Chris Dugdale: Why a magician should never reveal his tricks… or should he?
chris dugdale

Any underling can do a trick but it takes a showman to perform it. Chris Dugdale argues that presentation is everything in magic – the skill is all in the delivery. So here comes the big question – should a showman give up the game and expose the mastery behind his magic?

In my opinion, good old-fashioned showmanship is everything in magic, providing you have great technique. If your magic isn’t “clean” then it doesn’t matter if you are an outstanding showman, the audience will see through your tricks. Therefore as a performer you are after the perfect mélange of technique and presentation. The question of whether a showman should give up his game and expose the secrets is not an easy one to answer. I want to protest that overall that it is wrong to do this and an easy way to earn a cheap buck. Anyone with knowledge has power and to misuse that power is insincere, not only to the art but to fellow performers.

However, it is possible to heighten an audience’s awareness by giving away simple tricks (after all, we all have to start somewhere) or by teasing the audience giving them a taste of part of the secret. It is plausible to apparently reveal a secret or part thereof and then to “turn the tables”. The audience expects a magician to ultimately succeed. So by apparently breaking this premise in an intelligent, respectful and comedic way you are able to create tension which, combined with storytelling, is the basis of all good theatre. Getting the audience to care and be on-side when you have apparently screwed up is a powerful weapon “up our sleeves”!

At the end of the day it’s vitally important to connect with your audience. If they like you then they will like your material even more. Combine this with tension and you have a winning formula.

I believe exposing secrets damages the illusionists with the big boxes and tigers more than it does the close up magician or the stand-up cabaret performer. There are hundreds of ways that a close up trick can be changed subtly to still entertain and fool, so if the audience is aware of one method it can be adjusted to provide the wow moment. But you are a little stuck if you are performing with one box and one girl, as there are not that many places to go.

If you look at the great Penn and Teller they apparently expose secrets and then totally baffle, bewilder and amuse whilst providing great tension and pay off. At the end of the day if the worst comes to the worst people’s memories are not great. So if they do learn something it will be quickly forgotten.

Overall, it is a fine balance to strike – heightening audience interest, and my formula would be to throw in a few apparent “secrets” along the way before pulling the rug from under their feet.

After all nobody minds if they are fooled by a gentleman…

Chris Dugdale: Sleightly Dishonest, Studio Two – Assembly George Square, until 31 Aug, 6.50pm / listings

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