“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
— Albert Einstein
Today we hear from the Dean of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School, Eugene Burger. Last week while we were all in Las Vegas for the first evern “Magic for Speakers & Presenters” and our first 7-day Master Class of the year, we sat down and figured out Eugene’s book have sold over 25,000 copies over the past twenty years – which means he is probably far and away the best selling contemporary author of books for magicians. Let’s see what he has for us today:
By Eugene Burger
“Slow down, you move too fast / you got to make the morning last…”
— Paul Simon
These words are from “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” by the American singer, Paul Simon. They were written in the 1960s. In July of 2005, in an article published in MAGIC magazine, Max Maven wrote that, if he were to give a bit of advice to all magicians, it would be to slow down because they speak too fast. It is also something that we see regularly at the Magic School: magicians talking too fast.
What about us? You and me? If we are performers, in our performances are we speaking too fast? How would we know?
The easiest way to find out is to audio record your performance and listen to it with ruthless honesty. Ask a friend to watch it a well and get their feedback. Are you speaking so fast that you are running words together? Is the pacing of your speech much the same? Is there variety in the pacing?
If I do this — really do it! — and I find that I am speaking too fast, what then?
There are several sets of questions here. The first set deals with why this is happening. Why is it that in our performances we speak too fast? What got us on this road? And does understanding the origin of our fast speaking empower us to change? Does this knowledge empower us too stop speaking too fast?
The second set of questions asks about the effects of our fast speaking. What does our rate of speed do to our performances? How does our speaking too fast impact the view our audiences have of us and what we are doing? What price are we paying for our fast talking?
Well, how did this fast talking begin? What got us on this road? A few have gotten on this road because they have consciously chosen the theatrical role of con man (or con woman). Needless to say, this is a perfectly wonderful theatrical choice.
But what about the other magicians who are fast talking? How did they get on this road? I think that our fast talking comes from a variety of sources. To mention only two of them, there is, first, the fear of silence that so many performances exhibit. A second source is the some of the models for our magic have been bad models. We have watched earlier performers, who spoke too fast, and we imitated what we saw. The magicians we watched spoke too fast and now we speak too fast. Bad models for our magic explain a lot.
But does knowing how our fast talking began empower us to end it? While Freud might have said yes, I am less convinced. Frankly, I doubt that our knowledge of origins gives us the power to do something different. In other words, while looking for origins might give us interesting knowledge, the study of origins does not necessarily give us the power to change our actions.
What, then, does give us the power to change our actions?
And this, of course, is a basic human question.
The Indian speaker, J. Krishnamurti, who repeatedly dealt with this question, asked us to look at the dangers that some of our actions can bring to our lives. If we see the danger of something, if we see it deeply, does that very seeing not empower us to change our actions? An example he often gave is this: Imagine you are in the woods and suddenly there is a poisonous snake in your path. What will you do? What will you do then? You might go up to the snake and tease it, torment it — and be bitten! On the other hand, seeing the fact that the snake is poisonous is the new action of getting out of the snake’s way. If I deeply see the danger, that seeing is the beginning of something new.
For many people, seeing the danger of their actions is enough to empower them to stop and make changes. But it does not seem to be true for many others.
For a moment, look at the real dangers of our fast talking in performance. This persona, the fast-talking-con-man-type-of-person, does have consequences for us if we find we are doing it. The biggest consequence, I think, is the loss of importance. We sacrifice the sense that what we are doing really is important. We reduce what we are doing to the status of the trivial and we reduce ourselves to the status of unimportant performers.
And we lose the sense that we are sincere human beings!
At its heart, then, this is a question of value. Is our performance communicating that what we are doing has value and importance for our audiences? Does our performance communicate that, as magicians, we are special — and talented — performers?
Or does our performance communicate that we are simply fast talking — and unimportant — con men?
Thank you, Eugene! One of the great pleasures of teaching at the Magic & Mystery School is getting to listen to one another’s thoughts about our art – and then discussing them together, and with the students. I always come back from Las Vegas feeling inspired and excited about the new directions magic is moving.
Which brings up an interesting thought, and one I know we’ve mentioned before, but which I think is worthy of mentioning once again. In the last two classes, we had no fewer than 4 students with us who had received scholarships in one form or another. All of them were wonderful additions to the class – and people who faced challenges getting there – challenges which the scholarships helped them overcome.
And since we started out this note with a few words from our Dean, it seems appropriate to end it with a few words from Dr. Larry Hass, our Associate Dean, on the subject of the scholarships:
Up above, I mentioned I had just returned from Las Vegas – and I thought you might enjoy this photo of Siegfried with one of our scholarship students, Elizabeth Scalf, whose scholarship was sponsored by the Siegfried and Roy North American Fan Club. We had a wonderful afternoon and evening with Siegfried…a true gentlemen who is just as fascinating one-on-one as he was in the incredible show he and Roy performed for so many years at The Mirage.
Finally: Jeff is currently in Thailand with Jordan, headlining a magic convention in Bangkok. We thought you might enjoy this photo, taken onsite at the festival there, more or less as I am writing this.
Thanks for taking time to read this rather long version of our Muse. I thought about trying to cut it down a bit…but then thought it would be criminal to deprive you of ANY of Eugene’s wisdom, which we feel incredibly blessed to be able to bring you here, without charge. I hope you’ve read this far, and that we’ll see you back here in just a couple of weeks.