Fiction should not conflict with your objective sense of reality, it should embellish it.
Magical realism: "an unexpected alteration of reality [. . .] an unaccustomed insight that is singularly favored by the unexpected richness of reality or an amplification of the scale and categories of reality" (Alejo Carpentier)
More specifically, magical realism achieves its particular power by weaving together elements we tend to associate with European realism and elements we associate with the fabulous, and these two worlds undergo a "closeness or near merging." When I first stumbled upon this sub-genre of fiction, (Intro to the show “Narcos”) it was jargon. Something I didn't understand due to my lack of knowledge regarding literature. I had a hard time putting in to words the difference between fantasy (my idea of fiction) and what I wanted fiction to be for me (magical realism). Understanding the subtle differences wasn't something I could do, due to every category of fiction being interwoven in my mind. The truth is, pin-pointing the contrast between the two would make all the difference.
Fantasy in nature is an escape. It is a separate world allowing the spectator (reader) to observe and occasionally be immersed in. Great examples of fantasy are “The Lord Of the Rings” or “Harry Potter”, where the reader is aware that what he is reading is not his reality but something concocted for him to escape to. “Harry Potter” is a great example of observing the protagonist's escape from his own reality as well, much like our own experience as we read the book. But this form of writing doesn't challenge our perspective of reality, nor does it try to. It is for lack of a better term, an escape. If I were to compare this to the magic we do, it's Copperfield. It's a fantastic voyage which we do not feel is real and cannot be taken seriously. That's not to say that there isn't a moral to the story or that the performer isn't trying to connect with the audience, it's to say that trying to pass this off as realism is in fact lying. There is a place in magic for this type of thinking, many stage performers take on the role of a fantastic conjuror but often blur the lines between it and attempt to relate it to our own reality, thus lying. If I were to tell the story of a mage with extraordinary abilities who can make a helicopter vanish but then attempt to read your mind, I'm a liar. I've crossed the line from fantasy and am delving in to something much more personal, something I have no business (as a fictional character) doing. I'm lying to you. To me this accurately describes what I dislike about many performers. Magicians believe they can travel from fantasy to reality and back again, and expect you to be immersed and follow along. This is a very selfish idea and shows a lack of creativity. That's not to say that fantasy in magic isn't good. I personally am not a fan but when done right, can provide a somewhat escape for the audience. Doing this will most likely resemble a play you would see in a theater and after much reflection on the thought, will deflate the magic. The story trumps the magic, or at the very least makes it less important. So how does one create fictional magic without denying the magic? The closest answer to that is magical realism.
Many of the performers, when creating “fiction” will take a “What if...” approach. What if gravity didn't exist, what if cards could find other cards. This is merely fantasy and in no way offers an engaging experience but rather a silly observation of something to be clearly false. Everything is based on the assumption that the “what if...” is real, when we clearly know it not to be. Therefor, being immersed in this sort of fantasy is impossible, we simply don't care.
Magical realism is fictional, but in no way does it follow the guidelines of fantasy. It is linked with reality. One of the best ways to describe this idea is with an example from a book entitled “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” where the character who is so beautiful that she is followed everywhere by a cloud of butterflies. This extraordinary trait is brought to earth somewhat by the observation that all of the butterflies have tattered wings. In essence, there is a very earthly reason why these butterflies follow this beautiful girl, but is it coincidence? That's for you to decide. Surely the text suggests it is not but is never explicitly implied. It is the idea that the mundane can be wonderful or that the wonderful can be mundane. Whether or not the butterflies follow her for her beauty or because they have tattered wings becomes irrelevant to a point. The feeling is much more realistic and the casualness of it is whimsical yet not entirely fantastic and out of touch with reality. In text, an explanation for the phenomenon has to be written (tattered wings) but when performing, these instances can simply be implied by behavior or observation and do not have to be directly addressed. In my previous blog I mention narrating your every move as a sort of crutch, when in reality I think it's the performer trying to depict a specific phenomenon to the audience, this however leaves the audience in a weird state of trying to follow a narrative and a character at the same time, which is entirely possible in text but practical, actual application of this falls short.
