Who Cares?

“After all, when was the last time a layperson said to you, ‘So, you’re a magician! Can you put a cigarette through a quarter?'” –Darwin Ortiz, Strong Magic

“There are many rooms in the house of magic,” says Eugene Burger. Over the past decade Eugene and others have opened yet another door with “Meaningful Magic” etched prominently into the nameplate.

It has been argued that one reason magic has lost much of its power in the modern world stems from its lack of emotional content. Most movies, live theater, and musical venues seek to take the viewer on an emotional roller-coaster ride. This is accomplished by focusing on themes with which most people can relate.

This, I believe, is the key: a meaningful performance is one which is either directly related to, or a metaphor for, something which is within the audience’s collective reality. Of course, we must understand that a person’s reality is much more than the sum of their life’s experiences. It consists of (many times hidden) thoughts, dreams, prejudices, fears. In addition, the views of friends, mentors, and the media help create personal reality.

So how do we discover what’s important in our audiences’ reality? Easy … just listen.

I suggest the following exercise: select a day during which you will interact with many people (not magicians). It may be a day at work, a weekend cookout, a festival, a day of shopping. Talk to as many people as possible and LISTEN TO THEM. Make mental notes of people’s interests, desires, hobbies, etc. Take breaks now and then to record the high-points of your conversations on a cassette recorder or notepad.

Do this as often as possible. In time, you will start to see trends, common experiences and thoughts. When possible, make a special effort to interact with the people who would most likely see you perform in your particular venue. You may wish to pay particular attention to phrases such as “I wish I could…” and “I love/hate it when…”

Then comes the real challenge for magicians. I imagine most of us have some sort of filing system for the effects in our repertoire with categories such as ‘cards’, ‘coins’, ‘silks’, ‘mentalism’, etc. Trash those categories and devise new ones related to the things which are likely to interest your audience. One can begin with some of the standards such as love, money, work, etc. I suggest trying something more creative like “Fears,” or “Future Technology,” or “Lost and Found.”

Finally, I feel it’s necessary to point out a couple of pitfalls I’ve discovered with the creation of “meaningful” magic. First, as Eugene points out, there are MANY rooms in the house of magic. The experience of wonder is a beautiful thing in itself, though it may have no apparent meaning. A good performance requires texture. Secondly, as entertainers, we are neither psychologists nor priests. While magic can have transformational power, do not try solving peoples’ problems or changing their way of thinking. The purpose of magic is to remind the audience that we are all magicians living in a very magical world in which anything is possible.

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