Lessons Learned

“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”
— Chinese Proverb

I must admit: I’m obsessive when it comes to keeping a journal. Who could blame me? I get to spend many hours (sometimes months, as in the case of our recent Atlantic City adventure) with some of the greatest minds in magic.

I was inspired to begin sharing my notes during a recent Master Class. In addition to Jeff’s talk on the importance of keeping a journal, he offers to let the students peruse his own private journal — literally thousands of pages of his nightly dreams, ideas for magic effects, scripts, works-in-progress and personal notes. While I can’t claim anything as voluminous as Jeff’s library, I have jotted down quite a few important thoughts over the years. Instead of repeating things you might hear in a lecture, I would like to focus on the topics that surface in personal conversation with the masters of our art … the thoughts and ideas that are shared amongst professional magicians. This is where the real secrets lie. These are my Lessons Learned.

But before sharing my notebook with the rest of the magic world, I’d like to talk about the source of the wisdom which has fueled my magic and my life.

During my teenage years I attended every magic convention time and money would allow. At that time (the mid-80’s) there were no “small group” workshops and seminars, so conventions were the only place to meet great magicians. I always went with one goal in mind: to spend time with the best thinkers in magic — to turn the convention into my own little “small group” workshop. I had countless thoughts and questions about creativity, performance and philosophy that could only be answered by those who lived magic all day, every day. I wanted to learn directly from the professionals since I planned to join their ranks some day. I found myself sneaking into bars not for the alcohol, but because that’s where the magicians went after hours!

During that time, I made many friends and had many great conversations. The high point occurred six months after meeting Jeff McBride and his manager, Tobias Beckwith, at the Columbus Magi Fest. I returned home to find a message from Jeff (just imagine the surprise and excitement … I was as giddy as a school girl). Once I mustered the confidence to call him back, Jeff invited me to something called “Mystery School.” Jeff made it clear that this was not going to be a typical magic convention. Attendance was by invitation only (the rest of the magic world didn’t find out about it until after it happened). Almost all of the attendees were his close friends and, therefore, professional magicians of the highest caliber (including my dear friend Eugene Burger). Only 30 people were being invited — the gathering would focus on “intimate group learning to help us become better performers.”

How could I refuse?

The rest is history. My life and my magic would never be the same. I’ve spent the past ten years of my life working with Jeff, Eugene, Abigail and Tobias to bring the same life-changing experiences I’ve had to other magicians.

Why have I devoted a my life to this? What did I learn from these events that made such a difference? What is it about working intimately with professional magicians that is so important?

Let me begin answering those questions with another observation from my experience. I grew up attending a magic club which was highly competitive. The focus was on who would win the monthly competition and who had the hottest new trick. There was always a sense of separation and tension between fellow magicians.

In my experience, this is simply not the case for professional magicians (though there are always exceptions). Professional magicians get together to share their magic and to help each other. Since each performer is interested in finding the material that right for them, there are no worries of theft. Everyone has the same goals: to become better performers and to elevate the art of magic as a whole.

So I think the answer is made up of two ingredients: the sincerity of the teachers and the quality of learning.

I should note here that I am not a professional magician. I gave up a promising magic career in my early twenties to pursue other interests in business and technology. Luckily for me, I have been able to meld the two into a successful business writing custom software and websites for some of the top names in magic. However, I do have dreams of performing again some day. So, at this point in my life, I am much like many of you reading this article: magic is a serious hobby with aspirations towards performing publicly.

Regardless of your skill level or time in magic, if you are sincere about becoming a better performer and developing your own magical work, I can’t think of any real professional I know that would not be happy to work with you.

Until recently, most magicians only have access to the masters through lectures and conventions. In these settings, the teacher must provide information applicable to everyone present. This means teaching a few tricks and, in some instances, providing tidbits of philosophy.

But the power of personal instruction from a master teacher is the ability to look beyond the tricks and to help with the important issues of performance — lessons which must be applied individually. This type of learning addresses the magician as a whole. A master teacher looks at movement and direction. He (or she) gives detailed instruction and feedback when learning magical techniques. Character, costume, set and setting can be discussed and improved upon.

In my opinion, this type of instruction is essential to becoming a proficient magical performer. All of the great magicians in history have learned this way – from master to student.

So, it is to the many wonderful and talented masters of our art that I dedicate all of the essays to come. Thank you for your friendship, support and inspiration!

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
— William Arthur Ward
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