Since lock-down started we have shifted to a world of virtual entertainment. You will have read some of the things I have been to including, Tom Brace’s Big Fat Isolation Quiz, Majk Stokes’s Album Launch, Mr Swallow: Houdini show, with The Pleasance Theatre, One World: Together At Home, to name a few. There’s also been Graeme E Pearson live music night, The Pitt Market Charity Lockdown Chow Down and BBC’s The Big Night In.
Not to mention the many Zoom Pub nights, Zoom Quiz events, Zoom Singing groups, Zoom Photo Shoot, Facebook Ceilidh’s, Facebook music nights and all the Zoom meetings. Plus universities, schools and colleges are all meeting and having virtual lessons. Everything is now virtual!
I did a quick search on virtual events and found this article in The Standard (London). It describes how the Tate Modern has virtual tours of exhibitions, The Fleabag has teamed up with the National Theatre to put on shows, there’s virtual comedy shows and even the world’s biggest virtual pub quiz!
I guess, when the many folk in the entertainment and creative industries found themselves out of work, they starting using their creative energies to reinvent themselves virtually.
This leads onto what I am doing as ‘Jim the Magician’. Apart from using my website to write these blogs, there is not much other activity happening for me in the magic world.
At the start of lock-down quite a few friends, asked if I was going to develop virtual magic shows. Or maybe virtual magic lessons. I did think about it, but was unsure. It didn’t feel right, but was not completely clear why.
Certainly in Edinburgh a few magicians have re-invented themselves to the virtual market. As you will have read Magic Gareth now provides The ‘20-20 Virtual Party‘ – the solution to your cancelled birthday parties – for children. Pretty much what he was doing before lock-down but now virtually. He has also developed MGTV (Magic Gareth TV).
Also, in the last week, I have seen on social media Elliott Bibby has developed a 30 minute virtual magic show (either close-up, family show or Corporate). Plus Kevin Quantum has a Magic School and a live virtual magic show.
Yesterday I got asked to take part in a Facebook Live charity event on Sunday, mainly with music but also me doing magic. I was super excited and jumped at the chance. Starting to think about what I could perform.
About a month ago, I did a private Zoom magic gig for some folk I call “my first fan group”, that I met many years ago at The Pleasance Courtyard during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This was really fun and I had a great night. I really enjoyed putting the show together and working out what I could perform and how I could entertain them virtually.
With this in mind, yesterday I started thinking about the same set I did with them, that I could do for the Facebook Live charity event.
Today, my inspiration was not so great and I started thinking about it more and whether in fact I wanted to do it at all!
At lunchtime, I went for a run in Arthur’s Seat to think about it some more (with movement) and mull over it. Slowly the issues came clearer to me and I realised that I didn’t want to do the gig.
I stopped half way on my run, sat down in the sun and started messaging some of my other magician friends to see if they would be interested in doing it instead. If I can’t do a gig, I always like to suggest another magician who could do it, as ultimately, the person wants a magician – unless they want to specifically see me.
I must have sat there for about 30 minutes. Honey the Dog was originally exploring the nearby surrounding area. But when I looked up after about 15 minutes, I couldn’t see her anywhere! I was about to call her, when I noticed she was sitting directly behind me! Perfect time for a selfie 🙂
So there are a few points that arose for me, which I want to explain here:
(1) Firstly, I have spent the last 14 years learning close-up magic, mainly with cards. It’s a constant repetition, practice over and over, so that now it is second nature. It’s like when you drive a car. When you first start to learn, you are watching really close at the road, worried about hitting the pavement, not getting too far across the road so you hit cars passing on the other side of the road. Not only that you have so many things to think about – steering the car, changing gears with the clutch, getting it just right so you don’t stall, indicating, watching out for other cars pulling out, pedestrians, other hazards, roundabouts, traffic lights and everything else! You need to co-ordinate it all together. But once you pass your test and drive for a good few years, it becomes second nature – you just do it, without any thought.
It’s the same with magic – not only am I handling the cards/props, I am also talking, watching everyone around me, aware where everyone is looking, making some jokes, chatting, managing the audience and keeping everyone engaged. To name a few things!! It’s an art that’s taken years to perfect – from hundreds of performances and gigs over the years.
With magic – you need to make sure that the audience doesn’t know how the magic is done. So I have to practice new tricks over and over first at home, then outside in real world, with different people – usually friends and folk I know. Getting feedback from them. Seeing if they liked it? If they saw how it was done? Then going back and tweaking it…trying again. Performing to other people. Over and over. If it still isn’t working. I ditch it. Move onto another effect, learn all over again. For me, it has to be perfect, entertaining, creating an amazement and no one knows how it is done.
