I don’t know if the question of originality exerts pressure on performers in other fields as much as it does in magic.
I could be wrong, but I think those who are more strident in their calls for originality are magicians who belong to the following categories:
1. Armchair magicians who have few shows and therefore have lots of time to muse over the artsy-fartsy part of the art;
2. Wildly successful magicians who have think tanks to create original materials for them;
3. Magicians who think they are commercially successful but carry a baggage of insecurities so huge they don’t want their competition to succeed. Thus they impose a high standard of creativity that their rivals will be hard put to achieve but not so high that they themselves can’t reach it.
Here’s my take on this, which is not much. It’s good to be original. Originality bloats my ego. It makes me feel important. It projects me as someone who is a cut above the rest, a demigod, whom magicians made of lesser brains must adore.
I’m all for originality and for art for art’s sake. If you are into magic for that reason, then you should be for it, too.
But I’m not just an artist. I’m also businessman. An entrepreneur. Magic is my livelihood. I do it mainly for the pay. I don’t perform it just to fill my senses with aesthetics. Rather I use it as a tool to earn a living.
Applause is good, adulation is better, but the paycheck is best.
That is why I strike a balance between art and commercialism.
It takes long to create a routine/act/show from scratch—where the tricks, script, gags, bits of business, moves, sleights, etc., are all original. Often the process is frustrating, especially if other magicians, usually your competitors, are breathing down on your neck and making all sorts of impositions on creativity to trip you up.
Whereas before I listen to all pieces of advice (solicited, unsolicited, raw, medium rare and and well done), I disregard most of them now. I take note of them, but I don’t usually apply them. Experience has taught me that some of the so-called experts’ advice, when laced heavily with lessons in art, is more detrimental than helpful to my growth as entrepreneur.
You see, I have kids to send to school and bills piling up. If a client, say, Chicken-and-Egg Co., asked me to perform on its anniversary celebration (coming in two weeks) a trick with a chicken-and-egg theme, with lots of comedy and audience participation, I’d probably FedEx for a Malini Egg Bag, Rubber Chicken, and Multiplying Eggs in the Mouth, rather than build my own routine from scratch. I would not be original, but I’d be working smartly.
So to be or not to be (original), that is the question. (Not an original line, by the way.)
The answer is: if I want to get the Most Original Magician Award, which is non-existent, I’ll go for originality.
If I want to go for artsy subtleties that will bore children, then I’ll beat the path to artistic mambo-jumbo.
If I want to be a commercial success, I’ll use time- and audience-tested routines, already in the can, fully scripted, and filled with cut-to-the-chase performing tips.
Now, if you think this post is serving you a plateful of heresies, I’m ready to be dragged to the nearest pillory.