I just returned home from the annual convention of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians. While there I was interviewed by Matthew Hill, the new owner of the Dock Haley Magic Company, about my life as a gospel magician and about my thoughts concerning gospel magic in general. During the course of the interview I was asked a question that caught me by surprise. Matthew said, “What about gospel magic annoys you?”
The word “annoy” means to irritate and make slightly angry. I had not thought about this before. What do gospel magicians do, or any kind of magicians do, that peeves me?
In response to Matthew I gave an answer relating to the overall field of gospel magic. I spoke about the false assumption that good intentions atone for a lack of excellence. I am very much annoyed and frustrated by those who make excuses for themselves and others which amount to “It really is not about the quality of what we do, it is about our hearts being the right place.”
My opinion is, if you don’t care about the quality of what you do, your heart isn’t in the right place. The entire idea of folks don’t seem to have practiced much, or to have put proper study and effort into preparation for their program, but their intentions are good is invalid. If intentions are what they should be, effort will be made to achieve excellence.
Everyone makes mistakes. Even experienced professionals make mistakes. There is room for grace relating to messing up something. However, there is not room for ineffectiveness and incompetence resulting from not caring enough, or being disciplined enough, to learn to do things properly.
Especially as it applies to gospel magic; if our message is the greatest message ever (which it is), then it needs to be shared in a manner which indicates its value. If the gospel is so incredibly important (which it is), we should be doing everything we can to share it with excellence. We should be deeply committed to presenting our spectacular message in a spectacularly effective style. The other side of the matter is we should be deeply troubled by any kind of sloppy or inept performance which casts doubt upon our credibility.
As I drove home from the convention, I continued to ponder Matthew’s question. What about gospel magic annoys me? In time, I realized I had seen several specific things at the convention that I did not like. I truly felt displeasure when these things occurred. I comment on them now in hope that gospel magicians (and other magicians) might check themselves to be sure they are not doing these things.
#1. Going overtime! At the convention, the majority of the key speakers went overtime. Several went so long their presentations intruded on the time frame of following sessions. Not one of these speakers was more effective by using extra time.
In every case, when the speaker kept going beyond the allotted time, I noticed people getting restless. It was obvious they were hoping for the speaker to hurry up and conclude!
Rather then listening to the message, and having their hearts furthered touched by it, they were distracted by thoughts as to where they were to be next on the schedule and the fact that they would be arriving late.
Every speaker who went overtime hurt his own presentation and created difficulty for those who were involved in following sessions. I think you can tell from how I have written this…people who go overtime really annoy me!
Some advice on this matter…
- Never ask the audience if it is okay if you go over time! It is not their decision and, because people do not want confrontation, they are not going to answer “no.” To keep from seeming rude or unkind, they will let a speaker keep on talking. Few individuals have the gumption to speak out in a public setting. No one wants to be the hitman who tells a speaker to shut up. The organizer of the event is the one who decides how long a session should be. It is his decision and only his as to how long you go. The audience should not be asked about it.
* Do not, in front of the audience, put the organizer on the spot and ask, “Do you mind if I go over?” Although he may want to say “no,” since he does not want to seem a mean person, he will likely say, “Yes.” He may not really mean it and be frustrated by the circumstance.
- Speaking as one who organizes events, if someone who speaks or lectures for me goes overtime, I will not use that person again. I know many producers of shows who feel the same way. People who can’t tell time only work for them once.
#2. Starting a show by asking for volunteers! A performer is given a nice introduction. There may be fanfare music as he or she walks onto the stage. The audience is expecting something fun and exciting.
Then what does the performer do?
He or she pauses and looks out over the audience to say, “I need a volunteer.” Then the audience sits and waits while a volunteer is selected. The audience further sits and waits while the volunteer comes to the stage. Once the volunteer is on stage, the audience waits yet more while the volunteer is told what to do.
The energy of the introduction is lost. The upbeat pace that should accompany the start of a performance is absent. The act is immediately slow and typically continues that way.
Asking for a volunteer at the start of an act delays the entertainment experience until the volunteer finally gets on stage. One should not start a performance with a delay. Delay may be necessary later in an act, but it should not be a starting point.
Because of the time it takes to find volunteers and bring them to the stage, asking for volunteers at the very beginning of a performance is the wrong thing to do. A presentation/performance should start with something instantly interesting and entertaining. There should be a quick trick. Maybe a couple of quick tricks. Otherwise there should be a joke or clever statement. What could be worse as an opening line than, “I need a volunteer?”
If a performer is good enough to be on the stage in the first place, he or she should have the ability to do something impressive without relying on assistance from the audience.
Every time someone walks out on stage and starts their performance with, “I need a volunteer,” it annoys me!
#3. Complicated card or mentalism tricks! At the convention I saw a lot of these. I hope the tricks were done with the intent of impressing other magicians. If the performers thought such tricks would be good for an average audience, they were mistaken. To the average audience such tricks would be boring. I can imagine people thinking Why am I sitting through this? Frankly, it was the thought which came to my mind.
Magicians are interested in methods and in seeing something they have not seen before. A complicated card or number trick may excite them. Primarily the excitement comes because they do not know how the trick is done. They think, if I want to be a good magician, I need to learn how to do this too!
Unfortunately it seems common for magicians to forget that not knowing how something is done does not automatically mean an effect or trick is entertaining to the general public.
To me, it seemed several of the performers were showing off. They wanted the audience (which was mostly other performers) to know they could do complicated moves and present a difficult trick. They succeeded in demonstrating this. As well, they created a situation where the best thing about their trick was that fact it eventually ended.
When people come to a show they do not want to have to work at understanding what is going on. They are there to enjoy themselves. Most people do not enjoy trying to remember numbers, do equations in their heads, and keep track of a series of confusing actions. Not only is this not fun, it causes people to tune out. They think, I do not know where this is going. I will disregard it and hope, when it is over, whatever comes next might be more interesting.
I am a nut about magic. I like to know how things are done. Even so I can say, with more than a few of the card and mind reading/prediction tricks I saw, I gave up on trying to understand what I was seeing and just waited for the routine to be over. I do not think I was the only one with this perspective.
If you have tricks involving complicated sequences and difficult computations, reserve them for the local magic club and/or your friends whom you already know are nuts about magic. What is done for the public should be easy to follow and crystal clear in effect.
I won’t list more annoyances because I do not want to give the wrong impression. The convention was great. We had a wonderful experience and many good things happened. We did see some delightful performances. I am already looking forward to being at the convention again next year. It was a good time…but there were things here and there that annoyed me. Since I was directly asked “What annoys you?” I thought about such things.
This article has been written with the intent to be instructive. The lessons to be learned are…
Stay within your allotted time
Do not start a performance by asking for volunteers
Keep your magic simple and easy to follow.