Therein lies the art. That is the hard part. How do we convey this during performing? I think, once again acting plays a crucial role and certainly remaining truthful is key. But really creating this type of magic in my opinion doesn't and shouldn't come easy. I'll let you know when I've figured it out...
“So magical realist works put connected events side by side in a way that doesn't appear to violate objective reality, but attempts to convince us by details that the events described are linked by more than chance.” -excerpt from an article in “Speculations” by Bruce Holland Rogers
In this particular article, he uses an example from book called “Ceremony” and I quote: there is a scene in which a spurned woman is dancing very angrily. Miles away, the man who betrayed her is checking the commotion his cattle are making in the night. Descriptions of the woman's heels stamping the floor are alternated with descriptions of the cattle trampling the man to death, back and forth from one to the other. No assertion of causality is made, but the dancer's heels and the animals' hooves become linked so powerfully that the reader doesn't just "get it." What's conveyed is not a symbol or a metaphor, but the reality that a woman can be so angry that when she she dances, her lover dies.
As you can see, in no way is it explicitly stating that her dancing is killing her lover, it is merely implied (although strongly favored) and up to you to decide whether or not the two instances are linked.
This to me is a very interesting notion regarding the magic we do. Gabi Perreras often mentions the implications of behavior in an effect and how we do not have to tell them about what we are doing (or trying to do) it is implied. How can we translate that in to an effect?
I'm not going to give you an example of a successfully designed effect which depicts magical realism as I've not yet come that far. I simply want you think about this: What are you trying to achieve with your magic? Are you trying to impress people? Are you trying to prove you have supernatural powers? Are you trying to tell a story? Or do you just want to take them for a little spin?
Whatever the answer is, and I hope it isn't the first two, take the time to at least indulge the idea of magical realism or some kind of fiction and let me know in the comments what you've come up with. Thanks again for reading this and I look forward to all of your feedback as always.
“The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”
Before beginning, I would like to state that these thoughts are based on my own performances and which I've seen in others work as well. My self-scrutiny is completely responsible for the criticism which I put before you.
Insecurity exists within all of us and only those who have managed to accept that will find themselves comforted by it. Give that a second to sink in. Insecurity can take on many shapes but they all stem from one thing, fear. Fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted, fear of losing, etc... In magic, especially when starting out, we tend to put tremendous thought towards becoming a more confident and secure performer. The type of insecurity I'm going to discuss however, isn't that of those (although applicable) who are beginning their journey in this wonderful art, but of those who believe themselves not to be insecure. An interesting thought: What if we're convinced of our secure appearance and demeanor to a point that we don't recognize what it looks like? What if how we perceive our insecurity within our performances was objective? I know by now you might be a bit confused by the notion, but let me clarify with an example:
Magician: This might not work, but let's try something. Think of a card. Got it? Name it out loud.
Spectator: Nine of hearts.
Magician: Are you left handed or right handed?
Magician: We'll use the clean one (laugh). Why did you think of the nine of hearts? Is it a favorite card?
Magician: Is there any way I could have known that?
Magician: So it's a free choice? You could have thought of any card, and you didn't choose it, you just thought of it, correct?
Magician: I'm going to snap my fingers and the card will appear.
I suspect some of you see what I'm getting at by now. Let's look in to downplaying for a second. Starting with “This might not work, but let's try something.” We've all done this once if not repeatedly, the idea of downplaying the effect in case of failure is quite obviously a massive sign of uncertainty. Then why do we do it? As a fail-safe? I'll tell you right now that if you don't get the trick right, saying “I said it might not work” won't make you or your spectator feel comforted. In fact, if it doesn't go as planned, just move on. This sentence is then followed by “Let's try something” This and “Are you left handed or right handed?” and “Is it a favorite card?” all fall in to the same category, clouding. Clouding is something I've discussed with Xavier Spade recently and it occurred to me that it was everywhere! We all do this. We almost always cloud the effect with completely unnecessary and unrelated junk. Is it really vital to the trick that you ask them if their right handed? Is it equally necessary to state that you will try something, isn't it obvious that you're going to do something already? Is it important that they tell you if it's a favorite card or not? It's a fucking playing card and I guarantee you they've never thought of a card as a favorite, their just cards to them, they aren't magicians! We cloud effects constantly in an attempt to make the trick bigger than it is so that we maximize their reaction but it achieves the opposite. Making everything so convoluted and scrambled only deters from the effect we're presenting. Believe in the effect you're performing, trust that it will hit and they'll love it for what it is. And if it doesn't, make it better. Another form of clouding is asking for recognition or trying to relate things to them so they have a sharper image of what you're thinking, ie: “You know when...” or “It's almost like...” Attempting to have them relate to what you're talking about seems like you're trying to convince them of something which they might not have experienced. To that I say, trim the fat. Cut out all irrelevant lines and just perform the damn trick. We lose nothing by taking things away and risk everything by adding too much.
