Why a Director?
By Bob Fitch
From the March 1999 issue of The Linking Ring, reprinted with permission.
Have you ever thought about engaging the help of a director for your show or act? You may think, "What could a director do for me? Would he make a difference in my magic? I'm not trained in theatre or dance, etc." These are all valid questions and I hope the following thoughts might shed some light on this little-understood subject.
"Oh, directors are necessary for theatre shows, or TV or film, but not for me!" But consider what the David Copperfield and the Siegfried & Roy shows would be like without direction. There seems to be a great mystery that surrounds just what it is that a director does do. As a result, there is a fear, or certainly some hesitancy, about using one.
"OK, so how should I think about a director?" My own feeling is that working with a director should be a positive experience. A director should be supportive of you. His job is to help bring out your best qualities. He's not there to flatter you, but to give you honest appraisal. He's not there to criticize you, but to aid you with constructive feedback concerning your work. he's not there to prove that he's smarter than you. He doesn't really know everything. He needs your collaboration in order to do his job successfully. It also doesn't mean that your are going to be under someone else's thumb and doing it only his way. It is a give-and-take situation. YOU are the artist. It is your act. YOU are doing the hiring. Perhaps "coaching" would be a more appropriate term than "directing."
The object of a director is to put YOU into your magic. In order to sell your magic, you must sell YOU? In The Experience of Magic, Eugene Burger cites that "Magic is the canvas. You, then, are the painting." In Genii (January 1987) Mark Kornhauser defined the "Ultimate Gimmick" as YOU; your personality, your presence. A director has a trained eye that can: help you find that presence: help you focus your material: help you clarify, simplify and structure that material. he can sort out inconsistencies and improve your timing. He can help you create a better flow and excitement with your material. He can help define your appeal and your character. He can make you more aware of your poise and body language. All of these ideas will elevate your self-image and build your confidence. In short, your stage presence will be stronger and your magic will be better.
Magicians have a tendency to be "solo" performers and usually are self-taught. But it is extremely difficult to work as your own director. Many use an audience to develop their material. In the heat of performance, it is easy to misread an audience's reaction. An outside eye can save you time, embarrassment and even present possibilities that you might never think of.
Before people want to watch your magic, they have to like, be enchanted or tickled by--YOU. YOU are responsible for the impact you generate. Consider this: it is easier to explore new ideas--your ideas--by bouncing them off someone else, especially presentation skills. we can see moves in a mirror--but not presentation. If you lack confidence or timing, if you flinch during a move--the audience will see it. And you may not be aware of it. You could be fooling yourself. You may be used to acquiring technical skills, but presentational ones are perhaps even more difficult. For this reason, the Chavez School trained magicians to stand on a stage and present their moves as soon as they learned them, every session.
To be original, you owe it to yourself to explore your uniqueness: the WHO of YOU. Developing presentation, plot and character requires some intuitive risk-taking. That isn't written in a magic book. Even a small knowledge of theatre skills can help you to project your energies and presence outward to your audience and get you to lift your eyes from that book, from your hands and from the limitations of that mirror.
Juan Tamariz miraculously coined the title, "The Five Points of Magic," meaning simply an awareness of what the eyes, voice, hands, feet and body can accomplish: not only for misdirection, but for DIRECTION (focus) as well. So developing "theatre skills" need not mean taking unattainable years of vocal, dance and acting training (though a few classes wouldn't hurt--the experience is enlightening), but it can mean developing a better awareness of yourself and your own power.
Thus a cooperative associate with a director in exploring your ideas can solve many problems. And helpful habits can be acquired: like how to rehearse and expand your creative imagination and goal setting: like daring to try things you've always wanted to try but never thought you would: like tapping into your own rich well of creative ideas and experiences: and how about saving you lots of time.
Learning a few simple exercises can mean a great difference in your awareness and abilities. You can achieve results as simple as: how to catch and keep the audience's attention the moment you walk on stage: be angled properly so the entire audience can see you and your props: extending your voice, presence and energy to fill a platform or stage (when perhaps you've been used to doing close-up): "Justifying your actions," i.e. giving secret moves, steals, change-overs a naturalness (Dai Vernon) and creating reasons for your actions in order to make them more believable, and as Michael Ammar points out, "memorable:" working on body awareness so that moves are properly misdirected, i.e.. taking the suspiciousness out of the actions: better awareness of your taste in manner and appearance; relaxation: getting rid of stage fright.
As director, actor, choreographer and magic buff, I have utilized magic in theatre and industrial shows as well as in TV commercials. I have had the pleasure of working with Jeff McBride, Salvatore & Eileen, Marc DeSouza, Benjamin Levy and David Copperfield. Many of the results listed above are actual examples taken from working with these performers.
Are you dissatisfied with your act--your magic? Is there something that you can't put your finger on that's missing? Perhaps a director can help. Let me ask you: Do you want your magic to be the best you can be? To present illusion--not just tricks? Do you want to increase the dramatic effect of your magic and help you look more professional? And do you want to reawaken a sense of wonder in people who see you and..,do you want to elevate this art form of ours? Then listen to the words of Merlin (AKA, IBM's International Past President, Mike Ellis), who prescribed in the Linking Ring's January '91 issue that "you (should) enjoy the greatest luxury the theatre offers,"--(A collaborative adventure with)--"a director."