Yesterday I asked you to ask me some questions in this Instagram post. I tried to answer all the questions, and I chose to focus more on the questions that lent themselves to longer, deeper and more interesting answers. It was a lot of fun, and I'd like to thank everyone for all the great questions. If I didn't respond to your question properly, I'm sorry, but you can always ask me again in my next Q&A, whenever that comes up!
As promised, I would feature some of the most interesting questions in this blog post. I've included the questions followed by my answers below. Some questions might have been shortened and my answers have been re-formatted and edited little bit to make them more appropriate for the blog format, instead of the Instagram comments section. I've also expanded my answers a little bit, adding a few paragraphs of additional information where appropriate. I hope it is interesting reading!
The first question I've decided to feature was about quality and philosophy. Why should we keep working on and improving our magic when people get away with so much less?
"When things are great as they are" - but are they? I don't think they are. Knowing what you know, having seen what you have seen, and having the passion for magic that you have, would you just give up practicing and improving and refining now? I don't think that it is healthy or productive to compare yourself to everyone else. People have different standards. The magicians that are out there with terrible technique, presentation and structure, probably don't know any better. If they did, surely they would have fixed it?
As long as you are doing the best YOU can do, then no one can fault you. Yes, it's your responsibility to seek out criticism and feedback, it's your responsibility to take that criticism and feedback seriously, but ultimately, you can only be as good as you want to be. Some people don't want to be the best. If that is the case, I don't feel that they belong in magic, but that's another discussion.
Why bother spending decades perfecting what you do, when others do it terribly? For me, the answer is that I couldn't live with myself if I did it terribly. I see a lot of magic in general. Shows, restaurants, videos, casual situations, conventions, and so on..
Unfortunately, MOST of it is terrible. And those performers who do terrible magic, of course I judge them. I can only assume others judge me. I have to be the best that I can be. Not everyone holds everyone to the same standards that I do - but I believe that when we perform, our goal is not to meet the standards of your average audience member, our goal is to meet the standards of that one, super clever guy, with his arms crossed, sitting in the back row. Unless we can completely blow his mind and give him the same experience the rest of the audience has - I believe we have failed. You know that if he had a good time, everyone else had a GREAT time.
When I pay money to see a magic show, and it turns out to be awful, I feel insulted. I'm insulted that whoever on stage thought that this was good. I feel insulted that they thought that it was going to fool, delight, and entertain me.
I can't control what others are doing. I can't make bad magicians stop doing magic, although that would be great. I can't make bad magicians do great magic, although that would be great, too. I can only work on myself and make sure that what I do is as good as it can be, and hope that others will be inspired to follow through on that.
I think some magicians just settle for less and they get into this mindset where they believe that as long as they audience politely applauds, they did a great job. It's a scary trap to fall in, and I think it's important to always be critical of yourself, but not to the point where it gets counterproductive and destructive. Only to keep yourself in check and make sure that you're doing the best you can. The more quality magic is out there, the more people (and magicians) will learn to raise their standards.
This next question was very interesting because it deals with performance rights and buying material from the creator:
I don't think there is a direct correlation between crediting and referencing the creator, and having permission to use something in a performance. If you buy something directly from the creator, I believe that you should be allowed to perform it without further permission, but at the same time I also believe that certain rights, such as TV rights, video rights etc. should be withheld.
This is because it is the creator's performance piece after all - and such rights should be at the creator's discretion. The reasoning being that there is potentially so much money and exposure in something like that, and I feel that it would be unfair to all parties to have a "free for all" policy in that instance. I compare it to music. If you buy a CD or a download track from the artist directly, sure you have the rights to play that music at your parties and social events and whatnot, but you couldn't use it in a commercial production, or broadcast it, or play it at a huge event with ticket sales, without some sort of contract or agreement in place. It would only be fair to both parties.
I don't think everything we do in a live performance situation needs to be credited to the creator - that strikes me as somewhat strange. But I think, if the situation and occasion calls for it, showing our respect by referencing or sharing a story is more than fair. But I don't agree with your system of using that to justify performance rights. My conclusion is - it's NOT okay just because you credit the creator - it's okay only if the creator says it is, and the creators that withhold performance rights beyond television/broadcast/big ticketed events, I mean regular live performances, are lousy people and should probably not be releasing material to begin with.
