Sunday, October 9, 2011

Burden of Secrets
In the current issue of Magic magazine, there is an interview with Derek DelGuadio.

The magazine's publisher, Stan Allen considers this to be a good "get" for the magazine because DelGuadio, unique among his contemporaries, does not fit into the mold of the modern magician.  He does not promote himself, he does not release a lot of material to the marketplace and he is not angling for a showcase in Las Vegas.

After reading the interview, it is clear that what he does do is care a lot about his art.

If I am reading this correctly, it seems that while most who take up magic traffic in secrets and technology, DelGuadio is most concerned about the experience of his audience.  He wants them to be able to experience a world where magic can happen all around them.
If you see magic in everything, it's frustrating when people don't....  I'm not interested in showing people what a magical world would like if it existed.  I'm interested in revealing a magical world, because it does exist (Lovick, Jack.  "The Kid at the Table," Magic, October, 2011, p. 33).
What is refreshing is that he upends the traditional adversarial relationship between performer and audience.  He does not play "catch me if you can" with the spectators.  In fact, he much prefers telling them the truth and allowing them to believe that he is lying.

And, if you think about, there really is a kind of freedom in telling the truth.

Generations of performers have trained the audience to look for the lie, the moment when truth becomes deception and this puts all kinds of pressure on the performer to mask the "tricky" moment so that it is indistinguishable from a normal moment.  

The last time I checked, Penn & Teller were still doing an effect in their Las Vegas show called the "Red Ball".  This is a solo piece for Teller, based on the work of David Abbott, a prominent amateur inventor and chronicler of magic in the first part of the last century.  Like many of their pieces, the floating ball has an elegant poetry about it that Teller has been perfecting through diligent rehearsal.  The premise is simple--a ball floats, rises and falls at his command--but it lacks the "bad boys of magic" imprimatur on which Penn & Teller have made their reputations for almost forty years.  As you will read in the above-linked article, the floating ball did not really become a Penn & Teller effect until the decided to have Penn introduce the piece by telling the audience how it was done--with a thread.  

What is telling is that for the author of the piece, even after having watched Teller rehearse the effect, listen to him discuss every aspect of its performance and the history of similar effects, he still has some doubt as to whether that is the actual secret.  Much like their approach to the Cups and Balls, even arming the audience with the secret, does not protect them from being fooled.
 we’ve been told about the thread. But there is a caveat: I have to take Penn and Teller’s word that there is a string. I have stood next to Teller as he practiced the trick, looking hard from every angle—even the ones that would normally be rude; watched video of him developing “The Red Ball” at a cabin in Utah on his vacation; talked to him for hours about the 100-year history of floating-ball tricks; and attended a lecture he gave to doctors at Lake Las Vegas, during which he discussed every phase of the trick’s development. But I have never actually seen the thread....  When I watched him practice onstage it was just the two of us after the show and no computers were involved. I saw only ball, hoop, bench and Teller. With Teller, you are literally dealing with one of the best illusionists in the world, and so you accept that believing doesn’t necessarily mean seeing.
In the DelGuadio interview, writer Lovick makes the following comment that is I think very important when thinking about magic.
If you show them something impossible, they have two choices.  They either have the reaction:  There is a secret, I don't know it, you're not going to tell me, drop dead.  Or they go with it--on either a suspension of disbelief level or actually accepting it as magic. 
Dariel Fitzkee, author of Magic by Misdirection, an important theoretical work on this most important of magical principles, wrote the following:
In true deception, deception is not skill of the hands. It is skill of the mind. The important thing—I mean the supremely important thing—is not the control of your hands. It is not the control of your apparatus.... It is control of the spectator’s mind.
Penn tells the audience that the trick is done with a thread and then, through the artistry of his performance, Teller spends the rest of the piece disproving the possibility that a thread could be the secret.  In full knowledge that each and every member of the audience has a lifetime's worth of experience of the Law of Gravity, he convinces them that, for a few brief minutes, he has managed to carve out a small lawless part of the world where gravity might not apply.

What was inspiring about the DelGuadio interview was his perspective on the currency of secrets that has for so long defined magic and magicians. 

He states toward the end of the interview that he does not keep secrets because they give the magician his power, but rather that
I keep secrets so they (the audience) don't have to.  I carry a burden of secrets that literally destroys my ability to see the world in a magical way....   
...a secret kept just to be a secret is only good to help boost the ego.  Secrets are supposed to be put to good use.  That's why we value them, for the mystery they are capable of creating....   
...if you put the proper attention on everything else, the secrets will be put into the proper perspective....  People won't even care to ask how you do it, because they won't think your job is about secrets....  I think the magicians who get asked "How did you do that?" are the ones whose tricks have no content.  There is nothing else to examine, think about, respond to.

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