Magic For Whom? by Randy Wakeman

Magic For Whom? by Randy Wakeman


If there is one concept regarding the performance of magic that is tantamount and paramount, one concept that I would choose to have perforated into my skin for easy reference, one concept that I would imbue into every area of further ruminations and magical musings it would be—“Magic is for the Audience.”

To some, this notion may seem patently self-evident. Yet, if you look at the mangled and tangled mess of various and sundry items offered to and “for magicians,” you might just begin to wonder what new designer drug could create such contorted, confusing wares. I do.

The blaring blather of ads and information are, in large measure, directed in entirely the wrong direction. Take a peek at some of the various promises and hyperbole in any magic periodical, in any catalog, at any convention booth, on most dealers’ shelves.

There is a continuing, wrong-headed pattern that is permeating what is out there in both product and literature. “Easy to do.” “Can be used close up and surrounded.” “Can be examined before and after.” “Quick re-set.” “Folds flat for packing.” “No wires or mirrors.” “Buy it today, bow to the applause tonight.” “The trick that will make you a star.” “Watch their eyes roll out of their heads as they book you for a three month run.” “Just wait, with stuff like this your reputation will explode.” ‘A goldmine for any magician.” “Baffles the experts!” For the love of God, let it all stop!

“What’s the big hairy deal here?” you might ask. It is a big deal (not Don Alan’s) and is hairy (or at least a matted, furry type of mess). The problem is FOCUS (no, not the Phil Goldstein collection). The focus is incredibly wrong, and we are not contemplating Kodachrome here. The crux of the biscuit is what we seem to care about. All of the above little blurbs center around the magician. They all scream “magician, magician, magician!” They should be crying out “audience, audience, audience!” That’s what counts, and that’s what we should care about. While we senselessly celebrate what might be easy and convenient for us, apparently we don’t give one hot damn about entertaining our audience, about doing the right thing and bringing them an experience of Magic. The Magic is what happens between their ears, not ours.

Isn’t it too much ‘Magic for Magicians?’ Aren’t our drawers filled to pregnant penguin capacity with trinkets that are little more than toys to amuse ourselves, and our magic buddies? Isn’t there is a little cloud of disdain when we refer to audiences as ‘real people’ or ‘the laity?’ Why, because we bought the thumb tip and they didn’t? Maybe we have the one with batteries!

While I would like to believe otherwise, there is little reason to. People are just people, and like theatre- without an audience there is only rehearsal, not a performance. Or, have you been to a ‘dress performance’ lately?

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with magic for magicians. Not a thing wrong with toys, games, oddities, and conversation pieces. There is certainly nothing wrong with streamlining get-readies, or wanting to make our pieces more practical. But, when they become a festering fog of distractions that blurs the vision of presenting a magical event to audiences, it is a hindrance and a concern.

Focus: where would it be better centered? If our choices in method, presentation, and effect were guided by audience reaction, our magic has to improve. Isn’t it interesting that there are moves and sleights we avoid like rabid raccoons just because they don’t look good from ‘performer view?’ When we define ‘impromptu’ in terms of ourselves, we lose. When we select ‘examinable’ over ‘innocent,’ we lose. When we grab for ‘easy to master,’ we are just kidding ourselves. When we look upon commercial magic as something less than a method that fools “those in the know,” we lose.

Maybe, someday ad copy that proclaims “clearly visible spectators to forty yards,” “an effect easily understood by the vast majority of audiences,” “a surprise that will be enjoyed by audiences of any age,” “looks unprepared,” “plays strong” will have more meaning to us that how effortless a specific routine might be to perfect.

Let there be no mistake. The more important we realize our audiences are to us, the more important we become to our audiences.

-Randy Wakeman