Do You Want It Fast or Slow?
First off, I’m sorry that this blog is a day late. The reason is because this weekend just gone I was at The Session magic convention. I could now write paragraph after paragraph about it, and I do intend to talk generally about magic conventions and hanging out with magicians socially in a post coming in a few weeks, but let’s be honest; unless you’re a magician, you won’t care about a magic convention I went to, and if you are a magician you STILL WON’T CARE! Suffice it to say I had a good time, met some great magicians, and am looking forward to putting all the things I spent money on on a shelf to gather dust.
Instead I thought it would be a good idea this week to blog about a thought inspired by a remark made by Paul Vigil, one of those great magicians I just spoke about. That thought? Two different types of magic. People understand style difference - such as close-up magic and grand illusion - as a type, but this difference might better be described as 'build'. When composing a close-up trick the build of the effect can be put into two different schools fo though. The first is the single effect, the second the structured series of effects. Single effect builds tend to be very visual and make it easy to understand what’s just happened. They often represent an almost binary change. Off becomes on. Solid becomes fluid. Orange becomes blue. Short and to the point, they are great for places where it’s hard to convey a message or instruction, or situations where attention is extremely limited. They are particularly popular on social media, with some effects on sites like Instagram and YouTube getting thousands or even millions of views. Two of the magicians who excel at this kind of magic are Saavan Thethy and Magic Singh.
While the single effect is the crack of the starter gun, the structured bild is more akin to the drum beats you hear just before the end titles on East Enders. These tricks contain separate but linked effects, each building on the previous one. Usually structured using the rule of three, these tricks require slightly more attention from the viewer but in exchange are able to engage them in a different way. I’d recommend checking out David Williamson and Chris Wood.
I am of course talking in the broadest of strokes, and not every trick will fall into these two categories and very few – if any – magicians will perform only one of these types of illusion. Personally I find that single effect tricks work better when you need to make a big impact in a short amount of time. A good way to think about using these illusions for this might be as a conversation starter, the magic equivalent of ‘what’s your favourite movie’ or ‘what three words best describe you’? But like those conversation starters, if you hit things off, you can get into something deeper. During a routine, that’s when I might start doing the more involving magic. These are the moments I really enjoy. I think it’s because my father used to tell the most awful shaggy dog stories when I was a child, and I’ve always enjoyed listening to great raconteurs like Kenneth Williams or Joan Rivers.
But why am I talking about this? It's important to remember that this blog isn’t really aimed at magicians, but instead it’s there to give a little more insight into performance choices to that lucky majority who don’t have to think about this kind of thing all the time! If you are considering hiring a magician for an event, talk to them about the kind of magic they might perform, and think how that will work. If you find someone you think is really funny and tells a great story, which might not be so useful if your event is going to have loud music and lots of dancing. Conversely, quick fire tricks might not be what you want at a sophisticated dinner party. As I’ve already said, most magicians are able to perform either style, but it really does help if we know what kind of event we’re attending beforehand, so the more information we get the better.
Interestingly, when mentioning raconteurs I was about to add Groucho Marx, whom I have written about previously. A renowned storyteller, he was also a master of the witty one liner. Groucho proved that if you are good enough you can use and blend many styles. So perhaps he is the perfect example to finish on. It might be a bit much for me to hope I can be the magic version of one of the greatest comedians of all time, but it doesn’t hurt to reach for the stars.