Thoughts on Performing Magic11.04.10
When I first started performing magic (about a year ago) -- it was quite frankly, a terrifying experience. Now, obviously, there are legitimately terrifying experiences, but you know how people say public speaking is people's #1 fear? Well, performing magic must be somewhere in that neighborhood.
I somewhat vividly remember my early performances. I was practicing for my Magic Castle audition. So in preparation, my instructor had me work the side tables at the Castle. In what is still (I think) a very odd setup, he would find random people in the Castle, pull them to a table, do a short show for them, and then introduce me. Of course, my instructor has won Magician of the Year from the Magic Castle in the past so to follow him, well, let's just say if I wasn't nervous before that, I probably now had a frozen look of fear splattered across my face.
Performing was a fairly out of body experience. I remember getting there. I remember beginning. I vaguely remember performing. And I remember saying goodbye.
I think my biggest fear, frankly, was suffering a miss. Magic can be fairly binary and unless you're at a pretty high skill level -- you have no idea what to do when the trick doesn't work. I certainly didn't. Or at the minimum, it takes a bunch of practice missing in order to figure out what to do :) It's not the most pleasant feeling in the world, let me put it that way :)
I didn't realize this when I started out, but when doing magic, there frankly are a lot of things to remember. Each trick has a set of steps. Each step usually has some technique. Each technique has a lot of details. Of course, this all has to be tied together to what you're saying as well as interacting naturally and spontaneously with the audience. I mention all this because it's sometimes hard to remember everything -- or at least it takes a lot of practice to remember it and remember it well.
Earlier this year, I mentioned this to one of my friends (a professional magician) and he said, "I wonder if you'll feel differently over time." I do feel different now and I think -- and this sounds kind of stupid -- but I think it's because I practice more. A lot more. Originally, I would go perform routines that maybe I learned just enough to have done it once or twice correctly. Then I would roll it out. Well of course my rate of failure would be unacceptably high at that point! I just hadn't worked it enough.
In some ways, I suppose performing magic is no different than most things. If you want to get better, you have to practice (or at least purposeful practice), perform, refine what you're doing based on good feedback, and repeat. My instructor told me that when he learns a new trick, he'll practice it 20 times to get the technique down, perform for some friends to get their feedback, refine it, maybe perform it a little more -- then he'll go out and perform it for strangers. That was not my routine :)
It's such a basic lesson and while it would've been preferable if I didn't have to go through the wood chipper to learn this (I did fail my original Magic Castle audition before passing my second one!), I suppose you learn these things when you learn them!