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Diamonds of Performance by Christian Bischof

Diamonds of Performance by Christian Bischof


Those of us who champion the benefits of applying the principles of magic theory to the effects we perform face the same challenge as evangelists: How do we find fresh, interesting, relatable ways to present information that has been discussed by so many authors in the past? One way to approach this problem is for the writer to adapt and apply strategies from disciplines outside of the world of conjuring. If you are familiar with the works of Juan Tamariz, Eugene Burger, Robert Neale, Tommy Wonder, Darwin Ortiz, John Carney, and me, you realize we all try to put an individual spin on these familiar concepts. The most recent author to join this group is Swiss corporate magician Christian Bischof, whose two-volume set Diamonds of Performance: How Magicians
Fascinate their Audience
provides an interesting and useful way to categorize theoretical principles while also providing practical examples of how to apply that information.

Christian Bischof comes to magic from the world of academia; he received a Ph.D. in business administration and taught strategic management classes at the University of Bern. During this time he was also deeply interesting in magic; his performances won many awards, including the third prize in Mental Magic at the 2012 FISM convention.

When he completed his doctoral studies, Christian faced a choice: enter the business world, or pursue a full-time career in magic. He chose magic, but his business studies influenced his approach to theory and performance. He explains it this way: “This academic education has shaped the way I think. When it comes to magic I like to combine my theoretical knowledge with practical experience, ponder these things and structure them appropriately. In my opinion, you become successful in magic when you can find a good balance between theory and practice. Therefore, this book presents a clear theoretical approach illustrated by numerous practical examples.”

Christian patterned his titular “diamonds of performance” on Michael Porter’s Diamond Theory of National Advantage, which describes a nation’s competitive advantage in the international market. In this model, four attributes are taken into consideration: factor conditions, demand conditions, related and supported industries, and firm strategy, structure, and rivalry. According to Porter, “These determinants create the national environment in which companies are born and learn to compete.”

 Christian has expanded Porter’s single, four-cornered diamond into a trio of diamonds, representing the Trick, the Performer, and the Situation. The aspects of magic theory/performance associated with each corner of the three diamonds interact internally, but the three diamonds also interact with each other. This may initially sound confusing, but it isn’t, as you’ll see in moment when I break down the contents of volume one.

Christian sums up his purpose for writing these books this way: “My stated goal here is to devise a practical model to better understand magic, to refine my taste, and to improve my own shows as much as possible. I welcome you as my reader to ponder these issues along with me. To put it simply: if you see a bad magic act, you will know why it’s bad. If you see a great magic act, you will know what exactly you can learn from it. And if you see a recording of your own magic act…you will quickly know if you are good or bad. From either position, you can always improve.”

The “trick” diamond has four corners, relating to Impossibility, Relevance, Esthetics, and Dramaturgy. Impossibility asks the question, “Is it incredible?” Are we providing the mind (intellect) the opportunity to experience wonder? Relevance asks, “Is it meaningful?” Are we touching the hearts of the spectators emotionally? Are we giving them a memorable experience? Esthetics asks, “Is it beautiful?” This is for the enjoyment of the senses. Finally, dramaturgy asks, “Is it suspenseful or surprising?” Are you able to tell a well-crafted story, with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying conclusion?

Each of these aspects of the trick diamond is examined in great detail. For example, Impossibility is broken down into Construction (the various elements that comprise the method) and Performance Techniques (Physical, Psychological, and Material). This in-depth analysis is continued with the other Trick topics; Christian provides information on a wide range of strategies and accompanies these with easy-to-understand examples.

The Performer diamond has two main topics: Person (the magician) and Stagecraft. Person includes aspects such as respect for the audience, authenticity, style, and effort put into preparation. Stagecraft includes Physical Techniques (movement, gaze, voice, preparation) and Psychological Techniques (genuine acting, spontaneity, and feeling at ease). The Situation diamond covers three topics: Mood (the purpose of the event, what comes before and after your performance, and expectation), Venue (room atmosphere and stage infrastructure), and Sociodemographics (homogeneity, theatrical experience, language, and age). This is as thorough a discussion of this topic as I have ever read. Since where you perform and the conditions you perform under have a huge impact on the success of your show, I was delighted to read Christian’s analysis.

Having discussed each diamond individually, at the end of volume one, Christian explains how the three diamonds interact with each other. He writes, “Not only should you look at the key success factors of each individual diamond, but also at the interactions between the diamonds…The trick needs to suit the performer and both of them in turn have to fit the situation. You will only create a coherent whole if the three diamonds work together. Then you have a magic performance that is deeply satisfying for the audience. Everything fits – trick, performer, and situation.”

It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of material presented in volume one’s 232 pages. It is one thing to read about all these sound theoretical principles, but it is quite another thing to figure out how to apply them. The easiest way to learn this is to see how others have incorporated these techniques. This is exactly what Christian does in volume two. Using the Trick diamond, Christian examines the routines of three of magic’s premier performers (David Copperfield, Tom Mullica, and Derren Brown) and explains five stand-up routines from his professional repertoire (including his opener and closer). Not many pros would give away major hunks of their acts.

Reading how Christian has utilized the Trick diamond in the construction of his routines is an effective way to begin to internalize those concepts. Also helpful is a checklist (provided at the beginning of this volume) that allows you to easily make note of the techniques you are applying.

In the final two chapters, Christian uses the Performer diamond to analyze himself as a performer. Using the Situation diamond, he explains how he handles the various venue challenges he has encountered. This is great information.

Here’s the bottom line: With Diamonds of Performance, Christian Bischof has established himself as a strong, clear voice in the world of magic theory. He has organized the material in a way that will be accessible to a wide audience. (That said, be aware that these are dense books, packed with information. I would suggest keeping a small pad of Post-it Notes next to you as read, so you can mark important passages to return to later.) It will take time and effort to implement these techniques, but the results will transform your magic, regardless of your current skill or experience level. Highly recommended. 

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