Magicians quickly learn that when they dive into magic, they have actually picked up two activites: The art of practicing magic, and the art of performing magic. At Ellusionist, we are musicians, actors, photographers, speakers, athletes, crafters and more. Our staff members do a variety of things that require practice or rehearsal.
But none of those other arts or activities have such a clear separation between practice and performance.
We all know this. It’s why we recognize how the thrill of mastery is completely separate from the thrill of entertaining — but just as addictive. It’s why hobbyists sometimes practice just as hard as pros. It’s why magicians get together in groups and jams more than any other field of art we’ve seen. It’s why we have decks of cards specifically for shows and other decks specifically for practice sessions — and those decks are nicer than the performance ones, aren’t they? (We imagine you’ll keep a healthy stash of Black Kings for yourself, just for that reason.)
Dai Vernon was a relentless rehearser. And even S.W. Erdnase wrote about the thrill of learning:
“The enthusiast will not rest until every sleight in the calendar has been perfectly mastered, so that he may be enabled to nonplus and squelch that particularly obnoxious but ever present individual, who with his smattering of the commoner sleights always knows ‘exactly how it is done.’ Acquiring the art is in itself a most fascinating pastime, and the student will need no further incentive the moment the least progress is made.”
But the WHY behind it is fascinating, and gives us clues about how tightly magic gets tied into our way of life, in such a way that other arts can’t even touch:
A good practice session gets us to focus on something very specific for a while. We forget everything else and worry about what’s going on with our hands, arms, eyes, fingers, feet; all to a precise level of detail (can’t tell you how many times we’ve obsessed about a spaces only a few millimeters wide). We’re locked in, where nothing else matters. Everything else goes away, and we’re left with the pursuit of a beautiful, hidden art known by only a few. It’s the closest thing a lot of us get to true meditation, but man, does it go far in melting away the stresses of the world. No wonder we’re addicted to practice.
PURSUING A SECRET
When we practice a guitar solo, we want the audience to hear every note. A monologue, we want them to hear every word. Juggling, we want them to see every object. That’s not the case in magic — there is no way we want them to see our pass, or our double lift. We practice things never meant to be seen, and that creates a special attachment. It’s a hidden art that alters how we look at the world — pursuit of it is like learning to see the Matrix. Learning secret, hidden methods of deception? How is that not addictive?
BUILDING MUSCLE MEMORY
As humans, we love to move and we love to think. Like weightlifting, there is a strong connection between mind and body that gets strengthened with every rep. In magic, that connection is even stronger, because we get hyperaware of small movements. That’s why we get a similar rush after a good session.
Nothing encourages practice like success, no matter how painful. How long did you practice a move until you got it? Remember that dogged determination, and the payoff when you finally broke through? When it all comes together, it is reason for celebration. It drives us to attempt the difficult, the daring, the devious. We don’t even care that we know we’ll never really master that move. The visible progress energizes us to keep going, to keep learning.
FOUR POINTS is a regular feature that celebrates magicians’ favorite number by highlighting four critical bits of importance, awesomeness or otherwise. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.