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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » Definition of "Magic" (9 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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George Ledo
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Okay, help me out here. I think I'm following this so far, but I'm really having a problem applying Whit's definition to large illusions... and granted I'm more focused on theater than on magic.

Consider this:

It's a clear afternoon and we're sitting on bleachers at both ends of a huge hangar at an airport. The doors are open and we can see right through the hangar. A 747 lands on the runway and we watch it roll right up to the hangar. The plane door opens, a ladder truck comes up, and the magician walks out. Then the plane rolls into the hangar.

The doors close.

A moment later they open again and the plane is gone.

Then we're allowed to walk through the hangar and inspect all we want.

Nothing has been said by the magician about making the plane vanish by magic, either before or after the plane goes.

Okay, the argument is that the plane rolled into the hangar. However, the premise (what the magician wants the audience to believe) is not true. So, when the hangar doors open, the audience -- thinking that the premise is true -- thinks that something has occurred which they know couldn't have occurred if the premise were true. They don't think it's really "magic," but they can't see any other explanation, so they're stuck on Ferdinand's horns.

Whit, is this where you're going with this definition? I have another two questions here, but I want to make sure I'm on your page before I ask them.
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tommy
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And so it is in the STORY of magic as told by the magician to the Muggle who is a recipient.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Whit Haydn
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Magicians don't tell stories. Muggles tell stories.
tommy
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A painter tells a story in his paintings all artists tell their story through their art.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Whit Haydn
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We are not like other artists.
Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2006-05-10 10:51, tommy wrote:
And so it is in the STORY of magic as told by the magician to the Muggle who is a recipient.


The magician DOES STUFF

The muggle tells others the story of what they experienced.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
tommy
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If are not like artists then we not artists.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
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Quote:
On 2006-05-10 10:07, Patrick Differ wrote:
Cinemagician writes:
Quote:
How does it "differ" from the ciggarette example above?

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:hmm:


Oh, I get it, that's why you live in Mexico, with the exchange rates...you must be making a fortune! Smile
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JackScratch
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If you lump art into a single genre' we are exactly like all other artists. We are also different from any other art, but no more different than any two other arts are from each other. And yes, magic tells a story. I won't go so far as to say that it is impossible for magic to not tell a story, but I find it most unlikely, and seriously doubt magic that doesn't tell a story would be worth viewing. But then the same could be said of any other art.
chrisrkline
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But the story is not the magic. In theater, the story is the focus. Eveything else is done to make the story meaningful.

Hamman did an effect called the Pink Panthers, where the whole card effect is set to a story. But the story is not the magic. The magic only happens when the audience is convinced that four kings, seperated from four twos (placed in "jail") turn into four jokers in an impossible way, and the four twos in jail, without the magician touching them, become the four kings. The story is simply to make the mental frustration this causes more palatable.
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Whit Haydn
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Magic is different from other arts, in that the spectators are brought into the story being created by the magician and are a part of it. Magicians don't tell stories, they orchestrate them. Unlike other forms of theater, the audience in a magic show are participants in the story.

They are witnesses to a demonstration, if nothing else, and possibly lend a personal item to the procedure, or can be an active and contributing partner in the story.

Take my Linking Ring Routine. The spectator on stage has to pretend that I do not know what is going on behind me. He pretends that he is fooling me by keeping up with me, even though his rings are not coming apart, and he is simply spinning his rings each time I do, without taking them apart and putting them back together. It looks as if he is playing a trick on me. He is like a wise-guy student playing a trick on a substitute teacher. The audience knows perfectly well that the magician knows what is going on, but they pretend the magician is clueless so they can laugh at him.

The magician has constructed a story which not only involves the spectator on stage, but places the audience in the role of "unruly class laughing at the teacher." This story can be understood and appreciated from many different points of view, but the story told will be the "story" of the person telling it, and will be from their point of view in the story.

Magic tricks are events that the spectator is engaged in to a degree that it becomes a memorable experience for him. It is his story.

"I saw a guy once, and he took my half dollar and my empty beer bottle..."

"This guy came into the bar, and I wrote my name on a card..."

"I went up on stage with a bunch of other people, and we all held hands in a circle around this helicopter..."

"The girl floated up, but then they passed out this hoop, and let me tell you it was solid--I checked it good--and he took the hoop..."

