Finding The Path To A Local Legend – Pt. 4
The Next To The Last Installment from the Notebooks of Merlini the Persistent
My friend and fellow explorer, do me a favor, will you? Get a piece of paper, and write this simple phrase – Magic is_____________. Take a moment, and fill in the blank. How do you answer that, and remember that the answer is your magic!
Extract from Notebook 9
I tried that with balloons. Balloons are __________________ was a surprising question to ask. I touch balloons every day; I think about them each day; and yet until I read Frank’s little snippet, I never distilled my passion to an essential perspective. I recommend the exercise to you; it may surprise you!
I believe in magic – do you? If not, what will it take to convince you that magic is real?
Real; there’s a funny word. Is love real? Is remorse real? Is the wind real? How about my imaginary audience – you, with the glasses and torn sports jacket; and next to him, you in the corduroy pants, and the pen in your pocket. Are you real, even as I talk to you, watch your faces, and consider your reaction? Yes, all these are real, even if they won’t bruise a shin. This is the way I use ‘real’, and it is why I say that magic is real. When I perform, my magic is as real as the love in my heart for the audience.
With my belief that magic is real, I can perform real magic. My first effect takes the mind of the audience away from their day. As I work, a crystal ball rises around us, wrapping everyone in a magic shell. I see us in a snow globe, and each gesture shakes a shimmering, glittery trail in the air. As the show unfolds, this pixie dust settles on every surface, distorting the eye with the magic specks until the whole world fairly shimmers with every breath. The last effect is the release. A great closing moment, and the crystal shatters out, melting to quicksilver on the air, releasing our magic upon the world.
My friend, what is the spell you cast, and where does it take your willing audience? When you believe in magic, you are magical!
Extract from Notebook 11
It is easy for magicians to talk about casting a spell, enchanting their audience, or even mystifying people. Last time I noticed, though, it was musical groups like Phish, Bruce Springsteen, and Brittany Spears who took the lions share of cash for performances. In fact, when reading about the gross receipts for these acts, it is amazing that anyone has money left to hire an artist for their party! I ask myself, how can someone who plays music, the same music that appears on the records, collect so much cash? Perhaps they are entrancing and enchanting their audiences in a way other entertainers are not.
This started me down the path to consider what happens at a concert. When I saw Pink Floyd (at an astronomical cost) it was a terrific concert. There was a feeling of energy among the 20,000 people jammed into the Denver stadium. While I couldn’t begin to tell you anything about the band members preferences for something as mundane as Coke or Pepsi, I felt close to them. I felt they expressed feelings I had, and this understanding between us felt good. To be sure, it was a multi-thousand watt expression of understanding, still Pink Floyd and I had true rapport. They cast a spell and drew us to their world. In that world, every single one of us 20,000 fans knew Pink Floyd understood us and sympathized with our personal troubles. Hmmmmm, maybe human feelings are universal?
Could concerts be mega group therapy? I’m not the only one to discuss a concert in terms of what I felt. Are we paying exorbitant fees for a feeling? Yes, we are. The concert is (literally) an amplification of a feeling. The feeling is generally elevating and powerful, creating the illusion that we suddenly possess the power to solve our hardest problems. At its heart, the concert imparts a deep change of state that can be recalled. Just ask someone who saw a music act they love ‘how was the concert?’ Notice that their expression, their posture, and their mood all change the more deeply they recall the experience. Oh yes, we are on to something deep here! This impact can be so great, a musician can call on those memories decades later. Elvis at the end of his career had women close to his own age as giddy as school girls. This was not because of his recent recordings; it was because of the incredible impact his recordings 20 years earlier created.
Artists have it within their power to achieve some measure of this effect, no matter what their medium. People have gazed at Guernica and cried; even reprints of Rothko’s massive canvases affect the heart. People swooned as Houdini struggled to escape from manacles; a performance often delivered behind curtains! Yes, an artist in any medium can achieve this effect. I won’t give all the secrets here, however, I will offer this tip. In the balloon world, most of the performances are comic. In the music world, comedy musicians have the smallest followings. In magic, the top acts are not known as comedy magicians. Consider why this is so, and you’ll take the first step toward enchanting an audience.
