Mentor or Consultant?
We live in a time of unprecedented access to information. The Internet is the genie that answers all questions with the click of a few keystrokes. Unfortunately, that genie is indiscriminate about the nuggets it offers; often what you seek is buried in a sewer full of garbage.
If you think I’m kidding, try it yourself. Type “Elmsley Count Tutorial” into a Google search bar. (For USA readers, you’d better do this now while it’s still free.) Under “All,” you’ll find 40,700 hits; under “Videos,” you’ll find 15,400 hits. Of those thousands of options, which ones give you the correct technique? Which ones explain that, if you think about it logically, the Elmsley count actions don’t make much sense if you are trying to establish some fact about the condition of four cards (all face down, all blue-backed, etc.)? I don’t know the answers to those questions. Which one of those thousands of options will correct you when you practice the Elmsley count technique incorrectly? I know the answer to that one: none of them will.
In addition to what is available on the Internet for free, the magic marketplace is buried under an avalanche of products. Dozens of new items appear each week; each holds the promise that, if you just buy this new thing, you will become a magician. (The idea that owing a thing will fulfill a need is, of course, the driving force behind all advertising.)
There is plenty of information (and sequences of words that purport to be information) and plenty of new stuff out there. What is lacking is guidance. A magician who is serious about improving his or her magic needs the guidance of a more experienced, more knowledgeable magician. Speaking generally, this expertise comes in two forms: a teacher (mentor) or a coach (consultant). The one that would serve you best depends on your needs and your goals.
What the enthusiastic hobbyist needs is someone to provide focus and expert instruction. This is best provided by an experienced teacher or mentor. By the time I was in my early twenties, I had acquired a lot of “book-learning,” but there was a scattershot approach to my magical studies. Meeting Harry Riser, who became my mentor, shaped my thinking in profound ways. I could not have achieved what I have without his guidance.
If you have ever studied a musical instrument, you know the importance of finding a good teacher, one who is an expert in your area of interest. (If you want to learn jazz piano, a teacher who only knows classical piano won’t get you to your specific goals.) It is no different when studying conjuring. If you really want to improve, you should find the best teacher you can afford. And remember, whatever the cost, you will get far more value and return for your dollar from a great teacher than you will by blindly throwing money at the latest one-trick DVD or download.
If you are making money from the performance of magic (as a full-time or part-time pro), or if you plan on making the jump to professional, it might be more important to you to refine one or more routines from your act. An experienced coach (or consultant) can spot problem areas that, if corrected, can make a routine appear just that much more magical, commercial, or entertaining. In addition to working out technical problems, a consultant can help with blocking, audience management, scripting, and many other aspects of stagecraft. In my work as a consultant on Penn & Teller: Fool Us I have helped both pros and less-experienced younger magicians improve their performances.
A knowledgeable consultant can also help a performer bring unfinished ideas to fruition.
Generally, a consultant will be more expensive than a teacher, but if the help you get improves your act, that translates directly into money in your pocket. Having a fresh set of eyes evaluating your act is something every pro needs to do on a regular basis.
I hope you find the above information useful. Whether you are in the market for a teacher or a consultant, don’t be afraid to seek out someone who can address your magical questions and needs. You may find that the experience is life-changing.