David Ben joins Jonah this episode to discuss if magic is an art form, producing shows, and developing a curatorial eye to improve your magic. From being a performer to a producer to the founder of Magicana, David has spent the last 40 years shaping magic as an art in the public eye.
While he tells many stories of how he entered magic, David’s journey started like many others of his generation; he saw Doug Henning performing on TV specials. Alongside seeing Vernon on various Canadian programs, David was influenced to begin his journey into magic. From Stein Day’s Handbook of Magic to Ross Bertram’s Magic and Methods, he dove into his studies.
David grew up in Toronto alongside Jay Sankey and Gary Kurtz while he worked at Morrissey Magic. While working and performing, he attended thr University of Toronto for his undergraduate degree before attending Western for law with the intention of becoming a producer.
Putting on a Show
When selecting his material, David never chooses his repertoire based on “Will this make money?” By selecting material that he found interesting, he was able to convey through the pieces why the audience should be interested. His show, The Conjuror, came out of his desire to create a character that wasn’t just him. By doing this, he could play with a different style that would create a different show for the audience.
When it comes to producing, you need to be able to work on a team; a large show cannot be done by one person. If you’re the leader, you need to learn how to lead beyond telling people what to do. Find ways to draw out the creativity and expertises of those you’re working with. Additionally, learn the language of the industry so that you come across as knowing what you’re talking about.
Developing an Aesthetic Taste
To anyone who wants to develop an aesthetic eye, David recommends looking beyond that magic world. Take in art and music to understand what moves and interests you. David believes that magic isn’t an art but a craft that, in the right hands, can be elevated to an art form. Aesthetic emotion, a term coined by art critic Clive Bell, is a concept that explains that at the core of any art form are certain fundamentals that move people.
When you’re creating your magic with this in mind, you should be focused on finding those universals that move people to tell your stories around – seeing snow for the first time isn’t a good emotional hook. You want people to feel what you’re saying on an instinctual basis rather than analytical, or else they’ll just try to work out how the tricks are done.
In terms of material, you need to set criteria for what you’ll need. Do you need it to be short and visual? Is the setup worth the payoff? But, make sure you’re still choosing material that moves you in a way that you can convey it to the audience. You want to create texture in your magic by considering everything that you’re doing on stage and what the journey it is your audience is taking throughout the performance.
Receiving funding for a magic production has always been difficult. After noticing that theatre and film had funds in place to support the industry, David put on his producers hat and decided to create his own charity to help magicians: Magicana. With the help of Patrick Watson and Daniel Zuckerbrot, the arts organization was established to explore and advance magic as an art form in the public eye. Later on, Magicana would recieve financial support from the Slaight family.
The foundation has focused on putting on public shows, making content accessible to the public with free online exhibits, has helped in curating art exhibits like the Illusions: Art of Magic exhibit at the AGO and has created an annual award that recognizes emerging magicians and those who have contributed to the development of magic.
Allan Slaight Covid-19 Relief Fund
The Slaight’s are a community-driven family who want to support the magic community. With the recent blow dealt to the entertainment industry by Covid-19, the Slaight have set up a $150,000 fund to support professional, Canadian magicians for the next three months. All magicians who meet the requirements will receive $500 to be used towards expenses. You can apply here: https://www.magicana.com/allan-slaight-relief-fund-professional-magicians
David hopes that other people who have done well by magic will step up and replicate what the Slaight have done in their own communities to support out-of-work magicians.
What do you like about modern magic? What don’t you like?
While he enjoys that magic can be found online and accessed by anyone, he dislikes that people are able to flood magic with bad material, further muddying the waters for people trying to find material.
Broaden your horizons and don’t be afraid to be a lone voice.
David’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org