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Topic: How to determine or establish "Character".
Message: Posted by: Chris.Z (Aug 23, 2018 08:41PM)
So, not sure where to put this.
The whole notion of "Character" is driving me bonkers. I have been in and around magic for over 20 years. Every time I look at improving what I do, or start researching an effect or clothing or really literally ANYTHING the question is posed, "Does it fit your character?"

It's like a brick wall, I run into every 2-3 days.
I don't know how to define my character, or what my character is.
I don't want to make up a character, something cartoonish or nonexistent.
I don't need to be the desert sage, the conjuror from wherever, the man who fooled people
I don't want a great, or master in front of my name.

I don't "Get it" and it's frustrating.
I am leaning towards picking up Scott Alexander's "Standing up on Stage" set for several reasons but primarily is this question of character. Apparently it's important to solve if you want to step up to higher levels of magic and I don't know where to start.

Open to any and all suggestions
Message: Posted by: Mr. Woolery (Aug 23, 2018 09:40PM)
When you perform, are you basically yourself but with the ability to do tricks? If so, that's your character. A presentation that involves donning a ceremonial robe and lighting incense in order to set the mood just isn't going to suit your character.

If you are putting yourself forward as a sorcerer who can shift the fabric of reality, you are unlikely to do much with sponge bunnies or similar props.

I love the "man of mystery" personae, but that's not something I currently attempt to pull off. I also love the magical clown personae, but similarly, that's not me. I'm just me, but with some of my esoteric interests on display. I like mentalism and I like to push just a little into the bizarre, without being really creepy.

I believe that defining your character (and others may well correct me and I'll welcome thoughtful correction) is really about deciding what sorts of tricks work for you and what sorts don't.

A couple of questions, Chris, if I may:

Are you funny?

Are you elegant?

Are you intense?

Are you playful?

Do you have any esoteric interests (obscure religions, palmistry, tarot, conspiracy theories, beekeeping, anything that most other people don't really understand but can be the presentational hook for a performance)?

Do you have any mainstream interests that you are really good with, enough that other folks see you as something of an authority (music, literature, wood carving, beanie babies, cooking, dog training)?

What makes you an interesting person? What makes you any different, other than your interest in magic, from any other person on the street?

The answers to these questions can define what will work for your performing character. If I know nothing about pop music, I am well advised to stay away from a trick that allows me to determine what song you chose from my playlist of the top hits from the last 50 years. It isn't credible. It doesn't suit my character.

If I am a beekeeper, a set of sponge bumblebees would make a really cute alternative to red balls or bunnies for a sponge routine. It is a reminder that what I do in one part of my life influences how I approach other parts of my life. That's part of the character.

If I tell fortunes in my spare time at the local metaphysical shop, reading a palm to determine a lucky card becomes a natural extension of my character.

If I am a well known pastor of a local church, any routine that involves me drawing a pentacle and burning a slip of paper to read the answers in the ashes just isn't going to work well with my established character.

Now, there are some folks (Whit Haydn and Master Payne being my two favorite examples) who create a performing character that is obviously not who they really are. They are clearly playing a part, not being who they are with some magic tricks added. I regard this as a fairly advanced form of magical presentation. They are creating a theatrical production on more levels than just magic. Since these folks can create a special atmosphere for the presentation, they have to choose tricks based on what works for the created characters. This is also true of magical clowns, sorcerers, seance mediums, and Harry Potter wizards. The tricks have to suit "who" is doing them.

But most people don't do that. Most magicians (think Lance Burton) just allow their real personality, perhaps a bit exaggerated for stage or parlor, to be the character. Dave Williamson is just a funny guy. His magic is really good, but the character behind it is what makes it so wonderful. There are plenty of folks nobody has ever heard of who are as skillful. But very few who can put forward the same goofiness without being clowns. That's his character.

