Dear Friends in Magic,
I hope that 2022 is off to a great start for you. As I write this, the outlook is very promising for spring shows, bookings, and conventions. While you get ready for all those opportunities, here is:
A BIG IDEA
As a philosopher I am aware of the inordinate power of words. They can create confusion or dispel it. They can hurt people or heal them, build a relationship or destroy it. Our words inform how we think and, to some extent, they shape reality around us. As Eugene Burger used to say, “Magicians get the audience they themselves create.”
So, I have a list of words I try to avoid in my writing, teaching, and performing. Your views about these things might differ, which is perfectly fine. But I thought you might be interested in learning three things I try not to say these days and why.
1. “Trick.” I understand that, among ourselves, magicians use this as shorthand jargon for the things we perform. Occasionally, I do too, but I never, ever use this word with non-magicians. Why? Because for most people the word has a negative connotation. I have never met a single person (outside of magic) who likes to be “tricked.” Further, I don’t want to appear as the “tricker.” And besides, “Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids.” No, no, no: I don’t do tricks, I don’t turn tricks, I don’t pull tricks on others, I am not a tricker, trickster, or trickician. On the contrary, I am a magician.
2. “Laymen” or “Laypeople.” About ten years ago, Craig Conley wrote an essay for Mystery School’s Museletter about how tired he was of magicians’ endless talking of “laymen.” Craig is a very smart magician, and he observed how frequently we use this language as a putdown—to elevate ourselves over “the ignorant” for whom we perform. Craig also argues that the concept in question derives from a religious framework that doesn’t fit with contemporary magic. Whoah! I got the message! I am not a “priest” in a “congregation” that serves the “laity.” I am an artist who performs magic in a theater for audiences, many of whom are non-magicians.
3. “Ladies and Gentlemen” and “Guys.” The first of these is an old Englishism and the second a Hipster Coolism, but either of them can alienate people in our audiences. In the twenty-first century, women are women not “ladies.” And they are certainly not “guys.” When a performer (male or female) uses these cliches, they lose audience members before they even get started. The other issue is that we do not live in a binary world. To assume anything about a person’s sex or gender by how they are dressed or coiffed is a mistake I never want to make (again). But I have found it fairly easy to avoid gendering anyone during my shows by using the person’s name and no pronoun. And I refer to the whole audience as “Friends,” “Folks,” and “You all.”
There you go: a first installment on words and phrases I try to avoid and why. As John Bannon likes to say, “Your mileage might vary,” but I like the fuel economy I’m getting!
IN THE STUDIO
The studio is really humming these days. For one thing, I have just started my online Deep Study course on Eugene Burger. I have organized the course around three phases of Eugene’s career, sharing “Big Ideas” and unpublished footage from each phase, as well as teaching some of his very finest performing material.
It is not too late to sign up by going here. You can catch up by watching the first class in the community archive (which will include the class videos, lecture notes, other videos, and documents). Then you can attend live on February 17 and 24 at 5:00 p.m. PACIFIC, or you can watch those classes on demand, too. If you are a fan of Eugene’s work, I believe you will find the class illuminating and inspirational.
I am also hard at work again on my full-evening show, Magical Life. Two installments ago, I announced a run in Chicago during 2022. This is moving forward nicely, even though we haven't settled on exact dates. I have been developing new pieces for this run and expanding the set concept and lighting design. It is such thrilling work to get this show back on the boards. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.
IT’S NOT MAGIC, BUT…
Recently Margie shared a podcast with me, Art2Life by Nicholas Wilton: A Podcast for the Creatively Curious. With a tag-line like that I gladly jumped in. Although the primary focus is on painters and painting, the secondary focus is simply to celebrate what it is to be a maker of art in the world today: the process, the lifestyle, the joys and frustrations, and the passion that keeps us all going.
I find Wilton's conversations utterly compelling. Time and again, I find my life and work as a creative magician reflected back to me. “Yes!” I often say. “That’s exactly it,” or it is the exact analogy for a performing artist. Consider a few of these paraphrased insights from Wilton’s recent conversation with the Los Angeles based painter, Robert Szot:
* I have really tried to take down any barrier between who I am as a person and the work I am producing. To me, [Robert Szot], there is only one way to accomplish that: to never break the dialogue you are having with your work. To continue that conversation with what you’re doing, you have to be present to the work every day.
* I love the best materials I can get, simply because I don’t want to sell someone something that was cheaply made.
* You need to open yourself to the idea of always learning. I don’t do this work to find answers or solutions to anything external. These are exercises I am essentially creating for myself.
If you find these ideas intriguing, I think you will find a lot to enjoy in the whole Art2Life project. Because sometimes listening to artists talk about their work and process is the best thing we can do for our magic.
HAPPENING AT THE PRESS
It has been a delightful time as accolades for Eugene Burger: Final Secrets roll in from all over. We have received words of praise from David Copperfield, Teller, and Mac King, and glowing reviews in all the magic magazines, as well as from Jamy Ian Swiss (in his blog) and Michael Close (in his newsletter). And from friends and fans of Eugene all over the world. A special thank you to everyone who has expressed their good words about what one person called, “a love letter both to and from Eugene.”
I want to mention that Eugene’s and my book Teaching Magic is now in VERY short supply. I have no plans to reprint this book, so now is the time. While you are visiting the press please consider picking up the four exclusive products we are selling to accompany material in Final Secrets: “Influence,” “Thought Sender,” “Observo,” and “Unfazed.” Thank you for stopping in and looking around.
Department of Corrections: This section allows me to address some errata that have come to light with our books. Here is one relating to “Dr. Slade and the Night Visitors” in Eugene Burger: From Beyond. On pages 185-186 I describe the dimensions of Eugene’s spirit slates, but I neglected to provide the measurement for their thickness, which is .5”. In other words, thin.
Thank you for being part of this community that cares deeply about fine magic. Feel free to share this with your friends. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.
Best Wishes, Larry Hass
Dean of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School
Publisher, Theory and Art of Magic Press