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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Scott's Thoughts - by Scott Wells » » Lecture Point and Counterpoint (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Scott Wells
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Houston, TX
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Over the past several years, I have coordinated lecture tours for magicians passing through our southern tier states; specifically Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Tennessee.* We have had dozens and dozens of top notch lecturers teaching us a variety of things and not just magic. We have learned tricks, of course, but some have taught us the “why” as well as the “how” which I find the most important. The thought that goes into and behind the making of a trick or effect teaches us how better to be creative ourselves and how to think about our magic and our presentations.

Some lecturers have taught us how to develop stage personas and costuming. They have taught us how to routine a trick and a whole show. They have shown us staging, direction and prop management. Some have shown us how to build not only our own act but also our own props. We have learned how to “read the minds” or our audience and transfigure physical reality and predict future events. We have had lecturers touch on the whole gamut from micro magic to stage illusions and everything in between. We have learned about the business of magic and booking parties, working with children, corporate audiences, cruise ships and even circus and state fair audiences. No doubt you have seen your share of a variety of magic lectures over your lifetime (that you have lived so far), too and your list might read much like the one above.

The skills and talents of the lecturers vary widely and what you take away from each lecture varies, too. Some lecturers inspire you and you come away with a mind full of new possibilities. Others may give you pause to wonder why you spent your time to attend the lecture. You might buy everything the lecturer sells or you may take away nothing. It is not necessarily dependent upon the quality of the lecture notes or the trick itself, but perhaps it is just the way it was taught. In another magician’s hands or taught by another magician, perhaps you would jump at the chance to buy the trick. It all comes down to presentation. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

I have said so many times that we all know enough tricks and many of us have enough gimmicks and props to fill several drawers and closets in our homes. Perhaps we bought the trick or the book or lecture notes because we were momentarily inspired by the “flavor of the day” and jumped at the point of purchase sale. Much like the items at the check-out at the grocery store, we find that there is that one thing we might need but overlooked until we were standing in line. I mean after all, we invested time, money and effort to drive to the lecture and paid to attend. Since we invested that much into attending the lecture, by golly we are going to buy something to take home with us even if it is a set of lecture notes or $10.00 packet trick.

But I find it interesting that different people have differing opinions on the lectures. I like to think that most of us think along the same lines though in any club, there are a wide variety of skill levels. There are beginners who may be attending their first lecture to the seasoned pro who selectively attends those he feels might best benefit him. This is the challenge of the lecturer: appeal to everyone and have something for everyone at all skill levels. To say this is difficult to do is a mild understatement. Even if a lecturer is advertised as having a certain appeal or advanced level of sophistication, most magicians like to think they are competent enough to understand and learn from them so they attend the lecture. But the fact is that most magicians are hobbyists and don’t plan to put the practice time into learning the feints and sleights because they will never perform the trick. This is why the lecturers try to include “self working” tricks to the more advanced, finger flicking tricks.

There are also those who share the hardships of the road or difficulties of working the streets or busking the tables. These are fascinating and often inspirational lectures that include gems built on the hardships of actual, personal experiences. It is wonderful that there are those who relate these personal stories and help us grow as magicians, performers and human beings.

We recently had Mark Wilson lecture through our area. This legendary magician has seen and done it all over a half century and travel all over the world. It was with some hesitation that I considered booking him through our area because I wasn’t sure how he would be perceived by the general population of magicians that attend lectures. In the end I decided to let each club make up their own minds to decide whether or not they wanted to book him. After the lecture was over in Houston, I received two completely divergent points of view on the lecture. I am not endorsing or disrespecting Mr. Wilson’s lecture but I am only offering these opinions so you can see how some see a lecture.