What do your friends say if they are asked to describe you in 10 words or fewer? That's a starting point for defining your current character. What would you want them to say if you could supply those 10 or fewer words? That's the character you want when performing.

Either this helps or it muddies the water further, but you did ask for any and all suggestions!

Message: Posted by: WitchDocChris (Aug 24, 2018 08:27AM)
I agree with Patrick - that's the way you start really defining your character.

Whatever you are on stage, that's your character. I think the vast majority of magicians think of it as, "I'm just myself". The problem there is that I would be willing to bet they've never sat down and thought about how to put "myself" into words. Which is to say, they don't actually know.

Which is why so many magic performances are just a pile of tricks, presented one after the other.

On top of the questions Patrick asked above, it can be helpful to find some folks you can trust to be honest with you and have them more or less describe you. What stands out to them the most? Amplifying that is the most straight forward way of creating a character.
Message: Posted by: Mindpro (Aug 25, 2018 12:06AM)
The advice given here has been good but this is much more of a foundational question. This is a process which most performers skip over initially, and is the result typically of all of their problems, lack of their success and likely the issue at the root of any lack of progress they may be experiencing. Many never realize it, others may discover this after ten or twenty years and then will have to go back and start all over again.

The problem is many performers, like choosing the effects or tricks they do, decide what THEY like best or prefer. This is always a bit problematic if you are trying to perform professionally or for pay, even on a part-time basis.

Instead of trying to find a character that is simply you (no offense, but probably for most they are not that entertaining, appealing or interesting), create a character based on the market(s) you will be serving that will be most appealing and inviting.

Just like most performers create the show THEY want and then try to find someone to sell it to (book it), it can be much easier to create a show specifically for your primary target market(s) and their interests, needs, and preferences. You will be aligned for many more bookings and interests.

Same for your character. Stop thinking from the YOU perspective and start thinking more in the greater picture that matters and can generate the results you may be seeking.
Message: Posted by: rabbitok (Aug 25, 2018 12:26AM)
My thought would be to take a few beginner acting Classes, they delve immediately into the discovery of our core personality traits, these are our (usually) our strongest performance aspects, if we're funny that should be part of our personna etc...
Message: Posted by: Bill Thompson (Aug 27, 2018 09:06AM)
Read what Pop Haydn has to say about this...

Message: Posted by: Bill Thompson (Aug 27, 2018 10:45AM)
Your character is simply the persona and way you present yourself when performing. Are you a bumbling befuddled magician in trouble? Are you a wiseacre smart alec or a huckster con-man? None of these? Some combinations of these? Determining your character help determine what effects you show and the way in which you present certain effects. Stuff that the Amazing Jonathon can get away with doing, my character would never be able to pull off for example. Study the way Al Goshman performed as opposed to Heba Haba Al. Watch Don Alan's close-up act see how he presents himself and interacts with his audience.
Message: Posted by: Chris.Z (Aug 27, 2018 08:03PM)
On Aug 24, 2018, WitchDocChris wrote:
I think the vast majority of magicians think of it as, "I'm just myself". The problem there is that I would be willing to bet they've never sat down and thought about how to put "myself" into words. Which is to say, they don't actually know.


Literally this. Verbatim.

I'm just me, I have no idea who I am.
Great, now it's a philosophy question.
Message: Posted by: Pop Haydn (Sep 2, 2018 01:44PM)
It is not really philosophical. It is a writer's question. The part of the equation that doesn't have to do with the stuff you are showing isn't all that important. How you came by these demonstrations, where your abilities come from, what they mean and why are you sharing them are the important questions. You are supposed to be yourself, but with a slightly different history that explains why you are with this audience and why you are showing them these things are what is important. In other words, you don't need to know anything more about your real self than you do now. You have to know and understand the imaginary, magical story that you want to present.
Message: Posted by: Bill Hegbli (Sep 3, 2018 02:56AM)
If you have ever watched actors talking about their character, they often mention, their character in a movie has a back story, or they create one themselves. The back story of the character can be that characters life experiences. That is what character means. In a movie the famous actors always say, they simply are themselves acting with the backstory of the character.

