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MarkTripp
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First chapter in an upcoming book:

My Style of Magic

Part one: Giving magic meaning

Much has been written on this subject over the last several years. It seems the current thought of those who write from on high, is that the only way for the performance of magic to be accepted and have meaning is for the audience to believe that what they have witnessed is “real”. By that I mean an actual event by powers unknown. They are welcome to their viewpoint, but if they say that is the only way to give magic meaning, then to them, with apologies to Rex Stout, I say, PHUI!

I can give scores of evidence to refute their premise, but let me give but three to make my counterpoint. The first, of VERY recent occurrence.

A few weeks ago I was in Beverly, Ma, sitting at the Cabot Street Cinema Theater, in my usual spot. A spot known only to the company I might add. I have seen this show in all its forms for the entire length of its, at the time of this writing, 26th year run. This show was going to be even more special, because sitting across the aisle from me, was someone of great artistic stature, Ms. Liv Ulman.

I leave it to you to look up her work, and the people she has worked with, but I am sure any court would accept her as an expert witness on the subject of performance art, and so shall we.

We spoke a bit before the show started as I attempted to answer some of her questions about the show; thankfully a company member rescued me before I put my foot too far in my mouth. Then, the show began. Of course my attention was torn from the show on the stage, to the reactions of Ms Ulman. Her reactions to the show were a performers dream.

At intermission she rose and came over to me, and it was clear she couldn’t get the words of praise out fast enough! It would be impossible to remember it all, but this I will always remember, she said”

“This reminds me of my childhood. They are telling stories without words!”

When the show was over, again she came to me and with tears in her eyes she said:

“What a joy! How do I thank these people?”

I smiled and said, “I have been trying to answer that question myself for almost 26 years”. She smiled, nodded with understanding, and walked up the aisle to come up with a way.

Now, there should be two things abundantly clear from that story. One, that she was MOVED by the performance of that show. Two, she would remember it for many years to come, with fondness and a relationship to the joys of her childhood.

More to my counter-point, I am sure, had she thought about it, that she would realize that nothing on the stage was “real”. It was no more “real” than her movie roles, yet there is the crux of the issue. Those roles have moved a great many, and are memorable to one and all. So allow me to say that “done well”, performance art, in this case magic, will move, touch, and be remembered with fondness. “Done well”, Aye, there’s the rub…

I can tell more, a great many from personal experience. Doing the Dogpatch shows I spoke of, one day I was informed that a family was on the park, and their little boy had cancer. He was going into the Hospital and most likely would not be coming home. Everyone was doing what he or she could to make the day a special one. I said to put them in the front row. With no rehearsal, Teleprompters, or back stage cues, I brought the young man on stage. I told him of the story of Le Grand David when he first met Marco the Magi. If you don’t know the story then go to Beverly and hear it for yourself! When I finished the story, I asked him “Would you like to fly?” I wish I could tell you all about the look in his eyes when he said “yes”, but there are no words to describe it. Did he fly? With the aid of my aga levitation he did. Were the people moved? His father left the theater as his son “flew” because he was crying so hard, and the cast members could not speak. Were the people moved? Yes, we all were.

Now, did they think the magic was “real”? Well, again, if they stopped to think about it I am sure they would not have. However, “done well”, no one will stop to think. “Done well”, there it is again.

For our last example, lets use what to most “magicians” is the lowest common denominator for the performance of magic, the children’s birthday party. I mean after all, how can a “kiddie show” have any real magical meaning? Let me say it is that kind of thinking that ***s magic and prevents “done well” from being achieved!

Let’s examine the thoughts of the people at this party shall we? How many 8th birthdays is Sally going to have? How many “Sally is 8” birthday parties are her parents going to hold or her friends going to attend? Or Sweet 16? Or retirement? Or Wedding day? ANY party, by its very nature, has special meaning to those who have thrown the party. Yet how often does the “magician”, hired to make that day special, even consider that central point? “Done well” it will be a special day, now won’t it?

I have met “children” who are now in their 20’s and 30’s who STILL tell me how wonderful the show was and they STILL have no idea where the rabbit came from or how they found the egg. If they thought about it, I am sure they could know. But, if they “thought about it”, they would break the spell, and at some level they know that too. As such, they choose not to think about it, lest they spoil their memory. As a side note, there is the real villainy to the “masked magician” exposures, the destruction of joyous memories.

I understand that the voices from on high direct their wrath at the fact that most performance magic is not “done well”. I have to agree with them on that one. Still the reasons why it is not “done well” has less to do with the books magicians are not reading, and more to do with their lack of focus on the obvious, which is, who is this performance for? Is it for my ego, or the audience’s enjoyment?

As we memorize “Our Magic” and “Showmanship for Magicians” and yet still struggle with the question as to what our identity as a magician should be, let me “tip over the tables” in the temple and tell you plainly what the role of a “performing magician” is:

The job/role/character of the performing magician is to use his craft to create wonder, happiness, and joy for the occasion that brings him/her to the audience, or the audience to him/her.

