Dear Friends in Magic,
Welcome to the December 2019 issue of my magic newsletter! I have lot of news this time, but first let’s start with…
A BIG IDEA
As an actor one of the most painful things your director can say is, “I don’t believe you!” Uggh, it means there was a crack in my internal imagination of the scene so what I said or did felt false. Time to get back to work.
I have often thought the more precise expression is, “I don’t make believe you.” That is, “I can’t make believe with you.” For this is what audiences of theater, film, and television desperately desire: to surrender to the story, plot, and characters. They want to set their everyday world aside so they can play along with the play.
A similar thing is true with magic. Unless people are brain-addled with alcohol or have the mistaken notion that magic is blood-sport, most of them come to the magic show hoping to be astonished, hoping to encounter an extra-ordinary person who will carry them to a magical place, if only for a short time. Indeed, most people come to the show wanting to make believe and play with our impossible things.
Thus, I frequently council our students away from saying and doing things that feel theatrically implausible. For a few examples:
— “Oh, before the show I saw the future and wrote it down here.”
— “Last night I had a dream, and in the dream, you were on stage with me.”
— “You know what, I forgot to remove the Jokers.”
— “I forgot which pocket my pen is in.”
— “Oh, gee, I failed.”
With these common effects and ploys—and many others—I have only one thing to say: “I don’t make believe you.” I can’t make believe you saw the future in such detail. I can’t make believe in your false little failure moment. I can’t make believe you have to fish around in four pockets to find your pen (as you are ditching or loading something). Try though I might, I can’t make believe in your magic powder, invisible coins hanging in the air, or your whispering Queen.
Of course, a trained actor might lead me to make believe such things, but since many magicians don’t have these skills, this stuff comes out feeling false, like empty lines, like lies. The feeling of “trick” goes up while the experience of magic goes down.
From this perspective our task is clear. We must roll up our sleeves and sift through our effects, script lines, presentation gambits, and techniques, looking for the ones that strain or break the audience’s suspension of disbelief. We must work toward “plausible impossibilities,” not implausible ones that shatter the spell.
My good friend, master mentalist Ross Johnson refers to this as “getting the stink out of a routine.” Ross’s metaphor is powerful and unforgettable. Because if something we are doing or saying smells false, we are—like the actor—failing at our most fundamental task. Back to work!
IN THE STUDIO
As the year winds down, my creative studio is quiet. Over the course of 2019, I created… count them… nine new fully-developed performances pieces. These were for my appearance at MAGIC Live, our “fall semester” classes at the Magic & Mystery School, and my full-evening stage show in September. Time to re-fill the tank!
Even so, I have been working through the “archive” of that show—photos, video, and reviews—to prepare a portfolio for potential producers. One extraordinary review was written by Craig Conley, a smart, talented writer from Florida who came in for the show. You can read his essay, published online at Medium, by going here.
In January, I get back to work on Eugene Burger’s second and final book of unpublished material: Eugene Burger: Final Secrets. And I am already working on material for Jeff McBride’s and my 20/20 Vision World Tour, the first leg of which takes us to the UK and Italy, March 17-April 6, 2020. To readers in Europe, please go to my website for details about the shows, events, and tickets.
IT’S NOT MAGIC, BUT…
As mentioned, December is a time when I typically slow things down and recover from the busy year. One thing I especially like to do is reflect on the year gone by and plan for the new year to come. Over time, I have developed an exercise I carry out during the month. Many of our Magic & Mystery School friends have reported that it has been powerful and productive for them, so I thought you might find it useful, too.
I begin December by writing the following three questions on three pieces of paper:
Question 1: What were some of my best achievements this past year?
Question 2: What are two or three commitments I make for the new year?
Question 3: What are my top goals for the coming year?
I keep these pages close by all month, and I spend time dreaming and visioning about them, making notes when insights and possibilities arise. By the end of December, I sit down to organize my reflections into focused, clear answers. And on New Year’s Eve, we, in my family, sit down over a special meal and share our answers—so we can learn about what’s important to each other as we finish one “chapter” and start a new one.
I have found this exercise to be especially productive and affirmational. Notice, we are focused on achievements, commitments, and goals—which automatically feel good. We are not flailing ourselves with stern resolutions and scoldings and “feel bads.” I am always quite amazed to reflect back on the things I have done—it is so easy to forget in the push of the day-to-day. And I always feel charged up the year to come.
Give it a try! I hope this exercise is as powerful for you as it has been for me.
MYSTERY SCHOOL MINUTE
One of my recent Mystery School Minute videos seems perfect as we head into this holiday time of year. You can view “What Do You Appreciate?” here.
HAPPENING AT THE PRESS
The major news is that on November 10th, Theory and Art of Magic Press released Eugene Burger: From Beyond. Since then, the team has been busy filling many orders, and I have been truly overwhelmed by the wonderful reactions people have been having to the book. Thank you to everyone who has written or posted about it. I can’t tell you how much it means that the book is being received in the spirit of love and friendship with which it was written.
If you haven’t gotten a copy yet, you can do so by going here. If you have already gotten one, you might not have noticed several new items at the website. For one thing, there are rapidly dwindling supplies of a few limited Eugene-related items. Also, I launched a new “author” page titled “Real World Magic.”
This new page is carefully curated by me, and it includes a few items that I have found to be real-world working material—for strong performance in restaurants and walk-around settings. I will keep adding to this page over time, but already there are items that definitely “play” in the real world. To access this page, click the “Authors” link at the top and scroll down to “Real World Magic.” Or go here.
Thank you for being part of my network. Feel free to share my newsletter and, as always, let me know what you think. Have a wonderful, peaceful, and restorative holiday season!
Dean of the McBride Magic & Mystery School
Publisher, Theory and Art of Magic Press