By Richard Mangaha
Maybe it’s just the people I hang out with, but so many of the other magicians I know are hell bent on inventing their own effects and routines. I also hear a fair share from people preaching that we should all “be original.” I think this is true to an extent, but not in the way most of us are used to thinking. I think it is our responsibility to “be original.” But when I say that, I mean that we should all do magic that is US, not magic that is someone else. Perhaps I’m still not quite making sense, hopefully as you continue on, it will.
If there is one thing that’s ever bugged me about instructional media for magic, it’s that it includes patter. It’s not really THAT bad of a thing, but for the beginner, it can be a bit of an obstacle. Beginners do not necessarily know much about performing. A beginner reads an effect and to perform it, performs it straight out of the cookbook. And speaking of cooking… I think I smell an analogy coming on. It is my belief that the general magic population goes through certain stages in their magical evolution:
Creativity in magic Stage 1
The first is the microwavable frozen food phase. It’s simple, you purchase the frozen food, pop it in the microwave, and you’re done. It’s very easy to concentrate on the creation, but it lacks a bit of something which I cannot describe… such is magic. It’s very easy to purchase microwavable frozen magic. You just bust open the package, read the instructions and ta da! Instant magician.
Creativity in magic Stage 2
The second phase would be the cookbook magician. You purchase a cookbook, follow it to the letter, and you get the final product. I know when I cook out of a cookbook, I am a bit… flustered to say the least. Such is magic, you purchase a magic book, work through it, and you somehow pull out an effect. A magician, yes, but now to a different sort of degree.
Creativity in magic Stage 3
The third phase would be the variable cookbook magician. This is when you start thinking “Oh, it doesn’t need this much salt…. could use more garlic, though… I prefer to use peas over the green beans… etc.” A magical example of this would be altering moves to accomplish the same means because it is simply something you prefer. A personal example for me would be my use of the pass as my control.
Creativity in magic Stage 4
The fourth phase is the crappy original creations. This is when you start creating things just because you want to create things. This might turn against you because the creation is the motivation. This phase may or may not be necessary. I’m not really sure.
Creativity in magic Stage 5
The fifth, and final, phase is the original creations. This is when you finally create worthwhile effects, etc… creating your own recipes so to speak.
So what does all of this have to do with creativity in magic? Simple… we attempt to become creative because we don’t want to be identified as simply being a clone. This is very important, but I think most people miss the point. I’d assume Triumph is in most any card man’s repertoire. People attempt to vary it and alter the effect a bit. I have no doubt that some of the attempts are just so one can say “MY version of triumph.” Not to belittle some big names, but whenI read JC Wagner’s handling of Triumph in his book “Commercial Magic of JC Wagner” I was pretty much wondering where the significant difference lay. (Triumph #999, I believe is the name of the effect. Also, despite this slightly negative comment, Commercial Magic of JC Wagner is one of my favorite books. Learn “The Assembly” and his original T&R.) The Classic Magic of Larry Jennings has many versions of Triumph, but there is one in particular (cannot remember the name right now) that is barely different from the “standard” handlings. (BTW, “Classic Magic of LJ” is very easily a modern classic. One of my favorites… two words “The Visitor”… two more “Mystery Card.”) Why do I mention these? Because they are examples in print that I could immediately think of. I am sure there are more, and I am not attempting to single them out. I do have the greatest respect for both.
However, although I may have spoken slightly negatively about them, they are also examples of what I mean when I say “be original.” When I say be original, I mean adapt an effect so that it is something YOU would perform. If you WOULD perform it exactly as it is written, so be it. If you would not, then change it, or never perform it. If it’s not something YOU would do, your audience will pick up on it.
Magicians don’t need to spend their time thinking of new magic tricks.
I really think many of the good plots in magic are already taken anyway. Think about how much magic is in print. There are so many books and periodicals. Find something out there. Find a diamond in the rough just waiting to be shined. Be original. And when I say that, I mean that you should make an effect original for you. Make it so that no one else would WANT to perform it the way you do.
Some of my favorite books in magic are Michael Close’s Workers series. They’re also some of my most hated. Why? He left NO detail out. I read his routines and they’re wonderful! But they just seem TOO Michael Close. So what do I do? I take the effect and throw out his patter. I run through his handlings and find out what I don’t like. I then make a handling that is more me. I then find the patter that fits me. Did I create a new effect? Of course not, I just found the handling for the effect that I can deal with. Is it something I should climb mountains and announce to the world? Probably not.
I think the fault in much of magic is that we spend too much time trying to be Vernon, Malini, Wagner, Ammar, Jennings, or Close, that we forget that WE are the ones performing magic. I am an actor playing the role of a wizard. I am not a Larry Jennings impersonator.
To utilize one of Michael Close’s favorite analogies to magic…
‘Imagine we are musicians. We play our instruments, we will probably cover someone else’s songs.But when we do sing someone else’s song, we try to leave a bit of ourselves so that it cannot be confused with the other.The impersonator on the other hand, attempts to make the audience feel like they would be watching the same person.‘
We do not need to sit around creating magic. There is enough out there. IF we take what is out there and adapt it to ourselves, the magic will evolve on its own. We may have started out with something that was originally an effect in Close-up Card Magic, but as time passes and we develop our own tastes, the effect goes through change. And perhaps, the effect will differ enough that it is essentially something new. This is the process of creativity. I do not think creativity and originality show up as we simply “decide” to be creative and original. We take an idea… play with it… screw it up… maybe put it aside only to pick it up later… and then, at some later point, a brief moment of insight brings it all together.
We do not need to create magic. We simply need to help it evolve. Find something… anything. And perform it the way YOU want to perform it. Time will pass and it will eventually be yours.
Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.