Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Went to a Mahvellous Party! - Part 1

I was privileged to be in Orlando for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Genii Magazine.

Genie-in-Chief, Richard Kaufman has clearly been paying close attention as he has travelled the world attending magic conventions and that education paid off in spades at the event.

Every detail appears to have been carefully considered.

The selection of the Florida Hotel and Conference Center proved to be inspired.  Not only was there ample room for the lectures and performances (the dealer room might have been a little larger) but as it is connected to the Florida Mall, there were lots of dining options beyond the hotel fare.  In my experience, the hotel staff was unfailingly courteous and helpful and seemed bent on creating a positive experience for their guests--even the magicians.

I can't really talk about the convention without discussing the generous "gift bag" that was provided to each of the registrants. 

The "bag" turned out to be a deluxe portfolio with a 1-1/2" three-ring binder, notepad, calculator and pen included.  The folio needed to be that large in order to include all of the swag provided by the magazine and its partners.  It came stuffed with DVDs and cards and gaffs and manuscripts for all manner of tricks.  I still haven't managed to get through the whole thing! 

Another important choice made in the planning stages of the conference was to keep all the participants on a single track for the majority of the event.  This meant that, by and large, the participants were having the same experiences at the same time and did not have to choose which presenters they got to see and which ones they had to forgo.

Magic lectures are a unique experience.  For a culture renowned for its devotion to safeguarding secrets, lecturers routinely both perform and explain their techniques and thought processes.  Want to know how a magician can routinely deal himself a winning poker hand?  Come to a lecture and he will freely tell you.  And, in case you miss any of the subtleties, there is a video camera standing by to provide a close-up view that even those at the back of the hall can follow.

Somebody asked me yesterday what was the best trick I learned at the event.  This was a tough one for me, because I am not a performer, but I am fascinated by the performance of magic.  As I have written about elsewhere, the technology used is not very sophisticated, but the thinking is and the understanding of human perception and psychology is something that the so-called "hard sciences" are only now beginning to understand.

Did I come away from the conference with new tricks?  Not really.  What I did take away was a clearer understanding of how to think about magic.


John Carney: The Invisible Coins from HMNS on Vimeo.

From John Carney, I learned about how the actor who is playing the part of a magician should prepare for his role.  Carney referenced the Erdnase/Vernon credo of the naturalness of motion--the audience should not be able to tell the difference between an innocent move and a move concealing the "sneaky business."  "Over-selling" that the hands are empty, for example, may have the effect of convincing the audience that the performer has something to hide. 


Carney also made reference--the first of many--to Scottish magician John Ramsay's statement that if you want the audience to look at something, look at it yourself.  He did this in the context of demonstrating a coin vanish routine.  His position was that the performer should not call attention to the vanishing moment, but rather that the performer and the audience should "discover" the vanish together.

This is oversimplifying somewhat, but, in essence, Carney's advise was that, long after the sneaky business has happened and the coin has vanished, the performer should continue to present the "coin" to the audience in exactly the same way as he would if the coin were still there.  "Show it as you would actually show it," was the note I took at this point in his presentation.  If the performer believes that the coin is still there, the audience will too.

This goes to a larger and more theatrical point about the importance of the performer being fully present in the moment.  This is a subtext through several of the other lectures at the conference and one that I will keep coming back to.  The performance of magic is a shared experience and it is the job of the performer to do all of the necessary preparations so that he can do the sneaky business without thinking and concentrate on sharing something magical with the spectators.  The performer should be experiencing the magical moment for the first time right along with the spectators. 

Doing something "to" the audience is threatening.  Sharing something "with" the audience is powerful.  In the October issue of Magic Magazine, Joshua Jay writes about the "atfor dilemma" which is a variation of the same discussion.  His position is that it is better for the performer to perform "for" the audience rather than "at" them.

There's lots more to say, but this should do for the moment.

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