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.”