I received an email about the subject of originality in magic and thought we’d discuss it a little. The question he sent was, “Just what is originality?” After all, none of us invented the Origami, Zig-Zag or the Thin Model Sawing In Half. Taking it further, we didn’t invent double lifts, the pass, or even card tricks! Isn’t it impossible for anyone to be really original?
This is a great question, and please allow me to get very “Our Magic” in my answer. First there are darn few “High Artists” in our craft. See my blog on False Art. Look at the upper level, Angel, Penn & Teller, Copperfield, Cabanaro, Blaine, and Brown, to make a short list. Can you think of a more dissimilar group of people? Each of these people have highly defined “characters,” and we as an audience know exactly what to expect from them. Give each one of them the same trick, and you KNOW it’s going to look different in each of their hands.
Still, most of us will never reach those heights. I know I never will. So it’s a “natural artist” for me. But the question remains, how can I be “original” with the same moves everyone has, and I didn’t invent?
Let’s think about music, not magic, for a moment. We only have eight notes, that’s it. By hitting three or four of those notes at the same time we have chords. Hitting chords and notes together make music. Yet, with only a small amount of chords possible, and even fewer notes, WE HAVE BRAND NEW SONGS COMING OUT EVERY DAY! To be sure, some are better than others, but look how much new music is realized every week. How is this possible?
Well, because magicians have it backwards. The means becomes the end, as it were. In music, the notes and lyrics tell a story. In magic, the moves and the patter ARE THE STORY! If the focus of music was simply to show note combinations, it would be stagnant too.
Let’s look at card tricks a moment. There are more of these than anything else in magic. First, only one of two things can happen, either a card will be selected (pick a card) or not (a four ace trick). If a card is not selected, then the cards are objects to be manipulated. Tricks like six card repeat, cards across, or the Three Card Monte are good examples.
If a card is selected only one of three things are possible. The selection will not be fair (force), but the replacement will be. The selection will be fair, but the replacement will not be (pass or substitute). Selection and replacement are fair, but a control is in place (i.e. short card, key card, etc.). It’s possible that neither the selection nor the replacement is fair, but it’s rare.
See how dry and boring this is? Only when we get to the revelation of the card do things get exciting. Only when we wrap these bare bones with the flesh and blood of presentation does it become a thing of beauty. Look at six card repeat in the hands of Whit Hayden. This trick is nothing more than a buckle count, but with the right story, Whit makes it high art! Where the “originality” comes in is the flesh and blood you put on the same bones!
None of us are alike. No two of us sees the world exactly in the same way. Not one of us are exactly the same. BRING THIS TO YOUR MAGIC! Years ago I taught a female magician the torn and restored newspaper. This of course is a standard trick. But for her it was coupon clipping time. Stories about the supermarket fit here. Then the realization that she’d destroyed the Sunday paper before her husband read it (a crime punishable by death in most households). Not to worry, by magic, restored!!! For her, this fit, and was wonderfully original (A Note to most Female Magicians:, Please stop being men in a dress! Your are not men and shouldn’t be. Your insights are different. If you are stuck. Email me and I’ll help you.) I took the “done-to-death” Cube-Zag and made it brand new by having a child from the audience do the trick! It would take far too long to explain everything here, but let’s hit the high points. The kid has no idea how the trick is done. The audience realizes that fact. Now instead of me “fooling” the audience, “WE” (the audience and I) are enjoying the reaction of a child! The child becomes the “star.” I take pictures of him and post them (and link my website to the photos). If you think they don’t tag and “like” those pictures, and therefore my website, you don’t know parents.
The real originality is in you, telling a story that could only happen to you. There are a lot of cheap people in the world, but only one Gilbert Gottfried. Comedy Clubs are full of wise cracking smart alecs, but there was only one Groucho Marx. It’s been said by people much wiser than I, but until you know EXACTLY who you are on stage, you can’t possibly do effective magic.
The best way to do this is look at the music you enjoy listening to. This is what is touching your soul. Happy or sad, whatever. Now try to tell the story you’re hearing in the music with your magic. I don’t mean a silent act with that song playing in the background. Rather, really tell the song “Memory” or even “Take This Job and Shove it” (isn’t that what you’d say if you REALLY could do miser’s dream?) with your magic. It’s much harder to do things this way, but the rewards are worth the effort.