Got it? From little Sally to Liv Ulman THAT is the core function of the performing magician.

Now, how do we do that, and make sure it is “done well”? Lets reason it out together!

Part Two: The Play’s the Thing

In the last chapter we asked a core question, “Who is this show for?” It is a question that we need look at very carefully if we are to learn how to apply the words “done well” to our performance magic.

Sometimes the obvious is the most deceiving. In this case, it is obvious that the show should be for the people who make up your audience. In the world of the professional performance, then the show is for the people paying you to be there.

Still, as the obvious is sometimes the most deceiving, sometimes the simple truths elude us. After all, who else would we focus the performance to but our intended audience?

I remember long ago, an illusionist booking his show at a local high school. His reasons for doing so were because the school had a video department and he was going to get a professional quality promotional videotape for free. As Hobson and myself watched the show, it was VERY apparent that this show was NOT directed at us, the audience, but rather for the cameras. Moreover, the material was not suitable for a high school and family audience, but the Las Vegas Review he was looking to sell his show to.

When discussing this matter with the Diamond Sisters (Jeff’s wife at the time Carrie and her sister) after the show, I made my thoughts and opinions known. They were in great disagreement with me, as it was their opinion that the ONLY important thing that night was getting a professional promotional video. I responded by saying “So you think the people who paid money to see the show should be ignored for some other goal that they know nothing of and don’t care about?” They said they wouldn’t put it that way. I replied, “Is there any other way to put it? The paying audience was ignored. I knew it, the audience knew it, and so did the people at the High School who hired him!”

A few weeks later, at a gathering of local magicians, someone asked him how the High School liked the show; the performer looked at me (unkindly I might add) and replied, “Well, they agreed with Mark”.

I said: “Actually that statement is incorrect. To “agree” would mean that the School and I shared the same opinion of your show, which we do not. However, the fact is the High School felt the show was inappropriate for a family audience. I pointed out I knew they would feel that way. “ I left out my final thought which was “YOU should have known that too.”

Moreover, if his goal was to create a video that would sell his show, doesn’t it stand to reason that showing excited happy faces achieves that goal far better than the latest magic trick or illusion? But the central point here is that he NEVER got the message that he performed for his own ego and ignored the audience. Today he is no longer performing magic at all, his show long forgotten. THERE is the lesson to be learned.

The Bard tells us “The play’s the thing”, and we must never lose sight of that. However, trying to do “Othello” for 5 year olds isn’t going to do anyone any good! We MUST know our audience!

Many years ago I remember Karrell Fox asked me to drive him to a show. When I got to his home he had his little case with him, and I questioned his decision. He had told me this was a phone room show, and my experience with phone room promotions is that the audience was about 90% children. Karrell waved off my objections by saying the agent told him it was an adult show. So off we went.

When we got there Karrell saw to his horror that indeed the audience was about 90% children. I was wise enough not to say I told you so, and waited to see what my mentor would do. He walked around, clearly concerned. Finally he said, “Tripper, I would sell my soul for a set of linking rings!” Ah, the moment of off balance as we Judoka would say.

“Karrell, you mean your immortal soul? You would sell your immortal soul for a mere set of linking rings?” He replied, “Right now I would!”

I walked to my car, unlocked my trunk, reached in and said, “For your immortal soul… do you want eight rings or your usual set of four?” I honestly wish all of you could have seen the look on his face as he rushed to the back of my car! “What have you got in there?” he demanded! “Oh NO,” I said, “We have a deal, one set of linking rings for your immortal soul!”

Karrell said something I cannot print; then raided my magic case for the materials he needed to perform the show he wanted to do. However, a deal is a deal, which is why I know Karrell is in Heaven. Because I owned his soul from then on, and I sent it to St. Peter long ago!

I also knew Karrell could be stubborn and made it a point to have my kid show with me in case he needed anything. A good Boy Scout and all that. The lesson here is, know who your audience is going to be! Focus your show to their needs and desires, not your own, and you are on your way to “done well”!

Part Three: Venue, the true reality check.


OK, on our quest for “done well” we have learned we must focus our performance on the audience. To shape it around the reasons for the gathering, and, if possible, make them, not us, the stars of the show.

Still, before we can begin to create this show, we have one serious question to raise. Just where are we going to perform this show? What is the venue?

I give you my word the following story is true, I actually received this phone call:

“Hey Mark, did you tape Copperfield the other night?”

“Yes I did. Why? Did you miss it?”

“No, but I have a show coming up and want to build one of the tricks he did!”

“Are you serious? Which one?”

“The one where he took the head off the girl and put it on a box across the stage!”

“You know you need twins for that trick, right?”

“Sure, but my girlfriend and her mother look a lot alike!”

“Who is going to build this?”

