This is always a tough time of the year for me. We’ve been touring for about 9 – 10 months, zig-zagging across the country and I’m tired. I’m not complaining about it at all. This is the life we’ve chosen and we greatly appreciate the privilege of being able to do what we do. I love traveling and working with my wife. I love the great team we have with us on the road. I love performing, being on that stage, and sharing my passion for the art of magic with anyone who buys a ticket. But after 9 months or so, it is much easier to become frustrated, disillusioned, and less tolerant of the action of some people.
I want to clarify that we meet MANY magicians while on the road and MOST of them are great, about 99.9% of them. We very much appreciate the support they show us when they come to our show in their towns and cities. And I enjoy meeting many of them after the show but, now and then, you hear about a situation that just makes you cringe a little bit.
Recently, while performing in Central New York, I met an aspiring magician after the show. I don’t know him but he seems like a genuinely nice guy who wants to do the right thing. So, after the show, he asked me about a particular illusion that we performed and wondered if it was our “original” presentation or one that “came with the trick.” I told him that it was “ours” – many hours of hard work, creativity, tweaking, staging, lighting, scripting, etc. had gone into making this 4-minute bit funny, charming, and magical. He had recently purchased the illusion from another magician who included OUR presentation as “the routine” that goes with it. We’ve been performing this illusion for several years – as a matter of fact, ours was the third one ever built – and it’s an audience favorite in our show. It is one of the routines that makes us original in a field that is “rife with imitation.” So, to hear that our original routine was being “sold” as the way to perform this illusion without our knowledge or consent was a little maddening. And this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered that kind of situation.
But the bigger question is, “What ever happened to originality?” If you look at the most famous magicians in history, each of them was unique in their style and presentations. Henning, Copperfield, and Penn & Teller aren’t anything alike – in any way, shape, or form. And, yet, they are all highly successful magicians.
Cindy and I have a very defined philosophy behind what we do on the stage. Some of that is because we are both “thinkers” – examining the details and reason for every trick, every movement, every lighting cue, every song. But we also had some wonderful teachers – people who helped us along the way, gave us great advice, and pointed us in a good direction. These people helped us develop our dream into the show we have now. Today, that means we are careful about the illusions we choose and how we present them, making sure they fit within our persona and stage abilities. And each one of them represent hours and hours of preparation and rehearsal and the creative input of lots of people, including great direction from Joanie Spina and great scripting from Jim Steinmeyer. So, when we see them show up in someone else’s show, it drives me a little crazy. A friend of mine recently watched a “professional illusionist” perform at a theatre near Virginia Beach. At least 75% of his material was lifted – almost word for word – from past Copperfield performances. What’s that all about? Is this guy so untalented and boring that he can’t even come up with a simple routine from his own life experiences? I’m not saying he has to completely recreate the illusion. However, his patter should (at the very least) be something unique. But what’s even worse is that he is profiting off the hard work of OTHERS – he has nothing invested in the performance at all. He’s cheating his audience and disrespecting the art.
I find some consolation in knowing that this kind of behavior is not unique to magicians. Comedian Patton Oswalt just blogged about this same problem. You should take a moment to check it out. It is quite revealing about some of the lack of integrity in the entertainment industry.
So, as we move into the summer, we’ll be spending a great deal of the next several weeks redesigning our promotional materials and working on new illusions to put into the show next season. You have to stay one step ahead or “originality” can disappear overnight.