The Jonathan Cann Lecture: Presentation CountsJonathan earns his living as an actor and magical entertainer. He has a Diploma in Drama from Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh, but says that his real learning took place from constantly performing in front of an audience. He has acted in professional plays, pantomimes, musicals and films, and has appeared on T.V. He also has experience in staging shows and directing.
In his lecture Jonathan shared his advice on many different aspects regarding the art of presentation, from practical issues and defining your ‘character’ through to techniques for mastering the elusive ‘stage presence’. He had three subheadings for his lecture: The 3 B’s - Be Seen, Be Heard and Be Safe.
Jonathan talked about the power of using eye contact to connect with your audience. He highlighted the importance of the ‘entrance’ and gave advice on how to immediately grab the audience’s attention. He talked about your movement on stage, the positioning of furniture and props and some practical considerations concerning lighting and sound.
He talked about ‘Power, Pitch and Pace’; projecting your voice even if you are using a microphone and keeping your voice entertaining and interesting. He also mentioned how to use music for dramatic effect without it being detrimental to the magic.
Throughout the evening he stressed the importance of being prepared. Jonathan says; "If you have prepared and rehearsed your act and eliminated the foreseen problems it should make your mind clearer to deal with the unanticipated." He covered subjects from selecting volunteers and dealing with hecklers to being safe with ‘angles’.
He also strongly recommended having a director. Someone who can be the eyes of the audience, offer feedback and consider everything from the entrance through to the exit.
It was an energetic and well thought out lecture, full of practical tips and advice from an experienced professional. It was an informal evening with comments and questions from the audience throughout the evening. It is difficult to describe some of the lecture in words as Jonathan demonstrates things both visually and audibly on stage and uses analogies to help put his message across.
His message was noted succinctly in his lecture notes: "If you are going to perform, grab every opportunity you can to get in front of an audience. Be prepared as much as you can be - and find a director!!"
Criticism and FeedbackThe subject of ‘constructive criticism’ came up again. Jonathan and Stuart mentioned it tonight and both Andrew and Mark have raised the issue in the past. It concerns our willingness to both offer it and receive it. Paul Leacy said: "It is far better that we are told something at the club, rather than in a paying situation."
The whole issue regarding ‘constructive criticism’ resonates deeply with me. I have had experience in both giving and receiving ‘criticism’ recently at the club. I often have strong urges to offer feedback but it can be a delicate issue. Some people have fragile egos, are sensitive, or can take it personally. Others may not want to hear it and want only to hear praise.
On the other hand receiving criticism can be equally tricky. I genuinely covet any feedback when I perform, but admit that it can sting initially and cause me to be slightly defensive. I am however serious about my magic and when I move beyond the emotional hurt and objectively examine the criticism it can be extremely useful. Nobody could be a harsher critic of me, than I am!
So, how serious are we about our magic? Do we want to be made to feel good, or do we want to hear the truth? Do we want to blindly give praise or do we choose to be honest? The answers will, of course, be different for each of us. But it is perhaps, a subject worthy of some consideration:
"Praise is often polite, while criticism is often sincere."
Using more neutral words like ‘feedback or assessment’ could make a subtle difference to the ‘feel’ of ‘criticism’; ‘Criticism’ as a word, seems to have negative connotations. As well as meaning; ‘analysis and judgement’, it can also mean ‘the expression of disapproval’. Even if you want the truth and it is delivered with kid gloves, ‘feedback’ can be painful - it can seem like ‘criticism’!!
One of the main differences between magic and other performing arts is that we practise something for weeks, months or years so that our audience DOES NOT see it. If our technique and/or misdirection are flawed, we are therefore failing in our objective. People often say that: "you shouldn’t offer advice unless it is requested" - and this appears to be a sound premise. So - is there a difference between ‘criticism’ and ‘advice’? For our individual benefits, and for that of our craft as a whole, should we point certain things out?
We can not always trust the feedback we receive from spectators. I think they can often sense poor misdirection and catch glimpses of moves in their peripheral vision - and not say anything. They may feel slightly awkward or don’t want to hurt our feelings and therefore respond by being polite in their ‘appraisal’.
Psychologists recommend qualities for giving feedback which include being sincere and honest, sensitive and considerate, and delivering your feedback in an encouraging manner. They suggest that you be respectful of the person you are critiquing, and to only assess the ‘behaviour or actions’, and not someone’s personality.
Essentially, moving our language away from the evaluative framework of ’good and bad’ and finding alternative ways of phrasing feedback which are more readily acceptable. Another important issue is that of ‘timing’; ideally feedback should be given as close to the event as possible, and at an opportune time.