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
And finally we'll take a look at “No, the clean one.” and “When I snap my fingers”. Lines such as these are commonly used among magicians and therefor widely accepted as acceptable patter. I mean, why question the classic jokes, gags and lines, they work, don't they?
In acting these are known as crutches. Actors use them to support their character. According to “The Film Director Prepares.” by Myrl A. Schreibman “A crutch is an impulse or emotion that an actor plays on a line of dialogue in a specific way that is not the intention of the text. It is an impulse that they are comfortable in showing because it has been pre-programmed as a part of their acting psyche by some kind of acknowledgement, usually in the form of applause or someone noting that a line of dialogue they once said left a positive imprint. These positive reactions from observers reinforce the impulse (subconscious) in the actor's psyche and they use it instead of taking a risk and showing deeper vulnerability.”
Now the line that really sticks out is “...instead of taking a risk and showing deeper vulnerability.” How beautiful is that?
In other words, let's say we perform an effect for the first time and in that moment, decide come up with a funny “one liner”. Something which doesn't necessarily aid in the effect or character portrayal but it gets a good laugh. Instinctively we'll inject that line in to every other performance of that effect because we feel that it's a “strong” line and it made people laugh. This is a crutch.
So what's the trade off for not using crutches, then? Deeper vulnerability? Exactly. Not only does vulnerability aid in connecting with your audience but it prevents them from being extracted from the moment. Using these terrible lines usually show the audience that you're a professional and always on the ball but they can have an adverse effect which the performer might not be aware of, the audience can find these things to be disingenuous. As in “He's done that joke a thousand times.” What this does, and I refer to my previous blog post, it removes them from the fiction you are creating. We went from creating a wonderful piece of fiction to bastardizing it because of our own insecurities and will justify it by measuring the applause or laughs. We'll sacrifice our artistic integrity for a cheap laugh but then expect them to walk away feeling amazed. They'll walk away feeling entertained, which is fine but allowing them to be immersed in what it is you're doing will entertain them thoroughly but leave them with something more. The only thing you need to do is let yourself be vulnerable. Be awkward. If that means looking at your audience in the eyes for more than 3 seconds, then do it! Showing them that you've put your heart in to this routine will only bring them closer to you and will inevitably not only make you a better performer but also a better, more authentic person. Someone people want to love.
Now all of this isn't embedded in stone and making people smile and laugh is a big part of what we do, but let those moments of laughter be organic and let yourself take risks. Because nothing to me is more depressing than calculating and trying engineer reactions. They aren't machines and neither are you. Insecurity can be a beautiful thing when you realize we're all in this together.
“You need some insecurity if you're an actor, it keeps the pot boiling.” - Al Pacino
I've always enjoyed magic for the academic side of it. The term “Academic”, in this context was first introduced to me by Tony Chang; probably the best way to describe the reason for learning difficult and angle sensitive sleights.
“Moves” are what I've always been attracted to and for good reason. They are some of the essential tools with which magical moments can occur. (Note: I didn't say “with which you can make occur”. The focus on the academic side of learning is important in any art form; Music, painting, dancing etc... One must first be familiar with an instrument before achieving a desired result. But, here's the question: What is the desired result and should there be one?
Now, before you answer something completely ludicrous like “the look on their faces”, consider this: We have no clue what on earth is going through their minds. Far too often do we measure the quality of our performances by the sound of their screams or how high they leapt off the ground, treating reactions like currency. But the truth is, something much greater compelled them to react or keep silent (often a good sign) and we have no clue or at least have forgotten exactly how that feels like. Yet, we still stand there, smugly holding our decks of cards, furrowing our brows like some omnipotent being as if we know exactly what the fuck we just did to them.
