Before anything else, thanks to everyone who made last night’s “My Idea Of A Perfect Christmas Show (Sayang, hindi namin nakuha si Jose Mari Chan…)” a huge success, from the audience to our performers, Jay Mata, yours truly, the Comedy Cartel’s Richie Fernandez and GB Labrador, and Talentadong Pinoy’s second hall of famer, the world-class ventriloquist, Wanlu and his puppets.
It was a great show, and I’m pretty proud of it. It was a good thing 1:43’s crappy music piping into the PA system was not enough to ruin everybody’s night.
.:336/365: On Exposure:.
The topic that almost unanimously ticks the magic industry off, exposure has always been considered as the knife that plunges into the heart of the industry every single time it happens.
During the times of the Vaudevillian magicians, it was commonplace for them to steal their tricks from each other, so they ended up turning to patents and the like in order to protect their routines. Unfortunately, this meant that the workings of their routines would become matters of public record, thereby allowing any unscrupulous performer to steal a magic routine with ease, to begin with, or just killing the fairy itself, so to speak.
From magicians stealing from each other to laymen feeling slighted at not learning how these apparent miracles are done, the resentment for the secrecy of magic grew and grew, and when Valentino came along, things rose to a fevered pitch. The greatest secrets of magic became available for anyone who’d care to watch a television special.
As if that weren’t enough, the dawn of the YouTube generation brought about a general lack of respect for magic’s secrets: half of the people who do magic onscreen expose it unintentionally through poor performances or poor camera angles or snide comments they allow to get through, or intentionally make videos to expose magic, to begin with.
The general excuse for exposure has been to challenge magicians to “evolve.” The challenge is for them to come up with new ideas to revolutionize magic until someone sees it fit to unveil the secrets again, as if any one person actually had the right to go out there and strip people from their livelihood just because they feel like it or because they want to put some logs in the punch bowl.
But see, I can’t say exposure has always been bad. If anything, what is truly bad about exposure is the general disrespect that is thrown towards magicians while the exposure goes on. “These are all tricks! Don’t be fooled!” As if anyone is stupid enough to believe George Clooney was really a doctor. Or Batman. But no, these things just keep going on, and there’s little the magic community can do to stop people who just want to expose their secrets willy-nilly.
In contrast, the way Penn and Teller expose magic may get magicians up in arms, but it has certainly done its job in raising the profile of magic. More often than not, their exposure of a magic trick actually proves how difficult magic is, and how it takes skill to actually pull anything off.
And this is why I hate the term “may daya,” or in English, that the magician “cheats.” Looking at the sheer amount of skill a Rannie Raymundo has in manipulating coins to appear and disappear at will, it becomes rather disrespectful to say that what he does to achieve this is “cheating” when in reality, what he does is extremely difficult. Cheating connotes that something difficult is made easy. Magicians are very well capable of doing difficult things and making them look easy. Is that cheating? Of course not. That’s talent.
And with that, we see how exposure has become a devastating facet to the magic industry: while it does have its share of elevating the art form and entertaining people more, it also emboldens these same people to think that the art of magic isn’t an art worth respecting at all. If only for that, I tend to look at exposure with a wary eye, no matter how liberal I may be about my stand on the issue.
.:337/365: On Creating A Magician Persona:.
Whenever I watch a performer onstage, I always look out for their performing persona. Believe it or not, this oft-ignored facet of a performer’s total package can spell the difference between a successful performer and another brick on the wall. Just ask David Blaine, who was originally every bit as animated as your regular street hustler.
You see, how you project yourself onstage allows the audience to form an immediate opinion about you. This can work to your advantage or disadvantage, depending on what character you choose and how well you portray it. If anyone remembers “The Prestige,” we’ve seen performers who absolutely lived and died by their characters and refused to let anyone outside of their personal circles find out that the character is all just an act. Few people knew Chung Ling Soo, the Chinese mystic who was fatally shot while doing his bullet catch routine, wasn’t even Chinese to begin with, but a full-blooded American. Obviously, Teller can actually talk. Derren Brown plays a suave and debonair character, yet happens to be gay in real life.
When you add all of these things up, you understand that even a performer who hardly changes how he is onstage and offstage still plays a character onstage, even if it’s just an extension of one’s real personality. The character one projects determines the confidence level of the performer as well, because if the performer isn’t at home with the character, it will show. A good character can enhance the simplest of magic acts. Who would’ve thought that a simple two-card monte would become legendary in the hands of David Blaine? Yet notice how many two-bit magicians do some amazing illusions as done by Copperfield, yet get reactions of people rolling their eyes in boredom. I can assure you that if Copperfield himself did the exact same routine in front of these people, more than half of these seemingly jaded viewers wouldn’t react the same way.
