Thursday, 7 June 2012

Steal like an Artist

So thoughts about originality and 'borrowing' material to get started as a showman has been milling around my brain.
Santini's Magi Show circa 1990.
My first acts as an assistant in my dad's magic show were all so called packet tricks. Torn and restored paper, some rope tricks, milk pitcher etc, standard tricks you can buy in any magic shop. With magic the game is a little different than with circus acts. Many professional magicians makes a good living from selling their original ideas and the workings of effects, often complete with suggested patter and presentation.
As we all know its not enough to do a magic trick, or juggle three balls, or balance an ax on your chin, to make a crowd like you and bookings fill your calender. There is more to it than that. Many people say it and I heard it first from my dad, the Great Santini:

"It is not what you do, but how you do it that matters."

Ultimately people don't care about whether you can juggle the three machetes, or make the little red silk disappear, but if they like you and you care about it, then you can make them care too. So it's not enough to have an act, you need to work on the presentation. Make it ring true for an audience. Whether you learnt it from a magic book or you "created it all," it must be real so that when you present it it becomes genuine. If you manage that your act will become Truth for the crowd, and Crowds love Truth.
To do so you have to do more than just present a series of tricks. You need to have thought about what it is you want to achieve. Consider what you want the Crowd to be left with after they have seen it.
Of course if juggling or magic is only going to be your hobby or you are only interested in it for the sake of the art, then all bets are off, you can then spend as much time as you want going in any direction you want. But if you do want to use these skills to connect with a crowd you need to think of how to make your acts go beyond mere presentation of skill and become engaging for an audience.
This is a very difficult task, particularly if you're just starting out, therefor it is OK even recommended, or at least accepted, for Novice Showmen to mine material from the collective pool of stock tricks and acts. But it is important to remember that unless you graduate from the tried and tested routines and put your own personal stamp on them, transform them so that YOU become the main part of the act, not your tricks, you will have trouble getting recognition as an artist and often you'll also have trouble getting other work than tiny shows at provincial shopping malls. Not to say there is not great art and good times to be had at such places.
Aksdal Shopping centre.
I cut my teeth at places like Aksdal Senter. A shopping mall in a tiny village not too far from where I grew up, not so much a village as a cluster of houses next to the intersection of highway that goes to Stavanger and Oslo. Doing those shows strengthened the Funny Bones I now stand on. But I wanted more than that. I took the lessons and moved on. I found my own style, it took a long time, but I found it. And if I can find it, anyone can.
As the song says: "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere."

(Although said about a slightly bigger city than Aksdal...)

Inspiring words from Austin Kleon. Worth checking out!

Here is a key excerpt from the gloriously enlightening movie Funny Bones about this particular issue of borrowing to get a head start and the terrible fact of life that many of our fellow performers never goes beyond this initial Novice Showman stage. They never find a Master, a mentor that can take them under their wing and show them the ropes, to make them Apprentice Showmen. On our own we stumble blindly in the dark. Learning and to some extent stealing from our idols can make us who we are. But the important thing is to steal like an artist: copy, combine and transform. Don't rip off.

The following is a conversation between Oliver Platt as Tommy Fawkes as he learns that his dad, Mr Originality himself stole material. The father is played by Jerry Lewis.

Mr Originality stole material?
"Why did you steal their whole act?

Because you loved them so much?"                  

"No, because I wanted a new act

that no one had seen in the States.                  

I was ambitious. Is that a crime? 

Did you never steal material, son?                  

I knew their act.

It was a way in for me. Just a way in.                  

I did it a couple of years,

then I became a joke man.

Let me tell you something straight.
Tommy Fawkes in his fathers footsteps.
About what kills me.                  

It kills me that I got lazy,

using writers, not using me.                  

We were funny! We didn't have to tell

funny stories. We were funny.

We had funny bones!                   

And what kills me most is watching

my own son flop time after time.                  

However much I spent on writers and

coaches, it hasn't worked for you.                  

It's like you're too educated

to be funny.                   

All this analysis. I did that!                 

There are two types of comedians.
A funny bones comedian,

and a non-funny bones comedian.             

They're both funny.

One is funny, the other tells funny.                  

And Tommy...
It's time you knew...and this

kills me the most,                

You're not funny."

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