The first response I am offering is not so favorable and I offer it here for your consideration and not as any indictment from me. Please consider that this unsolicited response came from an attendee who has been in magic for many, many years and seen dozens and dozens of lectures though is not a professional performer.
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I need to express my severe disappointment in the Mark Wilson lecture to someone, and as I just found your e-mail announcement - you are it. Either I misunderstood the "lecture" component, or it was misnamed. Basically, it was an infomercial - and the worst magic lecture I ever attended. If it was billed as a "Conversation with Mark Wilson," that would have been more appropriate. I'm sure some of his friends would have come just to be with him and discuss old times. (In fact, they may have enjoyed his "lecture"?) However, I came for the "lecture." I had two other important meetings to attend, but I skipped them for a magic lecture. What occurred was false advertising.

The first 1 1/2 hours was about his life - no magic at all - but some very old video clips - in poor quality, without even showing one complete illusion (just P.R. clips). His concept of P.R. was probably useful to some, but it could have been covered in 15 minutes, certainly in 30 minutes at the outset.

Prior to the second half he was asked to do some magic. He began by spending 6+ minutes talking about how proud he was of his son who sculptures figures from ice in Florida and that we should go there and buy a ticket to see it. Later he showed two tricks that he did not attempt to explain (no big deal because they were easy to figure out), and he gave us one tidbit for an illusion - useful for those who do stage illusions, have an assistant and a young son to sit on the assistant's shoulders. In addition to lacking magical substance for this group, the quality of his tapes was very poor. Although his marketing techniques may have been useful for some, after seeing one old clip the point was made; but he had to show us the highlights of everything with great overkill.

I'm not blaming you, Scott, or whoever who booked him. In their place, I'm sure I would have assumed a good, appropriate lecture -- after all, I do have his "Complete Course in Magic" book.

However, he did not deliver. In addition to wasting my time, missing two other meetings, I was charged $25 to sit thru his infomercial. Ridiculous. Someone owes me a refund!... Just use the money to register me for the next lecture series.

Sorry, I just had to express my frustration to someone. I hope other cities on his tour are better prepared.
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Wow, now that was something from his heart! And now for a counterpoint sent to me by one of the more seasoned, full time professionals who sat in on the same lecture that evening.

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I just wanted to drop you an e-mail telling you how much I enjoyed the Mark Wilson lecture. It definitely wasn't your everyday magic lecture. I know that some of the fellows probably wanted a lecture that had a lot more explanation of magic tricks and less of a trip down memory lane. I think that all of us knew that we would be seeing lots of excerpts from his show.

The one thing that put this lecture above all of them that I have attended was this: Mark Wilson is arguably the most successful magician in the world. He has earned his living from magic and activities related to magic for 63 years! That's a lot of performances of the silk to egg! He laid out his secret for success right there in front of us, if any of us were sharp enough to pick up on it. This secret was perseverance.

When I listened to him tell about how he got his first television shows in Texas, by pounding the pavement for sponsors, and how he had done the same thing to get the network shows he produced and performed in, I realized exactly how little I had actually had to do to get work. In both cases, Mark beat the bushes for sponsors for two years before he found the right people. I've never spent that much time looking for a sponsor for a show. Or even looking for a show. In a way, Mark Wilson made much of this renaissance of magic we are currently enjoying possible.

I learned a lot from that lecture.

The main thing I learned was not to give up.

Thanks for having Mark visit us.

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Talk about Ying and Yang! Now there are two completely divergent opinions. Please do not think that I am selecting or picking on Mark Wilson as these comments could have applied to other lecturers as well. We have had those who merely demonstrated their skill and knew that no one would copy their act. I have seen F.I.S.M. acts do thin on many occasions. Certainly no one is going to go out and do that act since it has already been done and in fact the act has been recognized for its greatness by the F.I.S.M. judges and audiences.

But my point is that everyone has something they are looking for. Not every lecture is for every magician. But by attending as many lectures as you can, you just might find that nugget of gold that will make your performance gold cup or gold medal material. You just have to keep prospecting.

* On a side note, I have reached out to Arkansas, Kentucky and a few other states looking for contacts but I have not had any response nor apparent interest from those clubs. If you are interested in being on the “tour” schedule or you know someone in your club who should be my contact, then please send me a PM and we’ll try to hook up your group.
"A magician who isn't working is only fooling himself." - Scott Wells, M.I.M.C. with Gold Star

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