You Don't Need a Wand to do Magic!
I’m 38. I only really started pursuing magic as a profession recently. I’ve had nothing but support from friends, family and colleagues. It’s exciting for me to be walking this path, creating and performing magic and actually getting paid to do so.
I have a friend, also a magician. Talented and creative, it’s a pleasure to watch them perform. They are more than ten years younger than me and one of the last conversations we had was about how they are running out of time to make it in the business.
The one, big difference between the two of us is that she is a female.
The entertainment industry is harsh on women. The fact that in the last Bond movie 007 lowered his sights enough to have a meaningless fling with a women a whole year and a half older than him made headlines does, in itself, point to the issue: men ‘mature’, women ‘age’.
The history of women within magic is a chequered one. For a start they are far too often cast in the role of ‘magicians assistant’ rather than being seen as the main event. Though this shouldn’t matter to people in the magic know and should be a downside only in the eyes of the public - who do you think is doing the hard work in that act, the guy out front waving his hands around or the woman folding herself into quarters in a box smaller than the average hiking pack – the balance of power it implies is telling. The Magic Circle, one of the most famous magic societies in the world and one I am immensely proud to be a member of, only allowed women to join in 1991. For context, the Berlin Wall had come down and Germany had reunified the year before. Yes, the cold war had come and gone and communism had fallen before the Magic Circle let someone who has to sit down to pee join. But that was then, this is now. The world has changed, right? I’ve walked around dealer halls and seen female magicians overlooked, the seller instead turning to the man next to her, directing everything at him, perhaps assuming she’s the uninterested girlfriend. I’ve heard heartfelt thanks ‘to the wives and girlfriends who take care of things so that the rest of us can get on with doing magic’. How about a practical demonstration: name a male magician off the top of your head, and then name a female one. Now keep going, alternating as you do. I’m pretty sure I can guess which group will make you struggle first.
But I have hope! On Saturday I was at Watford Library to be part of the Fun Palaces initiative. Staff there had picked out some magic books aimed at children, and I was on hand to help teach a simple card trick, show off a few of my own, and generally get people interested in magic. As I mentioned the other week, I don’t really do children’s magic, though having said that I am actually good with them. It probably has something to do with the fact that I too enjoy unashamedly scratching myself in public, but I find it very easy to talk with them. Still, for whatever reason the children really enjoyed themselves. Enthusiastic, focused, keen to learn magic, and with an even split between boys and girls. Both were having fun learning to do magic and were just as good (or bad) as each other. But a quick search of Amazon or Google and it becomes quite obvious who the target audience is. Magic sets for children are blue, black and red. If a child is on the front it is invariably a boy. This counts for the vast majority of magic books aimed at children too. If I know anything about companies trying to make a profit it’s that they will sell to anyone they can. So if the children don’t think their gender matters when it comes to learning magic, and the companies don’t care either, why are they targeting their product at boys? The only answer I can come up with is that the people buying the sets – parents, adults – do care. Believe me you shouldn’t. Magic is for everyone. No one is too old, no one is too clumsy, and I guarantee you that no one is too female!
The next day I hosted my second Magic, Mystery and Monopoly at the glorious d20 Board Game Cafe in Watford. My guest was Mandy Davis. Another magician I’ve gotten to know, I realised that this was the first time I’d ever seen her perform. Of course she didn’t let me down – in fact I’d say that her rope routine absolutely stole the show – but it got me wondering why this was the first time I was seeing her do magic. I often feel intimidated by the quality of the performers at the Magic Circle, but every now and then even I gird my loins and do a trick. But despite being lucky enough to call quite a few of the women there my friends, I realised a rarely see any of them perform. Now, is it because they don’t want to, that the need to show off a trick is some kind of alpha-male compulsion? Or is it because – as we do in so many other aspects of life – we men are dominating the space? I’m not sure. But I think it’s something I need to be more aware of.
As I watched my friend performing, trying to hear her talking as one of the owners was gasping and exclaiming his disbelief as the piece of rope he had just seen cut into two restored in her hands, I found myself wondering about those little girls I had been teaching the day before. Had I sparked a love of magic in any of them? And in less than twenty years would any of them think of themselves as over the hill if I had? I really hope not. The world needs magic in it, maybe more than ever.