Thoughts on Magic Competition at Square 2

For 3 weekends at the Novena Square 2 Magic Competition , competition participants performed to try to make the semi finals and finals. Professional guest performers performed as well.

Ning and I were booked to be the finale performers for the Finals held on 13 Dec 2009. Last month, Ning was booked to open the entire Christmas festivities last month and this weekend we did a 20min spot as the closing pro performers.

We are typically selective over the public shows we do, especially on our rest day (Sunday) but as they were willing to pay our full fee and really wanted us to close the 3-week long competition, we agreed. Plus, we have a great relationship with Far East malls and both event producers who handled the opening event and this competition.

As it was a public show, many of our fans came down along with lots of magicians and magic enthusiasts who know of us, so we just wanted to have fun!

Here are some photos of us in action having loads of fun (as you can tell :-)) courtesy of Baha, a fellow member from the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

Over the two hours I was at the event (plus over the weeks where I watched a number of the acts), I have several thoughts on this competition and local magic in general.

The great news is! The general standard of magic is higher than it has ever been. This only benefits the industry as there is more public interest in the art. I observed a crop of next-generation magicians who are learning the craft and are very passionate about it.

The fact that malls and attractions are organizing magic competitions as activites are encouraging. As I highlighted in a previous entry, the magic scene here has grown tremendously in the last 2 years. We had Singapore Tourism Board endorse the first magic attraction in Singapore as well as two mega illusion events. We have had homegrown magic on TV by local magicians on all major network channels except Channel 5.

On the flip side, here is some food for thought. Someone who worked on the competition and got to see every act over 3 weeks said this to me (quote but paraphased):

1) “After 3 weeks, I know how everything is done. I can see how so many things because the magicians either expose or screw up. The secrets are very interesting and surprisingly simple”

2) “So many magicians perform the same thing.” He then went on to name 5 effects off the top of his head.

I’ve also observed comments and exchanges on blogs and Facebook. Here are some thoughts and observations and the competition:

1) Magic competitions (or any art competition) are not objective competitions like in sports. A performance is subjective. There is nothing absolute or objective about the results. It you do not win or place, it does not necessarily mean you were not good. On the other side of the coin, if you did win or place, it is also not a reflection that the act is commercially good and translates into mainstream success. You need to approach each competition differently based on the rules, judging criteria, performing environment and judges.

Winning a competition means that on a specific day, based on the specific competing magicians, you performed material (executely perfectly which should be a given) that appealed to the specific people who were judges that day.

In this particular competition at Square 2, it was a strange affair to me. Firstly, acts were expected to hit a 12min – 15min time limit. Any other competition I know limits the acts between 3min – 8min because anything longer is more of a show and does not translate into an act suited for competition. But, I guess the mall wanted to fill time and create activity for the weekends so I understand their thinking.

The environment/ staging is not designed for a real competition. It is a mall setting where the audience practically surrounds the stage and from above. Most of the competitors who designed their acts never took this into account and basically educated loads of laymen in magic techniques and secrets. Anyone who was not directly in front of them could see how everything was done. This, to me, is as bad as what the Masked Magician does.

So, this is really a series of mall activities disguised as a magic competition. If one understands this, the act that is designed will be specific to this ‘competition’ but may not be of winning calibre for a magic club or convention competition.

For the competitors, it is important to know who the judges are and learn what they like. For example, would you go for a job interview unprepared and not knowing what candidate the company is looking for?

Some judges see themselves as purists and only see technique as a mark of a good magician. Others want to see originality. Others just want to see entertainment and may have little knowledge of advanced technical skills. So, it all boils down to the judging criteria and allocation of percentages. If entertainment is 50% and technique is only 20%, it is very possible that a competitor with great entertainment and little technical skill will beat a competitor with mastery over every sleight on earth but with little entertainment value.

2) It is true! From a casual observer, all the magicians looked like they were doing the same thing. As someone very familiar with magic, I can say it is a farily accurate statement. A very large number of magicians I saw over the weeks were doing the same things… rings, canes, silks, rope, parasols and “flying tables”… in the same way. A sentiment echoed by many event crew involved in the competition.

Granted, the above mentioned things are the current fads in magic but if you want to stand out or have any exponential commercial success, you need to rethink your magic content and approach. Magicians and laymen look at this differently. When a magician produces 6 canes and 2 parasols in 30 seconds, magicians (well, a large number) go “Wow! That is cool! He can produce many canes & parasols so fast.”. When a layman watches the same thing, he think “Why is that magician producing so many magic sticks that s***** open and umbrellas?”.

It seems there are some things that only magicians like and the average layman just accept that magicians do because everyone does them. It is like perpectual motion machine where the rest of the real world looks in with mild amusement. Of course, this is just my own opinion and bias.

My point of view is very specific from magic performed to and for the mainstream public and not for peer edulation. Commercial appeal which is necessary (but does not guarantee) into commerical success also weighs in heavily. The relevance of this point of view is for many of the new magicians who are hoping to finding commerical success with their magic. However, if one is not interested in gaining mainstream acceptance, then a singular rule applies – Just have fun but respect the art!


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
This entry was posted in Behind The Scenes, Show Production and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts on Magic Competition at Square 2

  1. Pingback: Magic for Children & Kids Birthday Parties « BACKSTAGE BUSINESS: The Art, Science & Business of Showbiz by J C Sum

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