It’s the 21st century and most people don’t believe in magic. Even if they do they aren’t likely to think that finding their card qualifies as real magic no matter how spectacularly you do it so what’s the point in performing ‘magic’ when people don’t believe it’s magic?
Personally, I never claim to my audiences that I am ACTUALLY magic; even if a child asks I’ll usually just ask them if they think what I did was magic. I don’t think it’s helpful to encourage people to believe unbelievable things. It’s a small step from believing that magicians actually do real magic to giving money to psychics, homeopaths or religious cults! The people I perform for are usually sophisticated, intelligent adults and pretending that I have magic powers would be insulting to their intelligence. Also, if I actually had magic powers I wouldn’t squander them on doing card tricks, I’d be predicting the lottery numbers or turning myself invisible so I could mess with Donald Trump’s ‘hair’ during his next speech.
I think modern audiences appreciate a magician in the same way they’d appreciate a juggler. They respect the level of skill and the amount of practice and discipline they assume it must have taken to pull off such incredible tricks; the main difference being that a juggler’s skill is there for everyone to see while a magician’s skill is mostly hidden and it’s only the end result that is apparent. But they know that what they have witnessed is sleight of hand, misdirection and perhaps a bit of psychology; it’s not ‘magic’ but it’s still impressive.
The main exception to this lack of belief in magicians is when it comes to mentalists. Mentalism is a sub-genre of magic that, as the name suggests, deals with mental powers: mind-reading, predictions, psychological influence, telekinesis etc. The most well-known mentalist is Derren Brown who always points out that he has no psychic powers and presents his material as psychological stunts, but you should also take a look at Luke Jermay (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUnV_1efh7E) who does present himself as a psychic (although it’s all in a strictly entertainment only way, not an exploitative medium way). People seem more willing to believe that this could actually be possible, especially in the case of Derren Brown who usually hangs his routines on seemingly genuine psychological theories. Another exception is sideshow stunts such as walking on glass, eating sharp objects, hammering nails up your nose etc. People know that these abilities are real even if they don’t understand how they are done. These elements of believability are something I’ve worked into my magic, especially my stage show. I still have moments of traditional magic: doves appear, a thread is broken into pieces then restored, but volunteers also think they are stuck to their chairs, there’s an impossible prediction, fire-eating and a knife throwing card trick.
Whether audiences believe in magic or not it will always be entertaining to see something that could be magic, to have their existing knowledge of what is possible called into question, to experience that childlike wonder, even if only briefly, before they remind themselves that they are a ‘rational adult’. I have performed for scientists, engineers and academics on many occasions, these are people who base their careers on understanding the world we live in, and they regularly give the biggest reactions when that understanding is temporarily demolished!
Do you think magicians should act like they are actually magic? Or would you prefer to just marvel at the skill involved? Let me know any of your thoughts in the comments. As always please feel free to like and share and remember: three out of four people make up 75% of the population.