Lawrence Hass is the Associate Dean of the Magic and Mystery School in Las Vegas. We wanted to invite him on to talk about the theory of magic at its deepest level. Lawrence has a Ph.D. in philosophy and taught the subject for many years. As he was finishing his Ph.D. he happened upon a David Copperfield performance on TV. He immediately started thinking about what Copperfield was doing in a philosophical framework.
He likes to explain his insights like this. When you show tricks and toys to non-magicians they tend to be very cool to the performance. As children, we tend to be attracted to magic because of its secret power. The question is: how do we turn tricks into magic? On one level Lawrence wants to educate the audience rather than fool them. This comes down to the difference between a mean trick and something truly magical. It’s all about how you present the trick. For Lawrence transforming the performance space into a collaborative, playful place is the best way to engage the audience. An audience can tell if the performer is into it just for themselves.
One of the axioms he teaches his audience is that the fundamental business of any magic show is relationship building. The audience has to trust you enough to lend you their disbelief. A very common effect is borrowing a $1 bill to transform it into $100 bill and then back into a $1. Lawrence created a routine where he takes a blank piece of paper, turns into a bill and then gives the money away. That trick turns the audience’s expectations on its head. It makes sure that the audience doesn’t feel like they are being taken advantage of. Magic is the experience of something impossible. That’s totally different than thinking magic is about tricking people. We are not magical con artists. Experiences of the impossible are about the wonder of making impossible things come to life.
Lawrence believes that the audience has been trained to look for the secret methods that magicians use. This has been going on for a very long time. We are never going to be able to get the audience to suspend that train of thought. But Lawrence’s goal is to get them to suspend that for the length the show. “Bust the magician” isn’t the game we’re playing. Magicians take our puzzling attitude and project it on our audiences. That’s not the reason the audience is there.
The idea that there is another level to magic than just puzzles and toys is upsetting too many magicians. Lawrence tries to teach people to move from the trickster level to a more sophisticated and artistic way of presenting magic.
People learn by copying things from other people as precisely as possible. But it’s not very satisfying for very long. People want to bring something original to what they are learning. Bringing your originality to a bill change is hugely important. Vision comes first. Eugene Berger always asked a question that he would ask his students. “What do you want your magic to be?”
The first thing Lawrence would advise magicians to do is to take the best trick in their repertoire and ask a series of questions. Is it original? Does it have something of yourself in it? People will usually find something original in it. It’s already there. You just have to recognize it.
Lawrence befriended Eugene Burger over 25 years ago. They were both Philosophy professors and became fast friends. Eugene taught Lawrence that magic could be performed in an intelligent and accessible manner. It was an art form that could be performed for adults. Tricks are about props but magic is about our lives. He left an incredible legacy of books which will help everyone to become more effective magicians. A new book that Lawrence wrote with Eugene called Teaching Magic will be released in late October.
What did you learn this episode?
Jonah really loved the idea of changing from a lover of puzzles to a lover of performance.
Tyler learned that avoiding the distractions and putting in the work is key to success.
Lawrence says you don’t have to do anything new you just have to make your best material even better.
Who should we have on the episode?
What do you want to tell our audience?
Magic can be a great art. People need art and they need magic. Keep reaching for better magic.
What do you want to ask our audience?
What is the primary thing in your life that is interfering with your ability to craft a great piece of magic?