Then this follow-up question:
I remember people reaching out to me maybe 8-10 years ago, asking to trade material. I'm not surprised that this is still going on, but I am a little disappointed of course. I think it's quite black and white - if there is some material that you'd like to learn and it is in print or published somehow, you purchase the publication, or learn it directly from the creator. You can purchase books second hand, you can even trade books permanently once you're done with them, as far as I'm concerned. But the point is that it's generally not okay to attempt to circumvent that situation by asking book owners to teach it to you, or worse, copy pages from the book.
The way I see it is this: As magicians we should generally come up with our own material, I mean, we are supposed to be miracle workers. We don't want to go around doing the same things everyone else is doing. Just compare it to comedians. Derren Brown has a nice thought experiment in Absolute Magic. Imagine that comedians are going to comedy conventions, watching famous comedians do their sets, and then later buying the jokes published in a book, so that they can go do them themselves. It sounds so ridiculous when you explain it like that, but then you step back and realize that that is exactly what we do in the magic world. One of the reasons I was reluctant to publish something for years, was that I didn't want people to perform the material I would offer, I was kind of hoping that they wouldn't. I offer material so that people will learn something from it, and turn it into something of theirs, something that they can be proud of, and something that represents them as a performer. I think that is far more important than ownership and copyright.
I've been doing lectures for about 3 years, and in those lectures I've taught a couple of effects as part of the lecture, but I never teach the effect, intending for people to perform it, I always intend for people to learn a lesson from it. The effects I teach are just good examples of the theory, the techniques and the philosophy that the lecture itself is about. I've always very firmly believed that the material we perform is extremely personal, and that we should go to lengths to distinguish ourselves from other magicians, because it is one of the easiest ways to be original, and it also makes us better, because we will do material that is specifically suited to our style, our approach and so on.
When it comes to sessions, that is more of a gray area. I don't session much with magicians anymore, at least not as much as I used to. I usually only spend time with a small group of magicians I trust, and we more or less openly share things that we are working on. Sometimes I spend time with younger, up-and-coming magicians that I see potential in and I try to share as much knowledge as I can, but I still make sure that they work for it. I don't want it to come easy for anyone, because as soon as you take the work and the effort out of it, people start to take it for granted. I am lucky that when I was much younger I had mentors that made me really really work for the information. I'm better off for it. In a session situation, if someone asks me to perform a specific effect from a specific magician, I guess most of the time I'd be happy to, unless it is in my actual set or act that I do for paying audiences. I try to not show magicians what I do out in the real world, because I have bad experiences in the past, of lines, jokes, subtleties and details being "stolen", so I just try to keep as private as possible. If I were to put myself in your shoes, and someone asks to see something from Eleven, I'd happily perform it once it was practiced and refined. If asked to explain it or they started digging for the method, I would really just say "It's not mine to teach, but Allan put it in print in his booklet. Unfortunately it's out of stock, but you can maybe find a copy second hand?". It might sound tough, but I think it's 100% fair. If you didn't buy it, you're not entitled to any of the information in it.
Next, here's a short but good question with a short answer:
No, of course not! It's perfectly fine to be a magician who just likes to practice, or someone who just likes to create, or someone that is just interested in the theory of magic. But, I do believe that there are certain things that you can ONLY learn from performing. A creator who doesn't perform, for example, will have no frame of reference to know whether his creations actually work in the real world or not. For me, performing is the best part of magic. It's what it's all about, you get to create something impossible and memorable for another person, it's the most rewarding thing I can imagine.
I like this next question because it deals with lifestyle issues, something that isn't frequently discussed.
It's absolutely possible! I think maybe even more so than with a lot of "normal" jobs.
Magic is very on and off. Sometimes you work a lot, sometimes you have an extended period of time off. If you do regular gigs in your local area and you don't have to fly a lot, spend a lot of nights in hotels and so on, then I would imagine that you would have more spare time on your hands than most of your friends.
Most of the friends I've lost touch with over the years, I lost touch with because they got busy, not me. As long as you are aware of it, I wouldn't worry about it. It takes a lot of time, like any other job, but in being self-employed and doing something creative, you can be more flexible and manage your time better, to make time for the things that are important to you besides work.
Alright, that's the end of this blog post and the questions. Hoping to do another one of these in the near future! Thank you so much again!