Dear Friends in Magic,
Greetings! I hope you are doing well as we move toward vaccination saturation. It seems clear we will get there this year and be able to gather again. Meanwhile, allow me to empower some of your online magic performances with…
A BIG IDEA
Eleven months in, we have all become fluent Zoom users. We log in, mute and unmute, chat, and wave our hands to applaud (as in American Sign Language). There was quite a learning curve, but look at how comfortable and easy it has become. This rapid response has served as a symbol and a touchstone for my hopes: we can do it!
As magicians, there has been another side to the curve: learning how to deliver strong, high-impact performances through this new medium, which is here to stay. The faculty of the Magic & Mystery School zeroed in on this early to help meet the need, and I want to share a few fundamental principles of Zoom performance to help you on your way.
1. Keep your eyes on the camera not your screen. This is the hardest thing to train yourself to do, but it is easily the most important one. Every single time your eyes go “down” to see reactions or interact, you have shattered the “threads” (Juan Tamariz) connecting you to the audience. Wise performers make the distance between the camera and their screen as small as possible, but that doesn’t entirely solve the problem. Here is my latest (playful) axiom: “Those magicians in Zoom who best keep their eyes on the camera win.”
2. Simplify what you are asking Zoom or your computer to do. We have all experienced pixilation or freeze-frame while using Zoom—which is deadly for a performance. Although internet bandwidth can be a problem, more often it is caused by complexities that we are adding by running virtual backgrounds, music, multiple cameras, wireless mics, camera-switching devices or programs, and so on. Zoom is a data-hog—the amount of information going both in and out at every moment is staggering—so try to shut everything else off or purchase a much bigger computer. At this point in my learning curve, I only have Zoom on (no other program) and use an external camera (Nanshiba 1080p webcam) and a wired mic (Blue Yeti).
3. A lot of interactive (card) magic is overly complex and too often fails. An interesting double-bind: complexity of procedure helps hide the method, but every moment of it opens the space for audience failure. It is the law of attention: when audiences are intently watching a computer screen their ability to hear, understand, and/or follow directions gets vastly diminished. Thus, we need to aim for simplicity in procedure, instructions that are painfully slow and clear, and using our own props to demonstrate the necessary actions. Bottom line: our Zoom magic has to work 99 percent of the time! A lot of the interactive magic being push-sold on us these days doesn’t come anywhere near this level of success, so “be careful out there!” (Even so, here’s a good one for you: Max Maven’s “Lost & Phoned” at Penguin.)
So, there you have three big things I’ve learned about Zoom magic this year. If you have enjoyed this segment let me know: I have several others I can share.
IN THE STUDIO
As mentioned in my short January EXTRA, I have completed the writing of Eugene Burger: Final Secrets (Yay!) and the manuscript is now in the editing phase. I am right on target for an on-time release sometime this summer.
One other large project I undertook this past year was a major redesign of my website, www.LawrenceHass.com. This is now complete; the new site was launched just in time and on target for this issue of my newsletter. I hope you will check out the new site. It was quite a process and involved close collaboration with many talented visual/design artists. As part of my commitment to more fully acknowledging the visual art and artists in my life, I want to recognize and thank the team at the Dossier Agency, Jordan Wright, ¢-nik-art$, Beckett Studios, Brandon Dill, John Costello Photography, and Justin Fox Burks.
IT’S NOT MAGIC, BUT…
While we are on the subject… I want to recommend a series we recently happened upon at Netflix: Abstract: The Art of Design. Wow! Each episode, focused on the work of a world-class designer, had us thinking and talking for days. Our minds blew open about stage design, typography, toy design, costume design, architecture, illustration, and interior design, among several others. There is so much for magicians to learn!
In particular, I want to direct your attention to the sixth episode of Season 2 that’s focused on Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist who designs large-scale installations to powerfully intensify the experience of participants. As you might imagine from that description, so much of Eliasson’s work and thinking connects directly to what we are trying to achieve as magicians; you will be flooded with many new ideas for magic. And be sure to check out his remarkable “slow mirror” at about 20 minutes into the episode; it could be translated onto just about any magic stage today.
HAPPENING AT THE PRESS
On January 15, we released Bob Neale’s brand-new book, Magic Inside Out. The early response has been gratifying. Copies have been flying off the shelves, and we have received dozens of emails with enthusiastic praise for the quality and variety of the 14 routines, the revealing interview with Bob, and the cover portrait by Kiva Singh. One person wrote saying, “This is the perfect book for readers who are new to Bob’s work!” We didn’t create Magic Inside Out with that goal in mind, but I think it might be true.
In conjunction with the book’s release and my just-completed online course on Bob’s magic and philosophy, we are selling other little-known and exclusive books and props by Bob. Please go to our home page to see the full line. I especially want to mention our exclusive “Everyone Symbol Deck”—the prop needed for “Just Imagine” in Magic Inside Out. To our surprise, the first run of this is almost sold out. (The second run is in process, but it will be a few weeks until we are re-stocked.)
Reviews have started to appear for our October 2020 release by Judge Gary Brown, Wandcraft: Making and Using a Magic Wand. Without exception, they enthusiastically recommend the book. For example, The Magic Roadshow writes, “Wandcraft was a very unexpected pleasure. I got to see wands through the eyes of a skilled professional. I had no idea what I’ve missed through the years, and Judge Brown made me a true fan. Highly recommended.”
This experience of “delighted surprise” is a common theme in all the reviews and comments for the book. “Inspiration” as well, because we have received many photos of wands readers have made following Gary’s instructions.
Thanks for stopping in at the Press. You won’t get daily email blasts from us with excessive screaming hype. Our business model is not to “throw every single thing at the wall and see what sticks,” but rather to carefully curate a small number of high-quality items. So, we appreciate you staying in touch and supporting us with your business.
I wish you all the best as we move through February. I hope magic is on your mind and in your hands as we all prepare for the coming spring season of performances. Please stay in touch and share this newsletter with any friends and family who might enjoy it. Stay safe and well!
Dean of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School
Publisher, Theory and Art of Magic Press