We don't tell stories about the Coyote (the trickster), we are the Coyote. People tell stories about us.

Magic is a fantasy story that is constructed to kidnap the spectator, put him in the fantasy and make it real for him. It is more like the play constructed by a team of con men in a Big Con.

The "victim" is brought onto a fake set, talks to actors playing a part, invests his own thoughts, goals and money, and if the scam is really well played, often never knows that all of his experience was a sham, a construct created by actors played on a set whose facades are held up from behind by two by fours.

The spectator in a magic show kind of knows what is being done, but the conventions of magic performance (you get the watch and wallet back) allow him to be comfortable letting the magician take advantage of him. Most want to be involved in the story.

Most everyone understands what the story will be: The magician will take you down a garden path, and suddenly you are going to be sprayed with a hose, or handed a rake and a hoe. They just want to see how you would go about it, and experience it for themselves. When it is done right, they remember the experience the rest of their lives and will tell their grandchildren about the time when they were young and "met this remarkable magician who..."

***

George Ledo:

The situation that you outlined, George, would create the necessary false conclusion, that the plane had disappeared, but the argument would be less focused, since nothing was framed for the spectator with regard to cause. It fits the tightest definition of magic--our main statement--but is inartistically handled by not presenting the audience with a clear argument and conclusion.

A plane disappeared for sure. How or why we don't know.

The audience has a less clearly presented argument, and the lack of framing and presentation will lessen its effectiveness as magic, but I am sure everyone among the spectators would agree that they experienced a great and inexplicable mystery.

This would be magic without a protagonist--more like a mystery of nature like the Bermuda Triangle. The audience is called to witness something impossible. Without more framing, the actual effect of this on the audience would be strong but sort of diffused and complicated. You give them too much to think about, and not a clear dilemma to focus on.

But I am certain in a case of a really strong effect such as that, the audience reaction and memory of the event would still be strong. They would have to fill in an awful lot of the story themselves, and the magician would not have as tight a control over the impression he leaves.

Since every magic trick is its own story, adding stories to magic is often like slopping ketchup all over food. It is unnecessary, and covers up the "taste" of the magic. Instead of inviting the spectator into the story, "telling" a story with a magic trick puts the present into "Once upon a time" and encourages the spectator to suspend disbelief and put himself into an imaginary story, where in the imaginary time space fantastical things happen.

But he is no longer a participant, but a passive receiver. He is not questioning the reality of things any longer, he is going along for the ride. When it is over, he is left with a fun time, a nice little play, etc., but the experience of magic is lessened.
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Whit, I'm afriad I don't see any difference between that and any other stage performance. The audience is always the witness. That's their job in any threatrical presentation. It seems to me that you are trying to say that the particular nature of the story being told makes it different, but that's like saying "choclate pudding is different than vanilla pudding, so choclate pudding isn't pudding". Mind you, I'm not saying that magic is in no way different from any other art. I'm just saying that it isn't any more different than any two other art forms.

Magic is, what magic is. Magic is not acting, though acting certainly applies. Magic is not storytelling, though storytelling also applies. It's as though you are trying to say that it is exactly the same, or completely different, and that there is no middle ground, where some rules apply and others do not. That simply isn't the case. Magic is a particular genre' of theatre, or performance. Of course it is different, if it weren't, we wouldn't bother having another genre' for it. There wouldn't be a special name for it.
Whit Haydn
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Then what distinguishes it, Drew?

You still do not understand what I am saying, and I don't know how to make it clearer.

The difference is that people watch a play and are engaged with someone else's story, a story about Hamlet, for example, the Prince of Denmark. They can be emotionally engaged, intellectually engaged, and have their fantasy engaged by the production.

But the story is Hamlet's. They are not a part of the story.

No one tries to convince them that the actors were really dead on the stage--that would be pointless and silly.

In a magic act, the spectators are asked to engage and challenge the magician himself. He is the protagonist, they are the antagonists. Things happen in real time, not in the "Once upon a time" of story theater.

We are not seeing a depiction of someone on a guillotine in 18th century France, even if the magic show is costumed in 18th century costumes and the set is dressed to look like a Louis XVI palace.

