The Value of a Mentor – Through the Eyes of an Apprentice

In our digital age of learning magic by watching YouTube I cannot help but wonder how far one can go by mimicking what they see someone else do in a video. Aside from performing for friends at school, how do you really take your interest in magic to the next level?

It is not uncommon for young, aspiring artists to seek out a mentor among the group of successful contemporaries in their desired field. Painters, photographers, sculptors, to name a few, all take on students to utilize their help while at the same time pass on techniques and tricks of the trade in order to nurture the student’s interest in their art. A mentor wants to see their student reach the level of success they desire. Regardless of what kind of artist you are, we all can benefit from the experience of those who have come before us.

When we begin developing as magicians we cannot help but look up to the great performers in the world today – we aspire to be just as successful.  Our first reaction is to mimic them though we soon realize that we only get so far with that. And then what? How exactly do we begin to find our own style?

It was seven years ago that I approached Jeff McBride eager to learn as much as I could from him.  I knew that he was a master of his art and that I could learn a lot from someone of his stature. When I first met Jeff in 2003 I had a dream but no idea how to manifest it to reality.  Spending time with him and helping him set up his show allowed me to learn what it takes to travel with an act and put together a big production.  Experiencing the ins and outs of the business can give us insight that we would never get from reading a book or watching a DVD.  For me, the real lessons have come through observation – not by being told how to do something but rather seeing how a real performer handles themselves in various situations.

One of the first experiences I had with Jeff taught me just how a simple gift of magic can make a huge impact on a person. One night we were in the checkout line of a supermarket and Jeff asked the checkout guy if he likes magic. He replied that he had not really seen magic before. Without hesitation, Jeff began doing card manipulations for him and ended by giving him one of his cards. The guy was so shocked that his entire demeanor was transformed into a state of bliss.  As we were walking out to the car I realized how a simple magic trick in an unexpected way will almost instantly bring people out of their mundane task.  This was one of those unique moments that had I not witnessed, I never would have understood.

I often get emails from people asking what advice I can give them on finding a mentor.  One of the best pieces of advice I can offer to anyone is to seek out a magician in your area or local market whose work you admire and who is willing to “show you the ropes”. It is not about learning tricks, it is about watching others and learning from the way they work. Having a mentor will allow you to see what real world performing environments are like, to learn what goes into structuring a show, and to absorb all the wisdom that comes from their years of experience. Having someone to not only help guide you but also teach you the life lessons of being a performer is invaluable.

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