We’ve seen mentalists who insist on coming off as satanic. Their very intense and occult personality intimidates audiences and puts them at a level where nobody would dare question if what they do were legitimate or otherwise. We’ve seen comedy magicians who are a laugh a minute, but know when to reel in the comedy when the magic needs to be the focus of attention. Of course, we also know some comedy magicians who don’t know how to reel it in, but the less said about Bearwin Meily, the better.
It doesn’t matter what character you portray, you need to be able to live it once you’re onstage. I think of some of the best workers in the wrestling industry, and I can’t help but feel that they’re the best because they know how to live their gimmick, no matter how ridiculous it can get. Think about it: how easy was it for Mark Calloway to get over a character of an undead zombie in the ring? The Undertaker had camp and ham written all over it, but the man behind the gimmick knew what it took to make it work. That’s the same thing a magician needs to get over as well: one needs to show that they are at home with what they are doing, unless it’s really their act to fool people into thinking they’re not.
Speaking of magic and wrestling, that reminds me of tomorrow’s topic…
.:338/365: On The Magic-Wrestling Connection:.
Aaaaaaaaaaand I have no shame. In the above video, you will find one of the most embarrassing chapters (Though one ought to be grateful it was a short one.) of the WWF/E’s storied history, where they tried to push a magician/wrestler named Phantasio. This was reportedly his first and only match on WWF TV, and with good reason: the two things simply didn’t mix too well inside the ring, although I can tell you that they probably would mix better onstage, where the magicians are.
Magic and wrestling are both, in my humble opinion, art forms. I have a deep respect for both of them, but regrettably am adept with only one of them. Maybe if I could take unbelievable amounts of pain the way those pro wrestlers do, but alas, I don’t have that kind of intestinal fortitude.
Having said that, the similarities between magic and wrestling don’t end there. Both are looked down upon as carnival fare. Both rely on suspension of disbelief from the audience in order for them to get a good reaction from their audiences. Both have their ridiculous shares of blowhard know-it-alls who challenge the performers because they think that just because it’s an act means that there’s no merit, skill, or art in what they do at all.
And really, when people think of it that way, it’s such a crying shame. Just because we know in advance who’s going to win. I always like to say that wrestling is scripted, but it isn’t fake. When someone falls off from the top of a cage onto the cold, hard, floor, there’s no amount of padding that would make that completely painless. If you don’t believe me, try jumping on your mattress on the ground floor from the top of the stairs and see if it doesn’t hurt at all.
And really, why single magic and wrestling out? Aren’t actors just more of the same? Why do they get a pass and the former two don’t? Is it because people just really have this insatiable desire to prove that they’re smart by going out of their way to reveal that magic and wrestling aren’t real? Newsflash: nobody gives a flying eff. People came to be entertained, and that’s really what you should be expecting when you go there.
So I guess it’s a bit disappointing for me that Phantasio never really got over in the WWF. I think it would’ve been cool if he churned out some more routines en route to the ring. What could he have pulled off, right? The possibilities were countless.
.:339/365: On Amateurism:.
A small number of magicians take the whole “art” thing in the polar opposite direction and thumb their nose at anyone who would dare offer money for their performances. When you realize that the origins of magic historically center around money and influence, this becomes rather silly in practice.
A year or two ago, I encountered a particular magician who insisted that he shouldn’t ever receive money for his craft, lest he stain the integrity of his art form. He was so thoroughly convinced that this was the correct thing to do, but I took it upon myself to educate him, because if he truly respects magic, then he must have learned his magic by paying for these secrets. I pointed out to him that all the people before him did this for a living, and as such, he was practically calling them sell-outs for giving him an opportunity to learn magic, which just makes me scratch my head in response.
You see, magic is the only art form I can think of that was and will always be rooted in earning a living. Sports used to be purely for competition. Other art forms were definitely for art’s own sake as well. Magic never really aimed for itself. Instead, it always believed that quality magic came at a price. As the Joker said in The Dark Knight, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” There’s absolutely no reason to be any less exacting about it.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no shame in making a living out of magic. It’s a clean living, even if it wallows in deception. There’s something about inspiring people’s imaginations and entertaining them the way only the best magicians could that just reminds us that what we do is worth paying to see. People are free to do things for free, if they choose to, but they aren’t free to deride those who don’t, because they most likely learned the things that they do now from people who needed to put food on the table and found that magic was precisely the way to achieve it.
Magic is an honourable profession. There is no shame in making a living off of it, and as such, there is no point in denigrating those who do as if rejecting money makes magic any “purer” as an art form.