Being Real While Being Fake

November 3, 2011

I‘ve been doing magic for a long time.  Almost twenty years now.  For the majority of that time, I have always performed as myself, that is, I never really had a “character.”  This is the way I prefer it.  My artistic goal for my performance is to genuinely express myself to my audience and share a real connection with them.  It always seemed to me that that goal would be hindered by some sort of facade of costuming and different than normal speech that would be needed to create a different character.

Now, as some of you my know, last weekend, I performed in our city’s Renaissance fair.  There was no way I was getting out of doing a character for that.  I have so much respect for people who can really create a persona on stage and totally get lost in it.  It is very difficult for me.  I’m not a great actor by any means (See examples here and here) and maybe I never will be, but I did learn something important: even when you’re playing a part, you can still be real.  “But, Eric,” you say, “how can that be?”  Well, I’ll tell you if you promise to stop using your brain keyboard to type questions on my blog. “Ok.  Sorry.”  Thanks.

You see, even though I had a made-up persona on, it wasn’t really a block for my real personality like I imagined it would be.  Because I was able to create the character myself, it was, in a way, just a different part of me that I was bringing forward.  I was still open to connection with the audience and able to have real interaction with them.  I could still be myself while being someone else.

My favorite performers (in any media) are the ones who after I see them, I feel like I know them better.  There’s a kind of real courage evident in going in front of people as yourself and figuratively (maybe literally, I haven’t seen your act)  exposing yourself  to them for their judgement.  And when they judge you, they are really judging YOU.  It’s amazing, it’s vulnerable, it’s beautiful.  Now, don’t get my wrong, people who perform in character need to be brave too.  If you can’t sell it, if it doesn’t FEEL real, they’ll tear you apart.  While it might be easy to blame the character if things go wrong, you have to take with that the fact that when things go well, the character gets the credit, not you.  I don’t think I’ll ever do a lot of character work (I don’t think my ego would allow the credit to go to someone else, even if it is still technically  me) but, I will do the fair again next year, so I’ve got some time to work on it.

Still Becoming a Magician

September 28, 2011

I don’t usually like to toot my own horn, so:

Warning:  The following blog entry contains several examples of mild to moderate self horn tooting.  Those with weak constitutions beware.

Exactly one year ago yesterday, I began this blog.

But that’s not all I began.  I began my journey to become a magician and to finally live my dream.  In one short year, I’ve gone from having done nothing to having done a renaissance fair, 2 anime conventions, a few birthday parties, some festivals, and I’ve even gotten a recurring gig at a local restaurant.  No one could possibly be more impressed with this than me.

And it is at this point, one year in, that I am struck with how accidentally brilliant the title of this blog is.  Let me explain.  At the start, I figured I would document my path toward becoming a professional, working, magician; I was becoming a magician, and at some point in the future, I reasoned,  I would BE a magician.  End of blog.  However, even now that I feel pretty comfortable calling myself a magician, I am constantly seeing ways to become better and grow as an artist and entertainer.  So I’m at a strange point in my journey now.  I can look back and see I’ve come a long way and I can look forward and see I still have a long way to go.  Thankfully, I don’t have to go alone.  The support from my wife, family, and friends has been remarkable and not only could I not have come this far without it, but, the way ahead wouldn’t look so bright without it either.  So thanks to all of you.

Now I begin the next steps.

Speaking of which, I took one last night.  I’ll set the scene:  a busy restaurant full of families, kids everywhere, and me, strolling from table to table entertaining one group after another.  I’ve worked there for a few months now, and have been really excited about putting all the theory about that type of performing to practice.  Since I’m only at each table for about 5 minutes, I only need 5 or 6 different tricks for any given night that I just do over and over again for each new audience.  There is no better way to get good at a magic trick than being able to perform it 20-30 times in a row for different, real audiences.  It’s been tremendous for both my skill and confidence.  So here’s what happened:  I’m at a table doing my stuff when all of a sudden there is sort of a shift in my brain.  I noticed that I wasn’t thinking about doing the trick.  It was more like I was in my head watching myself do the trick.  I could even hear myself talking.  That’s when I realized that I was on auto-pilot.  I had done the routine and performed the script so many times that I didn’t even have to think about it anymore and my body would just take over.  I knew it so well it was like a reflex.  I’ve heard of other performers doing this.  I thought all of this to myself while the trick was still going on without missing a beat.