I haven’t taken the time to count the number of questions. Yes, there are a lot of questions in this book. I find that questions are a hard edge that scrapes off accumulated wooly thinking. I won’t apologize to you for the questions. There is no better way for me to probe your mind, to divine your thinking, and help you construct a doorway into your own thoughts. With that said, let me set loose a whole raft of questions.
Where is the magic? The next time you perform an effect, ask that question, and then keep track of the answer for the entire routine. Imagine that the answer is ‘the magic is in the scarf that covers the box’. Alright, very good, you located the magic. Let us presume that it is the magic in the scarf which carries off the effect. If that is so, then the box or the can or the bag or whatever is covered by the scarf is incidental. Uh oh! The box or the can or the bag or whatever is also a source of magic? Hmmmmm, that seems like weak magic to me. Either that, or the item to be magic’d is pretty persistent if it requires two magic sources!
If that wand was actually charged with magic force, would you be so careless? Or would you handle it as gingerly, with as much attention as if the thing was packed with nitro glycerine? When I watch most magicians, I have no doubt that their wand is a painted stick. They often take greater care with their watch than they do with their wand, and a watch is available at any store! The audience is well aware that the wand is just a stick because the actions of the magician convinced them! I have visited the Smithsonian many times; not even once did the docent take a valuable object and toss it around, jam their arm through it, or in any other fashion treat something valuable as though it was easily replaced. The way many magicians act, though, might lead one to conclude that these rare, powerful objects could be simply ordered from a catalog!
The last question concerns the well spring of the magic. Is the source in the magical items, in the wand, in the outfit, in the table, in the magician’s hands, or in a spell recited to invoke the origin of the power? (How sad that magicians no longer recite a spell to carry off their magic. This might be trouble, though – the audience might believe the magician is doing real magic!) Yes, magic requires power, and that power has a source. No one would be so stupid as to claim ‘I am using talent we all have’, because who will attend a performance given by an ordinary person? An audience wants someone out of the ordinary to give them an extraordinary experience! I rarely see any magician with a sense for the source of their power. If you want to be far above average, divine the origin of your magic power; know the limits; know the cost for using this force; and the potential danger to others. Try saying this – ‘Do not stare directly at my hands, or you may receive a terrible headache!’ That would give the audience something to remember!
Extract from Notebook 6
I admit that I’m often confused as to the source of the magic a magician controls. (Compare this to Robert Johnson, who got his great ability by meeting old Scratch at that famous crossroads.) Most of the time, there doesn’t seem to be any magic power directed by the magician, and in a rare moment when we might believe we are watching actual magic, the magician quickly intrudes to tell us he has no magic powers. Wow, that’s completely unterrific. Kind of like attending a church service conducted by someone with no knowledge of the Deity. Balloon artists, too, could benefit from thinking just a little about the subject of their talent.
I used to, long ago, assure people that my balloons are just like any balloons they could get. Then I realized that when the audience says ‘those are special balloons you are using, aren’t they?’ the correct answer is ‘yes’. An audience does not care to watch an ordinary person doing ordinary things – that is their life! They want something extraordinary, and for balloon artists, it begins with materials not generally available. Yes, I say, I have special balloons from a private source. The ‘ooh’ factor starts with that, and it grows with each stage of the performance. I agree with my audience when they state that this requires special talent and special training. I tell them that much of the art comes from apprenticeship with others, and they nod, understanding that THIS IS SOMETHING SPECIAL, and therefore, something to watch.
Richard Osterlind made a relevant point in Making Magic Real. He noted that an author does not interrupt their narrative to remind the reader ‘this is just a story’, nor do actors announce ‘this is just a movie’. The spell is cast without any interruption. Authors and movie directors know that people can stop the movie or close the book; the goal is the suspension of disbelief. Once that happens, why wreck it? In my own way, I do the same thing for my audience. The more they believe there is magic in my hands, the more amazing my creations. Embrace the role of entertainer – lead them, share your vision, and then, when finished, let the audience return to their world taking just the memory of this extraordinary time with a magical person.
