Friday, August 11, 2006

Keeping it simple

It turns out that I may be rather good at this mentalism thing, if reactions from my audiences can be said to be an indicator. And it's gotten me to go back, remember, and re-study theatre lessons of 35 years ago - tempered with the experiences of the past 35 years. I remember that, as young people, we were concerned with "the theatah" -- the art of it all and how we were so much more cultured than the plebes who laid down their money for "our art."

I'm afraid many think only of the "art" of it, and don't consider the craft and vocational portions.

For instance, there's this human tendency to overcomplicate things. A good portion of magic isn't entertainment because the magician complicates things. "Shuffle the deck. Deal 17 cards face down. Look at one. Remember it. Pat your head and rub your tummy." Even before we talk about presentation and interpersonal skills, things aren't looking well.

One of my favorite entertainers/creators frequently says that he can't believe someone didn't invent (fill in the blank) before, because it seems so simple to him. That is, however, a significant indication that something really is a good idea -- if, in retrospect, it seems simple. Jules Fieffer says the creation of Superman was not "an original idea" but something which all the imitators (and millions of customers) responded with "But of COURSE!" (The imitators followed with slapping their foreheads.)

It's easy to admire creators for BEING creators (something I may or may not ever become in magic, but I'm good with that); I also admire this entertainer for his choice to create with intent -- intent FOR the audience's purposes, not necessarily what will make things easier or more impressive for him.

Basing the act on what affects the customer (a term we ought never forget) is our real goal. We don't measure success by how much WE enjoy doing a certain routine. When all is said and done, sometimes the sponge balls get the biggest reactions. Recently, at dinner with my seen-too-much-magic wife, I couldn't help but do the old coin-from-dinner-roll. It doesn't get simpler or easier than that. Yet the woman who is bored with twisted cutlery yelped, stared with her mouth open, then said those wonderful words "How did you DO that?"

Humans haven't changed significantly since the days of Father Adam and Mother Eve, so it makes sense that the classics, the simple-and-direct, still hit the hardest. Richard Osterlind points out how, from twelve notes, an infinite number of diverse compositions are created. Perhaps we should be looking at basic human psychology and the classics of magic and mentalism as the basic notes with which we can create amazement.

It always seemed to me that the most awe-inspiring pieces of classic music were based on very simple arrangements, which could then be taken into many new places.

Of course, I always liked barber shop quartet too, and you don't get much simpler than that!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being on the road must give you a lot of time to meditate...That is a great little essay on why we exist...Good job!!!


Blogger Glenn Bishop "Bish The Magish" said...

Welcome Back Chet "Jeep".


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