By Margaret Steele

From the March 1999  issue of The Linking Ring, reprinted with permission.

It was a cold January day, and I was really looking forward to Bob Fitch's visit. In the two years since he had first directed and choreographed several of my magic routines, our professional relationship had grown into a friendship. I hadn't seen Bob in many months, and he was coming over to watch videos of several of my recent performances and then start preliminary work on a new silk piece I was very excited about.

As I stacked the videos on my coffee table, I was feeling rather smug. I had lots of performances under my belt, and I couldn't wait to impress Bob with my new magic table, gorgeous new costumes, the hand-painted silks, a few new moves, and the audience oohs and aahs. The act we had worked on so diligently had evolved into a finished, polished piece. I was ready to move on. Or so I thought.

Bob arrived and we started watching the videos. Although he liked the new trappings, his director's eye saw much room for improvement. with thumb poised over the remote's pause button, he went through the tapes slowly and made comments.

"It's not bad, but why be just good when you could be great? See, that looks too careful. You're rushing there and not giving the audience a chance to appreciate the effect. You're working too close to your body, and it looks guilty. You're hunched up. Either that steal has to be faster or we'll have to misdirect it better. You're working too straight up and down; off-center is more interesting. You're not using your space fully. You're forgetting to breathe. Sometimes when it's difficult, it shows on your face."

It went on and on and on. I was crestfallen, but Bob didn't give me time to brood.

Bob leapt to his feet and I stumbled to mine, and we began to rehash my opening routine from the beginning. He devised big flourishes to cover the careful moves. "If you absolutely must look at the glass when you load it, we'll stylize it into the choreography." We built in specific places where I would breathe and refocus. For the moves that might take time we made sure that the rest of me didn't stop dead then, too. As always, the work was painstaking.

"Hold the silk between your hands just so. Turn to show both sides. Drape it over the glass as you cross behind the table. Gesture with the right hand then the left. Pick up the corners of silk to reveal the egg in the glass. Lift the glass. STOP!"

"What did I do?"

"You picked up the glass so we couldn't see the egg. Pick it up from the bottom. Try it again."

I began again.

"Hold silk. Turn. Drape as you cross. Gesture right then left. Reveal egg. Lift glass. STOP!"

Oh no, not again...

"Once more from the same spot. Hold Turn Drape and cross. Gesture. Reveal. Lift glass. NO! FROM THE BOTTOM!"

I stomped my foot and muttered. It was so much to remember. Bob stifled a smile.

We worked until I was hardly able to stand up, and then we sat down to dinner. Bob excitedly began to block the new piece. The placemat was the stage. The dishes and silverware were the set and props. It was kind of messy, but we made a good beginning.
However, almost as soon as Bob left I got very depressed. I realized that the enthusiastic responses I'd been receiving from audiences had lulled me into complacency about my magic. I hadn't pushed through the discomfort of really studying those videos and using them to improve. Everything Bob had commented on was right there for me to see, too, but I had instead chosen the comfortable path of simply moving on to something new and exciting. I had been deluding myself. Ho could I have let this happen? I wanted to crawl in a hole.

As awful as I felt, I knew from experience that if I didn't immediately review everything we'd worked on, I'd forget much of it by the next morning. Also, I had a show the following evening for the SAM's New York Assembly, and I was terrified of finding myself on-stage caught in limbo between old and new, not able to remember either. I rehearsed that night until I was literally stumbling over my own feet, and early the next morning I began rehearsing again.

I hadn't expected Bob to come to the show, but when I stepped out on-stage, I immediately saw his smiling face in the audience. there were also many other smiling faces, supporting me through my changes, which I suddenly realized were all designed to help me relate better to the audience. Despite my limited rehearsal time, I felt strong, and I felt magical. the audience response was terrific.

After the show Bob came bubbling up to me. "Your act is really almost there!" he said, which made me very happy. I forgot to ask him if I'd picked up the glass from the bottom.