Percy told me about the clown organizations; they are called alleys. That seemed a bit trashy to me; it is generally bums and the coloreds planning trouble who hang about in alleys. Why not call them anything but alleys? I suppose that originally, the only places which allowed clowns to gather were alleys. The alleys serve as foster homes for budding clowns. The novice learns clown traditions, history, and techniques. Along the way, the clown is expected to create a biography of the character. This biography, according to Percy, can be extremely detailed. At the least, the clown has to know where they came from, something of their clown parents, their clown’s education, experiences, and favorite things, from books to foods. When the alley is convinced the clown has mastered the required details, the clown is marched in a parade and they are ready to perform in the world.
This is a little like Stanislavski’s method of building a character. The Master director instructs us to know the details of a character, down to clothing preferences. Once immersed in this shell, the actor disappears, and the character comes to life. Oddly enough, such an approach is rarely taken by magicians!
We all love the story of King Arthur, and if we are to become magicians, we pore over the pages with information on Merlin. In collections of legends, wizards abound, and sometimes, a story will actually explain where the wizard learned their magic. We can answer the question for Moses, as well as many of the Hindu magicians; yet never have I met a magician who can answer the question for themselves. Even worse, I have yet to meet a magician who acknowledges these magi as part of their magical lineage!
Doesn’t it make sense that a magician would need a teacher? A period of testing would ensue, followed by a period of instruction. Eventually, the acolyte would be tested, this time as a graduation exercise, and if he passed, the student is graduated. I have created a tidy one page biography of my training, and the process involved. When I perform, I am not Frank or Mr. Bennick; I am Merlini, master of specific fields of magic, as directed by my master. I am no all purpose wizard, and there is magic that is beyond me. This foundation directs my attitude, my bearing, and my technique.
A magician would say ‘perform’ as if their magic was a script to be followed. Quite possibly, a magician would never use the word magic, either, as in ‘I will demonstrate magic’ or ‘I will use magic’. How often does someone at Toastmaster begin ‘I will use English’? A real magician achieves, transforms, mystifies, and above all, is magical. The rest are merely actors pretending to be magicians. Houdin taught us the secret; an actor playing the role of the magician. Houdin, I believe, chose those words because an actor becomes the role. For the best actors, there is no pretending, and this is how it should be with magicians.
Extract from Notebook 17
Frank touches on the question of what a performer is, and what a performer does on stage, whether that stage is a living room or a raised platform in an auditorium. Does a performer act as themselves? Unlikely. Archie Leach was once asked ‘who would you most like to be?’ and he replied ‘Cary Grant’. The actor wanted to be the role! And why not? Cary Grant was so cool!
As artists, we work with an audience, and if we consider our persona, or the aspect we share with the audience, it strengthens the performance, gives direction, and answers the question ‘what do I do next’. As an exercise, I take a routine and imagine Charlie Chaplin performing it. Then I give it to Benny Hill, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood (who usually just shoots a hole in the balloons), Harry Blackstone Jr., Jeff McBride, and Mae West. I try to imagine Cirque du Soleil consulting on this routine, and their suggested changes. Each time I do this, new ideas arise, and I realize that a routine can be imprinted with personality.
Balloon artists are often assumed to be performing for children. Where is it written that children’s performances require nothing but a comic touch? Very rarely are nursery rhymes, fairy tales, children’s stories, or even older children’s movies entirely comedic in tone. Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, Jack fell down and broke his crown . . . 3 blind mice — the farmer’s wife cut off the tail with a carving knife(!) In Snow White, the young girl is poisoned, for heaven’s sake! Then there is Bambi – need I say more? I suspect that when we only offer comedy, we present a forgettable show to the children. Strictly comedy is a mayo sandwich made with Wonder bread. By knowing our performing selves, we find non-comic experiences to share.
Do you practice? Do you write a routine, go over it and over it until it is automatic, like breathing, or sitting straight or speaking clearly (you do all of those, right?) Or do you practice it enough to get by, possibly stumbling a bit and pretending that you intended the fumble? Let’s imagine the earliest magicians – the priests or shamans who control the fate of their people. Such high stakes carry a high price – failure results in death. Would that be enough to motivate most to practice? No, however, those who didn’t wouldn’t be around to disgrace the profession with their performance!
Extract from Notebook 5
Into every life, a little nagging must fall. I won’t say anything more about this section, except that when there is a show of hands ‘does this apply to you’, my hand goes up too.
The little aphorisms and parables don’t work that well. The old saw about ‘one effect, and ten ways to present it’ doesn’t work with most people who are craving more and more information, which results in less material; or, let’s be completely honest, less material that they’ve mastered. Mastered – there’s a term to spend some time with. Get a dictionary and look at the word. Does your ability match mastery? Be honest, now. Mastery is more than getting a reaction (good or bad) from an audience with an effect.
What is your technique for checking your mastery? What is your procedure to test yourself before leaving an effect behind? What is your thinking on how something is magical? Do you have an answer to these questions? If not, then stop reading until you have some answers. I’m serious, and a potent magician; are you sure you want to challenge me this way? I’m not sure you do! By asking a few questions, it is quickly established just how developed a magician is. If they haven’t got an answer stop wasting time with them and move along.
Extract from Notebook 3
In the balloon world, people are hungry for sculptures! Ever more videos are released, with ever more sculptures shown and explained. I meet artists, and they quickly tell me how many sculptures they know. On the e-mail list, artists discuss how many items they can make, how many balloons they use, and on and on it goes. Does this really reflect anything important about us as artists? I think it is better knowing how to make one item, which we can present ten different ways, because such an approach forces us to develop entertainment to go with the sculptures. Imagine someone twisting with a menu showing just a single item! If they succeeded, it must be due to the variety of entertainment they provide with the sculpture.
Of course I do not advocate trying this precise approach until you are ready with strong entertainment. I generally use a menu, though I never have more than 10 items on it. I don’t want the focus on the balloons, I want the focus on the interaction with the customer. The balloon may not last 5 minutes after it is created; the impression I leave could easily last for years. (I actually have proof that it does. An upcoming birthday party is for a child who met me over 3 years ago. I doubt it was just the balloon!)
Sharpe tells us that it was common for certain Oriental effects to belong to a family, that is, a family would perfect a specific effect, such as linking rings. In some cases, this may be the only effect the family performs. The family prized the linking rings, and generation after generation studied, refined, and practiced that one effect. Imagine the mastery a magician could attain in such a family! In this tradition, there are several challenges a magician has to overcome.
1 – Boredom. How do you practice the same effect every day of your life?
2 – Achievement. Your father, uncle, and cousins all perform this effect – how can you stand out?
3 – Skill. With several hundred years of practice, nuance can be very nuanced!
4 – Honor. Very rarely does a fumbling magician bring disgrace to his entire family for generations past and generations to come!
5 – Presentation. With so many years and so many generations studying this effect, presentation would be crucial for a family member to gain distinction. How many kinds of presentation would be left? Ah, here the task is impossible, and yet, there are too many answers to list them all. Remember that youth always finds a way to rebel, and the method is as surprising every time as it was the first time. With this tradition in place, presentation would achieve a variety I cannot comprehend, because the task of finding a new presentation would be so difficult.
6 – Loving something your parents love.
Extract from Notebook 12
One of the results of making myself practice is a need to keep myself interested. I have concluded that when I lose interest, it is because that part of a routine is dull. (I never lose interest with the good parts!) To keep myself rehearsing the entire act, I have to make the dull sections interesting. If I can’t think of a way to do this, I cut that portion. This rehearsal also improves my skills, and in this way I meet a couple of Franks points.
Practice will take care of most of the other points, too. A well practiced performer will rarely dishonor their art; and never through performance. Failing to practice leads to a shoddy performance, and that is always dishonorable. During practice and while considering new ways to stage an effect, presentation is addressed. With sufficient practice, achievement on some level is guaranteed. So often, it is fumbling over the mechanics of a routine or a show pushes performers out of the elevator at the lower levels of the entertainment sky scraper. Once mechanics are mastered, art may flourish.
