Magicians Can’t Be Superman

Clark Kent is from another world, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, Bruce Wayne has an unrivaled sense of morality backed by unlimited funds, and Penn & Teller are a couple of eccentric guys who have learned to do a few cool things. We understand where these heros get their superpowers, how they work, and their limitations, but the question is: where do yours come from?


Where Do Your Powers Come From?

Let me be clear: for most of us this should be an internal script. Your audience does not HAVE to be aware of exactly what “powers” you have chosen to portray, but I think it is definitely worth thinking about as a magician. Are you using paranormal abilities? Is it all trickery? Are you bending reality? Is it all optical illusion? Is it a combination of several or all of these?

And don’t stop there! If it is trickery, then how so? Are your feats possible through sleight of hand, clever control of attention, psychology, or advanced technology? If it is paranormal, then exactly what powers are you calling upon, and how do they work?

In fact, depending upon how you choose as the source of your powers, think about whether or not your character would even want the audience to know the truth! If you truly are a supernatural being from the other dimension, would you want to keep that a secret at all costs? Consider that the next time you’re asked “How did you do that!?”

What CAN’T You Do?

Ever asked yourself that question? Once you have defined where your powers come from, certain presentations should immediately be eliminated from your character’s repertoire and ability. If you are a cunning sleight of hand artist with no paranormal abilities, then anything ESP or spirit related is out the door. And why would someone who accomplishes his magic through optical illusions suddenly be able to demonstrate an ability to read minds?

Now this doesn’t mean that your cunning sleight of hand performer cannot perform effects which we would traditionally view as ESP or mind reading effects. Remember, the “effect” is something which is completely based upon how you present it. If you present the naming of a thought of card as and effect of mind reading, the audience will view it was such (you still have to be convincing though). However, if you present the same trick as an effect of your incredible ability to read poker tells, then your audience will view it that way and you’re character is more believable.

Think about that: by limiting your powers you are actually opening the door to much more creative and believable presentations! Your character will be better flushed out, and you will eliminate that jarring jump from doing box illusions to presenting true ESP abilities.

Furthermore, if there is a superpower which you feel is unjust or would not personally want to have, I would argue that it is not artful for you to demonstrate a perceived mastery of it. For example, I would never want the ability to read minds, so I no longer present divination effects as such. If you do not believe in ESP, then presenting an ESP effect with ANY ambiguity as to your true belief in it is not only inartistic, but you are verging on propaganda.

Magicians Can’t Be Superman

In todays world, the superman view of a “magician” who can do anything and everything lacks maturity, thought, and respect for one’s audience and craft. Much more creative solutions lie in taking a hard look at the mysteries you are passionate about creating, the character you are interested in portraying, and the artistic vision you are devoted to presenting.

I just became aware that Jon Armstrong has a similar essay in his “The Magical Adventures of Jon Armstrong” lecture notes which is definitely worth a look. While you’re in there, do yourself a favor and learn how to gin pick.

Know somebody who needs to hear this? Please pass it along to them!

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

Did you really read this far down? Thank you so much, you are awesome!

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