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How do you react to magic?

How do you react to magic?

It's 2015. I am in Paris at the Magical Sleight Convention (the only one that was ever held) filming the magicians and atmosphere there. As I am panning my camera from left to right, one of the persons pulls their hat over their face and turns around. I spot this and make a mental note to ask Yoann (the organizer of the convention) about it. As if he read my mind, Yoann darts over to my side and asks me nicely to delete the last footage I filmed.

As I do, he tells me the guy is a backgammon and card cheat (famous between magicians, but held a secret to everyone else), most people regarding him as second to best next to Richard Turner (apparently he had been Turner's student), and people from the outside can’t know that he’s attending a magic convention. 

Fast-forward a few hours later, after I held my chaotic and gamified lecture, it’s 3AM and magicians are jamming everywhere. At one of these tables there’s Father Alex (magician from the Magical Sleight team), another elder magician and THIS card-cheat who is in his 30s.

I sit down next to him, upon which he pulls his chair towards me and expresses his thoughts about my lecture. Positive, negative, constructive criticism, all delivered with a spark of enthusiasm. After a bit of back and forth, he decides to show me something, as he put it, "small and interesting". 

He spreads the deck face up on the table. One of the other magicians names a card. The card cheat squares the cards up (having looked at it for only 2-3 seconds) and places the deck perfectly squared on the table. He then takes it in his hand, shows the top card, which is an indifferent card, turns it back face down on top of the deck and then deals it face down on the table. Everyone there assumed what must have happened, but it truly did not feel real until he turned the card face up and revealed he had dealt the card from the center. 


I have seen center deals before. They were awkward or, rather said, the magician was having difficulty performing the challenging sleight. I have seen Richard Turner do center deals (on video), but, up until that point, I had never seen a PERFECT, no-effort center deal executed in front of my eyes.


So, I don't believe I overreacted when I grabbed the guy’s arm and shook him (like I would shake a friend), then patted him on the back and proceeded to ask for a Hi5. The card cheat was definitely not expecting any of this, for he just stood there looking at my raised hand for 2-3 seconds. A slow smile formed on his face and he then completed the hi5 with all his strength. In contrast, the other 2 magicians nodded and said it was a nice performance (I think the two of them also congratulated him).

He repeated the center deal, this time face up. It was flawless. Effortless. Perfect (I know I'm repeating myself, but it truly was). The other magicians smiled and said it was very good indeed.

After the lecture, the guy and I exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet up in Paris where we would play some backgammon (I told him I was gonna beat him due to me being extremely lucky at dice).

When we did meet up a month later and talked about our previous interaction (he also showed me the most insane dice skills I have ever seen, but that's for another article) I asked him if he thought my reaction at that time was over the top. He said it surprised him a lot, as he was accustomed to people only treating him with calm and cordiality, but that he appreciated it.

This is a thing I’ve noticed when a magician shows other magicians something that is amazing. Many times the reactions the magician gets (from his magician pals) are quite… dry. I’ve seen this sort of reaction mostly from magicians over 40 (teenagers are quicker to let their feelings get the best of them) and, from my opinion, it sucks. Being on the receiving end many times, I can say it feels so unsatisfying, especially when you have worked on something for a LONG time and you pull it off perfectly.

I’ve observed how other magicians feel when they get these superficial reactions from other people in the branch. They’re emotionless. Soulless. Then I have observed how they light up when someone (either a teen or a young adult) really reacts to their magic. 

Still, the best sort of reaction I have observed comes out when they’d be performing for someone, that person reacts enthusiastically and then follows up with an idea of their own, creating this beautiful back and forth between magic-buddies. It's like looking at two friends playing ball together in their backyard.

Now, I'm not saying everyone should start exaggerating their reactions. A thing I noticed Spanish magicians do is repeatedly hit the table with their knuckle when they see a good magic performance (as a sort of applause) and this really lights up the atmosphere. I think that's pretty nice.

How do you react when you see magic?

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Joe Givan - November 4, 2022

Well – interesting observations. Not sure how I think about the over 40 crowd not reacting so well. I have been doing this stuff a long time, headlining magic conventions and lecturing around the world. I’ve always had an issue with “magicians” holding back their reactions – especially when it comes to them watching others do something remarkable. For many of us it is such a rare occurrence to be amazed that I find it insulting and petty when another magician doesn’t express appreciation when they have experienced the very thing that attracted us to the art in the beginning.

Maybe, in your experience, the older folks don’t react as strongly (or loosely) because they feel that their “wisdom” and lengthy involvement in magic should not allow such a thing to happen; that they will appear more vulnerable or less respected because they “should know better”? I don’t think it’s particular to an age group, however, as I have seen a lot of young performers hold back, as well.

What I don’t understand is why ANY magician would hold back an open and emotional reaction if they are amazed. I am the first to congratulate a performer who does this to me and heartily thank them for giving me the gift of wonder. It’s so incredibly rare that it literally feels great when it happens! When I think I have amazed a colleague and they hide the reaction, I call ’em on it! Not to be confrontational, but to let them know that it would be nice if they could relax, get into the moment, and be honest instead of having to be “cool”. We both benefit from the interaction.

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