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