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Magic and Showmanship Review

Official Review

September 14th, 2015 12:57pm
Reviewed by Dr. J. M. Ayala de Cedoz
This book is one that many may consider a dry read, and it can be, BUT, between the covers you will find lots of invaluable information. I have read this book many times in the past and it is one that you will have to read more than a few times because the information is too much (read: too deep) to fully comprehend in a single reading. There are many fine points to some of the things that will make you stop and think about what you already do in your performances and what you can change to make it better for you and for your audiences. This is a book on performance theory and has long been held in high regard for being one of the best books dealing with that topic, and it remains so, with good reason.

Some of the subjects in this book that are covered are largely ignored by magicians “ especially the close-up performers, but they should not be. Things like simple gestures, pantomime/symbolic pantomime (no not the silent pantomime), blocking and even staging. These kinds of things can help clarify what you are doing.

In my opinion, I think one of the common things that magicians ignore when performing magic is how you make your audience care about what you are doing, whether you are doing one effect or a whole show lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. A good portion of the beginning of the book gives you examples from various plots/sub-genres of magic and how you would go about doing this; that is, making your audience care and being able to retain that interest. Throughout the book, there are other subjects that are approached that have to do with creating, building and retaining interest. Much of this is also found in the chapter about the dramatic structure of a show (or a single effect or a small set of effects).

There is a chapter on misdirection (which is a bit of a misnomer, but that is a whole different and complicated matter of discussion), but it touches on the different types of misdirection, such as mental, physical and visual misdirection. There are more, but this gives you something to think about when designing a routine or an effect to make it more deceptive to onlookers.

There is a great discussion about the difference between puzzles and illusions, and this is something that beginning magicians (and even some advanced magicians) need to pay attention to. The differences are not subtle, as the book points out. Further, it talks about proving your claims, depending on what types of effects you are doing. Just an example: You talk about having a friend who has the ability to see objects remotely, through the eyes of someone looking at a particular objet (a phenomenon called Second Sight). How do you go about demonstrating and proving this ability without turning it into a puzzle, a guessing game for the audience as to how it is done? How do you make it meaningful to an audience?

Other topics that are discussed include scripting your magic, how to stand, walk, talk and move. There are many important lessons to be taken away from these topics, especially for close-up magicians. Just the littlest thing can make the biggest difference in how people watch your performances, and the book makes a great effort to point this out.

Throughout the book there are many, many different magic effects that are used to illustrate/demonstrate a particular point that is being discussed, and how it applies to that particular point. Everything is illustrated with fine line drawings and some of them are a little hard to follow (the more complicated set-ups), but this is not the fault of the publisher. For those illustrations that are harder to follow, if you read the accompanying text carefully and really study the drawing, you will eventually get it. For the most part, there are only a few of these complicated schemes in the book. This is not the fault of Dover publishing “ it is just how they were drawn by the original illustrator for the first edition, published in 1969. Some of the effects (and there are many of them) are pretty good and others are so-so, but the point of all the effects was not necessarily to astonish anyone (though some of them might, if done correctly), but to illustrate the “talking” points in the text.

In reading this book you may get the sense that many of the things discussed in it are geared towards stage performers, and in fact some of it is, but all of the techniques can be adapted to all arenas of magic performance from performing for a single person close up to a 3,000+ seat theater. This is not surprising considering the author was trained in theatrical arts and was also a director, so his position/perspective on everything in this book is unique. There will be some things that you read and think to yourself, “How in the world will this ever apply to me”? That is, until you try it out “ you will surprise yourself.

Overall this is a nice reproduction of the original book. The quality is typical of the Dover softcover editions in that the glossy cover should last a while, but if you read the book frequently you will ding it up. The pages are good quality as well and the price of the book is just right at $15.95/USD.

As I mentioned before, there are many things in this book that magicians never think about and these are things that they should be thinking about and be using in their work. I can guarantee that although you will have to read this multiple times to really start comprehending the material in it, just reading it once will change the way you think about and perform your magic.

As I said before, this book has been considered one of the best in regards to performance theory and it will continue to be, with good reason. Because of its invaluable content for magicians, and though it can be a bit of a dry read at times, I give this book the highest recommendation!

5 stars!

Product info for Magic and Showmanship

Author: Nelms, Henning
Publisher: Dover
Average Rating:  (2)
Retail Price: $15.00
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Manufacturer's Description:

Like theatrical presentations, conjuring is an art of illusion. A magician skilled in the craft is able to convince an audience that he or she can read minds, communicate with the spirit world, make objects appear or disappear and perform other acts of of seemingly genuine magic.
Without having mastered the art of presentation or "showmanship" however, even the most competent sleight-of-hand artist can fall short in performance. With this in mind, noted authority Henning Nelms goes beyond the basics to show how techniques developed for the stage by playwrights, directors and actors can heighten the dramatic effect of a magician's performance.
In this instructive book, Nelms analyzes every phase of conjuring-from sleights, devices and illusions to misdirection, controlling the audience's attention, incorporating "patter" and the effective use of assistants. Of particular interest is a chapter on body language, posture-positioning and movement. Also included are some 60 original routines-from simple card tricks to such major illusions as having the performer suddenly appear at stage center.
Indispensable as an instruction manual for novices, this how-to-guide, enhanced with nearly 200 of the author's illustrations, will also serve as a lasting source of advice and inspiration for veteran conjurers.

Paperbound, 322 5 3/8" by 8 1/2" pages, 191 figures

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