Written in 2009 (when the economy was tanking). Published in the Magic Menu
Let’s face it, magicians are insufferable. There’s a good reason why as an art we are well placed as the butt of our own joke. Waka waka, dig what I’m saying? Magicians are f*&#ing morons, I know this; because I am one. I fear I have lost you in the first few sentences. Let me start over.
Why do magicians insist on forcing poor unsuspecting bastards into watching their weak crap? Or, how about this, Is it about us, or about them? Is it my ego and inability to keep my hands still that makes me want to carry around cards and coins wherever I go? Or is it a deeper seated sense of alienation? God knows there were periods of my life when my cards were my best friends.
In 1984 I studied with Cellini for 9 months in New Orleans. The French Quarter was our campus. I learned to draw a crowd by engaging the people passing by. It was a different era. People were happier. There were no cell phones or text messaging. There was no world wide web or dvds. It was a different time. Flash forward a quarter century. Still me doing what I do, but with one difference. I’ve been rejected one too many times by an eight year old. I no longer bark to get my crowd. In fact now, it’s quite a passive process. Put on the tunes, warm up with some card handling and see what comes together. My thinking on this is that the people who want to watch will, and have a better chance of staying.
Over the last few years I have performed arduous, painful and humbling feats of ego stripping. Because of where I choose to work (The Universal CityWalk in Hollywood, CA), and the specific challenges that venue presents (I perform in the evening as the crowds let out from being over stimulated in every way imaginable and hemorrhaged cash all day). So I get these crowds that stand in front of me looking emotionally vacant. They watch and I guess they like it or they wouldn’t still be there. I used to try and motivate the reaction I wanted them to have. I wanted smiling, clapping and engaged audiences. I used all the bullshit cheer leading tactics that were once so effective, only to learn that I needed to take a closer look at the problem. The problem was me. I was listening for something that wasn’t there. It took me months to really rewire my brain. Now it’s not about listening to what isn’t there (my preconceived idea that people need to clap for it to be good), but I look and listen for what is there. It might be subtle, like a look of surprise in the eyes. Or it just might be a smile.
I’ve never been particularly proud of being a street performer, it’s just been what I do. Now in the wake of the country’s recession, I hear of many magicians out of work and struggling to maintain quality of life. Strangely, now, I have never been so happy to have a skill set that allows me to go out daily and make a living. It’s not easy. . . . but what is?
I love my life and I love the art of magic.