I was lucky enough to see David Blaine perform live recently and it has made me think about what it takes for a show to capture people’s imaginations and really entertain them.
Blaine has been a hero of mine since he burst onto the scene with his first special, changing TV magic forever and reigniting my passion for the art of deception. Recently he brought his live show, Real or Magic, to the UK and received acclaim for his fresh take on what a big stage magic show can be. Here are four things I think magicians can learn from his performance.
- Don’t be afraid to dream a little…smaller
We all want to put on a spectacular show with pyrotechnics and a cast of hundreds, and that’s just the close-up magicians! But despite being in a huge 3,500 capacity theatre, Blaine’s show was mostly lacking in big props, dramatic music, fancy lighting, dancers and effects. It was just a guy stood in front of a black backdrop doing amazing things with small or medium sized props. Admittedly the finale involved a large water tank but even then the performance was understated with just a narrator and no tense or triumphant music (as far as I recall) which, if anything, increased the tension and the drama!
- Remember Comic Relief
Not that thing with Lenny Henry, I mean having funny moments in your performance! Blaine isn’t known for splitting people’s sides but his show was still punctuated with laughter. Sometimes the audience needs to laugh after they’ve seen something particularly tense and these moments of relief can amplify the drama. Plus, even though magic can be artistic it’s generally considered to be light-entertainment so we shouldn’t forget the levity.
- Keep it Fresh
Performances are like underpants, not because they contain knobs but because they’re better when they feel fresh! Blaine’s show didn’t feel scripted even though it almost certainly was very scripted. It felt like he’d just turned up and wanted to show us some cool stuff, he even took time to have an informal chat with the audience! Remaining ‘in the moment’ is one of the most difficult things for gigging magicians, and I could probably write a whole blog on just that, but one of the best ways is to have plenty of audience participation because that’s inviting the unexpected into your show which will keep you on your toes and the audience feeling like they are part of a special, unique event.
- Make it Possible… Almost
Ok so somebody getting onstage and doing the possible doesn’t sound like much of a magic show (Copperfield probably wouldn’t be quite as famous if instead of walking through the Great Wall of China he just walked through a door) but hear me out! The feats that people witnessed in Blaine’s show didn’t feel like tricks, indeed some of them were real stunts, and there seems to be an appetite for the type of show which blurs the line between what’s possible and what’s magic. The other DB in magic, Derren Brown, has been doing this for years only he obviously frames his magic as psychological stunts whereas Blaine has fostered a reputation for doing physical feats so audiences are willing to believe that he can actually do real amazing things. In most magic shows a modern, intelligent audience knows that the assistant hasn’t really been sawn in half (for example) and this removes some of the dramatic effect: it becomes a cerebral puzzle rather than something emotionally engaging.
I know all magicians are different and we shouldn’t all just become David Blaine copycats (there’s enough of them already!) but I think these are points that can be applied to all magic shows. Copperfield may have made the statue of liberty disappear but he also tore and restored a baseball card, Derren may be best known for serious psychological stunts but his live show is littered with comedy, Penn & Teller have got routines they’ve been doing for decades but they still feel new and Dynamo might walk on water but he also does more believable mind tricks.
Did you see Blaine’s show? Do you agree with the points I took from it? Let me know in the comments. As always please like and share, and remember there are two rules of success: rule one – never tell people everything you know…