I knew that I was at a crossroad (not the blues kind… well, could be, I guess).  I could use the power for laziness and just space out and wait to regain awareness in the car after the show, or, I could use the power for the growth of my abilities.  Luckily, I chose the second one.  My big (and when I say big, I mean BIG) goal as a performer is to express myself through my craft.  When I get done with a show I want people to feel like they got to know me; I want to be genuine and real on stage not some generic rabbit-puller.  So, seeing the opportunity, I reengaged myself with the performance.  I saw that when I knew I didn’t have to worry about the mechanics of the trick (my hands know what they’re doing), I was able to actually be present and communicate more openly and respond to the audience more genuinely. In short, I was able to let more of myself come through.  In shorter, I got real.

This is a huge step forward for me.  In the past, my anxiety about performing lead me to use the script as a crutch.  If I didn’t have everything I was going to say planned out beforehand, I would just get too nervous to do it.  And if something unexpected happened, or something got me off track… forget about it.  Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous, probably always will, and I’ll probably always need a script of some kind but, I think I’m  slowly gaining the ability through experience to go off script, interact with the audience, then return to the script when I need to.  I’ve always been in awe of performers who can do that well, and frustrated that there’s no method in a book that tells you how.  Turns out, you can’t learn everything from books.  Some things you can’t learn until you learn them and you don’t know how it happened.

So now it seems that the “magician” in “Becoming a Magician” is not just the name of a job.  The magician is an image of myself as the performer, artist, entertainer, and person that I want to be and that I am working everyday to become.  So stick with me.  My journey is far from over.

Quick Update

September 28, 2011

Hey, everybody, it’s been a while.  I just wanted to put some things up here quickly, but fear not, a longer post will be forthcoming  later today.  First off, don’t worry, there will be a new Magic Time video soon.  I got thrown off my usual schedule last week due to stupid sickness.  And by that I don’t mean that I had something called “Stupid Sickness” (I don’t think that’s a real thing) I just mean that the sickness I that I had was stupid (seriously. Look it up,  Bacteria and viruses aren’t exactly Mensa material).

Anywho…

I’ve got some stuff I want to write about today so look for that later and I’ll also be working on a new video.  October is a fun month for me with my wedding anniversary, birthday, Halloween, and I’m even doing a magic show at the renaissance fair again, so I should have some good stuff to share with you through my video films.

Ok, that’s it for now.  Check back later today, there will be more.

After the Show

November 8, 2010

That's me in my fancy outfit! Ready to do some magic!

Well, I did it.  I did about  6 shows over the two days of the faire.  It was exhausting and difficult for me, but most of all, it was fun.  I had a blast.  I felt a bit of nervousness right before each show, but, thanks to all the preparing I had done, I was about to push through it and give a good performance.  Several friends showing up to support me helped a lot too.  And with each show I did, I felt less nervous.  I’m really excited about how positive an experience it was for me.

Saturday had a bigger crowd in general at the faire, but my audiences were smaller, less than 20 people per show.  But Sunday, I had the biggest single crowd (thanks to my lovely and very loud wife).  It was exhilarating being up there again.  By all accounts I did pretty good.   I had my doubts there for a moment, but now that I’ve done it, and felt what it was like, I feel like I might be able to do this.  Like I said, it’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s worth it.  Speaking of “doing this,” I handed out many business cards on Sunday and got several good leads on future gigs, which I’m super excited about.  I just can’t wait to start performing again.  There will be more pictures posted soon on my website and on Facebook.  And don’t think that this will be my last blog, just because the Ren. Faire is over.  Hopefully there will be many more shows soon that I can talk about.  I’m not quite a magician yet.  But I’ve taken the first step.

Four Days To Go

November 2, 2010

I can’t believe that there’s only four days left until the faire!  I’m getting really excited and things are coming together nicely, but there’s still a lot of work to do.  I’m in the final stages of finishing the scripting and sort of knitting all the separate pieces together.  I hope to have it all ready to do a complete run through tomorrow.  While the script for each effect was difficult in it’s own way, it’s proving to be more of a challenge to write the dialog that happens between effects, that moves one  thing into the next.  The segues if you will.  Doing a lot of intense thinking and brainstorming about it and coming up with a few good lines.  I’m also trying to work on close-up tricks to do walking around between shows.  Like I said, lots to do.

It’s kind of hard to believe that I’ve made it this far.  I know it hasn’t actually happened yet, but I feel like I’ve already accomplished so much towards my goal.  I don’t want to get all wishy-washy so I’ll just say “Kids, follow your dreams, and don’t do drugs (everyday).”

I’ve also jazzed up my website.  Check it out.

Hey, Look, a Website!