Psychologists also offer a general technique for giving feedback known as ‘sandwiching’, which suggests firstly talking about what you enjoyed, then offering any criticism or negative comments, and finally focusing on the positives and giving praise. Another technique suggests ONLY focusing on the positives; first mentioning what you think was done well, and then focus on any areas which you think could be improved.
"How serious are we about our magic?"
It is a personal decision whether we open ourselves up to receiving feedback. If we ARE open to feedback then it is important to let it be known. People seek out and are willing to accept feedback because they believe they can learn and improve from it. It can however be difficult to take.
It is easier to take feedback if we trust and understand the motives of the critic, and if it is delivered with sensitivity. It is also useful to remain detached and curious about any comments, separating your behaviours from your personality. I have heard it said that "a performer has to separate himself from his work if he is to improve."
We should then evaluate the criticism and decide objectively if it addresses a real problem or a correctable issue. Not all criticism will be valid and we do not always have to accept it, or the manner in which it is given. We all have the right to refuse feedback, and it is ultimately the performer’s decision what advice to adopt.
"I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody"
‘FEEDBACK’ AT THE CLUB:
This started as just a couple of paragraphs regarding ‘criticism’, but became a little bit more - I have enjoyed clarifying my thoughts and comments on the subject. It is purely intended to provoke thought and perhaps be of some interest.
The magic club is a great place to learn tricks and techniques and to see different types of magic performed, but it is probably the safest and most ideal place to receive feedback of any kind. To some extent criticism is only as good as the person critiquing you, and we are fortunate to have a great deal of talented and thoughtful magicians at the club; knowledgeable and experienced individuals who are more than willing to share both their time and advice.
I hope that we can continue to cultivate and nurture this growing sense of trust, honesty and openness that seems to be infiltrating the club, that we can expect any feedback to be given in a respectful and supportive manner, and that our collective efforts will allow each of us to continue to improve and perform magic to the very best of our abilities.
Bizarre NightNot many people turned out for something a little alternative; however, it provided an intimate atmosphere for some bizarre magic and storytelling. There was also the opportunity to discuss some related topics.
Alan raised some ethical considerations concerning ‘cold reading’ and use of the Tarot, and Stuart talked about the importance of creating ‘theatre’ in our magical performances.
Dave showed us some props he has accumulated including some headstones, a small coffin and a miniature Ouija board. He intends to formulate a routine with them in the future.
Alan performed a routine with Tarot cards (since they were allowed!) whilst telling a story about a young man who wished he could do ‘real magic’.
Paul Leacy talked about his time working with Keith Hart helping perform a Bizarre magic routine in a supposedly ‘Haunted House’.
David, who is on his way to Spain for six months and is selling some old props, demonstrated a couple of Bizarre (?) children’s effects and Leon showed us an unusual pack of ‘Pirate’ playing cards.
Stuart performed several routines. He told us of a dream he had, and showed a connection with a freely chosen coin. He had a successful prediction of a ‘deceased’ Marilyn Monroe in a coffin, and performed a Tarot routine with a story about Vampires.
Magic of the MindPlease bear with me on this, I’m trying to write this over 7 weeks after the event and my memory isn’t great at the best of times, so if all the facts aren’t 100% accurate or complete please don’t hold it against me.
As I remember it there were 7 competitors fighting it out for the coveted Magic of the Mind Trophy, two of which were a double act. In no particular order (just basically as it comes into memory), there was Ali Ceurvorst who put together a great routine including a story of an impromptu piece of magic performed on a German TV show. Andy Hart offered a selection of unusual and entertaining items featuring him trying to superglue pennies to his forehead and predictions with poker chips. The next act plucked from my foggy memory is Tall & Small (or Rosman & Guy), their act included several mental effects including an envelope prediction which showed they knew exactly who would win and who wouldn’t (they won). Matt Parr sat across from his victim assistant and asked them to draw some simple shapes and Mat managed to divine the correct shape. He ripped a newspaper to bits leaving only a tiny segment left with Paul Leacey with one word which turned out to be a location which Paul had predicted on a large map. Last but not least we moved to Alan Hatcher who started with a very clean fruit prediction, the highlight of his act for me was a lovely celebrity prediction which was delivered by Alan cutting bits from an clean A4 piece of paper, unfolding it and the silhouette of the person was removed from the page, excellent!
The standard of the evening was amazingly high and everyone deserved to win, unfortunately only one could and Alan was crowned this years King of SMC mentalists, well done and many thanks to everyone who took part.
Forthcoming events27 April 2006
11 May 2006
Jack Delvin Lecture*Compiled by: Gordon Burtenshaw