For some time now, I’ve been working on a book about a teenaged magician. Magician as in sleight-of-hand, not as in Harry Potter. It’s slated for publication sometime in 2014, as part of Orca’s new performing arts-based series, Limelights.
And as I’ve been researching the book, I keep coming to the same conclusion: I really like magicians. As it happens, they’re a lot like writers. For one thing, there’s an awful lot of work behind the scenes before anything ever reaches an audience.
I’ve had the chance to interview a lot of people, about a lot of different things, over the past few years. Being a writer sometimes feels like a get-out-of-jail-free card for nosiness. And people are generally happy to talk about what they do for a living, or what they care about. But magicians… they go beyond that.
Magicians create wonder for a living. They learn how to connect with people. Because without that connection, there’s not nearly the same impact when you make the impossible happen.
But a lot of magicians are introverts at heart, so when you’re hanging out with them, it never feels like being at a sales convention (which is what I imagine a haven for extroverts must look like… in short, my vision of h-e-double-hockey-sticks). You’re not overwhelmed. They’re quite happy to practice their card handling off in the corner. The connection point is magic. Once you ask about that, they light up.
And of course they’ll show you a trick. They’ll show you five!
Today I had the incredible opportunity to visit Sorcerers Safari, a week-long camp for magicians that takes place in Ontario for one week each summer. Campers come from all around the world to attend. The camp is run by “Magic” Mike Segal and his wife, Jennifer.
It’s possible that I was the only Muggle in the place. Kids younger than my daughter quite gleefully fooled me with their card tricks. And despite months of researching magic and acquiring a passing familiarity with how these things are done, I fell for it every time.
Honestly, even when I knew the trick behind the trick, it didn’t matter. It was still astonishing to see it done, up close and out of nowhere, something impossible taking place before my eyes. To be holding a deck of cards while a ninth grader made one of them disappear and reappear somewhere else. To watch a pack of cards change colour. Or to see the card I was thinking of appear on a phone screen.
To quote one of the counsellors: “When was the last time something truly astonished you?” He emphasized the word time. More than once. To draw my sluggish attention to the fact that he had stolen my watch right off my wrist, during a card trick.
The White Queen’s line about six impossible things before breakfast could be a camp motto.
Here’s the thing, though: even though I was fooled at least six times within about ten minutes of arriving at camp, it never once felt that the kids (or counsellors) were having fun at my expense. Nothing was taken from me. Okay, except the watch, but that’s not what I mean. Each magic trick was a gift. Something cared about, something worked for, something shared. I felt honoured.
And all they wanted in return was a reaction — which I couldn’t have helped giving, anyhow.
It’s fascinating to hear magicians talk about their craft. It seems that each trick has a pedigree, and they want you to know who invented it. “This is from X by Person Y, by way of Person Z.” Which to me looks exactly like the other trick, which was from A by Person B, with a little flavour of Famous Routine C. But even though the end result is the same (missing card? found card!), the handling may be completely different, so it’s night and day to the magician.
Kind of the way writers feel about word choice. Sure the character crossed the room, but did he slink? Leap? Stride? Please tell me he didn’t walk quickly — adverbs can be so sloppy.
And sometimes the simplest stuff is what plays best to the audience. There’s a parallel to word choice there, too.
A magic routine can be strengthened by paring away what’s not essential. Slow down. Leave out some of the patter. Let the magic speak for itself. It sounds like my favourite editing advice, which I first heard from Kathy Stinson: what doesn’t add, subtracts.
There are other parallels too. The learning through critique groups. The deep respect for others in the craft, and the generosity in sharing knowledge. The passion and glorious, hard-core nerdiness with which magicians embrace their art. I really felt like I was with a group of writers, except that they all had Sharpies instead of pens, and playing cards instead of notebooks. And scarce a one of them wanted to talk books.
I wasn’t with my “tribe” today. Not exactly. But I was sure reminded of them in all the best possible ways.
So this is a preliminary thank you to all the magicians I’ve met or corresponded with, and especially to those who were at the camp today. Thank you for your help. Thank you for sharing your time, your experience and your magic.
You make the world a more wonderful place.