Skip to content


Evolution: Old Repertoire - New Environment

The other problem in adapting my old repertoire to my new environment had nothing to do with the venue and everything to do with me. The problem was evolution. The Pothole Trick is a prime example of this. When I developed the trick I lived in Indiana, and in Indiana potholes in the roads are a part of life. Talking about potholes and figuring out a way to get rid of them (although symbolically through magic) felt real and natural to me. Then I moved to Las Vegas, where there are no potholes. All of a sudden, the trick felt false; the words, which had felt so natural back in Indiana, now felt like someone else’s patter. I have tried for six years to come up with a presentation that feels as real as the old one did, but to no avail. So, I don’t perform the Pothole Trick. (Note from 2014: Since moving to Canada, potholes are again a part of everyday life, and I can do this again.)

For several years I have suggested to magicians that the effects they perform and the manner in which they perform them be an expression of their lives and not a substitute for them. Whatever the artistic medium – jazz piano, oil painting, stand-up comedy, or close-up magic – the audience should gain insight into the artist, his life, and his worldview. Most magicians hide behind their tricks. They offer no opinion, no point of view. We learn nothing of the magician as a human being, because he reveals nothing. The magician serves up tricks – someone else’s tricks – and blindly parrots someone else’s patter, smugly secure in the erroneous belief that it is enough to simply offer puzzles. This is why intelligent (and even not so intelligent) laymen dismiss our efforts as being suitable only for children. The magic is being presented at the most superficial level. Because our performances are trick driven rather than personality driven, we are interchangeable. We are the removable heads on top of the cheesy tuxedos. As magicians we are all alike because we never make the effort to reveal our humanity, to use our effects to express our individuality, and to allow our spectators to leave our performances feeling like they got to know a real person.

As I have mentioned elsewhere in this ebook, in my capacity as a product reviewer I have watched most of the contemporary close-up and stand-up magicians. Only a tiny percentage allows their personalities to transcend their tricks. Fewer still are the performers who actually offer a point of view, who offer real intellectual content.

The finest example of personality driven magic is the show of Penn & Teller. This show has evolved into the most intelligent magic show in the history of conjuring. Each performer exhibits a distinct personality. Occasionally these personalities are in conflict, and the conflict adds real drama (something not often found in a magic show) to the performance. The show not only offers a unique worldview, it offers intelligent information. The audience leaves the theater with more to think about than “How did they do that?”

In order to evolve, you must have established a starting point, and this means developing presentations that express who you are at this moment in time. My guess is that most of you have never tried this; you’ve always hidden behind someone else’s presentations. Letting go of this shield is a scary proposition, but the rewards are great. If you have already taken this path, then be sure to pay attention to what you are saying when you perform, and be sure that these presentations reflect who you are now. Thoughtlessly spouting words strips the humanity from a performance; we want our spectators to remember us as a genuinely interesting human being.

[From Closely Guarded Secrets]

Previous article Making it Feel Real
Next article Self-Working Tricks: What’s the Price?

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields