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  • Writer's picturejakestrongmagic

Relationships Over Magic

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! This is the first post of hopefully many and I'm excited to have a place to write both about magic and the other things in this world I love. I thought I would start this journey off with the first piece I ever got published in MUM Magazine Volume 110 Number 9. I think this line of thinking can extend to many lines of work, not only magic.

If you asked 100 magicians why they enjoy magic, I would guess at least 75 would talk about either “spreading joy” or putting their audience in a state of “childlike wonder”. These are both great intentions that help give a sense of purpose to a given performance. However, they cannot be accomplished when there is no genuine relationship established between the audience and performer.

The most important aspect of this relationship is the performer’s prioritization of the audience’s happiness paired with the expectation of creating a real, human connection. Consequently, when the intention of creating a legitimate bond with the audience members is at the forefront of the performer’s mind, what would have been a few card tricks turns into both a meaningful relationship and a long-lasting memory.

Sean Covey explained in his 7 Habits book series that both interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships are like a bank account. The same bank account metaphor can easily extend to the relationship between the magician and his/her audience. The more beneficial “deposits” the performer puts into the “bank account” with the audience, the more mutual trust and real-life connection is built between both parties. This trust enables the performer to start to ask for little withdrawals in return, although it is imperative that the performer never asks for anything before a deposit is made. It’s impossible to make a withdrawal at the bank before any deposits are made, and the same should be said for the performer. The byproduct of a positive transaction is an enjoyable performance.

The first deposit must be made as quickly as possible to prove both the performer’s professionalism and legitimacy. A quick deposit can be the simple act of doing a quick, visual trick at the top of the performance. Many working pros advise against borrowing a personal item for the first trick because the performer hasn’t entirely established that he/she isn’t an untrustworthy stranger. As the performance progresses, gradual deposits should be made to ensure the relationship is properly tended to.

These deposits include but are not limited to positive affirmations that the participants are helping out correctly, making consistent use of their names, and showing them the same human decency and respect onstage that would occur offstage. I started performing at restaurants when I was 14-years-old and when I addressed adults I used the names “Sir” and Ma’am”. This has helped me to garner the respect of so many adults within the first 10 seconds of meeting them, and they were much more likely to pay attention to my rubber band routines.

A mastery of the tricks is also essential for focus to be shifted onto the audience. Stammering amateurs are depicted as never being able to take their eyes off their hands because they don’t have the trick in their muscle memory. Since amateurs have not mastered the mechanical workings of the tricks, when they attempt to focus on the audience the whole thing falls apart. Mastery of the material is also a small deposit, it is not consciously expected by most audiences but it’s evident when it’s missing. By showing a firm understanding of the tricks themselves, it communicates how seriously one takes their craft. Although this can never be entirely avoided when the magician is trying new material, doing tried and true killer effects before and after a new addition can offset a potentially weaker spot in the performance.

These may all seem like micro-examples, but a performance is usually very short and can last anywhere from 5 to 90 minutes on varying performance stages. The one thing that stays consistent within all scenarios is every moment is important. A performance shorter in length is likely to be a close-up situation with a smaller audience, so the magician must do anything to make as many deposits, however small or large, within the small time allotted. Longer performances usually merit bigger audiences which makes it harder to connect with each individual, so every word spoken is a chance to make a small deposit with a large group of people. Both instances are drastically different from a performance perspective, but the relationship still remains the same in both cases because it is still human to human contact.

At the end of a performance if the audience feels the performer has deposited enough into their relationship and has entertained them, they will more than willingly give a standing ovation. This is a huge sign showing that the relationship with the audience is positively received, but positive affirmation could come in many other forms like a tip or a compliment.

It’s very easy for the performer to mess up the relationship than the audience. After all, magicians in most scenarios are interrupting the audience’s day, and if the audience deems their time to be wasted, it’s because the performer didn’t put enough effort into creating an authentic relationship. The obvious examples of a participant feeling embarrassed on stage because the performer made fun of their hairstyle or made them look like a fool in front of hundreds of others. Some performers can get away with doing slight jabs at the participants, but that’s because the established relationship is so strong that the jokes are taken at face value. After all, people are more likely to take a joke from their friends than from a random stranger on the street because we know our friends are only joking. Simply forgetting one’s names can also depersonalize a relationship and make it seem as if the magician isn’t paying attention to what the audience has to say. It’s vital that the performer listens to the audience because if it seems like the magician doesn’t care, there will be no relationship to make deposits into.

At the end of the day, both the performer and the audience are human beings and relationships are key between any living person. If the performer wants to make a memorable performance, genuine relationships are essential. Think about the last time you laughed until you cried. It was probably with one of your best friends or family who you’ve known most of your life. The relationships we have built with our friends and family allow ourselves to be loose around them and not be afraid to show our true selves. If magic is all about bringing out the childlike wonder in other humans, then it is important that the audience feels comfortable enough with us to be vulnerable. There are always a lot of perceived differences between the performer and audience members, but by listening and showing respect to each other, the gap between the two can begin to disappear to the point where a relationship can prosper.

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