The best type of entertainer is one with a good education, broad experience of the world, lots of imagination, passion for the pursuit of perfection, and above average mental equipage. Before I went to New York with Percy, I never imagined this group to include Negroes. Then I saw Presto perform in New York City. What a gifted entertainer! His hands were fluid as he moved cigarettes into view and then made them vanish. The way he used the doll (Susie? I think that was the name he gave her) in combination with the Lotta bowl was pure artistry! Presto convinced me that there are exceptions to the rule!
I advise you to read widely, study the mind of the audience, surprise them, fuel your passion for your art, and practice to perfection. Even on an off night, headliners are so skilled, the audience never learns of their errors. In fact, there is a relationship between the perfection of skill and outstanding performance. When you no longer have to consider skill, you can focus entirely on the presentation. Just as the position of the fingers or hands becomes automatic, so too does the warm smile and the gracious manner. In my experience, mood always matches the practiced manner.
Extract from Notebook 3
I suspect that Frank was a ‘current affairs’ type of performer, referencing items in newspapers and magazines. This is what people generally mean when they use the phrase ‘wide reading interests’. It is possible that he meant reading in a variety of languages; I doubt it, though. Reading widely is a good way to stay abreast of popular culture, as is watching some television. I have a friend who publishes an electronic newsletter in part to inform others of shows, movies, and characters that are currently hot with kids. Armed with this information, a performer can demonstrate some knowledge of the audience’s world. Since people tend to like those with similar interests, relating through popular culture can win over an audience quickly, especially a young audience. David Kaye and Jimmy Leo both recommend this strategy.
I asked Denny* about Presto, who had to be an amazing magician to get past Frank’s racism. Denny said that Presto was incredible, the Jeff Sheridan of the era. Denny then went on to school me about street performing and the challenges of the street. You have to remember, he said, that people are usually on their way some place else. You have to be arresting to get them to stop, and then, you can’t go on too long. (That dashed my hopes for taking this column to the streets . . . ) He said that Presto was a gifted cigarette manipulator; continuing, he said this was before the anti-smoking lobby formed support groups to go after smokers. When he finished on that topic, I asked if Presto ever put out a book. No, he said, like most street magicians, Presto just faded into another field and disappeared. At least as far as Denny knew!
Perhaps you have noticed that most magic performances are offered as a comic show. Routine after routine, designed for laughter. The air is thick with jokes, riddles, stories, gags, and sucker effects. The magician moons and mugs and overreacts every minute of the performance. The audience is offered relief with a silent routine. Sometimes, the silent routine is comic, though most often they lack even that bit of point. Silent ‘acts’ are just displays of maniupulation skill with no clear intention. This trend is gaining strength – a once noble, vital, essential art used as a spring board for cheap jokes, or dull displays of skill. Are magicians so thoroughly lacking in imagination that this is the best we can do?
One time I was at Phil’s, I met Henning Nelms. This is a gentleman with much ambition for the magic field! He authored a powerful book, Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers. Mr. Nelms contends that magicians without a reason for what they do, without a scene to hold interest and solve a dilemma that requires magic, are smothering our art. Magic, said Mr. Nelms, is far from an intellectual practice. It must engage the emotions, or it is simply trickery, a kind of ‘catch me if you can’ boasting by the performer. When speaking, Mr. Nelms rarely uses the word magician because so few people doing magic are magicians. Does a tool chest make you a plumber, he asked me? No, I said. What else do you need? Experience in the trade, an apprenticeship, and an understanding of plumbing as part of the city system. Exactly, he said, obviously pleased to find a similar spirit! The question was easy for me, as he and I hold similar views on performance.
Extract from Notebook 14
Baltimore has a long history with outstanding magicians. Hen Fetsch was born in Baltimore, Henning Nelms visited frequently, as did Milbourne Christopher. These three were regulars at Phil Thomas’s Yogi Magic Mart magic store. What a rare opportunity to learn from legends! Nelms applied his theatrical knowledge to the topic of magic shows. According to Nelms, the ability to trick an audience is a poor substitute for a show that entertains and mystifies. It was the emotional aspects of performing that Nelms promoted, much as Fitzkee did in Showmanship for Magicians.