October 20, 2010

Well, it’s official, I have a website.  Nothing fancy, I just started working on it, in fact, that’s what I was doing all day yesterday instead of practicing and blogging…  I just wanted to have it going before I showed up in public so I could direct people there to look more professional.  I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now, and yesterday, I was so tired from my real job (and a little burned out on practicing) that I decided to take the day off, so to speak, and get the site up and running.  I also decided (my wife made me) to clean my office/practice space.  Now I can practice a more effectively and I’ve got a better spot for my video camera.  So it’s back to work.

I’m feeling pretty comfortable with all the routines as they are so now I just need to weave them all together into the tapestry that is a magic show (what a lame metaphor, anyone can see it’s more like a quilt).  This means that at some point I’m going to have to run through the whole shebang from soup to nuts (that’s start to finish in case you’re under 60 years old).  The timing has me worried a little.  I don’t really know how long the act will be and I’m worried that it will either be too long, and I’ll have to cut stuff, or it will be too short and I’ll have to add stuff.  Adding stuff would be the most trouble because that would require working up an entirely new piece at the last minute.  Not always the best thing to do.  If I know me, I’m probably worried about nothing.  I got the impression from the event organizers that it really didn’t matter how long it was, they just needed to know so they could work out the rotation for that stage.

In other news, I got these cool replica 16th century cards from the same place where I got my costume thinking that I could use them for card tricks at the faire.  However, when I got them, they turned out to be printed on a much flimsier stock than most cards so I can’t use them for tricks.  Bummer.  The backs are blank though (as is accurate for cards of the day) so I had the idea of printing my info on the back of them and giving them out like business cards.  It should be cool.  So what will I use for card ticks, you ask?  Well, I thought of just using normal cards and saying, “F you, I’m a magician, what do you expect?” to the anachronism police, but I may use another deck I have.  It is a replica historical deck as well, but it’s printed on actual card stock so they handle basically like normal cards.  It is a replica 18th century deck, but I doubt anyone would notice the difference.  Let’s just keep this between you and me.  I hope there are no playing card historians in the audience.

 

On the left, a 16th c. card. The middle is 18th c., and the right is modern. Really, they just got lazier.

It’s back to practice for me.  You should check out my website while you’re at it.  I’m still working on it, but feel free to tell me what you think.  I know I need some better pictures, but that will come soon enough, don’t worry.

Updates and the Week Ahead

October 18, 2010

What a busy weekend I had.  I had to work my real job on Saturday and it was rough.  I was just too tired Saturday night to do anything. Sunday, however, was full of faire business.  I met with the people putting on the faire for the first time in person.  It was quite an experience.  They are all very committed to putting on a good faire even though they have quite a bit going against them, but I won’t get into any of that here.  They are all very passionate about the faire and I like that.  Their enthusiasm make me feel better about it.  Their enthusiasm also showed me that I really need to impress them come showtime.  I also got a confirmation on exactly what kind of performance I’ll be doing, when, and where.  There will be one stage which various performers will rotate through.  I’ll be in that rotation to do my main act and in the times between, I’ll roam around doing some small tricks for people.  It’s pretty much what I had hoped for and had prepared for.

Three weeks left.  It’s closing in fast.  This week it’s back to the rings for a few days then I start the work of tying it all together.  This connecting of the parts into a whole will be what I’ll be spending the rest of the time before the faire on.  It will be a lot of work, but things are going well.

I’m also looking into ways of learning to project my voice better.  I’ve always been a quiet speaker, and it’s really hard for me to speak loudly (I don’t really know if it’s because of some sort of physical problem or a mental block).  Whatever the reason, I’ve got to get better at it if I’m going to be heard by a crowd outdoors.  I’ve read several things online about it and the key seems to be deep breathing and relaxing the throat muscles.  Seems simple enough.  I’ll be working on that in this next three weeks as well.  Probably by speaking loudly to my cat.  He’s a good audience.

I did manage to find a hat and shoes for my costume.  Both were loaned to me by a friend of my wife’s.  I told you she could do it.  Speaking of my wife, today is our anniversary, so, happy anniversary, sweetie, thanks for all the support.

Well, I’ve got a little bit of time today for practicing so I better get to it.

A Lot on My Mind

October 13, 2010

Ugh.  There’s a lot of stuff going on right now.  I’m just trying to wrap my head around it all.  The practicing and rehearsal won’t be too bad, I enjoy that, but there’s also the scripting which I’m pretty sure I’m worrying too much over.  I know, deep down, that when I get in the swing of things, the words will flow like a big… flowing… thing.  For now though, it’s rough.  My costume will arrive tomorrow and that will be a big piece in place that I can stop worrying about too.  I’m actually really excited about getting it.  Don’t worry, I’ll post pictures of me looking silly.  Speaking of that, here’s this that I took today.

