-term.

Here are some styles of performing that I've found don't work in the long-term:

1. Pretending you have actual powers that are either supernatural or just highly unusual. In the long-term this will be obviously incongruous with the real "you."
2. Performing tricks that are highly scripted, in a theatrical style. In the long-term this can come off as annoying or alienating, and it can be a barrier to your interaction with people because it feels like you step into a character when you perform.
3. Performing tricks very casually with no other framing device other than, "Here's a trick." This is probably where most of us are or were with our performances for friends and family. While the casual aspect is good, in the long-term, the magic itself quickly loses its novelty. And if there's nothing for them to latch onto other than the trick itself, then your tricks will sort of blend together and won't garner the reactions they did when you first started showing them magic. 

As it turns out, the tactic that I think does hold up in the long-term, is presenting yourself as someone with an interest in magic and then giving people a semi-fictionalized glimpse into what the world of magic entails. You're not pretending to be a magician, or mindreader. You're not putting on a show. And you're not giving them random tricks devoid of context. 

Instead you're giving them a true "behind the scenes" look at how magic is learned, practiced, and passed along, mixed with a more fantastical take on that subject as well.

Social Magic and Performance Styles

The performance styles I've described in the past fit in well with this concept of Social Magic. They are all "meta" presentations, for the most part. They are presentations that are about being someone who has an interest in magic. (If you're newer here, the Performance Styles are briefly described and linked to their original posts in the Glossary.)

The Peek Backstage is a style that is about the study and practice of magic and letting them assist you in those things.

The Distracted Artist is a style that is borne out of the idea that someone who studied and worked on magic tricks would interact with their environment in a different way than someone who hadn't. Just as anyone who studies a particular art or craft might.

The Engagement Ceremony is a style that is about the unusual rituals and procedures you might come across as someone with an interest in magic. You don't need to present these as actual supernatural rituals. My attitude is that I'm just always on the lookout for potentially interesting concepts and techniques and here's this thing I read about (a Navajo synchronicity ceremony, for example) and, of course, it must be nonsense but there does seem to be something weird that happens sometimes when you follow it. And then people are free to play along and buy into this as much as they like.

The Wonder Room is a style that is about the strange objects you might accumulate as someone with an interest in magic.

You might not immediately grasp how a "meta" performance style can disarm people and open them up to experiencing the magic more profoundly. Here's an analogy I've used before that may register more with you now after having read these Social Magic posts...

If you meet me at a party and I'm all dressed in black and goth-y and I'm like, "I'm a real life vampire... a creature of the night. No, I don't turn into a bat. But yes, I drink blood and exude raw sexual energy." Your first image of me would be some jocks dunking my head in the toilet in high school because you're a rational adult and you know vampires don't exist so me pretending to be one on any level comes across as somewhat pathetic.

But if you meet me at a party and I tell you how I have an interest in vampires and the subculture and I've been doing a lot of research on the subject. And then I say, "Obviously anyone claiming to be a modern-day vampire is just play-acting. I mean... I think that's true...but I have to say, I went to this one village in Serbia while I was doing research and some pretty crazy things happened when the sun went down...." Then I could undoubtedly tell you a story that would chill you and enthrall you on some level. And in a much greater way than I could if I was trying to pass myself off as a vampire.

I think it works that way with magic too. If I say, "I'm a magician," people's first thought will be "Oh, so he does little tricks and stuff, like I did when I was a kid." And if I say, "But I don't do cheap tricks. Im actually a real magician," then people will just think I'm straight up delusional. Neither of those thoughts are great for engendering a feeling of magic.

But, if it comes out that I have an interest in magic and I say something like, "I don't really perform all that much. I used to when I was a kid. But now it's just one of my hobbies to track down some more esoteric concepts. I mean... you can learn how to do basic tricks from youtube or a book, but there's a whole other level to this sort of thing that almost nobody knows about that I've been trying to learn through some back channels," then I will have people begging me to show them something. And by not trying to come off as "the magician" or some psychological genius, but instead just a person who has an interest in this sort of thing, I am much more relatable. So they can sort of join me on this journey. And then when I say something like, "Say... do you want to see something I learned recently that really freaked me out? Don't ask me how it's done, because I don't know. I just know how to set it up and it sort of works itself. The guy who showed it to me won't teach me the full secret until someone else who knows the secret dies. He only ever wants six people in the world who actually know the secret," I can sort of sneak enchantment in through the backdoor in a way I never could with a more direct presentation where I need to take credit for my "miracles."

By using these meta-styles I'm giving people areas of entry to talk about magic with me beyond just saying "show me a trick." This allows the subject of magic to flow more freely in and around my conversations which, in turn, leads to more opportunities for weaving magic into my natural interaction, which is the goal of Social Magic. 

[The one performance style I haven't mentioned here is the Romantic Adventure. That's a weird one because it's sort of a meta-meta-performance style. I'll have some new thoughts on this style soon.]