Over the last few months I have had the opportunity to see a number of ‘commercial stage magic/cabaret acts’ and so the following thoughts are based on my personal observations.
Now let me say this …
The following comments are personal opinion and not meant to single out any one performance over the other.
ALSO, all of the performers and performances who inspired these thoughts are full time working pro’s and, probably have a more complete date-book than my own.
They are working commercially…
And this is where I start my comments and thoughts.
There is a commercial expectation about what magicians are ‘all about’ – card tricks, cutting women in half, making things vanish and ‘fooling you’.
Magicians are, in part, to blame for this since they will freely talk about ‘tricks’ and ‘fooling folk’.
I don’t really think the experience of being fooled is the most motivational of experiences. As magicians we can enjoy it since it brings back something of our own innocence – but in general being fooled can be equated to being taken advantage of and that is far from pleasant.
The ‘commercial acts’ have been watching all seemed to fall into the standard stereotype of ‘magic’ and several lacked much of the finesse of the Devious Minds Show (reviewed earlier in this blog).
In my mind then I see two types of commercial magic acts…
Those defined by the consumer and their expectations and those offering something the performers themselves have defined as being a magical-entertaining experience.
One of the illusion acts I saw recently had decided to ‘theme’ their act upon a particular popular series of movies. I can understand the motivational driver – if we do something based on something popular then we are marketable.
I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.
Such a direct and obvious theme, down to looping the films soundtrack for musical backing, drives comparison to the movie blockbuster and not a celebration of the magic.
Of course bookers and agents will like such an act as it is ‘accessible.
Note being accessible rather than being ‘magical’.
I’ve fallen foul of local media needing to ‘box’ what I do, as often the press will use the tag “Cornwall’s Own Derren Brown”.
Of course I’m flattered by the comparison BUT I am NOT Derren Brown and with such billing could be compared unfavaourably with this super magician/mentalist… a kind of second or third best to the TV and Stage award winner.
Going back to the illusion act I mentioned above, they will never be the ‘action movie’ they based their act upon and as such open themselves up to being a second-rate Indiana Jones or Jack Sparrow.
Now I’m NOT saying that magic cannot be themed; what I am saying is that IF it is, it has to match the production values expected from its association with the high production/high budget endeavour.
The other issue about magic becoming a consumer product is that it will become homogeneous and lack definition.
It is for this reason that the biggest names in magic stand out from the also-rans – they bring their own brand of originality, and break expectations.
In my recent observations it wasn’t only themed illusion acts which were becoming in danger of being consumer-driven mush.
The cabaret patter acts are also prone.
Here I have witnessed working, and bookable professionals, using hackneyed lines without any sense of irony.
What makes some of these performances so depressing is that the rehearsed and scripted lines lack humanity, reference to the current audience and any attempt to build real rapport and emotional connection.
In one venue I was feeling quite uncomfortable as the stage performer, who had invited a young woman on stage, continued to deliver the same ‘cheeky’ lines they always delivered without any recognition of the fact that the onstage volunteer was no more than 16.
There was certainly a seedy edge to this which was not fun to watch. The performer concerned, who was technically proficient, was certainly not audience aware.
I was beginning to think that my negative reaction was just me being overly sensitive, but then another magician who was in the audience commented to me during an interval that he felt the same.
Perhaps the issue here is about considering the difference between ‘commercial magic’ and ‘consumer magic’. If these two ‘drivers’ are linked creatively then the magician can help re-educate the audience; challenge their expectations entertain with originality.
Ah well, just thinking