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interpreting magic by david regal

Interpreting Magic by David Regal

Review by Michael Close

It has been ten years since David Regal has gifted us with a big book of magic; that book was the wonderful Approaching Magic. His new book is Interpreting Magic, and it, too, is wonderful, with a wide variety of clever routines of all types (suitable for close-up, parlor, and stage), insightful essays, and interviews with a who’s-who of top creators and performers. There is literally something for everyone here.

If you want to skip the rest of the review and head right to David’s website to order the book, here’s the bottom line. If this book only had the magic routines, it would be worth the price. If this book only had the essays, it would be worth the price. If this book only had the interviews, it would be worth the price. To get all three, packed into a beautifully produced, 565-page book is a gift. In fact, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, because I know you will return to it often to find magic you previously overlooked and to remind yourself of the wealth of useful information contained within.

David Regal performs regularly at the Magic Castle and makes infrequent convention appearances. What has kept him off the magic radar is his work as a consultant for television and movies. In particular, he has been the driving magical force behind the popular hidden camera/prank show, The Carbonaro Effect, which is currently taping its fifth and final season. 

I am a longtime fan of David Regal’s work. He has a knack for creating well-constructed, sneaky routines. As I read through them, I almost always encounter something that makes me think, “Ah, that’s clever.” In addition to the craftsmanship shown methodologically, what I really appreciate is that every routine he publishes has a “hook,” a premise, some bit of unexpected whimsy that draws the spectator into the proceedings. David is also emphasizes scripting; each piece has a thought-out presentation. You might not (and probably won’t) use his words verbatim, but he offers a pathway that can aid you as you write your own script. A third important factor is staging; David understands how to elevate an effect (and conceal sneaky stuff) through blocking and audience management. Even if you never perform any of his routines, you will learn a lot by studying how he puts them together.

Scattered throughout Interpreting Magic are essays devoted to topics such as the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph: Staging, Structure, and Conditions; Writing Magic; Magic in Motion; Method and Effect; The Power in Not Knowing; Examining Examination; The Human Element; Falling Down; and several others. All of this information is backed up by David’s years of experience as an improvisational comedian, a comedy writer for television, and a consultant/coach for many projects. The overarching priority, however, is given in the title: the need for magicians to be interpreters of the magic effects they perform. In the Preface he writes: 

This book has many pages, but its intent can be summed up in a sentence: The surest pathway to good magic is through interpretation.

It’s strange that there is a need to point this out, as it is something that goes without saying in the case of all the other arts. No singer purchases the sheet music to a song, and thinks, “I’m done.” The singer is not done. The singer is just beginning, and the sheet music is a tool that allows the singer to begin.

That is what a magic secret is. It’s wonderful, essential, and just the beginning. 

Secrets are a necessary component of magic. They allow a performance of magic to occur, and as such are a means to an end, not the end. They give us a way in which to reach a desired aim, and the better secrets and methods provide pathways that allow our aim to be realized with elegance. The audience does not enjoy the secret, because the audience does not perceive the secret. All the audience can take in is the presentation of our intent. The decisions we make in the process of creating that intent become our interpretation.

How important is this idea of personalized interpretation? I’ll let you make up your own mind about that, but here’s a hint. Interpreting Magic includes interviews with more than thirty of the top performers and creators in magic today. I’ll give you a partial list. As you read through the names, make note of the fact that each and every one of these magicians has established an identifiable, unique performing style: Simon Aronson, Barry & Stuart, John Bannon, Gaetan Bloom, Eugene Burger, Darren Brown, Lance Burton, John Carney, Mike Caveney, Raymond Crowe, Charlie Frye, Guy Hollingworth, Helder Guimaraes, Kevin James, Mac King, Martin Lewis, John Lovick, Max Maven, Eric Mead, Jeff McBride, Andy Nyman, David Roth, Juan Tamariz, Teller, Johnny Thompson, Suzanne, Paul Vigil, Michael Weber, David Williamson, R. Paul Wilson, Rob Zabrecky. If you have been in magic for any length of time at all, merely reading the name conjures up images of that person’s performing style. This is the importance of interpretation.

I’ve touched on the essays and the interviews, what about the tricks? As I mentioned above, there is just about something for everyone – card tricks, coin tricks, close-up routines, and magic for parlor and stage. I should mention most of these routines are designed for a formal presentation, like the Close-up Gallery or the Parlor of Mystery in the Magic Castle. They are longer routines, and some require the addition of extra “secret” stuff – like a servante for example. While this means you won’t be table-hopping with this repertoire, you will find routines that would work perfectly at the magic theaters that have recently sprung up around the country. I would not classify any of the routines as technically difficult, but they are not geared for the beginner – some magic experience is required. For those of you who love little gizmos and gadgets, you’ll find quite a few of them here; and you’ll probably have a delightful time sitting at your kitchen table putting them together.

And that’s about all I have to say about that. Please support this project; as you’ll hear in my conversation with David this month, producing a magic book is a labor of love. You simply cannot imagine the amount of time and effort that goes into it. Interpreting Magic has everything you want in a magic book: a wide variety of cool tricks, valuable essays, and insightful conversations with magic’s upper echelon of performers and creators. I give it my highest recommendation.

Available from:
Price: $75.00  

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Dusty - December 27, 2020

This book is amazing. I read the whole thing and practiced almost every effect during the Covid quarantine. I couldn’t put it down.

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