It's All About Respect 0

In the past, I have written and spoken about the stage contestants who turn the stage into a garbage dump during their acts. Some contest acts at the combined convention seemed to take this to extremes. In the past, the need to sweep the stage before setting the next act has caused large lag times between acts. At the combined convention it was decided that the way to alleviate this problem was to tape down drop cloths before each act; the thinking, I guess, was that the drop cloths would make clean-up faster. Unfortunately, all the drop cloths did was to move the lag time from after the act to before the act. And since the drop cloths had to be taped down carefully (you can’t have a performer tripping over a loose edge), this procedure probably increased the lag time.

Let me offer some reasons why I think treating the stage like a trash can is an approach that should be discarded. 1) It shows a lack of respect for the performance area and the stage crew. 2) It shows a lack of respect for the audience. Lag times between acts drain the energy and attentiveness from an audience. Even an expert emcee is going to...

One More Thing to Think About 0

The average layman probably experiences close-up magic fewer than six times in their entire life. (I’m referring to an in-person performance, not a performance on television.) This means that every encounter with a magician is an important one, because the spectator will base his opinion of all magicians on that one experience. This has a profound implication. When you are out in the real world, performing for people who do not have a vested interest in your performance (family, friends, magic buddies), you represent all of magic. It is as if no other magic exists, other than the manner in which you choose to represent the art. If your performance leaves a negative impression, all of us suffer, for it is unlikely that the spectator will be enthusiastic if he encounters another magician. Generally speaking, this is the current state of affairs; the public’s opinion of magic is low, and its opinion of magic’s practitioners is even lower. This saddens me.

I’ve tried to do my part to counteract this negativity, but I’m only one person. My challenge to you is to be evangelical in your desire to raise the level of magic performance. Be so good that your spectators leave with a hunger to see more magic. Express your individuality, your point of view, and your humanity through your performance. Magic is a gift; through it our spectators can see the world through fresh eyes. Offer that gift. Watch the result. The person who is most surprised may well be you.

[From Closely Guarded Secrets]

  • Michael Close

Venue and the Repetoire You Choose 0

When I began to work at the Houdini Lounge, I made the amazing discovery that almost none of the repertoire I had developed in the past twenty-five years felt right in that venue. Part of the problem had to do with the physical space. The tables were smaller, and most of them were circular. This eliminated The Card, the Forehead, and the Saltshaker. The lounge has a dignified, elegant feel to it. The chairs are overstuffed and are deep red. The walls have dark wood. The Illusions restaurant, on the other hand, was lighter, more open, and more playful. Because there was magic going on throughout the restaurant, lightheartedness (and even downright silliness) was tolerated without judgment.

A trick like The Frog Prince, with its whimsical nature, seemed wrong for the more serious vibe of the Houdini Lounge. Even the Unbelievably Useful Comedy Prop felt out of place. Lighting was also a factor. The lounge was quite dim, making it difficult to appreciate tricks like Dr. Strangetrick. After a week or two, I realized that I had to create

  • Michael Close

Making it Feel Real 0

In Workers 1, I discussed my philosophy of magic. I want to perform magic that leaves the audience with no explanation and is entertaining in the process. At this stage in my life, I don’t need to show off; I don’t need the ego gratification of someone telling me how skillful I am. Instead, I want to be a conduit that allows my audiences the opportunity to feel the thrill of astonishment, and to use that experience to reawaken the memory that that the world is an astonishing place, full of mysteries that will never be solved.

In order to accomplish this, I must construct my routines so there is not a single moment that feels false, contrived, or unnatural. The entire experience has to feel real. I’m not saying that I want people to believe that I have supernatural powers. In fact, most of my routines are structured in a way that minimizes my involvement. The magic just seems to happen. This was the great lesson I learned from Harry Riser. Many were the...

  • Michael Close

Evolution: Old Repertoire - New Environment 0

The other problem in adapting my old repertoire to my new environment had nothing to do with the venue and everything to do with me. The problem was evolution. The Pothole Trick is a prime example of this. When I developed the trick I lived in Indiana, and in Indiana potholes in the roads are a part of life. Talking about potholes and figuring out a way to get rid of them (although symbolically through magic) felt real and natural to me. Then I moved to Las Vegas, where there are no potholes. All of a sudden, the trick felt false; the words, which had felt so natural back in Indiana, now felt like someone else’s patter. I have tried for six years to come up with a presentation that feels as real as the old one did, but to no avail. So, I don’t perform the Pothole Trick. (Note from 2014: Since moving to Canada, potholes are again a part of everyday life, and I can do this again.)

For several years I have suggested to magicians that the effects they perform and the manner in which they perform them be an expression of their lives and not a substitute for them. Whatever the artistic medium – jazz piano, oil painting, stand-up comedy, or close-up magic – the audience should gain insight into the artist, his life, and his worldview. Most magicians hide behind their tricks. They offer no opinion, no point of view. We learn nothing of the magician as a human being, because...

  • Michael Close

Self-working Tricks: What’s the Price? 0

As magicians, our main tool for deceiving our audience is offering false or misleading information. Spectators observe events as they unfold, and from what they observe they draw conclusions as to the outcome of those events. But because they have been given false information, their conclusions are faulty, and the outcome is unexpected and surprising (perhaps even magical).

Sleight of hand provides us with an effective way to offer false information. I wrote in Workers 5 that there are three types of sleights: sleights that simulate real activities (such as false shuffles and false deals); sleights in which the secret action is concealed within an overt action (the double lift, culling, the Elmsley count); and sleights that contain no concealing mechanism of their own, and must be performed without the spectators’ knowledge (the pass, the top change, palming). In each of these cases, there is a discrepancy between what the spectators observe happening and what is actually happening: a deck is being shuffled, a card is being turned over, or...

  • Michael Close