For example, take the Zig Zag illusion, where someone – usually a woman – is put into a narrow box. Large blades are set into the box, and the segments are slid in different directions to show the lady is completely dismantled. Has that got your heart jumping or your blood pumping? Probably not. Now imagine that Leona Helmsley is brought on stage. A funeral dirge plays as she is condemned and then dragged, struggling, to the box. She is imprisoned, and then each blade is pushed home. Many would think, yes, that’s justice! How do we conclude? Two ideas come to mind. One, her hand somehow breaks from the box, and tosses large denomination bills from the hole. Hey, an executioner’s got to eat, so he collects the cash, and lets her out. A second idea is that just before Leona expires, Mercy intervenes, grace is bestowed, and the punishment is ended. Acknowledging Mercy, the magician stops at the last second, and restores Leona Helmsley, releasing her unharmed.
That’d have people shouting in the aisles! The point is not ‘here’s an interesting box that has some curious properties’; the point is punishment, power, magic, and divine intervention, topics with meat on their bones! And yet, all the times I’ve seen the Zig Zag illusion presented, there was never any story to support it. The effect was given in the tone as a narrator for a documentary on silicon chips.
A second presentation with the Zig Zag box would have an obviously innocent lass dragged to the box by uncharitable people, who stuff her in the box and prepare to do their work with the shiny, silver blades. The magician struggles through the crowd, and we – the audience – realize that it is his girl friend, wrongly accused, and about to be cut down to size. Held by the crowd, the magician is horrified as the love of his life is auditioned for Boxing Helena. When the mob has finished it’s deed, they disperse, leaving the magician behind. Inspired, the magician works up a big ball of magic power, and sets about to restore his love. At the end, he opens the box, and she is unharmed. If David Copperfield hasn’t done this yet, he will, because Copperfield understands how to involve the heart of an audience! I myself would have no trouble being involved in a story of a father trying to save his daughter.
For completeness, this could be done as a scene from the great play Peer Gynt. At the very end, Peer is placed into the Zig Zag box by the Button Maker to be recycled. Solveg’s rising voice informs the audience not to give up hope, and sure enough, Solveg arrives in time to retrieve and restore the wayward hero. In this example, the man is saved by the woman, which adds another new wrinkle to this well worn classic, giving it new life. Some would say that the reason a young woman is always used is because who would care if some guy was chopped up; ignore those people, they are cynical!
The point here is not the Zig Zag box. The point is that the mechanics should be exactly that, mechanics, treated as a means to an end, not the end themselves. It is the theme which creates entertainment and engages the audience. Anything less is either a challenge (catch me if you can) or a vulgar display bereft of artistic expression. In the words of David Bartlett, ballooners should be entertaining.
What, I ask you, is an important engagement? This question came to mind after I had lunch with a magician who told me about his last few dates. This one wasn’t too important; I tried new material at this event, since it wasn’t important either; at my last engagement, I hadn’t really practiced enough before I put that routine into my act – it was alright, because it didn’t matter. It was just a children’s party . . . We ate the rest of the meal in silence because I could not stop seething at this ignorant conjuror. I wanted to grab him by the collar and shake him repeatedly, asking, what is an important function? What date matters enough to demand rehearsal, practice, reflection, and detailed preparation?
To me, it is any engagement that I care to accept. If it isn’t important, then I’m not going to give it my time. Oh Frank, some will say, you can’t mean to tell me that when you provide 15 minutes at the retirement home, this is an important venue. Yes, it is. I treat the venue with respect, I rehearse ahead of time, I fine tune for the needs of my audience, and that audience is the most important audience in my world at that moment. It makes me furious when an entertainer says something such as ‘it was only a free performance’ or even worse ‘they are just children’. Children of every sort – even Negro audience members – deserve the best you can provide. They have come for an entertainment – they deserve to receive one! It is a damn petty magician who offers second rate entertainment due to their assessment of the audience! I have met second rate entertainers, and there is just one who I forgive. He is second rate, yes, but he tries his hardest! The man just has no presence or skill; yet he practices much harder than the more talented members of the local S.A.M. He will never headline at a hotel or a club, yet he stays busy because he gives his all to every audience.
