Magic podcast hosts collide this episode as Carisa Hendrix, co-host of Shezam, sits down with Jonah to discuss performance, women in magic, cultural theory, and “It Factor.” Carisa is an award-winning magician who brings her background in visual arts and sideshow to her magic.
Carisa’s reason for getting into magic is a complex one, but she can trace the root of her inspiration back to Max Maven’s Canadian kid’s show, “MAXimum Dimension.” Even now, she notes, you can see how the show inspired her character. Magic, however, was always a secondary outlet as she there was no one else in magic around her. When she was kicked out of her house at the age of sixteen, Carissa took up a position at a haunted house as a sideshow performer, honing her fire eating and juggling skills. She soon landed a job as a magician’s assistant.
Eventually, Carisa went off to university to pursue a visual arts degree while continuing her work as a sideshow performer. It was at the age of 25 that she realized she hadn’t decided to live the life she was living. It was then that she made the conscious decision to embrace magic.
Creating a Performance
Carisa has a crafted her magic and sideshow acts over the years based on what she wants to show the audience. By sitting down and defining what success means to her, Carisa is able to write enough material to meet her individual goals. While she recommends looking at what other people have done, she warns that you shouldn’t try to be like them. When it comes down to it, you want to define your reputation based on your wants, not by what others have achieved.
One of the most important aspects of polishing your routine is practicing your material wherever you can, Carissa explains. You need to find places where you can be terrible, like open mic nights or variety shows, in your city. In the end, the quickest way to achieve a polished set is to perform it over and over again for an audience you don’t know.
Being the most visually literate culture in history, our audiences can better derive meaning from and pick up on subtle aspects of texts. With this in mind, Carisa goes on to explain that you need to be authentic in your practice or your audience will pick up on your lies. Pulling from her own experience, Carisa says that she was originally creating magic just to be extremely fooling. The realization that she was forgetting to put art into her magic was a heartbreaking moment which made her start her routine from scratch again.
For her, magic is about realizing the aspects of your life that you deeply wish and fantasize about. People come to magic shows to experience real power or feel a different experience that they cannot otherwise achieve. Magic, just for a moment, allows people to step outside of adulthood and experience something else, returning them to a simpler time.
Women in Magic
Alongside Kayla Drescher, Carisa co-hosts a podcast focused on women in magic called Shezam. The podcast was born from the fact that everyone trying to solve the issue of women in magic was a dude. After five months of bouncing around ideas, they finally released the first episode expecting nothing to come of it. However, people were listening. Primarily, men who were interested in helping women feel accepted in magic were listening. Since the launch of Shezam, Carisa and Kayla have attended four conventions and have received funding from the IBM.
For those interested in how they can make the community a more welcoming environment, Carisa recommends starting with advocacy. Advocate for women by inviting them to be on lineups and share their experiences, but be aware of tokenism and the effect it can have. If you don’t move beyond the “we need a single woman on the lineup” mentality, you set up a culture where the women who rise to the top can either play with the boys or are okay with being completely alone. Furthermore, you will continue to see the same faces over and over again because they fall into one of those two categories. Carisa explains that women shouldn’t be expected to grin and bear any misogyny that comes their way if they want to succeed. Men and women need to recognize that to be supportive, you have to acknowledge the issues that come with tokenism.
When approaching the topic, try to put yourself into their perspective. Realize what it’s like to work by themselves, or what issues they were facing. Don’t subjugate them to the role of assistant. The culture won’t fix itself overnight, but we can start fixing each part. Start with empathy. Start with questioning your default assumptions. Recognize that everyone is different.
During her lecturing tour with John Reed, Carisa spoke about the idea of Meta-Modernity and how magic adapts with cultural shifts. Where visual art tends to be the first through the door when adapting to a new cultural art style, magic tends to be the last.
Modernity was the era of cultural understanding after World War One. There was a sentiment and a generosity behind the idea that tech would solve all the problems. It wasn’t until Copperfield and Doug Henning, in the 80s, that magic really started to adapt these sentiments into the art. Following Modernism was Post-Modernism— an embrace of cynicism—which took shape in magicians like Criss Angel and David Blaine. With each cultural shift, these magicians became the stand out names due to their embrace of the culture.
Currently, we are in a culture of Meta-Modernity: we’re tired of just irreverent cynicism but we’re not ready for overly cheesy material. We want to experience the swing of emotions in the narratives we’re told.
The idea that some people are just born with a certain star quality is not an idea Carisa subscribes to. To her, “it factor” and “star power” are convenient lies we tell ourselves. Becoming a good entertainer takes time, polish and careful choices—chalking it up to “it factor” doesn’t do the performer justice.
Carisa emphasizes the idea that you need to be unapologetic about who you are. Every struggle you have should be seen as a point for you, something you can draw on and embrace in your performance.
Until recently, Carisa has been performing bubble shows—a variety act that utilizes the amazing qualities of bubbles. With no expectations or gendered traits tied to them, bubbles are easily adapted to different genres to meet your purposes. Bubble U is Carisa’s online course that teaches performers the basics of manipulating bubbles and how to perform her routine.
If you would like to sign up, visit http://www.nonsensekids.com and use coupon code “Discourse” to receive $50 off your purchase.
What do you love about magic in 2018? What do you hate about magic in 2018?
Carisa loves that small, niche branches of magic are becoming popular. Magicians are able to embrace who they are and perform the magic that defines them.
Carisa doesn’t like the way magic has been commodified. Lots of performers are just looking at the top ten on Penguin and cycling through them.
There is no such thing as “it factor” or “star power.” These are oversimplifying complex choices made by performers over the years.
Question of the Week
How do you want magic to be remembered?