“I am, I’m pretty good with that kind of thing.”

“But how will you know exactly how to make it without plans?”

“I will dope that out from the video tape!”

“Just where is this show going to be?”

“Oh, they are doing a party at the VFW hall in two weeks, and they are paying me $300 to do the magic that night. I thought this would be a great trick to do there”

I will stop here as this story actually gives me a headache every time I recall it! I told him good luck, but I wouldn’t be helping him butcher magic. I did ask him to let me know how it worked out. I never heard from him again, so I guess that is the answer.

While the dealers will sell us all sorts of magic, and many people are enamored of the large boxes and props, the core question is, where are you going to perform them?

It took me years to learn that what we think is a good birthday party show, is simply too big for the average living room or basement we will be performing in! Look around your own living room, now put 20 excited kids in there with some adults. Now, how much room is left? What happens when little Johnny knocks over your table with the Hippity Hop Rabbits on it?

Comedy Clubs? VERY small stages and a large crowd you must work your way through to get up there. Easy to break that egg in your pocket for the silk to egg trick you have planned. Yes, you can set up before the show, but your stuff is going to have to STAY there until the show is over. What is to stop the other comics from messing with your props (this has happened to me) or if you have another show to do?

Even if you do have the right performing area for the big props, such as a High School Stage, or Gym Floor; who is going to carry all that stuff in? You will be hard pressed to keep the image of the “master of illusion” after they have seen you lugging crates in all day.

Are there answers for all these problems? Of course there are. Are mine the ONLY answers to these problems? Nope, I am sure they aren’t. But they are the ones Karrell Fox, Roy Kissel, Patrick Page, and Billy McComb burned into my brain.

The concept of “close-up on stage” is not new. I believe Danny Korem was the first to use that term; but clearly people like Jay Marshal, Karrell Fox, Billy McComb, Patrick Page, Terry Seabrook, Michael Ammar, Daryl, and many others put it into excellent practice.

Really, think about it for a moment, one of the most effective tricks in the world of magic is the linking of three borrowed finger rings from the audience. Kreskin opens his show with it, as did Al Koran, Many others have done this as well, but the question begs, why is this so effective when most people in the audience can hardly see the rings?

I urge you to get “Korem without limits” for his insights into the concept; but in short, real magic happens with THEIR things, not YOUR stage props!

Also, and I really believe this, there are only three things an audience is going to believe about HOW you did the effects. Either, you have real powers and abilities, you have great skill, or you tricked them. In our context of “done well” we must avoid the last one at all costs.

Yes, I know that “done well” will cause most people not to think about it at all. However, your “special effects” must be first rate. The difference between “Star Wars” and “Plan Nine from Outer Space” goes far beyond the budget and right to the concept of their special effects, or the lack of them.

Another problem with illusions today is that everyone is doing Copperfield. The field of Escapes died because everyone did their impression of Houdini. We are seeing the same thing now with illusions because everyone is doing their impression of Copperfield.

Finally, most performers I see have been over shadowed by the big stuff they push around. You need the audience to focus on YOU, not the big stuff you push about on stage. This is not to say that you should never think about doing one of the larger tricks, but not until you have mastered the concept of making YOU the focus of why the magic happens. Yes, the needs of the audience come first, and the audience must shine from your performance, but YOU are the reason the magic happens! That is the key!

YOU are the performer not the props. Your publicity photos are of YOU, not your props. So the size of your props is not important, the size of your ENTERTAINMENT and MAGICIAL ability is!

Why “close up on stage”? Because the more venues you can play, the more shows you can do, and the more shows you do, the more money you can make! If my show has a limited number of venues it can play, then that number limits the number of bookings I can get. Venue is the reality check for all of our performing dreams.

Have you guessed my style of magic yet? Good, but lets keep walking; I think I see the scarecrow up ahead…

That's all folks....

..except for this.

NEVER forget that "good" is the greatest roadblock to "best".

Never settle for "good enough"; done well means YOU are the best you can be.
Julie
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Mark = GREAT STUFF!!!
Decomposed
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WOW!
Donald Dunphy
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Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Mark.

How do you find the time to write, with such a hectic show schedule?

- Donald
Donald Dunphy is a Victoria Magician, British Columbia, Canada.
Al Kazam the Magic Man
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Thanks for the wonderful food for thought!

JoJo
Al Kazam --> Magic guy in Perth Australia
MarkTripp
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Thank you

I have had a bit of time on my hand as I was in Florida the past three weeks. Only 5 paid days due to cancellations.

I leave in about 10 minutes for the DC area and will be off line for a few days.

I tend to write about an hour a day to keep things going.

Combat conditioning the same way.

The key is to remember what Houdini said:

The hardest thing to get out of is bed!
Decomposed
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Have a safe trip Mark, look forward to the continuous flow of your wisdom.

PS: As you can see from my post times, the hardest thing for me is to find a bed Smile
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