Which brings me back to the opening question. What is an important engagement? What is an important audience? I suggest that any audience is the important audience. I believe that one eventually entertains royalty and heads of state by treating every audience along the way as though they were in that distinguished company. Malini went from the Bowery to Buckingham Palace. I do not suppose that he ever considered any audience or booking unimportant. If Malini would not do it, then by what right will you?
Extract from Notebook 16
This is an issue our audiences and bookers conspire together on. They want a cheap party since it is for the kid; or they want a cheap party for some other reason. The audience may consider the show less significant because it is in the Bonkberry living room or back yard. I believe Frank is correct, and we ought to treat every show as important. If it isn’t important, how will we justify giving irreplaceable hours of our lives to the event?
I have noticed that as television becomes more prevalent, many professions are affected. Most particularly, doctors are influenced by the television. Indeed, it is true! They watch Dr. Welby, and study his mannerisms, his inflections, his general demeanor. Dr. Welby conveys competence to his patients, he inspires devotion in the staff, and he is mesmerizing. Who wouldn’t want Dr. Welby for their doctor? As a result of this influence generated by posture, speaking voice and general manner, doctors are imitating Dr. Welby. The net result is that some doctors act like real doctors (they seem like Dr. Welby) and some doctors don’t seem like real doctors (they are not imitating the television character.) What a remarkable state of affairs! And what a simple way for any physician to raise their status in the minds of people around them.
Police are not immune to this, nor politicians. Why, even the impression we have of the cowboy comes largely from television and movies rather than from history. When I see someone affecting a ‘Western’ appearance, they mimic the conception of a screen writer. This is a very effective technique since so many people watch so many shows and movies. In an odd sense, to become real, one must copy the fabricated character on the screen.
Have magicians learned this, yet? Most, apparently, do not have televisions or watch movies. If they did, then magicians would start acting and looking like magicians! In the performances I view, the actor does a better job of being magical than my much practiced peers. Could it have anything to do with an actor’s focus on the entertainment, the emotion, the performance combined with nearly no technical skill? Could it be that when researching the role, the actor studied the lives of magicians rather than the techniques? I would say yes, and urge more magicians to watch movies and television with magician characters!
Extract from Notebook 2
Years ago, I started watching performers of all types for general performance points. They all seemed to have certain ways of walking, of standing, and of posing in common. Quite soon I realized that when someone comes onto a stage, they are not the performer unless they act like the performer. Just watch a music video, and you’ll know what I mean! Better yet, watch a concert video where you can watch the roadies set up equipment. They do not act like the performers, which makes them invisible on the stage. Listen to the opening remarks of the M.C. or the person handling introductions. We never mistake that person for the performer, unless the performer is not very good. Our audience is trained by the media, and I recommend taking advantage of that training to enhance our own performances. Besides, it’s fun to act like the performer, and I too have found that when I act like a performer, I slip into my performance mode no matter what my day was like.
Next month, we will have a final visit with Merlini the Persistent. You will also find out what happened when I went back to see Alyssa with Frank’s final message to her, and why she despised her father. All of this in the next installment, so be sure to return!
*Of Denny & Lee’s Magic Studio, in Baltimore, MD.
R.B. in Deerborn – no, I don’t think that men are naturally better at entertaining than women, though your suggestion of a biological explanation was quite funny, at least to me. Maybe that is why men are drawn to 260s, while women tend to specialize in rounds. I personally think that women are more secure than men. This is why women can do decor and leave, while men insist on starring in the show. Oh, and by the way, while you claimed your photo showed a similarity with a 260, to me, 160 is what came to mind. Sorry. In the future, if you want to send me pictures like that, please don’t. My editor refuses to include them, and I fully endorse his decision. Thank you!
Thank you for giving this column some of your time.