If you don’t know the name Kenton Knepper, he is worth studying — especially if you are into mentalism. Who is he? Just a legendary mentalist who has inspired performers such as Jeff McBride, David Blaine, Derren Brown and Doug Henning.
The sometimes-controversial Knepper, who has released a new manuscript, (not recommended for beginners) also released on his blog some thoughts about performance. Though a date is unspecified, the entry indicates the thoughts were written before the release of many training videos. In a nutshell: He has an issue with effects being called “tricks”:
Many neo-mentalists became such performers because they found out that doing mental tricks made them more successful. I am not so different in one sense. I made a name for myself in high school bending metal in cafeterias and turning back the time on watches. That was in the 1970s. But back then, only (James) Randi openly called metal bending A TRICK. Today, I run often into laypeople asking me if I can “do the spoon trick.” Frankly, after spending decades perfecting this craft, such a comment from real people SUCKS … I really am dismayed by this trend.
Knepper uses the example of Da Vinci painting a masterpiece, then seeing a business publish a Da Vinci paint-by-numbers kit. Da Vinci wouldn’t feel threatened, because the kit would not be able to compare to the real thing, and people would recognize that… or would they? Though magicians debate about whether magic is art, Knepper reminds us that audiences don’t believe it is. Ergo, if they learn how a work of art is created, it transforms into a lowbrow feat that anyone can do.
Knepper’s essay is provocative and interesting; some may find it polarizing (Discuss it in this thread). But it reminds us about the importance of performing an effect, not just doing a trick. We all work hard to master the effects we learn from Ellusionist and others. The way we pay tribute to the giants upon whom’s shoulders we stand is to give our performances the weight they deserve. Should we get bent out of shape if someone asks us to do a trick? Probably not — Criss Angel and others make it a point to say that they are not using “special powers” or “magical forces.” But we should respect the illusion and mystery behind an effect, and do everything we can to perform it honestly.
This is a live performance of Knepper performing a Time Machine effect. We can smell the pub too, for some reason.