Before going on, I'd like to mention that any ideas I happen to spew out on fiction as a subject matter, are partly and if not, entirely based on what I've understood from being around some of the most inspiring, loving and creative people in magic who I will surely bring up during this, well whatever this is. They, however have found their inspiration in the works and philosophy of one man in particular; Gabi Perreras. Gabi, whom I know very little about (mostly due to his work is being in spanish for the most part) has spent years indulging the idea of fictional magic. I cannot speak on behalf of Gabi nor of those I will mention but I will try and communicate my thoughts on this concept, hopefully I won't seem like an ass.
After reading the second edition of “Quarterly” by Half-Half man (a plethora of magical talent, visit their site here) I was officially hooked on this man's thinking. The idea that good magic is truth and bad magic is lies completely blew my mind open. Because with fiction, you create your own truths, therefor you cannot lie. Believing (or at least playing the part of someone who believes) in the truths you are creating is what immerses the spectator(s) in to your world. It's the same type of fiction which takes you Hogwarts or to the deserts of Tatooine, where we are fully aware that we are watching a movie yet completely immersed in the experience. We choose to let ourselves be engulfed by the fictional Utopia presented for us and I guess it stimulates us enough to negate or ignore any thoughts about how fake or how terrible the CGI looks. Tony Chang sent me a link to a video called “Why CGI sucks (except it doesn't)”
In this video, the narrator describes what good and bad CGI have done to films and ultimately how we experience them and this is totally relatable to magic. The effects, when done correctly become seamless with the environment and ultimately enhance the audience's experience, versus poor CGI (or sleight of hand/patter in this case) which takes the audience away from the fiction and actually denies the experience (magic) from happening.
I brought this exact video up in a discussion with the French magician Bebel during my stay in Vegas. One of the perks of living in Montreal is being the only guy at Magic Live to be able to speak with Bebel in his language. He told me something which really stuck with me, I mean I knew this before but never has it been put so clearly to me “What happens when an actor breaks character? It pulls you out of the experience.” and that's exactly what happens. Bebel also had a lot to say on how a magician (pardon the pun) must wear many hats. In a movie, there are directors, producers, screen writers, actors, lighting, and the list goes on. Each department has had immense professional training and experience in their own field. We as magicians must learn this on our own. We are the actor, the producer, the writer etc... and make due with what knowledge we've attained. But is that enough? Should we seek to become better actors in order to become better magicians? An interesting idea.
Roberto Mansilla in the latest Quarterly proposes the idea of having contrast for magic to exist. As in, there has to be some form of change that occurs which directly affects the reality as the spectator know's it. The deeper the roots in reality, the greater the contrast and ultimately the better the effect.
I would be so bold as to take this one step further and saying that performing magic in the traditional or “Realistic” manner, ie: “My hands are empty, the deck is normal, etc...” gives the spectator more knowledge in to the trick than necessary. They are now aware that they should be looking for something, which isn't a good thing. This knowledge directly affects the contrast between their perceived reality and the magical “change” that will occur. Take performing for a magician for example, most of us are so caught up with methods that we do not even give the magician a chance to connect, we simply, politely let them run through the motions as we stare intently and raise our eyebrows to the perfected moves. That's because our perceived reality is askew. We've been tainted by the ugly truth and have become an academic junky. The contrast between our reality and the magical effect is so small that there is no magic for us. But the spectator hasn't a clue and yet we proceed on giving them hints and tips, narrating our every obvious motion to them as if we're selling the method to them “no strings, no switches.” lessening the contrast to the point where it simply becomes a puzzle for them to solve. Then get frustrated when they take jabs at methods. We're slowly turning them in to one dimensional magicians, and who the fuck needs more of those?
But fiction. Fiction is the answer. With fiction all is possible. With fiction, we can connect, we can bring them in to our whimsical world. One of the best examples I can think of which introduces the idea of fiction in an indirect and yet completely entertaining and natural manner, is Exdyslically Shunuffled by Francis Menotti, it goes without saying that Francis is also a terrific actor and has spent a good amount of time perfecting his script.