We are seeing an actor, a spectator, or someone real, apparently being placed in harms way in what to all appearances, and even to close examination of a commitee, is a dangerous and real guillotine. The "victim" may miraculously survive, or may be apparently killed in a bloody accident. The audience "knows" that neither thing really happened, but can not escape the conviction of the reality of the event.

To be a witness to an event is totally different from being a witness to a play or recreation about an event.
LobowolfXXX
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Quote:
On 2006-05-10 13:01, Whit Haydn wrote:



Take my Linking Ring Routine. The spectator on stage has to pretend that I do not know what is going on behind me. He pretends that he is fooling me by keeping up with me, even though his rings are not coming apart, and he is simply spinning his rings each time I do, without taking them apart and putting them back together. It looks as if he is playing a trick on me. He is like a wise-guy student playing a trick on a substitute teacher. The audience knows perfectly well that the magician knows what is going on, but they pretend the magician is clueless so they can laugh at him.

The magician has constructed a story which not only involves the spectator on stage, but places the audience in the role of "unruly class laughing at the teacher." This story can be understood and appreciated from many different points of view, but the story told will be the "story" of the person telling it, and will be from their point of view in the story.



Shakespeare's "Play within a play."
"Torture doesn't work" lol
Guess they forgot to tell Bill Buckley.

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tommy
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The spectator participating in a trick is a puppet on a string. It is the puppet master who tells the story not the puppet.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Whit Haydn
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The puppet master orchestrates the story, directs it. The spectator, both on stage and in the audience, is an actor in the story. We create a story for him to tell.
tommy
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Mind you I suppose when you’re a magician you may walk through the looking glass and join Alice.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
LobowolfXXX
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Although there are other art forms that break the 4th wall, I think that one thing that distinguishes magic is that it asks the audience to BOTH suspend and NOT SUSPEND its disbelief. A comic, or actors in certain plays, may actively engage the audience; there are plays written around including the audience. Or take interactive murder mystery type dinner theaters.

But the comic requires no suspension of disbelief at all. The actors, conversely, as that the audience suspend its disbelief throughout the performance. But the magicians asks the audience suspend its disbelief upfront, but then, mid-performance, asks that the audience actually believe things that are not true, i.e. your card is going into the deck, these are 4 perfectly solid rings, all the ropes are now the same size, etc.

The magician's art is based on a necessary suspension of disbelief on the macro scale, and absolutely required belief on the micro scale. I believe that this... whatever you want to call it (ambiguity? schizophrenia?) is what makes Whit's dilemma possible. On the one hand, if someone doesn't believe that "magic" is impossible, that frees him or her from one of the horns; on the other hand, if you don't believe the lie ("your card goes into the center of the deck...") then you don't buy the false premise, and you're off the "there is no other explanation" horn -- the explanation IS "He really didn't put my card in the center of the deck."
"Torture doesn't work" lol
Guess they forgot to tell Bill Buckley.

"...as we reason and love, we are able to hope. And hope enables us to resist those things that would enslave us."
Whit Haydn
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Exactly.

We ask the audience to suspend disbelief about the character (magician) we are playing, and about many other elements in the presentation--"the wand has special powers."

But we insist that they sit up, take notice, engage their critical faculties and "decide to agree" with each premise in the argument we are trying to present.

We ask them to agree to each step. This guillotine is real. The blade is heavy and sharp. The stocks are solid, and no one can escape once they are tightened around the neck. Here, look! Check it out! See, that is her real head, and it is firmly locked and completely vulnerable to the heavy, sharp blade. Everyone agreed? Okay, now watch!

None of this goes on in a "Tale of Two Cities."

We don't pick up the head in a "Tale of Two Cities" and carry it over the footlights to show people that it is real and not a fake head--a magician might do that very thing.

When telling the story later the spectator will say, "No. The blade wasn't fake. Three people from the audience got up and examined it. I swear! I was there."

I know a lot of this sounds complicated and useless. But as the theory is fleshed out, you will find more and more ways it can be used. It helps you decide, for example, how a story can be added to a magic trick without diminishing the story or the magic. It enables you to analyze why a trick isn't playing well.

It helps us to understand the very complex relationship the magician has with the audience, and how best to exploit that to create magic that is clear, entertaining, engaging and multi-layered.
tommy
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`Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
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