Today, you see many magicians on wear jeans, and pull overs, or leather jackets on a very hot stage. I see There character as an everyday guy performing magic effects.

So how do you want your audiences perceive you as you walk out on stage. Your cloths, speech, mannerisms, and what and how you present yourself is your character.

Now you have to put that image into words.
Message: Posted by: Pop Haydn (Sep 17, 2018 11:54AM)
The magic story is very short. It starts when the magician appears, and ends when the magician exits. The audience wants to expand that story into the past and the future--who is this guy? Why is he showing us this? What will he be doing the rest of the week? They will fill it in with what they know about magic and magicians from their experiences with magicians (kid shows, television, stage shows, restaurant walk around guys) and the stories, novels, comics and film about magic and magicians. They will assign a story and a character to you, if you don't take charge of it yourself.

The magic show is just a tiny part of the story. The backstory will include how the magician came by his abilities and interests, what brought him to be doing these things for this audience, and where he will go and what he will do when he leaves. The show itself is just a play within a play. It is sort of like putting on the Murder of Gonzago without the rest of the play Hamlet. The actors are performing as if the king and court were in the audience. The audience can sense that there is a lot more going on than this medieval play itself, but wouldn't know the backstory, even if it is obvious that there is one.

A magic show is sort of like that. It is just the part of the story where the magician performs for this audience. The more solid the backstory, the more it will influence the magic show. People will sense that there is more to this than what they are seeing.

I like to think of every magic show as if it were a Twilight Zone story. The couple comes into a divey nightclub, the magician is introduced, and then Rod Serling walks out and says, "Little did this young couple suspect that this would not be an ordinary magic show..."

What makes it special? Whether presented seriously or fiercely with tongue in cheek, the magical character needs to have a reason to live, to be here, and to want to show these things to these people. Writing a character is creating someone who matches the story you want to tell. It could just be your real story--a kid who was fascinated with sleight of hand and magic, studied hard, practiced hours and now is showing you these clever tricks to get your approval and make money. This is what Vernon was concerned about when he said, "Don't tell 'em you practiced hard. That's boring. Tell them its just a knack!"

I find the truth is way too limiting. I would rather tell the story of a fantastic character, one that seems to have walked right off the set of a movie--to have people relate and interact with that character, and to be left with memories of the impossible.
Message: Posted by: 61magic (Oct 23, 2018 05:58PM)
Chris, in looking at your post I start to draw some information which could be a clue to your character. First off you have your avatar is this generally what you look like and dress like when you perform? Do you like to "dress" in a character style of do you like everyday street clothes?
I found starting with who I see myself and my personal style pointed me in a direction, as I've aged I had to reassess all this to create a character that fit how I now look, sound and act.
When I was starting out I was told "just be yourself" and at the age I started I didn't know who I was. I didn't know what to say, or how to move. Eventually I took interest in a local clown group who gave me tons of tips on character and creating a character. I didn't use the clown type activities on my performance but the advise really helped.
Their method of finding your character started with a good look in the mirror and thinking about my preference of what I liked when watching other performers. Quickly I found a look and worked the character from there.
At a convention I met a guy who was a total California Surfer Dude, this was him but we tried to perform in a manner where he wanted to be a classy character. It didn't work for him, his natural personality was really good and playing up the surfer personal which came natural to him. With some small changes to the material in his act he had an enjoyable combination.
Keep us posted on how your are progressing.
Message: Posted by: Chris.Z (Nov 19, 2018 05:48PM)
Hi All,

Still wrestling with the question if I'm honest.
Thank you all for you input.

Not sure where to start.

Magic is my hobby, it is the interesting thing that I do. I can't really imagine other areas of my personality to integrate into my performance, I don't really have any other aspects.

