For episode 149, Jonah sits down with his roommate and business partner, Ben Train, to take a critical look at their own approach to magic and their performances.
Approaching the Shows
Each month, the two perform approximately 22 public shows under the Toronto Magic Company branch. These shows break down to their show at Dave & Buster’s, Newest Trick in the Book, and Art of Magic. Each show has the two taking a different approach to what they’re trying to accomplish:
To Ben, The Newest Trick in the Book is meant to provide magicians a platform to gain performance experience and showcase their new material. While he would like to have a new trick each week, he’s focused on making the experience a resource for other magicians. However, when speaking on what he would like to do at the show, Ben highlights what Harrison Greenbaum said during his episode: You should be focused on breaking everything you’re doing down in order to figure out how you actually want to perform the trick. Newest Trick should be his opportunity to break down his tricks, but he doesn’t always feel like he’s taking advantage of that opportunity.
Jonah shares a similar view to Ben, but he adds on that because they are often the hosts, they need to start the show off with effects they know will work to get the audience ready. He goes on to say that, while they may not necessarily be trying out new tricks they do get the opportunity to try out different presentations and build on what they learned for their future shows.
Art of Magic
While the Newest Trick is about the magic community, the Art of Magic is for the audience in Ben’s mind. At every show, his focus is on casting magic in a positive light and giving the audience the best overall experience. He isn’t worried about the lineup in this case as the lineup has strong, professional performers each month, allowing him to focus on performing his best material.
Agreeing with Ben, Jonah adds that this is the show he invites his friends to come watch as it’s where he’s performing his best work.
Dave & Buster’s
For the past 2 ½ years, Ben has been performing his show at Dave & Buster’s. Out of his three regular public shows, this is the one that Ben finds himself anxious about. It’s a challenging show due to the unknown factor of his audience; these are primarily people who came to Dave & Buster’s to play games but now find themselves attending a magic show. While he wants to create a better show, he needs to focus on providing an experience that everyone can enjoy. Ben goes on to say that you need to learn to adapt your performance to the audience. If you want to have that impact on your audience, you need to connect with them and make it seem like you’re not reciting a script. To improve how you interact with people, Ben recommends reading Three New People by Brian Miller.
Jonah worries less about this show as he’s the opener. However, taking the advice of Dave Curran, Jonah has slowly created an act that isn’t mentalism due to the headliners generally performing mentalism. Recently, Jonah realized that the character he’s become has been because of Dave & Busters.
When a Show Goes Bad
To put it bluntly, Ben feels like shit. When the performance goes bad, it sticks with him. He has his wins and his losses, which both stack up, but he never forgets his losses as his show is supposed to represent the culmination of his life’s work: if a show goes South, his life’s work is a waste. Ben lets the wins build him up and takes away lessons from his bad shows. He goes on to say that because he has been performing his show for so long, the worst he can do is okay.
The Artist’s Plight
As you get better at your craft, you will look back and say “I was bad.”
With every new project you take on, you will make mistakes but you will learn from them. By the end of the project, you will look back and see everything you would like to change. In future projects, you can apply these learnings but there will always be something else that you want to change because it could be done better. As you continue to learn and apply what you learned, you will keep seeing your previous work as bad. This, Ben says, means you’re fine and that you’re growing. You look back and think your work is bad because you’re better.
At his best, Ben admits that he’s not as good as some of the greats at their worst. While there is a danger to comparing yourself to other people, Ben asks why wouldn’t you want to do that? Yes, be the best you that you can be, but Ben wants to be able to affect people and perform like the greats; he doesn’t want to go on stage and be the weakest link in the show.
If you create a new presentation for an existing effect, then is it original, Jonah asks. Over time, he finds himself looking at his magic and thinking that he shouldn’t be doing certain tricks as the effect exists. He would like to get to a point where he is creating and performing magic that nobody else is doing or has done.
Ben, like Jonah, wants to perform his own effects, but he admits he hasn’t had the energy to create the things he’s dreamed of performing. He wants to put the work in and find a way to actually express himself through his magic.
There are tons of positives to doing magic. Yes, you can get down on yourself after a bad show, but you can go home and feel relief. When Ben had a horrible audience, he felt proud that he was able to handle it; he had learned from the past. He loves what he does and he feels great that he’s able to perform. If he hated doing magic, he wouldn’t be doing it. All the negatives he highlighted this episode are learning blocks–they are things that can be worked on and changed. Magic is in your hands. You have the ability to create your own magic, and nobody is stopping you.