It has to become second nature for me. Just like driving a car. For every magical effect that I learn.
Then you need to weave that into a routine, that flows and links to the next one.
Virtual magic is a whole different world and skill.
You can’t do any of the “choose a card and sign it” type tricks. You can’t even get someone to choose a random card, because I am holding the cards.
So a lot of the magic is non-interactive. On Facebook, it is totally non-interactive. With the Zoom magic show, at least I could do some magic tricks which involved some interaction – like “name a number between 1 and 52”. But with Facebook Live you are just talking to a camera!
So generally – it’s a whole new set of magic. Different to what I usually perform.
(2) Secondly, my “message” performing magic has always been to provide close-up magic, right close-up, literally magic happening in your hands, completely surrounded. That’s the “magic” for the audience. Most people have seen magic on TV or magic on YouTube or magic in the theatre. But only a few people have seemed, live, close-up magic – happening right in-front of them – and they still can’t work it out. As my catch phrase says “The closer you are – the more amazing it is!“.
For me personally, virtual magic destroys all this. Which goes again what I am trying to achieve for the audience.
(3) Thirdly, what I love the most about performing magic and entertaining people is their reactions. I get such a buzz, with people’s wowness and amazement – often even screams and laughter of wonder. For me, that this is the magic I am bringing to people’s lives. As children, we grow up believing in magic, but as adults we lose that. So to bring some magic to people’s lives is so special. Many people’s lives can be quite humdrum – bringing a bit of excitement, wonderment and magic back to people – is what I love.
In the virtual world – for me, this is just not felt. You can’t get that feeling and connection from people across a screen.
There are a lot of musicians out there doing virtual shows, which I think works really well.
Now, I am not a musician, so apologise if the next part offends any musicians (not my intention!). A person can sit in the corner of a pub and play tunes on a Thursday night, for example. Sometimes, folk join in, sometimes they don’t. Some may clap at the end of a tune, sometimes there is no clapping at all. But they continue on.
When a musician does a virtual gig – it is the same. They sit and play.
But for the type of magic I do, it just doesn’t work. Not for what I am trying to achieve. If the audience is not remaining engaged in the magic and not being entertained by it, it doesn’t feel that I am achieving my aim.
(4) What I also realised today, was the difference between private Zoom magic and Facebook Live. As long as the Zoom meeting is not recorded, it is just for the audience who sees it there and then. But with Facebook Live it is available as a video for people to watch weeks, if not months or years later. If some of the magic doesn’t go so well – then this is available for anyone to watch whenever they want. Zoom magic is live and that is it, not able to watch again the following week, month or year.
(5) Finally, the analogy that I came up with in relation to shifting from real world magic to virtual magic – is like asking a musician who plays classical music on their guitar – to start playing heavy metal instead. It is possible to shift and find ways to do it – but it is harder and goes against everything they have learnt.
To perform a virtual magic show, involves a whole new skill set, learning new magic, practising it until it is perfect. Making sure it is powerful and effective magic. Plus, entertaining and engaging the audience, when they are not there or not reacting/feeling in the same way in the real world.
I am sure many audience members are not so bothered with the quality of the magic. But for me, it is an art that I have developed for so many years – so it has to be perfect.
Just one sharing for today’s Readers Corner from my friend Brian.
Brian and I both love the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses. In fact, when we first met, this is what connected us!
Brian shared a funny Tweet of a man singing the Only Fools and Horses theme tune in the style of Elton John!
From the looks of it, Twitter is now mostly a parade of terribly-lit people sat in front of Argos keyboards, so I can see no reason not to join in and add my party piece. Elton John singing the theme to Only Fools And Horses (originally done just to make @benbakerbooks laugh)! pic.twitter.com/URDnQTbSWf
— Darrell Maclockdown (@maclockdown) March 28, 2020
As I come to the end of today’s blog, I am guessing you are wondering why I wrote all those reasons why I didn’t want to do that charity gig on Sunday?
From writing it, it made me realise just how hard it is for those magicians who have shifted their magic work from the real world to virtual. It is definitely a skill and I have huge respect for them.
But its not for me.
Saying that, who knows how long it will be until I am able to return to real life close-up magic, so I may have to revise that! New social distancing rules may allow weddings, parties, etc…to start happening again and then I may work out a way on how my magical entertainment can work.
But for the time being, Jim the Magician is taking a sabbatical. With some guest appearances.
So if you are interested in me performing at a virtual magic show you are having which is on Zoom, Facetime, Skype, etc…please do get in touch and I will happily consider. But please don’t be offended if I say no and recommend another magician instead.
So until we return out of lock-down, you will have to wait until you see Jim the Magician again.
Thanks for reading.
Lots of love