 

Even I'm surprised

 

Just messing around there.  But it did give me an idea.  I’m thinking of getting just a real simple website set up so I can give out the address at the faire.  You see, my hope is that this isn’t just a one time thing.  I really want to use this performance to get my name out there and generate more shows.  I want to look professional and really make an impression.  Having even a simple website would help I think.  I’m hoping to print up some more business cards as well.  It’s this extra stuff that’s stressing me out.  However I hope that the hard work will pay off in the end.  I think if I even get to book one show from this it will have all been worth it.  Every step, no matter how small, is a step closer to living my dream.  Whew, I feel a bit better now.  Back to work!  Wish me luck.

C&BW: The Gear

October 12, 2010

Good news!  As of yesterday, my costume is on it’s way to my door.  Yippie!  The folks at The Tudor Shoppe were super helpful in getting my stuff to me.  Hit them up for all your Renaissance costume needs.

It’s cup and ball week, and I wanted to stat by going over the actual props.  There are routines with three cups, one cup and even two cups (one that I know of).  Although most standard routines call for three cups, I have decided to go with a one cup routine for a couple of reasons.  First, less props to carry around, and second, for clarity’s sake.  At a venue like this, there will be all kinds of things trying to get their attention.  I want to keep my stuff as simple and clear as possible so no one is lost.  If the audience doesn’t or can’t pay attention, then they won’t understand why what just happened is magic.  Anyway, let me show you what I’m working with.

 

My Gear

 

It’s a pretty standard single cup and ball set.  That is, except for the big ball.  That was custom made for me by a friend of a friend of a friend from my magic club or something like that.  If you want one, my advice is to be nice to people who can crochet spheres around wooden balls, because apparently, it’s not easy.  This ball is the “final load” as we say.  That means it’s the surprising thing that appears under the cup at the end.  Past magicians have used a variety of weird things for their final loads: rocks, sand, liquids, even livestock like mice and baby chicks (these final loads require a very heavy cup so they don’t go wandering off during the show… seriously).  But perhaps the most traditional final load is fruit.  I will defiantly be using fruit in my routine ( a lemon to be precise) and I may or may not also use the big ball as well for an added surprise.  I haven’t decided.

If you will notice, the top of the cup (for magicians, the “top” of the cup refers to what most people call the “bottom” of the cup because these are meant to be used mouth down.  Can nothing be easy?) has many dents and scratches.  This is due to the other important prop which I forget to put in the picture: the magic wand.  The wand may seem like just another prop, but it is really serves a very important function, especially to the renaissance magician.  Back in the day, these guys were performing for big crowds on the street.  Holding the wand extends the space the performer takes up making him larger and his movements more dramatic.  It also serves as a pointer, much like in a classroom, you can point it where you want everyone to look without having to say so.  This is handy in an environment where some may have trouble hearing you.  It’s also good from smacking the cup and the table to create noise to get people’s attention.  Really, the wand is a magician’s best friend.  Here’s mine.

 

A slightly blurry picture of my wand

 

I got this at Mr. Magic in Little Rock, AR where I worked for a bit in high school.  It was made by a local member of the magic club down there, but sadly, I don’t remember who.  I love this wand.  It’s wooden with metal tips.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like it.  I’ve had it for at least 15 years now I know it like the back of my hand.  It is MY wand.  Before I start sounding too “Harry-Potter-ish,” I had better get back to practicing.

Cup and Ball Week

October 11, 2010

Costume update:  I emailed the place I ordered my costume from Sunday night to see when it might get here.  They emailed me back today.  Apparently, the vest I ordered was back-ordered.  They said they got a shipment on Friday which they were in the precess of unpacking, and they expected the vest to be there.  If it is, my order will ship today.  I’m hoping for that.  Also my wife found some really cool shoes online.  I might go ahead and get them just so the costume is complete and I can stop worrying about it.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to regroup myself and plan out my practice sessions for this week.  Last week was rope week.  This week is cups and balls week, or more accurately, cup and ball week.  Yes, the venerable cup and ball trick, the so-called oldest trick in magic and the real-life bread and butter of actual renaissance magicians.  In fact, most magicians of the era would do only cups and balls in their acts.  My routine is based on the John Carney routine “Fruit Cup.”  It’s one of my favorites.  It’s simple, magical looking, funny, and has a great ending.  Like my experience with the rope routine, I foresee the hardest part of this being rewriting the script.

The game plan is set.  Now, I just have to go and do it.