Here, everyone is clearly aware that he does not have a symbiotic relationship with the deck of cards, which makes it all so much better. We aren't feeling like our intelligence is put to the test, or this is some sort of puzzle to solve and feeling frustrated when we can't figure it out. This is a piece of fiction. He suggests that this relationship exists and has created a character which is affected by the deck being shuffled. It's beautiful and I love it.
I could go on for days, writing about the life changing experiences I've had in the past few months (yes months!) but for now I'll leave you with a quote from one of my good friends, great thinker and loving guy, Xavier Spade.
“After many years of magic, we now realize we have a head start knowing that we don't know shit.”
Just a quick reminder for you guys to tune in to Syfy on February 19th at 10pm. I will be sharing the stage with Spidey (mentalist/hypnotist) on the hit show Wizard Wars! We will be given a few random objects to build a magic show with, to perform for the judges, including Penn & Teller!
If you're in Canada then you might want to check it out on Space channel on the 24th but check your local listings in case. Once the show has aired, you could stream it for free on www.syfy.com but will probably need a plug in to view it if you're not in the US. Mac users can get this add-on which is free, safe and easy to change the country they are viewing it from www.hola.com
Thanks for your continued support guys and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show!
SYNCHRONICITY is finally here! This is by far my favorite collection of sleights! I'm so glad to be able to share this one with the community and hope you guys get some mileage out of it!
Here are some links where you could pick it up!
In other news, you'll be seeing some great new products very soon! This includes an amazing book release in cooperation with RE Handcrafted! We also have some sick new hats thrown in to the mix along with the return of the GUNMETAL card clips by Joe Porper.
Thanks for checking this out!
Oh, almost forgot! Here's a freebie for you card guys I call SHUTTERBUG!
Thanks for checking in! First off, I want to thank each and every one of you for your participation! I've been overwhelmed with more than 250 entries!! I wish I had something to send to each of you but like I mentioned on Instagram I only have one of these left to give away! Note: this was a random selection. So without further ado, the winner of the Gunmetal clip is... Samuel Raziq (@SAMRAZMAGIC) ! Hit me up on IG with your Info to get this prize, Congrats!!
As you may of noticed, I spent the last week in LA shooting a project! I cannot reveal too much about it but I CAN say that it will air on TV in January so stay tuned!
I can also tell you that I'll be heading to Sacramento in a few weeks time to shoot a DVD project with the guys down at Murphy's magic! I'll keep you all posted as the details unfold!
I wanted to share with you a really cool project that I recently undertook... a street magic video!
It was a great opportunity for me to come up with some cool ideas and perform them to strangers. Think I might do this again, soon...
On another note, I'm about to receive some very limited card clips straight from Joe Porper, they'll be a mat grey with my logo on the inside. I'm only making a few of these for personal use but couldn't just have one made so here's a very rare chance to grab one! Hit me up on here or on Facebook to let me know if you're interested.
Also, I should be heading to California sometime in the next coming months to shoot a really amazing DVD project! I'll keep you guys posted as the details unravel.
Thanks again for the continued support and share this video if you liked it!
This is my very first blog post. I thought I'd keep you guys updated on a few projects that I'm working on.
First off, "Synchronicity" is a brand new download headed your way! This download includes tutorials to three original utility moves; a steal, a color change and a control! Still undecided whether to release this with a larger company or to simply have it available on this site, maybe you guys could help me out, post your suggestions in the comments below!
Secondly, before the release of Synchronicity I plan on filming the most EPIC card video to date! The guys from Black Cannon Films (www.blackcannonfilms.com) will be undertaking this massive apocalypse style project. We've found this amazing abandoned resort to shoot in and with the help of a ton of gear including a GoPro Helicopter and hopefully some extras, this will be a video unlike any other of its kind! Stay tuned for some more updates!
Thirdly, I'd like to mention a few interesting things happening right now in the magic world. If you're in to collecting cards, please check out the brand new deck design from my friends at Dual Originals, you can see this deck in all it's glory at www.deckstarter.com. Also, stay tuned for something I'm currently working on with Ryan from www.rehandcrafted.com, can't talk about it too much right now but trust me, you'll want to be first in line when this drops!
Finally, there are so many things to come in 2014 it isn't even funny, stay tuned and subscribe to the newsletter for all the details!