This is the continuing story of my journey to identify and rid myself of magician voice in performing mystery entertainment. It will make the most sense if you look at them in order. See here for the whole series.
At this point in my “becoming” I was really struggling for a perspective. I was exploring a lot more esoteric material about the paranormal, things that I had largely set aside as I tried to be a more serious adult. I was also immersing myself more and more in various fantasy books that dealt with magic and the supernatural. I could feel the reek of magician voice every time I performed magic and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. So, I stopped performing magic.
I realized that the only way to get away from some of this was to step away from it. At the same time I was drawn to the paranormal sides of things. I started doing a podcast called The Shadow Hour, which was popular enough that I really should be doing it again. I’ll write more about that later because it really does affect what and who I am today.
It was during this 3-year break that something pretty extraordinary happened to me. I had a dream. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me. You see, I routinely didn’t remember my dreams so well. For a while I was convinced that I didn’t dream—something that changed, literally overnight after a conversation with a medium (I’m not joking or exaggerating). As I began reconnecting with my dream life I had a very special dream, one that I think was there to teach me. I dreamed I could use the force.
In my dream, I woke up and found myself alone in my bedroom. Late morning light was streaming in and my glasses were sitting on the other side of the room. I reached out toward them and felt a strange little click in the center of my palm, almost a magnetic connection. I pulled with my hand and the glasses sprang across the room and into my grasp.
Excited, I went out into the dining room where my wife and a good friend David were working a puzzle together for no apparent reason. I came in and said “Look what I can do!”
“They watched, bemused, as I demonstrated with another object and then asked “How did you do that?”
“I don’t know!” I replied. They scoffed, but somehow I convinced them that this was a real thing. Then, David invited me out into the yard. Our hard had transformed into a sort of apartment parking lot where we went into a sort of a montage. He had me use my force to pull various objects of varyig size and difficulty through the air toward me. I remember having to duck out of the way of a flying cinder block at one point.
Then, after a thoughtful moment he asked “Can you push things?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. I thought about the little magnetic click I felt when I connected with an object and how if I spread my fingers out and thrust my palm forward rather than using a grasping motion that it might do the trick. “I think so.”
We continued to experiment, pushing and pulling objects until I had a good degree of control over things. My wife wandered out onto the back porch of our housepartment, which made sense in a way only dreams can provide. Excitedly we demonstrated the scope of my skills as they were currently developed. She watched, clearly impressed. Then she asked “Now what do we do?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
Then I woke up. I found myself in my bedroom with the mid-morning light streaming in through the window shades. Gone were all of the misty suggestions of things that happen in a dream and everything was clearly the real world. My glasses were across the room…and I had to try it. I reached up, felt around for the little magnetic click that I had so clearly felt in my dream. When I could not find it I muttered a curse and dragged myself across the room to them, ready to face another day of utter normality
However, that memory lingered with me. You see, my brain had actually experienced this. I know exactly what it all felt like. If my hand passed through the air and felt that little click I would know exactly what to do about it. I had done it, just not in this reality, yet.
I thought quite a bit about what I had experienced. It made me think about how blurry the lines are between what we experience factually and what we experience fantastically. Our brain cannot tell the difference unless we force it to. Perhaps the role of a magician is less about fooling and more about creating experience, using deception as one of the tools rather than the be-all-to-end-all. The tools of the magician were merely part of a larger whole.
Movies deceive us, and I don’t just mean the special effects department at Weta. The very idea of a motion picture is an illusion: many still images projected before our eyes, letting the brain fill in the blanks and perceive it as a moving picture. Yet, we can escape into a film’s story to a depth that it actually changes our lives. There are some people who have taken on Jedi as their spiritual path, and some of them are driven by a deep sense of discipline, honor, and physical training. We think of the stories of Greek and Roman gods as fantasy, yet don’t we call up things like Pandora’s Box when we are trying to understand the idea of carrying curiosity to dangerous lengths?
Bob Fitch says that acting is about doing real things in imaginary circumstances. The way he describes it is that when an actor is displaying grief that his character has over the death of another, that emotion must be real. He has to find some way to connect with it, whether it is drawing up the memory of a dead loved one, or a lost pet, or anything else that connects with the motion. Then, this trigger is used, on command, to fit into the story. The audience doesn’t know the inner workings They only know that in that moment of performance, they see real grief, and they assume that it happened because the character died. In turn, this may trigger grief for them at the loss of this imaginary person. It may even speak to grief that they have experienced in their own life, and perhaps even bring them some level of peace or understanding that they need.
That’s powerful stuff! It’s the powers of stories and the ways that humans interact with stories.
So, my ultimate decision was that I wanted to make a space where this stuff could be real. I needed to learn more about how it might be real. That led me to embrace the interest I’d had in the paranormal all my life, not as a skeptic, not as a designer, not as a fake, but to actually try to connect with it all in some way. It meant that I actually got involved in some things that some would scoff. (Maybe we get into some of that at some point if there’s genuine interest.)
The result of this is that as I approached these things in my art they had a different foundation than they had before. My goals were different. I was less concerned about controlling the situation than maintaining the context. It also created a situation where I could do things that did not have any special effects, where I could let things be real for people who were that open to the experience.
I did this with a Ouija board demonstration. There was no rig, or stooges, or anything. I used a combination of techniques used by 19th century spiritualists in their home parlors with recommendations by Aleister Crowly on how to control what you contact. My original plan was to present more of a show, but then it was clear that this situation demanded that we do it “for real.”
Being able to be real in imaginary circumstances was not something that I had tried hard to do before. As a result, everything that I did had a sort of cartoonishness to it that stood between my audience and their experience. Oh, sometimes it was more like Johnny Quest than Bugs Bunny, but there was always a piece of thick glass between my world and the audience. There was always a bar lowered across them to separate them from what I was creating.
Recently I read a book called Conversations with God (actually I listened tot he audio book on Audible). It’s probably not for everyone, but I love to expose myself to different approaches to thought. One idea this book presents is that humans are here to experience, that we choose how to encounter the universe and that it accommodates our choices. In other words, what you decide about yourself and your reality just might create that reality and that changing your thoughts will change events.
With that idea in mind, I really have the power to be a wizard, by opening people to the possibility that there really are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy. (Thank you Mr. Shakespeare.) It really has changed everything. It’s made the connections with people much more powerful than I’ve ever experienced before. It’s also made the disconnections much more devastating, leading me to be more focused on the kinds of audiences I need…which is probably a good thing.