Blog #2 – Choosing Material
Any respectable artisan working in any medium should always be meticulous in their selection of materials so that they may best convey their thoughts through their chosen field of expression. It’s no different in magic. In choosing material to perform for an audience, a good magician needs to be aware of this. He or she must call upon the best of his or her artistic sensibilities to help make those choices. This, of course, is easier said than done.
When you first start out in magic or in any art form for that matter, everything is new and you absorb information like a sponge. Eager to learn, you go from book to book, trick to trick, DVD to DVD, download to download meet with others with the same interest and exchange ideas and information. This is, most likely, the way we all started out. Once you have your foundation in place and have developed your “chops”, it’s time to go to the next level, to figure out what material and routines to perform for your audiences.
Now I am fully aware that most people do magic as a hobby and that they perform mostly for friends and family. There is nothing wrong with that. However, some aspire to go further than just friends and family. They would like to perform in front of an audience comprised of people they don’t know. That’s a big, big step that requires the performer to make some important decisions.
In this installment of my blog, I would like to address one of those decisions, the selection of performing material. If you want to be a successful, interesting and engaging performer you need to address some very pertinent choices. Let’s look at the first four issues that I feel one should address when selecting performance material.
1. as a performer, what do you want to project to an audience?
2. make a brutally honest assessment of skills both technically as a magician and as a communicator.
3. you need to figure out who YOU are as a person. Are you naturally funny? Can you carry off dramatic presentations? What are your tastes, interests, likes and dislikes?
4. properly select magic material that YOU can present in the venue that you plan to perform in.
Items one through three are tough questions for anyone to answer about himself or herself. However, you need to answer them. Without those answers it is difficult to successfully move on to selecting material that you can present to a paying audience.
For the purposes of this particular issue of my blog let’s say you have the required skill set and that you know who you are as a person and you have your performance image defined and honed. Now it’s time to choose what to do for your audience.
There is a ton of marvelous material out there for us to go out and pick from but what do we choose? What is the selection process? That is a very distinctive decision we have to make. There are different ways to approach this problem. Since this is a very personal choice I can only relay how I have addressed the problem and hopefully you can find something of use in my process to help you with yours.
I have spent countless hours figuring out how to choose material that I can present. Years ago when I was young magic apprentice I wanted to be the hip young magician with all the latest magic routines that were published or just made available on the magic market. In truth I was just another “move monkey” being trendy. That’s not a put down as much as it is as an acknowledgment that tis is a “rite of passage” that moves up onto the next step up the performance ladder.
It wasn’t until I started performing at the Magic Towne House (my generations’ first NYC magic themed nightclub). After seeing my audition, owners Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich sat me down and gave me their honest evaluation of my skill set at that point in time. Among the things they told me were that my technical chops were OK but I needed better choices for material to present for their parlor theater venue.
So I did my homework. I studied and analyzed how other magic performers routine their performances… both good and bad. Please understand that this is NOT an affirmation of me suggesting to anyone to copy another magicians material or style. Let me be perfectly clear, that is NOT what I am even remotely suggesting. What I am recommending is that you study other performers to see how and why they choose the magic material they do. What is most important is to understand how the choices that they make fit or even possibly do not fit their performance character and the venue that they are performing in.
For instance a good performer should never choose a piece that is too small to be seen in the chosen venue. A blatant example would be doing an Okito coin box routine in a venue that sits 300+ people. It’s just not visible enough. Another thing to consider is to choose the proper material for the audience you intend to perform for. Choosing to do a children’s magic effect at a sophisticated concert hall may not be the right choice either. While those examples work great in their own appropriate settings, they in they just will not work in the situations as stated.
Imagine Ricky Jay performing his brilliant cups and balls routine from his Off-Broadway show, “Ricky Jay & his 52 Assistants”, with all of his magic historical references, at a five year old birthday party. As great as that routine is for us as adults, I do not think those five year olds would appreciate it as much as we do. Although the thought of Mr. Jay performing his cups and balls routine at a five year old birthday party would certainly be an interesting sight.
This is where your common sense needs to step in and make the correct judgment call. I recognize that there are exceptions to every rule but this is a good general rule to base your standards on.
During your analysis, do not overlook the importance of how one piece segues into the next piece. Keep in mind what we discussed in my first blog that “Form Ever Follows Function”. All of these things are not easy tasks. These are very time consuming tasks but if done correctly the results will be worth the effort.
Back in 2009, I did an interview with an online magazine called FlypMedia. While the magazine is no longer active they did upload many of their video interviews to YouTube. Here’s a link to my interview: DeCamps FlypMedia Interview
Please take the few minutes to view the interview and let me know if you found it helpful with your studies and also let me know your overall thoughts on the interview.
Until next time, keep moving your magic ever forward.