As with any art or entertainment form, the image of magic evolves over time. The image of magic of today is very different from the magic of even just 10 years ago. If you are still producing silks from a change bag, making a rabbit appear or performing in a tuxedo, you are behind about 20 years… at least.
The image of magic worldwide has always been evolving. Every two decades or so, there is a dynamic shift in the presentation of magic. The look of magic is usually set by the top/ most influential magicians of that particular time. Robert Houdin, Channing Pollack, Doug Henning, David Copperfield and more recently David Blaine have all been responsible for creating the image of magic of their time.
Magic evolution is also fueled by the changes in how magic is learnt.
Once a super covert elite art, magic knowledge is now available to anyone who looks hard enough. Forums like The Magic Café allow you to increase your magic knowledge within days of ploughing through page after page of information. Today’s access to magic secrets and apparatus is just as easy. You can buy practically anything magic related on-line from a $5 thumbtip to a $5000 illusion.
Originally, the art was only passed on from mentor to student. Then, came books that spawned a new generation of magicians. The ‘DVD generation’ has been largely responsible for the current look of magic performance simply because it communicates presentation styles much more effectively than books do. However, DVDs leave little room for interpretation for developing one’s own style, especially for new magicians. But, this does not diminish the impact of DVD learning on the evolution of the image of magic.
In Singapore, magic has also progressed and evolved, especially in the last 50 years. We can count ourselves lucky to have benefited greatly from multi-cross-culture influence. This has resulted in a fantastic all-round exposure of magic for local magicians who seek out the knowledge and information.
Due to our historic background, we have strong British influence as evidenced by the performance content, style and literature owned by many of the senior local magicians. We also have obvious Asian influences simply because we are in Asia. Mass media and the overall US cultural imperialism have ensured that we are heavily influenced by the American style of presentation.
As the leader in global pop culture for the past three to four decades, the US has also crafted the public’s perception of magic in Singapore. This is slowly changing with the growing popularity and standard of magic in Singapore and Asia in general. Several up & coming local magicians here have a very strong North Asian influence (Japanese/ Korean) that is evident in their music, style, content and type of act. Locally produced magic showcased on mass media in Singapore has also introduced heart-landers to quality magic talent here. This will no doubt continue in the years to come.
If your magic is not in line with the modern audience’s expectations of the image of magic, you need to explore what can be done. This is especially so if you intend to be a performing magician, regardless of whether you are an amateur or professional. If you are showcasing magic to an audience, you are a reflection of the image of magic.
I am in no way encouraging and even suggesting that you should be a clone of David Blaine, Criss Angel or whoever that may be the flavour of the time. Jumping on the fad bandwagon will just make you look like a carbon copy and part of the indistinguishable ‘me-too’ crowd.
What you need to do is identify and pick elements that reflect the current evolved image of magic and infuse it into your style/ act. This could include dressing, hairstyle, choice of props, music, script, structure of magic and choice of material just to name a few. Just make sure you do not look exactly like another more established magician.
As important as it is to be on the cutting edge, it is essential not to disregard or overlook history. Entertainment, like business, is cyclical. The next evolution in the image of magic might just be a rehash of something from 100 years ago. Reading up and learning about past works, magicians and the background of magic creations also ensure you do not reinvent the wheel when creating your own magic performance. Knowledge is power. The best magicians in the world are also some of the most informed magic students in the community.
While the image of magic has evolved, the fundamentals have not changed… much. Naturally, there have been improvements and refinements in techniques, methods and fabrication of apparatus, but if you compare the magic art to the advancement in technology or medicine, magic has not really evolved much in this area. This is not necessarily bad. It is testament to the strength and timelessness of the fundamentals. If fact, it is not a far stretch to say that 90% of the ‘new’ things on the market can find its roots in Tarbell’s 8 Volume series.
(On a side note, the biggest advancements in magic really have been in the area of illusion design due to the vast improvements in raw materials, design and fabrication processes.)
If you look at other crafts, you will see a similar pattern. There is a distinct evolution in the image of the art but the basics remain largely unchanged. Music artists use the same music notes, chords and progressions to create the latest music, melodies and sounds. Filmmakers use the same basic filming techniques, principles of camerawork and editing techniques to create original movies in multiple genres. Chefs use the same basic ingredients, equipment and base foods to create new exciting and delectable dishes.
David Blaine did not make a name for himself in his first two magic specials with brand new technological magic effects. He performed excellent versions of classic standards that required solid technique, audience control and psychology. He did, however, bring a fresh edgy, gritty and urban style of Close-up Magic (that magicians had been performing for decades) to the mass audience. Thus, sparking the global popularity of a fictitious new genre labeled as ‘Street Magic’. Love it or hate it, ‘Street Magic’ is the public perceived evolution of Close-up Magic. Fighting it is futile.
So, the point to heed is this: The learning of magic must begin with fundamentals:
- Physical Technique
- Magic Psychology
- Knowledge of Magic Apparatus, History, Methods, Magic Styles & Presentations
Master these fundamental tools and you will be on your way to be part of the next evolution of magic in Singapore.
- The image of Magic has evolved and is continually evolving
- The image of YOUR Magic has to be reflective of the evolution
- However, one must not and cannot ignore history. Learn from the past
- While the image of Magic has evolved, the magic fundamentals of technique, psychology and methodologies have not changed
Master these fundamentals and you will be part of the next magic evolution