Twenty years ago, in the original program notes for The Conjuror at the Shaw Festival, I wrote:
Over the past few years the performance of magic has experienced a renaissance, leading entertainment writers to speak of a “New Golden Age.” Multi-million dollar productions in major resorts, casinos, huge theatres and arenas, and on television have displayed magic that is fast, dazzling and spectacular. Such performances have drawn audiences on a scale unprecedented in the history of this ancient form of theatre.
Much as I admire the success of these spectacles, it was a different kind of magic which first drew me to the craft, and which still feeds my mind with mystery that is both intense and charming. This kind of magic was typical of the first Golden Age of Magic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The master conjurors of this period—luminous names such as Alexander Herrmann, Harry Kellar and David Devant—created magic that took place in the mind of the spectator more than on the stage. Their deft use of language and interpersonal cues invited their audiences to embark on a voyage of imagination and wonder. So while many of my colleagues now dazzle their audiences with technical brilliance and visual spectacle, I, like Robert Frost, have chosen to take this earlier “road less travelled.”
Twenty years later, little has changed. I still prefer this type of magic, and to perform it in the most intimate of settings. It makes the magic, well, real.
So size does matter. It allows the audience to not only see, but to also experience the magic. And for the performer, it allows him or her to enter a relationship with each and every person in the space in a more experiential fashion.
Again, twenty years ago, I wrote, “The performers of the older magic were nourished by the affection of their audiences. This affection could be won only by risking a close, almost intimate relationship with the audience.”
Hocus Pocus. Close and intimate. That’s the ticket.