I don't have a story to tell. I am performing because I enjoy magic.
Magic is the thing I want to share.

There is no kind of consistency to my presentation/personality, because there's no real foundation.

I dress casually for open mics

Suit jacket and slacks for Pro engagements. I'm kinda funny.

Like, I see character in what Pop's doing.

but when I watch others,

Ammar seems to just be Ammar
Daryl, was Daryl.
Most anyone I see, just seem to be themselves.

They seem to be presenting magic because they enjoy it.
Message: Posted by: Pop Haydn (Nov 19, 2018 10:09PM)
You don't need to play a character. You play yourself. But to make the magic believable, you need to act and perform as if the magic is real, whether with tongue in cheek or in all seriousness. You get to be yourself, but you pretending the magic is real. The magical character believes in the magic and acts and thinks about it as if the impossible is real. Like a Twilight Zone story. If you work tables, imagine your appearance and exit as a story they might tell later. This is the story where a couple sits down and orders, and a guy walks up to the table and asks if they would like to see some magic. As soon as they say yes, everyone freezes and Rod Serling walks out. "A couple looking for some fun, ask to see some magic. Little did they know this magic would not be mere sleight of hand, it would be..." So you write your performance as if you were writing a little play.

But the main thing is to enjoy the performance. Enthusiasm and joy are the essential things. Adding a more complete backstory and developed character can be a lot of fun, and can take magic to a greater, more artistic level. But it isn't necessary. People will imagine who the magician is, and what he is trying to do if you don't. What they think, may not be as impressive or interesting as the story you might be able to create for them.

You are always a character--often a stereotype--in the eyes of your audience. Instead of letting them decide who you are, you can work to take charge of that impression.
Message: Posted by: bdungey (Apr 9, 2019 07:29AM)
"You don't need to play a character. You play yourself. But to make the magic believable, you need to act and perform as if the magic is real, whether with tongue in cheek or in all seriousness."

I've been scouring the forums and adding bits of advice like this to a Google doc that I'm using to pour over in study. Thanks for writing this, Pop.
Message: Posted by: Pop Haydn (Apr 15, 2019 11:35AM)
My pleasure.
Message: Posted by: landmark (Apr 16, 2019 11:49PM)
One fruitful starting point for character, even if you are "just being yourself" is to determine your relationship to your own magic.

You do a trick. Are you:

As amazed as the spec that it worked?
Exhausted from the effort?
Surprised at the outcome?
Amused at the outcome?
Worried that it won't happen this time?
Glad that the spec is there to help out?
Happy that you have something to share?
Enraged by the result?

Do you always know it will work, or are you not sure?
Is this the limit of your power or is it just the tip of the iceberg?
Are you matter of fact about the magical events because you've seen them a hundred times, or is this time the crucial test?

These are good questions to start with. Then you must think about what you want your audience to walk away with. Should they think of you as skillful, as mysterious, as humorous, as giving, as playful? "We saw this magician last night and he was really_______!"
Message: Posted by: ryanshaw9572 (Aug 19, 2019 07:50AM)
Maybe itís not a question of character, but rather systematically theming your shows to make all the effects weave together into one elegant story. No matter your character, what you choose to make your show about will tell the audience quite a bit about who you are. As you perform different shows all with different themes, you can look back and find a theme to the themes, and start understanding yourself, just as the themes have helped the audience understand you.

Hope this helps.

Ryan Shaw
Message: Posted by: disbelief (Jun 18, 2022 09:23AM)
Would it not be best to be your authentic self rather then create a character. I feel it would be much easier and enjoyable and if itís authentic self then the character would be much more believable.
Message: Posted by: Fedora (Jun 18, 2022 10:12AM)
To the audience, you're going to be a character either way.

if you decide on the character most natural to you, I hope you're naturally interesting.
Message: Posted by: disbelief (Jun 18, 2022 12:47PM)
Whenever I try and be someone I am not, it fails miserably