Performing a magic show is not like performing a song-and-dance number. It’s not like juggling three balls or doing cartwheels and somersaults.
The performance of magic needs peculiar conditions, foremost of which is the audience’s undivided attention. An unfocused audience will miss the magic moment. When a performer sees incomprehension on the faces of his audience or hear scattered remarks like, “What happened? What did he do?”, it’s time to start nursing a deflated ego.
Even David Blaine, with TV cameras tracking him down on his street performances, have to say often, “Watch, watch,” to a distracted spectator to bring back his focus.
While we magicians in the Philippines use misdirection to cover secret moves, we want the audience to focus on the crucial parts of the performance. Failing to get them to watch the critical moments (say, the part where we show our hands empty) will prevent the magical event from happening. The audience will fail to grasp the impossibility of a production of a jumbo coin a moment later if they missed the earlier part where we showed our empty hands.
We use misdirection to produce amazing magic. However, we don’t want the audience to be misdirected (or distracted) by stimuli outside our own designs.
Magicians can do that, too, but to no effect.
Magic is not meant to be an ambient performance. A conversing, dancing, singing or eating audience is impervious to wonder. People have to watch closely a magic performance for them to appreciate the magic.
That is a tall order for magic performers. In this MTV-nurtured generation, whose attention span is shortened by constant tri-media distractions, getting the audience to focus on our performance needs a higher degree of showmanship. It’s a challenge that past masters of magic like Robert Houdin and his contemporaries probably did not have to contend with. I imagine audiences of the past to be less-distracted compared to modern-day audiences weary of the thousands of messages on the Internet, radio, TV, newspaper and billboards.
Together with some IMC members, I once accepted a gig where the organizers wanted us to perform magic while the audience was having dinner. The event coordinators built small platforms in two opposite corners of a large ballroom. Two magicians performed simultaneously on each of these platforms.
The acts had no talking parts and no interactions with the audience. We just did our routines as part of the ambiance of the occasion. We were not meant to entertain, amaze or baffle the audience. We were there merely to provide an atmosphere.
Some members of the audience would now and then throw us a glance, but in most part they paid more attention to their food and conversation than to our show.
Of course, as performers and artists, we were not happy. It was an ego-deflating performance. I never felt so bad in my whole life after the show. I promised myself not to accept similar “ambiance” performances anymore. And I made sure it won’t happen again to me in the future.
Tomorrow, let me share with you how I go about preventing the birthday mom from inadvertently converting my show into an “ambiance” performance at her child’s party.