This week Jonah speaks with Benjamin Barnes about the unique Chicago magic scene and what to look for when you want to build your own magic community.
Benjamin Barnes is a staple of the Chicago magic community, with direct ties to Eugene Burger, a huge hand in the recurring show Chicago Magic, and now the Entertainment Director of the Chicago Magic Lounge. Ben Barnes not only exemplifies Chicago magic but has also seen it all.
More Than One Kind of Magic
Benjamin might not have understood what was happening when he first saw magic performed in front of him while he was in pre-school but even then he knew that magic was for him. Later, as he grew up and developed his interest into magic he’d even eventually learn that there were a lot more ways to work in magic than just being a famous David Copperfield style of magician. For a long time he couldn’t imagine all the various ways one can work in magic, from corporate gigs, to performing in lounges, camps, schools, and on the street.
So, thinking that the only kind of viable magic direction was through the big name stars, he looked up Jeff McBride’s private number in the Yellow Pages and called him at his home. He wasn’t home but Jeff’s wife gave him the phone number for the venue he was performing at, and amazingly he did get in touch with Jeff McBride who told him that if he lived in Chicago he should be getting lessons from Eugene Burger. Another set of phone numbers was shared and soon enough Benjamin was learning from Eugene and never looking back.
Benjamin started in Chicago and his entire magic career has revolved around the chicago community. He shares with Jonah how that magic scene has evolved over the years, from small, funny, closeup magic tricks, to bigger theatrical performances, and how folks like Eugene Burger pushed the needle to change how magic was perceived and conceived in the windy city.
These days magic in Chicago is much more scripted and practical. Most importantly the community has zero competition and prides itself on how cooperative, collaborative, and welcoming it is.
Learning What The Audience Wants
Running the Magic Lounge in Chicago has given Benjamin and unique insight into what lay people audiences are looking for in magic shows. And every magician should hear what Benjamin has to share with Jonah because the reality might shock them. Audiences don’t care about the method, or how big of a name you are in the magic community. They don’t go to shows to see stars or flashy unique overly complicated tricks. They’re expectations are much more simple than that, and it can be very easy to over complicate that relationship or think that you’re a much bigger deal than you really are.
People come to a magic show because there is magic. Most people rarely see live magic so many of them don’t even really know what magic means. They might have an impression, or seen a performance on tv on a show like America’s Got Talent, but they don’t really know what they’re in for when they go to a magic show. The magician’s job is not just to entertain the audience but also provide an experience that they will want to come back to.
What do you like about modern magic? What do you not like?
Benjamin likes that magic is becoming more and more democratic and more diverse.
Benjamin does not like seeing attention for the sake of attention. He sees a lot of people asking what they can get from magic and not asking about what they can give to magic.
Take home point
Look for ways to express who you are through your magic. If you do that you will stand out.